Hailing from the land of melodic death metal, In Flames is one of the Sweden’s best exports (besides ABBA and Absolut Vodka). Recently I got to catch up with Björn, guitarist, songwriter and one of the band’s original members. Read on to learn about what he has to say on the meaning of the latest album Sounds Of A Playground Fading, guitarist Jesper’s departure, nakedness, and more.
What’s it been like touring with Trivium?
Björn: It’s always nice being around those guys because they’re really dedicated to what they do, very professional. They know what they want. King, it was the first time I met them, extremely cool guys as well, also very dedicated to what they do – I mean, they did this tour in a van and the route for this tour was crazy.
As a band that hails from Europe, what do you think of touring in the US? I mean, obviously Sweden is like home-base for you.
Björn: It has certain similarities, audience-wise. It’s actually quite different now because we have a younger audience in Europe – maybe that’s because some of the places here (in the US) are 21 and over, because of the alcohol law. I don’t see as many young people as we have in Europe. Rejuvenation or regrowth is really important. But still, we have a lot of fans over here so it makes sense for us to tour here. The attendance has been really good considering how many tours are out there at the same time – you have Gigantour, Machine Head is out with their album – so we’ve been very fortunate to have a strong package people want to see and listen to.
Yeah, a great lineup indeed! So, Anders is the main lyricist, right?
Björn: THE lyricist. [laughs]
So this question would be more relevant to him, but for you, in the past with albums like Lunar Strain and all, the themes were more astrological, kind of apocalyptic.
Björn: Perhaps a bit more epic, I would say.
Right, but for this album, what have the lyrical themes meant for you?
Björn: From a personal point of view, I would say it’s still a look at the big scheme of things. Basically what I understand of it and the way I interpret the lyrics, the concept of it – it’s not a concept album though – what most of the lyrics are about is: imagine everything you have right now, if you knew it had an end, an expiration date or whatever, your life perhaps, your existence, what would you do before it all disappears? Would you live life to the fullest? Would you just be apathetic at home? Would you become a criminal to try it? It is kind of a big thing as well. It’s a cool point of view. It raises a lot of interesting questions.
Check out the song: “Where The Dead Ships Dwell”
Yeah, it does. When I first heard Sounds Of A Playground Fading, I thought of the loss of innocence and childhood.
Björn: Yes, that’s the transition as well. We live in a world and suddenly we understand well, shit, things will end, y’know? And everything has an end, but what if you knew when exactly that would be?
Exactly. Then it becomes a matter of coming to terms with it.
Björn: Yeah, and not only dealing with it, but also growing with it.
That’s excellent! I guess another big happening recently was Jesper’s departure – it was obviously very sad for us as fans. So for this album you did most or all of the writing? How was the writing process for you without Jesper?
Björn: It was very different to begin with. Most of the time when we put together melodies for our songs, he might have a melody and I might have a riff, or the opposite – we just throw things together and we just work all the way up until the song is done. We do a little bit of rearrangement with all of us together, and then the song is pretty much done – we just record it.
This time around, I did a lot of melodies, riffs, but I wanted everyone to be part of it, because it might get really one-sided if one person is doing all the arrangements and everything. So I did all the music, let all the guys listen to it, we started talking it out and arranging it in a way that we felt had the most dynamics and energy in it, not only the most effective way of reaching the good parts of course – you have to make it interesting all the way. So that was really good, bouncing ideas off of the other guys. In all honesty, they know as much as I do how bands are supposed to sound – they’ve been part of creating that sound for many years as well. But it was a little bit weird in the beginning, but Jesper had so many issues with touring that it was simply not possible for him to continue with him.
Yeah, and definitely, well, compared to Trivium for instance, it was much more explicit why he (Jesper) left. I mean, there was the alcohol issues.
Björn: Yeah, and that was part of the touring, because being on tour is very destructive for him. It’s just the environment sometimes, and it could be very frustrating for him. And the access to alcohol is, I would say unlimited, if you’re really looking for it.
So it becomes a matter of limiting yourself while you’re on tour?
Björn: Not necessarily – I can handle it. We’re all adults; we can handle the combination of being on tour and not being at home. Like I said, this is a nice venue, but we’ve been through way worse.
Yes, definitely. What’s it been like working with Niclas?
Björn: It’s been fantastic. His personality – he’s a lot of fun to be around. I’ve known him ever since I was a kid – I used to watch his band. He was always in bands, very active in the local scene where I grew up. He’s a friend of my cousin’s actually – they went to school together. I’d known him very early on. back in 1997, we had a sort of transition, we had some members that left, our bass player and guitar player – I was playing drums at that time. They left and we found Peter, and that was fantastic, I mean, a real bass player. Johan (Larsson) was never really a bass player. He played with a pick.
Right, it’s different having a makeshift bassist who’s originally a guitarist.
Björn: Yeah, Johan was playing it like guitar, but he was playing bass – it has a whole new level of…. I love Johan so it’s nothing against him. [laughs] But when Peter came in, it opened up new ways of writing, of actually using the rhythm section. The only problem with the rhythm section was that I was part of it! ‘Cause I’m not really a drummer.
[laughs] So you prefer guitar?
Björn: Oh yeah, oh yeah. So, we were looking for a guitarist and we talked to Niclas, and it didn’t quite work out because he was doing his own thing, but we did the Summer festivals so we had some experience with his guitar playing and everything. So when Jesper first had some problems – it happened over years – we told him to take it one show at a time, y’know? The coolest part was that three days before the tour, we found out Jesper couldn’t make it, and… I just called Niclas, he was the only guy I could think of. I just went, “Dude, you wanna go around the world?” “Yeah sure! But what’s it about?” “Well Jesper couldn’t make it we’ve got 3 days to learn 17 songs.”
Björn: And he said “O…k let me think about it” and then half an hour later he called me back and said “ok let’s go”. I don’t know how many pots of coffee we went through, but within those three days we had all the songs pretty much nailed. And we polished them. So he’s a fantastic guy to work with.
Where do you get your melodies from? I know you probably have your folk music influences and all, but it seems to come from some infinite pot of melodies that you just draw from.
Björn: To be honest, I really don’t know. It’s not like I go to a special mental place to find it. It’s just part of how I, how we grew up listening to music. I mean, a melody might be one way when it starts out, but then when we work on it, we bounce the ideas on and off, it might change into something different, maybe something more contemporary or modern or maybe we pull it back a bit to something earlier. It’s limitless.
And what we like about it is it never sounds the same.
Björn: That depends though; if you do something, you might think “I’ve kinda heard this before”. Maybe it was in my head, but you twist and bend it a bit and you make it into a new melody. (Gets distracted by singer Anders noisily opening a bag of chips; Anders says, “Sorry guys, it’s dinnertime!”) In the end, we have a sound, and when we put those melodies and rhythm parts in, they will turn into an In Flames song.
Anders: It’s in the magic fingers!
Björn: [laughs] Yeah! I mean, we developed our identity over the years in our sound.
Absolutely. I think by now, you definitely have a very cohesive, polished sound.
Björn: Yeah, we know exactly what we want to do, it’s just that we don’t have a recipe so that’s why we have slight alterations on every record, to make it interesting and challenging for us, because we don’t wanna do the same melodies, rhythm parts, same songs, same albums. So we evolve and come up with new ways of approaching the same thing we do.
Yes, I think that’s the best way to describe this last album (Sounds Of A Playground Fading). For the record, I think you did a great job. Even if Jesper wasn’t in the formula, you still captured the sound.
Björn: As I said, we all know collectively. However clichéd this might sound, the band’s sound is bigger than any individual member, and that’s something that needs to be developed over the years. We’ve had a lot of time to develop.
20 years! Would you guys consider doing a special tour for your 20th anniversary?
Björn: I don’t know, we haven’t really talked about it, but well, it wouldn’t be a bad idea!
I think it’d be great, because I looked at the setlist for tonight, I mean it’s gonna be a great show, but fans would miss the older songs and you need a platform to perform them again.
Björn: A lot of people and go dig deep to be more comfortable with the new stuff, but it’s more pleasing to a certain few. Our audience is fairly unaware of our earlier stuff – we notice that when we play older stuff. It’s kinda frustrating, but at the same time, for us, to play the newer stuff is more exciting and challenging, it’s fresh – we didn’t play these songs a thousand times. At the same time, if we play something older, we want to make it special – we work really hard and give them a makeover, and that’s a couple weeks’ work, then we play them on a tour and 3 people understand it out of 1800. So sometimes it’s a little bit frustrating and a waste of time.
And obviously the newer stuff is more modern metal.
Björn: And it’s easier to be played live. The old stuff is not. Those were made for the record at that time. There is no dynamics to be used live so it’s really hard to make the old songs fit into a proper live show.
Check out the song: “Deliver Us”
So it was a couple years ago when Pendulum’s Immersion came out, and I was thrilled to hear the track “Self Vs Self”. What was it like working with Rob Swire?
Björn: It was actually a really spontaneous thing – we heard that these guys were doing a new album. I didn’t really about them before; I just played some songs with them so I sort of knew what their music style was. They were making an album they wanted to incorporate their influences into, and that was really cool to hear because it was a different music style that I’ve ever listened to.
So they cited you all as an influence on them? That’s really cool.
Björn: Yeah! And that’s why I was so interested to do it. We had a day off in London, went to their studio and just sat down, had a couple of beers, put together a bunch of riffs and we rearranged it and everything. Peter put down the bass to make it sound like an In Flames thing, they put their drums on it, Anders and Rob put their vocals on later. It all turned into a hybrid sort of thing – it sounds very much like In Flames, like a remixed In Flames. A good fusion.
From what I see, more people know about In Flames when it comes to Swedish music, compared to other bands, so it seems like In Flames is much more mainstream as far as metal goes. What do you think about that? Is that a good thing?
Björn: It’s not something to strive for. We just do the music that we like and we think is lacking out there. We’ve actually been very persistent and adamant about the fact that we decide everything and not our record label. In the end, I think that’s one of the reasons we’re still together as a band. We do what we find interesting. So if that’s turned into mainstream, that’s great because that means a lot of people think alike.
The restaurant, 2112, that’s been an interesting endeavor for you guys?
Björn: Very! Me and Peter sat down a while ago in Taiwan and talked about having your own place; we had some time off and we figured “How hard can it be? Let’s do it!” And it’s been really hard. [laughs] But it’s been a lot of fun, a learning experience. It’s a very beautiful little place, great food, great drinks, a place where you want to hang out. It’s very intimate if you want it to be. We try to bring our friends over whenever they’re playing, and treat them to good food, a nice time before the show, like we would like to have it. We created it in the image that we wanted to have it and we have excellent personnel taking care of it.
I watched the A Sense Of Purpose DVD – do you guys still have Naked Wednesdays?
Björn: [laughs] We’ve evolved into spontaneous nakedness.
Is this a Nordic thing?! I interviewed Apocalyptica awhile back and they recorded a song completely naked.
Björn: I think it’s a combination of alcohol and craziness and boredom a lot of the time!
Would you ever consider going back to long hair?
Björn: Me? No. [laughs] That’s a question I’ve gotten a lot. Point is, I’m getting older and if I grew long hair now, it’s all grey and missing bits here and there, and I’d look like one of those weird-looking guys who still thinks he’s in the 70’s! It’s not my thing.