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IN FLAMES and "Clayman"

Interview with Bjorn Gelotte by Christopher J. Kelter - June 28, 2000

    Hot on the heels of the successful European release of "Clayman" In Flames are making the media rounds and promoting the new release here in America. I discussed "Clayman" and other aspects of In Flames with guitarist Bjorn Gelotte in an effort to learn more about the band and its place in the metal world.

Rough Edge: In America we have a tendency to put tags or labels on bands...

Bjorn: It's not only in America that it happens like that. It's quite obvious everyone does that.

Rough Edge: Really?

Bjorn: Yeah, it is a problem everywhere.

Rough Edge: In Flames have gotten tagged with the term "melodic death metal' which I consider to be detrimental to the band's potential success in America. How would you describe In Flames without using the term "melodic death metal"?

Bjorn: It's really hard to put a label on yourself. I would say we play heavy metal with aggressive vocals. I would not use the word melodic - melody is there, but it is best to use the term heavy metal.

Rough Edge: Heavy metal, even for all of its overuse as a term, is still a pretty good description of In Flames. But heavy metal comes in many different styles and varieties. Can you explain some of the musical influences and things that you currently like that have been a part of In Flames and that have been integrated into the band for the last three albums?

Bjorn: I'd say that the fact that there are so many different styles of heavy metal has made it easy for us because it lets bands do their own thing. We've never been afraid of using any musical ideas in our songs. With the last three records we've been taking small steps in doing different things. We've been trying to expand, but not too much with each new CD. We've tried to stay focused on the music at the time and stay true to the music that we like. Mainly, we do this for ourselves. Also, with all of the different bands that are out there you will get influenced by everything. But, influences also come from touring and meeting all these crazy people. By touring with really good bands you will learn a lot - you'll learn about yourself and the way you play your instrument. All of this gets incorporated into the new music. We wrote "Clayman" so quickly because we were really inspired by the first U.S. tour - it was new territory for us as we had never done a U.S. tour before. We didn't know what to expect from the audience, the venues, getting our sound in each new place, we didn't know what to expect from anything. We were very energized and inspired when we went back home. 

Rough Edge: That was the tour with Moonspell, right?

Bjorn: Yes.

Rough Edge: I saw the last show of that tour at the Phantasmagoria. 

Bjorn: What did you think?

Rough Edge: Well, all I knew of In Flames was the "Embody The Invisible" song from a Nuclear Blast compilation. I went to the show because of Moonspell. But after being very impressed by the In Flames set I said to myself, "Damn, I have to buy more CDs now!"

Bjorn: Very cool.

Rough Edge: I was very impressed by the band's set and energy. 

Bjorn: I think you can tell we really enjoyed ourselves. It was a really good tour for us. Everything went perfectly - all the people surrounding the venues were great. 

Rough Edge: I know you were first a guitar player, but how did moving back to the guitar after playing drums on "Whoracle" affect your approach to being In Flames or affect your song-writing? Or did it have an effect at all?

Bjorn: Moving back to the guitar had a big effect. It got me back to all the energy that I wanted - the energy that I'd lost somewhere. I was never that comfortable playing the drums; from the very beginning the drums were not my main instrument. Moving back to the guitar didn't really affect the song-writing, but playing the guitar, which I've always been comfortable with, was important for me. Besides, moving back to the guitar allowed In Flames to get a really good drummer! 

Rough Edge: How has having the same line-up for two consecutive albums impacted the band? 

Bjorn: Having the same line-up had never happened before with In Flames. 

Rough Edge: Obviously that must have affected the band and I would presume mostly in a positive way. How did that affect "Clayman"? 

Bjorn: It affected us in many ways. First of all, after all the tours the band really came together as a group - it was like the band became a family; we're best friends; we hang out together. It was very important for the way that we wrote the music because now everybody is part of the writing process. Everybody had a say in everything - the riffs, the melodies, the way it was arranged. It was one of the reasons why we did "Clayman" so quickly - after all the touring it's still a lot of fun. 

Rough Edge: It always helps when you get to be with people you really like.

Bjorn: It makes it so easy - we have the best job in the world.

Rough Edge: I get the sense that some classic-type metal riffs were a deliberate part of the song-writing process for "Clayman" - particularly the intro to "Bullet Ride" and the entire song "Swim" - yet at the same time it avoided being 'retro.' How intentional was that?

Bjorn: It is intentional. Yet we had to make sure the riffs and melodies stood for themselves. We had to stand on solid ground - we tried to make most of the songs have a classic type of arrangement. It was intentional, but still not sacrificing the dynamics.

Rough Edge: Was there a lot of deconstructing and re-constructing of the songs?

Bjorn: Definitely. When we write music we don't have to keep certain ideas together just because it was originally written that way. But, everything still has to be natural for us. It should be easy to write music and everything should fall into place. We are not stuck to any plan or schedule - it's the only way to write. 

Rough Edge: I thought it was a nice throwback touch by adding the needle/vinyl static noise at the beginning of the first track and the end of the last track for "Clayman" - whose idea was that? 

Bjorn: I'm not sure. I think someone came up with the idea and we all discussed it - it puts the listener into the right state of mind. We love the format of vinyl - everything except the fact that the sound is not that good. (chuckles) We love everything about it - the format, the smell ...

Rough Edge: The size ...

Bjorn: Yeah, the size of it, too. We think it puts the listener into the right state of mind.

Rough Edge: Any particular theme to the lyrics this time around for "Clayman"? 

Bjorn: The lyrics are very personal. The lyrics reflect stuff that happens to Anders and the way he sees the world. The lyrics are not as majestic as before - the lyrics are more down to Earth. It's all about how hard it is to find your own identity. We get shaped all the time by media, by society, by those closest to us. It's hard to find yourself in all of this.

Rough Edge: When I listen to the words I get the sense of lingering humanity that shines through. I wonder if you and the rest of the band have any impact on how that happens. Any insight on that? 

Bjorn: Anders is a pretty complex person. When he writes the lyrics he always has something important to say - sometimes it is obvious and other times it is very abstract. Anders will never tell you specifics - he will paint a picture for the listener. Each listener must look or hear that picture and interpret the lyrics for themselves. The band doesn't have much input into the lyrics - maybe there's some input on how he sings it and what kind of emotions he's putting in there. 

Rough Edge: In Flames covered Treat's "World Of Promises" for the "Power From The North" compilation. Was that the band's choice and what influenced the band to pick that song?

Bjorn: Treat did not have a big impact on me, but "World Of Promises" as a song had an impact. I think it was the single that broke Treat to the public. To me it is a great song. It was really easy for the band to work with this song because we all knew it from our youth and everybody knew how to play it - we just wanted to put the In Flames brand on it.  Treat was not an important band for me though. 

Rough Edge: Jesper has Hammerfall as a musical outlet - do you have any other musical outlets or any other projects that you're working on? 

Bjorn: I have no official project that I'm working on. Of course, I like many kinds of music and I record a lot of my ideas just to get them out of my head. Me and Daniel (Svensson, In Flames drummer) have this gory death metal band just for fun, but it's nothing we record. 

Rough Edge: There are two countries right now that are really producing great music. One is Sweden of course, but the other is Finland - your geographic and musical neighbors. What do you think of the music coming out of Finland?

Bjorn: I think that in Finland there is a big heavy metal audience and it is a very healthy scene. Most of the metal bands that are good get played on the radio and make the charts. It's very different than Sweden - Finland has a very cool market. Most of the bands that are getting exposure are really good - To Die For, HIM, Children Of Bodom, Sentenced, Amorphis - those are really good bands. The bands from Finland are good for the heavy metal scene; and it's been very good for me because I really enjoy the music coming from Finland. 

Rough Edge: Fan reactions for In Flames shows are very enthusiastic to say the least - how does it feel when a room has its full attention to the band when it is playing?

Bjorn: It's excellent. It's the best appreciation that a band can get. It's great to see the fans sing along, really enjoying the music, dancing, head-banging, moshing. That's the reason we love to tour nowadays. In Flames started out as a studio band more or less. 

Rough Edge: A studio band? That wouldn't be cool.

Bjorn: I could never imagine only being a studio band. But the fan reaction is one of the best feelings in the world - it's the reason we still do this.

Rough Edge: Any news on the late Summer/early Fall tour? Is it true that In Flames will be touring with Earth Crisis?

Bjorn: Yes, I got all that confirmed the other day. The U.S. tour will happen in August - I don't know the details or the itinerary yet.  Skinlab will be on the tour, too. 

Rough Edge: Thanks for taking time with Rough Edge; good luck with "Clayman" and we'll see you on tour in August.

Bjorn: Thanks.


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