Soilwork’s latest effort, The Living Infinite, not only brings something different musically to the band’s extensive back catalogue, but it is also the band’s first studio double album. Vocalist Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid chats with HEAVY.
Sweden’s Soilwork are nothing if not prolific, releasing nine albums, one EP and a compilation in the band’s 13-year history. It’s a huge output from a band that loves to play, and a singer that loves to sing. Vocalist Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid may have spent his high-school years as a promising ice hockey player, but that all changed after an encounter with guitarist Peter Wicker. “He just came up to me one day and said ‘How about starting a metal band? I need a singer’, and I said, ‘Well I’m a guitar player but let’s try it out’,” Strid recalls. “I couldn’t really say that I had ambitions of becoming a world-touring metal singer [but] I was a metalhead and into the First Wave of Swedish Death Metal, and then, suddenly in the mid ’90s, the more melodic scene came along. When Carcass came out, it had a huge impact as well, mixing death metal and guitar solos. Really made us want to do something different; something we’d never heard.”
On an individual level, Strid’s musical beginnings may be firmly rooted in the death metal genre, but he’s got an endless enthusiasm for all music. “Oh man, I’m definitely a musical chameleon,” he says. “It’s hard to say exactly what inspires me. It’s so rare now that you hear something groundbreaking, only a few bands that have that personal sound, like Opeth – they are a unique sound – and whatever Devin [Townsend] is doing.”
From the beginning, Strid has used a mix of growled and clean vocals in Soilwork, but finds ways to push his vocals further with each new release. “I try to not limit myself,” he says. “I just ‘feel’ it out, try to capture the song’s feel.” The vocal arrangements on the new album highlight this approach. “I’ve always been curious about trying out new things with vocals,” Strid explains. “I’ve never really wanted to get stuck in one thing, whether it was screams or clean. There’s so much in between, you can go many different ways. I also have a band with David [Andersson] called the Night Flight Orchestra and that was definitely a challenge for me vocally as well. I think I got to know my voice a lot from that because it was a totally new thing for me.”
With The Living Infinite the band has pushed itself once again, delivering 20 tracks of pure awesomeness. “I think we needed to do something different. After all it is our ninth album and we needed a new challenge,” Strid explains. “Plus each member had a feeling of wanting to step up and start contributing some songs, and that’s what we did – each member of the band has taken part in the song writing, with lyrics and arrangements; it’s really a band effort.”
The album has also been a chance for the band to deal with some gripping personal issues that emerged over the past 18 months. “It’s been a pretty turbulent year with Peter coming back and then leaving again, and we really needed to turn that into something positive to prove to ourselves and our listeners that we could do this” Strid says.
The new album also brings guitarist David Andersson into the fold as a full member after previously doing stage duties for various tours. According to Strid, Andersson has been quick to make his mark as a part of Soilwork: “He contributed seven songs in total; he’s had a huge impact. He’d toured previously with us on two North American tours, and one Australian tour, so we know him very well on a personal level and also musically. His joining was just a natural step.”
Strid also credits Andersson with helping to recapture some aspects of the early Soilwork sound in the new release, saying, “That’s something that he wanted to bring back and I think it’s in there and I think it works very well.”
Another familiar face with an new role on The Living Infinite is Jens Bogren, who has moved from mixing to producing on the new album. Again, Strid explains this as a natural progression: “He [Bogren] did a great job on The Panic Broadcast, and it just felt a natural choice. We wanted him to be there from scratch so instead of recording drums in one studio and guitars in a separate one and vocals in a third, we did everything from scratch with Jens in the same studio, living together, cooking together, creating.”
Lyrically, Strid has used this album to explore some “deep and meaningful” concepts. “It’s somewhat conceptual,” he says, adding, “lyrically it deals with a lot existential thoughts.” Apparently, this is a necessary means of expression for the singer. “I reach a point where thinking consumes too much of my day” he laughs.
Public response has so far been tremendous, with both fans and critics praising the new recording. The immediate result is that The Living Infinite has given Soilwork their highest-ever US debut, breaking into the Billboard Top 100 at #59. The band are currently hitting the road hard in the US to follow up on the chart success. “The tour was planned way ahead – we didn’t really know how we’d be doing on the charts – but top 60 is amazing,” Strid says excitedly. ” We’re doing 54 shows, so we won’t be going home for a few months.”
That kind of schedule can be a relentless blur of travelling and gigging that burns bands out. Strid says Soilwork copes by trying to allow each other as much free time as possible. “You try to make the best out of your day,” he explains. “You’re playing every night – on this tour we have two days off in two months – so you just have to find ways to make the best of it. We work out, play backgammon, do whatever.” What? You mean all bands aren’t just getting blazed and chasing groupies 24 hours a day like many rockumentaries would have us believe? “It [touring life] has changed a fair bit,” Strid laughs. “We’ve toured a lot with Hypocrisy, and we were a wild bunch back then, but maybe not so much now – we could handle it better back then.”
This current tour will take in various summer festivals in the US, then swing south in October, bringing the band back to Australia. “We’re looking forward to it, for sure,” Strid says. “Just coming there, the crowds have always been so amazing – I remember the first time we came to Australia we celebrated my 25th birthday in an outdoor jacuzzi smoking cigars. Can’t wait to get back.”