SOEN – A chat about good songs and wolves

SOEN – A chat about good songs and wolves

Soen’s 2017 tour with Madder Mortem as support act has ended on April 19th at John Dee venue in Oslo. I personally fell in love with Soen after the first few minutes of listening to their older albums, and while I still haven’t fully digested their latest release, Lykaia, I knew I wanted to get a chance to the band members a few questions, as I am very fascinated by their music.
Luckily, both Martin Lopez (drums) and Joel Ekelöf had the time and kindness to sit down with me in between the soundcheck and what probably became a very quick dinner. Below is a transcription of the chat we had, after I removed various interruptions and silent moments. And in retrospective, after watching the show in Oslo and knowing how the band tries to make each show unique, I felt a bit sad that I didn’t get the chance to watch any other of their concerts. I’ll surely remedy this on the next tour, as the performance was absolutely mesmerizing and it is very obvious how they do not make compromises in delivering a top quality experience. But until the chance to watch Soen live again arises, here’s the interview text and audio.

SOEN live @ John Dee – April 19, 2017
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)

Listen to the interview here

Or read it below


How do you actually pronounce the name of the band?

Martin: I heard some different pronunciations but [so-en] is how we pronounce it anyway

How did you decide that it should be pronounced like that?

Martin: If you write it and read it in Swedish/English somehow it comes out as that.

Joel: If you live in Holland, it’s more like ‘zun’

How’s the tour going? You’ve been out there for few weeks now? Sold out shows?

Martin: Really good. A lot of people going to the shows, really good shows. Feels like it made the band grow a bit

Is it your first headlining tour?

Martin: No, this is our thirds.

So you have the experience of a headliner and how to tackle the obstacles…

Martin: I think the obstacles are more if you’re an opening act. We have our own stage, our sound guy, our…everything which is made for that lineup. And you play for your own audience which also helps, when as an opening act it is a bit tougher

How do you guys spend the time on tour? Do you work on music or?

Joel: We do

Martin: We’re trying to do that and time kind of flies by. There’s other band related things to do, plus other from the personal life as well, so. Mainly we spend time writing and preparing for the show so that we can give the best performance

SOEN live @ John Dee – April 19, 2017
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)

It is very often that whenever people try to find information about you, you are described as a super group. It kinda gives the impression that people feel entitled to have expectations from you, do you feel any pressure from that point of view?

Joel: I also feel that there is a misconception that we were like a temporary project in the beginning, a gathering of famous musicians. But for us, it has been clear all the time that this is the main thing that we do. I don’t think that people perceive us as a super-group anymore. I think people are taking more notice that we are in this for the long run and that we will continue touring and writing albums.

But was there more pressure at the beginning because of this?

Martin: Most pressure comes from ourselves. We really press eachother to be the best that we can. I don’t think there’s any pressure from the outside that actually matters. I want to be able to write and release the best music that I can and everyone in the band has the same goal. If somebody from the outside feels like the music is not good enough, I couldn’t really care much. I think that we are the best judges to judge our music, because we know what we want to do and if we get there or not. Nobody else really knows that.

There are really good reviews of your latest release, Lykaia. In your opinion, what is its strongest part?

Joel: The strongest parts is probably that this album is more focused on emotions and personal experiences. I think it’s a stronger album in that sense. Maybe the technical side of things is not bothering us as much anymore, so we focus more on writing good music.

Martin: The songs flow better, the structure of the songs are better. We’re actually still learning how to write good songs, as the band is only at its third album so we’re still finding a way to structure songs in a manner that we think is both an adventure and flows nicely. We try to have all these complex parts, ups and downs and dynamics, but still have a song that you’re able to just play with an acoustic guitar and a voice and it’s still a good song. So mainly that’s what I think we progress the most on Lykaia, and we need progressing on.

Joel: I think progressive music should be more about a journey for the listener and the listener gets an experience out of it. That’s what is intriguing with progressive music, not just the technical aspect of it.

So, basically you are telling me – and I don’t want to re-arrange your words – but technicality is no longer the main focus?

Martin: It has never been. I don’t listen to music because of technically good musicians. It doesn’t honestly give me anything at all. I listen to good music and what I think is good music is what is played by good musicians, meaning there would be good stuff happening with the instruments and the vocals. But I also listen to music where the musicians are bad but they make good music. But I never listen to good musicians playing bad music, which is a lot of…

Let’s not get into details….One can say that you somehow went back in time when making this new album

Martin: It’s not like we went back to the 60s. We just recorded as we normally do, but instead of editing and using computers to reach some kind of digital perfection, we just went in and record like in a rehearsal place

So the equipment is not…then it is my misunderstanding..sorry

Martin: There is still a lot of old equipment too, but we do use a lot of modern one like microphones and stuff like that. We just record and don’t fix stuff with the computer, as if playing live

Joel: It’s just a philosophy that if you take away to post-edit everything, you have to challenge yourself much more as a musician, since it has to be right from the start and so it’s probably gonna be better. When you start to post-edit, you start to edit out all the human little…traits. Errors, if you like, but also what is beautiful.

SOEN live @ John Dee – April 19, 2017
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)

In the recording process then, when you record a song, do you do the whole band at once or?

Martin: No, it is instrument by instrument. We haven’t rehearsed that much either, so everyone needs his space to come up with how they want to sound on the album. But we have a plan of recording together in the future, let’s see

Does it make it easier to play the songs live, when you use this method?

Martin: Yes, we actually never had that problem because we never used any click tracks or backtracks or anything.

Joel: When it comes to the live experience, as he said, we never use anything pre-recorded, no backing tracks, because when you go to the show it will happen there, during the gig. It’s supposed to be like a unique thing. It shouldn’t be like the same thing every time.

Martin: You get a special show every night. It’s gotta be different, but if you’re depending on click tracks and everything else, half of the show is exactly the same in all shows. The song starts and ends exactly the same, there’s no room for human emotion, for changing, for doing drum fills and different guitar solos.

Joel: Even though we believe that the songs should sound about the same, they should not sound exactly the same. We do a lot of changes, small adjustments so that it will be unique when you come to the gig and hear the songs.

So there’s a lot of improvisation?

Martin: There is. We do have a structure to follow. And we might even change some of the structure but there’s a song you have to recognise because you want to hear that song. But it’s not like on the album, not like it will be tomorrow nor like it was yesterday.

Is there a certain person in the band deciding or leading the improvisation?

Martin: No, it’s a thing we do together. We’re experienced enough to go away from what’s written on the album and kind of find different…

How does that work with the voice parts?

Joel: If I find something that has a certain emotion, or mood, then I use it. At the same time, I generally like to keep to the vocal expressions on the album because I think that when I go to concerts, I like to hear something that reminds me of what it was on the album.

Are you guys musically trained or self educated?

Martin: Yes. Some more than others, but we all have studied music.

Does that help or make any difference in the way you write songs?

Martin: I think it helps up to a certain level and then for myself is better to skip and just teach yourself.

Joel: I’ve done some training, but on vocals it’s a bit special. They have a certain way of training and they want to mold you into a certain way of singing. But you know, you still want to keep your unique thing and it’s a bit of a give and take there.

When you put together an album, where do the lyrics come in? Is it the lyrics first and then the music or?

Martin: The music first.

And does one of you write the lyrics or is it a mixed process?

Joel: Both

Martin: We both write the music and both write the lyrics

What I’m trying to get to is that you have songs where you almost follow the classic patterns of lyrics with verses and choir, but it’s also often that you go away from that. And it takes some time to get used to such arrangements…

Martin: I have this feeling that if a song needs to have a lot of different stages in order for it to be completed. For me, to write a song that has a too easy structure and is too catchy, then it doesn’t feel complete. So we will go on and on again until we are satisfied with the song having a little bit of intelligence to it more than just refrain/chorus/refrain/chorus. Mostly it’s just that. We sit around and we go through a hundred or million times before we feel that a song is complete and ready to be released.

SOEN live @ John Dee – April 19, 2017
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)

How easy was it for you to grow to the level that you headline your own tours?

Martin: It’s hard to answer. We’ve just done a few albums, got the offer to do a headlining tour and we took it and we’ve been doing the same since then. Guess we are getting bigger with every tour, more people are coming to the shows…

How much work is it behind this?

Martin: It depends what you mean by work. The only work-work that we do is making the music that we make.

There is much more than that as far as I know, lots of paperwork…

Martin: No, we focus on the music and doing a really good live show that attracts people and brings people back to the venue to see the show. Ourselves, we don’t do any promotion or anything like that. We let the music speak for ourselves

And that works…

Martin: It does…It certainly does. I mean, what’s the point in changing ourselves into being clowns and such in order to bring some people to the shows? We don’t need that. We are a serious band with quality music that I think music lovers should see live. And that’s what we offer. There’s a lot of people out there still interested in this kind of music and that brings them to the venues.

Joel: When we go out on tours, we don’t perform under the influence. We try to stay professional, we try to respect that the audience comes to see a band that is giving everything on stage. We try to surround us with good people, we try to be loyal to the people that work with us so they end up being loyal to us. That’s one aspect.

The band pictures or images…they have a certain mood to them. It’s not necessarily sadness, more like solitude..

Martin: The thing is that we’re not clowns and not fooling around like other bands, showing to the world what they have in their fridge and such. Our image is ourselves. That’s how we look when we walk around in Stockholm and if we gather and somebody takes a picture, that’s what you get. It not a whole planning of an image or how we can sell more records, it’s exactly the way we are.

And who decides these pictures then?

Martin: We don’t decide. It’s more like ‘Ok, let’s go and take some band pictures’.

They look very…much more than that.

Martin: We may decide where to take them…

Joel: Maybe the point is that we’ve been working with this for a long time and we’re not 20 years old anymore. For us it just goes without saying what we like. We don’t need to have this grand master plan for things, regarding this.

Martin: It’s just common sense. We’re not gonna take pictures in the laundromat.

I’ve read an interview with you, Joel, saying that you are captivated by the role played by the wolves in the human character. What exactly do you mean by that?

Joel: The wolf, I would say, represents in a human character the solitary nature of humans, and maybe also the predatory nature. It’s fascinating to think of these aspects of humans.

Which part do you like to see in humans first? The predator or…?

Joel: actually none of them. You could look at wolves and dogs. The dog just follows, it just a follower. The wolf strays away. But maybe you should follow your own path and try to listen to your heart, inner mind and try to make up your own senses and not just stray away like the wolf does. The wolf is a destructive nature. The dog is also kind of destructive because the dog just follows and makes it possible for wolf-like natures to exist. So what you should do is to find the middle way there. Follow your own voice and not just go with the stream. That is actually a subject that we come back to in our songs and write about following your own light, your own path.