METAL’S BIGGEST PETERS: SOILWORK’S PETER WICHERS TALKS THE PANIC BROADCAST, NEVERMORE, AND SLAUGHTER
Soilwork’s Peter Wichers doesn’t really know how to disappoint. He’s shepherded his band through a stretch of eight albums in a frenetic 12 years. He’s helmed potentially underwhelming projects like the Nuclear Blast All-Stars (not a softball team) and a career band guy’s first solo record (Warrel Dane’s nifty Praises To The War Machine). On top of that, he’s a thrilling guitarist and songwriter. Dreamy.
But he’s more than all that. Like, did you know that the native Swede doesn’t give a shit about soccer? Have you heard his opinion that Devin Townsend is underrated? Could you tell that he can tell the difference between Soilwork singer Bjorn “Speed” Strid and the chairman Frank Sinatra? Don’t take my word for it. It says so right down there after the jump. Right in and among all the talk about Soilwork’s new album The Panic Broadcast, his new and new-ish bandmates, being a metal tastemaker, and crappy guitar solos.
Let’s start with the new Soilwork record! It’s super energetic!
Thank you, man. [merrily] We’ve really stepped it up a bit for this record, compared to the previous one at least. It feels like an accomplishment. It’s something we’re really proud of.
You alluded to the previous Soilwork album, Sworn To A Great Divide. Are you able to view that album objectively — maybe through the eyes of a producer, if not an ex-member?
That seems to be the most popular question in interviews.
Absolutely, yes. I don’t think it’s a bad record. I don’t. But I think that record might be lacking in a few aspects. I love the guy who worked on that record. I think he did a great job. But in terms of what Soilwork needed sonically, I don’t really think it’s up to par. I can bash a few things on that record, but I don’t want to come across as that kind of guy. When I returned to Soilwork, I think they kind of knew what direction Soilwork needed to go in order to come back strong.
Would you agree that it’s a great record, but it’s not a great Soilwork record?
[laughs] I’ve heard a lot of people say that. I take that as a compliment. There are still key songwriters on that record [whom] I’ve written with before. But I think that the biggest mistake [on Sword To A Great Divide] was the attempt to go more accessible. I think that might’ve been a mistake. Soilwork has never been that kind of band. I know that it’s steered in that direction on the last couple of records. On [The Panic Broadcast], we said that maybe we’ve tried to have that one song that is supposed to be a “radio song,” and we get some airplay. But if it’s never happened, then it probably will never happen. It’s probably better if we try to focus on what we do best: being a riff band and still keeping the catchy elements of the vocals. But also what is lackluster about the previous album is the way that Dirk [Verbeuren, drums] was kept in the fold, you know? I think it could’ve been any drummer playing on that record, except for maybe one of the songs. He’s this unique, fantastic drummer. I told him “I really want you to feel [The Panic Broadcast]. Put your trademark on it.” That’s one of the things I was pushing for on this album.
I’d planned to ask you about Dirk. On his first two Soilwork records, you can hear that he’s a fancy, deft drummer. But this is the first album that he’s a monster. There’s some pummeling shit on there.
Yeah, and dude if you saw him, he looks like this scrawny little shrimp. Did you know that? This guy. I remember when he tried out for Soilwork, [when] he drove up from France and I saw him, I was like “Holy shit. I’ve heard him on records, but God, this guy is so scrawny.” And then he starts playing the drums and it sounded like a guy of Gene Hoglan’s caliber — and size — sitting there playing. He’s very serious about his drums. He’s the guy that can play anything — even the mid-tempo stuff, which he pulls off perfectly, even though he comes from a more aggressive, death metal kind of vibe. Very technical.
He’s a force on this album. Another factor is your new co-guitarist, Sylvain Coudret.
Sylvain challenges me like I’ve never been challenged before in Soilwork. My uncle [former Soilwork guitarist Ola Frenning] was a good guitar player and definitely had his own style. But I’ve been a fan of Scarve and Sylvain for a long time, and I think when people listen to Scarve, they don’t hear what a fantastic lead player that Sylvain is. The riffs are absolutely insane, but as far as the lead playing goes… It made me think that maybe we should bring back more of the older style of Soilwork; I thought he could really pull it off. We used to do that really well, but I think we just got bored of it. I don’t think my uncle was interested in doing a lot of that stuff anymore. Then it was just me. Then after a while, it was like ‘Bah!’ We just felt like it was time to bring back the old stuff and mix it with the new. Sylvain can do that.
The older material that I’m talking about is Natural Born Chaos and back. Our trademark was dual guitar solo stuff. We used to write a lot of new parts for [underneath] the guitar solos, instead of straight chords with leads over it. That’s what I mean when I talk about bringing back the way we approached lead guitar back in the day.
Something I’ve always admired about Soilwork is the guitar solos. I’m a huge fan of the compact solos, like on “One With The Flies” from Stabbing The Drama. It seems like the new album’s solos are a bit longer and more demanding. Do you agree?
Yes! And you know what? That was not something we did intentionally. I think we just decided to write and have fun. Let’s just take all the stress off. Fuck everything. Let’s just write what we feel we’d love to do. By the end of the recording, we were sitting there listening to the record before me and Bjorn flew to Sweden to mix it, and Sven [Karlsson, keyboards] said “Goddamn, there’s a lot of guitar solos on this record. That’s not a bad thing, I’m just saying there’s a lot of them.” And I was like “Yeah, there really is.” That’s when we knew [laughs] that we had a lot of leads on this one.
But that’s good! If it doesn’t sound forced and it feels like they’re there for a reason, then you’ve succeeded. A lot of times, it feels like a song is really complete, but they throw in a guitar solo in just because you [feel that you] need to have one. I was listening to Sirius and there was one of these, um … I don’t know, they used to be a melodic hardcore band or something like that, I can’t remember [the band’s name]. I don’t know if it’s trendy now to have guitar solos and whatever, but some bands shouldn’t have guitar solos.
[laughs] You know what I’m saying? It was so obvious that that part was put in there just to add a guitar solo. Oh god, man, you should probably have a session player play that lead.
Totally, dude. And let’s not forget that it wasn’t that long ago that guitar solos were not allowed in music.
For the longest time!
It was horrible. Now, it’s like we have a lot of uninspired guitar soloing going on.
Dude, trust me, if I produce a band and I notice that the lead player isn’t good, I’ll be like “Dude, maybe we should uh scale this shit down. Let’s focus on a couple bends, not that arpeggio stuff and shredding that you can’t pull off.” I’ll say it in a nice way. I think it’s important if you put a lead on a song that you make sure that it’s saying something. But that’s me. I’ve gotten really picky. [Hilarious pun alert. — ADF] There are a lot of good guitar players out there, but when it’s just like full speed for thirty seconds — there’s not one bend or anything — and it ends with a dive-bomb, I just cringe. It doesn’t tell me anything. Alright, you practiced to a metronome, you’re very fast. Even a monkey could learn to play that fast. But where’s your phrasing? What are you saying? That’s what I’m thinking.
One approach is to treat the solo as a mini-song within the song.
The perfect example of someone who pulls it off is Jeff [Loomis, Nevermore]. When I produced the new Nevermore, it was like “This guy can do everything.” Maybe you and I are getting into a big guitar discussion, but I really think too many guitar players are focusing so much on speed, as opposed to combining speed with a blues or melodic element. Even if you’re death metal it’s important; listen to the guys from Daath or Decapitated. There’s a lot of good ones as well.
I think the biggest improvement in that department is Between The Buried And Me from Colors to The Great Misdirect.
That’s cool. They’re from the area that I’m in. I haven’t had a chance to meet them. I heard they’re really good.
Their melodies are killer. That would be a good producer-band match, you and Between The Buried And Me.
Yeah, man. Absolutely.
By the way, I’d like to point out that our interview is taking place during a World Cup soccer game. In fact, Nuclear Blast publicity told me that unlike Bjorn Strid, you don’t even mind missing the World Cup broadcasts! You’re changing my perception of Europeans!
I’ll get crucified for this, but I’ve never really been a big soccer fan. Of course, I’ll cheer for Sweden. I don’t really sit down and watch it that much. Are you a big soccer fan? A lot of people I meet [here in the U.S.] are not.
I care about the World Cup.
But it’s nice that while the world’s rage is focussed on soccer, we’re having this civilized chat.
I followed hockey in the Olympics. I prefer hockey over soccer. Soccer is such a low-scoring game that it gets boring for me. There’s more intensity in hockey.
You mentioned a minute ago that as a producer, you can tell a band to go a different way or abandon a guitar solo, for example. How easy is it for you to do that in Soilwork?
You mean, like, pushing for an idea?
I’m thinking specifically of the vocals? How easy is it for you to give notes to the singer?
Oh, I’ve known Bjorn since I was 16. We really grew up together, musically. I think we were on the same level when we started; we’ve gone from absolutely horrible to quite decent. I guess through this whole thing, we’ve always pressured each other. We’ve always been able to tell each other when we think something isn’t good.
And he’s turned into this vocal monster. I can’t say enough good things about this guy because he really is such an amazing vocalist. He’ll just nail shit immediately now. That doesn’t really happen [with other vocalists]. He’s so serious about what he does and wants to surpass his previous performances. Which I think he did on [The Panic Broadcast]. We worked a lot on trying to get his emotions to come out on this record; I think that’s a reason that he sounds so good on this record. He’s like a chameleon on this one: He sounds like a death metal singer, then a hardcore singer, then … I’m not going to call him a Frank Sinatra, but you know, he’s very melodic, too.
[laughs] Yeah. I haven’t really lived with the record yet, but after a few listens, my impression is that Speed really challenges himself throughout. It’s pretty high-impact singing. I almost feel concerned about the live show.
Yeah, man, but he’s gonna be able to pull it off. Bjorn doesn’t do anything unless he feels like he can pull it off live. And there’s a lot of harmony stuff as well. I do a lot of the backing vocals and the riffing on this record is probably some of the most intense we’ve ever done. And he sings a lot of crazy melodies over these guitar parts. I’m going to have to separate half of my brain from the other half to be able to sing and play a guitar at the same time. But I don’t think there’s anything to be concerned about. It’s going to sound fantastic live. Of all the tours I’ve done with him — the past 10 tours — there are very few times I’ve heard him have a bad show. He’s that good.
When your departure from Soilwork was announced a few years ago, I was really surprised by the timing. The Soilwork I had just seen on the Stabbing The Drama tour was 1000% awesome. There was no sign of an imminent line-up shuffle.
That was a tough call, man. I walked around for a year thinking about how to do it, and if I should do it. It was for my own well-being. I was going crazy. I’d just moved over here to the U.S. and I was still getting climatized to that. And the touring was insane. Because of all that, I felt that the pace of all of it was too hectic for me. It’s really hard to describe if you haven’t been in the situation yourself.
I didn’t mean to take a break — I meant to leave Soilwork and not come back. It was basically me wanting to pursue music production and I think being able to do that full time — and also thriving in different elements, different metal styles like on the Nuclear Blast All-Stars record and the Warrel Dane solo record — really helped me find what direction Soilwork should go in. When I left, I had no idea … I was like “How do I top Stabbing? What direction should we go in?” I couldn’t see it. That was the first time in my career that I felt like that. It was really, really frustrating for me. Of course, we probably could’ve taken our sweet-ass time to [do another record], but when you get to that level there’s management, label, and a lot of other things involved. But you have to do metal because you love to do it. If we’d put out another record and I didn’t feel like it was really close to me emotionally? That would’ve been worse for me.
You mentioned your work on the new Nevermore. That turned out awesome.
I’m so stoked on that record. First of all, I’m so grateful to those guys for putting that responsibility in my hands. I know Warrel was really happy with his solo record. And I really admire Jeff. It was awesome, man. I know people will criticize it and say it’s not as extreme as This Godless Endeavor, that it’s more simplistic. But how do you top This Godless Endeavor? There’s just no way. My favorite Nevermore record is Dead Heart in a Dead World, so I said “Maybe you guys should work on something more in that direction. Go back to the more “River Dragon”-style songs, which are a bit more simplistic.” Kids love that. One facet of Nevermore is the lead guitar playing, and I think sometimes the vocals might drown in that? If there’s more space to Warrel to sing combined with Jeff’s guitar playing, that’s a winning combo. That’s what happened on this album.
I think the vocals on a lot of recent records get lost beneath all this, like, hyper-busy riffing.
Hey by the way, I’m talking to Warrel later today. Any message to him?
Tell him I said hi, man. We haven’t spoken in a while, so absolutely! So he’s doing press at the same time as me.
Yeah, apparently he’s not into soccer, either. That’s cool.
So, as a producer-guitarist-songwriter, you can safely be considered a metal tastemaker. To you, are there any artists that should be getting more recognition?
That is really hard to say. I really think that what Devin Townsend is doing on the side of Strapping Young Lad is absolutely brilliant. I know they released it in November, but I just got the Addicted record and it’s like ‘My god.’ It brings me back to the Ocean Machine disc, which is the whole reason that I fell in love with Devin. He’s the kind of guy that’s underrated sometimes because a lot of people identify him with Strapping, but he’s still such a genius when it comes to creating something that’s sounds so heavy but still has that positive energy. That record is so heavy, but with a positive undertone. Does that make sense when I say that?
It totally does!
Of course, he’s held in very high respect. But I think sometimes when he does a lot of his records, people [view them as side projects] next to Strapping and that’s a big misconception. He’s totally serious about his records. But there’s a lot of musicians who should be more well-known. Jeff Loomis, for example. He should be top five ever guitar players, like Marty Friedman. He’s that good. He doesn’t think so, but he definitely is.
I read an interview in which you mention a little-known guitar virtuoso that every guitar guy seems to love, Guthrie Govan.
Oh, yeah. This guy. This guy is a guitar player.
That’s what everybody says!
He is absolutely ridiculous. This guy can play anything. Go to youtube and search for the clip where he does six different guitar players in one song. He switches styles in the song, from like Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix to Yngwie Malmsteen. And he sounds exactly like them. This guy is brilliant. Of course, if you’re not into the guitar virtuoso stuff, some of the songs … Even though he’s so technically skilled, he just sings with the guitar. When you hear him play — oh god — every note that he plays, he feels it. That’s what music is all about. It’s not about standing there [and] looking at people, saying “Do you like this? Do you like this?” It’s about what you feel. That sometimes gets lost when people play music. I’m not above impressing other people; it’s important that people like your music. That’s going to make you feel better. But you need to feel the music. That’s the reason I do music.
You sound pumped!
I’m stoked about this record. Like I said, people think that because I’m sitting here in an interview that I think this is the best Soilwork record, like I’d always say that. But I haven’t been this excited for a Soilwork record since Natural Born Chaos. Not even about Stabbing.
Yeah, I know, man! I thought [Stabbing] was good, but I didn’t feel the same way as I did after Natural Born Chaos. I really felt with that record that we’d done something original. That’s really hard to achieve in metal. I’m not saying we reinvented the wheel with The Panic Broadcast, but I totally feel like … This is the eighth record by Soilwork and we’re not geezers who can’t play anymore.
Well, it must be a challenge. Like you said, it’s your eighth record. There might be a fan standing at the store, wallet in hand, wondering “Do I need an eighth Soilwork record?” But my sense is that The Panic Broadcast proves that Soilwork is still important.
Absolutely! Of course, I feel that reviews are interesting and important, but at the same time, I feel so confident about this record. I don’t care if someone tells me they don’t like the record, because I love it. It doesn’t matter. That’s how pleased I am. I know that both me and Bjorn are, and the rest of the guys. We flew to Sweden and I worked day and night for almost two months on this record. I was listening to the song “Let This River Flow,” and it’s not the fact that it’s a commercial song, but it’s such an emotional song for me. Man, I was really proud. I guess I was getting … Ugh, this doesn’t sound very masculine, but I was getting choked up. I really feel like we accomplished something. Nobody can take that away from you. That’s what you strive for in music. You feel it.
Can I bring up another song on The Panic Broadcast?
First, I’d like to point out a rare talent of which Soilwork is in full possession: closing albums with a colossal song. In fact, one of the most exciting things about the first listen to a Soilwork record is anticipating its finale. Namely Natural Born Chaos (“Soilworker’s Song of the Damned”) which was then surpassed by “Downfall 24” from Figure Number Five and StD‘s “If Possible” — the latter arguably a modern metal super-classic. By now, you must see where I’m going with this, so I’ll get to it: Holy shit, “Enter Dog of Pavlov” absolutely slams! What a riveting tune to wrap up The Panic Broadcast.
Thank you, man!
That’s not really a question.
Ya know, I was working on this clean guitar [riff] for a while. Me and Sylvain collaborated on that song. I sent him that [clean riff] and told him “I want you to base the intro off of this riff and think of the new Alice In Chains single.” That’s what I told him. He was like “What do you mean? I haven’t heard it!” So [he checked it out and replied] “This is fucking brilliant! Okay, I know what you [want]. That bluesy style with the bends!” That’s how we made that song.
Wait. What Alice In Chains single?
“Check My Brain” I think.
That’s a jam.
I heard that song on the radio and pushed the pedal down so hard that I thought the cops were going to pull me over. That’s such a bad-ass riff. So simple, and so heavy. Of course, [the intro to “Enter Dog of Pavlov” is] a lot more technical, but it’s based on bend riffs. The first guy I ever heard do that was Dimebag. He’s the whole reason for that bluesy style. He’s the reason that I started playing metal. A lot of that element I can’t take credit for; that’s all Dimebag.
There you have it: Alice In Chains and Dimebag. I think that’s what comes to mind when people think about Soilwork [laughs]. Awesome.
[laughs] We listen to a lot of music. If you want to be versatile and be able to create music that’ll be appealing, instead of painting yourself into a corner … Everybody [in metal] listens to different styles. Some won’t admit it, but I don’t care anymore, man. I listen to what I think is good. That’s that.
[laughs] Yeah, man. I love being of the age that I just don’t give a shit anymore.
Exactly, man! It’s like “Oh shit. I can’t tell people I listen to that! I’m not saying that in an interview!” But I don’t care anymore. You know what I’m saying?
Yep. There’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure anymore. I like Slaughter and I’m okay with that.
[laughs] Dude, I saw them when I was living in Nashville! It was that band Scrap Metal, with a guy from Night Ranger, Mark Slaughter, and the Nelson brothers playing all their hits. It was really juicy, but it was also hilarious. [laughs]
Soilwork’s awesome eighth record, The Panic Broadcast, came out Tuesday, which you already know cuz you went to the store and fucked three copies of it. Now you’re banned from Best Buy, genius.
Read the other installments of Anso DF’s “Metal’s Biggest Peters” interview series: Hypocrisy’s Peter Tagtgren and Testament’s Eric Peterson.
Photos by Hannah Verbeuren