A few weeks ago, In Flames released their thirteenth studio album I, The Mask, in partnership with Eleven Seven Music and Nuclear Blast. An impressive step forward for the band, the new offering boasts twelve tracks that pull sounds from their lengthy back-catalog while forging new ground by reuniting with Grammy-nominated producer Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, Motörhead).
Singer Anders Fridén and lead guitarist Björn Gelotte worked together in Los Angeles for three weeks before the production of I, The Mask began. They came up with a bulk of the songs during those sessions, with Benson weighing in on many of the tracks as they were coming together. I, The Mask sounds like a group forging new ground, not an easy thing for an act pushing the three-decade mark as an active entity.
For me, as a longtime fan of the group, this album makes me the most excited I’ve been about In Flames since the release of 2006’s Come Clarity. In fact, I think it’s the best full album they have have ever done. In Flames have just wrapped up a run of North American dates opening for Within Temptation. During their Toronto stop a few weeks back, Anders Fridén took some time to speak with us about I, The Mask, keeping a band together for so long, and what Benson specifically helped bring out during the recording process.
This new album you’ve put out, I, The Mask, I think it’s your best album.
Anders Fridén: Ever?
Yeah. Honestly, I really do.
Fridén: That’s big. Thirteen albums so that’s cool.
The music video for “Call My Name” was just released last month, the latest to come from I, The Mask.
And with you being in the band for over two decades now, how do you find that you like to stay fresh when you’re creating music for In Flames?
Fridén: Well, just being me. I mean being “us.” You know, whatever people think you know we don’t really look at what’s going on around us. You know we just tried to do the best we possibly can. That’s how it’s always been. And we don’t write on the road. So, that’s why every album is a little bit different, I guess. You gain experiences, and we just write whatever we feel like. If it feels good. If it hits you in the heart, in the stomach and it feels great, then we’ll put it on the album. If not, then fuck it.
I don’t think in terms of “oh I have to stay fresh. I have to just stay updated,” you know? I feel great about every album. That’s the thing. And all of the previous albums led up to this point. You know as well. We don’t really look back in history we try to bring it with us and go forward.
Do you find you ever feel like the amount of time that you’ve been in the band is a burden at all with regards to trying to stay fresh and trying to come up with new ideas?
Fridén: No, I don’t think in those terms. People from the outside maybe they want to put that on you. But I don’t because I know that we are the best in doing what we do. No one else can do that. I don’t mean no one else can do what we do, but no one else can be me. You know what I mean? No, that doesn’t stress me out. A record company doesn’t put any stress on us. You know we decide when we want to record and we give them the album when we are done. We don’t have anyone else in the studio going “you should do this, or you should do that.”
I read that you worked with a vocal trainer before doing this album.
Fridén: Yeah. I did. I did it on the previous album as well on Battles because we started working with Howard Benson. And he said “I usually send my guys, the singers I have in the studio to a vocal coach. So they are more prepared when it’s time to record.” Because, usually, it takes you a week or so to get up to form and get the old engine rolling, you know. And so yeah I went a few times on Battles, and when we decided to go back to L.A. to record again, I said so again. I had a lot of fun doing it.
I, The Mask was just released at the beginning of March via Eleven Seven and Nuclear Blast Records.
I was very stubborn at first. Well, skeptical, I should say. Because it’s like “I know best. I’ve done this for so many years. I have my homeschool technique” and whatever. I didn’t want that to change. But then I did it, and it was a lot of fun I did more about not only not singing scales up and down. Because that’s what I saw myself doing sitting behind someone behind a piano. And I’d be going “la la la la la la la la” up and down, up and down, you know? But it was not like that at all.
We were talking a lot, and (Benson) was like more like a guru. I explained my days and how I felt then and we talked about that and then. We talked a lot about breathing and how you treat your body in certain ways and how you should approach a chorus. If it’s something that you feel like “oh I don’t really master this.” You shouldn’t think so far ahead. I mean if you’re prepared, your body will make that jump for you in tonal range and scales. Wherever you want to go and octaves and stuff like that. To me, it was getting to understand my instrument better which was interesting.
Do you find that some of these new songs are harder to reproduce given that you are hitting different octaves and tones?
Fridén: The new ones? No, those are easier now because I’ve expanded my vocal cords for sure. And it makes it easier for Björn [Gelotte, lead guitar] and me when we write because we know now where I can go like high and where I can go low and which notes are the best and what chords or the best and stuff like that. And it makes my screaming vocal better as well because I feel like I have more control.
I feel like In Flames and a lot of other bands that sound kind of like your music have fans that just want you to redo your first and second albums over and over again. They like that sound, and it’s almost like they want you to sort of do it over and over again.
Fridén: Yes, but I guess I get that side of a fan perspective. If there’s something that you fell in love with for the first time and you are like “I want to have that fix again.” I get it. But as a musician, you just want to continue evolving. At least we do. But I totally get that. The thing is I can never write for them. I write for myself first and foremost. Then, of course, we appreciate that we have the fans. I mean that’s the reason we can do what we do. It’s amazing. We talked about how long I’ve been in the band. It’s my whole grown-up life I’ve been doing this, you know? And I’ve been traveling the world so many times, around, around and around. And it’s because of the fans. But I can’t have them in mind when I write the music.
“I Am Above” was the first single and music video released from I, The Mask.
Can you maybe pick something that you find that Howard Benson brings out with you and Bjorn that helps your music and your writing?
Fridén: Oh, he’s really calm. He would listen to our demos and say, “guys this is not necessary,” you know. Or, “think about this.” Or maybe if this riff should move here, this chorus could be a pre-chorus instead, and then you have to write the new better stronger chorus. So things like that, you know? But he just let us be who we are really. And he’s very effective when it comes to recording. Earlier we worked with a lot of great guys of course, but it’s been like, “Oh no, I want this type of guitar sound. I have this idea and how this song would be best for it.” And then it takes you two hours to dial in the right tone and whatever and then the whole feeling and the idea of that piece is sort of lost you know.
Right now, we just go in, and we bang it out really quick. I don’t overdub my vocals like a hundred times to get that perfect pitch or whatever. It’s more after the right type of feeling and so on. He pushes me when I’m behind the mic. “Now you sound tired.” “Now you sound like this.” Knowing that I should get on top and be more aggressive or something like that. So that’s very good. It’s just (in general) how they make us, you know. There’s a certain amount of us knowing it’s gonna be good in the end.
This tour package with Within Temptation is kind of special because you’ve recorded with them on the on their new album. Will you perform with them tonight? Are you performing live with them?
Fridén: No, I have not yet. And I don’t think it’s gonna be tonight either. Maybe one time on this tour. Yeah, maybe people were expecting me to do it every night, but I feel like I want to do it like once or twice to maybe to make it more special.
Can you talk a little bit about that track. The first time that you heard it and how Within Temptation approached you to record on it?
Fridén: They asked me if I want to do something and I said sure because I don’t usually do that. I don’t do many of these things. You know, I try to be selective but they sent me the track before I decided to do anything and I really liked it. And I said okay cool. And it’s always fun when I do it when it’s not my own (song). I didn’t have to think so much it’s just like the lyrics were there and just it was more about executing. Just doing it. And I did in my house like in my little studio that I had and sent this stuff to them and then it was up to them (to) mix and do whatever they want with it. You know? I actually did more things than you can hear on the final track. But again it’s their song; they can do whatever they want with it. And I think it’s a great song.
Are there songs on I, The Mask that you can pick out that showcase some of the different things that you were working on using the vocal trainer that you worked with?
Fridén: Hmm….. No, not really. I mean that I think that I know… The whole album. It’s, I mean, if you listen to the album and compare it to Battles compared to Siren Charms and compare it backward and backward, I mean obviously I think everyone who paid attention to us can hear the difference. You know, I don’t like to explain everything either. It’s what it is, you know?
Especially in this day and age everybody wants everything from an artist like you know they want to see what you’re doing in the studio they want to hear if it’s a track by track, they want an explanation, and they want this, this and this until there is very little mystery left. I want people to listen to it. I don’t want someone asking me that, “can you please explain this album to me?” No. You are the ones I should listen to. You should explain it to me and not the other way around. The music is there. That’s all the explanation you’re going to need and going to get.
I hear tracks like “Follow Me” and “Call My Name” and “Stay With Me.” And I feel like I’m hearing something a little different like I have heard that on previous albums, not to the extent that you’d taken them to on these songs.
Fridén: Yeah. They are good tracks.
They are my three favourite tracks off the new album.
Fridén: I mean the thing is I would like this… Imagine, you don’t know, you don’t understand what the hell I’m singing about, or you don’t even understand English. But I want you to maybe feel something just because the voice is the way it is. That’s why I can’t decide what type of vocals I’m going to do before the track is done. It’s like I’m painting. Adding the last colours to the painting. So it has to be done in a certain way, and it has to transcribe a certain emotion I guess.
Do you ever miss your dreadlocks?
Fridén: Nooooo. No. It was a drag being on tour and getting dirty and sweaty, and because you really need to take care of them, otherwise they start to smell. So no, not at all.
“Burn” was the fourth single released off of I, The Mask.
You’ve toured with some of the biggest bands in the world. Is there maybe a story that you can pick from one of them that you learned something in particular that you still take with you today?
Fridén: Well, I usually say the first time on tour with Slayer. How they approach their show and their audience because their audience is quite demanding. Speaking of certain eras, they want that certain era of the band. Even though they’ve released new albums, it seems like their fans could be stuck in certain times or whatever. Slayer was treating their fans with so much respect just getting out there and just hammering it down. Even if it was a new song or an older song and that attitude, that’s what I try to do myself as well. Because people pay money to go and see you. No matter how you feel before the show, don’t bring that on to your fans on stage. You should give them your all. And I think that’s an amazing approach. And that’s something I want to do as well.
Over the past few decades social media has changed many aspects of our history and fans connecting with musicians. Some would say it’s good. Some would say it’s bad. I’m curious how you feel about it. Are you a social media guy now?
Fridén: No. Well, I’ve got an Instagram account of course, but it’s more of a one-way communication. Because I don’t communicate with a lot of people back and forth and it’s like a hate/love relationship I guess. I mean I honestly feel it’s good. It’s a good way to reach out and tell like ok, I’m here in your state right now, come watch my band. And it’s a good tool for a new band if you don’t have a label behind you then you can do a lot of self-promotion which is great. This was difficult back in the day, there were flyers, and you got to shows and sell your demos. So now you can do everything from your bedroom instead.
But it’s also stressful as well. I don’t try to take part in too much on that. I’ve never had a Facebook because I have no time to deal with that stuff. The people who know me, or I know them, I will meet up anyway and then it will be face-to-face talk. It’s just that we try to show a world that is not real online as well? We show people “look how good and how happy I am and how great I am” in all these ways and maybe people are just super sad inside. It could be fake. I mean, there are good things about it as well. Imagine if you suffer from social anxiety or something like that. It could be a good way to reach out to people as well.
You’ve toured through Canada a number of times. Is there an attribute or something about your Canadian fans that sticks out in your mind that you could maybe articulate?
Fridén: It feels a little bit more European, especially the French side, of course. But, overall, we have always been welcome up here and everybody’s been great. I mean the shows are always special. I don’t know what it is with In Flames and Canada. It just seemed to work. And you know it seems like people appreciate it a little bit more where bands don’t come through all the time. It can be a little bit like “I don’t go this week because they will come next week,” or “I’ve seen this type of music a million times already,” and then they stand with their arms crossed.
Here, people are really big into music. Now tonight it’s not our show, it’s Within Temptation’s show. We get to play in front of people that might never have heard us before, which is both fun. But it can be a bit hard some times, you know like you really have to work. But, I mean, that’s why we are here. You can’t preach to the converted all the time.
Is Chris Broderick with you tonight?
He’s playing with you?
Fridén: Yeah. He’s here. He’s a good friend from seventeen years ago now. When he opened up for us like seventeen years ago when he was in Jag Panzer. We’ve been friends since. He’s pretty good on the guitar (laughs).