In Flames gives in to the siren calls of their desire

In music, the crux of the matter is generally creativity and inspiration (come on now, who thought we were going to say “money”?). Every musician, every band has their own recipe, their own ritual, a specific environment or time to make them emerge. But sometimes inspiration is fickle and just won’t be found where it usually lies. So some artists don’t hesitate to change their habits and experiment to see where that will lead them creatively. Such was In Flames’s reasoning for the creation of their new album, Siren Charms – or, more precisely, the reasoning of vocalist Anders Fridén, who put himself under serious stress and showed up empty-handed in the studio. This is the exact opposite of what he did for the previous album, Sounds Of A Playground Fading, which we talked about three years ago. The intense experience didn’t sit too well with Fridén. Was it worth it? Only the audience can tell…

Along with guitarist Björn Gelotte, the singer tells us all about this experience in the following interview. More generally, they also help us understand the genesis of this album, the second since Jesper Strömblad’s departure, which left Gelotte on his own to write riffs and songs.

« I crashed a few weeks later! […] I was totally out for a week. That made me understand that you cannot just push yourself and push yourself. It was the first time it really happened to me that way. I realized I’m not a machine. »

Radio Metal: I’ve read that you sold the studio that you had in Gothenburg and in which you recorded your two previous albums. Why did you do that?

Anders Fridén (vocals): We were never there! (laughs)

Björn Gelotte (guitars): We had some people working there, but it wasn’t really their responsibility to make it work. In the end, it’s ours. We figured, we do a record every three or four years, so it’s not enough to have a studio. It can be used so much better. Now there’s a couple of producers working there, it’s put to much better use.

Anders: There was no point in us having a studio to say we own a studio. In the end it just cost us money. There was no point in having it. So that’s the reason. But actually, we did more than two albums in that studio: we did Clayman in that studio as well. But it was under a different name.

You went to Berlin to record at Hansa Tonstudios. Weren’t you missing the comfort of being in your own studio?

Anders: (he hesitates) I think not having the same comfort was what we were aiming at. We did the last album in three months. It was extremely relaxed, and we had the studio for ourselves. This time we had to focus in a different way to get it done. Berlin is a 1.5-hour flight from Gothenburg or Stockholm, so it’s nothing. It’s not that far if you want to go home. These days, we have families and we do other things outside of In Flames, although In Flames remains our main focus, obviously. So we need to get to a place where we can totally focus on the band and the recording.

Björn: It keeps the focus on the record. We can focus all day and all night. When we’re home, everything takes your attention away.

Anders, you apparently showed up in the studio with nothing, no vocal melodies and no lyrics, to see what you could deliver under pressure and what that would do to you as a songwriter. Can you tell us how you handled this pressure in the end and how you managed to get your inspiration in such a short amount of time?

Anders: As I said, at home, I have to take the kids to daycare or to school, or go to the office and just sit there. You don’t want to hear about that, and I don’t want to write those types of lyrics on top of the music that we create! (laughs)

Björn: (singing) “Going to daycare!”

Anders: Yeah, it’s kind of boring! So I had to put myself under that pressure. It was really tough. I knew it would happen, but towards the end, I was just angry at myself for putting myself under that pressure. When we had just a week left, me and Björn were sitting in that terrible-colored kitchen in Berlin, and I was telling him: “Fuck, I hate this, I don’t know if I’ll make it!” I knew I had to, but it was really, really tough. But it worked out, and in the end, doing it that way was the right decision. You have to give 100%. I didn’t want to go home with most of the stuff done, and then have to go to another studio and do the rest. It wouldn’t have felt right. It had to be done there and then, in Hansa, in Berlin. I crashed a few weeks later! When I got home, it was Christmas, so I had people over and it just continued. Then I went to the record company where I work, and it still continued. After a while, everything hit me and I couldn’t leave my bed. I was totally out for a week. That made me understand that you cannot just push yourself and push yourself. It was the first time it really happened to me that way. I realized I’m not a machine.

Björn: I think we generally work better under a little bit of pressure. I wouldn’t say we’re lazy – we’re comfortable. After 20 years, I think you’re allowed to be a little bit comfortable. But if we’re gonna do a record, we need a little bit of pressure. We need to set a date, or at least have a plan, so we can have a bit of pressure to at least write and start recording. We’re really flexible when the album is done, but it’s something we need. This is an extreme, though! Anders was extremely tough on himself, and on everyone around, I’d say. But I think it was necessary. As we’ve said before, we had to leave the comfort of home and everything that could distract us, and go somewhere and just dive into it.

Anders: For the earlier albums, I had all the stuff written. I had a piece of paper, like you have, with all the lyrics, and I tried to cram all those words into the songs. But with the last album, I changed the way I approach songwriting: now I write the different melodies, and then I write the words after the music instead of before. That way, it becomes more musical. Therefore, we have to have most of the things done before I can add my voice to make it the way we want. I want to be struck by the music. I want to have the music first, and tell myself: “Oh, that’s the way I’m supposed to do it”.

Björn: It helps to set the mood and see what actually fits.

Anders: Yeah. I don’t know what to do before everything is done. There’s no reason for me to say: “I want to do this”, and then you have a different type of song and you try to cram all your ideas into the song.

What would you have done if you hadn’t found your inspiration? The studio was booked, so it was kind of a big risk…

Anders: Yeah, exactly! I don’t know, maybe I would have cried a little bit? (laughs) No, not making it was never an option. It had to be done. That’s why you feel frustrated sometimes. Sometimes I was like: “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever done! It’s great, great, great!” And then you do the next song and you’re like: “I’m terrible, I suck at this! I’m the worst singer ever!” So your mood goes up and down, up and down. When I was done with each song, I would show it to the other guys, and when I got thumbs up, I ran down to the studio and started working on the next one. It’s like I was on fumes. But if I got mixed reactions, like: “I don’t know, give us time”, I was like: “(mumbling) Fucking idiots!” It was hard for me, but that’s the way it is. To not be done – that was never an option, you know? That’s why I worked until the very last second. Everybody had left with all the gear. I had the keys to the studio, I had to lock it myself! So yeah, it was never an option.

« I’ve been screaming almost my whole life, since birth! (laughs) I just want to do something different. »

More generally, you had half the time to record the album compared to the previous one, because you wanted to see if the pressure could add something to the album. So did pressure ultimately add anything to the album itself, to the music?

Anders: For my part, in terms of how the vocals are presented, yes. Musically, no, I don’t think as much.

Björn: I think I came a little better prepared, because we needed something to work on. We knew we had six weeks, so we had to bring something. We’d already started working. But I think, with regards to the sound and the arrangements, we were kind of forced to cut away some of the unnecessary things. We got more to the point. We focused on the songs instead of focusing on anything else. I think we had to work a little bit harder and be more focused on the arrangements.

Anders: The first two weeks at Hansa, where we put together the things Björn had brought, either mostly finished or just parts, were the best two weeks in a long, long time!

Björn: Yeah, that’s where you’re allowed to do whatever you want, as long as you focus on it. The rest is just machine work.

Anders: I think being in Hansa and putting ourselves under so much pressure are the two reasons the album sounds like it does. It wouldn’t sound the same otherwise.

This is exactly the opposite of what you did with Sounds Of A Playground Fading, for which you recorded the songs three times and spent a lot of time on the vocals. At the time you told us it gave you a very good idea of the direction you were going. So, in retrospect, what was the best formula?

Björn: Berlin was obviously better in terms of saving time! But you can also have a nice, relaxed atmosphere.

Anders: You can’t say one is better than the other. They both work.

Björn: It’s a matter of time, and of how you want to approach the album. As I said, something was needed for this album, and maybe the pressure was part of it. If you get to choose, it’s fantastic; but sometimes, you just have to put yourself in a certain situation.

Anders: And if you get another three months in the same studio, then you always compare yourself and what you do to your previous work. This time we totally changed the way we did things.

Björn: It was a fully conscious decision. It was a choice we made. We could have recorded for another three months, but what’s the point? We would never be done! It’s good to have a limit.

Anders: For the next one, it will be three weeks! (laughs)

Niklas Engelin wasn’t there for the recording of Sounds Of A Playground Fading and didn’t write anything for that album. So what was his input on Siren Charms? What did he bring to the table, creatively speaking?

Björn: His energy, first of all. He’s very positive, and he loves music. He has a slightly different approach when it comes to writing. He didn’t write anything on this one, but we wanted to use the way he plays the guitar. He has a distinctive sound and a distinctive technique that we could use for certain riffs, certain songs. He’s a part of the band, so it’s important to have him as such. That’s what we wanted for this album.

Björn, since the departure of Jesper Strömblad, you seem to have become the main composer in the band. How do you feel about having that responsibility?

Björn: The thing is, I didn’t really have a chance to lean back and think about it. When we started talking about doing the new record, I just turned on the computer, launched my music program, and sat down with a guitar. I knew I wasn’t going to do this with Jesper. We’d discussed this before: I didn’t want to do it. It wouldn’t be right for him to work on the songs and not to be in the band, out there presenting the songs. So I leaned on the guys who know this best: I talked to the guys in the band, especially Anders. We could bounce all the ideas. Everything I wrote, I showed him. We put the album together, and I never really thought about it, you know? It’s interesting, because people tell me: “Wow, you did it yourself”. No, we did it! It’s pretty much how we’ve done things all these years, for all the albums. There’s just one guy less!

Anders: It’s not like Jesper wrote everything until the day he left. Björn’s been part of the songwriting since he joined, in 1995. This is our tenth In Flames album; we know how to put In Flames songs together! It wasn’t too big of a change for us. For Sounds Of A Playground Fading, I think we both thought: “OK, let’s prove it to people”. If it’s out there, if it’s on the record, no one can say anything. Now it’s not even in our thoughts. That’s just the way it is. We know this shit! (laughs)

Björn: Yeah, it’s what we’ve done in the last 19 years! It’s what we like to do. It’s not hard to do something if you like it. I think our musical relationship is better and way stronger than before because of that last album. When we had the opportunity to do this one, we’d learned so much from the last one. It’s easier to communicate. Anders wasn’t prepared, but he was willing to listen and be inspired by the music. That’s a big step. You don’t need to be that deep into it, you don’t have to let the music dictate what you do, you can just be inspired by it. I don’t think we had that openness in the past.

Anders: No, definitely not. It’s easier with two people than it was with three.

This album features a lot of melancholic moments, with songs like “Through Oblivion”, “With Eyes Wide Open”, “Dead Eyes”, etc. Where did these feelings come from? What was your state of mind composing the music for this new album?

Björn: I’m not the kind of songwriter that needs to get inspired. I don’t need to see a movie, or read a book. The music starts off as a melody, or maybe it’s just a beat that I have. Then I try to flesh it out and see what happens. I don’t tell myself we have to have melancholy in the music. It’s part of what we do – it always has. So I don’t focus on that. But sometimes, a whole album needs something. You need to bring the tempo up, or you need to smooth things down a little bit, for the dynamic to work. But that’s later on in the process. When you start out, you just grab whatever’s in your head, and try to shape it into something that resembles a song. Then you can start working on it.

« We can’t give people what they want. It’s impossible, because you never know what people want! And there are too many of them. Five guys are enough. »

The song “When The World Explodes” is probably the most surprising song on the album, with its gothic feel, the female vocals, the arrangements, etc. Who is the female vocalist and how did you end up with that song?

Anders: Her name is Emilia Feldt. While I was laying down the vocals, I felt there was something missing. I started juggling with ideas, wondering how I should approach this chorus. The song itself is really heavy, but I needed a different touch on it. I was screaming all over the place, but I didn’t feel it suit the song. I suggested maybe we could have another singer to give it a twist. We hadn’t worked with a female singer for a couple albums, so I thought it could be a good approach. I didn’t want to have a big name on the record – first of all because we didn’t have the time to call one! (laughs) But I didn’t want someone too famous. The vocal producer, Daniel Bergstrand, said he was working with this opera girl on another project. He showed me a video on YouTube where she was singing for the Nobel Prize ceremony, and I was like: “Wow, she would be perfect”. So he went home, recorded her, and I was praying it would work. It was a bit of a surprise when everyone else heard it. I think it worked out really well, she really portrays the siren. She’s like the symbol for the siren on the album.

Björn: I think it’s perfect. It’s a very straightforward, heavy, kinda hard song. Having her voice on top of it is the icing on the cake. I think it’s perfect. It makes it very beautiful as well as in-your-face. I was surprised the first time I heard it, to say the least! I was like: “Oh, who’s this?!” But it fits so well!

Anders: It’s funny, because that’s the heaviest song on the album, but the lyrics are actually kind of a love song. It’s a mixture of contradictions! But it turned out really well. And the way it fades into the keyboards, with the chorus that comes back, make it perfect to have in the middle of the album. We’re still old school in that way: we think about how the albums are put together. It’s really important. There’s a reason why “In Plain View” is first; there’s a reason why “When the World Explodes” is where it is. I know a lot of people these days just listen to songs here and there. But for us, when we give it to the record company, we’ve done it the way we wanted. If you listen to the whole album from the beginning to the end, I think you get a different feeling of the songs.

It seems like with each new album you’re going further and further into melodic singing, really putting aside the harsh vocals. I know you tend to adapt to what the music needs, but do you also get more pleasure nowadays, as a singer, with clean and melodic singing?

Anders: Yeah, I guess. I mean, it’s more of a challenge. If you wake me up in the middle of the night, I promise you I can scream the hell out of a song from start to finish! But I think we’ve done that type of music as well as we possibly could. Why do it again, and again, and again? I’m not tired of the screaming, I love it – especially live, it’s great to get that energy out. But when we’re in the studio, like you said, we ask ourselves what the songs need. Sometimes I think I surprise Björn, because he might have a different… (he hesitates)

Björn: My perception of this or that riff might be: “This is really hard, he should sing like this”, and then something totally different comes out.

Anders: But I think that’s one of the things that make us unique. It’s why we sound the way we do. It’s actually a very good blend. You know, I’ve been screaming almost my whole life, since birth! (laughs) I just want to do something different. But I’m not saying I won’t be screaming on the next album.

Björn: The voice is an instrument as well, after all. You need to use it right. Of course what the song needs comes first, but you also need to challenge yourself. I think it’s easy to become comfortable: “I know this, I’ll do the songs in five days, and I’m done”. Or you can work on it, write arrangements. It’s challenging and fun to do live. It’s a mix of everything. I think we’ve taken it to a place where we can’t do the same thing again without getting… not bored, but less challenged. We play live so much, we need to love what we do.

You have recently released the video for “Rusted Nail” (note: and even more recently for « Through Oblivion »), once again directed by Patric Ullaeus with whom you have done many, many videos. Can you tell us more about the artistic relationship between him and In Flames?

Anders: We’ve known him for many years, and he totally understands where we’re coming from and how we want to present the band. We never started the band to… Doing videos and photos, that’s part of the game. We just want to do great music and play live; the rest is something you have to do. He understands that, and he makes that easy for us.

Björn: He’s very efficient, very easy to work with. He has a great eye for a scene, and that saves a lot of work for us! (laughs) So you can feel comfortable in a situation where you’re normally not very comfortable.

Anders: If we have an idea, he can take that idea and run with it. We don’t have to explain it again and again. The result we get is usually better than the idea we had. It’s important to have that kind of people around you.

You said about the video for “Rusted Nail” that it “sets the tone for In Flames 2014; it’s raw, it’s genuine, it’s In Flames”. Do you think that before thinking of doing a good album, you have first and foremost to do a genuine and sincere album?

Anders: We had to make the best album we could possibly make.

Björn: At this point where we are right now, musically, the challenge for us is to get satisfaction from what we’re doing. It’s a musical portrayal of where we are right now – but so is every other album we’ve done! They’ve led us up to here. All the other albums we’ve done are the reasons we could do this one. Being sincere and honest to ourselves is the only thing we can be. We can’t give people what they want. It’s impossible, because you never know what people want! And there are too many of them. Five guys are enough. If we’re honest in what we do, and if we like it, then we’re super proud. We can be on stage and present our music in the best possible way. Of course sincerity is important.

Anders: We should be able to listen again and again to what we created without finding anything we wish we hadn’t done or done differently. That is being honest to ourselves. Now we’re done, we’re happy, and it’s for the rest of the world to decide. But if I’m happy, and Björn and Peter and Daniel and Niclas are happy too, then I’m immune to everything! (laughs)

Björn: Exactly, that’s the whole point! We’ve done the best we could, the best we wanted to do, and we can stand proud on stage. We can do the fucking videos and stuff like that! It’s easier because we’re proud. We’re going to listen to it and play it over and over again, so it needs to be something we’re proud of.

Interview conducted by phone on July, 8th 2014 by Saff’.
Transcription : Saff’.
Questions and introduction : Spaceman.

In Flames official website : Inflames.com

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