Change is inevitable. Undeterred by our desperate desire to cling to one perfect, comfortable moment, the wheel of time is unyielding in its revolution. Things change, people change, and despite the collective bitching and moaning of the internet, bands change.
This makes sense; musicians progress over the course of their careers and wish to explore new sounds and ideas. The world would be a rather dull place if every band took the Pennywise approach to writing new material, however when a band changes their sound they invariably run the risk of leaving fans of older material behind.
Legendary Swedish metal band In Flames are certainly no strangers to change; over the course of 20 years and 11 studio albums the group who helped pioneer the melodic death metal sub-genre have constantly played with their formula, incorporating new sounds and styles on each subsequent recording. I had the chance to speak with bassist Peter Iwers about In Flames’ new record Siren Charms, change, the internet, as well as a few other things.
Your new album Siren Charms came out in September 2014, you’ve been touring extensively in support. How has the crowd reaction been to the new material?
I think it’s been really good! I know there was a lot of criticism online for it, but we’re kind of used to that because it seems to be the case every time we release a new record, but live people seem to really get into the new songs as much as the old ones. So it’s great! It’s fun to play!
Do you notice a difference between European crowds and North American crowds?
I guess a few years ago there was more of a difference because you guys (North America) have the mosh pit and a different way of enjoying a concert, but these days it’s very common in Europe too, I guess because a lot of American and Canadian bands have come over to Europe and created the same thing there. So no, I don’t really see any big difference really; we have sort of the same audience everywhere which is really nice actually because wherever we play we can have a good time. Actually if you compare Southern parts of Europe or South America to anywhere else they are more of a singing audience where the rest of the world is more of a moshing audience.
It has been 3 years in between albums and the band took about a year off from live performance. Why the long break from doing shows? Was it to write the album?
No, the break was actually after the album was recorded. We recorded Siren Charms in November / December 2013. We just felt that this was a good opportunity to take some time off. It was the first summer since I joined the band 18 years ago that I got to spend at home. So it was really nice to do that. I think we all needed to be home and recharge before we went out and went at it again. We just needed some personal time at home with our families.
You’ve been touring fairly extensively in support of Siren Charms; in late 2014 you on the road with Opeth and Red Fang and now your headlining a North American tour. How much of 2015 will be on the road for you guys? Do you get any breaks?
I think we’ll be spending most of it on the road! I guess we’ll be away 6 or 7 months. We’ll get a few breaks here and there for a few weeks to go home and recharge and rehearse and do all the other stuff we do and then we go back out again. It works really well this way.
In Flames has been making music for 20 years now. The music industry has gone through some fairly significant changes over that time period with physical album sales declining with the rise of technology; streaming, file sharing, etc… Has this changed anything for In Flames? Is there a need for more touring, for example?
I think we would tour the same regardless, but I’ve noticed that it is now necessary to tour for a lot of bands. I think that compared to 10 years ago there are way more tours going on now because there are less record sales and people need to get on the road, first to support yourself, but also to be visible because there aren’t any record stores any more. They’re hard to find. 10 years ago they were everywhere but now you have to search for them and travel to find them unless there’s a Best Buy near where you live, but a classic record store is really hard to find.
To answer your question, for us, I think we would have toured as much as we do regardless, but now I think it’s necessary.
Over 11 studio albums, your sound has gone through a pretty drastic evolution. Anders has said before that you don’t have any interest in making a “Whoracle or The Jester Race Part 2”, but were there particular influences that steered In Flames away from a more traditional Melodic Death Metal sound towards more progressive, modern metal / metalcore aesthetic?
Asking me, no, but you might get a different answer from someone else in the band. It’s basically tied together with not doing the same thing over and over again. If you break it down we still have the melodies but we moved them over more to the vocals and we added more electronic elements to flavor the music a little bit. I think we just did more and more for each record without really thinking specifically about change. I still listen to Iron Maiden, we still listen to Bon Jovi on the tour bus, and we still listen to Malevolent Creation and Can
Of course, when a band grows and evolves their sound, you’re going to have a pocket of fans and critics who say “This sucks! I want more of the first album!” or fans who say ” This new stuff is the best! Way better than the first records” – Does fan response, good or bad, ever influence your decision making when it comes to writing new music?
No, it never does. It bothers us, obviously, it’s not fun when you do something you are really proud of and someone shits on it, regardless that it’s some faceless keyboard warrior, but no, it doesn’t effect the way we write. That would be us listening to somebody else. Bjorn writes all the riffs and Anders writes all the vocals and they have to put up with what the other three of us think and together we work together to make the record and make the songs complete, so if we had more people involved it just wouldn’t work. We have to just stick to our guns.
And let’s say we did do a “Whoracle 2” or “The Jester Race 2” there are still going to be people who would bitch about it. So you can never do something to please other people, I think we just have to make music that we like and hope that people appreciate it, and if they don’t there is always the option of not listening.
Speaking of fans, social media provides fans unprecedented access to bands and allows bands in turn to interact directly with their fans. Do you ever use Facebook or Twitter to engage directly in those conversations? Do you see any value in doing that?
Yes! We don’t do it on the main In Flames Facebook page, but some of us have official personal pages. If people write to me there and say that I suck (laughs) in a more constructive way, then I might engage. It all depends on the question, but I find that people rarely do that because it’s easy to write anonymously. But I encourage people to contact me, even if it’s something negative, and I’ll engage with them if it’s an intelligent question.
But it must also feel nice to hear directly from fans who want to tell you they enjoy your work.
Definitely! but I also encourage people that don’t like it to do the same thing. I’ve had a few conversations with people like that and it usually ends with the fan saying “Okay, I’ll give it another try!” (laughs) And then I get an e-mail back saying “Wow, this is awesome!” .
It’s so easy to judge because people have expectations. If your a fan of a band or a certain type of music and that music changes, obviously your going to be reacting to that change, but if you actually listen to the music for what it is without concentrating on how it used to sound, that’s the way to judge music, at least that’s how I do it. I love Iron Maiden, and when I listen to new Iron Maiden music, I just have to listen to it for what it is. I can’t compare it to Number of The Beast.
Back to the new Album, Anders has seemed to have further changed his vocal style, opting for far more clean vocals than on past records. Was this a conscious decision, or did clean vocals just seem to fit better with the new tunes?
I think it’s a mix of both. As Anders progresses as a singer he wants to try new things. It’s his way of being a better musician. He’s evolving and he wants to show that in the music just like we all do. Bjorn’s guitar solos are way better now than they were 15 years ago, same for the drumming and the bass playing and all that.
It’s hard to say if this is a conscious choice or not. We don’t go into the studio saying “we’re going to make this type of record”. A lot of stuff happens in the studio where you get a vibe or a feeling for a certain riff or song and then the song gets written a particular way right then and there.
Can you talk about your song writing process for Siren Charms? How does the song writing process for this record compare to the early material?
Well before, when (ex-guitarist) Jesper was in the band, Bjorn and Jesper would write all the riffs and we’d arrange the songs together, and now its Bjorn writing all the riffs. We still arrange the songs together, but on this record they were primarily arranged by Bjorn as he had more finished ideas as far as the structure went, as well as Anders who was more involved with arranging than usual. But it remains the same principal; the rest of us add our flavor to it, but don’t really write any riffs and then Anders does his stuff on top of the finished songs. It really remained the same recipe.
During the writing, were there any albums or musicians from which you drew particular inspiration?
No, as I said, we listen to a lot of different stuff. Me personally, I listen to lots of different stuff, everything from Simon and Garfunkel to Queensryche t
Can you talk about the lyrical themes of Siren Charms and what Anders inspiration was?
Anders wrote the lyrics while we were recording in Berlin and he was watching a lot of documentaries about drug addicts and it really effected him. We’re all against drugs, we don’t do drugs, but to see people ruin their lives like that and how people get drawn to drugs; how someone can be lured towards something they perceive to be so beautiful but that turns out to be so dangerous. It can be compared to the old Greek mythology of Sirens.
In Flames, along with At the Gates and Dark Tranquility, are credited with creating Melodic Death Metal and, as such, you’ve been a major influence to countless other bands. Is there any advice you’d want to give young bands who want to make a real go at being a professional band?
I can only really speak for myself, but I think it’s really important to just stick to your guns. Don’t be effected by what other people think. Don’t listen to people when they tell you to change your music. Do what you like, stick to it, and work really hard! Practice and play all the time! Play as many shows as you can. Get contacts, don’t give up. I guess these days it’s a little harder to send in records to record companies, but there are other tools; create a Youtube channel and get your name out there!
At Bucketlist, we talk a lot about all of the concerts we want to go to before we kick the bucket; In Flames have shared the stage with an amazing list of artists over the years; are there any bands you haven’t played with yet that you would love to? What is your fantasy tour line up?
Oh wow! Okay; Elvis Presley and Tom Jones are up there. I’d love to tour with Rush because we’ve never got to do that. Def Leppard, who I’ve never even seen, but I grew up on them! We’ve toured with Iron Maiden before but I want to put them in the equation anyways because they are amazing! And obviously all of our Swedish bands, all of our Swedish friends in other bands like Dark Tranquility and Soilwork because those tours are always really fun and brotherly. Well, it’s going to be a really long night if you let me keep going!
Written and Compiled by Jesse Gainer
Photo by Eric Brisson Eric Brisson Photography