Is the In Flames flame still burning?

Today, one thing is for sure; old school In Flames fans have divided opinions about the band. The band are quite obviously transformed since the days of Reroute To Remains and have adapted to a more modern sound without losing their identity. However, In Flames are not interested in their grumpy fans and according to front man Anders Fridén, the band’s popularity has never ceased to increase and it’s impossible for an artist to please everyone. Therefore, it’s best to think about their own interests first if the flame is still burning bright.

In fact, this is wherein the doubts following latest events lie: Jesper Strömblad, the founder and one of the leading composers of the band quit. Following alcohol problems, tense relations between band members etc, the main question that comes to mind is: what will be the impact on the band? Fridén had a clear answer for us: “It’s not that much different, to be honest. For us, it’s not such a huge departure.” In fact, it seems that issues leading to Strömblad’s departure had been around for a while, : “In Flames is way bigger than me, Björn, Peter, Daniel and Jesper as people.” Upon hearing the new album, Sounds Of A Playground Fading, you can tell that In Flames are going strong as though nothing ever happened. They picked up right where they left things with A Sense Of Purpose, by developing ideas further, introducing new ones, etc.

But let’s give way to the singer to give us some more detail about this…

« If you don’t like it, then listen to something else! I sleep well! I don’t really get that people keep complaining about stuff. »

Radio Metal: How are you doing?

Anders Fridén (vocals): All right. I just had a nice dinner, so I’m full and happy! (laughs)

What did you have for dinner?

I went to the fish market today and bought some fresh fish. I made nice fish burgers. It was really good.

In a recent declaration, you said that the band’s relationship with Jesper Strömblad was not going very well and that this was the reason for his departure from the band. But Jesper’s been in the band since the beginning; how can this be possible, after all this time working together?

You can’t forget that me and Björn have done nine out of ten In Flames albums. A lot of people seem to forget that. For a long time, Jesper has been struggling with alcohol problems. We are still friends, and we never parted ways because we had musical differences or stuff like that. We just couldn’t work together anymore. It’s been a long relationship that kind of burned out in a way, because of all the problems that came along with his alcohol issues. In Flames is way bigger than me, Björn, Peter, Daniel and Jesper as people. It’s important that In Flames as a unit works; and it didn’t. Me and Björn and Jesper have been writing the music together for a long time now, and now it’s me and Björn. It’s not that much different, to be honest. For us, it’s not such a huge departure. He hadn’t been with us for a long, long time. During at least the last year of the tour for Sense Of Purpose, Niclas was with us, and Jesper was absent from the band.

Could we imagine Jesper coming back into the band once he’s done fighting his demons, as he calls it? Would he be welcomed if he asked to come back?

I don’t know. I don’t think it’s likely right now, but you should never say no. As I said, we are friends. It’s been hard for us to stand on the side and see what he was going through. Everybody with an addiction, or people who know someone with an addiction, know it’s a struggle. But as I said, we are five members, and it’s not like he’s been the one holding the band together. We’ve been hiding this pretty well for a long, long time. You should never say never, but right now we are doing this with Niclas, and we managed to write an awesome album anyway. We’re looking forward to being on the road. For us it’s not such a big deal, to be honest. It’s sad for me to see my friend like that, but within the band and music-wise, it is what it is.

Niclas Engelin came into the band to replace Jesper. Was he an obvious choice for the band?

Yeah. He stepped in before, when Jesper left for the first time, around 2006. He had to go for a little while; Niclas stepped in, and Jesper obviously came back. Then Niclas took his place when he left for good, during the last year of the tour for Sense Of Purpose. He was also there when Jesper left in 1997 and 1998, before Björn took up the guitar and Peter and Daniel came in. So yeah, he was definitely the obvious choice. It’s so important that we work outside of this space, since we spend so much time together on the road. Niclas is like us, and we’ve known him forever. It would have been hard if he had said no.

Did you feel any difference during the recording sessions of Sounds Of A Playground Fading, with this different line-up?

No. I mean, we did it, the four of us – Peter, Daniel, Björn and myself. Björn recorded all the guitars and everything. Niclas wasn’t there, he had not been writing anything for this album. Once again, we missed Jesper as a person, but we knew this was going to happen. We’ve come to terms with it, so for us, it’s not something strange. It’s something that we’ve been living with, and we’ve been talking back and forth between each other for a long time. The recording was very easy, there was a good atmosphere pretty much all over the place.

Sounds Of A Playground Fading is the second album recorded in the band’s own studio…

Well, it depends on the way you see it. Clayman was recorded in the same studio, but at that point, it was called Studio Fredman. I owned half of that studio. So Clayman was recorded in the very same place, but we owned it when we recorded A Sense Of Purpose and Sounds Of A Playground Fading.

And I think you also changed the gear during the sessions for A Sense Of Purpose.

Yes, we changed a few mixing things, and so on. But the place is the same.

« For the first time we wrote an album as an album, as opposed to around a few songs. […] We wanted something that had an album feel to it, instead of writing one or two singles and then the rest. »

How was the experience with the studio this time compared to the recording sessions of A Sense Of Purpose?

A Sense Of Purpose was a little bit… (laughs) It’s hard to say, really. We felt good, you know? This time, we were eager to write something… There was a good atmosphere, which was great. For A Sense Of Purpose, we had the issues with Jesper going already. But I don’t think that shows much on the actual recording. We worked a little bit differently tune-wise, setting up all the gear. This time around, I had much more time with the vocals. We did a demo, we did a pre-production, and then we made the album in the studio back to back. Even though it sounds different from demo to actual album, obviously, we recorded the stuff that many times. It was cool to do it that way, ‘cause we had a good knowledge of where we were going. For the first time, I would say, we wrote an album as an album, as opposed to around a few songs. The order of the songs was done on the demo, and we didn’t change it, because we wanted something that had an album feel to it, instead of writing one or two singles and then the rest.

Sounds Of A Playground Fading feature wide vocal registers. Is your voice something you wanted to further develop at this point?

Yeah. Whatever my instrument would be, I would like to develop it further and explore new territories. My vocals should fit the music, as the music should fit my vocals. That’s how it is. We never have anything for the sake of it. Nobody ever says: “Do something cool on the guitar”, and it’s the same with drums and bass and vocals. Everything has to be there for a purpose and it has to fit the overall sound. Obviously, I like to expand my range and my instrument, which is my vocals.

Do you always feel the need to evolve and push the boundaries?

Not from an outside perspective. But as an artist, as a musician, I want to push myself and do something new. I feel I become better at what I do. I feel I’m more in control of my voice. If that’s what you mean by “need”, then yes. But it doesn’t come from anyone else.

There’s actually less screaming and growling than there ever was in In Flames, which doesn’t mean there’s none. But what pushes you to reduce your aggressive vocals over time?

I don’t really know… It’s not something I think through. I’ve been doing that type of vocals many, many times, and as the music evolves, my vocals evolve as well to fit the music. You can only do so much with your voice if you scream all the time. There’s not much dynamics in the voice. It’s just where I am right now, really.

So you don’t think too much about it?

I do think about it. I think about how my voice is part of the song. It is an instrument that should fit the song, and I think about that. I want to create something that sounds good. If it’s screaming vocals, it has to fit. It can’t just be for the sake of it. But I don’t think about why I am doing this. Music is an emotion, and that comes through in a lot of things that we do. We are aware of what we’re doing, but at the same time, there’s a lot of things that are very spontaneous.

It’s been a few years now that In Flames has been regularly criticized for its more modern approach and you’ve even been qualified as a commercial band by some. But on Sounds Of A Playground Fading it sounds like you don’t care at all about this criticism and that you actually evolve further into this direction you’ve been criticized for… What is your vision about this?

Since I started doing interviews for the band, for The Jester Race, I’ve been pretty much asked to defend the album that was done before. Always. People would say: “This is wrong, you should have been doing this”. And this boundary has been moving forward and forward and forward. So now people are saying this and that, but our fanbase has been growing a lot. We are not writing for a certain type of persons. I write for people who enjoy the music. If you’re not interested, you’re not interested, and I really don’t give a fuck, to be honest. We never went out to say: “We are this or that, we should be doing this type of music and we will stay in this type of music forever and ever”. I don’t care. If you don’t like it, then listen to something else! I sleep well! I don’t really get that people keep complaining about stuff. It’s not just us, it’s a lot of other bands as well. I saw something extremely funny the other day on YouTube: people had been putting up small samples of the new single, “Deliver Us”, online. There are also a lot of fake ones out there. And it said: “This song is called ‘Deliver Us’”, when it was actually parts of “Episode 666”. And there were people complaining to say: “They sounded so much better during Whoracle”, blah blah blah. That song is part of Whoracle, and people don’t know that! I find it more humorous than worth caring about. It doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t affect the band, it will never affect what we do.

« It’s an image, and for some people, the image can be important. But we don’t write music with our hair! We use the thing that’s underneath the hair! (laughs) »

Actually haircuts seem to have a lot to do with the criticism. I mean when Metallica cut their hair they were qualified as sellouts. When you grew dreadlocks, people thought you looked like Jonathan Davis from Korn so they thought that In Flames was trying to be in the neo metal trend. What’s your opinion about this kind of mentality that we often witness in the metal community? Could the haircut be an indication about the quality of the music?

It’s an image, and for some people, the image can be important. But we don’t write music with our hair! We use the thing that’s underneath the hair! (laughs) We use our heads. I find it funny that people still talk about this, as if that really means something. Image is a big part of some scenes, and it seems it’s important to the metal community. But it might be very important to other communities as well, with the way they dress and the way they look; but I don’t really know that, ‘cause I come from a metal background. Now me, Daniel and Björn have short hair, so they’ll probably find something else to complain about!

You don’t think image is something important?

Not really. It depends what you mean by “image”. The way you portray yourself is a certain image. But painting your face, having long or short hair – it doesn’t really affect the music. “Yeah, I love the music, but they look like shit, and therefore I don’t buy the music”? Personally, I don’t work that way. Obviously, when it comes to promotion photos, I want to look decent, I don’t want to look like trash. But it’s an individual thing, I don’t judge anyone else. I don’t really get why it makes a difference, but it does to some. It’s just the way it is; I can’t change it, and no one else can. Why really bother?

Back to the album: it features a kind of experimental song called “Jester’s Door”. It’s the first time since Whoracle that you mention Jester in a song. Was it important for you to do this type of reference to the band’s past?

Yeah, in a way it is important. The meaning is more in the lyrics that in the music. If people are familiar with the lyrics I’ve been writing since that time, they will kind of get it. It’s not a reference to any music. But it could be. I don’t want to give it away too much.

The song “The Attic” and some other moments, like the middle of “A New Dawn”, are in this atmospheric vibe introduced by “The Chosen Pessimist” from A Sense Of Purpose. Did you want to develop this side of In Flames’ music?

For these songs, yes. But I don’t want to do a whole album that would sound like that. For these, I think it fits. For “The Attic”, we just had a riff, and we took that riff and turned it into a whole song. I wanted it to give a creepy feeling, it goes pretty well with the lyrics. We wanted to work with strings, but we couldn’t really find the right people and we didn’t want to work with a whole orchestra. We had a few people around us that were able to arrange that with us for “A New Dawn”. It kind of fit that type of song. That song has a huge dynamic range, with a heavy verse, a faster chorus, and this atmospheric part, or whatever you want to call it. It’s kind of what I said earlier: if it fits the song, then it’s right. It’s not just there for the sake of it. I don’t think we would do something like that for a whole album, because that would sound too different from where we come from. I should not really say those things, because I could have to eat them up in five years! (laughs)

« We want to shape whatever is In Flames’ sound as far as possible, without turning into a parody of ourselves, or without losing where we are. »

As a matter of fact, the newer elements in the band’s sound can mostly be heard at the end of the album like on “Jester’s Door”, with the violin in “A New Dawn” or with the kind of pop rock/new wave vibe on “Liberation”. Was putting these more innovative moments towards the end intended?

I guess there’s an intention behind everything… But as I said, it’s very emotional. We write the music and go with the flow. How can I say that… We always want to bring the music forward, but we don’t want to lose where we are and where we come from. If you break things down, there are a lot of riffs that could easily fit on the earlier albums. But now they have a more updated sound. You have to realize that The Jester Race was recorded in eleven or twelve days, including mixing, and this one was done in three months. We have more time and we do things a different way. We don’t want to the same songs again and again and again. We want to shape whatever is In Flames’ sound as far as possible, without turning into a parody of ourselves, or without losing where we are. “Liberation” or “New Dawn” or “The Attic”, in some parts, might be pushing the boundaries, but it’s still very much anchored in In Flames. And they turn into In Flames songs, no matter what.

You’ve been quoted saying that Sounds Of A Playground Fading goes against the hard rock formula. What do you mean?

I did an interview with a Swedish newspaper, and I didn’t really say that. I said something else, and then they turned it into that. I’ve been hearing that for a while. I do not think it goes against the formula! I just said that once in a while, we do stuff that is a little bit out there, like “The Attic” or “Jester’s Door”, or some parts here and there. But I don’t think we go against anything, and I also don’t think we’re reinventing something, a whole genre or whatever. Like I said, we just try to bend our sound as far as possible. This is where we are today, with this album. Who knows what will happen next?

Last year In Flames collaborated on a song with Pendulum for their new album Immersion. Are you looking forward to doing more of this kind of collaboration?

If it works, yeah. If there is some interest in stuff like that, yeah, why not? They contacted us through our management. I knew the band before, music-wise. We did a tour in the UK, and we went into their studio. We wrote the song there with them. And then I took the music with me for the whole UK run, and right before we left, we went to London, where I finished the vocals that I’d been writing. Then I mixed it.

What is currently the status of your other project Passenger? Could we expect a second album sometime in the future?

I highly doubt it, but you never know! You should never say never. I would like to do something, but I’ve been saying that for years… I just don’t feel I have the time, and I don’t feel I have my heart in the right place. You shouldn’t do something just because. When I do something, I really mean it. Wait and see.

But doesn’t the fact that Niclas Engelin now plays with you in In Flames make things a little easier?

Yeah, maybe it does. He’s there, so we can do stuff on the road. But I don’t really feel like it. You shouldn’t do something if you don’t feel like it. It shouldn’t be forced. That’s why we didn’t do a second album. We were about to, but we didn’t feel like it. I don’t want anyone to tell me I should do it for some reason. If it’s forced, it’s not true.

Interview conducted the 5th of may 2011
Transcription: Saff’
In Flames website: www.inflames.com/

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