Hailing from Sweden, In Flames formed in 1990. They debuted in 1994 with Lunar Strain, and with the release of 2014's Siren Charms, have issued a total of 11 studio albums. When the group's singer, Anders Fridén, chatted with Songfacts, he and his band were in the midst of a US tour supporting Siren Charms, and he was up for discussing songwriting, his favorite songwriters/singers, and his thoughts on the aforementioned "melodic death metal" tag.
Anders Fridén: I think that depends on who you talk to. I mean, people have all kinds of opinions about what we do, which is totally fine by me. As soon as we record it, I'm super happy according to my standards of what I want it to be, because I have to be 100 percent satisfied - when I give it away to the record company, done. It's out of my hands.
With every In Flames album, you have a group of people on one side say In Flames sucks, it's the worst one ever. And you have people on another side saying In Flames is the best thing ever, and they are just talking to each other back and forth, back and forth.
In my opinion we are on a journey, we are going somewhere, and I've no idea where it's leading, but it's been a great ride so far. We always embrace new elements and incorporate new ideas. We don't want to do the same thing again and again and again. But I don't know where we'll end up.
And this album, yeah, it sounds slightly different from the first one. But it's because it's been many years in between. We are very bad at writing on the road, so every album is pretty much written shortly before we go into the studio. And therefore, they do differ from each other. They are, as we see it, like photographs of who we are at that point in our lives.
Songfacts: How would you say that the songwriting works primarily in In Flames?
Anders: Right now me and Björn [Gelotte] are doing the writing, with Björn collecting riffs over a couple of months. We call it the "Bag of Riffs" that he brings to the studio. Sometimes it's a bigger part of a song, or it's just a riff. Or I tell him a certain feeling I have and where I want to take the song, and we start elaborating and take it from there.
So this time around we recorded for six weeks in Berlin, just recording, not mixing. We did that shortly after, also in Berlin. The first two weeks we put everything basically together of the structure that we wanted, and then it was time for me to do all the melodies and start writing lyrics, because I had nothing with me at all, which was sort of an experiment to see what will happen to me under pressure and what will happen to me as a songwriter if I do things just right there and then, and don't over-think everything all the time. And then, "Oh, is this good? Is this bad?" Just go with the gut feeling. "This feels right?" "Yes." "Move on."
Songfacts: What would you say is the best In Flames album from a songwriting perspective?
Anders: [Laughing] I don't know. The latest, I guess. I think we've become better songwriters. We understand how the song will transcend from an album to the live environment and that is something that we didn't know early on or didn't really think about. We just got to the studio and you could record 20 layers of guitar and you'd be like, "Wow, this is fab. This is awesome." And then you go to the stage and you only have two guitar players and it's like, "Hmmm, something missing in here." And that is something that we learned, obviously.
Anyway, we aren't doing rocket science. We aren't trying to write the most difficult song ever. We want to get to the point pretty quick. And what we've done through all these years, we want to create really good melodies. In the beginning we could do it on guitar mainly, and now we can do them on vocals, keyboards, and guitar. So that changed the spectrum of our sound and the possibilities that we have. But the mentality of the band, it's pretty much the same.
Songfacts: Who are your favorite songwriters and also singers?
Anders: Trent Reznor is a big inspiration for me. I would love to sit in the studio with him, pick his brain, or just be a fly on the wall, seeing how Nine Inch Nails' productions go down, or any of his productions, really. I think Martin Gore from Depeche Mode is an amazing songwriter. Layne [Staley] from Alice in Chains, he was a big inspiration for me in the beginning. I thought his lyrics were very dark, but yet very beautiful and sad, I mean, if you can put those two words together. He described this black, black hole with enormous passion.
Songfacts: A word I always use to describe Layne Staley's singing is "soulful," which some people I guess don't really associate soulful type singing with heavy metal or hard rock.
But if you have some soul in there and you want to hear the person sing - that's something that Layne really, really did.
Songfacts: Would you say that the best promotion for heavy metal bands is still doing videos for songs at this point?
Anders: Depends on who you're talking to and what band you are, because there are a lot of videos out there that no one sees. It's a combination between having people with knowledge around you, a hardworking crew and record company, or independent people that put you out there. Today it's easier than ever to get your album or your music out, but it's very tough to be heard. So I wouldn't really agree that the video is the most important thing.
We don't have that many channels anymore. Our band talked to a record company through the years, like, "Is it really necessary to make a video?" Dump a lot of money into something like that. Also, I don't think it's that fun to make a video. I'm a musician, not an actor.
But it's still important on YouTube and Vimeo and all these channels - they get a lot of spins, depending on what band you are and what genre you're in.
Songfacts: Let's discuss a few specific tunes, starting with "Ropes."
And this song is about helping someone, being there for someone, and how important that is when you see your friends or your family go down. How that is hurting you, but at the same time a lot of people just don't want to take part in that and reach out with a helping hand, because it would be too tough on them. Instead, you should quit your ego and start bringing this person up. Be there. The song is about how important that is.
I've had a few of those in my life, where I see them disappear or go down a road which is not good.
Songfacts: What about "Deliver Us"?
Anders: That is not a love song, but it's about overcoming your obstacles in life, and how important it is to say to someone you care about that they are great and how you feel you're on top of the world. Now it sounds so simple, but back then I tried to write using a lot of metaphors because I don't like to tell everything - I want people to make up their own minds. I'm happy if people can adapt my lyrics to their own life.
If someone tells me what they think a song is about, I would never say "no." I would never do that, because then I take away something that is special for them.
I didn't mean to say that you are not allowed to ask me that. In general, I don't like to do that too much.
Songfacts: I understand. Do you know the pop singer Seal?
Songfacts: I remember reading once an interview with him where he said he doesn't like to include lyrics in his CD booklets because he wants the listener to make up their own mind as to what he's singing, and if it's something different than what he's singing, he doesn't want to be the one to correct them.
Anders: I agree with Seal. I put my lyrics in there though, I think that's a good thing.
Songfacts: What about the song "Cloud Connected"?
Songfacts: The last question I have is a description that I've seen linked a lot to In Flames over the years: "melodic death metal." Would you say that you agree with that description?
Anders: No, I wouldn't agree with that anymore. We came from that era and that scene, and I loved it. But I don't think we are that anymore. We don't try to stay away, it's just we sound different. We are a melodic metal band and metal has always been our closest passion. We looked into other genres, as well, and tried to incorporate that in some ways.
What I feel with In Flames is that we have a unique sound. It sounds like In Flames. People know when there's an In Flames song. That is something I'm really proud of, that we have a unique sound. Not to say that we're better than anyone else, it's just that we have something that's unique to us.
March 5, 2015. For more, visit inflames.com.
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