With their 8th studio album The Panic Broadcast in stores now, Soilwork are hitting the road hard. This Summer, the Swedish metalers are touring throughout the States with thrash legends Death Angel, Montreal juggernauts Augury, power metal rookies Mutiny Within and pirate metal’s finest Swashbuckle. During their stop at the Trocadaro in Philadelphia, drummer Dirk Verbeuren sat down with Metal Insider to discuss the creation of their new album, what he makes of the current economy’s effects on the music business and how what lies ahead for the band is still unknown.
It seems like with each album, you guys really have expanded your sound. Your new album, in addition to being more technical, apparently also has a bit of a blues influence. How do you guys go about incorporating such different influences?
It’s really natural. I mean we listen to so many different things. Each one of us, there really is no one in Soilwork that is stuck on one music style. We listen to all kinds of stuff. And especially for this album we decided to just…Our plan was to have no plan and to have no boundaries and to just go for it, see what happens. When we wrote stuff, we worked on it together. A lot of times, people kind of think that bands have it all planned out, like “this is how the album is going to be,” but we didn’t really know. It was kind of just like ‘We’ll see what happens, let’s try to make some songs work.’ Like some songs we weren’t quite sure that they were going to sound “Soilwork” enough, if it was going to work. So we kind of arranged them and tried different things till we felt they were good. And then we kind of discovered the album in the end like other people would. So I think the influences thing is just natural for us.
Actually you’ve kind of already touched upon a little bit about this: are you ever afraid of losing that signature sound, or the “sound” that people know as Soilwork? Or does it not really matter?
I mean, especially, for example, with Bjorn’s [“Speed” Strid] vocals, they are so identifiable and recognizable that a lot of times even when, like take for example a song like “Enter Dog Of Pavlov” that closes the album. It’s kind of an unusual song for us and structure and riffing and stuff like that. That’s one song that we weren’t quite sure, you know, like “how’s it going to turn out? How’s it going to sound?” We liked it, but we weren’t sure. And then Bjorn puts his vocals on it, and there you go. Immediately it gets the Soilwork stamp. So that’s a big part, and also more generally I think we all have our way of playing, and people can identify that. So no, I don’t think we really are worried about it. We feel free to bring in different things and keep it exciting.
So is it one of those things, like you were saying that you weren’t really sure about this certain song, where the determining factor is that last final addition or are there other steps to it, like “Ok this is definitely not going to work”?
Well, for example like with that song, it started out more technical than the final version was. So there were some really weird signatures and tempo changes there. Well not tempo changes really, but we had more like really weird time signatures and stuff because the song is so wild. Sylvain [Coudret, guitarist] wrote the bulk of that song , besides the intro which Peter [Wichers, guitarist] wrote, and Sylvain from the Scarve days has a knack for writing really crazy stuff. So we were like “Yeah, that’s great, but it’s a little bit over the top.” So we kind of toned down all the weird signatures and rearranged a few little things, and then after that we were like “Yeah, let’s try it and see what happens.” And it turned out to be a great song. So it’s more of the attitude than anything else. Like I said, experimenting and trying stuff, and we really want to keep things interesting. We don’t want to do the same album over and over.
Is there a song that maybe sticks out from the new album?
Oh man! (laughing)
I know, I’m making you choose your favorite baby now.
Yeah, that’s right (laughing). I mean I really like “Let This River Flow” a lot because it’s such a perfect structure and perfect melodies and stuff. But it’s really hard to pick one because every song on this album is different. So yeah I like every one of them.
So the theme to the new album relates to how the brain handles panic and anxiety. Can you maybe expand upon that a little more? What triggered that theme to become part of the album?
Well I mean as with most albums, with the lyrics and all that stuff, as well as the album titles it’s usually in Bjorn’s domain. It’s usually inspired by his own life and what happens to him and stuff. So I think with this it was pretty much that. He had not the easiest of times for the past years. A lot of personal stuff happening. So for him the band and the lyrics are a way to kind of release some of that inner pressure that he has. I mean he’s always very busy with a lot of stuff with the band. So you kind of have to integrate that in order to be able to deal with it. But it’s interesting because a lot of people aren’t aware about exactly what panic is. I mean we all get anxious sometimes, but when it comes to having a panic attack, that’s a whole different level of anxiety that unless you know people that have that kind of stuff you aren’t really aware of how intense that can get. So it’s kind of cool that we have that reality part in our album and in the lyrics and hopefully some people will look it up a little bit and find out more about it.
When you were in the studio watching Bjorn record the vocals, was it hard for you? I mean because this is pretty serious, were you like “Whoa buddy! Let’s talk, you ok?”
Well I personally wasn’t there. It was pretty much that when the vocals were recorded, it was just Peter and him doing that. But I do know from what Peter told us that it was very hard for him, very personal and deep. You can really feel the emotion and the depth of what he was singing about in his performance more than ever, and in a way it adds a good musical quality to the album. But I know it was not an easy thing for him at all, to deal with that. Even playing some of those songs and singing some of those lyrics onstage is probably something that he has to deal with every day.
This is the first time Peter has produced a Soilwork album. What was it like to actually work with him? Did you find it easier to get the sounds that you wanted with him, or was it hard to let your fellow band mate take over?
It was really easy for me because I mean it was the first time since I first joined Soilwork that everybody was looking at the same direction. So there weren’t really any major disagreements or arguments about what we wanted to do, and we all knew from the past couple of years, with remaining friends with Peter and listening to what he was doing, that he was going to do this good. We trusted him 200 percent. It was just a super comfortable atmosphere working with someone we know really well. I can’t speak for the other people but I have the impression that everybody got a really good energy and a good motivation from that kind of family vibe. And it turn out, for me, to be easily the best album I’ve ever done with Soilwork. Not to dis to two other ones, because I like them to, but I’m really happy about this one even more. Peter definitely has a good part with that.
So this possibly won’t be the last time Peter will be the producer?
No, I don’t think so. I mean it’s always something that he has to take step by step. It’s not something we’ve decided, but if he’s up for it again then I know I would be. It’s if he feels comfortable because for him it’s a very intense period of time. Not only does he have to play and deliver a great performance himself but then he has to do all the other work. So for him it was like two months of long days and staying focused. It’s not an easy thing. He did amazing and I’d love to do it again.
What would you say are the biggest difficulties when it comes to touring the U.S. compared to Europe? Would you say the current economic situation has added on to the difficulties?
It’s pretty similar to me, the touring situation, besides the fact that the sizes of the buses are a bit different and things like that. There’s not really any major differences. In the U.S you got maybe more big distances to cover, but that doesn’t really affect us that much as a band. It’s just a little bit of organization that’s different. To me it’s pretty similar in many ways.
As far as the economy goes, it’s kind of hard at this point to see what impact the whole recession has. I mean of course everybody is aware of how the record business has kind of gone down over the past few years, but that was already happening before the recession really hit anyway. So it’s still kind of tough for us to really evaluate how much that’s affected our record sales. As far as touring goes, it seems that people are still coming out to shows massively. They’re still buying merch. So it’s kind of something you can’t really take away from people. Even if they have a little bit less of money, that’s even maybe a motivating factor to be like “we want to go have a good time out and go see some cool bands.” It seems that metal fans to me are really passionate and they keep on buying records. We’ve actually already got some chart numbers in from the sales in Europe and stuff like that, and the first two weeks we’re charting everywhere. I’m not quite sure if it has to do with the fact that other styles of music are selling less or if this album is just really successful or a little bit of both, but it’s definitely not going to bad for us, so I can’t complain.
Well congrats! There was always the belief that metal fans were always much more passionate to go out to the stores, but recently with the slump of sales some believe that that isn’t exactly true. But you definitely feel that fans are still going out?
Yeah, I think the kids nowadays grow up with a little bit of a different relationship with the music then we did, because they get all of their music from iTunes or online. So maybe a lot of kids don’t have that same kind of thing where they want to have a physical CD or vinyl or whatever. But then again at the same time, metal is all about offering a complete package with cool graphics and elaborate lyrics and all that stuff. So even then some kids when they stumble upon that stuff with the bands they really like, they go out and buy it. Like I said, it’s really hard to know exactly what’s happening, but there’ll always be a physical thing happening and a market for that type of stuff.
Soilwork has been known as a band to really utilize social networks (like MySpace, Facebook), whether it’s posting videos of you guys in the studio or streaming new songs online. Do you feel that Web 2.0 sites still remain as a key tool for a band now-a-days?
I really think so. That’s what people do, that’s what people are into. So for a band like us and probably for many bands, it’s kind of essential to be out there. So we have people helping us with that because if we have to personally do all of that stuff it would just be pretty much impossible (laughing). I mean, we’re a self-managed band for a couple of years now, so we deal with pretty much all of our business. We have a team of people, like Hannah [Verbeuren, Soilwork’s tour manager] and other people, that help us with stuff and then people at our label as well, but it’s a lot of stuff. But yeah, the social networking is definitely something that if you can be out there that way then and make people excited for what’s going on and give them some insight like with the recording or how the tour is going and stuff, it makes kids happy. That’s what we are all about. We just want people to enjoy and have a good time with following Soilwork … so we try to be pretty much all around with that.
I know you’ve been with Nuclear Blast for a while, but have you guys ever thought about possibly taking the next step and switching over to a major label, like how Lamb Of God and Mastodon did within the past few years? Or have you even possibly thought about going the route of creating your own record label? Since I know you guys are now self-managed, has the thought of that popped up?
As far as a major label goes, it would have to be a thing where we would have to get an offer that worked. I mean I’ve been talking to people like Lamb Of God to see how that worked and out for them and see how that happened. So it’s definitely interesting, but I’m not quite sure it’s something that we could just make happen. Right now this is the last album of this record deal. So we are going to kind of evaluate once the touring cycle is over what offers we get in and who knows. If there is a bigger label that gives us a good offer and that we feel we can take it on then it may be something we can look into. But one thing I do know is that we’re not going to change our music. I mean there was a time period in the band where, to be honest, there was a little too much focus on toning the music down a little bit to get some radio accessibility and stuff like that, without saying that the band was completely doing that. With this record we’ve proved that we’re kind of passed that period and we’re just writing what we write. If there’s no three and a half minute song or no video single or whatever, then there’s not. Our single is actually a track called “Deliverance Is Mine” which is a pretty fast song. That’s what Soilwork is about, though I’m not saying that we don’t have any softer songs.
Basically when it comes to putting our own record label together I think honestly would be maybe too much work for us when I see all the work we have already (laughing). But we have considered possibly releasing some stuff ourselves when we have no contract just to see how it goes. Maybe make like an EP or something and release it online. Why not? It’s things we’ve thought about. We haven’t made any decisions. It could just go on to be the way we’re doing it now. It’s really all up in the air. So to put it in a broader prospective, with all the changes that are happening in the recording business, it’s definitely something artists should be aware of. They should kind of keep their eyes open and be open to new ways to get your music out there.