In Flames have been one of the most influential metal bands since the 90s and they are still innovators and daring in everything they do. Battles is their most challenging and riveting effort to date and we caught with guitarist Björn Gelotte to get to know more about this album, why L.A. was a huge inspiration for them and much more.
In Flames have been around since 1990 and it’s really great to see you guys keep on making such powerful and refreshing music in the metal world. How do you look back to your path as a band and as musicians throughout these years?
Now that you mention, we’ve been around quite a while. We’re just about to release our twelfth studio record, we have two live DVDs, we did a couple of EPs and all of this is only possible because we always did what we felt like doing, you know? We still do that. Each and every record has led us to where we are today, so we’re super proud and we’re still excited about recording and playing and that’s because we went our own way. When the five of us in the past and now the four of us before Joe Rickard joining in, when we’re happy with the songs and we feel that we have a new album then the negotiation is over. We’ve done the best that we can do right now. Having that in mind as sort of goal and not forgetting who you are and feeling that you’re doing something that you really do believe, it’s the greatest feeling. That’s how I feel when I play live and I love it. [laughs]
Before releasing your new album, you guys are going to release a brand new live DVD, entitled Sounds From The Heart Of Gothenburg, which was recorded at Gothenburg’s Scandinavium. What’s so special about this live show?
So many things… First, it’s a hometown gig and it’s for us in a very special venue. It’s a huge venue obviously, but it’s also where we saw the all the bands growing up. I saw Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, Judas Priest… and we played there a couple of times and what a better opportunity to record this on film, because this was the last show of the tour and we were really warm and eager to play. Not to sound too dumb, but it felt like sort of a magical evening and I’m so happy that Patric Ullaeus – a longtime friend and video producer – was there and make it to stay forever in a way. [laughs] There are so many things that made it so special… I’m very proud of the DVD. We had some screenings in Gothenburg and Stockholm, and I believe in Germany as well, in the cinemas. Seeing that in that format is really awesome. I’m super proud and stoked!
Battles is your twelfth full-length album and you guys keep on reinventing and pushing yourselves with each album. How was it like to approach the songwriting this time around?
It was actually different from what we normally do. In the past, we would pretty much finish the whole song musically and then we would just add the vocals as the last thing, and it had been quite frustrating at times because there’s so much you can do with the vocals, we just never had that tool in our toolbox before. This time around me and Anders [Fridén, vocalist] would sit down already at the demos stage and start doing the proper demos with the vocals on it, which you get a fresh approach and a new angle. If you have a really strong vocal line, you can write the music around that. For me that was really new and I think for the whole band was really new. It was extremely inspiring to do that and felt like you had more of an overall picture of what was going on. We had the possibility to add more of my ideas that maybe the others wouldn’t think about and we would do the same thing with the riffs, melodies and arrangements of the songs. That was extremely important and it was a new way of working that I would love explore further.
Why name this new album as Battles?
First when you read it, you think about conflict like wars and stuff like that, but it’s not about that at all. It’s the inner struggle and the battles that you have. As far as I know, everybody has some. It can be very mundane, very ordinary daily stuff and it can be some really profound philosophical issues, and it’s about that. It’s about trying to fit in and everything that entails. I think it’s really interesting and hopefully it means a little bit different to different people, but everyone in one way or another I’m sure can relate to it.
You unveiled “The Truth” and “The End” as the first double single from your new album. Why those songs to be the first ones to be revealed at the same time?
There’s a few reasons, but mainly I think they both sort of in their own way sum up the album and also there’s a nice little thread going through both songs that we could capture in videos. So, you start with “The End”, then you listen to “The Truth” and you watch the video and then you sort of get the whole story in it. Instead of just doing one and then wait a month to release the other, we figured like, “Let’s do something more interesting and something that’s in a way bigger than just the ordinary single released.” I think it was good in every aspect.
What other aspects or elements did you approach differently on this album?
This time around, we actually worked with a producer I think the way you’re supposed to work with a producer. We had producers in the past, but in the end we’ve always decided what we wanted to do and this is our thing, we’ve been super protective of our music, though maybe more of a co-producing thing in the past. But this time around, we had the opportunity to talk to a bunch of our absolute favorite producers. We talked to like ten of them and we never had that opportunity before, so we were nervous but at the same time very excited. We talked with all these guys, but when we talked with Howard Benson, he just said the right things. He didn’t want to change who we are, which is super important for us obviously. He just wanted to help us to do the best we could and to focus on what we’re really good at, and maybe to don’t fuck around so much. [laughs] It was really interesting. He had a fantastic team in L.A. and so we figured “What the hell! Let’s go there and let’s work properly with a producer.” He has so much experience and he also has a sort of fresh approach to this band. We’ve been around for such a long time and sometimes we’re very skeptical in our ways of how we want to do things. I wouldn’t say that he changed anything, he just opened up our eyes to different ways of doing things. It was very positive and very inspiring. I actually really, really loved do it. Another thing is that we came to L.A. for the last writing sessions without a drummer. Daniel [Svensson] had quit on the last tour and we didn’t want to find a drummer before. We just figured “Let’s write the record, see how it feels, let’s go to L.A. and in L.A. everybody is a musician.” [laughs] So we thought we could find someone who could do the drum parts and then we auditioned and found a drummer after that. But Howard had this guy called Joe [Rickard] coming in to help us up with the programm of the drums to sort of get the demos to sound alright. He’s just a great drummer and he was a fan of the band. He asked if he could play and we said “Let’s try it!” When he started playing, we just started laughing because he was so good. [laughs] Also he has a similar approach as Daniel has to the drums; very consistent, technically really good, love his instrument and hits like a boxer. [laughs] He’s really good!
“The first couple of records was very epic, it was very big and it was about mankind and more questions on a very big scale, and now it has been more focused around personal experiences and experiences he had himself.”
How’s Joe fitting in with In Flames?
To be honest, we haven’t played any shows yet. We actually haven’t really rehearsed yet, we just hang out pretty much in the studio. He did all the recording. We talked a lot during the recording process and we still talked a lot after. We actually asked him after the recording if he wanted to join us, we thought it was a great idea and he was super excited. We’re really looking forward to it. We’re really excited, but we’re just a bit nervous about the social side of being on tour and stuff like that that we don’t know yet, but he has got a lot of experience and he has been on tour with other bands before and he had his own band called Red. He did a bunch of touring, so about that I’m really sure this is going to be just awesome.
Battles is the first In Flames’ album without Daniel Svensson since 1998. How was it like for you guys to deal with the writing and recording process without him?
The writing session was no different from how we used to do. I always used a programm for drums, we arranged the songs and a lot of times we actually recorded all the guitars and everything on the program drums and then he would come afterwards and just would lay down the proper drums. That was really no different. The big difference is that Daniel was and is our brother. He had been with us for 17 years and all those years of touring we lived like a family, that was the hard part and that was the big difference. There are some pretty big shoes to fill up for Joe, but the way he is as a person so far as I know him now after these months, he could definitely fill up those shoes and more. It’s not an issue, but the sad thing is that Daniel left. He’s our brother and we’re gonna miss him.
Recording the album in Los Angeles had a big influence on you guys. What can you tell me more about that?
Whether you like it or not, I think the environment sort of affects the sound and the energy of the record. As much as the studio itself or the producer or whoever is gonna mix it, it would probably sound the same on every record, but everything else around it will probably change a bit. We really noticed when we did the recording in Berlin for Siren Charms. This was in the middle of the winter and it was really grey, cold, raining… It was really sort of dark in a way and that vibe sort of tricked into the record making it sound a bit melancholic. Not super dark, but it was melancholic in a way. And the same thing happened here in L.A., I mean, the weather was the total opposite. It was always hot everyday, we drank cold beer, barbecued and had a great time. It gave us time to enjoy our days. We were really inspired and we had so much time, everything was so efficient. Instead of ending up with 11 songs that we were working on, we ended up with 15 songs and we have 12 on the record. We never were like that. Obviously L.A. and the people we worked with had a lot to do with that.
Did L.A. inspired Anders for his lyrics on this album as well?
Oh yeah, definitely! For him it was a new way of working as well. We were there for almost three weeks before we started recording. We sat down, did demos and worked together on every aspect of the songs. During that time, he was a very good barbecued guy. [laughs] He loves to be around food, and so for us to be able to sit down for 20 minutes every now and then between takes, arrangements and everything put us obviously in a good state of mind, you know? But I also think that at the same time you can’t just write about barbecue, cold beer and sunny weather. [laughs] The first couple of records was very epic, it was very big and it was about mankind and more questions on a very big scale, and now it has been more focused around personal experiences and experiences he had himself. I think that’s a reason why we went away to record it as well to get inspired because sitting at home with kids and everything surrounding you, it’s hard to write about tough stuff, you know? He had to dig deep as he always does, he had to write something that meant something for him in one way or the other. Hopefully put the right words in the right order in a way and create something that means something for him and probably something totally different for you and me, but I’m sure the whole environment thing, the way we worked and everything affected the writing sessions and ultimately the recording.
Battles’ artwork is just amazing! Who did it and what’s its connection to the album?
The artwork was made by Blake Armstrong, a fantastic guy that we met a couple of years ago. He had a Meet & Greet and he just came up to us and said, “Guys, I draw and I have this whole script for a comic book.” We listened to him and he had this whole storyline and he was so excited, he knew everything about us and he showed us some ideas and we were blown away by how talented this guy is. We kept contact and working with him and he showed us the ideas he had for the magazine. We did Jesters Curse and that turned out fantastic. When we did Siren Charms, it was natural for us to work with him again. Also, when it came time for Battles, we wanted to have two hands sort of tooling towards different ties and in my opinion that symbolizes the inner struggles you have and not being sure what direction to go. I also like the fact that he designed a sort of retro sci-fi vibe to it because we are all nerds. I’m probably the biggest nerd there is [laughs] and I love that fact. It’s like old Star Trek and I love the colors and everything. I think it’s so different from most of the stuff you see nowadays. He just did a killer job, as always.
“We were really inspired and we had so much time, everything was so efficient. Instead of ending up with 11 songs that we were working on, we ended up with 15 songs and we have 12 on the record. We never were like that. Obviously L.A. and the people we worked with had a lot to do with that.”
Overall, how would you describe Battles represent to you guys at this point of your career?
[laughs] I have my sort of perspective of the record and in a few and not so sexy words, I would say it’s a very guitar-driven, very melodic, straight to the point In Flames album. I wouldn’t even go too far to say that’s a death metal album because we were never really death metal, we have always been a metal band. And it’s In Flames best record. [laughs]
Really hard question now! Which In Flames record is by far your favorite and why?
It’s always the last one. [laughs] It might sound like a cliché, but just imagine these are all new songs, this is all stuff that we’ve been working really hard and very recently on, so for me it’s always gonna be like that. If you ask me in about 40 years and I look back to our career that will have more than 50 years, then I’ll might be able to have some sort of a perspective one. [laughs] But right now, it’s always the last. It will always be.
In January 2017, you guys will embark on a tour with Avenged Sevenfold and Disturbed. What are you looking forward for that tour?
For us, it’s a great opportunity to reach a lot of people in the UK. I wouldn’t say off limits, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to play as much as we wanted there and this is a fantastic opportunity to play with such really great bands that we’ve been following for many years. We’re super excited and it will be a great opportunity to reach a lot of people.