Soilwork: bound for life

Björn "Speed" Strid - SoilworkOnly a few weeks after we last talked to him, alongside guitarist David Andersson, we’re back on the phone with Bjorn “Speed” Strid – which makes sense when you realize the man has released two exceptionally good albums in quick succession, with The Night Flight Orchestra and Soilwork. Since we already questioned him about the former, this time we talked about the latter and The Ride Majestic, the new album. Released after the mastodon that was The Living Infinite, their double record from 2013, The Ride Majestic has benefitted from its predecessor from a creative point of view, and in the way the band redefined itself during the experience. But it is also a special album in its own way: not only is it the first without the band’s original bass player, Ola Flink, it was also created in rather tragic circumstances, as the musicians went through the death of several loved ones. Speed tells us how these events have left a mark on the music and the themes of the album, and even mentions his own vision of death.

A few days before this interview was originally posted, Speed made available an interesting two-part documentary on the conception of the album and the origins of the band. This gold mine for the fans, which sometimes delves into intimate details, has inspired a few of our questions, mainly regarding Speed’s ska/reggae past, or the fact that he liked to take naps listening to black metal when he came back from school in his younger years.

Soilwork 2015

« It’s very important to let in the darkness and to be able to take it from there. If you just ignore the darkness, it’s not gonna get you anywhere. »

Radio Metal: We learned a couple of month ago the departure of bass player Ola Flink who was, with you, the last remaining member that actually recorded the very first Soilwork album. You explain this departure by saying that “we all, sooner or later, come to a crossroad in our lives when our focus of being fueled by the past is just as strong as our visions of the future,” and that Ola came to that crossroad. What does that mean, more concretely?

Björn « Speed » Strid (vocals): If you’re in a band, you start a band when you’re seventeen or eighteen years old, and twenty years down the line, you’ll go through a lot of stuff, you know, in your personal lives. Being in a band for that long, it’s… Of course there’s gonna be changes, people might find other things in life. I don’t think that Ola ever really had any dreams of becoming a professional musician, per se. And I think he came to a point where he thought: “Is this really what I’m gonna do for the rest of my life? Or do I do something like a normal day job?” He’s a kind of guy who likes routines, you know. I can relate to it in a certain way. The older you get, routines will become way more important in your daily life, and it’s hard to get routines on tour. It’s so much traveling and it’s not really your average nine to five job. We could see it coming because in the latest years he’s been either on or off, especially on stage, you could see either he’s on fire or he’s just in the corner just looking really depressed. So it did not come as a surprise and I think he’s way better off, having a normal day job. He’s been working as a prison guard for quite some time now, so I guess that what he will be doing. It was definitely rough because, like I mentioned in the statement, he’s been a big part of Soilwork, and still is in a way. He’s always been such a fantastic performer live, but when we noticed that he was getting sort of depressed on tour, we knew it was time that he stepped down. So he did.

Did he record the album?

No, he didn’t…

Was it new bass player Markus Wibom?

No, Markus didn’t, he came into the band after that. Yeah, I know it’s looking a little chaotic but basically, Flink disappeared. After we did Loud Park in Japan in October last year, Flink kind of disappeared and nobody could reach him and get a hold of him. And then, in mid-January, we finally got a hold of him and he wanted to talk on Skype, and that’s when we kind of knew: “Okay, that was the reason…” He told us that he didn’t feel motivated anymore. And by that time we had all the songs done and were about to enter the studio, so we decided to just have David [Andersson] and Sylvain [Coudret] record the bass for the songs. Then we also had some shows booked for the spring. It was obviously very hard to find somebody who could replace Flink, he’s a big personality and we also needed a person that we already knew. That was very important for us, instead of having random people doing auditions and then trying them on tour. We feel that we don’t really have the patience for that anymore. So, I was doing some brainstorming and then I came to think about Markus, he’s a friend of the band and he’s been guitar tech for us before. Everybody knows him and he’s quite character as well. It was like: “Wow! That would be awesome!” We just didn’t know how good he was on bass. So that was the only thing we needed to try out. He rehearsed for two months and then we did three shows in Scandinavia, and he absolutely nailed it. So it was a natural transition in that sense. I’m mean, I’m always gonna miss Flink but Markus is such a good friend of everyone in the band, and he’s such a great character on stage as well and a great bass player!

The Ride Majestic comes after a period of hyper-productivity for the band that led to no less than a big double album, one EP and one double live album. With the Living Infinite you proved to yourselves that you had enough creativity within the band to fill a double album with no filler songs. Having that experience behind you, how did you approach the composition process this time?

I think that writing and recording the double album made us way more confident. Like you mentioned, we found something new and we all contributed with songs, each and every member of the band. Making a double album, it needs to be very diverse to be able to remain interesting all the way through. So I think we really had to step outside of our comfort zones to pull that off, and I think we rediscovered ourselves as songwriters through the albums. I think that, coming out of the studio, making that album and pulling through, we felt very confident entering the studio for The Ride Mejesty. It was back to making a regular album again but, as songwriters, we definitely found something new, and I think you can hear it. I mean, we’re definitely picking up where we left with The Living Infinite for The Ride Majestic but I feel it’s slightly darker as well. And again, I think there are some twists and turns that might be pretty surprising. I think that’s what we wanna have, we want to surprise ourselves and the listener.

The Ride Majestic is probably one of your most compact and contrasted albums. Some very fast and aggressive parts coexist with some very melodic, almost atmospheric parts. “Alight In The Aftermath” and “The Phantom” are good examples of that. Did you actually want to further enhance the contrast and dynamics that’s always been part of the band’s trademark?

I think so. And I think you’re right about that. I mean, the extreme parts are more extreme than ever and the softer parts are softer that before, and it creates a really interesting dynamic. I guess we just found so many new ways of expressing ourselves and just being very elaborate with the songwriting. And we’re being way more playful, which is I think a keyword for us, instead of just planning things. We don’t really talk about our music, how it should sound, we just kind of challenge each other in many ways. It has almost become a metal collective, in that sense.

So much happens in your songs, there are so many riffs, melodies and parts, we almost kind of get overwhelmed by those, and still they always remain super catchy. How do you manage to combine that complexity with this capacity to immediately catch our ears?

No matter how Soilwork have developed musically through the years, melodies have always been the key for the band, whether it being guitar melodies or vocal melodies, it doesn’t really matter. I think we just managed to develop our sound and become more progressive but still have the catchy feel to it. I don’t think we really force it that it needs to be catchy. I mean, personally I really love working with melodies but they need to come in the right places. For example, comparing this new album to an album like Figure Number Five, which is pretty much straight forward metal with like a verse, a bridge and a chorus, it’s pretty catchy and melodic all the way through, but I feel like you can kind of lose the intensity a little bit, you don’t build up the momentum in the same way. I think that’s something that we’ve improved as songwriters.

Soilwork - The Ride Majestic

« You do the most damage to yourself by thinking too much. »

In this day and age, metal bands often seem to be all about being aggressive and who’s going to be the most brutal. But Soilwork’s a band, while still having its aggressive moments, puts a big emphasis on melodies. Is it important to show that metal isn’t all about brutality and that melody is a very important component in music in general?

I think so! I’m almost not impressed anymore just because somebody can play so fast, like 300 bpm through the whole song. I used to be so blown away by that but I’m not very impressed anymore. It’s about the songwriting for me. It doesn’t have to be brutal. It’s fine, as long as you feel the presence in the song. I think that’s the keyword: presence.

During the making process of the album almost everybody in the band has lived tragedies, losing family members, including your grand ma which you were very close to. Can you tell us more one how these tragedies have impacted and left their mark on this album?

We all go through stuff like this sooner or later and it’s definitely not easy. It was just really surreal how it all happened while the songwriting and the recording was going on, and it was almost to a point like: “What is this?!” [Chuckles] You know? It was crazy! We had four deaths within our families during that little time frame. The recording dragged out a little bit but the music was a big comfort, going through that whole process of mourning our loved ones. But it definitely put a little bit of a darker existential spin to the whole album, I feel. And I think that you can sense that as well. I’m not saying that the music on the album changed completely after we experienced this because most of the songs were finished anyway, but I think that the approach on the recording, especially vocally, it made it feel all the more real for me, as a vocalist. I put a lot of emotion in there and some dark aspects of life as well. And, at the same time, it was kind of a celebration, a dark celebration if you will, in the middle of it all. I mean, we always leave it a little bit open when we enter the studio, so I think it was more the approach when recording the actual material, and adding overdubs. And I didn’t do the vocals until late April and May, so it became a very melancholic vibe over the whole album. So I think it definitely affected us.

The Ride Majestic is actually a reference to life itself…

It’s kind of a collection of hymns to life and death. We would like to consider life being a majestic ride. We are very curious to see if that majestic ride continues. We would like to see, especially now that we’ve lost so many people that were close, that they’re somewhere, that they’re not just gone. It’s hard to accept that somebody’s feelings and thoughts will just pass or just cease to exist. When you see the cover, it’s like that world of people in the sky and we would like to consider that ride majestic as well.

Although it does have its dark, angry and melancholic moments, there’s also some positive vibes on the album. And like you said, it’s a bit of a celebration. So, is it important for you turn negatives into positives?

I think it is and I think it’s very important for me personally because there’s so much… You know, when you look at social media today, there’s so much kind of like new age stuff where you’re just supposed to surround yourself with positive people and think happy thoughts, to me it’s all very elitist, in a sense. To me, it’s very important to let in the darkness and to be able to take it from there. If you just ignore the darkness, it’s not gonna get you anywhere. Especially when you’re mourning somebody close who passes away, I think it’s important to let in the grief and the darkness, and be able to become stronger from that.

Do you have a stronger consciousness of life and death as a human being, at this point in your life?

Well, I’m scared of death. I’m not gonna lie, I am very scared. I’m also very curious. Especially after my grand ma passed away, the comforting feeling is that: « Okay, so if there’s a life after what we have right now, she’s gonna be there to catch me when I fall. » In that sense, it is comforting. Because sometimes, you know, depending on what mood you’re in, if it just all ceases to exist when you’re dead, it’s kind of scary too. At the same time, you kind of just want it to be over when it’s over [laughs]. So it just goes back and forth for me!

The lyrics to the title song deal with the fear of dying and the art of remaining sane while you’re still alive. How do you do that, personally in your life?

Oh, it’s hard! It’s a constant struggle! I think the only way of dealing with it, it’s like I mentioned before, it’s to not ignore things. But then again, you do the most damage to yourself by thinking too much. But if you can just take thoughts for what they are – they‘re just that, they’re just thoughts -, I think you can live a somewhat normal life. It’s just a matter of not letting the demons take over, because they’re just thoughts to me. But it’s not easy.

Would you actually call this album a spiritual album?

I guess you could say that, in a sense. I mean, it is very existential. It deals with a lot of existential questions, just like The Living Infinite. It just has a little bit of a darker spin to it, but it’s also somewhat of a dark celebration, as I mentioned before.

Soilwork 2015

« It’s easy to lose yourself being in a band […] it goes so fast that one day you’ll just end up like: ‘Who am I? I’m making great music and I love doing this but what about the rest?' »

Two songs are actually called “The Ride Majestic”. Can you tell us more about the story and the relationship between these two songs that share the same name?

Well, it wasn’t really planned from the beginning because when we started writing the songs for the new album… Because we talked about the title for the album and we usually write separately, and I wrote a song and I pictured it being “The Ride Majestic”. And then I talked to Dave a couple of days later and I told him about the song: “I think I made the title track.” And he told me: “Oh, okay, I also wrote ‘The Ride Majestic’ [laughs]!” It was like: “Okay… Cool, well, I don’t know, maybe they should be kind of like twins on the album! That might work.” Even though they might sound pretty different, in song structure and melody wise, I think they still have something in common, and I think it works. And I always liked certain songs coming back later in the album, like seventies progressive rock and stuff like that.

But is there a direct connection lyrically between the two songs?

David wrote most of the lyrics for “The Ride Majestic (Aspire Angellic)”, so I guess we would have to ask him, but we also talked a lot about the lyrical themes for the album, so I think they match lyrically as well, for sure.

You’re known for your vocal diversity and capabilities. But on The Ride Majestic you sound stronger than you’ve ever been. Did you want to push yourself even more this time? Did you want to find new challenges, trying new stuff with your voice? Like this interesting calm part on “Petrichor By Sulphur” that sounds unlike anything you did before…

Well, thanks for saying that. I guess I’m lucky enough that I’m still developing as a singer. I’m thirty seven today but I’m still developing, so… It’s nothing that I take for granted, I’m just really [laughs] happy about that. I mean, as long as I feel that I can develop my voice, I obviously will and I think it’s very important for me as a singer to find new way of expressing myself. I believe I’ve definitely done that with new album as well. I’ve also started a band called The Night Flight Orchestra couple of years back with David, which is completely different music, it’s like late seventies classic rock, and I think I’ve learned a lot from my own voice singing and recording with that band, and think I brought that with me to Soilwork as well. I feel my voice can take a beating in a completely different way now. It’s stronger and I feel way more confident. I feel like there’s so many ways I can express myself vocally. It’s not just screaming vocals and clean vocals. There are so many things in between, breathier vocals or whatever. It’s fun! I want it to be fun and I like to push myself.

You actually chose to produce the vocals yourself for the first time…

It wasn’t really planned that way but, at the same time, you know, we could only record in one studio room this time around. Like, for example, with The Living Infinite, we had three studios to record simultaneously, so it was more efficient in that sense. But this time around we only had one studio and things dragged out for various reasons, obviously because of the deaths within our families, and I just felt like: “Why don’t I just record everything myself?” I talked to Jens Bogren and asked him because he normally doesn’t do that, letting singer record their own vocals [chuckles]. But he had faith in me, thankfully, and he was like: “Well, that’s the first time I’ve done that but I really have faith in you Björn.” I felt excite about that. It was gonna be a challenge, because it’s kind of hard to record it youself and you don’t really have anybody to kind of balance it off with. But I think I’ve grown a lot, I have a lot of experience, I’ve been doing so much vocals, not only for Soilwork but also for other things. I’m kind of used to recording myself as well, so I know what sounds good and what doesn’t. It was definitely a challenge and I think I pulled it off. It was a lot of fun!

The Ride Majestic was recorded by David Castillo but, like The Living Infinite, just like you said, it was also produced my Jens Bogren. Last interview we did with you for The Living Infitine, you said that the way the album was produced was a great recipe for the future. So is this why you kept working with Jens?

Yeah, for sure. I mean, this is the first time that Jens wasn’t really present during the actual recording. He basically mixed the album. He was there like setting up the drums and setting the drums sound but after that, it was David Castillo and I think we will keep on working with David Castillo as well being part of the actual recording, because he’s a great guy and has a great ear as well. But we feel very confident with Jens. He has very sensitive ear and we feel that he has done a great job both for The Panic Broadcast and The Living Infinite. So we can’t really think of anybody else mixing our albums than having that kind of sensitive ear. And the album and the production are very detailed as well because there’s so much stuff going on. We really feel that he’s the right guy to mix our albums, as it is right now.

You recently published a two parts video documentary about the making of The Ride Majesty. It’s quite personal, and you were going a bit into the origins of the band. Was it important for you to let people know what actually was behind this album and made it so special for you?

I think so. It came to my mind when the label asked me: “So, do you have any studio footage? Do you wanna do webisodes and stuff like that?” And I realized: “You know what? We didn’t really film very much during the recording [chuckles]!” And at the same time, I felt like: “Oh, I’m so sick of those webisodes!” You know, with the people in the studio… I don’t think there is much to tell when you’re in the studio! You’re just sitting there, you’re drinking beer, obviously it’s a lot of fun but you can talk about the gear and like: “Okay, so right now David is gonna play a solo on this song or whatever,” and I just feel it’s kind of watered down and boring! I might be wrong, I don’t know! I just felt that I wanted to do something different this time around, so I decided to make this little documentary about where I grew up, how the scene here affected me as a musician, how I started my first bands, how I actually returned here to record the vocals for the new album, how I wanted to connect those two things, and have a different angle to the whole thing, rather than having you typical gear talk webisodes.

Soilwork 2015

« When I went to junior high, I loved coming home from school and falling asleep to black metal. […] it was such a nice comforting sound to fall asleep to in the afternoon; it was a really special feeling. »

What we learn, among other things, is that you reconnected with Martin and Pascal from one of your early bands and recorded your vocal parts at Martin’s home. Did the sadness from the loss of someone you were very close to brought a desire to reconnect with you past and get a nostalgic atmosphere for this album? Did you need some comfort and reassurance?

I think so! I think it was one of the reasons. Because I moved here at the beginning of the year, so it was sort of a new beginning for me, in a sense. I reconnected with some people here and I feel that… You know, when you’re in a band for that long, it’s kind of hard to grasp what you’re doing. I just think that I needed to go back to where it all started to be able to find myself again. I know it sounds very pretentious [chuckles] but it really is true: it’s easy to lose yourself being in a band, it goes on and on and on and the years pass, and it goes so fast that one day you’ll just end up like: “Who am I? I’m making great music and I love doing this but what about the rest?” So that was one of the reasons why I decided to move back and reconnect with the people that I used to playing with before even we started Soilwork. It was a great feeling and it just all fell into place, in a sense. I think it was a great idea to even record the vocals locally.

We also learn that at one point before Soilwork you formed a black metal band and a ska/reggae band, and it’s actually with that band that one night you shared the bill with Inferior Breed that later became Soilwork… That sounds just so improbable! What do you recall about those times?

It was really excited times because there was a lot of reggae ska in this city and there was a lot of punk, lot of thrash, a lot of black metal as well, and I don’t know, there was just no limitations and I was just curious about everything. Ska/reggae, I didn’t really listen that much to it privately but playing it live was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it! I guess I was more of a metal head, so having both, the live experience with the ska/reggae band and more of the songwriting kick that you got out of writing more extreme music, was very somewhat compatible, in a sense [chuckle]. It was really exciting! I was in so many bands back then, I played everything from pop, ska or reggae to black metal and crust punk. And I think that’s a great way of discovering music and discovering yourself as a musician.

You also say in the video documentary that your grand ma actually fell asleep to Soilwork. Do you think Soilwork is a good music to fall asleep to?

Well, the only thing I can say is that when I went to junior high, I loved coming home from school and falling asleep to black metal. It really worked! And it was almost like you… I don’t know, it was therapeutic, in a sense. I remember I was falling asleep to Storm Of The Light’s Bane [by Dissection]. I mean, I listened to the album while I was awake as well on the way to school, everyday, so don’t get me wrong [laughs]. But when I came home, it was such a nice comforting sound to fall asleep to in the afternoon; it was a really special feeling.

And what is your favorite music to fall asleep to nowadays?

Well, I never take naps anymore, that’s funny. When you’re a teenager, you take a nap as soon as you come home from school. I know that most of my friends did, so did I. But today I can’t take naps anymore. It’s kind of sad! So I don’t really fall asleep to music anymore. When I go to bed at night, I might be listening a little bit to a radio documentary, and that’s about it. Music, at don’t know, it’s hard. It was more of an afternoon nap thing to me.

One thing that is remarkable about Soilwork is that despite the numerous line-up changes it has never lost its trademark sound. I mean, except for you, the composers of yesterday are not those of today. Ola Frenning and Peter Witchers who did a very big part of the writing up until The Panic Broadcast are not here anymore. How can you explain that it remains so faithful to what Soilwork has always been?

Hard to say! I think it has to do with we managed to get new people into the band that has brought something really interesting. They’ve been staying true to the legacy without forcing it but they still brought something new and they’ve been able to challenge me, for example. When David and Sylvain came in to the band as guitarists, they wrote in a slightly different way, possibly a little bit more progressive compared to Peter. I was so used to writing songs with Peter and creating melodies with the vocals based on his guitars and his songs. So I think they really challenged me as a singer and made me step out of my comfort zone as well. I think I developed through that. And I think David brought a lot of this kind of Scandinavian melancholy in there, especially in the melodies, and Sylvain his progressive way of writing. And he obviously played with Dirk [Verbeuren] in Scarve before, so they know each other really well. I think Dirk brought a lot of extreme drumming but still with a groove to the band. It brought a whole new dimension to our music. So we’ve been lucky enough to have people coming in to the band that really loves what we’ve done with Soilwork and feel passionate about it but they also didn’t wanna try to adjust too much or adapt to writing Soilwork music. I guess my vocals are a big part of it as well, since I’ve been there from the very beginning, so maybe I do have a little bit of a trademark with my vocal melodies as well, that might have something to do with it as well.

You’re were also lucky to finds great songwriters because good musicians are not necessarily good songwriters…

No, you’re right! You see so many You Tube videos today with people that nail Paul Gilbert or Yngwie Malmsteen but they it doesn’t mean you’re gonna be a good songwriter! And I think that’s one of the things. Both Sylvain and David are really good songwriters. I’ve also been writing a lot of stuff through the years, especially with The Living Infinite: I picked up the guitar and I wrote, I think eight or nine songs on that album, and on the new one I’ve written three, I think, or four. So it’s been a challenge for me as well, since I started out as a guitar player but then I started focusing on the vocals. I think it had made me a better songwriter, especially on guitar. It’s been really exciting for me to build things from scratch instead of just having people writing the songs and then I add the vocals. It’s interesting to build a song from scratch with a guitar and then adding the vocals that you’re writing yourself. And I think it’s very compatible with whatever Sylvain and David are doing.

Interview conducted by phone 6th, august 2015 by Nicolas Gricourt.
Retranscription: Nicolas Gricourt.
Promo pics: Hannah Verbeuren.

Soilwork official website: www.soilwork.org.

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