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Interviews   

Soilwork’s latest challenge dissected with Björn « Speed » Strid


Soilwork is one of those great metal bands – in terms of quality – founded in the early years of the 21st century, with no less than four masterpieces between 2001 and 2005. A decade later, the beginners have become an established band. Despite the departures, in the past few years, of guitarists Peter Witchers and Ola Frenning, two major manufacturers of the Soilwork sound, the band has maintained not only a good quality level in their albums, but also their own personality in their music. The Living Infinite, the sextet’s new double album, is the perfect example of that – a real feat that proves the band is more than capable of outdoing themselves again. And we can only hope this record is the starting point of a stable line-up.

The Living Infinite is the subject of our conversation with the band’s very nice singer, Björn “Speed” Strid. After having none other than Devin Townsend as a vocal coach, Speed is now considered one of the greatest vocalists in contemporary metal.

« We needed a new challenge. We’ve already released so many albums, so instead of throwing out another 11 songs, we needed something more than that. »

Radio Metal: The Living Infinite is a double album. Was it something that was intended from the start or were you just super-inspired?

Björn “Speed” Strid (vocals): That was intentional from the start. That was the idea. We wanted to do something bigger, something a bit more epic – and we needed a new challenge. We’ve already released so many albums, so instead of throwing out another 11 songs, we needed something more than that. Basically, I presented the idea to the other guys in the band in 2011, while doing summer festivals. I already had the title back then, The Living Infinite. People were intrigued in a positive way. They were a bit skeptical about how we were going to come up with so many songs. We couldn’t really compromise: if we ended up having one really good disc and went downhill from that, it would suck. But we noticed pretty quickly after we started writing songs that the flow was amazing. Every member of the band started writing songs, so we also know it was going to be very diverse. We really liked what was happening and we felt more confident. So we did have the mindset from the beginning. It went pretty fast, we wrote all the songs in eight months. We entered the studio with a total of 26 songs. It’s pretty impressive to come up with that many songs!

A double album is usually a concept album with a main theme or a story. What can you tell us about the main idea behind this double album?

It is somewhat conceptual. It deals with a lot of existential questions and matters. The title, The Living Infinite, is inspired by how Jules Verne described the ocean – as a living infinite. I really liked that, I thought it was a cool description. It also fit very well with the main theme of the album, which was very existential. We also wanted to have kind of a nautical, oceanic theme on the cover. I grew up by the ocean, and I still live by the ocean. Whenever I look at the ocean, I start thinking about those things. At the same time, it makes me kind of calm.

Nowadays, music labels seem to be afraid of releasing double albums. Actually some bands are forced to release what was conceived as a double album as a limited edition and a single disc version for the regular edition. What was your label’s reaction when you came up with this project? Did they advise you against it?

No, quite the contrary, actually! They really liked the idea from the start. They said: “It’s very brave, but we think it’s a very cool idea. It’s something that’s gonna stand out”. It’s the first double album in melodic death metal history, which is pretty cool.

The Living Infinite has the diversity inherited from The Panic Broadcast and goes even further. Being a double album, could we see The Living Infinite as a comprehensive summary of what Soilwork is?

Yeah, well said! Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel. I think we were hinting at what was to come on Panic Broadcast, but now it makes so much more sense. Instead of making a best-of album, we’re doing a double album that sums everything up. That’s what it feels like. At the same time, I feel that it is a really mature album – even though I hate that word! It sounds really strong, and passionate, and real. We’ve had so much fun recording it. Plus, we’ve grown a lot as songwriters. We know how to express ourselves in a better way.

« I think we always wanted to develop the sound, and to surprise ourselves and our listeners. »

From a certain perspective, the two parts of the album, musically, almost sound like two separate albums, in the sense that “Whisper And Light” has kind of a “closing” feeling and that the instrumental “Entering Aeons” feels like a new start to the album. Was this clear musical separation intended or did it come up just like that?

No, it was not really intended. I get what you’re saying, because the second disc has more of a dark feel, a dark vibe. You’re right, “Entering Aeons” really sounds like a start to something new, something darker. Basically, it was Dirk, who was putting the songs in the right order. When I first listened to it, I was like: “Wow, he’s putting that song there? I didn’t expect that!” But I think he did a great job. Even though it’s one album, one unit, I don’t mind having the two discs give you a different vibe. It still makes sense as a whole.

Most fans see all four albums from A Predator’s Portrait up to Stabbing The Drama as the highlight of Soilwork’s career. With each of these albums the band was making a significant step forward by bringing new elements or orientations to Soilwork’s sound. This appears less significant since Sworn To A Great Divide. Do you think that up to Stabbing The Drama the band was kind of feeling the ground to find its definitive style and that it is now more or less settled?

I kinda feel like that, yeah. Even though we could never have made the same album twice in a row, I think we always wanted to develop the sound, and to surprise ourselves and our listeners. But it does take time: it’s a matter of growing up with a band that I started when I was 17. That definitely affects the sound as well, and who you are as a person.

Jens Bogren produced the album this time. Actually, every single Soilwork album since Natural Born Chaos has had a different producer. The band even tried self-production on Figure Number Five. Does this mean you have never been totally satisfied with the production or do you simply want to try something new every time?

I guess we wanted to try out things. Our first two albums were recorded in Studio Fredman, and then we wanted to try something else. It’s all been a matter of experimentation, really. But now I think we did the best thing we could have done, and that’s staying in the same studio from the moment we started building the album. All of us together, the old school way, living in the studio for two months. Everything is produced in the same studio. I guess it took a while to realize what was best for the band. I feel this is a great recipe for the future.

This is the second time Peter Wichers leaves the band. Do you think this time it is for good?

Yes, it’s for good. We’ve learned that it was probably meant to be. He’s way better off being a family man, having a secure, normal job and doing music in his free time. We tried it out, and he ended up stressed and depressed at being away from home. It’s better with David Andersson in the band, because he really wants to tour, and he’s really passionate about the band. I think it’s definitely a win/win situation. It was rough the first time Peter left. It was sad, especially on a personal level. But this time, I could see it coming. As soon as we started touring, I could see it happening. We were all kind of prepared. David Andersson jumped in as a session guitarist when we toured for Panic Broadcast, even if he couldn’t tour as much as we wanted him to, because of Peter coming back and forth into the band.

« It’s really important – the communication, being a unit. »

For a very long time Peter was the main composer in Soilwork. I suppose that the first time he left brought a lot of questions for the band and in particular for the composition process. So how would you compare this second departure to the first one, in terms of impact for the band and on your state of mind?

After Peter left the first time, we ended up writing Sworn To A Great Divide. The difference was that there wasn’t the same communication within the band. It wasn’t the same joy, it felt more forced. There was really a big difference. Now there’s a really great vibe and great communication. I hope people can hear that. There’s so much joy behind this album.

And as you mentioned, everybody composes now.

Yeah. It’s really important – the communication, being a unit.

Have you looked for or auditioned guitar players after Peter Wichers’ departure or did you instantly have the idea of hiring David Andersson?

We’ve known him since 2006, and he’s done two North American tours with us, and tours in Japan and Australia. He’s really familiar with the guys in the band, and also with the sound. It was kind of a natural choice. Plus, he was already part of the band when we did the summer festivals, when I announced the idea for the double album, so he was in that mindset from the beginning. It was a natural step.

This is the first album with David Andersson. What did the fact that he already knew the music bring to this album?

I think it did a lot. First of all, it takes a special sort of person and musician to fit into Soilwork. David is one of the few guitarists I could see myself continuing Soilwork with. The fact that he’s been a fan of the band from the beginning, and that he’s been playing with a lot of different acts in different types of music, has done a lot, too. I think he brought a lot of fresh new blood into our sound as well. He definitely brings a melancholic feel to his melodies. There’s something special about it that really suits Soilwork. I think we’re sounding really Scandinavian again. I felt we lost it a little bit after Stabbing The Drama, in a way. It was the core of Soilwork’s sound, and it was influenced by Swedish melancholy.

Why do you think you lost it?

Peter was really influenced by the American scene. I think he brought a lot of that into the band. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that I thought the band had lost the melancholy it was founded on from the beginning.

Last year you released an album with The Night Flight Orchestra, which is completely different, more classic rock oriented. Had this project some sort of an impact on the new Soilwork album?

David is also a member of that band, so it was pretty interesting to go from a classic rock recording last January to songwriting for Soilwork, entering the studio in late August and recording a double metal album! It was inspiring. It gave us time to really connect in the studio. Also, I think I brought some of the stuff I developed in the studio. It was a new thing for me to record vocals like that. It made me really confident, and I think I brought that with me into the studio with Soilwork.

« I think we’re sounding really Scandinavian again. I felt we lost it a little bit after Stabbing The Drama, in a way. »

By the way, The Night Flight Orchestra was a very good surprise. Do you think there are going to be more albums from this band in the future? What can we expect?

Well, David claims he’s already written the whole second album! (laughs) I don’t know where he found the time to do that. We’ll see. Maybe it was just talk, maybe he was just drunk! There are plans for a second album, for sure. We’ll just have to find the time, when we’re off tour with Soilwork.

So we have to consider Night Flight Orchestra as an actual band, and not only as a side project?

It is a band, but obviously, we can’t do crazy touring with it. But it’s definitely a band, and it’s more of a fun thing. We don’t really have any ambitions to become what Whitesnake was in the 70s! It’s a nice rest from metal.

Justin Sullivan from New Model Army was invited to sing on this album. You’re a long time fan of New Model Army and of Justin’s voice. That collaboration must be a dream for you!

Absolutely amazing! I met him in 2009. We talked for quite a while, and I told him my story, so to speak. He was a really great listener and we had a really interesting talk. I got his e-mail address. When I was writing the lyrics for “The Windswept Mercy”, it hit me that it reminded me of New Model Army. I could suddenly hear Justin’s voice in the verse, and maybe both our voices in the chorus. I decided to send him an e-mail and ask him if he would be interested. It took him like ten minutes to reply yes, it would be very cool! I sent over the track, and he said: “That’s a strangely beautiful song, Björn”. I was like: “Wow!” They were in the studio in London with New Model Army, so he said he would do the vocals there. He recorded the vocals and I listened to them in headphones – just his voice, nothing else, singing my lyrics. It was insane. And it turned out really cool!

Have you two considered doing an entire project together?

With Justin? Wow, I would love that! (laughs) No, we haven’t talked about that. But who knows what will happen in the future! That would be the ultimate dream. Wow!

Devin Townsend has played a great role for you in Soilwork as he worked with you in the past as a vocal coach and a vocal producer. Could we expect to see you two collaborating again in the future?

I have talked to him about that. That was back when he was still drinking, so I don’t know. He seemed interested, but nowadays he’s a really, really busy man. I have a hard time seeing it happening any time soon, but that would be a very interesting project. Instead of a guitarists album, we could do maybe a singers album!

Interview conducted by phone in January 2013
Transcription: Saff’

Album The Living Infinite, out since March, 1st, 2013 via Nuclear Blast Records.

Soilwork’s official website: www.soilwork.org



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