Speaking from the Nuclear Blast offices in London, guitarist Björn Gelotte tells us about the approach to ‘I, The Mask‘ and how the experience was one that has somewhat changed his outlook on recording going forward.
OD – Let’s get straight into things regarding “I, The Mask”, firstly what is the meaning behind the title?
BJORN – There are several points on entry to this, but the first would be the way things have become with reference to social media. It’s not really what the whole album is about but that’s just the way Anders (Fridén, vocals) works, he doesn’t really give away the full story [Laughs].
Basically, the concept is based on the idea that when people are online, they are wearing a sort of mask. They just show what parts of themselves they want to show the rest of the world and the rest is unknown. It’s not reality by any sense of the word. People become their own censor in a way and they live their lives this way without being able to interact with other people on a human level because they’ve created this somewhat fictional concept of themselves.
In the case of the album concept, it’s based on the idea of a kid who’s been through something terrible and his way of coping with the real world is by putting this fictional mask on which he then becomes caught up with the issues involved in doing this.
I need to be careful as I don’t really want to give away the whole concept just yet [Laughs]. When the album is released there will be more information on the story. It’s a really cool story and I’m sure people are gonna get it.
OD – This is, of course, the bands 13th studio album and once again the sound continues to evolve, with the shackles of restrained creativity now well and truly off, do you find that the writing process is a more cathartic process to say, what it was like back when you were writing albums such as ‘Colony’ (1999) and ‘A Sense of Purpose’ (2008)?
BJORN – It’s a very big difference nowadays. With this album, it was me and Anders working super-close together in a little studio that we set up in L.A., working on every detail together, including the vocal lines and melodies to the guitar riffs, arrangements and everything in between.
That’s something that we hadn’t done before. In the very beginning, it was more like, someone would have a riff and then we would all get together and jam it out in rehearsals and then we would start to build ideas on top of that and the very last thing we would ever do after we had recorded everything, is around four days of vocals.
That system worked for us back then because we didn’t know anything else, but we missed out on so much, so many good ideas that could have come from lyrical context, or a lyric vocal melody, so this time we approached things differently and when I look back, it’s undeniable how much we’ve learned along the way. Finally, we’ve found other ways of working [Laughs].
OD – Was this the first time you had tried this writing method?
BJORN – We tried it a little with the last album, “Battles“. We started working with Howard (Benson, Producer) and he really helped us to open up with this approach to writing. We are very protective of what we do, so it was a little strange for us to begin with and we were very stuck in our ways thinking; “The melodies should be this way, and the riffs should sound like this” and it was the same with the vocals. Everything was really locked in tight and no room for change.
The difference now is amazing. I get inspired by lyrics that Anders writes and we work off each other and this chemistry just happens. We’ve never done that in the past and it’s just so refreshing.
OD – So, it was a no-brainer to work with Howard again based on your experience working with him on “Battles”?
BJORN – [Laughs] Yes, we had such a positive experience on the last record that we really felt comfortable to return to work with Howard and his team. They are all super efficient, which we find very inspiring and creative and because of that, we don’t have to spend 18 hours in the studio every day and feel fucking wasted at the end of each day.
OD – It sounds like things were much less hectic and more thought out/planned this time around?
BJORN – Yeah, we would work for about five/six hours a day in the studio and then another five to six hours at home to continue writing during the whole recording process and that was just amazing. That’s exactly why we feel really comfortable and confident about this record.
We just had such a great experience doing this album and the transition from ‘Battles‘ to “I, The Mask” is so natural for us. I have to say, the whole process really opened our eyes to many more possibilities going forward. Even though no management or labels have asked us to write another record, we feel that we just want to go back and work with these guys again as it was just such a positive experience where we really learned so much along the way.
Normally for me, recording is a very tedious process that is time-consuming and at times very boring. For me, recording is just a means of getting on tour because it’s all about touring and playing live. So, for me to want to go back to the studio, was a really strange feeling [Laughs].
OD – There is no question that you have embraced the more melodic approach to choruses which is evident in the title track ‘I, The Mask’, ‘Call My Name’ and the ballad-esq ‘Follow Me’ and ‘In This Life” just as examples, did you feel uncomfortable in the past with tracks that were say, ‘too melodic’?
BJORN – [Laughs] Yes, they are a bit catchy alright. When we wrote the last few albums we had that live open-air festival feeling in our minds. We have learned so much from touring and playing live that we see certain tracks that just work better than others and we obviously want to tap into that and produce the best live show that we can.
We wanted to capture that live feeling or vibe from the studio albums and translate that excitement of being at a show across all the tracks. We were feeling this when we were putting the demos together and that was a really good sign.
OD -There is no question that the album continues with a cleaner, more streamlined sound that we heard on ‘Battles’. Do you find that you’re now in a place that you’ve all been striving to get to over the last 29 years?
BJORN – It’s never been a clear calling if you know what I mean. We’ve always seen our albums as being a significant moment in time for us. Almost like capturing our level of creativity and artistic foresight at a particular junction in our career.
We have obviously learned a lot from previous albums and experiences that we’ve collectively had, especially from the touring side of this business and the people that we have worked with in the past and continue to work with today.
I know it sounds really hippie-ish [Laughs], but it’s true. There’s no secret recipe for making an In Flames LP. It’s just us getting together and finding the right melodies and then working on the craft of the arrangements. We continue to learn new things every day which makes the whole process exciting.
This new album is the best that In Flames can offer right now and we are just super excited to get it out. We finished recording the album in May 2018 and it just feels like forever has passed since then. We can’t wait for March 1st when it’s finally released.
OD – When you think to yourself; ‘this is our 13th studio album” does that blow you away as there are bands that have been around for decades that are releasing albums with years and years between each LP?
BJORN – We are just a very productive band and we love what we do. It’s basically a means for us to be on the road because we just love playing live. When you record, it’s just a one-time thing, but when we play live it’s different every time. The setlist might be the same but there are different faces in front of you night after night and that makes it a brand new experience.
At the end of the day, recording, writing, playing live, it’s what we absolutely love to do and we became a band, a business in order to do this very thing, so of course we are going to produce music and play live as much as we can while we’re alive. Anything can happen at any time, so we’re enjoying life as much as we can right now.
The people that are into In Flames are the catalyst that makes this band continue, so this new album is for them. Without these people, we wouldn’t be able to do this and that’s something that we constantly think about. I was just 19 years old when I joined the band and here I am turning 44 years old this year and still doing it.
OD – This year also marks the return of your very own festival BORGHOLM BRINNER, putting something like this together must have been a huge learning curve in a business that you’ve been so familiar with over the last few decades. Was it an eye opener for you?
BJORN – Yes, it gives an insight into the vast amount of logistical requirements needed to put on something like this. I know many people who bitch and moan about festivals, but when you’re at the other end of the spectrum it can be very overwhelming at times.
The effort, time, resources and patience that goes into putting on a festival is nothing short of mind-blowing. It’s a very humbling experience when you have to do it yourself.
We had played all of the big Swedish festivals in the past and there was really nothing left for us to do in Sweden besides the regular touring, so we figured we would do our own festival.
The location is beautiful (Borgholm Castle in Borgholm). I go to this place every year and have done for the last 10 years for vacation; it’s just incredible. We had been talking about how it would be cool to put on a metal show here for some time because there hadn’t really been anything like this in the past. They have had some Pop gigs there but nothing heavy.
When we started talking about it we were kind of putting it on the back-burner and last year saw us finally pull it off. It turned out so well that we’re going for it again this year which will be at the start of August. It’s a little later than last year but we’re all really fucking excited about it and we’re hoping to do it for many more years to come.
OD – With regards to the touring plans for the new album, will we see you return later in the year for a more in-depth run of dates as you’ve not played Ireland for so long?
BJORN – Yes, we really try to get to as many places as possible but we have huge plans for an ‘I, The Mask‘ tour which is still in the talking stages right now. We have some dates coming up, which are more club-type shows but hopefully, this year will see us undergo a very large selection of dates all over the globe.
OD -Finally, after all this time in the business, if you could give Bjorn aged 18 some advice, what would it be?
BJORN – I would tell myself not to worry so much because things have a way of working themselves out in the end. Obviously, keep on your toes at all times, but don’t lose any sleep over things and try to enjoy every moment of it.
In Flames ‘I, The Mask‘ will be released via Nuclear Blast on March 1st. Pre-Order your copy via this link. Catch the guys on the selected dates listed below;
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