The future of prog-metal
Pain of Salvation frontman speaks about his discomfort with tags and his comfort with different roles
By Bobin James
Beginning life as Reality, in 1984, Swedish progressive metal band Pain of Salvation got their current name in 1991 and has since gone on achieve a cult admiration worldwide, even sharing stage with top prog-metallers, Dream Theater. While Pain of Salvation CDs are not yet officially available in India, they have still managed to whip together a dedicated underground following across the country. Prodigious founder-member Daniel Gildenlöw speaks to Rolling Stone India from Eskilstuna, Sweden in this exclusive interview.
Dan, you don’t seem very comfortable with Pain of Salvation’s music being tagged as “progressive metal.”
I would have been more comfortable if “progressive” meant something more than what it is right now. Yes, I would like music to be progressive… explore new places. But right now, when you say “progressive,” there is a specific pattern, a specific formula – high-pitched vibrato vocals…. I just can’t stand it… I want music to express something. It should be a tool for reaching emotions in you, be it the listener or the musician. It’s a way of connecting…
So how then would you tag your music?
I would put something stupid just to be provocative… like “Kitchen Utensils” or something… [laughs]
In an earlier interview, you have said that when you are writing, you “always revolve around humanistic values and the way every action will make a difference on a surprisingly large scale.” Does music have the power to change?
Every art form has the power to change. Actually every human being has the power to change - if I were to walk into a supermarket and take one brand of milk over another, I might be part of a big collective change… For me, music should relate to emotions and be intellectual enough to deal with issues.
At what point in time did you realise that you were going to be a musician?
I know I was eight years old when I was focussing a lot on the music scene, and on drawing and writing. So from as far as I can remember, I knew I was going to be in the creative parts of life…
You are a singer, a songwriter, a guitarist, Dan. Which of these roles are you most comfortable in?
It would not be right if I say I was most comfortable in it – because I am comfortable in all of these roles – but I really love the composing part of music. I think I combine my advantages to the best when I am composing.
Are there any specific methods you employ while practising parts which have you playing the guitar and singing?
There are no specific methods - it’s just parallel processing, multitasking… pretty much like juggling.
It’s best not to think too much about it. Yes, think it through before you actually start playing, but when you are playing, don’t think about it. I guess for me it comes from a long life of practising.
What are your inspirations when you sit down to write?
You don’t need much more inspiration than regular life. What is important, first and foremost is letting life get to you and then using those emotions…
What about inspirations in terms of artists?
There’s the latter day Beatles, Electric Light Orchestra. As a kid, when I was allowed to use the vinyl player - or actually before I was allowed - I would find my favourite songs and play them over and over again. Like there was an LP of Radio Hits from the Sixties – I would I would play it over and over again…
One of my favourite songs was Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer.’ I remember when I was in kindergarten… as a six year old… when we would be going to kindergarten in my dad’s car, he had this cassette tape, a transparent cassette – that was so cool – which had ‘The Boxer’ on it. I would rewind or forward the tape till I found ‘The Boxer.’ And if the song had not come on by the time we reached the school, I would sit outside and listen to it first, before going in.
You have spoken elsewhere about how you go for songs rather than albums or artists.
Yes, some of my favourite songs are from artists and albums that are not on my top list… For instance, ‘Life on Mars’ by David Bowie. I just have a Greatest Hits compilation of his.
So isn’t it ironic that Pain of Salvation makes concept albums?
I am annoyed by albums that have one or two good tracks and the rest is crap. If I can see that a particular album is put together with care, then I can easier forgive some weak songs… as long they’re still speaking the same language…
Any concept albums you really loved?
The first one I remember is Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds… My aunt, who was 12 years younger than my mother - which was very cool in my world - she had found a vinyl version of War of the Worlds somewhere in England… and I thought it was so cool. I brought it to kindergarten when I was seven or eight… I would play it to my friends and explain the concept as best as I could. Then we would build these tripods with Lego, the building blocks…
Then there is Jesus Christ Superstar, Operation Mindcrime…
What currently playing on your iPod?
I was on a year-long trip of the Beatles, so it still has a large mix of that and a whole lot of other names from the Sixties.
What are you working on now? Is there a new album in the works?
Yes, I have tonnes of material. Now, I am in the process of narrowing it down, trying to distinguish what can be the new album. We are going to get into making rough demos now.
The idea is to record it in the rehearsal room… more live. It’s also more challenging technically… I am addicted to truth and honesty in the music…
What do you prefer – recording or playing live?
I find parts of both processes a bit tedious. Like nowadays, I feel bored playing old material on stage, when I have all this new material in my head.
In recording, you miss the direct feedback of playing live - you end up spending hours and hours in front of the computer, and then you think, I wanted to play music, not tweak computers. I wish both processes could be more direct and you get instant feedback.. instant gratification.
Any plans of coming to India?
I would love that, but we don’t have any offers yet. Sometimes fans might think we are not coming to their city because we don’t want to play there, but it’s only because we don’t have any offers…
(August 6, 2008)
© Bobin James/Rolling Stone India, 2008