Born out of the death metal band Oppressor in Chicago way back in 1997, it always seemed like SOiL was destined for greatness. What emerged was one of the hardest working hard rock bands in the United States. Four albums into their career, their lead singer Ryan McCombs left the band to take up tenure with Drowning Pool, but six years later, he returned to his first love – SOiL. Now the band – which is six albums into its career – has been crowned with the honour of being able to release a Greatest Hits album called Scream: The Essentials.
Heavy Mag caught up with Ryan McCombs to reflect on all things SOiL related.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought that this day would ever come or that an album like this would grace me with its presence,” he says laughing when asked what it is like being in a band that has just released a Greatest Hits album. “You know, when you start out with a band like this you just hope to your lucky stars that you will get a chance… that’s all you hope for – just a chance – because there are so many people trying to do it. And to get that lucky twist or that lucky turn to be able to do it professionally, but twenty years of this… it’s unbelievable that people have given us twenty years of their time so to still be around after so long is amazing.”
When I ask how they got their start, Ryan is perfectly honest. “We were just in the right place at the right time,” he explains. “It’s often said, but it is so true. If you look at the different scenes over the years and the decades, I mean you had your Seattle scene, you had your L.A. scene before that, and your New York scene before that; and we just happened to fall to be a Chicago band in Chicago when it hit. It was at the end of when the music scene was at its healthiest, but that was like the last place that it gripped hold of, and you had bands there, just the bands that signed, like Five Point-O who signed to Roadrunner, you had From Zero that signed to Arista, you had, of course, Disturbed, and you had ourselves. There were so many of us that were right there in that scene right there and then and we worked so well together, and that was what made it such a healthy scene. There wasn’t bands competing against each other, worried what the other band is doing, we actually worked together. If you were on a bill and a band dropped off, you called your buddies and brought them on that bill… that’s just the way we were. It was just a great scene with the Disturbed guys, the From Zero guys and all of us… it was an amazing thing to be part of.”
SOiL have recently been out on the road again, this time with Flaw, and Ryan says it has been great being out on the road delivering a Greatest Hits package. “It has been amazing,” he says. “Every chance we get at this in this stage in our career is great. You know we never hit it big, we were never Metallica or anything like that. You know a lot of people see your CD on the same [laughs]. I’m talking about CDs and music stores… but back in the day, you would be in a music store, and you would see your CD on the same shelf as Metallica, but there was such a big discrepancy there when you compared the type of business that a band like Metallica did comparative to the rest of us. But at the same time, we did get to tour and to be able to do it still twenty years later and the fact that people still give us time… I mean, they could do anything they could go to the park, they could go play Frisbee, they could sit and stare at their phones, but instead, there are people that take time out of their lives and give us a reason to go out and do our job. That is amazing. It’s cool – to be able to go out there and do a twentieth-anniversary tour, it’s surreal at times. You go out there and laugh if there are only twenty people there, but back in the day, we would cry over things that were out of our control. Nowadays we know what we control and what we don’t, and we just laugh about everything else… it’s a big difference twenty years later.”
To the band’s credit, they haven’t just put together a Greatest Hits album and instead have included some rare, never-before-released tracks so how did they go about working out what would be on the open. “To be honest, this whole thing had been in talks for a year-and-a-half to two years,” explains Ryan. “There are so many different paths that it took, and really, the end game was a little bit of this and a little bit of that and a little bit of the other. We knew from the start that it would be The Essentials, you have to put the singles on there, the ‘Redefines’, of course ‘Halo’ and ‘Unreal’, stuff like that. But we’re not Aerosmith; our singles aren’t as out there, there’s no ‘Walk This Way’ or something like that. So not only do we want to put twenty years of what ‘you’ve allowed us to do’ but we also wanted to give the people that did allow that something special, we wanted to give them some little special this, and that’s that they hadn’t had a chance to hear before, and there are some special little titbits on there that have been sitting in our vault for years, so it’s been cool to finally be able to share those things. Like the cover that you mentioned, ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’; it just seemed perfect. When Tim got a hold of me about that, I was like ‘Really? ‘Gimme Some Lovin’? You do know what band you are in, right?’ But then Adam toyed with the guitar part and put his tone on it, and then it just seemed right. With SOiL being an old-school Chicago rock band or SOiL just being a rock band, metal band, whatever you want to label us and then you look at the Blues Brothers; my generation knows that song from that movie. That movie is an old classic Chicago-based movie, so it just seemed natural that we run our head around that cover. I tip my hat to all that was involved… it was cool to put together.”
One of the tracks that fans of SOiL will be most excited to hear is the acoustic version of “Can You Heal Me?”, a recording that has a very deep and personal meaning for the band. “The whole creation of that version is very special,” says Ryan, the emotion clear in his voice. “We got the opportunity to spend time on the road with Damageplan, over in the U.K. and Europe. It was the Damageplan, Drowning Pool and SOiL tour. And during that time, we got to be really good friends with those guys, people like Dimebag [Darrell] and Vinnie [Paul Abbott] and all that crew. We just had a blast every night… stories that I am not allowed to share but it got to a point where they were like, ‘Hey, you guys should come and record at Dime’s studio some time’, and it just happened that during our next run in the US we had three days off in Texas, so we parked the bus in Dime’s front yard basically, and we spent those three days off at his house, and we recorded at the studio at his house, and Vinnie Paul produced the track. It ended up just being three days of drunken hilarity… which was always the case with the brothers. They were two souls, especially Dime, who when they were in the room we never much concerned about themselves having fun, or I should say what gave him the most pleasure was making sure that everybody else in the room was having fun. So it was three days of a rock star carnival at his house, we just had an amazing time there and getting to spend time with Dime, and it wasn’t too long after that we lost him, so that whole time was very special.”
SOiL’s Scream: The Essentials is out now.