Pain of Salvation – Creating the Interface

Sunday, 30th August 2020

Arriving on the scene in the 1990’s, Swedish band Pain of Salvation have always strived to expand the horizons and creative vision of progressive rock and metal. The eleventh studio record Panther is another testament to that ability of exploring the outer shades – vocally, lyrically, and musically challenging the listener, and challenging themselves as musicians in the process. Spacious moments and cascading distant melodies collide in this atmospheric whirlwind – portraying the themes of conflict and contradiction with the normal versus unnormal people in the world. It will be another record open to debate, dissected among the fans, and hopefully enjoyed on the road when the band can get back to playing shows.

Reaching out through Zoom during the middle of a rainstorm, vocalist/guitarist/main man Daniel Gildenlöw has plenty to say regarding Panther. We also tackle the conceptual theme, artwork, the recent loss of long-time members Ragnar Zolberg and Gustaf Hielm, and insight into compassion for mankind plus appreciation for the band’s long running relationship with InsideOut Music.

Dead Rhetoric: Panther is the eleventh Pain of Salvation studio record. Does your approach and thought process going into each record evolve or change depending on where you are at in life and what you want to express – as the band has always strived to make albums that are unique from one another?

Daniel Gildenlöw: Yeah, I think it comes naturally because I tend to invest a lot of myself and where I am in this particular moment in life for every album. I guess it’s just a sign that I’m constantly changing as I hope that everyone is. That reflects on the music and the albums that we make. I never strive or force myself into trying to find new paths. If anything, it’s probably the opposite and I’m trying to pull myself back and have anything that is way too out there.

Dead Rhetoric: The concept for Panther lyrically tackles the conflicts and contradictions between so-called normal people and people who are wired differently. Why do you think you wanted to explore this topic now? And do you believe there are stigmas still attached to seeking out proper help and support with mental health/mental illness issues?

Gildenlöw: It comes from several different things coming together. If you look back I understand now and everyone can see that all of the albums are revolving around that same feeling. It is about the individual trying to create an interface or translate the interface. Or finding the means for reaching across regarding the lack of an interface between the individual and society, or a specific situation that revolves around a person or several people. That has been there all the time. I think you put it eloquently in that we are all wired differently. I’ve always felt ever since I started school that basically that is when you meet a lot of people in a controlled environment. I have felt I was wired differently than the majority of the people that were around me. It came to a point later in life, this is just before turning 40 or right after that, where I get to the point where I’m invested in this and wanted to see a proper diagnosis.

I am a parent now, having several kids, and also as a teacher I see where life and our culture – we can talk about a global culture these days – where it has led us to the definitions of normality. Especially as a teacher I have to stand in a classroom, and with all these historical, brilliant, fantastic people that are all some sort of position on that spectrum of being wired differently. I wanted to address those typical people, the same type of people that are more often than not targeted with ideas related to medication or having personal assistance. They never get to that point where these guys in the history books get to.

Even more so, I guess that is what I’m starting to address on this album (mental health). I started to address this on the last album with “Full Throttle Tribe”. The problem I think is we live in a society and culture in a way that flatters ourselves that we have a tolerance and understanding about these dysfunctions and diagnosis. In another way we are singling them out on a larger scale than ever before. I grew up in a time when that was down to personality. You could be a restless kid, and you could have problems focusing in the classroom. All of those things that come with a particular person on the ADHD side of the spectrum, but that was never the issue back then. You were measured against the same premises as the so-called normal people.

I came to a point in life when I started viewing – I want to call it like a tribe, a specific type of wiring in people. I think these days ADHD come from two different types of people – the under-stimulated as well as the overstimulated, the same kind of social response after years of study. The kind I relate to, I view them as like Formula One cars in a small community. Like a suburban society with small streets, lots of road crossings and red lights. The expectations are that you are supposed to drive slowly and smoothly, stop at red lights, use your blinkers and all that. Obviously, the Formula One cars will fail to meet expectations on a daily basis. And come to the conclusion very early on that they are shitty, crappy cars- which is not the case. They are just in the wrong context. The concepts of normality, you can come outside of that window of normality and you can travel very far outside and have real problems that you have to deal with. A lot of the window of normality and the areas around that are up to personality. And it would be normal in a different type of world.

So my first analogy was not panthers and dogs. I started with cars and having cars as people. It all depends on which context you put them in. I felt that analogy was not suitable for an album, and probably I would run into copyright problems with certain big corporations.

Dead Rhetoric: How did André Meister become involved as the cover artist – and where do you see the importance of imagery and cover art in today’s marketplace versus when Pain of Salvation first started during the 1990’s?

Gildenlöw: I have a problem viewing it from the marketing point of view because I always think about the artistic side first. I felt that since the album and the concept was leaning into the symbolic and iconic, wanting to link a stylized version of society and our culture – make it much more binary than it really is. That’s a very important role of art – to simplify things in order to make them complicated when you talk about them. This was the perfect album for that. I felt way back since the first albums I wanted to have this comic book style artwork, but we never really had the album that it would fit perfectly and then this album with panthers and dogs, it felt like the perfect album to dip into that world.

I still have a friend in Brazil who had been inside and around the comic book world. He presented a comic book based on Pain of Salvation and the characters, I contacted him to see if he knew any people that would fit the bill of making the album work. He had three or four names that he thought were really good. Checking those out, I landed on André as a natural choice once we started talking we shared the same ideas of how we look at things. We are both into Star Wars too, that is a good start.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe your relationship with InsideOut Music? Do you feel their staff understand what you want to accomplish with Pain of Salvation and provide guidance and insight without really compromising your musical vision?

Gildenlöw: That’s an interesting question. I think it has that same quality that I had with my parents growing up. That mixed world of struggle and help. Sometimes you have to stand your ground and sometimes everything just flows naturally. The opposition and the agreement (are) equally important as to where you are going as a person, or as a band in this case. It’s an ongoing relationship at this point, dating back to 1998. Jesus, time flies. The good thing is they’ve always really liked what we do. They have opinions, and I’ve always had a little bit of that youthful wanting to oppose authority sort of thing going on – in hopefully a charming way. That’s been our relationship for over twenty years, and I appreciate them a lot.

Dead Rhetoric: Losing long-time members like Ragnar and Gustaf cannot be an easy proposition to overcome, given the level of respect and admiration you have for them as people and players. Can you talk to us about their importance and how you move forward with the band through all these member shifts?

Gildenlöw: We’ve had a lot of (member changes) before the first album. I think the thing that really worries me individually is that I know regardless if people know this or not, there will always be a few people going, ‘oh – people are always leaving and Daniel is always there – he must really be difficult to work with.’ Maybe I am, I have never really thought so – only a very few people over the years thought so, two actually. Obviously it is about, most of the people that end up leaving the band, it’s a difficult industry. It’s not an easy path to walk, or on the music scene as an artist. It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort, it’s good sometimes and its very unrewarding at points. I seem unable to give up, and that’s why I’m still here. The alternative is the band would have quit or disappeared several times, which I don’t want to do and the same goes with the band members. They are keen on making sure the band will continue, even in their absence, try all they can to help out to find a path for the band even if they leave.

With Ragnar and Gustaf, the break has been different for each of them. Sad to see both of them go, I really enjoyed writing music with Ragnar and he’s a wonderful person, but it was difficult to make that function within the concepts of the band. I’m still confused as to why things went down the way that they did. I know that we all are in the band. That’s how it is I guess. With Gustaf it was a totally different thing, because he was on the verge of becoming burnt out. He has a full-time job, and it was harder to tour, and he’s a session musician. All of that added up to a point where he said he needed time off and basically quit everything outside of his full-time job. His health is important to us, and we would rather have a Gustaf than have a bass player.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to your fans, friends, and followers, does it surprise you the amount of commitment, love, and support they’ve given to you and Pain of Salvation over the years – and what have been some of your favorite fan interaction stories that have taken place and touched you over that time?

Gildenlöw: There’s so many. All the way from the start, the response from fans has been so wonderful and beautiful. The things that move me the most are all these stories that our music and my lyrics have helped people to go through hard times in their lives, or recover from difficult situations to losing loved ones and family members. It’s always heartbreaking, and quite rewarding at the same time. That’s just something that will always be one of the biggest rewards to releasing music and writing lyrics, to see how that resonates in other people around the world. Everybody is so much the same despite being raised in all these different cultures and their upbringing and back stories, they can relate to the same lyrics and that’s a beautiful thing to see in every possible way.

Dead Rhetoric: Out of the catalog of albums, which one do you believe surprised you the most in terms of acceptance (or lack of acceptance), and would you ever consider ‘revisiting’ other albums as you did Remedy Lane?

Gildenlöw: One of the albums that confuses me the most is probably the Be album. It’s one of the albums that we get a lot of really positive feedback from fans, so many fans are talking about the album and people have made deep analysis of that record. At the same time, it’s not reflected in sales or anything else. That’s always going to be… I know for so many albums after that, the guys from Inside Out would go, ‘not another Be album’. It’s very confusing that the response and the actual measurable success differ so much.

Another confusing album was from Scarsick. When we released that, it was on the charts in many countries and did well. But a lot of fans are annoyed with that album because I was rapping. I’ve been doing that since before the first album. It goes to show that your fanbase will grow over the years, and as it does new people come along with new opinions and new backgrounds, other points of departure musically. I always want to create a band that has a very lofty ceiling, where you can really do whatever you want. Like a vehicle for creativity, for ideas, and for fearlessness. If you do that, that is the price you will pay, to have mixed reactions.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe your definition of what is progressive has changed from the start of the band into today?

Gildenlöw: It has dawned on me it was not what I wanted it to be. To me, there has to be curiosity and the courage and willingness to change to be progressive. When we released the first album, we were labeled progressive metal, and I didn’t have much of an idea of what that was. I looked at it, and that is us – we come from a metal background but we are seeking new paths and wanting to try some different things, investigate what can be done to go forward and to find new paths.

For me as a person, that is the strength as to what turned me on to hard rock and heavy metal. It was different from anything else that came before it. It was brave, it was angry and took a stand for something. It has a message that resonated with me as a kid, go your own way, be yourself. Semi-cheesy phrases that will sell kids on your product. Whether that was their intention or not, it has a nice philosophy behind it. The music was coming from the fringe of society. Obviously, that was what attracted me to the style, and what I wanted to keep doing. Be brave, find new ways, and stand up for what you believe in. Naturally progressive metal and progressive rock is even more a curious style. After the first two albums I started realizing that the same thing happened with that as with any other music style – it turned into a definition, a label. It was not really being progressive anymore. It started increasingly to become recipe-based. The first one that plays the music style, it’s so different, they have progressive minds behind that. There will be a generation of people that will say they love this – and they will start playing that same music, without the same mindset. It’s not breaking new ground anymore, it’s a repetition of a recipe.

The driving force behind where you want to go needs to be the most important thing. I still have the same definition of progressive music.

Dead Rhetoric: What worries or fears do you have regarding the world that we live in today? If you could ask people to commit to working on certain aspects for the greater good of the climate in the world, what would you ask them to think about and consider?

Gildenlöw: I think it’s the regular boring stuff. Do you need all of that consumption? Do you really want it, or do you think that you are lured into a place where you want it because everybody else wants it? The biggest change that we can make is looking at the definitions of want and need. We are really bad at that. You should drive a smaller car, be a smarter consumer when it comes to what you buy. At a core level, it’s about a very simple mechanic thing, separating want from need.

One thing that’s obvious as a phrase is you can increase your quality of life, but that does not necessarily increase your quality of living. That is something I have seen so many times. We try to fill a void and that should be filled with finding the small things.

Dead Rhetoric: What is left for Pain of Salvation to accomplish that you haven’t been able to achieve in your career so far?

Gildenlöw: That would be world domination of course, on the music scene (laughs). We want to continue to be curious, and fearless. Continue to grow, not only marketing-wise, but grow as a tribe and an institution.

Dead Rhetoric: What is on the horizon for the band over the next year or two? How have you handled the coronavirus pandemic, has it given you more time to reflect and reassess what’s most important to you in your world?

Gildenlöw: I just had the feeling that I was more in sync with mankind. A thing like this makes everyone consider their priorities, and mankind is talking about those things that I feel are necessary. A lot of the junk that usually we tend to revolve around as a culture, that becomes a little bit less relevant and we start talking about taking care of each other, looking at a little bit more important values in life.

As a band, we were lucky enough to be at the end of an album production. Of course there is a financial hit about all tours being cancelled. But on the other hand, I can continue to focus on writing music, which is what I always want to do. When I am in the writing process, I want to continue that- and when I am touring, I want to do that. I guess we will continue with the next album – I am halfway through writing the next album.

Pain of Salvation official website