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Soilwork


The Gauntlet: Alright. To start things off in a fairly typical fashion, how’s the tour going so far? I know you guys have been on the road a bit now…

Peter Wichers: It’s very cold, and started out kind of rough in the beginning, but recently it’s really started to pick up. We’re all getting more accustomed to the different routines of every day, but it’s going well. We’re having fun.

The Gauntlet: And what about the early going was rough?

Peter Wichers: Ah, well. Just super cold and not a lot of people at the first couple venues. But then everything changed.

Gauntlet: Picking up steam, as it were?

Wichers: Yeah, yeah.

Gauntlet: About the cold thing: last week or so it was almost 60 degrees—so about 15 celsius?—and we had this spell of spring. But before that it was pretty much subzero. And during that time I’d keep looking back and forth between the weather in Chicago and the weather in Stockholm and was pretty upset that it would be colder here than in Sweden. It just doesn’t seem right.

Wichers: Yeah.

Gauntlet: So, it still seems cold for you guys, despite being from a country that people usually consider frosty and northern?

Wichers: Well, I live over here, but I actually live much more south. So I’m not really accustomed to this weather anymore. But I would say that, probably. Cleveland was miserable.

Gauntlet: Yeah (laughs).

Wichers: It was so fucking cold. You walked out of the door and the wind felt like someone had those little tiny nails and was just throwing them in your face. That’s what it felt like. And you don’t really get that in Sweden unless you go further north. The south is, I’d say, more like Seattle. So it gets kind of cold, but it’s more overcast. It snows a little bit, but has more rain, overall. That’s the weather that southern Sweden has. Stockholm definitely has a colder climate.

Gauntlet: Mm-hmm. Cleveland can be brutal, just sitting there next to the lake, so the winds can sweep across.

Wichers: Yeah, exactly. Well, Chicago I guess is a bit the same.

Gauntlet: Yeah. (pause) It can be rough

(Laughter)

Gauntlet: Now, I know that you guys have been here and Darkane have obviously been here as well. But have you guys been here as a collaborative package before?

Wichers: Yes. We did tour together three years ago with Strapping Young Lad and…

Christofer Malmström: (Lounging in a chair across the room, watching other band members trying to get the UFC match on Spike TV to come through) Fear Factory.

Wichers: Yes, Fear Factory, there you go.

Gauntlet: Ohhh, I had forgotten about that. I heard about it afterwards and hated myself for not going.

Wichers: That was a good package, yeah. We also shared a bus with Darkane back then. That was a fun tour, for sure.

Gauntlet: I imagine there’s a different dynamic, touring with guys who are also from Helsingborg, like your own clique.

Wichers: Yeah. We’ve known each other for so many years now, so I honestly don’t think that Soilwork could share a bus with anybody else, because we’d probably kill each other. But Darkane and Soilwork, we know each other so well, so it works out perfectly. We really love the guys in Darkane and we’re having a blast.

Gauntlet: Good, good. So, when the band formed, you were still living there, I imagine…

Wichers: Yeah, four years ago is when I moved over here.

Gauntlet: Ok. People always like to classify metal bands on the basis of what country they’re from, and Helsingborg is about as close as it gets to Denmark. So, when you guys were starting out, do you think that there was any sort of Danish metal influence in Soilwork?

Wichers: Mmm, I don’t know. Not really, because Denmark didn’t really have a huge metal scene at the time.

Gauntlet: And some would say they still don’t….

Wichers: Well, I disagree with that. They’ve got Raunchy, Mnemic, they’ve got Volbeat…. There are a bunch of bands coming out of Denmark now that definitely don’t sound like Swedish metal. But I think that at the time they did, so maybe that’s the reason why a lot of those bands didn’t get signed. I really don’t know. But we were really heavily into old rock, back in the day: Deep Purple, Judas Priest, everything 70s and 80s when we first started. And we progressed into something that’s a little more contemporary, or maybe—I hate to use the term modern, but we took what we had then and shaped it into what it is right now.

Gauntlet: Sure. Brought those influences together and spruced it up.

Wichers: Yeah, exactly.

Gauntlet: Alright. And this time around, fans are selecting the setlist. I know there’s been a bit of that in the past, but has it ever been a complete set?

Wichers: Not like this, no. It was actually Dirk who came up with the idea, because he was like, “I’ve always wanted to do that with my favorite band. I’ve always wanted to be able to pick the setlist. That would be a cool thing for the fans, since this is the last tour for ‘Sworn…’.” And, we always get complaints, you know, “Why didn’t you play this song!” So we say, alright, here’s your chance.

Gauntlet: (laughs) Put it in their hands.

Wichers: Exactly. So, we were willing to play everything, whether it was bonus tracks or whatever. But it seems that we were pretty dead on with what we were playing, because a lot of it is the singles and video songs that people were voting for. There were only a couple of songs that we’re going to play tonight that we don’t usually play live.

Gauntlet: Were there any tracks you were either hoping people would pick and they didn’t or were hoping they wouldn’t pick and they did?

Wichers: Ah--(thinking)—well, there was one song that I really thought was going to be on the playlist, but it never got up high enough. And I’m kind of happy about it, because it’s such an extremely complicated song for guitar. But I would have played it, you know. That was the thing. Everybody had a chance. It was just shocking that it was mainly what we were playing in the set, you know. I guess it’s a good way of saying that we pick a good set.

Gauntlet: Got your fingers on the pulse.

Wichers: Yeah, exactly.

Gauntlet: Which song was it that you’re talking about?

Wichers: ‘Grand Failure Anthem’.

Gauntlet: (thinking) Ok. Yeah, I can see that.

Wichers: That one is…somewhat intense.

(Laughter)

Gauntlet: I do have to ask what the response to the ‘Pittsburgh Syndrome’ is from the fans in Pennsylvania.

Wichers: That one, well…. We were playing Philadelphia and they were like, ‘Fuck Pittsburgh!’ There’s some animosity there, you know.

Gauntlet: (laughs) No surprise.

Wichers: I think the people in Pennsylvania—I have friends there—it feels like they think Pennsylvania circles around Philadelphia. But Pittsburgh was insane. I mean, they were really going crazy. We ended the whole set with that song and they were loving it. But then we played Cleveland and it was the same thing, We said, “Alright, we’re going to play a song that’s about a—”(interrupting himself)”Fuck Pittsburgh! It’s a shit town!”

(Laughter)

Wichers: But, overall, people seem to like that song a lot.

Gauntlet: Yeah, I remember the first time I heard it; it was a breath of fresh air. I wasn’t expecting something with that lyrical theme, or that glissando theme in the chorus. Interesting twist.

Wichers: Yeah.

Gauntlet: My impression is that you guys have been very successful in Sweden over the years, and seem to be making great progress in the American market more recently. As you’ve been coming up here, have you seen a change in your longtime fanbase in Sweden, either in their attitude towards you or the fanbase itself?

Wichers: There’s definitely a new crowd, I’ve noticed, that’s coming out to shows. You have the core that’s been around for such a long time, but now there’s a new generation that’s getting interested in Soilwork that might not be too familiar with the old stuff but really digs the new stuff. That would be the biggest change that I can see. But we still have those really loyal fans that have been around for a long time.

Gauntlet: Yeah. Just walking around downstairs, this looks like one of the most balanced audiences, in terms of age and gender, that I’ve seen in a while. Most of the time it’s the young, long-haired metal dudes, but tonight there are a lot of middle-aged folks. The younger teenage girl crowd is here as well, which is a bit of a surprise. It’s good to have that diversity.

Wichers: Yeah, it’s always nice to have that. That’s one of the things that’s most enjoyable, when you do a show.

Gauntlet: It’s cool for me, too, to finally get to see you guys. The previous times you’ve been here and when Darkane has been here, I’ve missed both of you guys for one reason or another. And right around ‘Natural Born Chaos’ and ‘Expanding Senses’—those albums were really critical in getting me into the scene, so it’s nice finally get to see you guys. (turns to Christofer Malmström, still lounging in his chair) My thanks to you over there as well.

Malmström: What’s that?

Gauntlet: (summarizes)

Malmström: Ah, the white albums.

Gauntlet: That’s right! That’s exactly it.

Malmström: Not intentional. (smiles)

Wichers: And then In Flames saw Darkane and Soilwork and was like, ‘We have to do a white album,’ (thumps leg with fist).

Gauntlet: They did! (laughs) So you guys have discussed this, I see?

Malmström: No, not really. We were all tired of the black and bloody stuff. But it didn’t work very well.

Gauntlet: A good change of pace, though.

Wichers: It might be time for another white album, maybe…I don’t know. We’ll see.

Gauntlet: I could see that. After the really intense color schemes you’ve been doing recently, it could work. Now, as one of the pioneering bands doing the clean and harsh vocal mix—obviously there are dozens of questions people have asked about this—but what most interests me is the songwriting. For you, do you really have to change your approach if you’re thinking, ‘This is a harsh section, this is a clean section. I can’t use this kind of voicing here, because he’s going to be singing a melody,’ and so forth?

Wichers: I think about that, yeah, I do. But at the same time, Björn is like, “Do something unexpected.” Sometimes he will do a screaming part over what I thought was going to be a melodic part. So I think we’re going to try to do something that’s less…obvious for the next one. Something that’s a little off the wall sometimes, but still done tastefully.

Gauntlet: Yeah. As one example, it seems that in the past few years, there’s been an uprising of sections with just blastbeats and people doing clean vocals over that.

Wichers: Mm-hmm, I love that.

Gauntlet: The new Opeth album did that—

Wichers: Oh, I love that album.

Gauntlet: The new Akercocke album, ‘Antichrist’, the new Gojira I think. Interesting technique. Be intriguing to see Soilwork try something like that.

Wichers: Well, we’re definitely excited about it as well. I was blown away when I heard the new Opeth record. That’s my favorite album of the year. So good.

Gauntlet: It actually brought me back into the fold. I fell off the wagon a bit with ‘Ghost Reveries’, but they really changed the pace with this one, a different feel.

Wichers: Yeah, yeah.

Gauntlet: On a similar bent, then. Obviously you guys are doing your own thing, but are there other vocalists that have a similar interaction with the music who have served to influence or give you a different perspective on the songwriting?

Wichers: Well, I don’t think a lot of people in the band listen to really extreme metal at all, aside from a few times now and then. There’re people who love Bruce Springsteen, people who like Kris Kristofferson…I’m talking every kind of style. But as far as being influenced, I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s something that you’re subconsciously influenced by, but you don’t really think about when you write, so that’s probably a question for Björn more than me.

Gauntlet: Turning to the new album a little bit: ‘Martyr’ and ‘Sovereign’, the Japanese bonus tracks. For Stateside fans that may not have heard them, what can you say about these songs?

Wichers: Well, it’s kind of difficult for me, because I did not participate on the last record, as I was out of Soilwork for three years.

Gauntlet: (laughs) A fair point.

Wichers: I just came back about six months ago, so that would probably be another question you’d have to ask Björn. I think he wrote ‘Martyr’, so you should ask him about it.

Gauntlet: I will, if I can get a hold of him.

Wichers: He’s right over there, so you can grab him when we’re done with this.

Gauntlet: To that end—coming back into the fold—how has been like what you’ve expected and how has it been unexpected?

Wichers: Ooh (thinking). The dynamic in the band is better now than it ever has been. I would say that’s what I feel, that we’re a very tight unit with no tension, and that the performance aspect of Soilwork is much better now than it ever has been before.

Gauntlet: I imagine there would be a cleansing period, you going away for a few years, and now coming back and approaching it with a fresh perspective. When you were away, you obviously did the Nuclear Blast Allstars, but otherwise were you developing new chops, taking a new approach to songwriting…?

Wichers: Well, it was one of those things that was a lot of fun, because you didn’t feel like you had to write in a certain mold. You could write any kind of music that you wanted to write. It’s still metal, I mean, but it was a very diverse in terms of the songwriting, which I would probably never be able to do with Soilwork. It was nice to get that out of my system, you know. Writing stuff for Jari from Wintersun and then writing a song for John Bush, who is one of my idols since I was young. The contrasts are huge on that record and that’s what I dig about it.

Gauntlet: Right, not having to write under that Soilwork name frees you up—

Wichers: Right, but it’s also one things where, you don’t get exactly jaded, but you’ll think, ‘Alright, how am I going to reinvent myself now?’ You do get a little like that sometimes. But I don’t know, with this lineup now it seems that we’re going to try to do something a little...“different” sounds strange, but we’re going to try to take the Soilwork sound to something it hasn’t been before.

Gauntlet: Have you articulated what that could be?

Wichers: I think we’re going to be a little more extreme, but still keep the spirit of ‘Stabbing…’ and ‘Natural….” I’m not saying it’s going to be a lot faster—some parts of it, maybe—but probably more technical.

Gauntlet: Hmm. I’m interested.

Wichers: Yeah! (laughs)

Gauntlet: With respect to that Nuclear Blast project—were there things that you learned about songwriting from that experience or working with those different vocalists? What was that experience really like?

Wichers: Yeah, it was fun, because I’d never really written for anyone else besides Björn. So it was fun to see what approach all these different singers had to the songs and the melodies that they came up with. All that has definitely been a learning curve for me.

Gauntlet: When you were away, did you feel possessive at all of what Soilwork were doing?

Wichers: No. Nope. When I quit I said, ‘I don’t want to follow the band anymore,’ because…why would I do that? I tried to distance myself from it, let them do their own thing. I tried to focus on doing my own thing.

Gauntlet: Seems to have worked out pretty well.

Wichers; Yeah. I felt it was the way to do it if I was going to focus on music production and other stuff like that.

Gauntlet: As you were talking about, the dynamic of this group and performance ability—it really does seem to be one of the best lineups. And you’ve been working with some really talented drummers over the past handful of years.

Wichers: Mm-hmm.

Gauntlet: Just listening to some tracks you guys have laid down, it’s interested to see how it’s gone from Henry [Ranta], you’ve worked with Richard [Evensand] for some live dates, and now it’s Dirk [Verbeuren]. It was actually the syncopated snare-work in ‘Sovereign’ that started me thinking about this. But going back and listening to some other songs, I didn’t hear as much of a drum presence as I’ve heard on a few select tracks. For this new album, do you think there will be a ramped-up percussive presence?

Wichers: Yeah. That’s one of the things I definitely wish for, because as I said, I do think ‘Sworn To A Great Divide’ is a good record, but I feel like it’s a little safe. And I feel that with a drummer like Dirk, he can stay so tasteful without taking away from the song, if that makes any sense. There are drummers who have to play a lot of shit that will interfere with the music, but Dirk isn’t like that. So, absolutely, that’s something that we can expect.

Gauntlet: Good, we’ll look forward to that. Are there different ways you’d approach songwriting knowing that drums will be more prominent?

Wichers: Well, I’m not saying that the drums will be the primary thing in the music. The song is the most important thing. Of course, you can listen to a song and say, ‘Well, that’s a great drummer,’ but the song may not be ‘there’. So I think that first the song has to be ‘there’, and then you can start adding layers of percussion, guitar melodies, vocal melodies, keyboards. It’s hard to say, man. It’s all going to be done tastefully, as the song is the most important thing.

Gauntlet: Mm-hmm. So when you take that approach, you are gravitating towards putting down a guitar track first, then wrapping other things around it?

Wichers: Yeah, usually if you’ve got a riff, you usually have a pretty decent idea of what you want the drums to sound like. So, I’ll program drums to it and say that this isn’t exactly set—unless the guitars need to follow the kick drums or something like that—then I usually tell Dirk, ‘Do whatever you want and I’ll tell you if I don’t like it.’ And then I’ll tell him, ‘And on this part, just go crazy.’

(Laughter)

Gauntlet: And that he can definitely do.

Wichers: Yeah, he can. A fantastic drummer. Unfortunately, he’s running a really high fever today, so we’ll see what’s going to happen.

Gauntlet: Oh, no. Just some sort of flu thing on the road?

Wichers: Yeah, everybody’s catching it. A cough and such. We stocked up on TheraFlu and everything, because we’ll be going into Canada where it’ll be even colder.

Gauntlet: Mm. How many days are you there?

Wichers: We’re in Canada for about a week. We’re just going to go like this (gestures up and across) and then down.

Gauntlet: Good luck (laughs).

Wichers: Yeah, I know. I appreciate that.

Gauntlet: Well, we’ve talked some about the upcoming album. How far along in the process are you with that? Obviously you’re still touring now and may still be focused on ‘Sworn…’

Wichers: Well, this is the last thing for ‘Sworn…’, and then we’re going to go home, take a long break, and then start writing. That’s the plan. It’s likely that we will hit the studio at the end of this year and not before that, I think. It seems like we need to take our sweet-ass time and just write the best possible record we can.

Gauntlet: Well, I look forward to it.

Wichers: Yeah, so do we.

Gauntlet: Are there any other points you’d like to put out there for fans who might be reading?

Wichers: Just keep checking out the website. We were thinking about maybe doing something cool for a studio diary, so keep checking back on the Myspace and website. And thank you for the support.

Gauntlet: Alright, and thank you as well. It’s been a pleasure.

Wichers: Yeah, man. A pleasure.

Part II: I managed to get ahold of Björn for a few minutes after my chat with Peter. What follows is the discussion we had in the band’s dressing room, where Dirk Verbeuren and Sylvain Coudret were also relaxing before the show.

Gauntlet: Alright. You guys have been cited for many years as real pioneers in the mixing of harsh and clean vocals, and rightfully so. Are there other guys who are doing this style now that are giving you a new perspective on that approach that you may not have thought of before?

Björn Strid: Mm (thinking). Well, there are a few. Mastodon is using clean vocals in their special way, which I enjoy, and Opeth are definitely sounding unique. As far as the rest of the scene, there are some bands that are really good, but there are a lot as well that don’t pique my interest at all, as far as the metalcore scene and whatever. Even though Soilwork has been doing the screamed verses and melodic choruses, we’ve always done it in a unique way, I believe. And now in the scene it’s just becoming too predictable.

Gauntlet: Mm-hmm. One of the things that Peter mentioned was that for the new record, you guys might try to take it in a way that was more unpredictable. And I’m definitely looking forward to that.

Strid: Yeah. Yeah, it will be good, man.

Gauntlet: The origin of the nickname “Speed” is now pretty well known, but it seems that in recent years you’ve pulled back and slowed down in some cases, like on ‘Exile’, for example. How much of the speed freak is still alive and kicking?

Strid: Well, it’s definitely still there. I’m just really open-minded to music in general. I would definitely say that my spine is made of metal—

Gauntlet: (laughs)

Strid: --but there’s so much other stuff that catches my interest. I’m just a music freak, but still do not mind that speedy thrash metal at all.

Gauntlet: Hah. Good to hear. To turn to a thrash metal band from Sweden, do you like The Crown?

Strid: Yeah, that’s one of my favorites. And The Haunted is another one.

Gauntlet: Mm-hmm. Here’s a question that Peter suggested I ask you. On ‘Sworn…’, the Japanese bonus tracks are ‘Martyr’ and ‘Sovereign’—

Strid: I believe ‘Martyr’ is on the US limited edition…

Gauntlet: Yes, indeed. For those US fans that have the regular edition, though, or haven’t heard these tracks, what could you tell them?

Strid: These are a some pretty progressive songs with some elements that you might not be used to hearing from Soilwork. They are definitely two interesting tracks and there’s not really any big reason why they’re the bonus tracks—they’re just as good as any other track on the album. That’s what I feel. I’m proud of ‘Martyr’ as well; it’s a good lyric that I wrote together with Devin Townsend. It means a lot.

Gauntlet: That leads me to a couple things, actually. One is the lyrics. You guys seem to have a real focus—Darkane as well, in fact—on psychology and neuroses, things like that. The darker side of the human mind.

Strid: Yeah. I would say that Darkane’s lyrics are probably a little bit darker and more focused on neurotic, psychotic—

Gauntlet: The pathology of it.

Strid: Right. Serial killers and stuff like that.

Gauntlet: What draws you to this realm?

Strid: Well, for me it’s just been personal experiences and things that I’ve gone through, and am still going through, that I’ve channeled into lyrics. I mean, as a person I’ve only gone through so many traumas, so I’m not trying to repeat myself. When I’ve got all my feelings and traumas out, I like to focus on creating certain moods. I’ll put sentences and words together that suit that mood and create that entire atmosphere.

Gauntlet: The other question I was led to earlier deals with Devin Townsend. Obviously, he’s another one of those guys who’s been mixing the clean and harsh vocals for years and doing it in a unique way. Your relationship goes back for quite a while, so how has that shaped you as a vocalist, or even a lyricist?

Strid: He has really inspired me in the way that he’s always being very brave as a vocalist and isn’t afraid to go away from the norms of metal and use a lot of unique stuff that you’re not used to hearing. I’ve been inspired by that and I believe that I’ve put my own touch on it as well.

Gauntlet: Mm-hmm. A friend of mine (Adam L. of Deadtide) did an interview with you about a year ago, probably in Cleveland. You guys had gotten on the topic of your social work, in fact, and you said something to the effect of: “I need to make something important, something that can change people. And music can change people.” I imagine you still feel pretty similarly…?

Strid: Absolutely.

Gauntlet: Do you think you might return to that social work scene, or are you still exploring new avenues in music?

Strid: Music is such a beautiful tool. Well, I don’t know if you could call it a tool, but it’s a great way of channeling your feelings and sharing it with others. As far as being a social worker, which I was before, I can see myself doing it again. It made a difference, and I did inspire people, and I did feel good about it. Even though it was tough sometimes, I felt that I was doing something that had a purpose, you know? That’s what it’s all about.

Gauntlet: Yeah. And it’s a good example to set. People often have the perspective of metal guys—fans as much as musicians—as selfish asses who really aren’t thinking of the larger world around them, so to set that example for people is very well done. In that same interview, you also mention a couple people that you might like to work with: Steve DiGiorgio and Devin Townsend. Have you made progress towards that end…?

Strid: Well, that was all about a project that we were planning for a while, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen. We were in talks about doing some kind of a singer’s album between me and Devin with Steve DiGiorgio playing bass. I’m not sure it’s going to happen, but it would be fun.

Gauntlet: I can definitely assure you that a lot of people would be very interested.

Strid: Yeah, I would, too.

Gauntlet: Quite a trio, there. In terms of creating ‘Sworn…’, I’ve read that you guys were as a collective more involved with the recording and production aspects than you had been in the past. Would you say that’s accurate?

Strid: Well, we did record pretty much everything in our hometown, in Sweden, also with the Darkane guys. And it was taking too much time to record that album; it was about half a year to get that thing together. And the feeling we had was that it was slowly going into the hands of Ola Frenning [guitar], who is no longer in the band. That it was almost in his hands by the end and that there were a lot of issues during the recording. There were really, really good songs on there, but it was just…. It’s a long story.

Gauntlet: (laughs) Sounds like it.

Strid: But, yeah, in a way we were all involved in the songwriting a lot more than before. Afar as the studio goes, it was…pretty chaotic, but it turned out good.

Gauntlet: Then, having been more involved with the songwriting, has that changed how you might approach the next album? Not just from the lyrical or vocal standpoint, but also having that perspective on how the rest of the song comes together?

Strid: I think we’re going to give Dirk a lot more room for the drums. There were a lot of things going on, people going in and taking out drums. I’m generally speaking about Ola Frenning there as well, who wanted things to be a lot more straight, more basic. But, to me, that’s not Soilwork. So I really want Dirk to have a free hand—

(Lying on a couch across the room, with eyes closed, Dirk sticks out his tongue and grins)

Strid: --and also Sylvain and Peter just tearing it up and going fucking nuts. Because that’s what Soilwork is about. But we always make a song out it. We never cross that line. I believe we have the knowledge to create a song even though we might be going nuts.

Gauntlet: Definitely. That echoes a theme that he was talking about as well and that’s great to hear. As I said to him, listening to the bonus tracks for ‘Sworn…’ really made me think about the drummers that you guys have worked with, and how it’s a really remarkable pedigree. Hearing more from that department I think would be fantastic.

Strid: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.

Gauntlet: Thank you for taking the time, it was great to get perspectives from both you and Peter. I appreciate it.

Strid: Yep. Sure, man.


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Tags:  SoilworkPeter WichersBjörn StridPeter Wichers, Björn Stridinterviews

    February 21, 2009

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