DATE OF INTERVIEW:
15th March 2014
BJÖRN "SPEED" STRID
Fast approaching their twentieth anniversary, Sweden's Soilwork once again proved themselves genre innovators with last year's 'The Living Infinite', breaking new ground by releasing the world's first ever death metal double album. Diversifying and progressing their songwriting into new modes of expression, while retaining the core Soilwork sound that their ever increasing legion of fans has grown to know and love, it's been declared by many as their magnum opus. Not bad for a band nearly two decades into their career! Metal Discovery met up with charismatic frontman Björn “Speed” Strid at the end of their 2014 UK tour to discuss the seemingly mammoth task of making a double record, how Soilwork manage to remain compositionally fresh and progressive after all these years, as well as his unexpected acquisition of 20 kilos of Finnish liquorice...
METAL DISCOVERY: You played Hammerfest yesterday in Wales – how was that? Was it strange playing in a holiday camp?
BJÖRN: It was pretty strange. There were a lot of trailers there which reminded me of a trailer park in the States, pretty much. It was really foggy and not very warm either, and there were palm trees… yeah, it was a funny set up, for sure! But it was a good show. Lots of people.
(Björn “Speed” Strid on getting the double album bug)
"...we’re kinda hooked...it almost feels like it’s kind of boring going back to a single album!"
Björn “Speed” Strid backstage at The Institute, Birmingham, UK, 15th March 2014
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2014 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Soilwork Official Website:
Thanks to Lottie Hunt for arranging the interview
Soilwork Official Facebook:
Steelbath Suicide (1998)
The Chainheart Machine (2000)
A Predator's Portrait (2001)
Natural Born Chaos (2002)
Stabbing the Drama (2005)
Sworn to a Great Divide (2007)
The Panic Broadcast (2010)
The Living Infinite (2013)
Figure Number Five (2003)
MD: I gather Peter [Wildoer] from Darkane has been standing in for Dirk on drums?
MD: How’s Dirk doing now?
BJÖRN: He’s doing a lot better today. I don’t think he will be playing tonight’s show, but possibly the last one and then we have a DVD show in Helsinki.
MD: So he’s saving himself for the big one…
BJÖRN: Yeah. But it’s sounding really, really good still.
MD: Was Peter already familiar with most of your set or has he had to improv a bit?
BJÖRN: Well, he’s filled in before. That was a couple of years back, though, but he knows some of the songs and, yeah, we’ve basically been rehearsing on soundchecks and stuff like that. He’s been going through it, day and night, getting familiar with all the songs. The first one was pretty rough but the next one was better and then, gradually… I think this is going to be the fourth show.
MD: You released the double album last year, ‘The Living Infinite’, which must’ve been a mammoth task anyway, but with Peter [Wichers] leaving again in 2012, and David [Andersson] coming in permanently on guitar, did that make the task of writing and recording a double album even more of a mammoth task, or did fresh blood actually make the whole process more exciting and less daunting?
BJÖRN: I expected it to be way harder to record a double album but it was pretty smooth for some reason, I don’t know what it was. For me, personally, I actually started to sing pretty early in the recording process so I could actually record one song a day instead of just waiting until the end and, “okay, mister singer, you’ve got two weeks and that’s it.” That puts a lot of pressure on you and it’s a good thing to focus on one instead of having it at the back of your head that, “oh, I need to record two more today to be able to pull this off.” There was a song of the day, and then you kind of focus on that and give it all you’ve got.
And, as far as the songwriting, it’s been a pleasure working with David. We’ve known him for quite some time and he’s filled in before - I think he’s done two North American tours before joining the band. He’s a great human being, a great guitar player, a great songwriter… he inspired us to bring back some of the more Scandinavian elements that we had more of in the beginning of our career. So his writing is slightly different from Peter. Peter, I feel, has more of a kind of American approach to the riffing, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I felt that I missed some of those more Scandinavian melancholic melodies in there.
MD: Having so much more material, was it more of a challenge to write more lyrics?
BJÖRN: Oh yeah, the lyrics, that was rough because I’ve gone through some really rough years and dealing with a lot of panic anxiety, especially around existential questions and matters. And it was really important for me to have that outlet and especially for a double album but, then again, it was really hard going through all of that. You know, it’s so many lyrics! And you don’t want to repeat yourself either, at the same time. But I think it turned out really good, plus Flink contributed with his first lyric ever, and I was really stoked about that. It was about a nightmare he had. The song, ‘Owls Predict, Oracles Stand Guard’, an abstract title right there; it’s really interesting.
MD: Looking back at the whole process now, did you learn anything about yourselves as songwriters in having to come up with an abundance of material?
BJÖRN: Well, I think we learned that we can still be really inspired. We’ve been around for a very long time and I feel… there’s a lot of bands out there that have been around just as long as us, or even longer, that you almost feel like it’s corporate metal; it’s just the same album. We still develop our music and develop as musicians, and I think that’s a really great thing. I’m really proud of the band being able to stick it through with everything that happened, and be able to be that inspired and come up with something that majestic, and that holds a lot of presence as well.
MD: Was it easy to find a natural flow for so much material, in terms of track order?
BJÖRN: I guess it was pretty hard and there’s six opinions in the band as well… [laughs] It was a pretty good communication in the studio and we also wrote some acoustic tracks to link between the songs, and some other stuff that we wanted to have, and we wanted people to be taken on a journey. It’s a double album in the true sense of the word; you know, like prog bands released in the seventies.
MD: Indeed. You’ve managed to progress and diversify your sound again but were you conscious to hold back a bit and not diversify too radically, so that you could keep the essence of what fans already love about your music?
BJÖRN: Not really because we didn’t really discuss it. Each and every member stepped forward and contributed with songs, and I think people really got high on the fact that they could actually break the moulds a little bit and go a little bit bananas because that’s exactly what we wanted. We wanted it to be a band effort; we needed it to be diverse and, if it’s gonna be progressive, that’s fine, you know. It was really a big challenge for me as well, especially with Sven and Sylvain’s songs; they were a little bit more complex, in a sense. David’s are a little bit more straightforward. So I’ve developed a lot as a singer with that… you know, I’m kind of a sucker for the old, classic melodies and stuff like that. I like things to be catchy but, at the same time, I don’t mind progressive elements at all. If it feels right, it’s awesome.
MD: So having the double album format, did you feel that gave you more breathing space to be able to be more progressive?
BJÖRN: Yes, and I think that’s what everybody felt and, you know, go crazy. It was just all open.
MD: You had Jens Bogren producing the album so how was your working relationship with him? Did you attain the exact sound you were after or did he surprise you with new ideas and so forth?
BJÖRN: We know what he’s capable of and he has very sensitive ears, and we really like that he puts so much emotion into it. You know, that’s always what he goes for. So, of course, there were some surprises but they’re usually really good so, yeah, we didn’t mind at all.
MD: So it turned out even better than you expected?
BJÖRN: Yeah, fantastic, yeah.
MD: Would you ever want to tackle a double album again, having been through it once?
BJÖRN: Well, we’re kinda hooked!
MD: It’ll become Soilwork’s gimmick!
BJÖRN: Yeah! It’s just it almost feels like it’s kind of boring going back to a single album!
MD: How do Nuclear Blast feel about that? Was it hard to get their approval to do a double album in the first place?
BJÖRN: Well, I guess we were a little nervous at first because, “they must be crazy”… that’s the kind of reaction we expected, but it was, “oh, that’s brilliant, that’s brilliant.” And we didn’t know when we decided but it turned out to be the first double album in death metal history.
MD: Would you ever want to do a live show where you perform ‘The Living Infinite’ in its entirety?
BJÖRN: I would like to but it’s kind of hard because we live spread out all over the world so we can’t really do any spontaneous jam sessions. I would like to but we’re used to working this way now, and sending files back and forth, and it’s been working for us still. But, who knows, maybe in the future, it could be time to perform the whole double album.
MD: Your twentieth anniversary’s coming up soon… next year if count from Inferior Breed; 2016 if you count from Soilwork…
BJÖRN: Some of us claim it’s ’95 and some… I think it is in the very end of ’95, I would say, that the band got formed, so yeah. Wow, twenty years!
MD: Are you going to mark the occasion with anything special?
BJÖRN: We haven’t planned anything but, yeah, maybe we should do something for that Christmas, that would be pretty cool.
MD: A set of death metal Christmas songs, there you go.
MD: A live DVD’s been rumoured for quite a while but, as you said that’s now happening in Helsinki, on 21st March. Do you have a special set planned?
BJÖRN: Well, we have some special guests that I can’t really reveal right now. It’s gonna be official, I guess, tomorrow or the day after. It’s been kinda complicated for us now, with Dirk being sick as well; it’s kinda hard for us to rehearse all those songs that we were supposed to throw in there from our back catalogue because a lot of those songs we haven’t played in years and years. So we’ve been doing that as well, on this tour, in the soundchecks. So, now, we have to come up with the best we can. But it’s gonna pretty much cover our whole career so it should still be good.
MD: One special guest might be Peter then… maybe have him on hand, just in case.
BJÖRN: Yeah, yeah, exactly! [laughs] Well, we did talk about it actually… we wanted to try it out at the soundcheck, it’s gonna be pretty interesting to see how he feels… because Peter offered to come with us to Finland as well.
MD: Will it be business as usual for the show or do you anticipate there’ll be a few more nerves because it’s being filmed?
BJÖRN: Yeah, I’m feeling kind of nervous about it but a good nervousness, I guess.
MD: I guess once you get into the flow of the set, you’ll forget the cameras are there?
BJÖRN: Yeah, it’ll feel like a normal set once you’re in there. I don’t want to compromise standing still and trying to hit every note… you know, I want to move around, so I’m going to look at the show as a normal show. It needs to be a show.
MD: Definitely. It’s been announced that you’re going to be inviting 25 random fans from the gig to the after-show party… based on what I know of the Finnish, they like to drink a lot, so I presume that’s going to be some party?!
BJÖRN: Yeah, my flight is booked… I think departure is 8am the next day so that’s… wow!
MD: The final thing I wanted to ask - Dirk featured on an episode of Crazy Tour Stories earlier this year, sharing the story about his cracked rib after a party on your tour bus. What’s your craziest tour story?
BJÖRN: Yeah, our old drummer did that too… we were on the ferry to Finland and he decided to jump down the stairs and landed on his rib. But he was drinking non-stop so he wasn’t able to feel it at all, and just continued and found out when he came home! [laughs] So there’s that and…
MD: What’s your crazy tour story?
BJÖRN: This is not really a tour story but it’s pretty funny regardless. On our previous tour in Finland… again… [laughs]… we were gonna do some encores and we did three, and the crowd wanted more. And then I was joking around with the crowd, saying, because I’m a big fan of Finnish liquorice, and I said to them, “okay, on one condition we’ll perform one more song, but only if one of you guys send me 20 kilos of Finnish liquorice.” And it actually happened!
MD: Wow! That’s a lot of liquorice!
BJÖRN: Yeah, that’s a lot of liquorice! [laughs] It was really funny because that was in November and I didn’t receive it until late January. There was a parcel slip to my parents’ address; it’s a really small village, and I went up to the local grocery shop and they had a little postal office there as well. And the clerk comes out with this big cardboard box. I was like: “What is that?! I have no clue what this is.” And then I put it in the car and decided to open a little bit, and it’s like, “no, you’ve gotta be kidding!”
MD: That lasted you a long time, I presume!
BJÖRN: Yeah, yeah. I handed out a lot to my friends because I would probably end up being even bigger than I am if I decided to eat all of that! But, yeah, I kept some for myself as well, and our drum tech, he’s a huge fan as well, so I gave him a couple of boxes.
MD: Fantastic! Right, cheers for your time.
BJÖRN: Thank you.