Daniel Gildenlöw: Last Man Standing

Having suffered the departure of long-time members Fredrik Hermansson and Johan Hallgren in late 2011, Pain of Salvation introduced a new line-up on a spring 2012 European tour and then played a very special acoustic concert in Leipzig on June 8, 2012. Before the Leipzig show we got to conduct an extensive interview with Daniel Gildenlöw, the band’s mastermind and lone remaining original member. Here it is at last, all 45 minutes of our conversation – enjoy!

Interviewer Michael Schetter and Daniel Gildenlöw

Michael Schetter:

Seems like you’re the last man standing. How does it feel?

Daniel Gildenlöw:

Well, it makes you tired. (laughs) But, actually having new people come in is also a … – well, I was looking for a really good word there – fuel injection, maybe? It’s always hard to see people go. And basically, in all cases we’ve split on very good terms. It hasn’t been like fights or anything. So it’s always difficult. It’s a pretty harsh industry. It’s really difficult to keep going year after year. I think you have to be just slightly insane. So it seems I am probably more than *slightly* insane. It’s just easier for me to stay ’cause I haven’t learned the gentle art of giving up yet. Every year I’m trying, I’m thinking I have to be able to let things go and just give things up or whatever, but I can’t stop.

I haven’t seen any of the guys live with the band yet, not even Leo, so no disrespect towards them, but what makes this Pain of Salvation and not the Daniel Gildenlöw Band?

Well, first of all, Pain of Salvation is Pain of Salvation, which has always been, I guess, evolving around me a lot from the beginning, since I’ve been sort of the engine of the band from the start. That just turns into habit in a way. And I think Pain of Salvation is something different than if I did something completely on my own, it would probably sound different and be something different. Cause after these many years, you do look at Pain of Salvation as having some sort of personality of its own.

(Ragnar Zolberg, who’s sitting nearby, throws in: “A legacy.”)

A legacy – yeah, that’s true. That I am stupidly always trying to push in other directions. But I think that makes for an interesting combination. You have the new directions, new influences, but there is some sort of core creature that’s always going to stay the same in a way.

I remember a few years ago when we talked, you mentioned something about possibly doing a solo album. What came of that?

I would probably have said that if you had asked me back in 1996 as well. (laughs) Usually it just ends up with me not having time enough for it. This little creature right here is soaking up a lot of my time and energy, I guess. I haven’t, you know – at some point…

Daniel Gildenlöw

Daniel Gildenlöw: “I think you have to be just slightly insane.” (Photo: Martin Schnella)

I noticed that you recorded like half of the tracks on Road Salt One all by yourself. So was this like half a solo album already?

I guess so. Actually, on Road Salt Two, 1979 and Through the Distance and To the Shoreline were sort of like… not clearly outspoken, but sort of like in the back of my mind they were candidates for some other project. But they just really, really wanted to be part of the whole (Road Salt) project, so how could I deny them? I love them so much.

So for the first album he was on, Leo didn’t get to play on half the songs. Are you still on speaking terms?

(laughs) I just pulled a Foo Fighters, you know! It was different things that led to that. Like Sleeping Under the Stars, for instance, was recorded already and it was also one of those songs that I didn’t think would end up in Pain of Salvation, really. But it did, because it felt like a song that really fit in there. For some of the other songs, for at least one or two of them I offered if he wanted to re-record it, like Sisters, for instance. But he thought the drumming was nice as it was, so… And time was an issue as well. He was away for a few stretches, going home to France, and time was running out, so I just recorded the drums. And I think for a lot of them I had the notion that it would be redone, but it just never happened.

So it wasn’t some kind of ego trip after all…

Not any more than any other time! (laughs)

I think it’s interesting that you’re working with Gustaf again, who was part of the band way, way back already. Did you ever consider asking any of the other former members to rejoin? Maybe the other Daniel (Magdic)?

The thing is, they sort of had their days with the band. I’m not saying that they wouldn’t fit… Like, you mentioned Daniel – I like Daniel a lot and he’s a good musician. But in the end, I think – as I said – you have to be slightly insane for it. And he had, at that point, too many other priorities, which is why it didn’t work out in the end. He didn’t show up for important rehearsals, he didn’t show up for an entire recording session in the studio. And I think that problem would still be there. Not because he’s a guy that doesn’t give a damn, because he is. But he wasn’t and maybe he never will be willing to invest as much time. I mean, he does have a life on the side of Pain of Salvation. Again, because of this being an increasingly difficult industry to work in, you have to be a bit special to work it out.

Former Pain of Salvation bassist Kristoffer Gildenlöw

OK! Back in 2005 or 2006, when Kristoffer was asked to leave the band, the idea was that you wanted to have a bassist who would be there for rehearsals – unlike Kris, who was in Holland all the time. It didn’t quite work out, did it?

Well… (Daniel and bassist Gustaf Hielm, who had been resting on a sofa nearby, burst into laughter.) It’s been difficult! Yeah, that has been a bit tricky. But I mean, anywhere in Sweden is still better than Holland! (laughs) I mean, the idea was that he would come to Sweden to rehearse as often as he used to go to Holland to see his girlfriend, but I guess we didn’t have the same pull in the end. (laughs) I think everyone can relate to that who works in music. It’s easy to get to the point where you feel like investing all that energy and money into rehearsing, feels like it would be better not to do that and just go out and just play, just do the good part of it. Which will never work out in the end, especially if you try to have some sort of band mentality. That will just never work out. You can’t have like one guy just reaping the rewards and everyone else is sort of like being there for the hardships and the annoying parts, too.

So what are the advantages of having a new band?

Some of the advantages would be that you have new personalities, you have new kinds of energies, you have new musical capabilities. It’s like being given an entirely new tool box. And I’m not saying that everyone else is the tool box – I’m part of the tool box, too. I’m that really old, slightly rusty hammer that still does the job. (laughs) So, yeah – that means it’s difficult to pinpoint, I guess. I still feel it’s sort of a disaster when you have to part ways with someone. And every time I feel like there’s really no way I can manage to find the motivation and energy and keep going after this. But usually, one of the things that feeds your motivation is having the people come in and finding out that this is actually fun, this is nice.

I saw you’ve been playing quite a few songs that haven’t been played in ages. I guess that comes with the new band…

Yeah, that’s one of the good sides. Because one of the interesting things when you have a lot of new people coming in, basically, there is no real difference between the songs you’ve played a lot and the songs you’ve never played. To them it’s the same thing. It’s actually easier, since you’re learning music anyway, you might as well learn something that you haven’t played in a long time. And I mean, Gustaf and Ragnar are really quick to pick up stuff and it’s very easy. Ragnar is a very experienced singer as well. There are different sorts of musical knowledge and I think what’s nice is that with this current line-up, we have a very intuitive musicality. Which means that we can play a song that we’ve never played together before and I don’t have to stop at every given point and show people what harmonies to sing. They are sort of like “OK, you’re singing that one, then I’ll just try this one”. So they can find their place fairly on their own and then you can start working on details.

Maybe let’s just do this one quick, since we’ve been talking about them anyway – could you characterize the new guys with a few short sentences?

Uh… (laughs) and when you say “new guys”, how far back into…

Include Leo as well. (laughs)

Include Leo… (laughs) But Leo is the next-oldest member of the band! (laughs)

Yeah, he’s like Senior Management now! (laughs)

Yeah. All of a sudden, from being the new guy, he’s one of the old guys. We were joking about that at one point. Like, right after the tour, when – I mean, we knew during the tour with Opeth that Johan (Hallgren) and Fredrik (Hermansson) would quit the band. Which was sort of like both a really weird thing, like going through the entire tour with that knowledge, but also it was nice in the perspective that you knew. You could sort of like enjoy it cause you knew that “this is not gonna last for a long time now, so let’s just enjoy this!” So that was nice. But at one point after the tour, Leo came over to my place and we were standing there and all of a sudden we realized “Hey, this is a band meeting! Everyone in the band is here!” And then of course he said “You know, if you quit, can I keep the band name?” (laughs) It was like a very refreshing and nice, relaxed sense of humor.

Daniel Gildenlöw and Leo Margarit: “Hey, this is a band meeting! Everyone in the band is here!” (Photo: Martin Schnella)

But anyway, let’s start with Leo (Margarit), then. He’s in many ways the total opposite of Johan Langell, who was the drummer before him. Johan is the most stable drummer I’ve ever played with. He has a stability that I have not witnessed in drummers at all, basically. Which was really, really nice. Like, in a live situation you knew that once he knew a part, he would always know it. He wouldn’t fuck up, really. I mean, it may have happened like three times in the history of the band when he was the drummer. The downside of that was that whenever you wanted something sort of like improvised and groovy, ’70s stuff, he always hated not being totally in control of what he was doing. Which is a very wonderful feature, I think, or a very nice personal characteristic, I’d say. I have that in theory, I always want everything to be perfect, but I always have this thing where I need to throw something out there, I need to get out of my comfort zone or I go crazy. And he wasn’t like that, he was the total opposite. So I remember at some points, when we were trying to give him parts like “maybe for this part, if you could just like groove, improvise, just like play stuff over the 7/8 and then we kick into the rigid part after that”, and he’d be so uncomfortable with that. He’d improvise once and then he would play the exact same improvisation after that. (laughs) To me it’s like watching an alien from Mars or something, totally ungraspable. As a way of approaching things, it is like watching a poetry reading that you can’t quite understand but you just feel there is a lot of thought going into that, but it’s just in a different language than mine. I was trying to pull him out of his comfort zone. I feel that’s what I do with myself and that’s what I do with other people.: Try to utilize and use the strength of certain persons’ or my own capabilities and try to kick the musicians out of their comfort zone and do something that’s totally different. So when we were looking for a new drummer, we narrowed it down. I think we had five drummers trying out for auditions. We had one guy that was like a rough Johan – like someone who you know, in five years or ten years from now, if he keeps going this way – he was really good and he had a very focused, very stable playing – he will be a Johan. But he will have the same… I don’t wanna call them deficiencies, but he will lack in the same areas. So it felt like it was a better way to try to go to the other side. So we found Leo, who’s very sensitive and has a very organic playing. He’s more of a painter when it comes to the playing. And unlike Johan, who would really hate being told “can you just do whatever you want?”, we have Leo who almost equally hates “you have to play exactly this thing”. So all of a sudden I find myself being on the other side (laughs), pulling him in that direction. So I guess if it comes to a philosophy of drumming, I’m sort of inbetween these two drummers. But I feel that was the nice way of going. So that’s what I would boil it down to, the fact that he’s organic, very improvisational, very very skilled drummer that comes from a long tradition of learning the trade, the craftsmanship of drumming. So that’s Leo.

New keyboardist Daniel “D2″ Karlsson: “In many respects very similar to Fredrik”

Daniel (Karlsson) – D2, as we call him. He’s been around for a long time.

He played bass on the previous tour, right?

Yes. And he started off being a stage technician back in 2007. And then he played the bass, ’cause I knew him as a bass player, but from the start he’s a keyboard player. So he was playing bass for us in South America and he was playing the keyboard instead of Fredrik when we were in India, because Fredrik had other commitments and he couldn’t go to India. So I asked around and our crew guys said “You should check with D2, he’s really…” – “I thought he was a bass player?” – “Oh, he’s really a keyboard player.” So that worked out nicely. If we went to the opposite with Leo compared with Johan, I think that D2 is actually in many respects very similar to Fredrik. He’s not as introvert as Fredrik, and I mean that not only personally, but playing-wise as well. Fredrik was even more of a control freak than Johan and during rehearsals it happened many times (laughs) that all of a sudden there were no keyboards at all. And we go like, “What happened? Is something wrong?” – “No. I don’t know exactly what I played here.” (laughs) So rather than try something, he would just not play anything. And every time I just thought that we’re lucky that not all of us are like that. (laughs) The count-in and then silence! “Nah, we don’t know the song yet”. That’s what the rehearsals are there for! So he’s not like that. But there is a little bit of monk mentality in there, for D2 as well. He’s a bit laid back but has a nice sense of humor and can tolerate me when I’m being annoyingly humorous or too much of something. He’s the one who can laugh at it and make me feel like it’s OK – someone’s laughing, it’s OK. And he’s good at just jumping in and just finding what to do, which is almost a necessity in this band. He’s also done lights, even, for one gig. So he’s done like everything. I told him that for the next tour I’m gonna quit and you can do the vocals and play guitar, too.

New guitarist Ragnar Zolberg: “An Icelandic, laid-back, philosophical Viking” (Photo: Martin Schnella)

Ragnar (Zolberg)… I was pretty downstruck by the fact that Johan (Hallgren) left the band because he’s a very strong character.From just looking at the band, just seeing us live, Johan has increasingly, over the years, turned into a very iconic figure. And the thing I saw was that I found it difficult to see him being replaced, especially vocally. I mean, as a stage personality and vocally. I’m not saying that there are tons of good guitar players, but there are… There are lots of good guitar players and looking around, you’ll find someone who is skilled enough. You have to be, again, intuitive musically and you have to have a wide music taste. You have to be able to appreciate Tell Me You Don’t Know and Disco Queen and not only metal stuff. But the vocals and the stage personality, that really concerned me, ’cause we had very little time to find someone and I actually did not see it, you know, almost being possible to fix. But we had lots of guitar players send in material, and now you’re down to five people that we’re trying, that would actually come in for auditions. And it’s, again, very symptomatic that… Like for the drummers, we had four Swedish drummers, one of which actually won the Swedish championship of drumming the year before that, and then we had Leo. And Leo was just that much better that it sort of outweighed the fact that he wasn’t placed in Sweden. And it was the same thing here: We had one guy coming from Sweden and four guys coming from other countries. I don’t know what that says about Swedish musicians. (laughs) So it’s really good that Gustaf is Swedish, otherwise we would just have to give up on the entire Swedish musicianship. But no, I have to say that out of the five who came to audition, three of them were really, really good guitar players and good singers as well. So it was a more difficult task than we thought, But what Ragnar does have is, again, a strong stage personality, which I think is something very important. Basically, I guess what we were looking at at this point, we knew that we had three guitar players and all three of them would work. So a lot depended on what direction we want to take with the band. So that was our main concern when we were choosing between the three guitar players. Also, with Ragnar it just clicked on a personal level very quickly. He’s an Icelandic, laid-back, philosophical Viking. Did I say Viking already? Icelander? Whichever I said. And I think he brings an important buffer zone, I think. When you’re a bunch of people and you’re touring, some people just tend to be catalysts or as I said, buffer zones. And he’s really, really good at at that. He sort of like glues things together, I think, which is really nice.

Gustaf (Hielm) – as you said, we’ve played together before. It was a long time ago. We went to the same music college. We actually, I mean… Pain of Salvation, we’re only the third best band in the world. (Gustaf, still on the sofa nearby, laughs.) Or maybe fourth, I have to say fourth. Number one is of course The Big Lebowski and second place is the 1969 Ford Mustang. And then you have the band The Q-Krunkers From Hell. And then you have Pain of Salvation. And I know, I’m aware of the fact that the first two are not bands, but it just sounds so pretentious to say that we’re the best band in the world (by this point, Gustaf is almost choking with laughter), so I just add those there to cushion the blow a little bit. It would be different if the Beatles were coming back, but seeing how half of them are extremely dead, I don’t see that happening. I guess ABBA could come back, they’re all alive, but they wouldn’t change the list that much. I mean, we’d be pushed down, but you’d have The Q-Krunkers From Hell, ABBA, Pain of Salvation. The late ABBA! I mean, early ABBA, we’d beat them like nothing, but late ABBA, like Super Trouper, from that point on it would be difficult. I am joking, of course!

New (and former) bassist Gustaf Hielm: “A kindred troubled mind” (Photo: Martin Schnella)

I am already that much wiser about Gustaf! (laughs)

(laughs) We’ve been in each other’s peripherals, basically, every since we’ve played together. We’ve met many times, we’ve stayed friends and everything. I guess it just felt like “Yeah, why not? Let’s see what happens!” – which is pretty cool, I think. Cause last time when… when was it, was it ’94? Yeah, I remember Kristoffer played his first gig on the 13th of December 1994. It’s true! But Gustaf, as a person, is… I think I have a kindred troubled mind. (Gustaf laughs) I think we’re both like, when you get philosophical about life to the point that it sometimes gets in the way, but that also means that I finally have someone whom I can have these interesting discussions and conversations with. And musically he’s just an insanely good bass player, it’s like ridiculous. Sometimes you get angry, but… You know… (laughs)

You mentioned something about the future direction when talking about Ragnar. So you have already decided where you want to go?

No. Uh… No. (laughs)

So you picked your guitarist based on no direction? (laughs)

No, but I didn’t want to underline any prog rock aspect. I think that was my main concern at this point. That’s not trying to pretend to be something that we’re not. It’s just that I think it makes sense because we have moved away more and more from that direction. And the last thing I want to become is the kind of prog rock band that are just standing there, still, mastering five instruments at the same time and just focusing on the playing. I want the music to have flesh and blood and sweat. To me that is an important catalyst and it’s always been like that. Especially from a live point of view, we’ve always been pushing much more into the metal/rock/alternative side.

So now that the Road Salt concept is finished – I think it is, right?

Yeah, that’s the thought.

Can we expect a different phase now or will you continue in that direction?

I don’t know. What I know is that I want to keep the intimacy that I think we’ve accomplished on the albums. The sort of raw, fresh, dry approach, I’m really into that a lot right now. I don’t think that’s gonna change quickly. But from a sort of music structure point, I don’t really know. Let’s see.

How important is fan feedback for you when it comes to these things?

Depends – good or bad? (laughs)

(laughs) The good is important, right?

The good is really important. And maybe you wouldn’t believe it because we’re sort of continuously doing things that very obviously will annoy some fans, but still – I’m really sensitive to bad criticism, actually. Especially if I feel that it’s misunderstood or anything. I don’t really get angry, I get hurt. And I’m a really weird combination of being really stubborn and really wanting to go exactly my way and not care about what I should be doing, but just do what I want to be doing. A combination between that and actually being very sensitive to what people thing is good or bad. So I think those parts are continuously in a sort of conflict inside me. The one part that really wants to everything that other people want to hear and the part who wants not to care at all.

I remember a friend of mine talking about that Opeth / Pain of Salvation tour. He said like “It’s the two bands who don’t care what the fans say, so… Come see us… not care… together!”


Daniel’s entrance: “The acoustic equivalent of the Judas Priest Harley Davidson.” (Photo: Martin Schnella)

I think it was a good combination, actually. I mean, you have to be brave to do that, in the end. “The bravest band alive”? That’s what it says on your website…

(laughs) I heard that at some point and I thought “Yeah, why not – let’s put it up there”. (laughs) It beats “They’re my favorite band together with Dream Theater and Symphony X!” – I’m never gonna put that on the homepage.

Not very striking, is it? Anyway… That last music video of yours shows some sex scenes, with you in the starring role. How does your wife feel about that?

We had long discussions before that. Actually, when we started throwing ideas, me and the guy who produced the video, we ended up there for some reason. And my feeling was that it would be cooler if it was the singing character. But that was me, so I sort of ruled it out, ’cause I thought “This is not gonna work”. And I talked to Johanna and she actually said “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I guess it would be better from an artistic point of view. So alright, let’s try to go through with it.” So she was really understanding at that point and it was very odd. And that was bad enough. I mean, it was a pleasure, too – I’m not going to pretend it was uncomfortable from a sort of physical point of view. But it was odd. But before that, I had been doing those white room blood scenes. So I found myself sitting entirely naked in a room that they had put paper everywhere, a papered room. And I sat entirely naked with a reindeer’s heart in my hands with a hose going out of it to a pump, to a guy sitting very close by so he wouldn’t be seen by the camera, and pumping it so that the heart would beat. And since we wanted to have a slow-motion effect, we had to lipsync it in double speed. So it was like insane. I was sitting there stark naked seven hours straight. I’m not kidding! And as soon as we had the blood, I couldn’t even move, because then you would have stains. So I had to sit like entirely still for seven hours on a papered floor – and paper is not soft! And with all these cameras and everything, with the reindeer heart being pumped by a guy sitting behind me and then hearing (claps a fast beat and sings in a high-pitched voice “Tell Me Where It Hurts! Tell Me Where It Hurts!”), like, the Smurf version of the song, and trying to look serious and sing to that while hearing the pump go (makes a noise somewhere between a pump and a braying donkey). There is no way any other person in the history of mankind has ever done that before! I’m doing something that is new to mankind! So that was where we started off. And then at the end of course she came in, cause she was gonna sit in front of me, and she was naked, too. I’m like “This is so weird”. But I guess after that it was easier making the fake sex scenes and everything, ’cause you’re like “Well, that was even weirder anyway”.

Would you do it again?

Um… I would, yeah. But I’m not sure that my wife would think that was a good idea to do a second time. (laughs) I think it would sound a bit odd if I said “Oh, we have this new video, and – surprise! – it includes me having sex again! With someone else this time! I was thinking a black girl this time, is that OK? I don’t know, maybe two?”

It’s really important for the concept!” (laughs)

Yeah, it’s all for the artistic thing, you know!

Something different now: Whose idea was it to do this acoustic gig here?

We had an offer from the organizers who wanted to do a different sort of gig, an acoustic gig. Which was something that I really enjoy, ’cause I like doing different things. Usually on tour, after like three weeks, I will start getting bored and having to throw something in. Again, going out of the comfort zone. For this gig, I think half of the songs we’ve played through once, and some of these songs we’ve never played through in this setting. Daniel’s like, which one was it he asked about… Spitfall, I think? He’s like “I wasn’t there when you rehearsed that. So how do you do it?” – “Uh… Just… Er… Basically… Just follow us!” (laughs) So no one knows how things are gonna work out. It could be divine and it could be… It’s not gonna be a disaster. Usually it’s never a disaster. We don’t play bad gigs. Sounds really pretentious to say that, but I can’t remember when we played a bad gig the last time. We’ve played gigs that I’m not satisfied with, but that’s a different thing. I’m really, really picky about that.

So are you recording this tonight?

Yes, we are. And I don’t know what’s gonna happen with it, but we figured it’s a different thing, it’s an odd thing to be doing, so why not record it? The equipment today has become so easy to deal with that we can actually travel light and still have a multi-track recording facility with us, which is pretty cool.

Would be a shame not to record it for posterity…

Yeah, exactly.

if it turns out to be good!

Yeah! If it turns out to be bad, it’s still gonna set a good example. “Oh yeah, so you think we’re good? Listen to this! This is how bad we are!”

Pain of Salvation on the GeyserHaus Parkbühne in Leipzig (Photo: Martin Schnella)

(laughs) Could you imagine doing a full-blown tour like that…

I could, yeah! (Note: The band announced a full-blown acoustic tour through Europe on January 23, 2013)

or maybe throw in an acoustic set within the set?

Yeah, I’ve been talking about that already, ’cause some of the songs have been heavily rearranged and become something interesting. I’m thinking it could be cool to maybe have a little acoustic set in the middle for the South America dates (Note: That followed later in 2012). But then I think it’s necessary that they will arrange guitars for us so we don’t have to ask the fans to come with guitars! (laughs – Note: The band had to ask for this just a few days before the gig.)

Yeah, I actually brought one just in case you still need one. (laughs)

(laughs) It was solid in the end, but it was a bit of a cold sweat there just a few days before we took off.

I usually end my interviews by asking people to name one somewhat recent CD that everyone should hear.

I’ll probably come up with five or six more like ten minutes after this interview, I’ll go – “Ah, fuck, I should’ve said that!” But I will go with Vince Gill, actually. “Little Brother”, a country album. That’s really nice. And Madeleine Peyroux – “Half the Perfect World”.

Daniel’s picks: Albums by Vince Gill and Madeleine Peyroux

Note: Two weeks after the Leipzig gig, the band entered the studio to record an acoustic album with the working title “Clean”.On January 23, 2013, a full-blown acoustic tour through Europe was announced.


Pain of Salvation setlist for Leipzig, June 8, 2012 (acoustic gig):

Chain Sling
To the Shoreline
Sleeping Under the Stars
She Likes to Hide
Disco Queen (abridged)
Second Love
Mrs. Modern Mother Mary
King of Loss
No Way



Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)
The Perfect Element

Perfect Day (Lou Reed)


About the author: Michael Schetter plays bass in the instrumental prog fusion project Relocator whose debut CD featured former Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian as a special guest. Michael is also the organizer of the Generation Prog Festival and concert series and the founder of Generation Prog Records.

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