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Pain of Salvation    
pain of salvation

I had only just discovered Pain of Salvation a few weeks prior, yet I had heard enough to know that they were the real deal. There is simply an aura of depth and quality to their music that seems to transcend both definition and musical barriers. I had only just begun to absorb myself in the complexity of it all, yet already I knew that 'The Perfect Element, Part I' was an album that deserved my extended attention. So given the opportunity to visit with Pain of Salvation singer / guitarist Daniel Gildenlow here in New York on his way back to Sweden from the just completed Prog Power festival in Chicago, I gladly accepted the invitation.

METAL UPDATE: You're on your way back from playing the Prog Power festival, right? How did that show go?

DANIEL GILDENLOW: It was terrific. Very good, in fact. Everything up to actually arriving in Chicago was terrible. But after arriving in Chicago, everything was well taken care of and well organized. The crowd was just so great.

MU: Was that your first time playing in the United States?

DG: Yes.

MU: How was the response compared to how you expected it to be?

DG: The crowd was much better, much looser than I expected them to be.

MU: Were people into the songs? Did they know the music?

DG: Yeah. I remember that at one point, I actually forgot the words to "Idioglossia". We hadn't played it since we recorded the album, more or less. I started to sing the third verse, instead of the first verse. They are really similar - just a few words are different - and that kind of triggers the last piece of verse. I was starting to sing the third verse, and I completely lost track of the words. I was just looking at someone in the audience who was singing along with all the words and I was like, "can you help me?" (laughs) So it was pretty cool to see that people were actually singing along and everything.

MU: So overall you were impressed by the American fans?

DG: Yes, on that show we had a huge response. So definitely, that was a really good show and a really good crowd.

MU: Did you check out any of the other bands while you were there?

DG: I would have liked to. I don't know if you heard about this, but we were stuck in Baltimore and had to spend the night on the airport floor. So when we arrived, we were completely exhausted. We did an Icelandic gig - at first we were supposed to go directly to Chicago. We would have gotten there early, attended the kick-off party, seen the festival both days. But just to be able to do this Icelandic gig, we rescheduled everything and managed to find flights that would take us over Iceland and everything.

MU: Which is the more important market for Pain of Salvation? The United States of Iceland? (laughs)

DG: Umm . . .

MU: Let's put it this way: in which market do you expect to sell more records?

DG: I think Iceland would probably be more . . . there's only 280,000 people living there in the entire country. Seriously, that Iceland thing was just a really terrible outcome.

MU: So you didn't get to see Jag Panzer or Symphony X?

DG: No, 'cause when we finally got there, we were so exhausted. We didn't get much sleep during the Icelandic days, because of the jet lag and everything. So the day of the Prog Power festival, we did a soundcheck, I did a few interviews, we did one hour signing autographs, and we did the gig. But we mostly just tried to get some sleep, actually.

MU: Do you perform some of the quieter passages of the albums live? Do you stay away from the mellower stuff?

pain of salvation

DG: We just try to find the songs that we like, and that the audience likes, and then we play them. Everything that we do is meant to function in the live situation. Four of us are singing. We're basically doing everything except performing with a live orchestra! (laughs) Which is pretty tricky to do and expensive. Still, we try to compensate for that with more strings on the keyboard instead. So the keyboardist is performing magic at times - constantly changing sounds while still trying to play different things.

MU: What genre of music would you say Pain of Salvation plays?

DG: Well, we're labeled as progressive metal.

MU: Let's stick with that for a moment. Do you think that's a fair description?

DG: I think it's a good start, but I think that if someone would say to me, "I have this new band you should really check out," and I asked, "oh yeah, what kind of music is it?", and they said "progressive metal," I wouldn't listen to it."

MU: What is progressive metal? Pretend I put a gun to your head and asked to immediately blurt out three examples of progressive metal. Which bands would you name?

DG: Well, we all know what I would say.

MU: Who?

DG: Dream Theater, Fates Warning and one of the followers. What is that band's name I was thinking of? The one with the Pink Floyd-ish cover. Do you know what band I am thinking of?

MU: Queensryche? (laughs) [please excuse my bad attempt at a pun, having something to do with people's accusations back when 'Empire' was big that "Silent Lucidity" sounded like a Pink Floyd ripoff. I'm not sure Daniel picked up on it, so I kinda just rolled along with it . . . ]

DG: Well yeah. Queensryche are the ancestors of progressive metal. But today - oh, what is their name? Oh, man! Well, those three are the biggest, anyway. Queensryche, Dream Theater and Fates Warning.

MU: And so progressive metal is not music that is interesting to you?

DG: It was. It used to be, but I think that the definition is slipping slightly. Today, what we see mostly in the progressive metal genre is kind of echoes and a lot of music that sounds very similar to a mixture of these existing bands. And that is not progressive for me. That is music that is stuck in a recipe, and I hate being stuck in a recipe. That is everything that I hate about music. That's everything but progressive.

MU: So, if someone told you "here's a great, new progressive metal band to listen to," you wouldn't want to put it in your CD player?

DG: If he would say, "this is progressive metal, but it is different - it is original," then I would be interested.

MU: So if progressive metal isn't enough, how else would you describe Pain of Salvation?

DG: I think I once said something like "emotional crossover metal." (laughs)

MU: Crossing over between what and what?

DG: Well that is the difficult part, I guess. It is crossing over between a lot of different styles. We have a few jazzy elements. We have the progressive rock elements. We have the progressive metal elements. We have just plain rock. We have pop elements at some points. We also have some political -style leanings which is called different things in different countries. We have some death metal influences, and, you know, what have you. For me it is just a mixture of music that is good, you know?

pain of salvation

MU: Who are your musical peers? What bands would it make sense for you guys to tour with?

DG: That's what we have been discussing. Who would we tour with? I think - I would have liked touring with Faith No More, but they don't exist anymore.

MU: What about the other bands on the InsideOut roster? Platypus? Planet X?

DG: I'm not really familiar with them.

MU: So you're doing your own thing? Perhaps you're getting your influence from some of the seventies classic rock bands then? [A couple of other folk were in the room during this interview, including Pain of Salvation's press agent and another guy who was scheduled to do the interview after me. As soon as I made this last statement, they both started laughing to themselves a bit under their breath, which caused Daniel to do the same. I immediately sensed that I had just opened the proverbial can of worms, so to speak.]

DG: That is the question I fear the most! (laughs) [the entire room, including me, bursts out laughing] I haven't been listening to Rush. I haven't been listening to Yes. I haven't been listening to the old Genesis. I haven't been listening -

MU: Pink Floyd?

DG: I've listened to 'The Wall'. That is really the only Pink Floyd I've heard.

MU: Ever?

DG: No, I've heard 'Dark Side of the Moon'. I've it heard once or twice.

MU: You never heard - you listen to your music and - so where does this music come from?

DG: I think it is a combination. If I look back at my own musical history, the bands and / or music that really made a difference for me are the Beatles, Jesus Christ Superstar and ink Floyd's 'The Wall' is really big. I was a KISS fanatic for many years. Queensryche. I had an era with Queensryche. I really liked the 'Rage for Order' album a whole lot.

MU: You heard Pink Floyd's 'The Wall'. You go on to be a professional musician and you cite that record as being a "really big" part of your musical history. How do you not go back and check out the rest of their catalogue?

DG: Well that's the strange thing with me, isn't it? I don't know why. I have a lot of artists that I really, really like, but I don't own one single album of theirs. It's so strange. I never know why. That's how I am.

MU: Let's talk about Queensryche. Have you heard their whole catalogue?

DG: Yeah. I've heard all of their albums.

MU: What is it about 'Rage for Order' that made that such an important influence to you?

DG: Well the production sucks, and a few of the songs are not finished yet.

MU: And they look pretty silly on the back cover.

DG: (laughs) Oh yeah! That's so hilarious.

MU: Well what is it that's so great about that record?

DG: They have a few of their best moments on that album, because they're still very fresh and nieve and they're kinda daring. They were expressing daring ideas of the time. More so than on 'Operation: Mindcrime' which is much more of a metal album. Much more of a double-bass kick.

MU: Whereas 'Rage for Order' had more of that mechanized, computerized, strange trippy samples and dramtic keyboards thing going on.

DG: Yeah! Which was fresh. It was new. "Screaming in Digital" is one of their best songs ever, I feel - probably one of the top few. I was never really into 'Empire'. But I think 'Promised Land' was a good album. Especially after seeing it live. They put on a huge show.

MU: The album was a lot darker, coming off all of that success.

DG: Exactly. Anyway, and then after 'Promised Land' - OK, I don't want to say anything more. (laughs)

MU: (laughs) Have you bought any new music recently that you've found interesting?

DG: You don't want to hear this.

MU: Sure I do.

DG: Limp Bizkit. The new album.

MU: Let's talk about that. (laughs) Limp Bizkit? I would have never imagined I would come in here and the dude from Pain of Salvation would tell me he never listened to Rush, Yes or Genesis and yet he loves the new Limp Bizkit album. You're going to have to explain that one. I doubt - in America at least - that there are very many people who are both Limp Bizkit and Pain of Salvation fans. I could be wrong. But I kinda doubt it.

DG: I wouldn't want to listen to Limp Bizkit 'cause I thought it was just another one of those youth bands. You know, kids are going crazy, skateboards - cool stuff - but then actually I heard from a friend of mine that it was good. I thought to myself, I might as well just borrow it and check it out. I listened to it for one whole day, because I didn't want to make fast judgments. The first thing that struck me was that after three songs, you thought you were on top of the guys. You thought you knew what they were about. You felt that they had presented themselves. After three songs, most bands have usually presented themselves. They've showed everything that they are all about. And then they just completely change direction mid-album. That's not really usual, and they do that a few times. They have an enormous amount of self distance. They're kind of making fun of themselves - not taking themselves too seriously. Which I also enjoyed a lot. And a few of the songs are really, really good.

MU: Does Pain of Salvation "present itself" in the first three songs?

DG: No that is not true of Pain of Salvation. (laughs)

MU: Do you make a concerted effort to make each song sound different?

DG: That's difficult to pin down. When I start to make a song, I try to find a relationship with the song. I'm letting the song find it's way. I'm trying to smoothly arrange it into some kind of structure, but I want to keep that open mindedness about the actual structure of the song. We have two kinds of songs. We have the very large songs, songs like "The Perfect Element" or "People Passing By". On 'One Hour by the Concrete Lake', we had much shorter songs in general. I guess we have like "Black Hills" and "New Years Eve". Large, kinda heavy songs. Different influences. We kick into something nice and clean and then go into something heavy. They're kind of journies. Internal journies traveling through different kinds of music styles. It's kind of like planting a seed and letting it grow and seeing what happens.

MU: Do you think that if you try to be too diverse, you run the risk of being too watered down? If you try to be all things to all people, don't you end up not really being any one thing with any strength and conviction?

DG: Only commercially speaking. I never worry about that when it comes to music. The problem is that in order to keep making music, you should have some kind of commercial value. I see a lot of people who get stuck to our music when they hear it, but most people never get to hear the music in the first place. We've done festivals in Sweden that are not metal oriented. They actually have crowds come from completely different areas. Pop bands, rock bands, jazz bands - you name it, we've got it at the festival. People that are totally out of the rock genre altogether. I remember an old lady coming up to us after a gig and saying "that was good! I don't normally like rock-n-roll, but that was good!" That just goes to prove that we have something for everybody.

MU: But then perhaps there's not really a built-in, core audience that you can say "this type of person would like Pain of Salvation."

DG: We have some kind of core audience.

MU: Who's the core audience?

DG: We have the traditional progressive metal fans, but especially the progressive metal fans that are sick and tired of the development of the progressive metal genre in general. I've noticed that many of the emails we have received are from people who are just disillusioned, who feel that everything has just come to a stop, and is becoming that kind of recipe like I was talking about earlier. They say they've been looking for something different, something original, and that they've found us. That is something that I hear very, very often.

MU: Perhaps that is the ultimate compliment.

pain of salvation

DG: Yeah. Another really, really good compliment that I get is when people say that I've changed their way of thinking, that they feel enlightened in some kind of way. I think that more than twenty people have asked me if it is normal to cry when they hear our music. I'm like, "I don't know. Do you feel that it is normal?" (laughs) "Are you comfortable about it?" But several people have told me this, and so it seems to be pretty normal. So I can just soothe everybody that has once or twice cried to our music and tell them now that it is probably completely normal.

MU: You're from Sweden. Are you familiar with the Gothenberg death metal acts?

DG: Not really. We meet other Swedish bands abroad for the most part. We met Wolverine in Holland. We met Evergrey this time in the states. The Italian band Eldrige told us a lot about Swedish bands when we were out on tour.

MU: So there's no real connection.

DG: No. In Sweden, we don't really have any connections between the bands more than a phone call here or there. A few bands have contacted us because of our albums and have wanted to do some things together at some point. That's pretty cool.

MU: Can Pain of Salvation ever achieve breakthrough commercial success in the United States?

DG: I have to have hope.

MU: You're not familiar with these 70's acts, but there was a time in the United States when bands with a complex sound like yours were commercially successful in the United States. They were on top of the charts. Things go in cycles. Do you hope that things come back around that way?

DG: I think I had hopes a few years ago. Today I feel kind of disillusioned. More or less, I feel that this is the music that I like. I wish that it could be successful for the crowds, but I actually see quite the opposite. I see music as getting more and more stupid, and it is not anything of an art form anymore.

MU: It is a commercial product.

DG: Just like soda or pop or whatever you want to call it. (laughs) I'm a music teacher, and I usually make a connection to film or movies. Nobody puts on a movie and takes out the vacuum cleaner and turns it on and starts vacuuming while the movie is playing. Movies aren't background entertainment. You rent a movie and you watch it. You don't do that with music anymore. People buy the album 'cause they've heard the song on the radio 3,000 times - because it is so familiar to them. They've heard it so many times, so buy it and you don't understand it.

MU: Under what conditions should people listen to a Pain of Salvation record?

DG: Preferably, I'd like people - they don't have to, of course - to pay attention to it.

MU: Headphones?

DG: They don't have to wear headphones.

MU: Read the lyrics?

DG: Yeah, I'd prefer it if they read the lyrics, but it's not necessary. You can appreciate things on different levels. You can actually watch a movie without getting the political message, and still enjoy the movie. But I think if you are able to analyze the different levels of content, you'll get more out of it. That will be a bigger gain for you as the receiver of this information. But if you don't want to do it, it is OK.


interview with Pain of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlow






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Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ ]
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