In Flames... the pure intensity of their music is enough to make me forget that any other bands exist, and after releasing their most complete and mature album to date, "Colony," the need to see them live became overwhelming. There was a little more to it than just witnessing their mesmerizing performance; I had to understand how this fiery entity known as In Flames came into being, what their inspirations were, and what was on their minds. Thus I present this interview with Jesper Strömblad, the ingenious innovator of the melodic bliss of In Flames, taken from the middle of their first ever American tour.
Enslain: How are you liking America so far?
Jesper: It's been great! This is the first real tour we're doing here, we've been wanting to come here since we released our first album because we've always had small but really strong support here, so the shows has been like, not that crowded in all the places, but the people that comes are really really into it, so it's been great shows, been really great fun playing here.
Enslain: So why did it take so long to finally come out here?
Jesper: I guess it's because the distribution in the label... I think it's getting stronger and stronger now, but when we released "The Jester Race"... I think it's okay also that we didn't come 'til now because we have a little more, with three releases in the States, so...
Enslain: And you just re-released the Lunar Strain/Subterranean...
Jesper: Yes, yes we did, in October. But that's good, because that one only printed 10,000 copies of it, so it's been out of stock for like two years, totally impossible to get a hold of, so that's good.
Enslain: How differently are you treated here in the U.S.? I've heard many horror stories from European bands who say they get treated like royalty in Europe, and then they come here and they get treated like another human...
Jesper: No way... I've heard that too. We were really like, not scared, but we had no expectations, because it's like you say, it's really good in Europe and Japan and wherever you play, the organization and you always have catering and stuff to drink and everything's working really good. For example, I'm good friends with Hammerfall, and they toured here, and they told us all this, 'people are ripping you off, and you don't get anything to drink and you don't get anything to eat' and all this, but I haven't seen it. It's been as smooth as touring in Europe, actually, I think, so no problem at all. But the busses are really nice here. It's really cozy, this bus.
Enslain: Do you plan on coming back to the U.S. in 2000?
Jesper: Yeah, definitely... We want to tour, we just did like 10 or 11 shows in the States, but I mean we could do a longer tour I guess. We haven't been down to Florida or the West Coast... there's a big part that we haven't covered yet. It's too much, 8 weeks tour is kind of long for us, we have Christmas, and the bassist is getting married, so we're done our touring for now, now it's vacation. But hopefully we can, we will try to get on this (March Metal Meltdown), or Milwaukee would be nice. I will come back, I will come back to mix the Hammerfall album, because they will record the next album here in the States, so I will be back, but not for the band.
Enslain: Is the U.S. a large market for your album sales?
Jesper: No, for us, we just started here. It seems like it's a really open market and I think that if you get the right push and everything, we could sell more albums here, because, I meet so many people that they don't know that this music exists, because they just know what's going on in here, and they just see what's playing on MTV and for them metal is Limp Bizkit and Korn and all this shit... Well, I like it, but anyway... They are like, if they come across a CD of In Flames they are like, 'I didn't know that this music exist, I stop listening to this with Master of Puppets in '86, Metallica, and now I hear this' so, but for now we don't really, we don't sell a lot of albums here.
Enslain: How is this kind of music pushed better in other countries that isn't done here?
Jesper: I don't know, but I think that in Europe we are not that sensitive to trends as you are in America, you know. Metal has always been really big in Europe, it never died like here, like 10 years ago Poison and Whitesnake were playing at the big arenas, but now it's totally dead. So I don't know. I think that's the reason is that it's never went away in Europe, it's always been kind of popular. Not in Sweden, but in Germany and Italy and Southern Europe.
Enslain: What improvements have you seen in the more recent years about metal getting bigger?
Jesper: I mean we sell more albums, that's for sure. Bands like, Hammerfall, traditional heavy metal bands they are getting really big again. I mean, I was in Hammerfall, I am in Hammerfall, and four years ago when we played people laughed at us, because we're you know, 'what's that shit, I thought that this was dead and burned hopefully forever', you know, this heavy metal. But it's huge now, and it's coming up with lot of new young bands who get the opportunity to tour and get signed, so that's what I see. And every time we go on tour we draw more and more people.
Enslain: Do you like the touring experience, like being in a bus and traveling with the same people for long amounts of time 'til you get sick of them and all that?
Jesper: We are not hanging out that much when we're actually at home, we have our own families and everything, so... Maybe you'd think that if you're like in this bus for six weeks you couldn't stand each other, but we are with the right people and we are like a family. I mean we all have arguments like everyone else, but it's just no problem at all. I mean we did six weeks in Europe and then we were home for about a week, and now we're doing this, but I could go on for ever, it's so much fun.
Enslain: Did you see yourself doing this, when you were younger?
Jesper: Yes, this is what I have been working for my whole life, since I was five years old and I saw Kiss, and I seen them the first time I was like, that's what I'm going to be. Not a huge rock star, but be able to like, be in a band, you know, 'what do you do for a living' 'I play heavy metal', you know, traveling around the world touring, and that's what I do, and that's the only thing I can do. I don't want to have to think of the day I stop playing, this is what I want to do and music is like a passion, a 24 hours a day thing for me, so... I was lucky, this is what we have been aiming for.
Enslain: Do you make enough money from it?
Jesper: Yeah, I mean, we don't have to work...
Enslain: Not going to pay your retirement...
Jesper: No, I mean it's.. I like to live this way, not, like... for example the old guitar player, he was out of the band because, of course he had a baby, and he had to support the baby, and I understand... So he has this steady job, 9-5, and he gets money, you know, he gets the same amount of money every month, he goes up the exact same time every day, doing the exact same shit, 50 weeks a year and then 2 weeks vacation, you know, with the wife and kids. I like to have it this way. Some weeks it's up and some weeks it's down, sometimes you don't have any money, and sometimes you're really loaded, like after a tour, but it's enough for me that I don't have to worry about working for a couple years. I like to be my own boss, I don't have to be pushed around and like having a 9-5 job, I mean ok, I don't own that much money, but look, now I am in New Jersey, I was in Mexico City checking out the pyramids, and before that I was in Japan. You don't get to do that stuff if you are choosing the security and having work and having a regular job and the secured money. You have to do what your heart's into, otherwise there's no point, you know? You can just go hang yourself or something. (laughs). That's my attitude. I'm happy that not everyone has it, because that would be anarchy or something...
Enslain: Do you play anything other than guitar?
Jesper: No, guitar is my main instrument, but I can play drums, bass, a little bit violin. I started off with violin, I got one when I was four. When I was twelve, it was not that cool to play violin anymore, so I traded it to an electric guitar instead.
Enslain: How did you get your start with the band and all?
Jesper: It was '93 or something, I was in another band called Ceremonial Oath, we played like regular brutal death, but I had a lot of ideas, I wanted to add like melody into it, and at that time I hadn't heard any band that did that. So it was two of my friends, actually, the bassist, he never had played the bass before we did the demo, it was like, 'ok, I play the bass, and I play the drums and you play the guitar, alright?' and it turned out really good (laughs). So we continued, because there was a big buzz about the demo in the underground, so we decided, 'ok we can record an album now', it was like really, just a project, just a fun thing.... and then it rolled on, and they quit it, and we had like at least 15 or 20 members since the beginning. It's a long story, but... so I am the only one left from the original line-up.
Enslain: Have any of the others been in other bands before In Flames?
Jesper: Anders used to sing in Dark Tranquillity on the first album, and Daniel has been in a band called Sacrilege.
Enslain: And you were in Sinergy for a while...
Jesper: Yeah, I was in that band, I'm not anymore. And we recorded an album...
Enslain: And why are you not doing it anymore?
Jesper: For different reasons but mostly because there was a lot of personal things in the band, there were a lot of fighting in the band. I wasn't involved, but that made me like, when certain people quit the band it was like for me the chemistry was gone... I don't want to do anything if I don't have my heart in it 100%, if I'm not proud of it then I refuse to do it, so I felt that it was time to quit. They have a new line-up, a finished line-up, so they are still going. I'm in a band called Dimension Zero, it's like more straight, fast, death metal band, so I can get out that side of me, because I have a lot of those ideas as well, and it's getting me to play with our old guitar player, Glenn, we are really good friends... that's the one with the baby that I told you about. He hasn't touched a guitar for two years, and he called me up and said 'we have do something', so we formed this band Dimension Zero. So we're going to record for like the next year some time.
Enslain: Is the Gothenburg scene really everything it's legendary for?
Jesper: Not that much, actually. I think the main reason is because of the studio, the Studio Fredman, that everyone is coming to record. There has been people from Greece, Japan, Portugal, Denmark, everywhere, that come to the studio to get that typical Gothenburg sound, or whatever you want to call it. But, it's not a big scene, and there's definitely no tours coming to there, it's more or less dead. There's like one club that plays this kind of music every week, and that's about it. Like, some people say that, some Italian guys that went up, I met them this year, that went up to see the bands, you know they think that if they come up to Gothenburg, there will be bands walking around everywhere, 'oh, there's Dark Tranquillity, hello!', 'there's In Flames', ok, you know, but that's not how it is. In Gothenburg if you go to the club Sticky Fingers you will meet lot of, that is like where all of the bands hang out.
Enslain: Do you prefer playing festivals, or headlining smaller shows?
Jesper: Both is really exciting to me, I mean of course it's exciting to be on stage in front of 15,000 people, that's a really mighty feeling. It's impressive, but it's not that fun to play actually, because you are standing 5 meters from the audience, and you're looking down on them, you know. So I like to play packed clubs, really small, on a small small stage, and people are like really close.
Enslain: Who are your influences?
Jesper: I can't speak for other bands, but for us, we are not afraid to take influences from everywhere, like for me I listen to... club music, r&b, rap, jazz, folk music, classical music, everything. I find elements in all this music that could be used when I write songs for In Flames. So I can't point my fingers and say 'this and this band' or 'this or this guitarist', so that's my answer, it's like everything.
Enslain: So what do you listen to most?
Jesper: I don't know... so much. For the moment, I'm listening to a lot of Tool, a lot of the new Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the new Cardigans. I'm like that, I pick up a CD and I listen to it for one week, only that one, almost, and I get tired of it and I find another one. It's everything from jazz to brutal black metal.
Enslain: There's a lot of bands that have come out after In Flames and have obviously taken influence from you. Do you find that to be a problem, that there's so many bands that are kind of stealing off of your sound? Or do you welcome the fact that there's a lot of bands who are putting more effort and creativity into their sound?
Jesper: Well, I don't care because I know that we are In Flames, and we have our own sound, and it only makes me happy and proud to know that there are bands who are influenced by us, it's a really cool feeling.
Enslain: What kind of sound do you aim for when you're writing for In Flames? Is it intentionally happy?
Jesper: I don't agree that it's all that happy all the time... I don't think so much, we just come up with the riffs, really fast, we are like... I can go through a year and I have no ideas whatsoever, none... one day we start in the rehearsal, we can write like two or three songs in one rehearsal, so we usually just put the songs together in two weeks or something. So, as it comes out, we don't have any like intentions on how it will sound, just do whatever feels good, and if it sounds nice we record it.
Enslain: Who writes the lyrics?
Jesper: Anders... He writes them in Swedish. Niklas from Dark Tranquillity translates them for him. He speaks good English, but Niklas is really good at putting together nice, with all these kind of strange words and stuff.
Enslain: What are your feelings towards religion/God?
Jesper: Nothing special, I mean, I'm definitely no Satanist, I think that's crap, and I'm... I would consider myself Christian, because I, I mean, I don't know because, I don't know if there is Heaven or Hell, but I mean, for sure if I have to choose, I would definitely go to Heaven when I die, so... I think you could call me Agnostic, or skeptic.
Enslain: Do you guys play any covers?
Jesper: Sometimes we do. On the Whoracle album we have a cover of Depeche Mode, Everything Counts, and we also did Eye of the Beholder from Metallica a long time ago, a pretty crappy version that ended up on a compilation CD, and also we sometimes, on the European tour we played a song called "Living in the World of Promises" from an old Swedish heavy metal band...
Enslain: What are your plans now?
Jesper: Hopefully, we will begin pre-production in January for the new album. We haven't done all the songs yet. We have some really really nice stuff written. Record a new album, try to have it out before the summer... play a lot of festivals in Europe, then we go back to Japan, then we'll do all this shit again. -- Lady Enslain