Interview with Daniel Gildenlöw
Dreams of all Polish prog rock fans finally came true – the mighty Transatlantic arrived in Poland. During „The Whirlwind” tour they visited Poznan where a small but enthusiastic audience welcomed them passionately. No wonder, as the band had remained silent for nine years since recording their previous album „Bridge Across Forever”. Consisting of four significant musicians: Neal Morse (ex Spock’s Beard), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings) and Pete Trewavas (Marillion), the band is being accompanied by an additional tour member, Daniel Gildenlöw who is the mastermind of the Swedish band Pain of Salvation. Having enormous luck, I managed to ask Daniel a few questions relating to the cooperation with Transatlantic and his own band.
How did you get to Transatlantic?
DG: It was back in 2001 and the tour they did. They looked for someone who could play lots of instruments, sing high and low and learn a lot of music very quickly. It seems that both Roine and Mike had heard my name be mentioned from different sources, so I was contacted by Roine in the end. He asked me if I wanted to be part of the tour to help out do all the stuff that they put on the album but they didn’t have arms enough for. That was it. It seems I have done something right since they asked me again when they’re making their tour now.
Did you have any reservations or doubts about joining Transatlantic?
DG: Prog rock is not the music that I normally listen to. The first time I was listening to the albums back in 2001 it was just like thirty minute songs. I know I never have enough time for stuff, I’m always in the middle of something else. I know that I’m not going to have the time to really sit down with it as much as I should, so I had a lot of doubts at that point. And this time around I really wanted to do it, but we were in this music contest [Melodifestivalen] in Sweden and lots of things happened for us with Pain of Salvation. We were just in the last weeks of the recording of the new album. So from the time point of view it was very bad timing for me, but I still want to do it. I feel comfortable being out with these guys.
To what extent are you allowed to influence Transatlantic during gigs?
DG: I don’t know… [pauses to reflect] I’ve never really tried my wings when it comes to being influential. Since with Pain of Salvation, I’m the engine and the one responsible for everything. I make all the music, I’m involved in every little detail, so I find it interesting and refreshing to be on the other side of the table and just be a musician. I don’t know, maybe in one or two weeks from now I’m going to be all frustrated and ask them for that [laughs]. They tell me the parts that they need, and then between that I have free hands to explore the space.
You didn’t participate in recording „The Whirlwind” album, so how do you find yourself somehow slipping into the music of Transatlantic?
DG: It would of course be simpler if I’d been a part of making it. You’re just coming in with different perspectives. I think it’s like that with everything, not just music. It’s one thing to have been a part of the whole process; you see it build up step by step and then everything makes sense from a mental point of view. When you’re coming in afterwards you’re supposed to learn this outside and foreign material. It gets blurred and harder to remember, you don’t know instinctively which section leads into which section and stuff like that. So it’s both good and bad. It’s interesting to get into and learn something that is very external for you. In a way, if I’m looking for a different feeling than I have with Pain of Salvation that is also a thing that adds to the whole vibe. With Pain of Salvation I’m a part of the whole making process so this is also new to me; looking at the surface of the material and then trying to dig my way in slowly but surely.
How are you all getting on in Transatlantic? You’re five big and strong individuals.
DG: Everything’s working out really nicely. Everyone is so laid back and I think enjoying the company. I’m guessing from one point of view all five people are pretty different. We come from different directions musically, we have different tempers, even different social and cultural backgrounds. But we have so many things in common with music and all of us are pretty laid back people. We work in different ways but it makes for a good combination in the end.
In 2001 you did the European tour with Transatlantic. This time you’re touring both in the USA and Europe. Can you see any difference between the American and European audiences?
DG: It’s hard to say because we’ve only made two shows in Europe right now. I have the feeling that the American audiences were more sitting down and listening. There’s a little bit more passion in the European audiences. But then again, with Pain of Salvation I’m used to a much more mixed and passionate audience so I’m still trying to get used to the idea of people just standing there and listening. That was the kind of audience we had far back with Pain of Salvation with the first albums. We had a lot of prog metal and prog rock fans. They tend to stand in the back. They give you respect by really paying attention to the music and maybe play drums in the air to show that they know when there’s a seven beat or when there’s a four by four. That never gave me any energy back really. I like people to invest emotionally in music when they get to the show. Of course I want us onstage to invest emotionally too. So I feel that back there I’m trying to invest myself emotionally and trying to get the audience and everyone sort of loosening up a bit. It’s a hard task.
You make your own albums, produce them, write lyrics, join other projects, make tours, and at the top of it all you’re a husband and a father of two. Still, you find goodwill and spare some of your personal time to share your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.
DG: It is too much, isn’t it? [laugh]
It is plenty indeed, hence my question: do you do it for you fans or just for fun?
DG: I think when I look at this there’re probably two angles of it. One of the angles would be that it’s somehow expected of you today. Maybe not for Transatlantic that connects to another type of audience, but a big portion of our audience with Pain of Salvation expects you to be on Facebook and Myspace. You should have the band on Facebook and every member should be on Facebook and you should have a band Myspace and every member should have Myspace. And you should have five or ten blogs going on simultaneously and you have to answer all your emails whether there’re a hundred a day – you should still answer them all or you’re just being an asshole. So part of it is responsibility, feeling that I cannot pass up on that, I need to do it. It would be easier to be one of those product bands where you can just have other people running your pages. But for Pain of Salvation and especially for me being sort of the content responsible type, it isn’t possible to have someone else do that for me. People turn to me with their important thoughts and feelings and then expect me to come with these profound and life changing thoughts about things. It would be a big difference if someone else was trying to pose as me.
But the other side of it is that I’ve noticed that when I try to pull back from all that and I just focus on the music, I’m losing a connection that I think is important. When you connect to the fans and the audience, that’s when an energy trade happens. And if I don’t have that feedback, I find myself becoming much more depressed. Because when you’re feeling that you’ve created something and you can’t see the connection and the receiver, when you can’t get any feedback on whether people like it or not, then it becomes like sitting in a silent room, just doing something and not having any idea if something happens. It’s like in „Lost”, pressing that button not really knowing if something happens when you do it. It becomes a tedious task somehow. So from that point of view I’ve noticed that I also need that connection, that energy flow going back and forth. Whether I like it or not. If people are saying stupid stuff I become very annoyed. It really gets to me. I’m really sensitive to negative feedback. I try to avoid reading reviews. Everything under 5 out of 5 makes me feel disappointed and misunderstood [laughs]. From that point of view I guess I’m not really cut out for this industry, but I don’t have a choice.
Let’s talk about your own band, Pain of Salvation. This year you’re going to release two albums, „Road Salt One” & „Road Salt Two”. What stays behind that idea?
DG: Again, there’re different reasons [laughs].
DG: Yes, as usual, there’s never a simple answer, I’m sorry [laughs].
That’s really ok, go on [laughs].
DG: As always, we started off with the idea of making a simple album, as with „Scarsick”. It was like „Let’s make one that is intuitive. Let’s not get so deep into it that it takes three years to complete and makes me entirely possessed and depressed. Let’s just try to make an album.” But as soon as I start, I can’t help getting deep about it. And then we needed an album for The Progressive Nation Tour that we were going to make with Dream Theater in the States. I had tons of recorded material so I sat down and tried to pull out a single album, but sitting down with it I just realized: „This material belongs together – it tells the same story. It has a common denominator – I can’t really put my finger on it right now, but there’s a very important common denominator”. But I was too deep into it at that point to be able to split the albums, to pull the songs apart. So in order to make the album and have a chance of making it ready for The Progressive Nation Tour, we decided to make it a double album. It sounds weird to go for a double album because that should be a more time demanding solution than making a single album, but I was never the kind of guy who could just go „pick these and it’s going to be fine”. I need to feel that I’m making the right decision. I could not make the right decision on how to split the songs at that point. I knew that it could take me forever to get to that point so we focused on a double album.
But then the distribution company [SPV] filed for bankruptcy and the whole tour was suddenly just hanging in the balance. Instead of finishing the album, all those last three weeks that were set aside for that was spent trying to find ways of saving that tour; trying to pull strings, trying to raise money, trying to make things happen, trying to either make SPV pay from their bankruptcy to pay for the tour or ask them to drop us so we could go to someone else. In the end we were just waiting in limbo because we were tied by the contract. They couldn’t help us, but we couldn’t get out of the contract either, so we were just waiting for whatever would happen. In the end it just went down the drain together with the double album. After that me and my wife were having Nimh, our second son, and I had about two months completely off, just working in the garden and being home. I was a full time father, which was a really nice experience though. I reached the point where I felt I was ready to leave Pain of Salvation behind and give up, and it was somehow a nice feeling because I’ve been refusing to give up all my life. I’ve always had very easy learning things. I’m usually pretty good at stuff for some reason – I’m trying stuff and I’m good at it. The only thing that I’m extremely bad at is giving up. I haven’t learnt the lesson of giving up yet and I was very close at that point. It was just feeling like: „You know what? Let’s just see what happens.” We had seen my brother [Kristoffer Gildenlöw] go because we had to ask him to leave the band. And then Johan [Langell] left, the drummer whom we’d known for a very long time before. Then we had Simon [Andersson], the new bassist coming into the band, and that did not work out. I think the whole band was mentally ill for one and a half years, trying to solve things. So many things had taken my focus. I just found myself having walked down a very long road for a very long time sacrificing so many things for that one band. Sacrificing friends, sacrificing family, sacrificing my time, my youth, everything. All invested into this band and these visions I had about what music could be like, what a band could be like. All systems were failing one by one. I was somehow forced to stop in my tracks.
That was sort of an epiphany, because when I went through that I saw the common denominator of the album. All of the sudden I could see that: „ok, so this is what the album is about”. It’s about these roads and people walking them, reaching these key points. And the key points would be a hard decision, a choice of roads, or something profound, good or bad, that happens to you. Or key points like the one I found myself in at that point: the key points where you have an overview of where you’ve been, what you’ve sacrificed, where you’re heading and whether you have the energy to continue.
At the end of that year I got back to the material and I was more objective because I’d spent time away from it. We had a new distributor coming in, all of the sudden we were picked up by the music contest [Melodifestivalen] which is the biggest thing in Sweden ever. We had a great guy [Per Schelander] who was helping us out with the bass, and it was like everything was just coming together. As if leaving everything and just not caring about it made it all fall into place, in position. And at that point I could see what to do with the albums. I still made a few compromises, but I knew that I wanted to split them in a certain way and that I wanted them to be part 1 and part 2. Also since I wanted them to have more of a vintage vibe and not having too large and bombastic structures, but keep it intense and short in a way. Making the EP was helping out very much too, because I’m really a fan of short formats. Actually, most of the albums that I really like the most are under 40 minutes. So making the EP was like: „finally I’m making a real album!” And I wanted to keep a little bit of that in the „Road Salt” albums too. So, that is the very short and brief answer as to how we made two albums [laughs].
I guess two albums deserve a long answer!
DG: Yeah! [laughs]
What’s the most important to you in making music: Emotions? Popularity? Number of sold albums?
DG: I think for me the most important thing is expressing myself. I’m not a person who can easily express my emotions in real life. I have problems with that. I can feel sometimes that I do have a problem being intimate with people, being very close. I want to be much closer than I can be. I have this sort of built-in shyness, if you will. Whenever I want to express something deep and profound I tend to make jokes about it instead. That’s been ever since I was a kid, so I think from that point of view the music is really important to me. That’s where I can channelize all those deeper emotions and I can be braver somehow, let myself go in a different way. So it’s a very important channel for expression for me. And also reaching out to people and hopefully making them relate and feel something. Connect with myself and with other people and have them connect with themselves. That will always be the driving force. Of course there’s always the struggle because you have this vision of exactly what you want to be and what you want to create. And you will always be a little bit disappointed with everything you do I think, at least I will. So that’s also a driving force of getting better all the time, making progress, finding new ways and redefining music for myself. And then if we sell billions of albums that will definitely be a good bonus, I would not say „no” to that. I could buy a house! We’re still renting…
DG: Yeah, I think so, although we don’t have anything planned right now. This year is going to be a bit weird, because I’m away now for two months with Transatlantic. When I get back we have June to finish the songs that are not yet finished for „Road Salt Two”. And then, Johan [Hallgren], the guitar player is having a baby, so that means that we have probably two months after that when we can really go out and tour. And then we’re getting closer and closer to the release of „Road Salt Two” so I guess we need to make the decision whether we want to go out on tour with „Road Salt One” or whether we want to wait to „Road Salt Two” to have come out. So we’re going to have a long good chat with our bookers and decide whether we’re going to go. But we’re definitely going back to Poland. I’m playing Polish guitars [Mayones], I’m playing Polish amplifiers right now, it’s like we’re almost Polish, right? So we need our Polish fans to be here for us. And we need to be here for them. They’re almost family now. [laughs]
Thank you for your time and good luck in everything you do.
DG: Thank you very much, it was a pleasure.
Since the interview was made it has been decided that Pain of Salvation will indeed go on tour in October, coming to Poland, and release „Road Salt Two” at the beginning of 2011. The new guitar series „Road Salt” that Daniel has developed and designed together with Mayones will also see the light of day during the coming months. The album „Road Salt One” has been getting lot of top reviews and Album of the Month rewards around the world, and a video for „Where it Hurts” has been made, soon to be released.
The concert pictures provided by the kind permission of Robert Grablewski www.grablewski.com
The picture of Daniel with the Mayones guitar provided by the kind permission of Mayones