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Tune in to the Panic Broadcast. Exclusive Interview with SoilworK Frontman/Founder, Bjorn “Speed” Strid

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Friday, August 6, 2010 @ 12:12 AM

“...musically...there (are) no limitations whatsoever now. If the dynamic changed at all as far as the songwriting goes with Peter [Wichers] coming back, that’s where it did. We felt like we could do anything.”

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After literally playing a game of musical chairs at the guitar position during the past several years, Swedish thrashers Soilwork essentially have found themselves back where they started — which is pretty cool, as far as they are concerned.

After several years away — during which time he did writing, recording and production on Nevermore frontman Warrel Dane’s terrific solo album, filled in on guitar during a Killswitch Engage European tour, performed with the Nuclear Blast All-Stars and later produced Nevermore’s new album — founding guitarist and main songwriter Peter Wichers returned to the fold in late 2008, ironically replacing his own replacement, Daniel Antonsson. Along the way, Soilwork also had replaced longtime guitarist Ola Frenning, who is actually Wichers’ uncle, with Frenchman Sylvain Coudret, who previously had played in Scarve with drummer Dirk Verbeuren, who joined the band in 2005 after some similar turmoil at that position.

Yet after all that drama, the dust has settled and Soilwork is back in business with their just-released, and quite excellent, eighth album The Panic Broadcast and a U.S. headlining tour with Death Angel that will run into mid-August. More technical and punishing than the Wichers-less Sworn To The Great Divide from 2007, and boasting a bigger, brasher sound, Panic became the band’s highest charting album when it was issued in mid-July, cracking the Billboard Top 100 for the first time.

On the phone from his new home in Sweden, just before leaving for the U.S. tour, Soilwork co-founder and frontman Bjorn “Speed” Strid spoke about the reunion with Wichers, the songwriting confidence the band developed in his absence and the astonishing popularity of Sweden’s latest cultural export — crime fiction.

KNAC.COM: It’s hot as hell in D.C. right now, how’s the summer been so far in Sweden?

Strid: It’s OK, it’s nice. I just moved to a house by the ocean. So it doesn’t really matter if there’s sunshine or not, you can still see the ocean. And the days are getting pretty long here now, so you get to see it a lot, which is cool. It’s a nice spot.

KNAC.COM: I wonder if your tune will change in the middle of the winter when it’s dark and dank and cold?

Strid: I’ve only been here for about two months, so I guess I’ll see what that’s like. I’m not too concerned about the cold. You get used to that pretty quick living in Sweden cuz it’s like that most of the time (laughs). I’m more concerned about what the electrical bill will be.

KNAC.COM: Before we really get started, I got the promo for Panic as I was reading the second book of the “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” series, so it became like the soundtrack. Those books are a huge phenomenon in the states right now, were they that big a deal in Sweden when they first came out?

Strid: It’s definitely been huge here too, for sure. Both the books and the movies. It got a lot of hype at the time and the newspapers here have talked a lot about how they’ve become really big in America. It’s the biggest thing to come from Sweden in quite a while.

KNAC.COM: Too bad the author, Stieg Larsson, died before they were published and missed all the hooha?

Strid: And the money (laughs). I guess his family and girlfriend are fighting about that now. There’s definitely a lot to fight over.

KNAC.COM: No doubt. With regard to Soilwork, two members live in the states now [Wichers in North Carolina, Verbeuren in Cleveland], how has that affected the band logistically?

Strid: We really are spread out now, that’s for sure. Our other guitar player, Sylvain, lives in France. So it’s just myself, the bass player (Ola Flink) and the keyboard player (Sven Karlsson) who live in Sweden now. It didn’t really affect us too much during the songwriting process, because we could just send files back and forth to each other, we didn’t really rehearse. A lot of bands work that way nowadays and we’re kind of used to that because it’s been that way for us for a couple years now. We’re going to meet up before the tour starts for a little preproduction, go through all the songs. That’s how we usually do it. It think it’s been working fine. As long as the inspiration is there, everything else will work itself out.

KNAC.COM: Will you all meet at Peter’s studio in North Carolina to rehearse for the tour?

Strid: We’re actually going to rehearse at a place in Baltimore. We rented a club there and we’ll do preproduction there for a week and then do the first show in Springfield, Va., outside of D.C., at Jaxx.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, that place is like 15 minutes from my house.

Strid: We’ve played there a bunch of times and we usually go over pretty well, so it’s a good place to kick things off. The album comes out two weeks before that, so we’re excited to get back out there and play the new material. It’s been over a year since we’ve played live, which I can’t believe. So I’m freaking out. But we know each other so well personally and musically, so I’m sure it’s going to be fine. It’s going to be interesting as well as a blast to actually rehearse the new album for the first time. It’s gonna sound really great, I’m sure.

KNAC.COM: Have you played any of the new songs as a full band yet?

Strid: No, we haven’t played together at all any of the new songs. Most everything was recorded separately when we were in the studio. We’ve all rehearsed them at home on our own, so we know them really well. It will just be a matter of getting in sync. I feel that’s a good thing in a way because we don’t really get fed up with it and nitpicking all the minute details. It’s going to be exciting to actually do it together after hearing the album so many times. It will be a cool feeling and I think it will bring a lot of energy to it that should carry over to the shows

KNAC.COM: I guess the obvious question everyone is asking is with Peter back in the band is A.) how did that end happening and B.) obviously, you must be pretty happy to have him back?

Strid: For sure. We never lost contact. Me and Peter are the best of friends and Soilwork is really our little baby, we formed the band back in ‘96. After he was gone, we were planning to have a little band on the side, like a studio project, and we started to write some songs and send ideas back and forth. And I remember he sent over what later became the song “The Thrill.” And I was like “wow, that’s a really cool song.” It’s got kinda crazy riffing, interesting riffing. And I told him, “well, you know what, it sounds kinda like Soilwork still.” And he was like “yeah, I know” (laughs).

And after a while we started discussing how are things? And I asked him “do you miss being with Soilwork?” And he was like “Yeah, I do.” I guess he just needed that time away to feel more secure. He got away from the grind of spending so much time on the road. He got a studio set up, he did some production work. He got married and he had a daughter as well. And after a while he just found that inspiration again.

His wife was really pushing him as well. “You’re supposed to be with Bjorn in Soilwork,” she’d tell him. So he had a lot of support on that end as well, which I’m sure meant a lot, because usually it works the other way around.

KNAC.COM: When he left, did you figure he’d eventually come back or were you preparing to go on without him for the rest of Soilwork’s career?

Strid: I couldn’t really see him returning to the band. I really saw that he was running out of inspiration and starting to see other things in life, and that happens to a lot of people. Looking back, I actually glad that he had the courage to step away when he did, even thought it was a big blow to the band at the time, not to mention that fact that I wasn’t going to be working with my best friend anymore. But he’s way more happy nowadays, and I think he’s feeling more fulfilled after having worked with Warrel Dane and doing other things. He’s definitely got that inspiration again and it’s great to have him back.

KNAC.COM: Have you had to make any accommodations on Peter’s behalf, such as how hard you tour or anything like that to make him more comfortable within the framework of the band so what happened before doesn’t happen again?

Strid: Now everybody is on the same level and has the same sort of frame of mind, and we also feel like sometimes we jumped on tours just because, just for the hell of it. We’re definitely going to pick our tours. We’ll make sure that we’ll cover everything, but it might not be five tours of America every album, it might be more like three. We’ll do the headline tour this time, it’s a month-long tour, then maybe we’ll come back and do a co-headline tour and then, hopefully, we’ll get a bigger band that wants to have us come over and open for them. So that’s a pretty good amount of work.

KNAC.COM: Since the band wrote all the material for the last album without Peter, and he was such a major part of the songwriting before that, did the dynamic change much with him back?

Strid: Not really. It was pretty much like him added back to the puzzle. We have so many great songwriters in the band. We did a great job on the previous album. It was more when we were out touring. Speaking for myself, I thought there was something missing. I actually missed Peter when we started touring. It just feels so great having him back in the band.

We’ve definitely got the best line up ever. And I just get really high on the fact of all things we can do musically because there is no limitations whatsoever now. If the dynamic changed at all as far as the songwriting goes with Peter coming back, that’s where it did. We felt like we could do anything.

KNAC.COM: Dirk sure gets a workout on this album?

Strid: Oh yeah, for sure. That’s what we wanted him to do because on the previous album he was held back a little. The reason why we’re not working with Ola[Frenning] any more is because he wanted everything to be so basic and he had a vision of creating music that everyone can understand. And the rest of the band didn’t really agree with that vision. We really wanted Dirk to do his thing and go absolutely ape shit on this album, as you can hear. Everyone else, too, for that matter. That’s the way Soilwork is supposed go be, no boundaries, just go ape shit.

KNAC.COM: Peter and Sylvain seem to work pretty well together too, the guitar work is pretty elaborate and intricate?

Strid: Even though they haven’t played together all that long, they definitely complement each other. And they were sure to put a lot of solos on there so you can hear it (laughs). We had more solos and duel guitar stuff on the older albums and then got away from that on the last few. But it’s all back this time, for sure. If you like a lot of guitar, then this is an album for you.

KNAC.COM: With the last album, the focus definitely seemed more on the melodic side. Here, there’s no shortage of brutality to go along with it.

Strid: That’s what I really feel too, it’s really extreme and really pissed off and intense, but like still so catchy. But it feels so much more real. Even in the softest parts of the album, you still feel the presence and the intensity of it whereas last time, looking back, I think some of it sounded a little forced. We always want that element of surprise in there, and this album has plenty of that. The songs go all over the place.

KNAC.COM: Was having Peter do the production on this album part of an effort to get back to more of an epic sound? Despite its catchiness, the last album was pretty raw.

Strid: Yeah, we wanted something more hard hitting. The production on the previous album was a little thin and dirty. I feel this new album sounds very organic still, but so much bigger and more detailed. It’s clean, without feeling too polished and it definitely has a lot of punch. We definitely stripped things down on the last album. We’re very proud of the last album, don’t get me wrong, we took a bit of a different direction and it did a lot for our confidence, and I think you can hear that on the new album.

KNAC.COM: You mentioned earlier about Ola no longer being in the band, there’s been quite a lot of turnover in the band the last few years. Did that adversely affect the band, or is it something you’ve learned to live with?

Strid: It can get very confusing and it’s been hard, definitely, but I guess it happens in most bands out there because people do change. Growing up with a band like this, it’s going to change in some ways. When you’re an underground band it means a lot of hard work and lean times and some people can only take that for so long. It’s not the kind of life for everybody, especially when people start having families and more responsibilities. It really feels like Soilwork for real, again now. It’s been kind of confusing for a while, but it feels really good now and, I don’t know, it just feels real.

KNAC.COM: Obviously, perfect world, you’d like to have it hang together?

Strid: Oh yeah, for sure. Changing members is never fun. But you can never predict what’s going to happen. Like I was saying, people can change, there’s family and personal lives outside the band and there’s six of us in this band, so that’s a lot of stuff to juggle. But we’ve worked so well together writing the songs, recording the album and playing live that I hope we can continue with the line up for a long time. It would be nice for the next album, for a change, to not have to talk about new members and what happened to the old ones, that’s for sure (laughs).

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