Pain Of Salvation Interview

A Conversation with Vocalist/Guitarist Daniel Gildenlow

Pain Of Salvation
Pain Of Salvation. Century Media Records

The long-running Swedish band Pain of Salvation recently released their latest album, the acoustic effort . Vocalist Daniel Gildenlow gives us the scoop on the new record, some recent lineup changes, how they decided to cover tracks from Dio and Lou Reed, upcoming tour plans and more.

Chad Bowar: You have a couple new members that have joined the band over the past few years since your last album was released. How did keyboardist Daniel Karlsson and bassist Gustaf Hielm come to be members of the group?
Daniel Gildenlow: D2 (as we call Daniel Karlsson) has been around the band for quite some time, actually.

He has been a fan of the band for some time, and studied music together with my brother Kristoffer in their teens. He went on the road with us back in 2008 as a stage technician for our European Scarsick tour. Being just as versatile as the rest of us, he plays several instruments with ease and has since that first tour played a number of roles in the band.

He did lights on one show, then he played bass for a while until Fredrik quit the band. At that point it was a super easy choice to put him behind the keys, since that is his “native” instrument. Fredrik and D2 still touch base whenever necessary. The POS family might have scattered through the years, but we are still a family, growing bigger.

Gustaf, well, he is actually an old familiar face for the die-hard fans who have been with us since before we started to record albums. He was part of the band in the early ‘90s, and it was for him that I originally wrote the slap bass passage in “Nightmist,” since he was pretty much personifying the “super funk bassist” back then.

After a few years with the band he started having problems with one of his hands, and ended up going to punk and pop before landing in Meshuggah – a band whose music I had actually introduced him to a few years earlier. Who would have guessed? Anyway, when Gustaf recorded bass for a few of the Road Salt tracks, we figured hey, why not?

And we were both single at the time, so… (laughs)

What inspired you to go acoustic on Falling Home?

We had an offer from a German organizer who asked us if we would be interested in doing an acoustic gig, much like we did back when we recorded 12:5. We are big suckers for variation and challenges so we didn’t have to think twice. We figured that we should record it too, again like with 12:5. Unfortunately (or fortunately rather, since the entire Falling Home album as we know it now spawned from that initial failure) something went wrong with the syncing of the audio cards, and one of the first things we learned when walking off stage after the gig was that half the channels were empty files. I still remember that feeling.

Anyway, after that frustration (and urge to lie down and die) subsided ever so slightly, we realised we couldn’t let go of the album. See, we had pictured it in our heads, and once we had done that, it had taken its place in the good ol’ Plato plane of ideas and was somehow already real to us. Once we started to record it in studio, it transformed and mutated into the very special album we now see.

How did you pick the songs from your catalog that would be on the album?
To me, if I analyze myself in retrospect, it’s a three step process.

I made the parable in another interview that it’s like running a zoo. The back catalog consists of a constantly increasing mix of various habitats and animals. Suddenly you have this new habitat that you want to fill with animals from the older habitats. Your first thought is to pick a few animals that fit almost perfectly into this new habitat, with basically no need for adaptation. Those animals would in this case be perfectly represented by “1979” and “To the Shoreline,” for instance.

After that, you pick a few predatorial animals that are true survivors – animals that you know you can drop basically into any type of hostile environment and they will adapt instantly. Probably feed on some of the nice herbivores that you already put in there, unless you put them a few tracks apart. “Linoleum” is a typical example of this kind of beast.

You just know it will always land on its four feet. Unless you sever one of its legs, then it will just as easily land on three.

This brings us to step three, which is by far my favourite step. See, by now, out of sheer restlessness and curiosity, you find yourself picking up totally unprepared (and, to be honest, fairly surprised-looking) animals from their safe natural environments – animals that by nature are seemingly horribly unfit for this new environment – and drop them down among the other beasts, eager to see what it will do (I was never one of those kids who tortured animals or crushed bugs, I guess these musical experiments are the closest to that that I would ever want to come).

And behold – wonderful mutations and glorious adaptations, firecrackers, spasms, lustful procreation across the borders of musical species. If this offspring survives, they will become the strongest beasts of your new habitat. Granted, your zoo visitors might look at these odd animals with initial scepticism, but ten years from now, those are the ones they will remember. Especially the ones you fed after midnight. (laughs) Is this perhaps the appropriate time to mention that I am totally sober saying this, and have not even once tried drugs in my entire life? I mean, just for clarification...

How did you go about re-arranging them from electric to acoustic?

I was never a fan of electric songs played exactly the same but with acoustic instruments. To me, that’s just emulating the natural results of a power shortage or blackout. Nah, if I have the chance to dress music up for a different occasion, I want to take the opportunity to try a different outfit altogether. I sit down with them as I would if they were brand new ideas. Trying to find a new way in. Once you have a new way in, your entire journey is bound to be different, and you start to grow curious as to where you will end up. Curiosity is king.

Was the new song "Falling Home" written specifically for this album, or did you already have it from previous sessions?
Me and Ragnar wrote it together with no other purpose than to write a song together.

This was months prior to the recording of the Falling Home album (which was then working-titled Clean). Once I started putting the pieces together to find the album in the material, I constantly felt we were one song short – that homecoming and conclusive track that you will always find towards the end of a Pain of Salvation album.

I was also lacking the right album title, as far as I was concerned. Suddenly I got the idea to pull this already written track into the mix, and the pieces came together. This also gave me the perfect album title. The only thing I did to the recording was to dry it up a bit and remove two harmony vocals, to give it that slightly warm and edgy sound that I wanted the album to have.

How did you decide on the Dio and Lou Reed covers?
It was mainly coincidence. This weird rendition of “Holy Diver” had been in my system since a few years back, when we performed it at a local ‘80s retro metal event. I always felt it deserved to be recorded, and here was a perfect chance! The Lou Reed song I had just performed at my sister-in-law’s wedding a few weeks earlier, at their request, and I instantly fell in love with the song. The arrangement I did for the wedding (then performed together with Fredrik Hermansson) was already a perfect match for this album, so it was a natural suggestion to bring to the table. Weird that they were both alive when I made the arrangements. I might have to be careful when picking cover songs in the future.

You put a completely different spin on "Holy Diver." What was the inspiration behind performing it in that style?

We have a long tradition in the band to play weird shuffled jazz versions of our own songs, just look at “Stress” on this album. I recall performing an acoustic shuffled jazz version of “! (Foreword)” (from the 1997 album Entropia) when we won the music award in our hometown many years ago. It is a tradition that grew out of the previous tradition to play songs at bizarrely fast speed with double bass drums. Both these traditions stem from restlessness and the need to blow off steam after 10 or 12 hours of straight rehearsals. “Stress” was the Holy Grail on this list –  I’m so happy we finally did it!

What has the response to the album been like?
I don’t know. I always try to stay away from fan responses and media feedback. I am very sensitive, and hearing anything negative is like hearing someone tell you that your kids are ugly. It doesn’t matter if it’s only one person saying it in a choir of praise, those words will stick forever.

I can still recite the first bad review we got from a small local newspaper in a sucky Swedish redneck town back in 1998. We got 100/100 for that same album in one of the larger music magazines in Europe. I liked that. 9/10 makes me sad for a week. Or rather, I would be fine with any of our albums getting a 3/10, if it wasn’t for the fact that you’ll find some unintelligent crap album score higher in the column next to it.

What's the timetable for the next "regular" Pain of Salvation studio album?
Me and Ragnar are writing new music together right now, and it’s seeing the band go back to the roots of the earlier albums. The plan is to go into Jens Bogren’s studio and record it in August or September – but right now we are ahead of that schedule.

Do you have plans to do any acoustic shows or an acoustic tour in 2015?
Not at the moment, but we will probably throw in a few acoustic songs in our regular sets. Our main focus right now is a strong new studio album.

What has been your most memorable Pain Of Salvation live show or tour?
I have a few. Playing in Egypt, just at the edge of the desert. You’d look in front of you and you’d see a grass lawn, flowers, and singing fans – you’d look behind you and there were only vast dunes of sand all the way to the horizon, and the moon against a dark blue night sky.

Playing in India in front of 8,000 devoted fans singing along to “Linoleum,” throwing each other up in the air in something I can only refer to as those Muppet Show penguins, for those who remember that sight. There was a misunderstanding about the curfew for the show, and the power was cut, by mistake we thought. A student turned it on again and we were just ending with a very emotional version of “Hallelujah,” and had managed to make all those thousands of Indian fans sit down on the ground and sing along, when the power was cut again for good. Have you ever heard 8,000 Indian students chant “What the f--k!”? It’s quite impressive.

Another was the US tour last year, which was unique in that the tour bus never broke down. Any musician who has ever been on tour will understand just how rare this is! Another memorable occasion on that tour was playing a full show in Las Vegas dressed in a white unibody rabbit suit. I dare Hammerfall to do the same.

What are your all-time top 5 favorite Swedish metal/rock bands?
Oh, you are so asking the wrong person. I’m extremely picky and would have serious problems putting together a list of 5 favorite metal bands in the whole world. I have a soft spot for the Wings of Tomorrow album by Europe, but that’s mainly for reasons of nostalgia. Damn, I need to buy that album again, I only have it on vinyl. Meshuggah’s first two albums felt really fresh and original when they came out. But the best Swedish rock album that I’ve heard so far is easy: Naken Blastrad & Skitsur by the band LOK. Divine.

What's currently in heavy rotation in your MP3 player?
The songs “Up in the Air” by Thirty Seconds to Mars, “No One Knows” by Queens of the Stone Age, “Kedvesem” by Bye Alex, “Halo” by Beyonce, “Sail” by Awol Nation, “If I Had a Heart” by Fever Ray and the entire album Eye in the Sky by The Alan Parsons Project (the first album I bought with my own money, when I was 8 or 9 years old).

(interview published February 19, 2015)