Interview: Anders Fridén of In Flames talks new album

Since their formation in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1990, In Flames has created a trademark sound in the world of melodic metal and secured a legion of devoted fans across the globe. Their twelfth studio effort, Battles is further testament to the band’s dedication to uncompromising quality and intense love of their art form. This time, the guys have teamed up with Grammy-nominated producer, Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, The Used) to create a guitar-driven, hook-heavy experience that pushes stylistic boundaries while preserving the band’s signature sound. We recently had a chat with frontman, Anders Fridén, about Battles, working with Benson, and what he’s been up to besides making music.


SR: Six of your albums have debuted in the top 10 in Sweden, you’ve toured with the likes of Metallica and Judas Priest and you’re one of the most popular metal acts working today. Do you set yourselves goals and if so, what’s at the top of the list of things you’d like to achieve in future?

battlesAF: No, every day is a new goal. We don’t do that. If this band were to end today, I’ve already surpassed all my dreams and goals in a way. I think everything is a bonus. You can’t really do that or you’ll end up being disappointed in a way. You write an album and go into the studio every time with something that you feel is your best. That’s the best you can do. I think we have a very down-to-earth way of looking at our band. Maybe that’s why we’re still here today.

SR: What have been some of your proudest career moments?

AF: That we have a sound that’s ours. We’ve changed a lot through the years and not every album sounds the same, but we still have that signature In Flames sound that people recognise. Whether you like it or not, it’s there. That’s something I’m proud of.

SR: Your new album Battles is about to be released. Can you talk to us about your writing process?

AF: It started at Björn’s house. We had started to write some riffs and collect some ideas. Then I went down to his house and listened to what he’d been doing there. He’d been cooking the riffs a little bit on his own just to get it out of his system. Then he and I went to Los Angeles for two and a half weeks. We had a big house that we lived in where we put up a small recording studio and wrote for two and a half weeks before we went into the recording of the album. That’s where we put all the songs together and created about fifteen songs, all in all. We wrote demos for all of them. It was an amazing experience and an easy-going process, I would say. We had such a good time and hopefully people will be able to hear that on the album. It’s not that the lyrics are uplifting, but the general sound on the album is warmer. Our previous album was done in Berlin in the winter. This one was done in sunny California, so it was quite different. I think the environment gets to you somehow, you know? And it should, I guess, as well. It was a lot of fun and a great experience, too. Me and Björn worked really closely. Niclas came down at the end of the two and a half weeks.

And then we worked with Howard Benson and his team. They were a great team as well. They were very efficient and it didn’t take long from our ideas to get down to takes – that makes it way easier for you as a musician.  You don’t have to sit around and wait for microphone changes or tuning in different amps or stuff like that. You’d say, ‘Okay, I have this idea now and before I forget it, let’s record it.’ You have a certain momentum, I guess, and a window where you are at your peak.

SR: What sort of producer is Howard and what prompted you to work with him?

AF: We spoke to about seven or eight different producers – people who we look up to and have in our record collection. We asked their management to set up meetings. In the end, we decided to go with Howard because he was like, ‘No, I don’t want to change you guys. I just want to make you perform better.’ He didn’t want us to sound like this band or that band. I think it was important for him to keep the essence of In Flames as well. We explained to every producer that we are, as a band, extremely protective of our material; and we hardly let anyone into the inner circle. I think Howard really respected that. He just wanted us to become better at our own individual instruments and he was very focused when we recorded. And also, he wanted us to create demos for all the songs, which we hadn’t done in the past. We’ve done a few demos here and there, but it wasn’t like we had to show someone a whole album before. But it was good. He asked us, ‘Guys, what do you want to say with this song? What do you want to say, musically? What do you want to say, lyrically? What is it you want the audience to get from this?’

That was a new angle for us, in a way. But after those demos were done, it was a way more enjoyable recording process. Everybody knew exactly what was going to happen and there weren’t any surprises for anyone in the mix. In the past, it’s been that we’ve recorded music on one side and vocal arrangements on the other and we’d end up with the mix and go, ‘Oh, is this what’s going to happen?’ But this all happened right there and then. Everybody knew.

SR: Do you ever feel nervous anticipation between finishing an album and waiting for release date? Do you pay attention to reviews?

AF: I don’t care about reviews. Of course you have to have them. I mean, it’s great if they’re good but if they’re not, there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve done what I think is best for me. I’m not saying this is better or worse than other albums we’ve made, but it’s just the best we can do at this point. And if we’re happy as a band… If the other guys in the band are happy, that’s it. It’s out of my hands. I can’t control it. I mean, if you say it’s the worst album you’ve ever heard, I can’t go home to you and tell you that you should like it because of this and this reason (laughs). That’s just the way it is. If you play in a band and sign the record contract, that’s it. You’re up for grabs. And I think that’s the way it should be, really. It’s part of the deal. If I wasn’t happy with it, I wouldn’t release it, you know?

SR: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt throughout your career and how have you evolved as a vocalist?

AF: The industry has changed a lot. It’s gone from physical to more digital, and that’s very different of course. All in all, you should just believe in yourself and do what you think you should. Trends will come and go. If you start chasing trends, you’ll be second or third on the ball and it’s past already. It’s just a thing of knowing when I’m happy and knowing that this is the best we can do. I should believe in my own thoughts and feelings. I’m extremely honoured that I can do this. I’m extremely honoured that I can travel the world and meet fantastic people who like our music – that’s great. But, you know, I’m writing music for me. It’s great that I can share it and connect with people who read my lyrics and say, ‘Okay, I understand you’, or ‘This is my interpretation.’ That’s a fantastic side of it. But it’s just about believing in us and knowing that it’s my decision at the end of the day as to what’s going to happen. As a vocalist, I learned a lot of stuff on this new album because I decided to take some vocal lessons – not to try to become the best singer in the world but to try to understand my instrument and where it is in my body. I asked my management and Howard found this guy called Mark Renk. He works in Los Angeles and of course there are a lot of people who can take care of a screaming vocalist – especially in L.A. They have musicians passing through all the time. We just talked about the band and music in general. And we talked about the body and how much it affects you as a vocalist – how you feel, what you drink, what you eat, if you’re sleeping alright. Your mood, in general. It was a lot of stuff like that… learning how to breathe correctly. It was more than just being next to a piano and doing scales up and down. It was very, very interesting to listen to and take part in. I think I used that and it helped me understand my instrument better and also understand my limits and what I can do with my voice. I don’t want to change my voice because I like my voice. But it’s been a kind of home school technique. I never really thought about it before. But I tell you what, now I can at least understand it.

SR: When you’re not on the road, are you concerned with preserving your voice, or are you someone who sings in the shower and in the car and so on?

AF: No, I don’t sing in the car or shower. I mean, I work with music. I’m not a guy who likes to sit down and do nothing; but, at the same time, I understand – especially lately – that it’s important to relax when you’re off the road. It can be very intense fronting a band and being away a lot. It’s really important that you relax in between so that mentally you’re in good condition. So no, I don’t sing more… Maybe I should sing more. Who knows?

SR: Speaking of being off the road, I understand that you’re a whisky connoisseur. Which are you favourites and how did you first get into that world?inflamewhisk

AF: I got into it when I was working in Gothenburg in the mid-nineties. Me and my boss used to go to this bar quite often to have a drink to relax and breathe a little bit and talk about the music that we just recorded. I got introduced to single malt whisky and I thought it was fantastic. And when I get interested in something, I want to learn everything about it. I wanted to learn who was making it, how you make it, and about every single stage, basically. Then I just started to buy old bottles and score bottles from different auctions. I took trips to Scotland quite often to visit all the distilleries. I have a great passion for whisky and great respect for the people who make it. We’re sort of the same in a way. They create their thing with a lot of love and a lot of passion and you can’t really fool anyone. And that’s who we are as well. We treat our music with a lot of love and passion and respect the art. But some of my favourite stuff is from distilleries that don’t exist anymore and you can’t really find it unless you put down a lot of money and go to auctions. We released our own whisky. We went to a Swedish distillery. I picked up 12 or 13 different casks from an old warehouse. I picked one and it was sold a few weeks ago in Sweden. It was extremely limited. There were like 300 bottles. It was like a 200 litre cask. It sold out in 10 seconds. I’m not joking – it was gone like that. That was pretty intense. It was a collaboration with a distillery called Box up north in Sweden. I’m really interested in seeing where it’s going to be in 10, 15, 20 years. It’s extremely good for such a young company.

SR: You’re a heavy metal dad. Are your kids into your music and do they go on tour with you?

AF: Oh, here and there. When they were young and didn’t know better they loved everything daddy did. Now they’re older they can go and search for themselves. Even though I’m extremely wide in my musical understanding, there’s stuff they’re into where I think, ‘What the fuck are you guys listening to?’ They do go out with us here and there but they need to go to school and do their thing. If they’re on vacation, of course they come out – especially in Sweden or around Europe.

SR: You’ve got a tour coming up soon. Do you enjoy being on the road?

AF: Yeah, every country is a unique experience. No matter where we are, we try to enjoy the time. I have a big passion for food and drink, so I like to go out and search for good food and drink. And I like to go out and meet people – all the friends we have all over the world – and play the shows and meet the audience. It’s amazing that we can travel the world and play our music.

SR: Have you got a message you’d like to send out to your Australian fans ahead of the release of Battles on November the 11th?

AF: Go get it and listen to it again and again and again. Then buy a second copy to give your best friend (laughs). No, we love Australia and we’re looking forward to going back. We’re always treated really well there. I like the climate and the easy-going attitude of the people. Hopefully our next Australian tour is not too far in the future.