Exclusive Interview: Soilwork’s Bjorn “Speed” Strid
It seems that the people have spoken, and The Living Infinite is a pretty sweet album… or, rather, double album (though our own Abysmal Shawn doesn’t necessarily agree). Coming right off of what seems to be almost universally the most acclaimed release by Soilwork in recent years, I took some time to chat with long-time vocalist and veritable giant Bjorn “Speed” Strid about the new record, eating well in the studio, and naming all of his songs after women.
It would be an understatement to say that a lot has happened with Soilwork since your last album cycle. We have your first double album ever, and as you’ve been saying, the first melodeath double album of all time. You also have a new guitarist; how were you able to bounce back so quickly and undertake such an ambitious project?
Very good question. It was a pretty turbulent time when The Panic Broadcast came out. It was a great experience with Peter in the studio, but as soon as we started touring we could sense that he felt depressed on tour and stressed about the economic situation to be able to provide for his family back home. It was the same thing repeating over again, since that was the reason he left the last time. We could sense it right away.
So that was pretty rough, obviously. We couldn’t really tour half as much as we should have for The Panic Broadcast. Thankfully David Andersson, once again, jumped in to do some session guitar on some of the tours. He’s also a Phd, so it was kind of hard for him to get off from the hospital with such short notice. Thankfully he was able to do some of it. All in all it was kind of frustrating at that time because we couldn’t really promote the album the way we should have. Peter did announce his departure to us in the band at an early stage so we knew way before it got official.
It was really a natural step for David to come into the band and become a permanent guitarist. He definitely earned that spot, he’s always been there for us. He jumped into the band as a session guitarist all the way back in 2006. So we know him very well on a personal level and also musically. He’s a great songwriter. He actually stepped into the band as a permanent guitar player but no one really knew about that except the band. We didn’t know how to come out with it. Instead we tried to focus on working on a new album. I had an idea about making a double album and I presented it to the guys in the band in 2011 during the Euro festival tour that summer. They were pretty intrigued in a positive way about the idea. I already had a title.
David was with us back then as well, doing those shows; he was there from the beginning with the mindset and everything. The biggest concern was really being able to come up with enough songs. We didn’t want to compromise in anyway, you know, having the first disc sounding awesome and the second disc going down hill and sticking with it just because. That wouldn’t have worked out. We noticed really soon that we had so much inspiration. So I believe we managed to turn all the turbulence into something good.
Once it got official with Peter leaving, it was like, “Oh, Soilwork is done, it’ll be another Sworn to a Great Divide.” I think we really felt we needed to prove to ourselves and our listeners that there are other amazing songwriters in the band. That was one of the keys, plus having a double album and being able to break the boundaries. We knew we had to be pretty diverse and progressive for it to make sense. We couldn’t have two Figure Number Fives, or two Stabbing The Dramas, or anything like that—that wouldn’t have worked out. It would have been totally boring. I think we felt a lot of freedom to be able to do what we wanted, to go crazy.
I think you just answered four or five of the questions I was going to ask. I always crack up when I read about a band that’s about to come out with an album and they say “We wrote 30 songs, they’re all great songs, we picked just the best ones.” Then you hear the 11-track album and it usually has just as much filler as any other record you’ve ever heard. It almost always seems like these bands probably should have just devoted more time to really honing their songs; maybe writing a smaller batch, but making sure they were all good.
Listening to The Living Infinite, I was thinking to myself, “Let me see if I can cut this down and listen to what I thought were my 10 favorites.” It was impossible. It was actually kind of a stressful experience to try to do that! The quality is extremely consistent throughout, and for that many songs it boggles my mind. How did you manage to keep yourselves on the mark when you were writing? Was there a more even distribution of ideas? I know you had mentioned you had done some of the writing yourself.
Well, we are spread all over the world so it’s not like we can jam together. We usually write songs separately and bounce ideas back and forth. The only person that I work closely with is David. Because at the time, when I was writing songs, he was in Sweden and wasn’t living too far from me, so we did come together to write. It was really interesting doing that, because I hadn’t done it in a while. Even with Peter I felt that sometimes we lost some of that communication in the end. Me and Peter, we really didn’t sit together like we used to. So it was great to be able to do that with David. He really understands my ideas. It’s a matter of chemistry. He’ll present an idea and I’ll just say “no, I’m thinking this,” singing it to him. “Oh, you mean this?” “Yes, exactly!” That was a great kick to be able to do that with David—we had that mutual understanding. For the most part, though, we did write the songs separately.
I ended up writing eight songs on the album, on guitar. I also had David helping me with the licks. For example, I wrote “Momentary Bliss,” the whole song except the verse which has a kind of technical melody. Stuff like that we worked on together. It was a really nice challenge for me to pick up the guitar again and build songs from scratch. Not just getting a song and adding lyrics and vocals. That was really interesting and a huge kick for me to be able to deliver all of that. A lot of those riffs I can’t play very well, so I had David to record them properly. Otherwise I’d have to do so many edits. I’m a decent guitar player, but I’m not that good. I guess I know what I want to do. But sometimes it’s hard to put into reality. David also wrote seven songs that ended up on the album.
Flink [Ola Flink, bass] even wrote some lyrics, the first time anyone else in the band has done that. It’s always been me. I never said anything like “It’s only me who’s supposed to write lyrics.” It’s never been like that. It’s always been open. But nobody has ever really showed any interest. So Flink wrote the track “Owl’s Predict, Oracle Stand Guard.” I could never come up with a title like that.
Did he also come up with “Enter Dog of Pavlov?”
No, no. That was me actually. He really likes Owls, it seems. He had this weird trippy dream about owls and he came to me in the studio asking if I needed help with that song lyrically. I said “Yeah, why not? Do you have an idea?” He told me about the weird dream and wrote it down. That was really cool to have someone else, and especially Flink. That man, he has a lot of ideas. He’s a big thinker. Sometimes you really want to get into his head and pick his brain a little bit. So he contributed with lyrics. Even Dirk wrote a song, but it didn’t end up on the album; it’ll be a bonus track for a later release.
Shafting the drummer…
I didn’t know he could play the guitar. He can. I was really impressed. Everyone in this band can play whatever. Then Sven [Karlsson, keyboards] contributed with two songs and Sylvain [Coudret, guitar] brought in two also so it really was a band effort. I think that’s something that stands out; there are not a lot of bands out there in this genre like that. It’s usually two or three songwriters, or sometimes just one. I think that’s cool that we manage to pull this through and make such an interesting album that still makes sense, even though there’s a lot of diversity. It doesn’t sound shattered in any way, even though it has that progressive, diverse element.
I was going to bring that up. The overall, more progressive feel that I started to hear on The Panic Broadcast, has I think especially developed on this album. Were you guys listening to any different artists that you were perhaps not listening to in the past? Was there a very clear decision to go in a different direction?
Hard to say. We do have different tastes within the band. We have different backgrounds. Dirk is coming from a grind-core / death metal background. Flink comes from a hardcore background and Sven comes from a black metal background and me, I don’t even know what kind of background I have. I’m all over the place. I used to play guitar in a black metal band and a ska band at the same time. So I’ve been all over the place.
I’ve been a musical chameleon in that sense. Even though I usually say that my backbone is made of metal there are so many other things I’m influenced by. I know that Sven and Flink have a very similar musical taste. They listen to a lot of drone stuff? Like Sun O))), stuff like that.
Eighteen minute songs of someone letting their bass feedback.
Yeah, I always feel stupid. I can’t get into that stuff. There’s got to be something there! I am open to just about anything. They are huge Meshuggah fans as well. They always have their new stuff for sure. So it’s kind of hard to say what we get influenced by. As you mentioned on The Panic Broadcast I feel we were hinting at something new there. It just didn’t really fall into the right place. Something to come in the future. In that sense, this album is kind of a new statement for us. I think we’re touching on something new.
It definitely feels like a realization of a new direction or incarnation of Soilwork. That’s been something you can see across your whole background. Steelbath Suicide sounds nothing like Natural Born Chaos and Natural Born Chaos sounds nothing like what you’re doing right now even though there’s a consistent base of what Soilwork is.
Switching gears a bit, where exactly was this little hut that you guys were living in for most of the recording process?
It’s in the countryside, half an hour car ride from the coast in southern Sweden. On the west coast. It’s called Valling.
“Baby formula” (Välling means baby formula in Swedish)? I remember David (Castillo – Ghost Ward) works in Vällingby.
This is without the Umlaut. It’s really close to Varberg. Countryside, nothing around. That’s where Fascination Street is—one of the studios. Then Jens [Bogren] has a mixing studio, another Fascination Street that is in Orebro, closer to Stockholm. That’s usually where he has the recording sessions, that’s where we were stuck for two months. It was different in a way; the latest albums we’ve recorded guitars at one studio and drums at a different one then mixed in a third studio. I think it was really good that we got together again, old school style. Recording everything from scratch and having the whole band in the same place. Sleeping there, cooking together and recording the album.
I wanted to ask about the cuisine. You can see some of it in your new video for “Rise Above the Sentiment.” What were some of the highlights of the dining experiences you had there?
I personally missed the Italian evening. They’re still talking about that one and, of course, I wasn’t there for that. I went home over a weekend and Dave, Flink, and Sven had an evening when they made really nice lasagna. We have a lot of great chefs in the band. Flink was doing a lot of slow cooking in the studio. I love his slow cooked food. It’s really good. The funny part about Dave, the new guitarist, he’s a Phd, a doctor. He’s also an amazing guitar player and an awesome chef. Unreal. He would fry up a pheasant, stuff like that. He’d dust off a French cookbook from 1847, he does that shit. That’s what I was expecting from him, finally getting some awesome food in the studio. We went to the grocery store, just watching him—what was he going to do? What was he going to make? He goes straight to the frozen pizza section. I was like, what? What are you doing?! He picked up a pack of frozen pizzas and went to the cashier. He’s very much like that. Sometimes he makes the fanciest food you can think of and sometimes he’s like, fuck it. Rock and roll. Frozen pizza and beer.
The other thing you can see at the end of the video; I think it’s behind Flink, is the famous checklist of all the songs, or as you call them, the ladies. How did that come together? Was that just the easier way to keep track of all the songs?
Yes, we’ve been doing it like that for the last five albums. Especially if you have a double album, Jesus. There are so many different things and then overdubs. The reason I named all the songs after ladies— I guess it started with me and Dave. We decided to come up with really classic, Dallas Dynasty girl names. Then it went away from that a little bit, like Rikki Lake and names like Latisha.
No, that was the name of a witch actually. But I don’t know, we just like classic names. That’s the reason. Plus we really wanted to upset the other guys too for the rest of the band members to not be able to separate all the tracks because they’re all named after women. Just to fuck with people.
Out of everyone in the harem, what were some of your favorite girls?
Vesta is definitely one of them. That’s one of the tracks I wrote from scratch and everything, so I’m proud of that one. There are a lot of people who seem to dig that song as well. Trying to remember all the girl names. Denise worked out really well too. Which is, “Let the First Wave Rise.” That’s a cool one; it almost has a black metal feel to it. But at the same time, a rock feel. Kind of a bluesy verse, fast beats.
What can we expect as far as new horizons for Soilwork? Can we expect a triple album next time?
Funny you said that, I’m pretty hooked on making double albums now. I would feel limited otherwise. It was a big project but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would have been. There were other albums, regular ones, that have been more of a draining experience. We’ll have to see. Maybe we’ll end up being a band that always releases double albums.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I just started a guitar company with a friend here in Canada; his name is Dave Sheldon. He plays in a band called X’s for Eyes. We started a guitar company called Elegy Guitarworks and it’s going to be pretty focused on the metal market with six, seven and eight-string guitars. There’s a factory that’s making them for us; we’re designing the bodies and the headstocks. We’ll have the first prototypes coming in real soon.