A few weeks before the release of Be, the confounding but thought-provoking fifth album from Sweden's Pain of Salvation, Sea of Tranquility senior editor Michael Popke caught up with the band hours before its eclectic performance at ProgPower USA V. Sitting in the courtyard of Atlanta's Fairfield Inn & Suites (located just blocks from the Earthlink Live venue) and munching on pizza with pineapple topping, band mastermind Daniel Gildenlöw, his younger bass-playing brother Kristoffer Gildenlöw and drummer Johan Langell attempted to shed some light on what will undoubtedly be one of the most love-it-or-hate-it records of 2004. As Gildenlöw says, "It deals with mankind, with God, and our relationship with faith and science. The most important of all questions is, 'How is everything connected to each other?' " Speaking in a slightly nasal tone, the 31-year-old Gildenlöw presents himself as confident man who never stops questioning or searching. Whether he's seeking truth, enlightenment, immortality or a theme for Pain of Salvation's next album, he is at once casual, thoughtful and more to down to earth than you can probably imagine. Despite that, get ready for your brain to hurt.
Sea of Tranquility: Congratulations on the release of Be. I've only had a chance to listen to it for a short awhile, and to be honest with you, I'm not quite sure what's going on. I hope I'm not the first interviewer to say that.
Daniel Gildenlöw (laughing): No, you're not. Usually it takes awhile.
Pain Of Salvation In Atlanta, GA, at ProgPower V
SoT: What first struck me is that the album's not as densely musical as some of your other albums. There are a lot of spoken-word passages, there's some chanting, there's some stuff that sounds like the celtic-rock band Tempest. In the booklet that accompanied promo copies of Be, you asked the question, How does everything tie together? Do you tie everything together on this album, or is the listener supposed to be left with a lot of unanswered questions?
DG: You definitely will have a lot of questions after listening to it. The concept is extremely large. For me, this — right now — is the starting point of Be. When it gets to the listener, that person is the starting point. Where people go from there will affect the way they experience the album and its content.
SoT: Do you expect listeners to come to some sort of conclusion after listening to this? Are you trying to influence their thought processes?
DG: They don't have to come to a conclusion. If people want to listen to the music without taking in the lyrics, that's fine. Personally, I couldn't do that. Why skip that extra dimension when it's there? I couldn't see myself listening to this album without feeling the urge to get into it more deeply. But I don't expect everybody to work that way.
SoT: Are you trying to influence the way people see about their world and their place in it?
DG: What I'm providing is more of a foundation. I don't want people to think in a specific kind of way, but I really want them to pose questions to themselves, maybe start questioning one or two aspects of their lives. So I'm not providing answers. I'm providing questions.
Kristoffer Gildenlöw: Not that people are going to question us, but they're going to question other things.
SoT: About themselves or about the world around them?
DG: Now that's the same thing, isn't it?
SoT: I guess it could be. (Awkward pause.) Daniel, did you have to sell the Be concept to the other guys in the band?
DG: I always sell, and they always buy. (Laughs.) I hope by this time they trust the things that I present.
Johan Langell: He presents most of the ideas, but sometimes along the way he comes to us to see if we like this, if we like that. We can say 'Yes' or we can say 'Yes, but,' or we can say 'No.' But mostly we just say 'Yes.'
SoT: Have you ever said 'No'?
KG: Not to a whole concept, but to details.
SoT: How much influence did you guys and the other band members have on Be?
KG: Not very much. We make most of the music, but this is a concept Daniel had begun a long time ago. Looking back, it was actually better to leave it then and come back to it now, because we have much more information, and the world has in the last four years changed in such a way that we can actually start asking more questions. And it's getting more obvious that there are a lot of questions to ask.
SoT: Do you think, had you not waited, your audience would have been ready for something like this?
DG: I don't know if they're ready now.
SoT: Be seems to have a very spiritual element to it. Are you questioning the existence of God, or does it go even deeper than that?
DG: What I want to ask is, 'Is there a God?' Is that very human question applicable? We have a lot of different areas of human context – religious, scientific, philosophical, socio-political. A lot of the theories about everything in those different areas are seemingly contradictory. If you take away the linguistic values of those theories – if you take away the words – and just look at the emotional patterns and try to imagine something beyond words, then all of this suddenly starts to make sense and they actually start to look very similar. It's like seeing the pattern of a story that goes beyond words, and depending on the context you're a part of, you will try to put words to the context that is a part of you. But the story is still the same. The only way you can see that, though, is depriving it of words and their values. The problem comes when you want to write an album about it and you have to put words to it.
SoT: Wow. When you were writing Be, did it ever occur to you, 'Hey, maybe I'm taking on too much with one album'? Would it have been easier to break down each one of these huge concepts – religion, science, philosophy, socio-politics – and explore them one-by-one on separate albums?
DG: In a way we have. In a way, all of our albums are aspects of this way of thinking.
SoT: So the previous four Pain of Salvation albums were leading up to Be?
DG: Yeah, I think so. Not intentionally at that point, but looking back now, I definitely see a line leading toward this point. What I want to underline with this concept is the way those different areas are interconnected. So just focusing on one of them doesn't illustrate the interconnectivity. You really have to have all of them in play. The lyrics are a small selection of thoughts, and from those selections, you can start looking at the connections.
SoT: As I mentioned, the promo version of Be provides a lot of background information regarding your own thought processes when creating the album, as well as a bibliography of source material. Yet, because of space purposes, you opted to print the lyrics in the booklet of the final version of Be. What about listeners who want to dig deeper than the lyrics and are looking for more information to further pursue the ideas presented in the album?
DG: On the forthcoming DVD, in addition to the visual part, you will also have a booklet with more information that connects all of the elements. Beyond that, I see a future on the Internet, where this concept goes beyond the album – with a home page for this album and discussion forums and a constantly growing knowledge base for Be.
SoT: What will be on the DVD?
DG: We recorded a live production of Be first, about a year ago in Sweden.
SoT: You also performed the material for school kids, correct? How old were they?
DG: Between the ages of 12 and 16. And it was the exact same versions of the songs you hear on the album.
SoT: Did they "get it"?
DG: It depends on what you mean by "get it." Of course, they didn't say, "Ah, so what you're saying is this … ." (Laughs.)
SoT: Part of what is so challenging and so attractive about Pain of Salvation's music is that the band is subtle. I hear new musical and lyrical nuances every time I listen to one of your albums. Do you get the sense that your audience grasps everything that you're putting out there?
DG: Of course not. The thoughts of one mind will never fully be grasped by another mind. They say that a book is as many books as it has readers. And that goes for music, as well – especially the kind of music we do. But I wouldn't be surprised if people have figured out things about our own music that we haven't.
SoT: Really? Has that actually happened?
DG: No, not yet. (Laughs.)
KG: But that day will come.
DG: The problem, always, is the limited amount of time when it comes to writing the music or the limited amount of space on the album or the limited amount of space in the booklet or the limited amount of time in the interview sessions. That's where everything is boiled to down to the essence of something. And the essence can never speak of the whole thing. It's like a cover of the original thing. Every time we speak of our own music, it's like making a cover of that music that's not nearly as complete as the real thing.
SoT: How would you give a cover version of your other albums? I have my own thoughts about your albums – particularly One Hour By the Concrete Lake and Remedy Lane. They are convoluted thoughts and maybe not exactly how you intended those albums to be interpreted, but perhaps that's the point.
DG: That's not the point, but it's a bonus. All of our albums deal with the same topics on different levels. If you look back to Entropia and then all the way up to Remedy Lane, I think you can see a movement from the big to the small and from the small to the big. On Entropia, you've got a story on a global scale. From that global scale, you portray personal feelings and actions and characters who are at the center of the story. Remedy Lane is the other way around. You have this intimate, small story dealing with human feelings, but through those feelings, we're telling a story about the world. It's like looking at the small through the big scale and looking at the big through the small scale.
SoT: And now you're …
DG: … looking at the big through the big scale. (Laughs.) It's like a concept that was too big to ever be told, but you still have to try.
SoT: Musically, it seems like you guys have moved from heavier to more progressive elements. Agree or disagree?
DG: I think people usually interpret "heavy" as having distorted guitars. I don't know why. Looking at the musical structure, I think Be is much heavier and more groundbreaking than the music on Entropia, which I feel, in a way, is really light music. It's faster and more simplistic. The difficult structures are all on the surface instead of deeper in the songs. And on those albums, we have more distorted guitars. And usually it's easier to work with distorted guitars because they fill up a lot of space and structure. My feeling is that Pain of Salvation's music itself has actually become heavier, both emotionally and musically. Surface-wise, just looking at the style of the music, I think the earlier albums were heavier and even more technical – even though they're absolutely not.
SoT: The set list for tonight was left totally up to the fans, correct?
SoT: That's kind of a risky proposition.
SoT: How did you come up with a list?
DG: Fans could vote on the Internet, and we got a list of the 15 top songs. Of those, I think we'll play 10 or 11.
SoT: There will be nothing from Be, obviously, because people haven't heard that yet. Are you OK with that?
DG: The album is really impossible to play without an orchestra, because it's the opposite of doing a Metallica, where you have a band and just add the orchestra. On Be, the orchestra is at the ground level of the music. If you remove that, everything just falls apart.
SoT: Why did you leave it up to the fans?
DG: I have no idea. I remember being against it, actually. We haven't had much time to rehearse. We haven't played some of these songs in a long time. Part of the set will be Entropia material, though, which we like playing because we don't have to think much. We can do that in our sleep.
JL: It was [ProgPower USA promoter] Glenn [Harveston]'s idea. He was one band short, so he asked us to play. We've been here a couple of times already, so he wanted to make it a special appearance by Pain of Salvation. He decided to have the fans vote for the set list.
SoT: Do you know how many songs in your catalog got votes?
DG: No. We just got the top 15 from the ProgPower USA web site.
[The set Pain of Salvation played that night:
In the Flesh
A Trace of Blood
Spirit of the Land
People Passing By
Beyond the Pale]
SoT: Real quick, Daniel – Flower Kings: Guest or an official member?
DG: I'm an official member as long as I want to be. There's no pressure.
SoT: Do you like that gig? I think you fit in well.
DG: I get a lot of the symphonic stuff out of my system.
SoT: How about Transatlantic, with whom you've toured? What's the status of that?
DG: I think that's pretty much over. I'm not the one to talk about that, really, but the feeling I get is that it's probably done.
SoT: Any chance that Pain of Salvation will ever tour the United States?
DG: It's like pay to play here. This market is really harsh. You have to earn a lot of money before you can break even. We were really worried on the way over here, with Hurricane Ivan coming. We were thinking, 'Wait a minute. We paid for the tickets, but we haven't received our gig money yet.' (Laughs.)
Pain of Salvation Discography:
One Hour By the Concrete Lake (1999)
The Perfect Element, Part 1 (2000)
Remedy Lane (2002)
Pain Of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlow