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Soilwork: Cruisin' for a Bruisin' - An Interview with Frontman Bjorn "Speed" Strid

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Wednesday, February 6, 2008 @ 11:32 PM

"It never really happens when

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Barbecues and cruise ships are about the last things that come to mind when one thinks of Swedish thrash metal. Yet on a mid-December Sunday, while some friends from Phoenix are grillin,' Soilwork frontman Bjorn "Speed" Strid is chillin' on their back porch talking about a shipboard gig the band were to play in mid-February.

It's hardly a "Love Boat" scenario. For one, the Close Up-Båten cruise - sponsored by Sweden's Close-Up magazine - sails across the Baltic Sea, during the dead of winter. For another, Soilwork will be joined on by a wildly varying bill that includes Municipal Waste, Backyard Babies, Danko Jones, General Surgery and Avatar, and a captive audience of a couple thousand metal fans.

Soilwork were in Phoenix for one of the final shows of a barnstorm year-end tour opening for Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage and Devildriver. It was the biggest tour the band had done here since the 2005 Ozzfest, where they played the second stage. Provided they survive the Close Up-Båten cruise, the sextet - rounded out by guitarists Ola Frenning and Daniel Antonsson, bassist Ola Flink, keyboardist Sven Karlsson and drummer Dirk Verbeuren - will be back in the states soon for the "Scum of the Earth Tour" with Throwdown and Through Eyes of the Dead, which was slated to kick off in Pomona, Calif., on Leap Day, Feb. 29.

Soilwork are supporting their seventh and latest album, Sworn To A Great Divide, which was released in November. It is the band's first album without guitarist and main songwriter Peter Wichers, who left in 2005, yet is arguably one of their strongest, and easily the most varied, releases to date, bringing everything from the ballady "20 More Nights in the Rain" and hooky, radio-friendly "Exile" to the rampaging "The Pittsburgh Syndrome" and menacing "As The Sleeper Awakes" to the table without sounding remotely disjointed or calculating.

Divide is yet another solid entry in a stellar resumé Soilwork have built over the last decade as they continue to distinguish themselves from a crowded - and quite successful - Swedish metal scene populated by the likes of Arch Enemy, In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, Opeth, The Haunted and Meshuggah. With a beer in one hand and a phone in the other, Strid talked about, among other things, Soilwork's multifaceted sound, the rigors of touring, adventures in songwriting and his former life as a hockey player.

KNAC.COM: So how is it you ended up at a barbecue in Phoenix?

STRID: We've got some friends here, and we are playing in town tonight, so they invited us up for a barbecue and a few beers, which is cool because it will give us a chance to relax a little bit. It's been a hectic tour. So a couple of the Soilwork guys are here and our friends and some of their friends.

We're all just hanging out enjoying the sun, we won't be able to do that when we get home, I guarantee you that (laughs). We've got to go over to the show by 6, which I think is when doors open, then we go on at 7, after we're done we'll come back here and have a bit of a party before it's time to leave for the next show.

KNAC.COM: The tour's just about done, right?

STRID: Yeah, we have one show left tomorrow in New Mexico and then we go back to Sweden for Christmas and the New Year. This was a pretty quick tour, like 20 shows in three weeks, with a couple headlining dates of our own thrown in. But it was a great way to end a year that had already been pretty good for us.

KNAC.COM: This seems like it'd be a great tour for you. Big venues, bands that draw a lot of people?

STRID: It's been amazing. We've never been part of an arena tour in America, and to play in front of so many people every night is great. It's definitely been the right tour for us. The shows are drawing from 2,000 up to 6,000 people a night, and by the time we're a couple songs in, the places have been pretty much full. There have been Soilwork fans there, but there are a lot of new faces as well. I'm sure we've made a lot of new fans.

We got to play places like Long Beach Arena, which was last night. That was a dream come true. Anyone who's ever heard Maiden's Live After Death knows how famous that place is. And because we went on first, I was the first person who got so yell "Scream for me, Long Beach." That was a real thrill to say those words from that stage.

KNAC.COM: As the first band on a four-band bill, what kind of set did you get to play?

STRID: We're playing exactly 27 minutes. And not a second over (laughs). The show's run like clockwork, it's amazing how well organized this whole thing has been. We go on an hour after doors open and go out there and blow it out for 27 minutes. It's over before you know it.

KNAC.COM: Are you getting more out of this tour than you did playing Ozzfest?

STRID: I think this tour is gaining a lot more for us. On Ozzfest, there are just so many bands. And being on a rotating bill, I think kids tend to forget about you. It's too much information to take in in one day. Here it's just four bands, when we go on the people are ready. They haven't been there all day in the hot sun listening to a bunch of bands they know nothing about.

KNAC.COM: If the response to the new album is any indication, you guys do seem to be making steady progress?

STRID: Oh yeah, definitely. This was our first album to make the Billboard chart, the Top 200, which was really cool. Each album has done better and better, especially the last couple because we've been doing so much touring. We've built a good audience in the states, as well as Europe and Japan, and we just want to keep that momentum going. I think we've really just scratched the surface.

KNAC.COM: You guys are coming right back to the states for the Scum of the Earth Tour, which looks like it'll be playing smaller places. Will you have a better slot on the bill?

STRID: As far a I know, this time we're the direct support. We'll play for probably an hour, which is close to what our normal set would be if we were headlining. These will definitely be more intimate shows, but I'm really hoping people who first heard us on this tour will come see us again. We've been saying every night that we'd be back in March. We'll be playing a lot of places we've played on earlier tours here, so if more people are showing up we'll be able to tell.

KNAC.COM: This show you're going to be doing on the cruise ship, what's that all about?

STRID: It's gonna be pretty fucking cool, man. We're really psyched about it, it sounds like a blast. It's basically a ferry that goes between Sweden and Finland. And they hire the whole ferry and have bands play there. There's like 3,000 metalheads on the ferry and there's record shops there, vinyl traders and whatnot. It's not just a show, it's more like a festival - only it's on a boat. It's over like two days. I think there's 10 bands playing.

I can't imagine what it's going to be like, stuck on a ferry with 3,000 drunk metalheads. We're going to be there the whole time and there's no backstage or anything like that, you're wandering around with the fans the whole time.

KNAC.COM: This isn't the only one of these things, is it. I thought I'd heard of some others?

STRID: No, there's actually three different metal cruises. I wouldn't be surprised if they come up with more. It's a pretty cool idea, I'm surprised no one has thought about it in the states. You could do one down the West Coast to Mexico or something.

KNAC.COM: That'd be more hospitable then sailing between Sweden and Finland in the middle of winter.

STRID: (laughs) Right. There probably won't be any people out by the pool working on their suntans. We're just hoping it's not stormy while we're at sea. That would be terrible. Trying to play while the ship is rocking back and forth I don't think would be much fun. And with everyone drinking for two days, it could be a real fucking mess if everyone starts getting seasick.

KNAC.COM: Switching gears to the new album, going in were you looking to incorporate more melody and clean vocal parts, or is that just how things worked out as you got the material together?

STRID: The strategy was really pretty natural. We really did want to make a diverse album, and I think that goes back to Stabbing The Drama. We brought more of those melodic elements in there and I did more singing on that album. We felt comfortable being able to handle the two extremes of the real heavy, thrashy parts and the softer, melodic parts.

For the new album, we brought even more of the thrashier elements but added even more guitar harmonies, and it really developed from there. And that helped us come up with something like "Exile," which is probably the most melodic song we've ever done. It was very organic.

"Exile" came together like this. Ola Frenning, our guitarist, he had the chords to that song and I remember I was taking the train down to Malmo with my wife and I had been trying for like a week to get the melody together for it and it was really bugging me. Then suddenly when we were sitting on the train, it just came up, like "there it is." It just came clear into my head. But that's how a lot of the songs came together; it was really spontaneous.

KNAC.COM: Are those kinds of situations where you typically find yourself thinking up the perfect part?

STRID: It never really happens when you're at home, it usually happens when you're in the shower, or driving in your car or about to board a plane and you can't record anything. I actually had that happen for one of the songs on A Predator's Portrait, "Needlefeast." We were getting ready to get on a plane and the melody came into my head and it was like, "I need to record this right now."

This was before the days where you could record stuff on your cellphone, and I didn't even have an answering machine at home, so I called Ola Frenning's answering machine at home and sang it into the machine. Nowadays you can hum stuff into your cellphone, or even make videos of yourself, which are usually pretty embarrassing. I've got some pretty funny recordings on my cellphone.

KNAC.COM: With Peter Wichers leaving the band, did the songwritng process change much, or was it just a matter of more people contributing?

STRID: We didn't really sit down and say, "all right, who's going to pick things up for Peter and be the main songwriter." We were just like, "hey, go ahead and write songs." All the members had contributed to songs in the past and I'd always done the melodies for the vocals. And Daniel [Antonsson, Wichers replacement on guitar] was eager to contribute and he fit right in once we got started. He ended up contributing to, I think, four songs.

Once the songs started to flow, any anxiety went away. Soilwork is the only recipe we know, whatever that recipe is, it's just there, as far as the structures of the songs and the melodies. It's what we love to do. And because of that, the whole band was more involved than ever on this album and I think that is why the album is so diverse.

KNAC.COM: You could argue that the diversity of the album was a result of Peter not contributing this time?

STRID: I guess you could, it's hard to say because who knows what he might have come up with this time. But we all did get to express ourselves more and it worked. Even a song like "Sick Heart River," which Sven [Karlsson, keyboard/samples] wrote the music for, for example, have some very distinct character that something like, say, "Exile" does not, it still all sounds like Soilwork, even though maybe that song a bit more progressive, whereas "Exile" is a lot more straight-forward.

KNAC.COM: Songwriting aside, it must have been tough when Peter left just from a personal standpoint?

STRID: Of course. It was like a brother left the band. We started what became this band together in 1995 and saw it grow bigger than we could have imagined in 10 years. But he didn't like all of the touring, and he knew we were going to have to do even more touring if wanted keep reaching the next level. And we respected his decision, we still do. It's been two years now and we've done an album and gone out on tour without him so now I miss him more as a friend than a musician.

KNAC.COM: I suppose having Peter produce the new album was out of the question?

STRID: No (laughs) that would have been too weird. But who knows, maybe someday.

KNAC.COM: Since Devin Townsend produced your vocal parts, and he'd produced Predator's Portrait earlier, why not just have him do the whole album this time?

STRID: People [Frenning and Darkane guitarist Peter Wildoer] wanted to try to do it themselves, and we thought, "well why not let them try to learn how to do it." We recorded everything at our own studio in Helsingborg, and we took a lot more time. It took five months to figure out everything. But we also had the chance to go home every day after work and relax and be with our families, which was great. So it was a real learning experience and it will definitely give us a leg up for next time. But I wanted to do the vocals with Devin because he's a master when it comes to that. And since he's not really doing touring anymore, the timing was right. And he's the kind of guy who is more comfortable working at home, he's more focused, so I flew to Vancouver and we knocked them out and I'm really pleased with the results. I think I will keep on doing my vocals with Devin. We're a lot a like as singers and there's no other producer who can bring stuff out of me like he can. He makes me feel relaxed and makes sing my heart out.

KNAC.COM: The production is pretty raw on this album, was that something you were looking for to perhaps counterbalance all of the melody, give it a rougher sound?

STRID: We thought Stabbing The Drama was maybe too polished. We wanted something that was a bit more heavy and raw, yet atmospheric, something more like Natural Born Chaos. That was fairly dirty sounding as well, yet still very powerful. I really like the production on the new album.

KNAC.COM: One of the songs on the new album, "The Pittsburgh Syndrome," is about sucking it up when maybe you're not at your best and going out there and playing hard. Does your hockey background, and having had to get psyched up for games, help in those situations?

STRID: I think it does help. If for no other reason that sports teaches you motivation and, I know this really sounds cliched, but playing through pain, so to speak. There are times, especially on a long tour, when you feel like, "Oh, Jesus, we've got to play a show tonight?" You're just so out of it. You don't realize where you are or even what day it is sometimes.

When you've been traveling all night and doing press all day, you sometimes feel like,"How am I going to do a show tonight?" And if your own motivation doesn't help, tequila usually does it for me (laughs). But when you hear that roar from the crowd, it doesn't matter what kind of day you've had or if you don't think your body can handle it.

When you get onstage it's total fun, you have the energy for whole show. The most important thing is the people who are paying money for tickets to see you. You owe it to them to give the best performance you can each show, no matter what.

KNAC.COM: On a night like tonight when you're playing 27 minutes, is it a different mindset then when you're doing a headline show and playing for 90?

STRID: It's over before you know it; it's such a rush. Six songs. But it in a way it's pretty cool, because you can really go balls out the whole way, you don't have to worry about pacing. And when you're first on the bill, you've got nothing to lose. We like to have the underdog feeling. That works well for us.

KNAC.COM: How long did you actually play hockey for?

STRID: I played hockey for 10 years. I was almost on the Swedish Junior National Team. As a kid, I wanted to play in the NHL. I was a big fan of Wayne Gretzky. I went to my first NHL when I was here in Phoenix one other time and Gretzky was the coach. That was a trip. And it turned out a guy I used to play with [Mathias Tjärnqvist] was playing for the Coyotes as well. So that was pretty weird. I do miss hockey sometimes, but I quit hockey because it wasn't fun anymore. I have always enjoyed music, I still do. So I started a band, and the rest is history. No regrets.

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