Pain Of Salvation: looking back on the departures

These past few months have been pretty eventful for Pain Of Salvation! Right in the middle of the band’s promotion for Road Salt 2, two longstanding musicians decided one after the other to leave the ship. First it was Johan Hallgren, not only a gifted guitarist but also a talented vocalist and a strong element on stage, due to his dazzling charisma and rare energy. He was followed by keyboard player Fredrik Hermansson, more discreet but known for the delicacy and sensitivity of his playing skills. Needless to say, after these two announcements, Pain Of Salvation looked a little the worse for wear. All the more so since the band had yet to find a permanent bassist after Kristoffer Gildenlöw, Daniel’s brother, left, six years ago.

Even if the band took the time to communicate about these departures – claiming family reasons for Hallgren’s –, even if had talked about this with drummer Léo Margarit, several questions remained, especially regarding Hermansson desertion. We took advantage of the band’s stay in Paris on November 16th to ask a few questions to the captain, Daniel Gildenlöw. Particularly tired that night, he was nevertheless talkative and went very deep in his answer.

Since the interview, new musicians have been hired, at least for the shows: Daniel Karlsson, the original bassist, who, as Daniel explained, had already replaced Hermansson behind the keyboards for a few shows before going back to the bass, then to the keyboards when Hermansson left for good (phew!), Gustaf Hielm, Meshuggah’s former bassit, and one Ragnar Zolberg on guitar.

« I don’t feel like I have an option of quitting doing this because this is what I do. This is what I am. »

Radio Metal : Johan Hallgren announced a few weeks ago his departure from the band. The reason given was that he wanted to be more with his family. According to you were there any other reasons?

Daniel Gildenlöw (guitar/vocals) : Not that I know of anyway. He wanted to spend more time at home, basically. Not getting away so much on tours. It’s not like we can force people to stay in a band (laughs). He wanted to quit once before… Actually I think this is the third time he quits the band, but this is the one time where he’s really doing it. But he had a girlfriend two or three years back, he wanted to stay more at home with his girlfriend, so he quit back then too, but he came back after about two days (laughs). Being in this industry, you have to make a lot of sacrifices, and I wouldn’t say that it’s easier for me to make those sacrifices, but it’s less of an option for me, since I’m basically making the music, regardless. I don’t feel like I have an option of quitting doing this because this is what I do. This is what I am. So well, I guess I could quit and then form another band, but it wouldn’t make that much of a difference, so I can’t really ask for others, year after year, to have the same level of… I would not want to call it insanity, but let’s stick with that word for now. So that’s basically it.

He’s been there since 1998, for the fans I think that he has become a very, very familiar face. But I think what people need to keep in mind – if they want to, they don’t have to – but they could keep in mind that in 1998 he was the new guitar player and I had been playing an equally long time with the previous guitar player. We just didn’t make as many albums. And it seemed impossible at that time to replace Daniel (Magdic) who was the previous guitar player. And if we had stopped at that, all the albums with Johan Hallgren wouldn’t have been made. So I think from our point of view, every time someone leaves the band, it feels impossible. I can’t say that I’m happy right now with this situation, trying to sort everything out, but it’s happened many time before so we know it’s possible. Usually, when you get someone else, you’d be surprised how quickly that person, as long as you’re really careful with the process of choosing the right person, the right musician, it’s amazing how quickly that new person will become a part of what you consider to be, in many ways, your second family. So we’ll see what happens.

You also mentioned that Fredrik Hermansson would be leaving at the conclusion of the current tour. Does this have anything to do with Johan’s departure?

Yes. I mean, not that was like a main reason, but I think that he’s been bouncing the same issues, not with family in his case, but I think the general feeling… We’re sort of spoiled in Sweden, and we want everything we do to be fun and interesting. He felt he didn’t feel the same energy, he didn’t feel as motivated anymore. He said it was related to everything in his life. But the whole thing is that, of course when Johan is leaving the band, he probably felt more like “okay, since the band structure is breaking up anyway, I guess it’s a good time for me to step back too and have someone else take over who’s more hungry.” I talked to him and I said that of course, we really want him to say, but I understand. It’s difficult; it’s not an easy thing to be going through, for them or for me. But it’s not as new to us as it is to the fans. With Johan’s departure, we’ve been talking about it for a long time, so it’s not new to us, but it doesn’t make it easier anyway.

Leo Margarit told us that the thought of stopping the band came up to your mind. Was it the case?

I can only take this from my personal point of view but I’ve done that every time somebody leaves the band. I was thinking about that when we asked Daniel to leave the band, back in 1997. But in retrospective, I’m glad that it didn’t happen. When Johan left the band, I mean drummer Johan Langell. I guess this is like being in a sort of very intense relationship. You need a period of time where to deal with the loss and I don’t want to have feelings of them letting the band down, because I think that is a small thought. But nevertheless that thought comes up every time someone is leaving the band, except for the ones we’ve kicked out, of course (laughs)… That was harsh, wasn’t it? Sorry… But the thing is that feeling always comes up, I thought that we were going all the way, but I just have to push through and keep on going.

Especially since I understand the whole family thing, I really do, I have a family, I have three kids at home and I hate that, I hate every second of it. I hate every second of not being with my family, and at some level, even though I try not to get those feelings, I feel like “why the hell did I make all these sacrifices all these years if it’s that easy, if you can just say I want to spend some time with my family?” Where does that take me? Why am I here? Those feelings, you have to deal with, every time. So I think it’s the same thing when you’re breaking up with someone in a relationship. You go through all these periods of being angry, feeling sad, feeling lost, and then sort of getting to the acceptance point where you are sort of like “okay, this is how it is, I need to deal with it.” It takes a while, you have to go through a few different steps until you get to the moving on point. And with the band, that process really needs to be compressed into a really short time span because basically you can’t give it five years. You need to get on and get things going, so you’ll have to deal with some of it while you’re still actually in this sort of family situation with the other guys, and that’s always a difficult time.

Do you actually have any musicians in your mind that would fit, and have you already received any applications from musicians who are interested in playing with you?

Yeah, we’re having a new line-up for February that’s going to be interesting, but we’re still lacking a guitar player, and we would love to find one in Sweden but we’ll just have to see. First and foremost, we need a really good guitar player / vocalist / person. So we’ll see. If we could find one in Sweden, that would be really good. But we did have to import Leo from France, so we never know what’s going to happen with a guitar player. Anyway, that’s our intention. We’ve had a lot of people already applying. Just yesterday, we put on the homepage that it’s time for people to send in applications or whatever, but even before that, we’ve had many guys managing to find a way of contacting us. We’ll see what happens.

[Note : A few weeks after this interview, the band recruited Ragnar Zolberg on guitars]

« I would be that odd girl saying that I’ve been loved for my intellect for so long that I want to be loved for my breasts just for a little while. « 

Both you and Michael today seem to have a common passion for the music of the 70’s. Have you two ever talked about doing a project together in that vein?

I have no idea, the thought struck me, it would be nice, I guess. The thing is that we don’t really have time to hang out a lot because our schedules are completely inverted so we’ll probably talk about it, I guess. But from what I’ve heard now is that they’re more sort of the prog rock seventies, which I’m trying to get away from, actually. I’m trying to distil things down to a very… I come from a tradition of very long songs, especially before Entropia. Because I started off very early. I made the band when I was eleven, and at that age you progress really quickly, and you’re trying to find new challenges all the time. So you’ll end up playing arty music pretty fast, I think. At least if you’re interested in musicianship, and I guess since that time I’m trying to fight my way back from that to something where I feel that my guts are really being torn. Because in the end, that’s the music I tend to revolve around, when I listen to my own favourite music, the songs are rarely more than three or four minutes, my all-time favourite songs in the history of music. Whereas when I was eighteen or nineteen, I was really into that. Long songs, complex rhythms… I guess you could say that if I would be a girl in an American movie, I would be that odd girl saying that I’ve been loved for my intellect for so long that I want to be loved for my breasts just for a little while.

You’re currently on tour with Opeth. When speaking with Michael Akerfeldt he told us : « I wasn’t a big fan of Pain Of Salvation until their last album came out. I really like that album. It clicks with me better than the other stuffs that they did. I thought they were a good band before but this album really is something that I listen to, which was not the case with previous albums. » so what’s your opinion about Heritage, the latest Opeth album?

It would be much, much better if I had listened to that album right now, I feel… (laughs) I’m going to listen to it and then you’ll have to get back with that question. I’ve been so involved in the Road Salt albums and being on tour now, I genuinely didn’t have time to. I’ve really been annoyed because I really wanted to watch at least one of the Opeth shows, but during the Opeth show, after our show, we really need to get food, because that’s the only time of the day where we have a chance to eat, so I’m missing it every night. I can say one thing; I think that his voice is extremely comfortable. I really like listening to his voice, and personally I’m really happy that he’s sort of not doing the growling anymore. But I understand that probably a lot of the Opeth fans are really annoyed by that fact.

On the song The Physics Of Gridlock from Road Salt Two you sing a part in French. Apparently Leo discovered this part when it was done. Why didn’t you ask him for any advice before recording it?

That would have been a smart thing to do. The thing is that I thrive in challenges. I’ve been approaching the lyrics for this song for such a long time, it was one of the earliest songs. I wrote the main bulk of the song very early in the process, we’ve been recording and re-recording some parts because I thought the sound wasn’t right. I was really working on the details. I knew what I wanted to express, I had pages and pages and pages of written text. When I have a problem with a song, that’s basically what I do, I write five essays. And then I try to sort of cast the essence of that and boil it down to a lyric. But I couldn’t find the proper approach to certain parts towards the end of the song. Not until at one point I was in my car and I was playing the song without vocals as I usually do. I’ll have the latest mixes of all the songs and I’ll just play it over and over and over again, so when the album is finally finished, I can’t listen to it anymore. But anyway, I started to do this fake French, and I was like “Yeah, that’s it” and all of a sudden it just fell into place.

The problem is that I don’t know French. I did study French for a very short while when I was twelve or thirteen. And I never really had to study anything. It’s been sort of a blessing and a curse, because that makes me not spend the energy because I don’t have to. It was the same with guitar, I remember having lessons with my guitar teacher, I couldn’t play something, so I put my guitar under the bed and the next week, I could play it. I never had to sort of sit down and actually practice and learn stuff. Which of course it’s bad too, same thing with reading music sheets, I had the same problem that I didn’t have to learn it because he played it and I just memorized it, I could play it the next time. It was not until also when I was thirteen, I was playing a classical piece, and at one point I guess I wasn’t turning the page correctly or something and he was like “Are you reading the music?” and I was like “not really…” I thought he’d be angry, but he was like “you memorized all that” and he stopped a teacher friend and was like “this guy memorized this whole piece” I was like “okay… that’s good?” So I did the same thing when I studied French, I thought “it’s going to come to me”.

And of course, you’re picking up on all the nouns, the verbs and everything, but all the small prepositions, they just like slip by. And then after two months you’re like “I don’t know how to tie the words together. I have all these words and I don’t know the glue, all the sort of not so important glue that is pretty necessary in a language” and it didn’t just come to me as I expected it to. So I changed to music drama instead. My French teacher was getting my mother in for a meeting, saying “he should really continue French, he’s got very good possibilities”. But I went to music drama, I think it was a good choice. This would be the one occasion where I actually thought I should have stuck with French [laughs], because I had no idea of what I was doing. So what I did was that I basically brought up the odd words that I still remembered and tried to put them together. And I had sort of a feel for the language, I sort of had the feeling that I made a sentence and then “I bet that adjective is going to be after the noun in this sentence, it just feels right, and that means the rhyme is going to be all fucked up… I have to start over again.” And I checked with dictionaries, translators, applications, and of course, they’re sort of wrong sometimes, and again you just get a feel for “this doesn’t look right, I bet this is wrong.” So I’d been working for weeks with these few French…

I knew what I wanted to express, and I wanted it to rhyme, and I wanted it to be in French, it was like an impossible combination for me. But I kept working on it, as I said, I thrive on challenges. The clever me would have just called Leo up, and we would write something together, but I had that idea that it would be nice to do this and then present it. And in the end, when I thought I was done I sent it to him by e-mail, expecting to get sort of a patronizing pat at the head like “It was a good try but…” I was sure he would find tons and tons of mistakes. But he came back like “this is all correct, how the hell did you do this?” and then of course, my next stupid choice was to actually record it first and then ask if it was correct. So I recorded all the vocal harmonies and especially for the word “donne” he was like “it could have been a better pronunciation” so he was trashing me on a few points in the pronunciation thing but it was already recorded, what could I do? I wasn’t really in the mood to re-recording it.

Interview conducted at a press conference in Paris en November, 16th, 2011, by Stan lors d’une conférence de presse à Introduction & Questions : Spaceman
Transcription : Stan et Isa

Pain Of Salvation’s Website : www.painofsalvation.com

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