Soilwork: Swedish melodic death metal band

This interview was conducted with Peter Wichers (Lead, Rhythm Guitars) from the Swedish melodic death metal band Soilwork 13-02-2004. The interview took place in the band’s tour bus a few hours before their concert at Tribute (Sandnes, Norway), a show they did as part of their European tour with the Forsaken. In the interview which lasted for exactly one side of the Sony Microcasette we’d brought along with us, Peter spoke at length about the band, his own views as a musician and other choice behind-the-scenes tidbits about the group. TW = The Welkin, PW = Peter Wichers.

TW: So have you been touring a lot lately?
PW: Yeah we did Finland about a week ago, two shows in Sweden and then we came up here.
TW: How were the romping Fins then?
PW: They were very good actually. Not a lot of people, but it was a lot of fun.
TW: You played up in Hamar [Norway] yesterday?
PW: Yeah, it was a small stage. Bigger than the one here at Tribute though.
TW: It’s Stavanger, Sandnes, we don’t have a very big metal crowd around here unfortunately. There are a few people, but generally…
PW: You think a lot of people are going to come to the show?
TW: There are a decent number of metal people around here, but probably not enough to fill a 500-600 person venue.
PW: Oh yeah, I understand…
TW: For all the new fans of Soilwork who have just gotten into the band for the last couple of albums, what does the name Soilwork mean and why did you choose it?
PW: Well, it’s actually just a word puzzle put together from two words but I think they represent the way we work together and the way we want people to perceive. We start out from scratch, record a few demo tapes and do a lot of tours. A hard work pace, really. Therefore, everything starts from the soil – “jord” [“soil” in Swedish] – and then you rise up and that’s the kind of impression we want people to have of our band. If you work hard then you get something in return, and that’s what Soilwork is all about.
TW: Looking back at the release of your latest release, do you feel the response from fans and the press has been better than usual?
PW: I’m very grateful that we’re one of those bands who actually progress with increasing record sales instead of staying at the same level. Every album has gone better for us all the time. It’s kind of a chance you take for every record you do. We prefer to go in a slightly different direction for every record we do – the next one might be heavier, but we just try to do what comes spontaneously into our minds.
TW: Yeah, do you find that there’s pressure or that it’s difficult to come up with something new and innovate with each new record?
PW: I don’t really think that we think that way when we write music. We just kind of do what comes to our mind spontaneously.
TW: And you said that record sales increase with time. Do you find that it’s possible to live as a musician full-time or …
PW: I’m a full time musician, but it’s very tight with the budget. Moving up to Norway would not be the smartest thing!
TW: Are there any reviewers or reviews which particularly piss you off?
PW: We appreciate constructive criticism, but when it’s only bullshit you know I don’t really pay attention to what they say. One thing that does piss me off is that I don’t mind the music being out on the Internet as a way of spreading music, but once the record is out and released and then people criticise the record, that pisses me off because I don’t think that people realise how much time it takes to produce a full album. You work almost 18 hours a day for six or seven weeks intensely and then people are just like, “Oh this is bullshit.” Well, then listen to it more than once…I’m not saying that…there are both parts of course. Some people are all hyped and think it’s amazing; others are like, “They’re not like they once were.”
TW: And the MP3 format doesn’t really do justice to the music a band creates in a professional studio.
PW: Yeah, there’s a little bit of compression in MP3s, and some people probably don’t care. It does get more and more important to have some extra stuff on the CD as a bit of incentive to buy it though, like good cover art. We have to come up with new things every time, otherwise record sales will fall. I mean, I burn the occasional disc for listening as well, but personally I prefer to have the disc in my shelf at home. You never know. You wrote on it with the fucking black pen and it gets lost.
TW: On to something different: do you feel as though your sound has been consistent throughout the history of Soilwork, or really changed with the years?
PW: I think that we’ve progressed as a band, from the beginning I think we were kind of rookies, as you always are when you start out. We were experimenting back then trying to do the best we could. Looking back at the records from then, I’m still proud because of the fact that…while I was very proud to show it to my friends back in the day too, now I think we try to focus on making a complete song that’s more interesting all the way through for everyone, instead of just making a one-and-a-half minute solo in the middle that will just serve some of the guys in the crowd. I love doing that too, but we’re working on making the band more of a tight unit instead of just having solo artists in the band.
TW: And is it difficult to have to deal with all the different members in the band, having to make them all work together? Do you ever feel like just going off and doing your own thing?
PW: Well, our band is based on democracy and a majority of opinions. Meaning that whoever writes music – and anyone is free to write music in the band – is also free to criticise the other person’s work. Everyone in the band decides what goes on the record or not. With five people in the band, the majority of the members decide what goes on and what doesn’t work. It’s kind of like that, but we usually know what we like and generally agree.
TW: I heard you lost your drummer to Chimera. What was that all about? Was that a personal thing, a conflict? You seem to have had a few drummers coming and going lately.
PW: We lost Henry whose been with us for five years, who decided that he wanted to focus on his family life and have more of a stable financial situation, which you really don’t have when you’re touring like we are because you never know how much you’re going to bring back at the end of it. So that was very understandable. We’re still friends with Henry, and we talk on occasions too. Then we had Richard who we thought was going to be the guy who would take over, but there was that little bit of the personal chemistry which wasn’t really working out. It was a mutual thing. We both agreed that it was better if both parties moved on with their own thing and we tried to look for someone new, which is why we have a session drummer for this tour.
TW: And how is that working out?
PW: It’s kind of a strange situation actually. You want to be a full band all the time, of course, and at the same time I think that he’s a great guy. Still, it means we don’t have to worry about including him all the time, you know, “How are you doing? Are you ok? You doing great?” all the time. I’m not saying that we’re treating him as an asshole [laughs], but we don’t have that aspect of trying to make him feel like he’s in the family. He was the one who also…he isn’t going to quit his other band to do us…
TW: What do you feel about the “metal” world as a whole, if indeed there is such a thing, and where it’s going for 2004 and in the general future? Is it stagnating, is there room for improvement and doing new, innovative things within the genres?
PW: Yeah, as you guys know too, there’s basically so much metal coming out of Scandinavia. In Norway there’s a thing for black metal, and I think Sweden is very famous for the melodic death metal, with choruses and stuff like that. The competition gets bigger, but at the same time I think it’s the one’s who are really working hard, like the one’s who really put their mind into it, that are going to last.
TW: Do you feel pressurised to play a certain brand of melodic death metal just because you’re from Sweden, and it’s what ‘everyone’ else is doing?
PW: It came naturally, actually. In Flames or At the Gates weren’t the reason I started playing melodic death metal, which I know a lot of people think. I think it has a lot to do with us listening to a lot of the same music when we were young like Iron Maiden, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. It seems like all the bands are getting inspired by each other too, and I am a fan of their music as well, like In Flames and Dimmu Borgir, but at the same time I think we’re all just trying to our own thing all the time.
TW: How do you go about structuring and planning your live shows for the tour? Would you ever care to imitate the likes of Norwegian black metal bands who are keen on using ‘effects’ like goat heads and blood?
PW: Well, since we’re not a part of that whole ‘hate on stage’, we’re more into having fun and putting out a lot of energy. We’re trying to show the audience that we’re having a good time, and that they should have a good time as well.
TW: Your music does seem to be more ‘fun’ to listen to than the typical Norwegian black metal, and you also seem to be enjoying yourselves as you play it.
PW: Yeah, one of the reasons we’re doing this whole thing with the choruses and all that stuff has to do with the fact that we see people having a good time with it live, singing along and all that. It works well, because people aren’t just standing around there. After a while you can stick the microphone out there and people will sing along to the words. That’s a real kick for us.
TW: Now that you’ve got quite a back-catalogue of songs to choose from live, how do you go about constructing a setlist?
PW: On this tour we play new and old mixes, a bit of both. We play some material from “Steelbath Suicide” and tracks off of “Chainheart Machine”. We’re doing this to give something back to the fans – usually we’re just playing support for another band on tour, but this time when we’re headlining our own small European tour, we can give something back.
TW: You’re touring now with Forsaken – is that working out alright?
PW: Yeah, they’re getting the crowds started and they have a killer show too. It’s a pretty good package too, because they’re from the south of Sweden like we are. We knew them personally, in fact most of the guys live about an hour away from us.
TW: How was it like to be working with Devin Townsend as a producer for your album “Natural Born Chaos”?
PW: I would love to do it again! It was like a journey through…I’m trying to find an example of a person who has a very special personality – not that he was crazy in any way, I wouldn’t say that, but he’s just a big thinker and he’s the biggest perfectionist there is. It shows on the record too. It shows on “Natural Born Chaos”, and he didn’t want to really do the whole producing thing at the beginning, but he changes from day to day in what he wants to do. For us it was a very good process for learning where to set the boundaries for recording a record – that’s the reason we didn’t use him for the latest records, since we felt we could do it ourselves this time.
TW: Has he disciplined you then as musicians and for working in the studio?
PW: Yeah, I think so.
TW: You seem to have a good connection with your fans – I noticed you had an official fan site created by a Soilwork enthusiast. Do you view yourselves as a down-to-earth band, or do you long for the status as rock stars?
PW: I don’t know…I don’t think we ever want to come across as rock stars in any way, that’s never been my goal. I just want people to appreciate what we do and what we stand for. That’s probably the reason some of the people think we’re down-to-earth too. Like whenever we meet people, we’re not being up here [indicates]. That never works in the long run anyway.
TW: Are you doing a lot of interviews on this tour? Do you get tired of the promo work connected with releasing a new record?
PW: It’s a factor of the lifestyle as a musician. You’re trying to spread the word about your music and trying to keep the scene alive. It’s a necessary thing. Some days you might have had too much drink and don’t really feel like talking the day after, but you still do it. Luckily, we have a couple of guys in the band who do interviews and can switch off on the workload.

TW: Thanks for talking to us and good luck with the concert tonight. We look forward to seeing you here again in Stavanger!
PW: Thank you!