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SOILWORK: Forging the Steel

August 24, 2003

Poised to conquer all of metal, SOILWORK have grown in leaps and bounds since their humble beginnings as just another Swedish death metal band. Their latest album Figure Number Five, while many would argue isn’t their best, is still their most blossoming effort packed with their most refined songs yet. Memorable hooks and sing-along choruses have been the order lately and Figure Number Five, which sees SOILWORK at their most relaxed state, is no exception. APESHIT sat down with guitarist Peter Wichers during the band’s stop at The Palace in Hollywood (check out photos from the show too) during their summer tour with IN FLAMES, CHIMAIRA, and UNEARTH, and chatted about the band’s well-oiled music making machine and path to domination.

images/soilwork.030824.jpg APESHIT: So the magnificent SOILWORK machine has pumped out its third album in as many years. How do you manage to keep churning out so much quality music at such a high frequency?

Peter: Well we like to forge the steel while its still hot, you know what I mean? We’re always capturing what we’re doing all the time as well so thats probably one of the reasons why we pump out so many records. One other thing as well is that we don’t get to tour as much as we actually want to. It’s probably going to take us a longer time to release the next one because a lot of people were a little bit pissed off that we didn’t tour more for Natural Born Chaos over here [in the US]. So we’re going to take our time to promote both of those albums a lot more over here right now.

APESHIT: It’s unfortunate that [original drummer] Henry Ranta announced his departure from the band not long ago. Did you guys see it coming?

Peter: Yeah. Everything that he wrote on the website pretty much explains why he left the band. He wanted to have a steady job so that he actually knew his income every month. Being us, we’re like in between…we can’t really make a living off of the music and we can’t keep jobs because of the fact that we’re always out [touring and making music]. But you know, we just want to make it with the music. Not like “big” but we just want to be able to pay our rent.

APESHIT: But surely you’ve made a lot of progress…

Peter: Yeah…and definitely over here [in the US] as well. KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, SHADOWS FALL…look at them. It’s like they’re really popping up over here. Metal is really coming back…Headbanger’s Ball, etc. We’re totally a hundred percent focused.

You know the new drummer [Richard Evensand] we have right now is excellent. Henry’s an amazing drummer so its going to be a great loss, but we couldn’t quit the band just because of Henry leaving the band you know? The new drummer came out of a good recommendation and he’s a phenomenal drummer.

APESHIT: So you met the new drummer through Henry?

Peter: No, he came out of a good recommendation from people I knew in Stockholm. He lives six hours away from us by car. That’s a little bit of a problem but if we start making money, it won’t be an issue. We can fly him down for rehearsals. He’s probably going to come down like a week before we leave on tour. The thing that he’s got going for him that Henry didn’t is that he’s played drums for such a long time that he’s on the beat every time. Even live, he’s like a metronome just going at it.

APESHIT: Natural Born Chaos was sort of a breakthrough for SOILWORK. You guys had pretty wide goals like reaching a bigger audience and pushing the creative envelope for the band. Was this natural or what this a purposeful directional shift for the band?

Peter: I think A Predator’s Portrait was actually like a test album to see how the melodic vocals would work for us. Since we got such great feedback from that record, we said we want to almost go all the way. We want to have both the screaming parts and the melodic parts as well. Then we heard KILLSWITCH doing the same thing! (Laughs) And I love that band! So for us, that was where we wanted to go as well. So you know, it was probably just a natural progression. That’s also what the title explains…like it’s a natural progression from our older stuff…our new chaos!

APESHIT: Yeah and KILLSWITCH also have some of your riffs! (Laughs) Well, Figure Number Five picks up where the last one left off and it keeps going into new territory. There’s sometimes free-form or relative “looseness” in the structure of the songs. What was your approach to writing the new album?

Peter: This was probably the most relaxing songwriting process we’ve ever had. Even though everyone thinks that it was made with such short notice, everything just popped out directly. It came very natural to us. We just wanted to make an album that’s even catchier than Natural Born Chaos, which I think we actually succeeded with. We also wanted to prove to all people out there that were doubting that we were the ones making the music. We got a lot of feedback saying, “oh you know Devin [Townsend] made you guys sound the way you do and he made everything, blah, blah, blah.” Devin himself was like “I had nothing to do with the quality of the music…I was just trying to make them sound better than they actually were.” And with this record, I think we actually proved to everybody that we produced it all ourselves and that we’re just fucking doing everything ourselves. We’re not saying we won’t be working with a producer the next time. But I think that this album really proves to everyone out there that we can make an album better than Natural Born Chaos.

APESHIT: How did the song “Departure Plan,” from the new album, come about?

Peter: It was actually a song that Sven [Karlsson, keyboards] had been working on for three or four years but he never found a band that he wanted to do that song with. The first time I heard it, I was like “hmmm, I don’t know man…it might be a little too soft.” But at the same time we were like, well who’s going to tell us what we can or can’t do, you know what I mean? So we ended up doing that one and we ended up rearranging it a lot. And I got to play acoustic guitar for the first time in six years so that was a cool thing. I’m happy because it’s not like it was pushed in there just to have a soft break. I think that it fulfills its purpose as well. I like the song…it’s very catchy and they’ll probably release it as a single towards the end of the year.

APESHIT: Is there a certain science behind your songwriting? Do you start with the riffs or the choruses? What do you stress most when it comes to arranging songs (hooks, melodies, diversity)?

Peter: I think dynamics. You know you need to have dynamics in the music. We don’t want to sound like a freight train that goes like this [makes hand gesture] and has the same kind of… I love THE HAUNTED and AT THE GATES, but they put themselves up there for like 45 minutes and it’s the same thing. But then what we try to do is make dynamics so that every song doesn’t sound the same, which I don’t think it does. It’s very important that you change the chord structures and keys for every song. You know the usual stuff that I did in the beginning was like everything was in E. You know you play the open E all the time. That’s like the thing everyone does in the beginning. But then you start learning and it’s difficult but once you get the hang of it, you can use a lot of different chord structures and create a different kind of atmosphere in the music. That’s basically what we do.

APESHIT: Are there any mainstream bands that particularly influence the newer sound of SOILWORK?

Peter: That pretty hard to say. I’m very influenced by Sven, our keyboard player. He has a wide variety of ways to make very atmospheric stuff. It’s very fun to actually work with a guy who knows music theory because we’ve never done that in the past. Mainstream bands…I’m a great fan of PORCUPINE TREE, OPETH… They’re not mainstream but OPETH is a great band as well. KILLSWITCH…a lot of different stuff.

APESHIT: What’s the meaning behind Figure Number Five? Is there a lyrical theme or concept behind the album?

Peter: The title explains two things. One is that it’s the fifth album that we made. The other one is a tribute to the people that are actually the minority in society like worldwide. You know, the people who actually feel that they are different. In Sweden, we have a saying like “the fifth circle or wheel on a car.” If you have a spare wheel, it only gets brought in when it’s absolutely necessary. There is a lot of people who feel that way as well, especially like hard rock people because we’re all like, “what do you listen to?” You say what you listen to and [they go] “awww, bullshit.” You know what I mean? Everybody’s just following this trend, and this is a tribute to the people who actually want to do something different [or] the figure number fives. Like one, two, three, four…everything is connected in a way. But then you have the fifth wheel or the figure number five which is actually something that’s a little bit different.

APESHIT: So does the album artwork have anything to do with the title?

Peter: Not really. I’m not satisfied with the artwork on the album. You know, it’s OK. But that was just like an artwork…like a piece of art because all the other suggestions that we got were like that. And it was more like a last call, and [the label] Nuclear Blast was on our ass all the time like, “we need the artwork right now.” It’s like “oh great!” But I still think it’s eye appealing, more eye catching.

APESHIT: There was an old interview with you guys, maybe like four years ago, and you guys were explaining the name, how you got the name SOILWORK. So it sounds related to Figure Number Five in a way.

Peter: In a way, yeah. Explaining in Swedish would be a lot easier but…you’re a hardworking person and you start out from scratch, like the soil. You lay out the soil, and you’re going to build a sandcastle or whatever. You start out from scratch, and you build up something, you know? That’s what it’s all about. We think that if you put so much work into something you believe in so much, you get something in return. And that’s what SOILWORK represents to all. It’s kinda silly but you probably get the point.

APESHIT: Yeah…well, good thing that there’s a meaning behind the name! (Laughs) Now back to the album…you guys have a video for “Rejection Role.” It’s a cool video! Who came up with the role reversal idea with SOILWORK and IN FLAMES?

Peter: The director did. We were mixing the album in the studio one day and we knew that we had to make a video for the new album. He popped the idea, “I know IN FLAMES, but I don’t know if they are going to make any more videos [from their new album]. But what do you think of this idea? We’ll just get you to battle out. We’ll make the same video but you’re in opposite positions.” Every feedback that we’ve gotten from this video, everyone is fucking stoked. They love it because they think it’s never been done before. And it’s such a great thing to do as well. Kind of like RUN DMC and AEROSMITH but in a different way! You know what I mean? It’s like a battle of the bands.

We also have another video that’s already been done for “Light The Torch.” It’s made in Maya, that animation [program]. It’s amazing. It’s more of a cartoon that actually has the rhythms of the song.

APESHIT: So you guys aren’t in it at all?

Peter: No, no. It’s a cartoon movie but everything is made in the same program where they made Terminator 3 and everything like that. And it looks great! I showed it to Neil [Lim Sang, Industrial Light and Magic] and he was like “holy shit…this is really, really good!” And it was like an exam job, and there were four kids who made it. My girlfriend’s brother said, “what do you guys think if we can do a video for you guys?” I didn’t know what to expect so I was like “take ‘Light the Torch’ because it has a lot of machine sounds going on in it.” And he said “we’ll try and do something.” I didn’t know what to expect, and I when I saw the finished results, I was like “wow!” Phil [Hinkle, Nuclear Blast A&R] he told me that we can probably even get this into regular MTV [rotation] because of the fact that it’s so different from everything else. And Neil told that if they were gonna do a video like this one, that he’d would charge you fuckin $10,000. We got it for free.

APESHIT: Bjorn [“Speed” Strid**, vocalist] has a penchant for using alliteration in your songtitles and in his TERROR 2000 side project (“Rejection Role,” “Final Fatal Force,” “A Predator’s Portrait,” “Bulletbeast,” and “Machinegun Majesty”). Curiously, is that just a coincidence or is that intentional?**

Peter: I think that Bjorn wants to come up with song titles that are a little bit provocative but at the same time he wants to keep it very simple. It’s really rare that Bjorn makes up a title that is only one word. We have one on the last one, “Overload.” [Actually they have two others: “Strangler” and “Brickwalker” - ed.] Other than that I think that Bjorn wants to come up with something that’s a catchy phrase for every song.

APESHIT: Yeah and the rhyming too like “Back With Attack” and “Follow the Hollow”…

Peter: Yeah, Bjorn is all about the rhythms. Sometimes we’re recording and we’re like, “you sound like a rap artist but you scream with black metal vocals.” I love it. I think it’s great because if you don’t have the rhythms in the vocals, it can get boring after a while. He’s pounding all those words out there…that’s what I like.

APESHIT: For the old school fans, do you envision ever using blast-beats and long, melodic guitar solos again or is that pretty much a thing of the past for SOILWORK?

Peter: We were thinking about doing that, but it’s like the same thing as drinking beer. You drink one label of beer but after a while you get sick of it and you wanna try something else. We want to try out different territories all the time, but I doubt there will be blast beats. “Figure Number Five,” the actual song, has blast beats but it’s more of a SYSTEM OF A DOWN way. The next album, we’re going to have more bass drum kind of things going on because our new drummer is all about the bass drums so we’ll see how that works out.

APESHIT: How do you like touring, and the whole lifestyle of being on the road?

Peter: It’s a fifty-fifty deal I think. You love it one day. You hate it one day. But it’s definitely neccessary. When you do shows where you have a good response, then it’s excellent. When you do terrible shows, it’s like “why am I doing this?” But it’s a kind of thing that’s a love-and-hate kind of thing. You can’t live with it, and you can’t live without it. But we love touring especially like today when we see that the line is around the fucking block! It’s been sold out for three weeks or something like that.

» Live SOILWORK photos from their gig in Hollywood, CA
» APESHIT’s take on SOILWORK’s latest, Figure Number Five