Swedish melodic (death?) rockers In Flames have had quite a long and eventful musical history since their formation. However, many member changes have not impacted on their musical development, with their most recent release Battles being one of their strongest albums to date. The band have evolved in their musical direction, incorporating other elements and musical diversity into their sound. I recently saw first-hand their live onslaught as openers on the Avenged Sevenfold/Disturbed arena tour. Coming away very impressed and greatly entertained by their live show, I was keen to find out more about the band. Fortunately, due to the very kind Claire, at their record label Nuclear Blast, I was able to be offered an interview slot when the band arrived in London despite them having a very hectic press schedule. Long-standing guitarist (and former drummer) with the band, Björn Gelotte, spent a quick chat with myself before In Flames were scheduled to do a live question and answer session for Kerrang! magazine. I started by discussing the relative pros and cons of being an opening band on an arena tour. The band faced going on stage at an unusually early time of 6:15pm, when many fans would either just be finishing work or travelling on their way to the venue.
Has the tour with Avenged Sevenfold proved as beneficial to In Flames as they believed that it would be?
It’s been a great opportunity for us, this. Big shows, lot of people. Yeah. It’s been good.
What about the early start times? Has that not been a problem for you?
We’ve been sort of lucky with that. They’re good at letting people in. Also, we don’t start until 45 minutes after doors, so by the time we’re done it’s pretty much packed.
What about touring generally? Do you get much opportunity to get out and explore the different towns that you go through?
Not really. It depends. It depends on what kind of tour it is. If you’re lucky enough to have an off day somewhere where it’s nice and not only a travel day, but we try nowadays. The more you tour, the more you want to do other stuff on the side. We go to beer breweries.
Saw the show the other night in Manchester. The set list generally seems to be sort of a career best. Is the set list selection generally a problem for the band before a tour, or is it something that you all chip in with?
I’d say it doesn’t get easier if you put it like that. We have twelve records out now, a lot of songs, and a lot of stuff that you want to play, and a lot of songs that you’re sure that a lot people want to hear, but for us now, this is a 45-minute set, and we’re cramming in as much as we can, and that’s how we need to deal with it. But it’s something that we all talk about, what’s fun to play, if we feel there’s something new we want to try, or something that we haven’t played in a while. Also, playing the new songs: we’re here to promote those as well.
You first, of course, you’re well known these days for playing guitar, but you first joined the band as a drummer. I just wondered if you still play drums?
Well, it happens every three, four months, maybe, that I see a drum kit and it itches a little bit to play, but I’m not a drummer to begin with. As soon as I sit behind the drum kit, I remember why I’m not playing drums.
The sound of the band itself has obviously changed quite significantly from the early releases. Your label described you as “melodic death metal.” How would you describe the band’s sound today, as it is on the Battles album, for example?
I would call it melodic metal. The “death” part has never been something … We’ve never dealt with those issues. But we were labeled “death metal” because we were sounding more like those bands did back then. And that’s where we started out! It took us a while to understand what we wanted to do, but then we’ve been constantly learning from the touring, and defining and redefining our sound. It’s something I think happens over this amount of time. It’s over 20 years.
Many albums, we’ve used many different producers, we don’t write on the road, which means that we finish an album cycle with all the touring before we start again. And for us it’s just natural, and it’s like a red thread going through everything, but from the outside listening to it, it might be a huge step, but in my head, it’s not.
Do you think that’s just part of the natural evolution of a band over the years, or is it something that individual members have started exploring other musical styles and genres themselves, which they bring in?
I wouldn’t say that we have, in any way, ever been confined to a genre. That was not the point to begin with. The whole point was to experiment. To incorporate a lot of melodies with the aggressiveness of death metal. We’re still doing that. So we haven’t really changed that way. It’s a matter of what kind of clothes you put on it. The sound and the producer and the studio. All these things make a difference. But in our heads and minds and the plan for us when we start working on a record is always the same. Melody comes first. And then we add the aggressiveness.
Well, no. I’d say that what we’re doing is sort of moving around melodies. It’s not only the guitars. It used to be only guitars, because that’s the only way we knew how to do it back then. But now we’re using keyboards, we’re using strings, we’re using vocals to a great extent today, which is really challenging for us. It’s an exciting challenge to find new ways of doing it. But it’s a matter of taste, in the end. This is what we love. And it keeps us interested and challenged and happy, which means that 20 years in, 20 plus years into our careers, we’re still having fun opening for bands in the UK, you know what I mean?
Jesper is obviously moved on from the band, and I just wondered if you were still working with him musically?
I haven’t done that in quite a while. We talk every now and then. Actually, right before the tour we hung out the whole evening. He’s working on different projects: he’s done some movie music, he’s doing some stuff with Peter, he’s got this … I’d say people will be surprised when it comes out. I think it should be exciting to listen to. I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m always excited when he’s doing something.
So, that band project that you had with him all ends? You’ve no plans to move forward and do anything.
No, not really. We did it then and it was fun, and then it turned into something we weren’t so happy with. So, you know, labels and stuff took over. It was not what we intended to do. I kind of lost interest there, and my sister who was singing, she didn’t want to do it anymore, touring was not for her. That was half the fun for me.
On stage, In Flames, as I saw myself the other night … It’s brutal, powerful music. I just wondered how you wind down and like to relax offstage?
Well normally, I just hang out with friends. We go to the pub. We watch a lot of soccer … well, football. Play some video games, drink a lot of beer. Everybody out here on tour really wants to be on tour, which makes everything easier, because everybody enjoys every minute of it, even though it’s tough work, especially for our crew. But they like to hang out too. We’re all a big family, which is natural, I take it, after living so close to each other for that amount of time that we do. So yeah, winding down is … if you know what to do, it’s not a stress to go up on stage.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of music when you’re off the road?
Yeah, well I do love movies. I read a lot of books. I paint, just for relaxation. But yeah, I’m making a living out of my hobby, to be honest. I could never call this a job. It’s too much fun.
If I could take you back, can you recall your first introduction to music? Was it maybe a song on the radio, family record collection: can you take me back to share?
My dad’s a metalhead, and so, his record collection was… Well, I think the first things I probably heard was Sabbath, I would say. That would be my guess. So, his collection was Sabbath, Purple, Rainbow, Mountain, Dio, later Judas, Maiden, he introduced me to Van Halen, all these things. But I think Black Sabbath was one of the first things I listened to.
Are you going to get the opportunity to see them on their final tour? They’re coming through the UK now.
Yeah, I know. But I doubt it, I seriously doubt it. I wish I could. I had the fortune of touring with Sabbath when we did Ozzfest a couple of years ago. Well, 10-11 years ago – and back then it was a bit shaky. But now I’ve seen a couple of shows at festivals, and they’re really good. I would love to see it.
What’s next, then, for In Flames after these UK dates finish up with Avenged Sevenfold? Are you carrying that tour through to the rest of Europe?
Yeah. The plan is to rehearse a bit and then do a European run, sort of smaller, more intimate shows, do a few of those, and then we head over the US for some of those festivals that they have over there. Then back here for festivals. So, I think the year’s going to be very packed for us.
Any plans maybe to do some headlining dates yourselves?
Oh yeah, for sure! I’m not sure when, but definitely this year’s going to have them.
That’s great. Thank you very much! You’re in London tonight, enjoy the show tonight. And again, as I said, the show in Manchester the other night was my first In Flames live show. Very impressed. I’m looking forward to seeing you again.