Daniel Svensson of In Flames: "We love traveling the world, drinking beer and playing metal."
In Flames (due this Friday, February 10, at Summit Music Hall) was one of the flagship bands of the Gothenburg scene in Sweden of the early 1990s that included death-metal luminaries like At the Gates and Dark Tranquility. Those bands injected the savagery of death metal with melodic elements that made the music curiously more accessible without undermining its heaviness. After an inaugural EP, 1995's Subterranean, and the debut full-length album Lunar Strain, In Flames started to hit its stride with its 1996 album The Jester Race, considered by many critics a classic in the genre.
Now with ten albums to its credit, the latest being the 2011 release Sounds of a Playground Fading, In Flames isn't exactly a household name, but it is one of the most respected and popular bands in heavy music, not just for the quality of its songwriting, but also for its incendiary live show. We recently had a chat with drummer Daniel Svensson about how he went from being a local fan of the band to being its drummer and how touring has become a more global affair these days than when he first started out.
Westword: Is it true you've learned the Moeller Method?
Daniel Svensson: Sorry? Oh, yeah, it says that on Wikipedia about me, and I didn't even know anything about that strange technique. So I don't think I'm using it, because I read it myself, and it's like, "Okay, what is this?" I read about the technique, and I am definitely not playing with that technique, I guarantee that. I'm more like a lumberjack player.
How did you get started playing drums?
It was actually my younger brother; he's four years younger than me. When he was ten years old -- in Sweden you can choose to learn to play an instrument and take classes for free -- he chose to play drums. And he played for a while, so my parents actually bought a drum kit, and we had it in the house. I mean, if you have a drum kit in your home, you start to play, obviously. So I started to play around. There was a friend of mine who had a bass guitar and a bass cabinet, so we started to jam together, and that's how it all started. I was fourteen or fifteen at the time, I think.
What kind of music did you start playing?
I listened to a lot of the extreme death-metal scene, like all those Florida bands in the early '90s. So I played along to those bands on my Walkman, a little Deicide and Death.
What kinds of things did you want to do in music when you formed Sacrilege GBG?
Back then, when we recorded the albums and wrote the songs, we were actually inspired by In Flames a lot, which is kind of funny. In Flames was one of my favorite bands before I joined. We were really inspired by that whole Gothenburg scene. So we really looked up to the other bands like At the Gates, In Flames and Dark Tranquility. But we tried to do our thing, of course.
How did you end up being the singer for that band, and how difficult was it to learn to drum and sing at the same time?
I never did. We only did one tour with the band, and we had Tomas [Lindberg] from At the Gates standing in on vocals. I never sang and played at the same time. It's too hard, I guess.
You mentioned before that you were inspired by In Flames when you were younger. Did you know the guys from In Flames before you joined the band?
Not really. I met Jesper [Strömblad] a couple of times. I did some vocals for his side project, Dimension Zero, for a tribute album. I'd seen them around at parties, but I didn't know them personally. But we recorded our albums at the same studio, and when they needed a session drummer, the producer told them, "You can try this cat from this band; he'll probably turn up." That's how I ended up in In Flames. I mean, Gothenburg is not a big city, and I saw them when we were at the same places, but I never really talked to them. We're like a big family. We have the same interests. We love traveling the world, drinking beer and playing heavy metal. We have these things in common, and that's enough.
I recently interviewed another Swedish band called Ghost, who told me that you almost have to hide the fact that you're in a band in Sweden, because it's kind of looked down upon. What has been your experience in that regard being a musician in your home country?
It's really tough to make a living out of music in Sweden. It's a small country, and you really need to tour the world to get enough money to pay your bills, especially nowadays, when you really can't sell any albums anymore. I don't think people look down. It might be more the parents when you're young and you really want to try to do this and you skip school, like university, and go play instead. I think the status is higher today than it was fifteen years ago, when we started out professionally, so to speak. So I don't really agree with that.
Now that you've been in the band for well over a decade, how involved are you in the songwriting process with In Flames?
We're a democratic band in all senses when it comes to songwriting, how our merchandise should look and the stage set and everything. I think that's maybe one of the keys to why we're the same guys, except for Jesper. We all have a say. It's not that it's one guy deciding everything and someone gets pissed and leaves the band. Björn writes all the riffs, and he brings a bag of riffs to the studio or ideas for songs, and we sit together and listen to everything and try to arrange it into whole songs until everyone is satisfied, basically. It's kind of a long process, and you need to argue for your thing, but it's a good thing. We never release stuff we're not 100 percent proud of. It has to be a group effort as well. It's worked out for ten albums. So, I mean, we feel pretty good about that.
What do you think sets Sounds of a Playground Fading apart from your previous albums?
We always try to do things differently. We don't want to repeat ourselves. When it comes to production and everything around an album, we always try to experiment a little bit. That's everything. It could be how we place the mike or the drums and which kind of mikes you use and all of that. I think the songs for this album are more clean than before, a little more polished. But they're still very organic. I think this is the most mature album we've written so far.
We're getting older, but I think we also put more time into thinking about each and every song and each and every part of all the songs -- almost every note and every drumbeat. We were really picky, and we never left anything out when we discussed and listened to the songs. We were almost anal about it this time. I think you can tell if you compare it to our other albums. I mean, our main goal is always to do a better album than the previous one; otherwise, we won't release it. So we're really happy with it.
Is it true that you've been playing again with Sacrilege since 2006?
No. Me and one of the other guys sat down for a couple of months trying to write some stuff, but it never happened. I don't really have time to focus on two bands. It wouldn't be fair to Sacrilege right now. We had planned to do another album back then, but it never happened. We'll see in the future. But right now, I don't feel like I have the time to do anything else. When I'm not on tour with In Flames, I have a family with three kids to take care of. When we had the band before, in 1996 -- maybe we're not on the same level music-wise anymore, but you never know. We'll see what happens.
What do you like about touring in America, and is there anything you find puzzling or odd when you've traveled through here playing music?
It's nothing that's really odd. It's very convenient touring the States, and you can always get through and stuff like that 24/7. I would say that everything has become more global nowadays. It's no big difference, actually. Especially not Europe. Asia is a little bit different, but all the Western countries are basically the same.
The fans in Europe are a little bit younger than our American audience, for some reason. I asked my tour manager the other day if this tour was 21-and-over, basically, but he said that 90 percent of the shows were all-ages. But there were still many more older guys than young ones. I think that's the biggest difference between Europe and the US.