Interview By Lord of The Wasteland
**Live Pics By Lord of The Wasteland; all others courtesy Soilwork.org
Helsingborg, Sweden?s Soilwork are among the most prolific and popular bands of the last few years. In their relatively short seven year existence, the band has released six albums under critical praise and made a name for themselves on North American shores with 2002?s NATURAL BORN CHAOS. Extensive touring and label support has exposed the band to many different audiences and the push is on for the latest Soilwork platter, STABBING THE DRAMA, to infiltrate the metal masses when it is released on March 8th.
A recent U.S. transplant, Soilwork guitarist/founder, Peter Wichers, called me to discuss the new CD, the band?s drummer problems and his thoughts on headlining their first American tour.
STABBING THE DRAMA doesn?t hit stores until March 8th, but have there been a lot of reviews popping up on sites like ours for it yet?
I try not to read a lot of reviews but you tend to read the ones that are really good. Feedback has been really good and people seem to like the album. I think that might have to do with the fact that it?s a more versatile album. There are some fast songs?one that is faster than we have ever, ever done before?but there are some parts that are very melodic, more so than we have ever done before, too. It?s a very dynamic record.
You must be talking about ?Blind Eye Halo? when you refer to the heaviest song the band has ever done?
Yeah, that?s the one. It?s the heaviest track we?ve ever done.
And I guess the other side of the spectrum would be a track like, ?Nerve,? which could almost be considered a power ballad (laughs)!
(Laughs) Yeah?a power ballad with double bass drums all over it!
Did the band approach this record any differently than you did with FIGURE NUMBER FIVE?
The writing process was a lot more spontaneous. When we wrote, we didn?t think as much as we did on FIGURE NUMBER FIVE. With FIGURE NUMBER FIVE, we wanted the songs to all sound, not identical, but kind of like if you have a red line running all through the album, you know? One thing that got lost in that was the dynamics. Even though that?s a great album, I still think that this one?we just kind of went for it and didn?t care if things were too fast, or too heavy, or too soft.
A lot of people said that FIGURE NUMBER FIVE seemed rushed. Do you think this had something to do with the fact that it lacks a certain dynamic within the songs?
We had a little LESS time with STABBING THE DRAMA, actually! We?d been touring right up until the summertime and then we hit the studio in August, so that was not a lot of time to write. We wrote a little bit in between tours, too. People really wanted us to tour more for NATURAL BORN CHAOS in the U.S. but we kind of wanted to get back in the studio because we had the songs written and wanted to record them.
It had been mentioned in past interviews that some of your albums have a central lyrical theme running through them. FIGURE NUMBER FIVE was supposed to be against big corporations and that sort of thing. Was this the case again with STABBING THE DRAMA?
Well, lyrically, you?ll have to talk to Bjorn [Strid, vocals] because I don?t really know what exactly he was going for. I do know that he puts a lot of his own personal experiences into the lyrics and give them a deeper meaning.
There seems to be more of a focus on guitars on this record, too, whereas the past two records really had a dominant keyboard sound to them. Did the band try to move away from the keyboards this time?
No, not really. I wrote eight songs out of twelve and I told Sven [Karlsson], the keyboard player, to just do whatever he wanted to do. On the other albums, I knew exactly what I wanted so I told him what to do, but this album is probably the most group effort we have ever done. Everyone was free to do what ever they wanted and that really shows on the album because there is a lot of stuff that you have never heard from Soilwork before.
How do you and Sven split up the songwriting? He wrote about half of the tracks on FIGURE NUMBER FIVE and you did the other half but you say that it?s more like a 70/30 split on the new CD.
Everybody in Soilwork can write music so whoever writes the best ones, they end up on the album. We write a lot of demo stuff back home on computers and then we show it to the rest of the guys. Then we all decide which we want to have on the record.
Were there a lot of songs that were written for STABBING THE DRAMA that didn?t make the cut?
There are probably another six ideas?not full songs?that we didn?t use. I wasn?t really happy with them anyway.
STABBING THE DRAMA has a very clean, polished sound. Not as much as the last two records, but still very nice work. I notice that you went back to using an outside producer, Daniel Bergstrand, on STABBING THE DRAMA after self-producing FIGURE NUMBER FIVE. Why did you choose not to handle it yourselves again?
We wanted to have a different sound when it came to the mixing. We didn?t mix the last album ourselves but we did produce it. We really like what Daniel did for Meshuggah, In Flames and Strapping Young Lad. He did a lot of good work there and we really wanted to work with him. He mixed the new record, too.
Did Bjorn come up with the title for STABBING THE DRAMA?
Yeah, he did. He has a different explanation than I do but I said we should have a title that should represent the stuff that we?ve been going through, like having two drummers leave the band since FIGURE NUMBER FIVE and a lot of the torment that went with that whole process, so Bjorn came up with the title and I thought it was really catchy. It really suits my state of mind for when I was writing. All this turmoil went into the writing and I think that?s why some of the songs are really heavy on this one.
Who did the cover art?
It was the guitar player from a band called Mnemic from Denmark. He?s an artist, as well?
Was it Mircea Gabriel Eftemie?
Yeah, that?s him! He has a lot of stuff going on and a long line of artwork to choose from. We wanted something really clean that people will see and that will look good on merchandise because the kids want something that looks cool on a t-shirt.
I?ve heard from a few people who are comparing the cover art of STABBING THE DRAMA to Metallica?s ST. ANGER (laughs)!
(Laughs) I haven?t heard that yet but I can see that, yeah!
The one thing that was obvious to me even the first time I heard the CD was that Bjorn has really developed his range. The clean vocals have a whole new dynamic to them but the heavier vocals really crush, too. Has he been working on his voice at all since the last album?
Not more than being married to a Japanese girl and doing a lot of karaoke (laughs)! He spent a lot of time in Japan and was doing that. Actually, he just likes to sing! Even when he doesn?t sing metal, he?ll just go up there and sing some random song just to try to broaden his way of singing.
The one song on the new CD that really stands out for me vocally is ?The Crestfallen.? Bjorn goes from the death vocals, to clean vocals to almost crooning at one point in the middle there and it really showcases his voice!
Definitely. I think so, too.
Plus he?s got that new haircut on the back of the CD (laughs)!
(Laughs) Oh no?he shaved it off again (laugsh)!
You mentioned earlier the fact that Soilwork has had two drummers leave the band since FIGURE NUMBER FIVE was recorded. Henry Ranta released a statement when he left that explained his reasons for leaving the band and everything seemed amicable but Richard Evensand?s departure was a lot quieter. Was it a surprise to the band since he had only been behind the kit for about six months or did you see it coming?
Well I won?t go into details but, no, I didn?t see it coming at all, actually. I don?t?.it?s one thing to be home and practice and everything?s fine but once you get out on the road and start being in a confined area like a tour bus, you can?t really?the slightest problem can become the biggest one, believe me. We didn?t really click on the personal level so we decided to part ways and we wish him all the best with all of his projects. It was just not meant to be.
Have you heard the Demonoid record that he played on?
Yeah I have. He?s a phenomenal drummer but there?s a little bit more to it than that when you?re in a band. When you?re on tour, 90% of your time is spent waiting.
For the recording sessions of STABBING THE DRAMA, you got Dirk Verbeuren from the French band, Scarve, to play drums. Is he going to be a permanent member of Soilwork or was he just a session player?
We don?t really know yet. We don?t want to pressure anybody so if he wants to be a member of the band, he will have to say so himself. He has been working with Scarve for ten years now and they?re doing pretty well so I wouldn?t force him but we?re just glad to have him play with us. He?s a phenomenal drummer and an amazing personality.
How did you end up recruiting him for the studio position?
Once Richard left the band, I just gave Dirk a call. I knew he was a Soilwork fan and I asked him if it was possible for him to do the European tour and he said yes right on the spot that he would do it, so he flew up and we started rehearsing. He really fit into the band. The first time was kind of weird but it?s always weird when you have someone else filling in and playing your stuff because they always put their trademark on it but he is definitely an awesome drummer.
Will he be touring with the band when you guys head over to North America in April?
Yeah, he?ll be doing the U.S. tour for sure.
Soilwork has toured with a lot of American bands and spent a fair bit of time over here and there seems to be a bit of an influence on STABBING THE DRAMA perhaps from some of those bands. I hate to use the word ?nu-metal? but there are some downtuned guitars on the title track and some other hints of the American sound. Were you influenced at all by these bands or the sounds popular in the States now?
I think it?s the opposite, if I?m correct! I don?t know which ones you?re referring to but the only really good band that I like is Killswitch Engage. We might have been inspired by them but I don?t think anybody else. A lot of them take credit for saying the ?New Wave of American Heavy Metal? is something they invented but it?s actually a lot of the Swedish stuff being recycled. That?s what I think.
Do you have a hope of pursuing the North American audience more than ever with STABBING THE DRAMA?
The label is really behind us in the States this time so we?ll see how it goes. We love touring in the States but we can?t know for sure until we get over there and do the tour. It?s a big market and it?s a lot of fun, too.
This tour is one that I am personally looking forward to: Soilwork, Dark Tranquillity, Hypocrisy and Mnemic. Are you guys nervous at all since this is your first headlining tour in the U.S.?
We did Europe and we saw how that went but I can?t say I?m nervous. I?m excited and I can?t wait though because it?s not a day too soon. We?ve always wanted to headline the States ourselves and this is a really good package.
Are there going to be anymore dates added because I was a bit disappointed there wasn?t a Vancouver date on the schedule?
Sometimes it?s difficult to go into Canada. It?s always with the merchandise because the customs people charge you up the ass with taxes. You can lose a lot of money if you don?t sell well so sometimes it?s an aspect of that but I hope to see some of the true fans down in Seattle on April 12th!
I?m going to try to get there for it! Do you have a setlist put together yet?
(Laughs) Oh God no! We haven?t even started on that one yet! That?s going to be really tough but it will definitely be a good one. It?s so hard to choose now! We?ll be doing about an hour and fifteen minutes I think, but it depends on the place if you can go backstage or not for us to do an encore. Otherwise we?ll just do all the songs in a row.
Do you have an idea of which songs from STABBING THE DRAMA will be played or even which ones you want to play?
We?ll definitely play the title track. Everybody has favorites but we?ll probably do faster ones like ?Stalemate? and ?Blindeye Halo? to get people all pumped up.
Is there anything finalized for after the U.S. tour finishes?
We?re off in May and then we have all the European summer festivals in June. After that, we MIGHT be doing the Ozzfest. We?re not sure yet but we might be. After that, we?ll do Europe, Australia and Japan.
Is there anywhere that you have yet to play that you would really like to go?
South America. I hear it?s great but we haven?t gotten an offer yet and I?ve heard that a lot of the promoters there are really sketchy, too, and will rip you off. Management takes care of all that stuff but we haven?t found a really good promoter to get us down there yet.
Is Soilwork big enough now that the band members are able to devote themselves to it full-time or is there still a need to keep a regular job?
Soilwork is the main focus right now and it takes up so much of your time that it?s hard to keep a daytime job but if I could find a small job where I could take time off to tour, I?d probably do that. Soilwork pays all right but you don?t get rich playing the style of music that we do. We just love the music.
I read that you have already filmed a video for the title track of STABBING THE DRAMA. Can you explain what the video is about?
It?s a performance video but it?s mostly Bjorn that you see. The main story involves blowing up a lot of cars with fire and explosions and shit. You?ll enjoy it! It will probably air a couple weeks before the album comes out in the States.
A term that will forever be a part of the heavy metal lexicon is ?The Gothenburg Sound.? Most of the bands that are still active have moved away from the characteristics of that sound and on to other things but would you say that Swedish bands got away from that because it became such a ?trend,? for lack of better term, or did it just sort of fizzle out as the bands? themselves grew and matured?
Well, we?re from the south and Gothenburg is about two hours away but Sweden is a small country and there is a lot of pride taken if you are from the north or the south or wherever. It doesn?t exist anymore because people tried to break away from it and do something else although what started the whole thing?At The Gates and In Flames?really took off when those two bands got rolling. Especially in Europe. It was way bigger there before it came over to North America. It?s been popular in Europe for over ten years but it just got really popular in the States a couple years ago. I think it?s an old term that should be laid to rest because everybody tries to stay away from that sound now.
Do you think Soilwork has finally found their ?true sound? on STABBING THE DRAMA?
Whew! You never know. It?s always progressing and always changing. It was NATURAL BORN CHAOS where we first said that this is the sound we are looking for. That was when it really took off, I think. We found an identity and it really took off in Canada and in the States so we got comfortable with the sound we had.
One thing Soilwork is known for is the use of melodies in the music. When you are writing a song, do you have the melody in your head and write the heavier parts around it or vice versa?
It depends. Sometimes you?ll have a very heavy song or a heavy riff and you kind of build around it then you come to the chorus and the middle parts and you try to be a bit mellower but it really depends what kind of mood you?re in. Sometimes I?ll record a chorus and then the other parts are added in after. It?s very rare that I write a song all the way through. I?ll write some and then go work on something else for a few days and then come back to it.
How do you and Ola [Frenning, guitar] split up the leads?
We sit down and we see which parts we like better. If there?s one we both like, we?ll just flip coins for it (laughs).
With six CDs in seven years, how do you keep the energy levels up and the creative juices flowing when there is so little time between albums?
I just have a burning passion for the music and I know that one day, I might not be able to write anymore when I lose my inspiration. You?re supposed to forge the steel while it?s still hot and that?s pretty much what we?re doing.
So do you already have the next CD written (laughs)?
(Laughs) Oh yeah! We already have 25 songs and it will be a double CD (laughs)!! No we haven?t got that far ahead. We?re probably going to feel this one out for a long time and see what happens.
Last year, the band released the EARLY TRACKS MCD which contained some early tracks. Is there anything else in the ?Soilwork vaults? that will be released or have you got everything out?
That?s pretty much it. We have a lot more bonus tracks now for Japan and stuff like that that might get released but nothing from the old era. I?m pretty happy with the EARLY CHAPTERS release. It?s things that people have been asking for so we thought it would be a cool thing to get out there.
You covered Mercyful Fate and Deep Purple on there but is there any other bands or songs that you?d like to give the Soilwork treatment to?
When the time is right, we might actually do an ABBA song but we don?t know yet. It wouldn?t be one of those up-tempo, happy songs. It would be a bit more melodic and sad one, but we?ll see.
ABBA is an, um, ?interesting? choice (laughs)! Not another Slayer or Metallica cover at least!
(Laughs) Yeah, I know it?s kind of an odd choice but they?re Swedes, too, you know?
How do you find the time in a day to appear on the CDs of other bands like Darkest Hour and Terror 2000 when you?re so busy with Soilwork?
There?s a lot of time off between the tours and some of that stuff I did just because we happened to be in the studio. They asked, so I did it. That was the case when I did the Darkest Hour album but the Terror 2000 thing was more ?Terror 2000 and Friends.? I?d love to do stuff like that all the time if it?s stuff I like. It?s just fun for me to do.
The title track of the new CD appears on the soundtrack to the new film ALONE IN THE DARK. Was this a label decision to put Soilwork on there or how did you get involved with the project?
They approached the label because someone who worked in the movie really liked Soilwork so they asked if they could put one of our songs on it. We?re not going to turn down an offer like that!
Are there plans for a live album or a DVD?
We might do a DVD. We just got a video camera because we?re lazy (laughs). We have some really old clips from the beginning of the Soilwork era. We have a really good show from Tokyo, Japan last year that we might release because it was such a great time but we?ll see.
And how are things going with Nuclear Blast? This is album number five now with them?
They?re treating us really good. They believe in this record a lot so hopefully it will do really well and live up to everybody?s expectations. If it doesn?t?well, we just do our thing.
Well, good luck with STABBING THE DRAMA, Peter, and hopefully I?ll see you down in Seattle on April 12th!
Thanks a lot, man! See you there!
Soilwork U.S. Tour
(with HYPOCRISY, DARK TRANQUILLITY, MNEMIC)
04/05/05 BUFFALO, NY – The Buffalo Icon
04/06/05 CHICAGO, IL – House Of Blues
04/07/05 MILWAUKEE, WI – The Eagles Club
04/08/05 LAWRENCE, KS – Granada Theatre
04/09/05 ENGLEWOOD, CO – Gothic Theatre
04/10/05 SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Lo-Fi Caf?
04/12/05 SEATTLE, WA – Graceland
04/14/05 SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The Pound
04/15/05 ANAHEIM, CA – House Of Blues
04/16/05 HOLLYWOOD, CA – The Key Club
04/17/05 TEMPE, AZ – Marquee Theatre
04/19/05 AUSTIN, TX – The Back Room
04/20/05 HOUSTON, TX – Engine Room
04/22/05 WINSTON-SALEM, NC – Ziggy?s
04/23/05 PHILADELPHIA, PA – Trocadero
04/26/05 ATLANTA, GA – Masquerade
04/27/05 ORLANDO, FL – The Social
04/29/05 WEST SPRINGFIELD, VA – Jaxx
04/30/05 HARTFORD, CT – Webster Theater
05/01/05 NEW YORK, NY – B.B. Kings Blues Club
05/03/05 QUEBEC CITY, QC – Le Capitole Theatre
05/04/05 MONTREAL, QC – The Medley
05/05/05 TORONTO, ON – Opera House
05/06/05 CLEVELAND, OH – The Odeon
05/07/05 DETROIT, MI ? Harpo?s Concert Theatre
**Thanks to Hannah at Nuclear Blast Records for arranging the interview.
**Visit Soilwork?s official site
**Read all the Metal Rules reviews of Soilwork CDs