There are artists for whom the creative process seems to be a source of embarrassment. One interviewee, I distinctly remember, side-stepped any questions about lyrics, whether related to subject matter or style, while others are too busy contemplating the prospect of living fast, dying young and leaving a good-looking corpse to even consider what inspired the music that bought them such a prospect in the first place. Other artists are more content to discuss the myriad ideas and influences that are worked into their art. Happily, in the case of In Solitude, singer and lyricist Pelle Ahman turned out to be a quietly contemplative individual who was content to discuss the questions put about the band’s development and lyrical influences. This was important because In Solitude are one of the few bands for which you can comfortably read the lyrics as distinct from the music and still enjoy the poetry of the language.
With a new album out on Metal Blade Records in October 2013 (the much anticipated ‘sister’), In Solitude have already promised a more visceral, engaging experience than on their previous two acclaimed records, and with the release of the title track through the Metal Blade site (see here) it seems that the band’s claims are not exaggerated. We were lucky enough to have the chance to discuss the inspiration that lies at the heart of In Solitude – the lyrics, the music, the atmosphere that makes the band so special to its followers – with Pelle and now present the interview to you in full.
I want to start by asking about your lyrics. It is, I think, quite rare to find a band whose lyrics have such a poetic quality in modern metal and I was wondering whether you turn to literary works for inspiration when you are writing?
I’ve probably been inspired by certain techniques with time, but it’s rreally important for me to find my own vocabulary. I think that what has inspired me in other people’s works is just the subtleties and the techniques and the small things. Mostly in Swedish, I’ve been exposed to a lot of Swedish books which have helped me to reach things with words, but in general it’s just a language I’ve developed on my own terms, constantly keeping track of my own life and writing.
When writing, do you write primarily in English and then translate the words?
I used to write to the music in English all the time, because the words were made specifically for the music. But this time around a lot of things were translated or I found something that I had already written which fitted perfectly into the sentiment of the song and I would try to translate it. Most of the time it doesn’t really work because a lot gets lost in translation, but once in a while the words are things that translate in the same way from Swedish to English so much more on this album I was translating from Swedish to English. Also I was aiming more for the sort of things that I would write in Swedish. I wanted to reach some of the same places that I do in Swedish as in English and I guess the lyrics have changed a bit in that way – they have more in common now with what I usually write in Swedish. They usually don’t end up where anyone can see them. I have this art magazine that I’m working on of which only a few numbers are aware but generally my words just end up in diaries and books and stuff.
I think it must be very hard to put such emotion and imagery into a second language and I was wondering if that’s something that you feel you have developed over your time in the band?
Yeah, it definitely has. I mean first and foremost, it has to do with gaining footholds in a language, and I think I’ve done that with English enough to really translate what I want to say, but there are still big differences and what I can reach with the language. But it’s equally as hard for me writing in Swedish as in English and once … for me it’s always been that I reach a certain moment where things start to come, one after another and I’ll write one thing that immediately takes me further – it reveals the next thing and the next thing and suddenly I’m able to get everything across – but then it doesn’t really matter anymore if it’s English or Swedish because it’s those moments that are the important thing to start with. I really want to capture in words what I need to say.
You said a moment ago that at the start your words followed the music – is that still true or has it come to the point that the music can follow the lyrics and gain its atmosphere from what you’ve written?
I guess so – but a lot of the lyrics are completed after the music was done, but they definitely feed off each other, especially in the live situation. There may be a part of the song where in the lyric I aim for something really visceral and perverse and once we play that live and everyone in the band gets to know the lyrics better, then the members of the band will feed on that part and make the lyrics more intense or less intense or whatever. That’s more a thing that happens live I guess than in the studio.
On the whole it’s the music first. We were writing the music together in the same room in the month before going into the studio, putting everything together, and I was writing constantly while the songs were being made. But usually we have a form where I would just sit down and write lyrics as we were writing music, just quite irrationally, for example defining a strategy for where I was going with it, so I would define what I was aiming at and I would have these huge amounts of words that were related to the emotion of the music, and what the music was doing to me, and then I’d work on these things until five minutes before I had to start singing – and for me I’m not done with a lyric until I’ve started singing it. So I would have quite big lyrics that were with a lot of words and on this album I actually stripped them down a lot – I would repeat things more than I used to in the past and keep them very sparse and to the point- keep them very simple.
It’s interesting that you mention repetition because on this album you have a guest appearance from Jarboe, formerly of the Swans, a band who built their music around atmosphere and repetition. Have the Swans always been an influence on In Solitude’s sound?
I think the cornerstones of what they do has always inspired us but for me the Swans are a new revelation, a band I got into four years ago or something like that, I was completely overwhelmed by the simplicity of what they do and how they focus on really primal things – the whole imagery and fundaments of the band are to use something extremely primal and almost simple at the surface – but the more you study it the more it opens up and I was overwhelmed by how they do that. I think what we’ve taken inspiration from, like the outlook – because we have a lot of things in common with how they do things – but musically we’re extremely different. I think we learnd a lot from them about how to deal with soundscapes even though we do it in a heavy metal way, we definitely were influenced by them. To me it’s one of the most powerful musical experiences I’ve ever heard – especially live.
Listening to your music, obviously heavy metal is very important, but what I was drawn to more was the sense of space and atmosphere and I was wondering if, apart from musical influences, you were influenced by the landscapes of Sweden and the environment you are from?
Yeah, definitely. At least for me personally, we haven’t talked to much about where things come from. Once we do things together we want to close all the doors to the outside world. But yeah, definitely, I spend a lot of time far up North in Sweden where basically my family comes from, from a few generations back, in the middle of nowhere. And that place has been completely fundamental to the way I express myself – I think at least – you never quite know why that’s going on but I think it’s the environment and what it does to me and I personally bring a lot of that into anything I’m involved in. I guess you find once in a while you find these landscapes in the actual world that remind you of how things look inside and they resonate a lot with each other and you can gain a lot from that and use that because it can lead to an understanding of yourself from the resonance you have with a place. So, yes, definitely.
In previous interviews I know you’ve been asked a lot about this and I understand you’re not a band with a manifesto or message per se, but you have an interest in the occult and I wanted to ask if some of the atmosphere comes from the idea of communion and ceremony when you’re creating your music?
Yeah definitely, that’s the sort of thing that probably everybody is on the same page with in a way. To me, it might at first have been an occult interest because I found it as a vocabulary I could understand apart from the rest of the world. I found something in history and in humans that was something that I could relate to and from there on it has turned form an interest to my life. I use it as a way of seeing things and changing things. To me art and music and writing and getting to know each other through a creative force, a changing force, is in itself magical and it doesn’t matter if it’s a Black Flag gig, a Swans gig or an In Solitude gig – to me it’s a ceremonial moment where we do something quite sim0ple that might have enormous consequences on a personal level – that to me is a sort of ceremony. Even though I don’t like to call our gigs ‘rituals’ like a lot of people think we do, but there’s definitely a ceremonial aspect to everything you do and I think all powerful expressions.. you’re working with something as irrational as human feelings and if you get lost in that, that’s a very beautiful thing and that can make strange things happen.
You’re on your third album now and because your music, philosophy and atmosphere seems to be so distinct from many heavy metal bands, was it difficult to find producers to work with who got what you wanted to do?
It probably was, but we were lucky. We had a lot of different ideas about how this album should happen and we even talked about doing it ourselves in this cabin in the woods and that sort of stuff, which I’m very glad we didn’t. We chose a studio just before we were about to record and we were pretty stressed about it, but we found this studio in Stockholm that we knew a bit about and we had a lot of common acquaintances with that producer and it just turned out to be the perfect place and time for that album to be made. I mean, his presence must have been a part of it, he was just as important as anybody else in the band and it was a real collaborative process that was very important. We were just lucky that that possibility turned up at the last moment.
When it comes to your concerts – do you try to maintain control over the number of performances you play and with whom you play or are you keen to get out and play to as many people as possible?
I can see the point to controlling performances and I have some other projects where we do that in a way, and we do with In solitude too to some degree, but we are in a different way to a lot of other bands because we are basically standing here with our instruments and are willing to go anywhere, but it’s not that we take nay gig possible, we’re not extremely conscious about circumstances where we might perform – if we see a possibility of going to new places to play for new people then we’ll try to make the circumstances work with our ideas of things, but in general we try to find rewarding bands to play with and the right circumstances but yes, we try to play as much as possible, but that doesn’t mean we’ll play with anybody and anywhere.
I remember reading an interview with you when you talked about having a passion for vinyl and you’re obviously very careful about how your material is presented – how much control do you have over that visual side of things?
We are very conscious about it – we’ve tried. There are a lot of things that in hindsight I’m not very pleased with, but I think that has to do with the fact that your comprehensions are permanently changing and you see things in a new light if you’re interested in that kind of thing. It’s extremely important for us, first impressions are very important and you want to show the worst sides in a positive way. Sometimes there might be something on the internet that Metal Blade might do which just turns up out of nowhere and we get quite mad about because we’re not on the same page visually I guess, but that’s more like internet flyers that we might be not very pleased with. The album I think looks amazing – we worked very hard on it to make sure it correlated with the music on the record. It’s very sparse and simple – very distinct and sort of up close. We were looking at a lot of old brass compilation lps in used record stores and talking about how good they looked so we tried to use that in a way – like an old Miles Davis LP – you’ll see it when it appears. It’s quite like ‘Kind of blue’ – where’s there’s just his face on the cover, but yeah, the visual side of things is in a lot of ways just as important as the music – it’s an extremely important part of it and I guess it’s easy to just go about things and make it half hearted – the visual part that is – but it’s important to put as much thought into that part of it and it’s really pleasing to put visuals to what you’ve done because you can search that place in you even further.
You mentioned the internet – obviously it can be a huge resource but also a source of some discontent if people are not seeing the amount of work you put into the band – that can be a little disheartening surely?
Well, not exactly – I don’t like to check us out on social media at all. I probably would become quite disturbed by comments but I’m more interested when people come up and tell me personally about what they think about the music and what it does to them. I don’t know – it goes from day to day. Some days you just want to shut down the whole thing and on other days you appreciate the access that people can have to your material, which is great. Sometimes you miss that time when you’d see an advert for a record in a magazine, have to go to a shop to buy it and then go to a show and have the chance to elaborate for yourself what you are gaining from the experience rather than expressing your ideas fast on the internet. It’s too fast – you maybe hear something one time and decide that it’s not your cup of tea and you instantly move on to the next thing whereas the beautiful thing about records for me is that it might take some time and effort to understand them and it’s worth it – sitting down and looking at a record and listening to it and trying to find yourself in there – that’s a beautiful thing. And it’s harder to do on the internet I think.
When you’re writing music how much time do you spend sequencing the record because it sounds like you went to a lot of effort to create the ebb and flow across the record?
Quite a big part actually. There was this whole week which is quite a lot of time in a one-month recording, or even more maybe, where we worked hard on the order of the record and where things started up and so on to get that, as you say, ebb and flow. We spent time looking at how songs flowed and if we needed something to bridge gaps and so on- yeah we worked hard on that. It’s actually one of the hardest parts of making a record because you make this amount of songs and you think everything is fine, but to actually find an order that works is really hard. So yeah we worked hard on that.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me – do you have any final words for your UK fans?
Keep your eyes open! We want to play in the UK as fast as possible because we play far too little there so we’ll visit the UK soon I guess.
‘Sister’ is released on Oct 1st via Metal Blade