» Björn Gelotte - In Flames
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Interview conducted June 6 2018
Interview published June 22 2018

"But of course, we're not true; we haven't made The Jester Race 15 times, unfortunately, for the 5 people who think that's what we should do."

Björn Gelotte, one of two guitarists of Swedish outfit In Flames, visited 2018's edition of Sweden Rock Festival and Metal Covenant took the opportunity to talk with him about the band's progression and their own summer festival Borgholm Brinner.

Tobbe: Not so many bands have gone through such a complete change in style of music as In Flames has and honestly now, how many fans from the beginning are actually with you still?

Björn: From the beginning is hard to say. I was 19 when I joined the band and not many people listened to us back then. I'm turning 43 later this year, so I can't give you an answer, really. I believe and hope that some are still here, but a lot has happened. As I said, I was only a youngster when I joined the band and musically so much has happened, not only because of lineup changes, but you grow and learn us a band.

I joined when they recorded the Subterranean EP, in the winter, and then Anders [Fridén, vocals] joined a couple of months later and there we became a band. It was just a project before that, in a sense. Jeppe [Strömblad, former guitarist] had an outlet, you know, and played with a couple of buddies, and Mikael Stanne from Dark Tranquillity was there. Just a project and suddenly we became a band and "Maybe we should play live a little bit. Maybe a tour." and started to look for a sound maybe a little bit more. And there we began, really. To me, it's absolutely so and maybe so for In Flames as well and then this journey has taken us to where we are today.

There's a lot of records we've made, if you think about it. In the beginning it was more like "How cool will this sound in your car stereo or on a cassette? How many guitars can we stuff in there?", but we don't really think like that anymore since we play so much live and there's really where I feel we do best and the way I think maybe music should be enjoyed. So we think more about how we're gonna perform and what's possible to do in the studio in terms of recreating it live.

Tobbe: As you left kind of the roots and then went from Colony [1999] to Clayman [2000] and to Reroute To Remain [2002] a lot more people became interested in the band.

Björn: I think that was a combination of things. We started to play more live, festivals and stuff, and suddenly we were exposing our music. We played older songs too and we were exposing our music to an audience who had no clue of our existence before. We toured in the USA in '99 already. We did it with hardcore bands and we did some European tours with black metal bands; all from Dissection to Cradle Of Filth, you know, and there's not where we were musically, but it worked and it opened up doors for us.

I see it more like we were out and showed people what we do and how we do it and then people got hooked on it and then you build from there. But you can't plan stuff like this. It easy to say now, with hindsight, like "We did this and that right. We did this and that wrong.", but as you're standing there between the choices or the possibilities, it's hard to say what's right or wrong.

Tobbe: Do people have too much focus on that bands are gonna stay where they were in the beginning in a sense?

Björn: This is such a double-edged sword to me, because I'm a huge Dio fan. Ronnie James is kind of my teraphim and I can honestly say that the first 4 records are Dio's best and after that I wasn't really so enthusiastic anymore. But I'm not the one that goes to the web and says "Fuck! This sucks dick!", because it doesn't. It's still great and there's a thought behind it, but I maybe choose to listen to the early records.

At the same time, as a musician and as a member of a band, I also know the importance of doing what you want to do and maybe not what's expected out of you. And we decided that in the beginning, that we do this because we want to do it and not because management, record company or even an audience should dictate what we do. You know, we don't really know what the audience wants; we play what we want to have, and that's hard enough for us, to agree on stuff and think that it's an awesome record.

It takes time and when we're all happy finally, we at least know that it's the best that we can present, and be proud of, and be fun to play, and in that way be really genuine. But of course, we're not true; we haven't made The Jester Race 15 times, unfortunately, for the 5 people who think that's what we should do. But everything doesn't suit everyone and that was never our intention either.

You know, I wouldn't have time for anything else if I was asking everyone "What do you like? Which song?" and then the next time there will be a totally different opinion. It's impossible, you know. We must stick to ourselves, you know; what we think is fun.

Tobbe: So where might In Flames end up musically? You've got a long time left to the end of your career and you could go on for 25 more years if you want to.

Björn: Exactly. As long as it's fun and you still get goose bumps when you hear something. And when that happens it just feels right and it doesn't matter if it's a blast beat, a balled or a synth intro. So, I have no idea. We have no plan. When we start to write or start recording a record it's like "What will it sound like?" and "Well, let's just see what will come out in the end.". What we all like stays and everything else just fades away, you know, and in the end you're just standing there with a record, like "This was really great!". So I don't know. I can't give you an answer about where exactly we will end up.

Tobbe: No matter what type of music you guys have played from, like, Clayman up to Battles, you have always managed to come out with choruses to really shout the words to, so how do you approach and build that part in your songs?

Björn: The thing is: I come from Rainbow, Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, so for me it's very clear what is a chorus or not. So I want to go there really quick; you know, you want the good stuff immediately. But I like long solos and stuff too, you know. But the chorus is very important in what we do. It generally starts with a riff or a melody and it's like "Okay, now we have the shape, the idea and the tempo and stuff like that." and then you pretty quickly want to build a chorus and then you take it from there.

This is the way I see it, but there are guys who start with the intro and build the song from there, or you have Tool, or Dream Theater, where it's like a long journey, like "We'll take you on a 27-minute ride." with one song. Maybe that's not really us, but there's different ways to do it, and I think as long as the performers and the people who come to concerts like it it's awesome, and when people smile when you're on stage it's like "Oh yeah. This is great!" and you get that energy and you feel that it's for real.

Tobbe: Your own festival, Borgholm Brinner. Why do In Flames need their own festival?

Björn: Well, we don't necessarily need it, but we can do it, and that's what's fun. It's a little bit like the music we're making, where we feel safe with what we do and that it's for ourselves we do this, on our terms and therefore we don't have to keep to the strict norms. We played here at Sweden Rock last year and that's pretty much how good it gets in Europe, because this is really a great festival.

There are other great festivals as well of course, like Wacken is super, for example. So, this festival is really good, but we can't play two years in a row. You can't play every year here. Well, I guess Motörhead could do that… So there wasn't any other good alternative that fit our schedule, we do other festivals in Europe as well, so someone came up with this idea, like "Do your own one then." and that wasn't a bad idea, but "Well, how do we do this? Well, we'll just have to learn.".

So we talked to people that knew about it and we work with people who know what to do. We could pick the bands ourselves; see who weren't busy and if they wanted to do it. You know, everything from the bands, to catering, to what to drink, to portable toilets. There's a lot of things needed, it's kind of sick, and that's the challenge, something outside of the box for us.

Tobbe: And you will play both nights and without mentioning the exact songs you're gonna play, how will you build those sets up?

Björn: Well, we haven't really come to that part yet. We have a huge pile of songs and our thought is that the two sets aren't gonna be real similar, but two different ones more or less, but some gems and some songs we like to play will probably be played both nights and songs that we maybe think that the audience wants to hear. Hopefully we'll have time to put together a good, mixed set for both days. Exciting.

Tobbe: It's called the first one of an annual event and is it 100 percent safe to say that this will be the case?

Björn: We don't know that. You know, if people think it's fun. And we're ready to do it; we think it's really fun. I mean, ask me again after the festival, but I think it's gonna be really fun. I think the environment in which we play in is unbeatable and if the weather is fine, this will be something that's gonna be hard to forget.

Tobbe: Honestly, to what extent did you guys take part in the process of picking bands to the festival?

Björn: Completely. Absolutely. We named a pile of bands that we wanted on the festival. Everyone couldn't do it of course. I mean, they're playing other festivals and maybe they're not even in Europe then. But in the end we pulled it together. It's almost only our buddies playing there. It's great fun.

Tobbe: And finally. Most bands have their top for maybe 5-10 years, in terms of popularity, and where do we see In Flames right now?

Björn: We're very fortunate, because we have a pretty loyal audience and if someone leaves, a new one enters. I mean, just look at when we play. That's what counts, because not so many care about record sales anymore, you know. We play the big venues. So we're lucky of course and I think we're doing rather good and I'm not the one to complain.

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