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November 19, 1999
Fresh from their almost universally regarded "best-of-Milwaukee Metalfest XIII" performance, In Flames has now gained the higher U.S. profile fans have always known they deserved. As such, these pioneers of the well-documented Gothenburg sound have finally been given an opportunity to ply their live trade on North Amercian shores in support of their latest release, 'Colony'. As the stateside In Flames tour wound down, the Metal Update caught up with founding member Jesper Stromblad just before the band took the stage for their New York date.
Metal Update: You've been in In Flames longer than anybody else.
Jesper Stromblad: Yeah, that's right.
MU: Do you feel that this is your band?
JS: No, it's not. I mean, it's a band, and we have no leader or anything. I'm just the remaining original member of the band.
MU: So every other member of the band right now is considered a full member?
JS: Yeah. We're a unit like a family. Everyone is as full as anyone else is.
MU: How solid is this line up?
JS: 100%. It's unbreakable. I mean, this is the line-up that will last. (laughs) I say that all the time, but it is. Because this time... The former line-up with Bjorn on drums - everyone was not really comfortable with their positions with the band because he was a guitarist but he was playing drums, so we were thinking that something was wrong. Then we thought, yeah, let's let Bjorn play the guitar! Because he's the only guitarist that I really feel 100% comfortable playing with and working with. We have such good chemistry when we write music and stuff. He loves to play the guitar, so let's move him to the guitar and take in a drummer that enjoys playing drums - someone who is a drummer.
MU: How do you think sales of 'Colony' are coming along?
JS: It's doing very very well.
MU: Is it your most successful record?
JS: Yeah, definitely. Sales-wise, yeah. And we are really happy with the production and everything - how it turned out.
MU: Do you think the music is any different? The title track seems tighter with a more straightforward delivery. Was that conscious or just how it came out?
JS: Yeah, it was the way it came out. We never think that much when we write a song, we just do it.
MU: This is your first time touring the States?
MU: You played Milwaukee Metalfest.
JS: Yes, that was first.
MU: How do you think that went?
JS: It was incredible.
MU: A lot of people say you were the star act of the entire festival.
JS: I don't know, but I think that... Yeah, I was surprised because the place was packed and the people were really... The response was incredible.
MU: So why do you think this was the right time to tour the States?
JS: I don't know. I mean, we never got a proper offer before. I think that we did this festival and it... We saw that there is an interest in the band we thought that, yeah, we could come back now.
MU: How was "November to Dismember" in Texas?
JS: That was OK. I mean, it was like, Mr. Koshick's other arrangements - very professional. It was nice but there was not as many people as at Metalfest.
MU: So Milwaukee was a much bigger deal?
JS: Much bigger, yeah. But Milwaukee has run 13 times, I think, and this Texas thing was the first time, so... It was OK.
MU: How about the rest of the tour? Are there a lot of people coming out?
JS: Montreal in Canada was incredible. I liked Toronto. And yesterday, Worcester, outside of Boston, was also unbelievable. And here [L'Amour in Brooklyn NYC].
MU: We haven't been inside yet.
JS: It seems like a lot of people.
MU: Is this your first time visiting New York?
MU: What did you guys do today?
JS: We were walking in Manhattan. Some of us went up to the Empire State Building and saw Broadway - the Ed Sullivan Theater. Just played tourist.
MU: The David Letterman Show?
JS: Yeah, it's cool.
MU: Did you get to see it?
JS: No, but I got a shirt. Basically did tourist stuff. We didn't have that much time, just a couple hours, so....
MU: Well what kind of metal are you listening to on tour?
JS: A lot of bands. I can't name... I listen to so much, so many kinds of music. Of course, I still listen to a lot of Iron Maiden and Classic heavy metal stuff. Malmsteen is something I listen to a lot now. Especially now that this new album is out.
MU: What's Yngwie's new album like?
JS: It's excellent.
MU: Is it like the old stuff?
JS: Yeah, more like the old stuff. He's really got the energy back. He was like a washed-up drunk for some years but he's really straightened up and he's playing like he did ten years ago, so it's incredible.
MU: I saw a piece on VH1's 'Where are they now?' about him the other day, it was kinda funny.
JS: That is funny. But this new album is excellent.
MU: So do you consider that your influence for guitar playing? That neo-classical type of shredding?
JS: In a way. He is actually an influence to me as a songwriter, for Hammerfall, for instance, and stuff. There's a lot of stuff, like Yngwie riffs, I call them. So he's an influence. I listened to it so much.
MU: What bands influenced In Flames' music?
JS: I think Iron Maiden's style of guitar playing.
MU: Is the prospect of a new Iron Maiden record in 2000 something that interests you or are they yesterday's news?
JS: I don't know. I haven't seen them live. I've heard they still have a lot of energy. This reunion is not for the sake of the love of music, I'm sure, it's about something else.
MU: Is In Flames all about the love of music?
JS: Oh yeah. Of course.
MU: It's not about the cash? (laughs)
JS: No way. (laughs) Then we shouldn't play this kind of music, that's for sure. (laughs) It's OK, money lets us not have to worry about working anymore. But that's enough. That's all I ask for.
MU: What do you think fans are like in the U.S. vs. Europe? Is U. S. catching up at all?
JS: I don't know. The people that come to the shows are incredible. We have so much support and response, and they're really into it. In another way than in Europe. But maybe because we've played there so much. This is the first time we've played here.
MU: Do you think of yourselves and one of the bands of the Gothenburg sound? Do you embrace that label?
JS: We are from Gothenburg, but... I think it's stupid, labeling the music Gothenburg sound. I was thinking of this the other night when listening to Alice in Chains, for example. This is grunge - what is grunge? Because they are from the same city? They just put everyone in. You are playing grunge, you are playing Gothenburg, you are the Gothenburg sound. I think that we stand out from that. We have our own identity and our own sound. We're not one of those Gothenburg sound acts.
MU: How do you think you differ from that?
JS: I think that we were one of the first bands. We were one of the bands that created this labeled Gothenburg sound. I don't know. We've played so long, we have found ourselves an identity. You can listen to us, and this is In Flames.
MU: Now that all of the Gothenburg bands have three or four albums out, do you still have a connection because of all the inbreeding or do you think you all have grown beyond that?
JS: I don't think so, no. People always compare us to Dark Tranquility, but I can't see the similarities at all. They are something way different. Very very good, but not like us. They're doing more gothic and we are sticking to our metal thing.
MU: What about bands like The Haunted?
JS: They're excellent. Really good.
MU: What other bands do you like that are out now?
JS: Gardenian. They're a new band from Gothenburg that's also really really good. Check them out on Nuclear Blast.
MU: A lot of bands like Dark Tranquility are adding elements to their sound - keyboards, female vocals, acoustic passages - is this something In Flames will be doing more of in the future or do you plan to keep it just straight metal?
JS: No, I hadn't thought about that. I mean, we use a lot of keyboards. We use a LOT of keyboards on the new album - a lot synths, programmings, drum loops - that are in the music but not really dominating, they just make the music more . . . big.
MU: Back in the 80's bands like Iron Maiden would never use keyboards, except for occasional atmosphere. When did that change?
JS: We're not thinking like that. We're not afraid of trying to take elements from different kinds of music. I think that's what makes the band interesting. You should not be limited to just - yeah we play metal, we just play distorted guitars, screaming vocals, that's it. If we want to put in female vocals or accordion, or whatever, we do it.
MU: Will In Flames always be a straight metal band? Would you ever abandon metal?
JS: We will always be fucking heavy. We will be metal. We have done experiments, like "Ordinary Story" on the new album is very different from the rest. But still, we will always be metal.
MU: What other bands do you personally contribute to?
JS: I'm in a band called Dimension Zero, it's a fast, death metal band, like In Flames, but very, very, very, very fast. And I'm working with Hammerfall as a songwriter, with the singer, Oscar. I've been with Hammerfall since the beginning.
MU: How do you think Hammerfall and In Flames differ?
JS: They're a straight classic heavy metal band. And In Flames is more progressive. But that's the point with Hammerfall. They're supposed to be just straight heavy metal, cliches and it's so funny.
MU: What happens next for you guys, after this tour?
JS: Just go home and take a long vacation.
MU: It will be awhile before we see another In Flames record?
JS: No, when I say long, I mean two weeks. We go back into the studio in January, hopefully, to record a new album.
MU: Are you writing while you're on the road?
JS: Yeah, some. Some stuff, yeah. I have a lot of ideas for the next album.
MU: So you don't go into it with a conscious mind to make a certain type of album - it will just be what happens naturally?
JS: Yeah. The only thing we do is try to - we will have one of those songs, and one of those songs, you know, a groovy song, a melodic song, maybe. So we know that, now we sit down and write one of those. But it just comes up as it does.
MU: How popular do you think In Flames can get? Do you imagine it will stay about where it is or could you get big like Iron Maiden was?
JS: Well, I have no idea.
MU: Is that something you want? Do you want to play large arenas?
JS: Yeah, I want to play both. The best thing is to play clubs - small, small clubs. I love it. But, I wouldn't mind selling one million albums, of course not. It's impossible to say. If you'd asked Metallica in 1983, will you ever sell 12 million albums, they'd have laughed about that question. So you never know.
MU: What do you think of those 80's thrash bands today? Let's start with Metallica, are you a fan of Metallica?
JS: Yes, I'm a big fan of Metallica. Always have been.
MU: You don't think that "Load" and that stuff was boring or too simple?
JS: No, I think that... They're not 18 years old anymore. They're growing and so does the music, I guess.
MU: It doesn't grow, it gets simpler.
JS: Yeah, oh well. They're lazy maybe? But I think they're one of the few bands that really ages with style, in some way. They're not, like, has-beens. They're still pretty cool.
MU: What do you think of the symphony thing they did?
JS: I haven't heard it.
MU: Do you think it's a cool idea?
JS: Yeah, it's great.
MU: Is In Flames ever going to play with a symphony orchestra?
JS: Yeah, why not?
MU: And what do you think of Megadeth?
JS: I haven't heard the new album. I haven't heard the last album either. And I haven't heard 'Youthanasia'. I haven't listened to them since 'Countdown to Extinction'.
MU: Not really your thing anymore.
MU: What about Slayer?
JS: Well, they did their masterpiece 14 years ago, and it's hard to top that. It's impossible to top that.
MU: Which one are you talking about, 'Reign in Blood'?
JS: You can't do a better album than 'Reign in Blood'. It's inhuman, it's impossible. They're still also a really good band.
MU: Has In Flames made their masterpiece yet?
JS: I don't know. It's up to the person who listens to it. But for me, I feel that we still have a lot of good, cool ideas for a new album. It feels... it should feel like next album will be much better than the last. If you don't think like that, it's not going to be. I will never put out an album that I'm not 100% proud of.
MU: What do you think the best In Flames album is?
JS: Every one. I mean, the first one sucks, but I'm still proud of it because it was the best we could do at the time. And it was... OK, I take that back. It doesn't suck, but, you know what I mean. At that time, it was an important album and it was getting really huge in the underground and it was one of the albums that helped form this Gothenburg sound.
MU: So how does that make you feel when you look back and you think that you formed a sound? When you're done playing music and you look back on that, is that something you're proud of?
JS: Yeah, of course. It's not like In Flames, it's a bunch Gothenburg bands that are responsible for that. But I think that, of course, I'm really proud of that. People come from Japan and Greece to record in this studio in Gothenberg, just to get this sound that those bands have. That's really good.
MU: You're playing with Moonspell on this tour. What do you think of the new Moonspell record?
JS: Yeah, it's excellent.
MU: Do you think it's a lot different? Is it a metal album?
JS: I guess not. Its' more... I don't know what to call it. It's really good. I haven't listened to them so much. Since we tour with them and I pick up the CD and I always listen to it. It's good.
MU: Do you think bands like Metallica know who In Flames are? Do you think they'd want to listen to that?
JS: Maybe they know who we are because we use the same endorsement - the same guy that does our guitars is doing Metallica.
MU: What other bands do you like? What about Dream Theater?
JS: Oh, they're one of my favorite bands.
MU: What do you think of their new record?
JS: I haven't heard it yet. It came out the same day we went to the States so I haven't had the chance to buy it.
MU: Do you like stuff with higher pitched vocals, like Queensryche?
JS: Yes. Oh, yeah.
MU: What stuff outside of metal do you listen to?
JS: So much. A lot of jazz music, r&b, hip hop, folk music, classical music - everything. The band is huge fans of the Backstreet Boys. The ultimate party album. We listen to it each night on the bus, drink it up and start dancing. We love it. I'm serious. I like that stuff, I've been too much in the studio, I guess. I like to listen to good production - well produced stuff. That's why I listen to a lot of r&b stuff, because it's so very well produced.
MU: At the Milwaukee Metalfest, one of the things that was most striking was your live presentation. It seemed like that would be hard to pull off live but you sounded even heavier than on the album. Was that intentional or does it just happen that way?
JS: I don't know. I think because now that we have such a great line-up - the rhythm section. Danny is incredible, he plays fucking hard and his feet are pounding the bass like hell, so that makes it really heavy. It's nothing intentional, we just go off playing. We don't use any samplers or all that shit. Really straight, just plug in and play fucking loud. That's it.
MU: For us Americans, as a live band you guys are new. Do you consider yourselves a live band rather than a studio act?
JS: I think both. I enjoy playing live as much as I enjoy creating the album, the music.
MU: So it's just two different outlets?
JS: Yeah, it is. I like all the aspects of being in a band. Touring and, first of all creating the music and feeling how it flows in the studio, then coming out and meeting all the people. To play it live for the people that pick up the album.
MU: What else would you say to the people who don't get a chance to come out and see In Flames on this tour? Will you be back to the States?
JS: Well, yeah, you better be here next time because an In Flames show is a great experience. You'll go home with a smile on your face because it is very full of energy and positive things. We will definitely come back.
MU: Do you have any last words for the Metal Update readers?
JS: Inflames.com - check it out. Sign our guestbook. And thank you to all the people that came to see our shows in the States. We are really happy and surprised with the reactions over here and we'll definitely come back. The States will be a regular stop on our touring from now on.
-- LINKS --
review of In Flames live
NUCLEAR BLAST AMERICA
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