2015 marks the 20th anniversary of one of the world’s most celebrated melodic death metal outfits, Sweden’s mighty Soilwork. This year also sees the release of their 10th studio album, the brilliant and brutal The Ride Majestic and a major U.S tour with Soulfly. In February of next year, the band is heading to Australia to play a series of shows that will showcase material from the new album, along with work from their substantial back catalogue.
Thanks to our friend, John Howarth of Bullet Proof, we caught up with their powerhouse vocalist, Björn ‘Speed’ Strid, who chatted to us about the sorrow behind the latest release, as well as his thoughts about recording, touring with Soulfly, and Aussie audiences.
SR: Congratulations on the huge success of The Ride Majestic. You must be so satisfied with how positively it’s been received. Do you read the reviews?
BS: Yes, I’ve been reading the press and I’m really happy as well. I felt really confident about this album, especially after everything we went through during the recording. It kind of dragged out. I knew it had a lot of potential, this album, and it felt so real. I think it had the perfect balance between melancholy and intensity. I think it’s a pretty dark album, in general. It’s dark sounding. Now that it’s done, I just want to take it to the stage and celebrate the whole thing, you know? So, I’m really pleased with the response and I’m really proud of it.
SR: I know some of you lost family members during recording, which influenced the process. It must have been a very powerful experience to channel that grief into your art.
BS: Yes, it was definitely hard. The thing is that it all happened while we were in the studio, and it all happened within a month. Four members of the band lost family members and it was really hard to grasp. It was almost like somebody was trying to tell us to not record this album. So, it was definitely rough. For example, I lost my 94-year-old Grandma who was one of my absolute best friends. So that was rough. It was only natural; she lived a really good and long life, but it’s always hard when it hits that close to home. And I think it really affected me and how I approached my vocal recording. It felt very real and especially since the album was going to deal with a lot of existential questions, anyway, about life and death. So, it definitely affected me, and coming out of the studio, after all the recording and just sitting down and mixing the album was such an experience. The band is absolutely on fire on this album and it feels very energetic and real.
SR: Going through that grieving process during the months you spent recording and mixing, did you feel yourselves going through that emotional cycle of anger, sadness, acceptance, and so forth?
BS: Yeah, for sure. They were definitely present. We had other band members who lost people who went too soon, too. I think it was harder for them, as well, because I could see it coming with my Grandma. But I’m just happy that we were there together, recording an album because I don’t know what would have happened if all those things happened when we were having a break from the band, or if we were off touring and not even writing music. I think it would’ve taken a lot longer to write the album. But instead, we were in the studio together and we had the music as a comfort. It became the biggest comfort and it was really our way of dealing with it. There was definitely anger present, and going into acceptance and all those things. It was interesting to be in the studio and go through all those things. But I think it became a comfort as well.
SR: You guys seem to raise the bar for each new release. What are some boundaries you still want to push, or some goals you want to achieve that you haven’t yet?
BS: That is a very good question. I think it’s hard to say what the next boundary will be that we push, but I feel that we’ve grown so much as song writers. And right now I feel that we’re at a point where we could do whatever we want, musically and also technically. We always put the song first; it’s not about being technical. But it’s a pretty cool feeling to know that I’m in a band where we can do whatever we want, technically and musically. It’s just a matter of writing songs – good songs that tell a story. So, I think we always push ourselves to become better song writers. I think that’s really the mission: to become better and better song writers and to create interesting dynamics in the music. I think we did really well on this new album, with dynamics. I think the intense parts are more intense than The Living Infinite, and the softer parts are also softer, so that creates a really nice kind of gap that really works. And I think it really stands out today, in the metal genre.
“…I really love being in the studio and seeing the songs taking form. It’s a really interesting process and I love being creative….”
SR: Most definitely. This year marks your 20th anniversary as a band. Congratulations! How does it feel and are you doing anything special to celebrate this milestone?
BS: Well, first of all, it’s kind of hard to grasp. Only a few months ago it took a journalist to remind me that it was 20 years (laughs). So I haven’t really talked about it. I started the band when I was 17 and now I’m 37, so that’s just insane.
SR: It’s incredible.
BS: Yeah, it really is. And 10 albums…And I think the live DVD was definitely a nice celebration and a nice summing up of our career, even though it doesn’t really have songs from the new album. We haven’t really planned anything to celebrate. I guess we should, in some way (laughs). I guess we’ll have to see. First of all we need to sit down and just grasp that it’s been 20 years, I guess (laughs).
SR: You’ve been on tour with Soulfly. What was that experience like and what were some of the highlights?
BS:It was really cool. I mean, it was really cool to tour with Max Cavalera. Having grown up listening to Sepultura and then being on tour with them – even though it’s not Sepultura – it’s Soulfly. I know he’s a big fan, as well, so that’s a really cool feeling. We were the support and it was a really good tour. It was just really good, in general – the crowd attendance and everything. I think we were on fire every night. I remember the guitarist in Soulfly, Mark Rizzo, came up to us before we went onstage and told us, ‘Can you guys please just lower the talent level a little bit tonight?’
BS: That was a great moment, actually. He’s a great guy and he really became a fan as well while the tour was going on.
SR: And you’re coming down to Australia in February. What can fans expect from those shows and have you got your setlist worked out yet?
BS: Yeah, it’s going to be a great setlist and we’re obviously going to be bringing the new album to the stage. I think the new album sounds fantastic live and we have so much fun performing it. As dark as the album might be, it always becomes a party, you know? We’re kind of celebrating the whole thing now, so I think the band is super-energetic with the addition of Markus Wibon on bass. That’s fantastic as well – he’s quite a character and a great guy and a great bass player. I know that this sounds like a lie, but we’ve never been this consistent. Based on the tour we just did with Soulfly, we’ve never been this consistent and energetic live. So that’s what people can expect.
SR: I heard an online rumour that you could be touring with In Flames next year? Is it true that that’s a possibility?
BS: Oh, I haven’t even heard about that one but we’d love to. We know the guys, so yeah – I’m going to try to make that happen. Yeah, that would definitely be good. I think that they’ve been doing so much touring for their new album that they probably have a couple more tours in them for this one. So, I’ll try to make that happen.
BS: I do like both. I really love being in the studio and seeing the songs taking form. It’s a really interesting process and I love being creative. Touring is different. It’s one long party, you know? As much as I don’t really party the same way I used to – it’s more of a pre-party, rather than an after party (laughs). ‘Cause I can’t really stand the hangovers anymore. They just get worse, with age, for sure. So, it’s just different – it’s more like a celebration of coming out of the studio and taking it to the stage. And obviously, when you’ve toured for a year, it becomes tiring – I’m not going to lie. It’s just different. It’s such a great kick live, still. And as long as that feeling is there and you don’t feel miserable and you really get that kick, I think you’ve got all the reason in the world to continue. So, it’s still fun.
SR: What are some of the wildest things that have happened at your shows?
BS: Well there was one thing last summer. We played a festival in France: The Hellfest – a huge festival. We went onstage and rolled the intro for Spectrum of Eternity and I see Ola, our bass player at the time, kind of jumping up in the middle of the intro. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a weird spot to do a jump – in the middle of that intro with cello and strings’. Then, a second later, I see him going through the floor – and we’re talking like a really tall stage. He went through the floor and dragged all the monitors and microphones with him, and the stage floor fell on top of him as well. It was just insane. I’ve never seen anything like it. He could’ve died. I was just thinking, ‘What the hell’s just happened?’ I went over to the hole in the stage, and I looked down and could not see him. I was like, ‘Wow! What is happening?’ And then I see him climbing up the other side with a bass on his back and his hair standing up straight. He was covered in dust. And I started cracking up so bad. We had to laugh it off for five minutes before we could continue the show. We were just happy he was alive, but it was such a funny moment. I’ve never seen anything like that onstage.
SR: What do you like to do for fun in your downtime?
BS: That’s always the hardest part. I’ve been trying so hard to find a hobby that has nothing to do with music (laughs), but it’s really hard. I try to stay in shape. I try to go to the gym every day and stay active. It’s hard. We just came off our North American tour and had three weeks off. Now we’re leaving on Friday for our European tour. So, what do you do for three weeks? Sometimes I wish I had some sort of a day job when I came home. But there’s no employer in the world that would accept that. So, I don’t know. I watch TV shows, work out, hang out with friends that are non-musicians (laughs). That can also be good sometimes.
SR: You’ve been to Australia many times now. Is there anything you’re hoping to do here that you haven’t had a chance to do in the past?
BS: Well, this time it’s going to be really extra special because I’m bringing my Dad along. He’s going to be a tour assistant and he’s never been with me on tour before. But I really wanted to show him Australia. We’re going to New Zealand as well. That’s going to be a good time. It’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure. But I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve toured Australia five times before. So, before he gets too old, it’s time to do that son and dad trip, you know? So that’s gonna be fun.
SR: How do your Aussie audiences compare with others around the world?
BS: I think they’re really consistent. You always know what to expect. They’re so energetic and loud and really nice. It’s always such a great time and it’s very special. It’s just the trip going there – that’s the worst part. Once I’m there, I always have such a great time.
SR: Do you have a message you’d like to send out to your Australian fans who are looking forward to seeing you down here again?
BS: Well, we’ve talked about the new album quite a bit. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do and get prepared. It’s going to be a very good show and the new songs are really killing it live.
Soilwork 2016 Australian Tour Dates
ROSEMOUNT HOTEL, PERTH
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 10
THE GOV, ADELAIDE
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 12
THE TRIFFID, BRISBANE
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 13
MAX WATTS, SYDNEY
MONDAY FEBRUARY 15
170 RUSSELL, MELBOURNE
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 16
For complete tour, VIP package and ticketing details, visit: www.livenation.com.au