Always Building, Always Evolving, Always Working - A Conversation with Bjorn Strid of Soilwork

Swedish death metal was a wave. An irresistible force that consumed metal as we knew it, blazing a new trail that left ripples across the entire genre and touched every corner and splinter. In the vanguard of that cascade was Soilwork, a hungry band with an aggressive sound. As the years passed, the wave receded, but Soilwork remains, as strong as ever and on the cusp of the release of their double album "The Living Infinite." We talked with vocalist Bjorn "Speed" Strid on the eve of this release about the spirit of his band, the new album and the fortitude it takes to make a double record.
M. DREW: We’ll start at the top. You’ve just gone ahead and put together a double album. What made that the decision for this album cycle?
BJORN “SPEED” STRID: It’s our ninth album, and I had an idea of making something bigger, something more epic. I think we needed a new challenge, not just throwing out another disc with eleven or twelve songs. I think we have a lot to say both musically and lyrically and we wouldn’t have been able to fit it all on one disc. Plus, the fact that I think we needed to prove to ourselves and our listeners that there are other amazing songwriters in the band. So it really became a band effort. Every member of this band contributed musically and lyrically. It’s definitely something that stands out, that makes sense.
M.D: Speaking of other songwriters, Peter Wichers left the band again. How did that change the writing process for “The Living Infinite?”
BSS: I don’t know if it changed the way we write songs, but maybe more people stepped up to the plate. It hadn’t really worked like that before. Usually, we had two or three songwriters. I’ve always written the lyrics and some riffs here or there and then it was Peter writing most of the music and you had Sylvain [Coudret] and Sven [Karlsson] contributing a song or two. But now it’s really all over the place. I personally ended up writing eight songs on the album on guitar before lyrics and vocals which was a new challenge for me. I guess that makes it different in that sense.
M.D: As a songwriter or a group of songwriters, what goes into writing a double record that’s different than just putting out eleven or twelve songs?
BSS: I think we felt kind of free to be able to break the boundaries a little bit. We knew that trying to make a double album, it has to be pretty diverse. We couldn’t really do “Stabbing the Drama” times two, that would not have really worked. I think the decision made it really interested, that we can go really crazy on this one. It wouldn’t make sense to go that crazy on one disc, I couldn’t see that in my mind, the rest of the guys felt that as well. It would be really hard. So when you say ‘okay, this is going to be a double album,’ you can make it very detailed and very diverse and fit everything in there that Soilwork stands for and hopefully find a good balance. That was the key.
M.D: It seems like “The Living Infinite” toyed around with more melodic elements, musical interludes, sections of clean vocals, stuff like that. Did you intend to do those things, or did that just come out as part of the freedom of a double album?
BSS: I think it came with the freedom, because we never said ‘what do we need on this album?’ We never said we needed one fast, one mellow, one trippy song or anything like that. We do write in different ways. Sven has his way of writing songs, and I have mine, and Sylvain as well and now David [Andersson] come into the band. I would say that it came out really natural because we never discussed how it should be. I think we all felt that without really discussing it.
M.D: I know this album isn’t a concept album, but is there a central theme to the record that you want people to take away?
BSS: Musically, I think the melancholy is something…there’s melancholy melodies in the songs and I feel we sound more Scandinavian again, if that makes sense at all. We have that kind of Scandinavian melancholy again musically. Lyrically, the main topic or general theme is existential questions and existential matters. I’ve been spending so much time in the last years, I’m out there thinking about ‘what am I doing here?’ and stuff like ‘what happens to my thoughts and feelings when I die?’ They need to go somewhere, they can’t just die. It’s about acceptance. I’ve been spending a little too much time thinking about existential things and some of those thoughts don’t help me in my daily life. So this was my way of de-traumatizing those thoughts and to find acceptance that I can’t get answers to those questions. I could spend my whole life thinking about it and I won’t get any answers. [The album] is really about acceptance, and finding ways to de-traumatize the panic that’s connected with those thoughts.
M.D: Is the cupboard bare now? Did you throw everything you had musically at “The Living Infinite?”
BSS: There sure is a lot. I feel drained, it’s all in there. It’s such a massive album and so epic with so much emotion, so much passion, so much everything. At the same time, I’m kinda hooked on making double albums [laughs]. Does this mean Soilwork will only be releasing double albums from now on? Or should we have a triple? It’s needed out there, as well. There’s not a lot of bands releasing double albums right now, and I really wanted to do that. It was the feeling that I had. Albums from the ‘70s that were double albums, you hold it up and you look at the sleeve before putting it on, and you felt like you were going to be taken on a journey. You know that there will be transitions and details and acoustic parts and on and on. That’s how I wanted people to feel as well. That’s what I wanted to pass on.
M.D: Each album that Soilwork has done over the years seems to find the band evolving every time. Where would you say your band is now?
BSS: If I can make a reference, I read in an interview with Nicke [Andersson] of the Hellacopters, and he has a new band Imperial State Electric or something like that, that every band makes a ‘beard’ album. This is our ‘beard’ album, where everything is progressive and more mature. It’s really hard to say where we’re going next, but to use an old cliché, it’s marking a new era. I mean that. I think we’re touching on something new with this album. We hinted at it on “The Panic Broadcast” and now it’s falling into the right place. I feel that there are going to be great things to come, for sure.

M.D: In discussions of your band, there are people out there who are always critical that your recent albums don’t have the same sound as “Steelbath Suicide” or “Chainheart Machine.” What’s your response to that?
BSS: I do respect that. But people also need to understand, it’s always like that. When you go from a pretty aggressive sound to a slightly more melodic sound, in our case we added clean vocals, and people just automatically think ‘oh, they want to sell records, they want to reach a bigger crowd.’ And it’s totally like that in some cases. That’s fine that people want to do that. In our case, adding clean vocals was really natural for me. I didn’t ever think about ‘how are we going to be able to make this band bigger?’ That’s not how I thought at all, I just wanted to develop as a singer and find ways to not be limited doing just screaming vocals. I like doing screaming vocals, but there’s so much more than that. Something that I realized is that it’s all about presence and the voice. It doesn’t matter if it’s screaming vocals or grungy, mellow vocals. They can sound just as brutal because of the presence. That’s what I really wanted to develop, just like the other guys in the band wanted to become better guitar players, I wanted to become a better singer. That was the whole reason we started doing that, because I enjoyed it. If people like my clean vocals, that’s fine. If they only like screaming vocals, I fully get that. I respect that.
M.D: You are very connected in the European heavy metal scene, and you’ve been very successful across the Atlantic in the American metal scene, what makes the two schools of thought different?
BSS: It’s hard to say because I feel like, at least now, the scenes are pretty similar. There was a bit of an exchange when the Swedish singers or Scandinavian singers influenced the American metalcore bands. The American metalcore bands influenced the Swedish bands as well, bringing some of the American hardcore riffs into the Swedish singing. So for a while, we had Swedish bands sounding very American and American bands sounding very Swedish [laughs]. I think it’s very similar. Ten years ago, when you played a show in Sweden, people were just standing there and watching and everyone was in a band themselves and kind of brought their notepads and wrote down is somebody fucked up [laughs]. Now it’s so different, the crowds are into moshing and circle pits and wall of death. The crowds are becoming more and more similar, it’s been a nice exchange after all. I think it’s a pretty beautiful thing that we’ve been able to have an exchange musically and crowd-wise.
M.D: Growing up in Sweden, when you grew up, what was it like being around during the height of death and black metal, as those scenes were evolving?
BSS: I was really, really into that scene. That’s kind of how I ended up here, in a way. I got introduced into more extreme metal when I was twelve or thirteen years old in junior high, I had a classmate who introduced me into a lot of the Swedish death metal. There was a lot of tape trading, and then I did get a lot of compilation discs that came with a magazine in ’94 and ’95. Talking to people in the scene, that had such a huge impact because it introduced all those Norwegian bands as well like Emperor and all that stuff. Also the Swedish bands like Dark Funeral, stuff like that. That really had an impact on me, especially Dissection. That was my all-time favorite band. “Storm of the Light’s Bane” had more impact on me than any Metallica album. The way Dissection mixed the melodies and the melancholy, that had a huge impact on me. It was a pretty big scene in the beginning of the ‘90s between the Swedish death metal and black metal bands coming from Norway.
M.D: You’ve been a guest on at least a dozen different projects and counting. What’s the one you’re most proud of and what’s the one you want to do that you haven’t done yet?
BSS: That’s a really good question. I’m losing count [laughs]. They’re usually metal, right? So it would be cool to do something totally different, like a music style I don’t usually listen to. Like an industrial, ambient craziness. Something like Nine Inch Nails, something like that would be cool to do. What I’m most proud about? I’m trying to think…I was doing vocals for a whole album in Canada for a band called Blinded in Bliss. I’m kind of a member of that band, but I don’t know what’s going on. That’s kind of my Canadian band. I created all the melodies for those guys, and to see them inspired by that was a huge compliment. To start it had great riffing, but it didn’t really have vocals, it was missing something. To put that together and inspire, it was really cool.
M.D: Last one is a quick one just because I’m curious about these kind of things. Let’s say we’re in Sweden and looking for a good, traditional Swedish dinner. What are we eating, what are we drinking?
BSS: I’m sure you can find restaurants in America that serve Swedish meatballs, but it’s usually not the same kind of recipe. That’s a classic. I would probably make it out of ground moose, with a lot of thyme in it. We'd have mashed potatoes with a really creamy brown sauce and fresh lingonberries with it. Then there’s this beer brand called Oppigard, it’s like a pale ale, it would work perfectly.

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