SOILWORK – Prepare to Ride

SOILWORK – Prepare to Ride

These are glorious times for Sweden’s Soilwork. Establishing themselves as one of the premiere bands in the melodic death/thrash metal scene through landmark work such as "The Chainheart Machine" and "Natural Born Chaos", they really hone in on their strengths from album to album in terms of melody and aggression to create a songwriting cache to behold.

The new album "The Ride Majestic" is another outstanding creation – exploring everything from black metal-ish nuances, different harmonization techniques and the dual clean/ extreme vocals of Björn ‘Speed’ Strid while maintaining the Soilwork sound we’ve come to know and love. Amidst all of the changes within the band and business end of things, it seems like the sextet are rising above in a stronger, resilient manner – and the fan base reaps the rewards.

Calling from his Sweden homebase one recent Monday afternoon, this half hour chat flew by as ‘Speed’ Strid tackles talk of the new record, membership changes, securing newer management, as well as his numerous guest appearances outside of his Soilwork duties. And be sure to spin "The Ride Majestic" as often as you can… it’s a barnburner for sure.

You recently had to deal with long time bassist Ola Flink stepping away from the band, and adding Markus Wibom. How difficult has this been for the band and you personally, especially given his steady presence through the years?

"It was pretty rough. Especially with everything going on, he disappeared for three months and we could not get ahold of him until about two weeks before entering the studio. We had a Skype meeting with him and he said he was not feeling this anymore, he didn’t feel motivated. I guess we could see it coming because the latest tours we’ve done he’s been really on or off- sometimes he was on fire on stage and when he was on fire he’s such an incredible player and performer. Sometimes he looked really depressed, standing in a corner on stage and not wanting to interact with anybody. It’s been a long journey, and I don’t think he had any dreams of becoming a professional musician. He came to a point where he had to choose what to do, and he’s the working class man who wants to get up in the morning and have routines. The older you get, the more routines will be important in your life. It was a natural step for him and it must have been a really hard decision because we’ve had so much fun through the years- he was there since the beginning and he really became a bass player overnight. Peter and I asked him if he wanted to join, and he told us he was a guitar player but he decided what the hell- so that’s really how it happened.

I felt hopeless at first- it felt wrong and weird to replace Ola. I was doing some thinking and then Markus popped up in my head. That would be interesting, I knew he played bass guitar and keyboards, I just didn’t know how well. He has been with the band as a tech before on tour, he’s a great person, a similar personality, such a character. He’s a great person overall, we just needed to know if he could play bass or not. So we gave him two months to rehearse and then we did three shows in Scandinavia this spring and he nailed it. We can be excited again which is great because it did feel pretty hopeless for a while there. I will always miss Flink but we know Markus can definitely fill his shoes for sure."


No rest for the weary, as the new album "The Ride Majestic" hits the streets six months after your "Live in the Heart of Helsinki" double effort. Did you feel a renewed sense of creativity for this studio record, as it seems to really push at all of the dynamic abilities within the band?

"It may have seemed like we’ve been busier than we’ve really been, because the live album is an extension of the DVD that was a part of the European tour we were doing at the time. That was going to be the last show, so we knew it was going to be caught on tape as a DVD shoot. We just did the show and then it was up to the video editors to put it together. It wasn’t effortless but it was kind of about the show. After that we focused on the new album – we started writing the new album around September of last year after we made the decision to change management because we were running into a lot of problems with them as well. We hoped that we could have toured a lot more for "The Living Infinite", but we hit a wall with the management and we were kind of fed up with it. We focused on the new album and channeled all those emotions into the songwriting.

I guess we got a little frustrated because we felt very happy with "The Living Infinite" and how it turned out. We only did one North American tour, one European tour, and one Australian tour and that was about it. We expected it to be a hell of a lot more. There was so much chaos going on with the management that we just decided to focus on writing a new record instead. As you said, there is some interesting material- the extreme parts are very extreme, the softer parts are even a little bit softer when compared to the last album. How that came about it’s really hard to say – especially during the songwriting and the studio recording we experienced a lot of tragedy. There were four deaths within the band during the songwriting and the actual recording which was very rough. That was one way of dealing with it as well. The album is very melancholic, and I feel it made us channel those emotions, going through all that hardship- first with the management and then with all the tragedy within our families. I had to leave in the middle of the studio sessions to say goodbye to my grandmother, she was 94 years old at the time. She lived a long, good life- but she was absolutely one of my best friends, and a very hard time for me. I think I channeled my emotions into the vocal recordings as well."

Some of my favorite moments on the record include the insane, almost black metal-ish guitar parts and speed throughout "The Phantom", "Alight in the Aftermath", as well as closer "Father and Son Watching the World Go Down". Can you elaborate a little more about the construction and thought processes behind these tracks?

"For example "Alight in the Aftermath" is a typical Sylvain song. He writes in a slightly different way for the band in comparison to say David. David is not doing a lot of chords, it’s more of a one string playing thing going on, his songs are pretty melancholic- Sylvain’s songs are pretty chaotic and I think it comes from his heritage, being in Scarve together with Dirk. For example that song it’s really chaotic but there are some unexpected moments in there as well. It’s not your average intro, verse, chorus, back to verse again, bridge, chorus, solo… the traditional pattern if you will. He’s very spontaneous and very emotional when he writes songs and it’s been a big challenge for me as a singer as well to step outside of my comfort zone. I was so used to writing songs with Peter and I think Peter was way more straightforward in his songwriting. So both Sylvain and David I think they really challenge me as a singer, and it has a big impact. You also mentioned "The Phantom", that was David who wrote that song. I remember when he showed me the first riff, it brought me back a little bit to the mid 90’s in the Swedish scene of Dissection and Dismember, I really loved how it sounded. I think we really put our own touch to it. I don’t think anybody would expect clean vocals after hearing that first riff kick in. It has a really nice and unique flow to it as well. We’ve found something new- I think it started with "The Living Infinite" and have it on this record. We put melodic vocals on some really unexpected parts and it wasn’t forced. To feel every riff out, and I think those two songs stand out. Some really nice twists and turns in them."


You seem to really push a lot of the clean parts to higher levels of strength and conviction on this record. Has your work in The Night Flight Orchestra given you that extra boost of confidence to be a multiple threat in the metal world between your natural extreme delivery and singing abilities?

"I would say so and I am glad that you are mentioning that. The Night Flight Orchestra is a completely different thing, its late 70’s rock and Dad rock as the people like to say. It’s a totally different thing and I have gained a lot of confidence as a singer to pull that off and as a result I’ve found new ways to express myself. It has given me a lot, especially live it is way easier for me to switch from screaming vocals to cleans and all the stuff in between. This did really inspire me to take this to Soilwork as well and find new ways there to express myself as a singer."

When looking at the career arc of Soilwork, what do you consider some of the landmark moments or benchmarks where you knew that the band elevated itself to another level in terms of respect amongst your peers or popularity/ respect from the fans sake?

"I guess it started the first time we came to Japan, and I think a lot of bands would mention Japan as being the first kind of landmark. We came to Japan at a very early stage in our career, back on the first album we were on a small label but before that we did a two week tour with Brazilian band Krisiun through Europe and then we got to come to Japan – this must be going somewhere and we must be doing something right. Entering the studio and recording "Natural Born Chaos" was the next big landmark, very inspirational to have Devin Townsend there as well to produce. I developed a lot from that experience. I think that album was ahead of its time, it affected a lot of American metalcore bands that came later in the 2000’s. We blended melody and intense riffing in a way that was pretty unique at the time with the switch between the clean and screaming vocals in a different way. That was a big one as well, and writing "The Living Infinite" and the challenge that it was, doing a double record that was huge. We really rediscovered ourselves as songwriters through that album to find something new, and I think you can really hear that on the new album as well."

How do you feel about touring this deep into the band’s career? What to you creates the best atmosphere for a memorable performance?

"Touring is different today. In the beginning you are obviously super stoked and could drink every day, just being drunk 24/7 and not having any kind of hangovers whatsoever. Some people can still do this today, but I know I can’t. It’s a different way of touring, you can’t stay up all night and drink shots with the fans until 4 in the morning anymore. I have a little bit of a pre-party before the show and then I go on stage and have a blast. I’m really happy that it’s not this business machine, we enjoy doing this. Some nights are harder than others, especially if you do a nine week tour in North America with only two days off, which we did for "The Living Infinite". That was really rough, the last week I had to force myself to get up there on stage. We would rather do things in a month or six week blocks, more reasonable length of touring."


Gaining management services from Chuck Billy’s Breaking Bands LLC, do you hope this stabilizes the business end of things for Soilwork given your struggles with previous management that’s been talked about in earlier interviews?

"Yeah, I really hope so. I can already see a change, it feels way better. Also having Chuck Billy involved, which is a good old friend of mine, and he’s been a fan of the band the whole time and really supportive. It feels really good having Jon Zazula, such a name with so much experience on board as well. These are really big names, and everything is way more organized. We’ve made some really poor decisions business-wise, especially with management in the past. It’s looking like everything is going to change, we’ve created a really good album and we have the right management so hopefully things are going to look up a bit."

Will there be any special performances or releases to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band?

"That is a very good question. I guess we could consider next year to be… some of us claim that we started the band near the end of 1995, which I think it was- but some of us say it was the beginning of 1996. We haven’t really discussed anything about the 20 year anniversary, but we should do something. The DVD was a pretty nice way of summing up our career, we should do something else like a special show."

Any chance the band will pull out more ‘surprise’ older material on this next tour, as you did for "The Living Infinite"?

"I think so. I really feel like we need to go through the set list because we have so many songs, there are ten albums and there are a few songs that we’ve been playing for a very, very long time. I actually went through each and every album and all the songs on there, and there are a bunch of songs that we’ve never played live that I would love to play live. I think "The Crestfallen" would be a perfect song to add to the set list for an example."

You’ve made a number of guest appearances through the years on albums by Terror 2000, Coldseed, and Disarmonia Mundi beyond your normal work. How do you pick and choose where to offer your assistance, as I would imagine you get more offers than you could possibly take on?

"I do get a lot of offers. I just try to see the overall picture, if it’s something that I enjoy. It’s really hard to say if there’s a certain style that I would prefer compared to others. As long as it’s a little bit of a challenge, it’s fun. For example I got a request from this art-rock band from New York, and I thought to myself ‘why would they want to have me on their record?’ because it was a completely different music style. But I guess they like Soilwork, and stuff like that is way more fun than a band that sounds exactly like Soilwork or if it’s highly inspired by Soilwork I would say."


What sort of goals or ambitions do you set in terms of your musical endeavors? Is there anything specific left to accomplish on your bucket list?

"It’s hard to say. I want to be playful when it comes to writing music and to me it’s not really about creating a hit anymore. Not that we’ve always been focused on that- I think I’ve found new ways of writing catchy music. I love catchy music and working with melodies- I have to thank Dave and Sylvain coming into the band, it’s a different way of writing songs that helps me step out of my comfort zone. That made me have more of a spontaneous approach to writing music. I’m really proud of the band for creating something still interesting and you can tell that we are still having a lot of fun writing songs. We like it, it’s not based on something that we used to do or trying to re-create "Natural Born Chaos" because that album stands out and a favorite among a lot of fans."

How do you feel about the ability of many Swedish musicians to navigate different genres of metal (or different genres of music in general) and still make everything come out from the heart convincingly? What special attributes does it take for people like yourself, Michael Amott, Sharlee, and Dan Swano to name a few to pull this off?

"That is a very good question. Like you mention, comparing the scene today, the Scandinavian / Swedish scene to the mid 90’s where just about every band sounded very similar, it’s completely different. We have In Flames doing their thing, Dark Tranquillity doing their thing, Arch Enemy who have more of a traditional approach to it, and then we have Soilwork who have developed our music all the way since day one. We’ve been true to our old sound and where we came from, but it’s always a matter of growing up with the band. We started the band when I was 17 and now I’m 37, so there are a lot of things that happened in my private life and time as well as me changing as a person. I think everybody can agree with that happening for others as well.

It’s hard to say how you find that unique recipe of creating something interesting. One of the reasons why we create something interesting is we never really plan anything- we don’t sit down and say to ourselves ‘how should the new album sound?’ or what we need to do to make things sound like Soilwork. We come from different background so it’s one of the reasons why we have managed to create something pretty unique."


Set the record straight: if stuck on a desert island and you could only choose one album to listen to, would your favorite be Judas Priest’s "Killing Machine" or Iron Maiden’s "The Number of the Beast"?

"Oh… that’s a tough one! I think I would say Maiden because it has a very special place in my heart. It was the first album that I bought. I’m a very nostalgic person sometimes and the melodies inspire me to that connection I have with music from my childhood. A lot of people can relate to that, so that’s why this album has a special place even though I love "Killing Machine" as well. I discovered that one a little bit later."

How do you feel about the proliferation of social media? Does it bother you that there’s less mystery about bands and their activities in comparison to the pre-internet era?

"It’s a very fast way of reaching our fan base, it’s incredible. At the same time just like you mentioned, all the thrill is gone. It’s not really the same anymore, everyone is doing playthroughs of their album in the studio and the fans get to see everything that is going on in the studio. There are no secrets, it’s all in the open- which I think is pretty boring if you ask me. At the same time, it’s a good way of having the fans be a part of the whole thing. If you would ask me, I would prefer to have things the way it used to be back in the old days."

How are the next 12 months shaping up for Soilwork activities? I would imagine a lot of touring across mainland Europe and abroad?

"Yes, we are going to start on a North American tour together with Soulfly, and I believe we have three weeks off and then do a headlining tour across Europe. That will take us all the way to Christmas, and then there are plans at the beginning of the year that are not 100% confirmed yet, so I can’t really give that away. I wish I could… we will be busy- and hopefully get to visit South America for the first time. I can’t believe we haven’t been there yet. Next summer, a lot of European festivals as well.