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Exclusive! Interview With Soilwork Vocalist Bjorn "Speed" Strid

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Thursday, July 24, 2003 @ 11:05 AM

Frontman Bjorn "Speed" Strid S

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Following on the heels of In Flames, Meshuggah, Arch Enemy, Dark Tranquillity and The Haunted, Soilwork is the latest Swedish metal band to make waves in America. Soilworkís fifth album, Figure Number Five, cracked the Billboard Heatseekers chart when it debuted in May. And the band is just wrapping up a U.S tour with In Flames Ė with another tour of the states, perhaps as headliners, likely in the fall. Not bad for a band that was little more than a blip on the underground radar screen just two years ago.

Prior to the release of its third album, A Predatorís Portrait, in 2001, Soilwork was still something of a serious hobby for its members. The band recorded for a small European label, Listenable Records, and played sporadically around Europe and a few shows in Japan while working full-time jobs in between. But with Predator, things got a bit more serious for the band. Soilwork signed to the bigger Nuclear Blast Records, which opened it up to a much wider prospective audience, honed and expanded its sound to set it apart from the rest of the Swedish power metal contingent, and spent more time on the road. The band made its American debut at the 2001 Milwaukee Metalfest.

In short order, Soilwork followed with Natural Born Chaos, it heaviest and most accomplished album yet. It saw frontman Bjorn ďSpeedĒ Strid introduce clean vocals to mix and found the band deftly blending speed and power with melody and dexterity. This time, the band came over for a full-blown tour of the states, opening for yet another bunch of Swedes, Hypocrisy. /p> Never one to waste time, Soilwork got right to work on Figure Number Five, its fifth album in six years. Once again, the band broadened its sonic palette, with keyboards playing a bigger role and Strid making even greater use of his clean vocal capabilities. The band will be doing the most extensive touring of its career in support of the album, with at least two trips through European planned along with the American treks. Soilwork will also be heading over to Japan with Children of Bodom and then to Australia as headliners in September. The days of just playing on weekends are long over.

Already, the more rigorous schedule has taken its toll. After several years of lineup stability, drummer Henry Ranta left just after the album was released saying he was burned out. New drummer Richard Evensand joined the band in time for the current U.S. tour.

On a late spring Sunday evening, Strid phoned in from Sweden to talk about Soilworkís stepped up work regimen, its evolving sound and what itís like to do a low-budget tour of America, where the stages are small and the showers are few and far between.

KNAC.COM: Are you guys doing anything other than press right now? A warm-up tour or rehearsals or anything?
STRID: No, this is it. Iíve done a lot of interviews. Iíve been at the Nuclear Blast head office in Germany. I think we have done interviews every day for two weeks. Itís hectic, but I like it. Itís great that to have a lot of people pay attention, even though itís pretty tough sometimes.

KNAC.COM: Doing these things on Sunday I guess proves how full your schedule is.
STRID: Yeah, exactly. I think we have two or three more days left to do interviews. Then we go off to tour with Children of Bodom in Europe.

KNAC.COM: Do you get the impression that there is a lot more interest in this album than in your previous albums?
STRID: Yeah, I think so. We have done more interviews and I think the fanbase worldwide, especially in the states seems to be moving forward as far as growth. I really hope so. I really hope that we can tour some more, even though last year was pretty hectic.
Iím sure itís going to be the busiest year of our career and thatís just great because I quit my daily job two weeks ago to manage all this touring. Iím pretty glad, really, to be concentrating 100 percent on the music.

KNAC.COM: Will you be able to support yourself on the music after the touring is over, or will you have to go back and find work?
STRID: Well, I canít really say for sure. I think our manager has a master plan and Iím sure we can do headliner tours in the fall. So the plan is for us to concentrate on the music for as long as we can. Then weíll see where we are after that.

KNAC.COM: What kind of job did you leave?
STRID: I used to work with kids with emotional problems in my hometown. I got a lot of inspiration from those kids for the lyrics.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, I was gonna say.
STRID: It was a very inspiring job, even though the kids told me some really horrible stories about what was going on. But it was still very interesting and I will miss those kids, and I guess they will miss me as well. Maybe in the future, if I can jump in and work with those kids again, that would be cool.

KNAC.COM: I would think the kids got something out of the fact that you were ďpursuing the rock and roll dream,Ē so to speak.
STRID: I think so. The kids very much looked up to me because I was playing music and touring and they were always very interested in the band and what was going on. They were always watching on the Internet what was happening and stuff like that. And the band has made quite a bit of progress during the last couple years, so theyíve seen how we have grown and moved up through the underground.

KNAC.COM: How old were these kids?
STRID: From seven up to like 16. So they are aware of music and they like music and being in a band really does mean something to them.

KNAC.COM: What kind of inspiration did you take from them?
STRID: Some of the stuff you hear brings you to a very dark place and sometimes it really makes you angry, and you can feed off that. And a song like ďDeparture PlanĒ on the new album is about escape and overcoming suicidal urges. You hear a lot of that sort of thing from these kids.

STRID: Yeah. A lot of these kids have been through some really bad shit, a lot of them are still going through it. Hopefully I was able to help them in some small way.

KNAC.COM: On an entirely different subject, your first tour here this year will be with In Flames, that should be a good match. And touring with them should have a bit more prestige than touring with Hypocrisy, like you did last time. Not to take anything away from Hypocrisy.
STRID: Yeah, we should be playing in bigger places and itís the perfect band to tour with. Of course there are a lot of people comparing In Flames with Soilwork and vice versa. But I think itís a very good tour and the fan base is growing a lot in the states as well. The last album I think sold 18,000 copies in the states, which probably doesnít sound like a lot, but itís a step in the right direction. I think thatís pretty good and itís growing all the time.

KNAC.COM: How was the tour with Hypocrisy?
STRID: It went OK. We split a bus with them, so it wasnít like we were all piled into a van, but of course it broke down in the Arizona desert and we didnít make it to the gig in L.A., which sucked. It was a very cool tour, I though, even though some of the venues were kinda shitty. With six guys up onstage it was pretty tough, because some of the stages were pretty cramped, especially since I donít think we showered for like two weeks. But you get used to it. After a while, everyone smells the same.

KNAC.COM: Did that tour Hypocrisy help boost the last album, or was it mostly good press and word of mouth?
STRID: I guess both. There was a lot of people that were exciting that Soilwork was doing our first full tour of the states. I think there were a lot of people who came to see the shows because of Soilwork. I donít think that Hypocrisy are that big in the states. I think there were a lot of people interested and wanting to discover Soilwork and experience us live. I think it helped a lot to do a full tour of the states, since then the fan base has grown a lot.

KNAC.COM: With northern Europe, and Sweden in particular, being such a hotbed for metal music, has it been hard to separate yourselves from the rest of the pack?
STRID: I think, in general, bands seem to be very objective when it comes to the music. There are a lot of good bands coming from Sweden and I think that most of the bands have developed their own sound.
Of course you can compare In Flames and Soilwork and Dark Tranquillity, but I think those bands have developed into their own niche. Dark Tranquillity has their own sound, the same with In Flames and Soilwork. Weíre not looking at it as rivals, we support each other and I think there is a very good climate in Sweden.
And a lot of people playing in different types of bands get along very well, the guys in The Haunted like Soilwork very much, there are people from different genres who like our band, and the feeling is mutual. I think that is a very cool thing. No one is trying to copy anyone else to take advantage of the otherís success and we are all very supportive. And since it seems like we are always touring together I guess it helps that we all get along (laughs).

KNAC.COM: At least now you can tell the bands apart. When the Swedish death metal thing happened 10 years ago or so it seemed like just about everyone had that same sort of buzzsawing sound like Entombed or Dismember.
STRID: Yeah, and you can see what happened. Not many of those bands survived and some, especially Entombed, went through some pretty radical changes when it came to the music. I think unconsciously we are all aware that and no one wants to sound just like someone else. We all strive to have our own individual sound, even if we are playing a similar style of music.

KNAC.COM: For this album were you looking to really do anything different, or just do what you had been doing before better?
STRID: I guess we just went with the flow. We wanted to make the clean vocals a bit more varied and also the keyboards. I think the new album is a bit more varied than the last couple albums. I worked a lot on the clean vocals on this album so itís not just clean vocals on the chorus, like it was on Natural Born Chaos, you can hear it in the verses and all over. Thereís probably more clean vocals than screaming vocals on this album. Itís pretty cool.
However, I worked a lot on the screaming vocals as well and I think they are a bit more interesting on this album. I worked a lot with the rhythm on the vocals and tried out different types of vocal tones, not just high-pitched screaming. Thereís a big variety with the vocals, and with the music in general.
And Sven [Karlsson], the keyboard player, worked a lot with the keyboards and uses a lot of analog synthesizers on this album and tried to make the sound more fresh and interesting, and I think he really adds something this time. Everything seems to be integrated a bit better. I think there is a perfect balance between the melodies and the heavy stuff.

KNAC.COM: Did you take any vocal lessons or training to get the clean voice the way you wanted it?
STRID: I used to take some lessons, but that was before the recording of Natural Born Chaos, this time I did it all on my one. I rehearsed a lot on my own and tried to sing to different types of music, not only hard rock and metal. I think that is a good thing.
Sometimes Iíd rehearse like six hours a day on the clean vocals and I think it paid off well. Iím very happy with the results. Thereís not too many overdubs this time and you can hear that I actually can sing (laughs).

KNAC.COM: The trick part comes when you go on tour and have to do that every night.
STRID: Donít even tell me about it (laughs). Iím drinking a lot tea and honey to soothe my throat, but Iím still drinking a lot of beer, believe me, too much sometimes. I think my vocal chords are getting used to touring, so my voice is holding up better and better during the tours.
The first two or three shows might be pretty tough, but then the vocal chords get used to it and it doesnít matter how much beer or booze I drink. Going immediately from the screaming vocals to the clean vocals can be pretty tough, but Iím getting used to this type of singing.

KNAC.COM: You guys work pretty quickly, five albums in roughly five years, which is almost unheard of these guys.
STRID: Well, I donít think you can expect another new album in a year this time (laughs). We really didnít start touring until the last album, so we were able to work on music whenever we wanted. Now that we are touring all over the world, itís going to make that more difficult. But we do like to work fast and we have a lot of inspiration. I think weíve already written three songs for the next album.

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