In Flames on Siren Charms! Sex, Raw Meat, and Blood
Anders Fridén and Björn Gelotte from In Flames were in London Town to discuss beer, trolls, cameras, and share insights into their latest offering: 11th studio album, Siren Charms.
HMA: Hi Anders and Björn. Björn – Happy Birthday for a couple of days ago. Did you do anything to celebrate?
Björn: I went out for dinner. It was really, really nice. It was boring, but, I’ve got three kids.
Anders: You were in your house, eating raw meat, swimming in blood, having sex with twenty women. At the same time; sex, raw meat AND blood, all at the same time…
Björn: That’s what I call a Rock Salad.
HMA: Your album, ‘Siren Charms’- interesting name. How did you come up with it, was it a group decision, and what does it mean to you personally?
Björn: It’s almost always taken somewhere from the lyrics, since it’s never a concept album – it’s never a story covered over 12, 13 songs; But it kindof has a theme…
Anders: It takes a while for me to come up with a title. It’s got to feel right. I might look at my lyrics and be like ‘Hm, maybe’, and then ‘No, it doesn’t feel good’. I’ll maybe say it out loud a few times – ‘Is this good?’
Björn: ‘Is this gonna sound good?’
Anders: And then I tell the other guys, ‘How do you feel?’ And if they would’ve said ‘No’, I’d be like, ‘fuck! – what should I call it now?’ But it has to feel good for everyone. It’s important that they like it obviously. But with this one, I didn’t bring in any lyrics at all. It was a blank paper when I went down to Berlin. And that was intentional. At home, with my kids, family, working – I work as A&R for a record company, sitting in an office, talking to other bands, hanging out with friends, cooking food, barbecuing, that is not helping me to write good lyrics.
Björn: It’s kindof safe.
Anders: Yeah. I need to be in a certain mood. I need to close the door, shut the world outside and just be by myself. And so that’s why I went to Berlin I think. I wanted to see what Berlin would do to me as a songwriter. How this pressure would … if that would add anything to the lyrics. To dwell even further into the stress of, this feeling of…..depression is not quite the right word…
I’d been watching a lot of documentaries about people in poor situations, especially about drug-related issues; like how can you end up in such a situation you know is not good for you? How it affects your family, the people around you, society and so on. Is it possible to play with it a little and then get out? People think ‘I can just try this and I’ll be fine’ or whatever, but a lot of times you end up in really bad situations. So I used that as an inspiration. The songs are not about drugs at all. I used that as the drugs symbolise or can be whatever in life is a struggle; that is dark, mysterious; things that you need to go through maybe, to experience stuff, and hopefully learn from it and become a better person. I don’t think you should go through life without any ‘oh everything is hunky-dory’ or whatever. I don’t think that does good to us as human beings. There are things that are not good for you, but if you’re careful it’s not a bad experience…
Björn: Stay in school kids
HMA: So what Sirens have you both had then?
Anders: That is not for sharing! (He said, laughing). The Siren in this case doesn’t have to be a she; it can be a ‘him’, it can be an ‘it’, it can be whatever; it’s between you and…
Björn: It’s whatever lures you…
Anders: Yeah, and a Siren in Greek mythology is this bird-like creature; a woman who lured the sailors into the depths. And I think we all are sailing on this big ocean of life and we end up here (pointing) for a little while, and over here… and then we move on and we have no idea if it’s, well, we know if it’s good or bad for us, but we don’t know if it’s the right choices; how can I say it? If someone told me ‘you’re gonna die tomorrow’, I could look back on my life and say ‘Ok. That was good. That was not so good. This is good. This has lead up to this’.
HMA: So even the things that haven’t been so good have led to you being who you are.
Anders: Exactly. Björn: Definitely.
Björn: They are totally necessary and have been necessary for the development of who you are.
Anders: (The Siren) doesn’t have to be bad things. It can just be things that are normally not in your life; the mysterious or the dark. It’s more the darker side of life – it doesn’t mean you have to be bad. It could be good for you if you treat it the right way.
HMA: The new album seems more radio-friendly than your previous works. More tracks from it seem suitable to be played on mainstream radio. Is this related to your signing with Sony?
Anders: We signed to Sony after the album was done. We went into the recording studio without having a label.
Björn: What we do is write music that we want to hear, and that we want to play. In the end, it’s a small step: In our world, it’s a small step outside what we normally do. And we try to take our music a little bit further into something that we haven’t tried before. We’ve done that since the beginning because it’s for us. And when we’re happy with it, it doesn’t matter who we’re working with – management or record labels or anything – because they are not the ones who are going to stand on stage and play these songs for 3000 times or whatever. So having that in mind, you really need to love what you do!
HMA: Have you ever counted how many times you’ve played each of your songs live?
Björn: I don’t wanna look back! (Anders shakes head in horror.) I bet there’s probably someone who sits there counting!
But honestly, integrity is everything for us because it’s the only thing we can be sure of. That we decide everything. So having been with smaller – but still big within the genre – labels, they’ve done a fantastic job throughout the years, and they’ve been very cautious when it comes to our integrity. They’ve always known that we’d do whatever we want to do and they just try to help us out doing it.
HMA: Has there ever been pressure from labels to change how you write or record?
Anders: We never let them! No, we don’t care….
Björn: They obviously try the ‘be a more radio-friendly thing’ as you mentioned, but we don’t know what’s going to be played on the radio! It doesn’t matter. I mean, it’s better to do something we know we want to play. And then if somebody wants to pick it up, that’s fantastic, but if they don’t…
Anders: You’re on a wrong path that is bad if you start letting these outside executives tell you what to do. I mean, it’s just like, yeah, here comes another band and ok that wasn’t radio-friendly, so here comes another band and that isn’t radio-friendly so… We have to live with these songs forever and ever. We gotta make sure that these songs are exactly how we want them. And when we start, we have the same approach; with him (Björn), a guitar and a beer.
HMA: What beer do you drink in order to start writing? Is there a particular brand you prefer?’
Björn: Actually at certain times when ideas pop up in my head, it can be in the morning, walking from day-care; so it doesn’t need to be beer! If I have the feeling in the evening or midday or whatever, ‘I’ll go with a Duff beer’ (joking). No, Sierra Nevada’s are perfect.
(Sierra Nevada is not sponsoring or promoting In Flames and is not responsible for the content of this interview. However, as they now have free advertising via HeavyMetalArt and In Flames, we would all appreciate some free cases of SN. A lorry-load might be enough for Björn and In Flames. A few lorries might be needed to quench the thirst of HMA’s over-worked team!)
Anders: It starts with a melody; A riff.
Björn: Yeah, a melody or something just bouncing around in my head. If it’s there twenty minutes later, if it’s still bouncing around, then I try to pin it down on the computer, record it, try to arrange it. If it’s still good after that, after an hour…
Anders: To hear you (Björn) say stuff like “we’re aiming for…” or “this is radio-friendly”, is not something I’d ever expect to hear from you!
HMA: Do you think some bands might say it though? Maybe if they’re in it for the fame and money, especially once they are involved in the business…
Anders: I don’t think any Metal bands are in it for the money. It’s the wrong genre if you know what I mean.
Björn: But we’re definitely part of the business. We’ve done this for twenty years now, but we don’t let the business dictate what we do. It wouldn’t work. In that case I wouldn’t be interested and I wouldn’t do this and I’m pretty sure it would be the same thing for the rest of the guys. It can’t be the reason why you do it. Cos then I could be in a cover band. I could do whatever and make my life easy. But this is not an easy way. It’s just more fun.
Bands need integrity. They need to keep it in order to be sane and do what they love to do. If a band chooses to leave their label, or get dropped or whatever, because of their integrity and their band ideology that’s fantastic because it’s a conscious decision they make, and that’s a good thing.
Anders: I can’t really speak for other bands. I believe if you’re in a band you do it for your own reasons and it’s hard work, and when success comes along, fine; you have to treat that with respect. Me being in this band, I love what I’m doing, but I wanna play for as many people as possible, I want my music to be heard, and Sony – that’s a great label to have to spread that message!
HMA: Which part of being musicians do you enjoy the most? Performing live; being in the studio; composing?
Björn: Live! Easy. Live. Easy for me.
Anders: I was thinking I love the process of being in the studio. I mean, it’s tough, but it’s that feeling of going into a place with nothing, and leaving with something complete – that you feel 100% satisfied with. It’s a great satisfaction but obviously to have played those songs live might top it.
Björn: The thing is I kind of see the studio time a little bit like, that’s where it’s work! Ya know because you have the songs and it’s way more, um, structured in a way that Live is not. I mean we have the setlist, but he can say whatever, and whatever song might pop up ya know… it’s a way more open environment and it’s a very direct response to what you’re doing as well; it gives you an immediate kick. A recording is… you sit there and sometimes you do this one riff because you can’t really play it or you can’t do it right, and you can sit there for two hours, three hours, eight hours, just one fucking riff. It’s not fun!
Anders: That part of recording – do it again, do it again, do it again – that is very, very boring but you’re coming up with stuff though.
Björn: It sucks. But it’s necessary. Having done that, the studio time, having the recording in your hand, knowing that these are the songs I want to play live – that’s the reward you get. It’s a means to be on the road. I think, Live – everything is better: because it’s more ‘Alive’. For loss of a better word. It’s different; the songs get a different feel, vibe and life of its own.
Anders: Its people…Playing; the interaction between you and the audience makes it special. And all these small little mistakes that can happen in a live situation…
Björn: It’s here and then.
Anders: …actually it makes the whole situation more… real, then when I turn on my vinyl or my cd or streaming or…
Björn: you have no idea how much we fuck up sometimes. People don’t notice. We laugh at each other sometimes though, ya know? ‘I fucked up’, but that’s part of life. It’s part of it. It’s an important part of it. It makes it alive.
Anders: Something I really dislike when people are a comment on YouTube clips or whatever, and the WORST thing for me is, you go (to see the band) Live, and then you watch your little fucking camera…
Björn: yeah, you stand in front of the stage like this:
(Both of them mimicking phone/camera-clad crowds these days)
Anders: …And it’s like that’s (pointing to the distance) them there for real…
Björn: Yeah and it’s so dumb. So dumb (laughing).
Anders: And then people are commenting: they listen back through YouTube, in very poor sound…what’s wrong’ or ‘that’s out of tune’… Ya know, Fuck it. Whatever. If you’re there and then, it is part of it, and you just let loose and go with the flow.
Björn: Just, the whole feeling going through your body, listening to this stuff…
Anders: Perfection can sometimes be very, very boring. You can be tired. I mean I like a perfect meal – I don’t want something that tastes bad! but, when it comes to music – small flaws make it interesting.
Björn: They create a character – and it distinguishes different songs and different bands.
HMA: Metal music fans are often – not always – considered quite open-minded to new experiences; but a number of them find change difficult to accept. They sometimes fixate on an album or group of albums from a particular time period, and they say THIS is what I like; but then when you have grown, you have changed, you are at a different point in your life; this is reflected in your music. Siren Charms, because it is quite different to your previous albums, what aspects of this do you think fans will really like?
Björn: If you listen to the albums in the right succession, from the beginning till the end there is, well, we’ve taken you guys on a journey obviously; using a cliché. It is actually what’s happened. It’s been twenty years. The recording that we’ve done is a timestamp of where we are right now. And each and every album has been that.
Anders: This is our interpretation of what music should be and where we are today. I, or Björn, we can’t listen to what everyone says because that’s going to be a REALLY weird song! Hopefully, people will like it. If they’re open then I think you can find a lot of stuff in this new album. If you say already ‘I don’t like it’ then you won’t find anything from it!
Björn: It’s one of the few freedoms we have, to choose what we like when it comes to music, and I think that should be exercised, that freedom. But, at the same time, you should also respect peoples growing and wanting to try other stuff.
HMA: Do you follow what people say about you – particularly on the internet and Facebook, for example? Do you think it will be difficult for younger bands that are just starting out to hear people’s views?
Anders: We hear it obviously, but I know there’s no difference today than ten years ago. It’s exactly the same comments. They did a TV show in Sweden: they confronted people – trolls – who wrote stuff on the internet; not about music, just in general. They go on peoples pages and post shit, and that was really funny to see those people who, when they got confronted…
Björn: ‘Keyboard Warriors’?
Anders: …Yeah – how they reacted and just like why they did it. I find it interesting but I don’t follow what people say. We can’t control it. When you join a band and you release your album, you must be aware that it will happen to you. People will say, ‘you joined the game’; it is part of it.
Björn: It can sometimes be an obstacle for bands and that SUCKS, because anything that’s young, and new, needs to be nurtured. They need to have positive feedback; even if it’s a kid, or a new-formed band or whatever, they’re still trying out what they want to do, and getting constantly negative crap from people who don’t have the right to comment on it might affect them.
HMA: Some of your lyrics are quite hard-hitting. The suicide of the actor Robin Williams lead to public apologies from Henry Rollins after writing an article that offended many, with remarks like ‘I can’t take…(suicide victims)…seriously’. Then there was Gene Simmons claiming he would offer a gun to someone who wanted to kill themselves.
Do you believe musicians have a responsibility to their fans – for the lyrical content and the unintended consequences? Are you ever concerned about the impact of your lyrics? After all, in ‘Siren Charms’ you write…
Anders: …’This Life is Killing Me’….
HMA: …’I’m awake, but not for long’; followed by ‘Listen to the words I say’ in ‘Rusted Nail.’ Does it ever worry you how your lyrics will be interpreted?’
Anders: I like to think people will hear the lyrics, and if they’re having a bad time they’ll see the positive in it which is what I think; ya know, that other people have been through dark times, and are still here; like I’m still going, still making music. I hope that this would inspire them instead.
HMA: Previously when talking about your music you said ‘How do we finish this painting the right way? What kind of brushes, what kind of colours?’ Do you see your music as a piece of art; a painting?
Anders: Yes! A Painting. That’s what the music is; it’s a painting. The colours are what the artist wants. You don’t like the colours – I don’t care. These are my colours. These are what I want because it’s how I see the painting and it’s the same with our music. These are our colours in our music.
The album Siren Charms is on general release from 8th September.
Catch In Flames on tour in Europe from September 27th; in the UK October 16th-18th; continuing in Europe, Japan, and North America until Dec 21st.
Interview by Sable – Copyright 2014 © Heavy Music Artwork. All rights reserved.