Martin Lopez is a musician I have always held in high regard. As a drummer myself, it’s difficult not to admire the soft-spoken Swede and his understated approach to metal percussion. During his tenure in Opeth, he helped craft what many consider to be the band’s defining works, and in the process created some of the most memorable and exciting drum passages in modern metal, all the while working in the background, supporting his band mates from the behind the shadows with a style-over-flair approach that was one of a kind. Today, his philosophy is the same, but with a new project, and one well worth knowing. Their name is Soen, and their new record, Cognitive, is an exciting addition the worlds of modern metal, heavy prog, and alternative rock.

I recently spoke with Martin about Soen, his past projects, his personal history (Lopez never struck me as a particularly Scandinavian surname…), and his plans for the future. For all the goodies read on after the jump!

It’s great to hear you playing again in a progressive, musically challenging project like Soen. It’s been at this point about seven years since you left Opeth. Can you elaborate on the circumstances surrounding your departure?

Of course. Pretty much it was me. I joined Opeth very young and just got tired of the whole touring life. As a kid I dreamt about leaving home and touring the world, and when I got there, I just didn’t enjoy it anymore. I just wanted to change my life and do something else, try something else. Being away from home or not having a base at all other than the tour bus, for me, it was hard. Besides that, I had the need to write and create my own music, rather than ojust playing along [to material someone else wrote]. Opeth are really awesome musicians. It was just, I needed to do something by myself and all of that. And [in Opeth] I didn’t have that opportunity at all, because being on the road all of the time doesn’t give you the chance to write music or get a band together — something so important I had to leave. I think it was one of the best decisions I have made in my life, I think.

That’s good to hear. It’s a hard life in this day and age — there is so much demanded of a touring musician and there is so much that you have to go without just to make it work. Since you’ve left Opeth, it has become a totally different band, both in terms of sound and personnel. Have you kept in contact with Mikael [Åkerfeldt] or any of the other guys?

Yeah. I have contact with all of them Mikael, Per [Wiberg], and Martin [Méndez], via mail, of course. You know I have met Martin [Axenrot, who replaced Lopez] a few times. Otherwise we are still in touch, but, of course, not as often if we were playing together.

There has really been a big response from fans since your departure. It’s got to feel good on your part to know that you have really been missed.

Yeah, especially because when I left the band, I pretty much left everything. I didn’t check my email; I didn’t check any comments or anything at all. I just wanted to do something else, and I did. A lot of people were actually really into what I did and my whatever “special style” and everything. It feels pretty good.

I think people describe it as a kind of a jazzy style, which is just really different from what Axenrot does. He is a terrific drummer from everything I have heard, but I have never really seen you as a chops drummer or a technical mad man. You are a player with more of a distinctive feel, and it seems like it is a lot harder to replace a drummer with that kind of an X factor than a jack-of-all-trades— someone who can just sit down at a kit and play in any band.

It’s very uncomfortable for me to talk about Axenrot. I mean, he is a different kind of drummer than me. I think that he is an excellent drummer. I think that he did a great job. Of course the band sounds different ,because it is a different guy who has a totally, very different style than what I have. There is not much I can say about this.

Gotcha. Just as you said, his playing is a departure from your work with the band, but not necessarily in a lesser way. Getting to the meat of this, how did your new project Soen come together? I think you said you had founded this band with your guitarist, Kim Platbarzdis, in 2005? 

Yeah, actually, even years before that, with Martin Mendez. Of course, we didn’t have a name, but we had somehow had the same thought about what to do. Then we met Kim and he joined us and started playing with us. Then we started taking it seriously, kind of. Later on, when I left Opeth, we just didn’t play for a while, for a few years. I moved to South America, he moved to the U.K. When I came back to Sweden, I just had the urge to do music seriously again. Then I met Joel [Ekelöf, vocals] and that is when we really started feeling that this could be something really cool. We started really fighting to really do everything that you need to do now a days to be a band, professionally. After that we needed a bass player. I thought of Steve [DiGiorgio, bass] and he may be for me the best metal bass player of his kind, with a very special kind of soft way of playing with the fretless and everything. So I called him up and we talked about it, he heard some stuff, and after that he flew over to Sweden and everything worked really well.

Very Cool. Obviously Soen has an international roster of musicians — how is that going to translate to touring or a live environment?

It is a little bit more difficult when it comes to rehearsing and all that. But Steve is a professional, he doesn’t really need to rehearse that much! So at the end of the day, we balance it out. When we’re on the stage, we find a way. He’s flying over here. It’s not that hard, with the internet and everything you can pretty much write music sending files back and forth, and I really enjoy that, with it not being four sweaty guys in a rehearsal space trying to write music. We have more of an opportunity to be laid back, write some stuff, send the files,and you can put your part over it, record your instrument at home, at ease. It feels really good. It’s not the mood killer like I thought it’d be.

Have you played out live at all? Or is that to come?

We just played our first gig ever a few weeks ago, in Finland, at the instrumental expo.

What was the response like? 

It was good. Not many people knew about us. We were a little bit nervous, we had some technical problems, but people seemed to like it, it worked well. We’re just hungry to get on the road and do some more extensive touring and get used to playing live together.

Getting to Cognitive, a lot of the buzz said that there was a ubiquitous Tool influence on this disc. I was really surprised when I actually got my hands on the album — I was struck by just how false that was. What I seem to hear more than anything else on Cognitive is kind of a continuation of a sound I heard Opeth inching towards when you were still in the band — kind of a departure from a drawn out progressive extreme metal approach to something and more of an alternative, atmospheric rock direction. What do you have to say about the style of Soen?

It’s really hard for me to relay our music. If you ask, for example, just Steve and me, we’re definitely sure that we’re playing metal. But if you ask, for example, Kim, he is completely sure that he is playing rock. So I think we have a little bit of everything. The only thing that you could say that would put us more in a rock or alternative thing is that we are not using growls — we’re just using clean vocals. It’s a really hard thing about defining your style. When the label wanted to categorize our music so they could do promotion and such, they said, “Oh, you guys are playing progressive metal.” It sounded weird to me. I usually think of progressive metal as being, for example, what Dream Theater does — and we’re really not doing that kind of music. We’re just writing good music ,and I know you cannot label a band as “good music,” but we try to be emotional and have some kind of depth in it — to make it intricate and groovy. We are not at all interested in the showing off part.

Yeah, progressive metal is such a broad term now that labeling a group that is like calling band a rock band; it’s so vague you almost have no idea what anyone’s referring to.

That’s what I think, too — the idea that Opeth is progressive metal and Riverside is progressive metal and Dream Theater is progressive metal and Tool is progressive metal… at the end of the day, it’s really hard to know what progressive metal is.

The other thing too is so many people, when they hear the word “metal,” think “Do they have the growler?” “Do they have some guy screaming over it?” If not, is it metal? I think bands like Soen are kind of challenging that notion: just because a band has a vocalist that really sings and emotes, does that make them any less metal? I don’t think it does.

I agree with you on that. To me, metal is… you can have double bass drum or distortion and some heavy riffs, and that’s metal for me, but it doesn’t seem to be enough nowadays. It’s like we’re now putting up the barrier that it has to be harder and harder and harder to be called metal. Everything that I thought was metal when I was younger nowadays is called rock.

Speaking of the double kick, as far as individual performances go on this album, your drumming is a huge highlight. Despite Soen not being a Dream Theater-like progressive metal band, this is probably some of the heaviest, most technically challenging drumming that I’ve heard you ever commit to a record. How has your approach changed over the years from Opeth to Soen?

I think it has to do with a lot of will. I worked harder on this than any other albums before. A lot of it has to do with me writing most of the music — when you write it, you already have the rhythm in your head. Most of the rehearsing is in your head, and you have all of this time to develop the idea, like, “What can I do here?” When we did Opeth songs, we would go to rehearsal, rehearse it once, and then we recorded it. The drum patterns weren’t really developed. I didn’t have the time to go through everything and maximize my performance in every part.

As far as your “distinctive style” goes on this release, your use of timbales and other kinds of ethnic percussion really stands out.

Yeah, I think because our music is more rhythmically based. Not in a mathematical way, but groovy and [it has an] ethnic perspective. I’ve always been that way; I’ve been playing percussion since I was four years old. I really have the opportunity now to add some flavor in the music. I went all the way [laughs].

You were mentioning how you went back to Uruguay. You’re a Swede of Uruguayan descent, as is Martin Mendez, correct? What’s the history there?

My parents are refugees from the Uruguay dictatorship. They first moved when the dictator took over Uruguay — they fled to Chile. Then the dictator took over Chile, and they went to Sweden, and that’s when I was born. They moved backed to Uruguay once the dictatorship was over in ’86. I lived there, played drums there, a lot of Uruguayan percussion, African percussion also, which I was very very interested in from the music the slaves took to Uruguay. Their music is really influenced by them; they have some really amazing rhythms. Very interesting stuff if you’re a drummer or a percussionist. That’s what I learned. Back in’ 96 I was living in Tibet, but I moved to Sweden to try and find a band to have the opportunity to live from the music, which is really hard to do in Uruguay. There I started with Amon Amarth, then I just stayed here. That’s pretty much it.

That’s a really cool cross pollination of culture through music, from your background and how it’s worked its way into the Swedish metal scene. 

Actually, when I moved to Sweden, I lived in a ghetto where you had hundreds of nationalities. Being as interested in music as I am, I had the opportunity to play with any kind of Arabic or Kurdish music, people from Senegal, people from Armenia, and really learn a lot of different approaches to music and percussion. It enriches you as a musician very much I think.

What kind of plans are in the works to support Cognitive? You’ve spoken about touring in the near future. 

We’re going through ideas. We’re trying to get a tour that we will enjoy being on. There’s not really a hurry here to go out and play. We don’t have the same kind of desperation you have as a kid to get out on the road and take over the world. We’re taking it easy and we really want to go out and play, but we’re waiting for a good package, or touring opportunity.

Being the kind of band you are, being on the middle ground of modern metal, progressive, and rock, I think there are a lot of both European and American bands you could do very well with on a tour. 

I hope so. There’s two different ways to look at it. Some people think it’s so hard to get us on the road because we don’t fit with any other bands. I think we’re cool playing with the hardest band or the softest band. It’s not really a problem.

How far is an American release day off with Cognitive

It’s supposed to be in May, but I cannot give a date. Hopefully we get to the States to tour soon. I love touring the States. I have since the first time I was there. I want to get over there with Soen.


For more info and music check out Soen’s Facebook page or get your burning questions answered on their FanBridge ! 

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