Latest Release: I, the Mask (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.inflames.com
Together with bands such as the mighty At the Gates and the evocative Dark Tranquillity, In Flames are one of the pioneers of what became known as the ‘Gothenburg Sound’ many years ago. A nice marketing category perhaps but for those who’ve followed In Flames, their releases are varied and their sound has certainly changed over the years. Any band that has global success and wants to stay creative knows this to be essential. For this latest album titled I, the Mask, not only have they delivered some material that the diehards will eagerly appreciate but they’ve also maintained that growth in developing their sound. Teaming up again with a formidable production team that In Flames used on Battles has further encouraged expanding on a more collaborative approach. The album is a substantial return to form for any of the naysayers and Loud Online was fortunate enough to snare a phone chat to the extremely busy, long serving lead guitarist Björn Gelotte.
Were there any song writing changes this time around? I believe it was co-written with Anders which might be different to the approach on Battles in some ways.
Actually, Battles was written pretty much in the same way as I, The Mask. By that I mean that it was both me and Anders actually making other parts as well from the sound of Battles. Back in the day, it used to be basically be two camps in the band. It would be like, whoever wrote the music and whoever wrote the lyrics and we were super protective about that stuff. It used to be that we’d finish all of the songs and then Anders wrote the lyrics, recorded them and the first time we’d find out about it was in the mix. That was sometimes kind of frustrating, especially for him in not being part of the writing process in the way he is now. So, when we started working with Howard [Benson – Grammy nominated producer] on Battles, we kind of figured that this is a really good dude that we wanted to work with and he has a lot of experience so we can learn from him. He just opened us up and we started writing together in a different way. He could take part in the riffing, melodies and the arrangements of the songs and even take part in the lyrics. Maybe not so much in the content but in the melody of the vocals. You know, there were some words that he would write down to really trigger me and put me in a certain mood. We would write stuff just because of that. Really, that had never happened before until we started working with Howard. On this album, I, the Mask, we did it even more so. We came in unprepared because we knew this was going to be awesome. We had done one record with his team already so we came to him with an empty sheet and just started writing together. We built ourselves a little studio in the house that we were staying [in Los Angeles]. So, we wrote there all day and would spend five to six hours in the actual studio, working with the guys and then we went back home again and continued writing. It was a very good experience and very creative.
The album itself has a massive sound. You had it mixed by Chris Lord-Alge who has worked with Cheap Trick, then had it mastered by Ted Jensen who has worked with The Eagles, Pantera and Guns N’ Roses. That is pretty impressive.
Yeah, we got really lucky this time around to work with Chris. He is an amazing sound guy, you know. He is great at mixing and the really cool thing is that he has done hundreds of productions and done many together with Howard so they know each other inside out. So, the transition from what we did in the studio was so easy and it was almost like no questions when we got the first mixes back. There was very little that we wanted to change. It might be a sound here or there such as that scream should be shorter or longer. It was small stuff like that, there was never any talk about his actual sound and the production. Yeah, it was perfect and it happened to work out really well.
The guitar solos on there are brief but they do pop out in the mix very well. Have you changed anything with your guitar sound this time?
Not really, I mean, something that haven’t used for a long time but we used for the fun of it was the SansAmp rack [Tech21 analogue amplifier modeller] which is an old, old guitar processor or something. We used that for some of the solos but it will sound almost pretty much the same with whatever you use because I always have a wah effect and my EMGs in my guitar. I think that a lot of it is really with the way that I play and then it is just a matter of mixing it properly. Also, we have learned over the years how to arrange the rhythm parts when it comes to solos so you don’t need to raise the guitar in the mix. It works really well live. At least it does for later songs as I’ve always had a more laid back rhythm part in order for the solos or melodies to shine a little bit more. I think it is due to a lot of things that have just fallen into place.
Are using your Gibson Les Paul Custom any more than your similar signature Epiphone guitar?
I am using my Epiphones and I am very fortunate that I have two signature models. Really, this is all I am playing since I got the first prototype. I am absolutely in love with this guitar so I am using it all the time. I am using it live and on the records so yeah, I am very proud of it.
Speaking of live, you’ve got Chris Broderick playing rhythm guitar.
Yep, that is right. Niclas [Engelin] had to stay home this tour so we’ve had very little time but were very lucky when Chris said he was available and wanted to do it. He absolutely is an awesome guitar player and he had about 48 hours to learn about seventeen songs and yet he did it. It is amazing just how good that guy is at guitar.
Does it mean you can include more trade off solos like you had with Jesper back in the day?
Yeah and I mean, we work every day on it, a little bit. We’ll play guitar for an hour to an hour and a half before the show so we can just come up with stuff we want to try like different harmonies or dual leads and stuff like that. I’ve known Chris for something like eighteen years so I have always known that he is really, really good but it is great to finally get him to play with us. There is a lot of fun stuff in the set and I am actually practising again now for the first time in forever, you know. He copes with the tunings which are C but then we drop the bottom string down to B flat.
Listening to the entire album, to my ears the first half is really a more traditional approach of what diehards would expect from In Flames. Then it starts to get a little more experimental, in a sense during the second half of the album. Would you agree with that?
Let’s put it like this; we always write an album. We don’t write just a song or something for radio or for a single. We always write an album. It is kind of traditional and even conservative but that is how we grew up and how we’ve always listened to music, you know. So, you start from the beginning and then you listen to the whole album. That way it takes you on sort of a journey, so this will mean something to you and like with any journey, you have a lot of different ingredients to make it interesting. That is what we try to do and even early on in the song writing process, Anders starts putting together the track listing together in the way that he thinks it should be and that is awesome. Then we have a blue print and we can see what is missing, what needs to be done and what we maybe have overdone and stuff like that. So, for us it is the natural progression of the album with each song leading into the next song, in a way and with a great start and a really strong finish. I really wouldn’t know if the first half is this way and then the other half is that way because for me, it is just the way that it is supposed to be.
Spatial dynamics are great such as with later album songs like ‘All the Pain’ which are very well done with good production. I am assuming you have veto powers with the arrangements and the instrumentation.
Oh, for all of us, yeah. We’re the ones doing it so Anders and myself wrote all of the demos together and even the riffs. Plus we had awesome people polishing it and making it great. I was working with Mike [Plotnikoff – recording engineer] everyday basically, recording guitars and bass. Also, Joe Rickard was playing the drums but we did those afterwards so we were using programmed drums all the way up until the last week or so when we recorded the drums. So, you know, having everything in place and arranging everything as well as talking a lot to Howard about what was missing or what should be better, what we could improve or what we should change. When we felt we were ready, we gave all that to Chris and then having him mix it for us was just icing on the cake. It turned out really well.
The album’s theme I guess you could say taps into being disconnected in a connected world. Do you think that the younger audience will pick up on that commentary?
Yeah, we have talked a lot about it in the interviews that we have done and a lot of people tend to have their own view or their own version of pretty much what it is that we are talking about. It is a time when people are able to just show the parts of themselves that they want to show especially on social media but also in general, when you meet people. It is not that easy to get to know somebody today, you know and everything is so fast. It seems like no one really takes the time to get to know someone or to connect. I think that is what is all around us and most people are picking up on that as we’re talking about it.
Finally, the recent In Flames 13 LP box set [In Flames 1993-2011] must be something you’re extremely proud of as a body of work.
Of course, it is always awesome to have it on vinyl because that is the format that I grew up with and I think it offers something extra. It is something physical to hold and it is something that exists to be held. I kind of like the smell of it too, ha-ha. I am practical though when it comes to listening to music. I do like Spotify these days as I don’t need to carry all of these vinyl albums and DVDs around anymore. I just have everything at the tip of my finger. But Anders, at my guess would have a pretty big collection because he is always out buying vinyl. I do like that format and I am glad to see it coming back a little bit because it was very dull for a moment in music formats but now that it is coming back, I like it.