Björn Strid of Soilwork takes no compromises on The Living Infinite

Björn Strid explains the return of Scandinavian melancholy and the massive challenge of recording a double album with the ninth studio album from Soilwork, The Living Infinite ahead of their Australian tour this October.

When I connect through to Björn "Speed" Strid, I find out he has a bit of a cold right ahead of Soilwork’s US tour. He’s not too worried though, despite facing 54 shows in 56 days. “I'm kind of glad I'm getting sick now and not in the middle of the tour!” Meshuggah had just done a few concerts in the US without their singer Jens, the crowd standing in for his vocals. Strid had talked to him and we ponder how Soilwork would do in a similar situation, “I don't know if people would appreciate that, if we were still doing the show, with me just handing the mic over to the crowd. Who knows, but it's definitely an option.”


Strid’s varied vocals are one of the defining points of Soilwork’s melodic death metal sound. He utilises clean, rough and guttural screamed vocals to convey his lyrics, a task which bands often split up between vocalists. Performing these songs live can pose some problems, “In the beginning when I started to introduce those kind of vocals, maybe on Natural Born Chaos, it was really rough to tell you the truth. It was hard to take that to the stage and be able to switch,” Strid confesses. “ I did a lot of practicing on my own and I pretty much noticed it's really the same technique. Screaming vocals or clean vocals, it doesn't really matter. You kind of breathe in the same way. I also improved my screaming vocals as well, so it doesn't tear my vocal chords as much as it used to. Also with touring I've gotten to know my voice a lot better and I guess the vocal chords get used to the way of singing and all the switching. At the same time, with the recent albums I feel there is way more of a natural transition between cleans and the screams.”


The newest release from Soilwork, The Living Infinite, is a double album. Listening to this record conveys how much of a massive musical project Strid set out to conquer. “I had a vision about making something bigger, more epic. I introduced the idea to the other guys in the band in 2011 while we were doing summer festivals in Europe. I also had the title back then as well, kind of an overall concept in a way. The guys in the band were intrigued in a pretty positive way, but still had some concerns about how we were going to come up with that many songs.”


“We can't compromise in having the first disc sounding awesome, then going downhill from there. That wouldn't make sense. You wouldn't want to compromise with that. But as soon as we started writing songs for the album we noticed we had something really good going and that it was going to be really diverse. I think we needed to have that as well, keeping a double album interesting all the way through. It's really been a matter of band effort because every member in this band has contributed with lyrics and songs, which is really interesting.”


With twenty unique tracks, The Living Infinite is definitely a massive project. But why such an epic project for the ninth album from the Swedish , melodic metallers? “The main reason, I felt, is I wanted instead of just throwing out another album with just eleven/twelve songs would be boring to me. I just wanted to do something new and I think we needed that challenge as well. With Peter [Wichers] leaving again I think it was important for us to prove to ourselves and our listeners that there are other amazing songwriters in the band.”


Peter Wichers has left Soilwork twice now. He has been credited as one of the central contributing composers of Soilwork’s albums in the past. Strid gives us a little insight into why Wichers has left again, and how this really is affecting the sound of Soilwork. “Both us and Peter are better off now, for sure. I wasn't as surprised the second time because we went into the studio and everything seemed great for The Panic Broadcast. It turned out to be a really good album and we had fun in the studio. As soon as we started touring we could sense that Peter became stressed, and even depressed, being away from his family. Being economically stressed as well, being able to provide for his family. So, we could sense that this is not going to last. It did affect the band in a way; it created a lot of negative energy even though he didn't want to create that. It was pretty obvious that it was not going to last, and that's when David Andersson stepped in once again to take care of some of the touring. I think, at least we tried. Peter is better off being a family man with a normal day job and seems to be happy, and now we have David who loves to tour and brought a lot of positive energy to the band as well.”


The newest addition to the band, Andersson has been handling occasional live duties for Soilwork for some time, and Strid thinks he is a solid addition to the band, “We’ve known the guy since 2006 and he's done two North American tours with us before. I believe also one Japan/Australia tour. It was very natural. He's always been a big fan of the band, and all the guys in the band are really familiar with him on a personal level and also musically. It was definitely a natural development with adding him to the fold really.”


Andersson has also contributed to The Living Infinite, stepping into Wichers’ shoes in more than one sense. “He actually contributed with eight, maybe seven, songs. He was in the mindset from the beginning when the idea was introduced for making the double album. He definitely contributed with some cool stuff. He has sort of a Scandinavian melancholy in his melodies which is interesting. I believe that's something we had in the past as well, but is something that we lost, especially on maybe the latest three albums. That was definitely something cool to bring back. He really provided that.”


Lost melancholy? I have to ask Strid to explain, which he finds difficult to put into words. “It’s hard to say, I mean Peter did have a lot of American influences. Not saying that that's a bad thing, but I think after moving to the states he kind of got influenced by a more American way of expressing himself musically. I think that's one of the reasons we kind of lost that. The latest three albums were a mix of American riffage, and Swedish sounding stuff. It was still true to the Soilwork sound, but along the way we lost a bit of the melancholy I was talking about,” Strid ponders. “It just feels better, it feels more true to what we were doing in the past. But at the same time we're not looking back too much, we are taking it to a new level for sure. We're definitely touching new ground with this record, musically.”


The production on The Living Infinite is beautiful, with many acoustic elements seamlessly blended in. I remark particularly on the clever use of solo cello pieces. Strid thanks me for the compliment and gives an insight into how Soilwork came to add these elements to their sound.  “We added the acoustic part after recording all the songs. We were listening through the songs and we really felt that a double album needs transitions here and there. We never really had that before, so that was something that we wanted to introduce. It definitely adds a lot of depth to it, and dynamic. The cello parts are really cool, and bring the Swedish melancholy feel to it that is so hard to explain. To me it's really obvious that parts like the cello could be taken from a Swedish depressing winter movie. That's something we wanted to have in there. There's something special about that.”


Even in the depths of winter, Australia is filled with light so it is hard for our sunburnt country to sometimes grasp this sense. Is it the darkness of the Scandinavian winters that describe this melancholy? “Something about that. I am from the South so the winters are not that bad. It's something about a depressing feeling that makes you feel good. It's really weird. I can't really… there is a Swedish word for it but it's impossible to translate. Vemod.”


Catch Soilwork on their October tour of Australia, with tickets on sale Friday the 15th of March from Metropolis Touring. VIP Meet & Greet packages are also available.


Wednesday 2nd October, The Hifi, Brisbane
Thursday 3rd October, The Manning Bar, Sydney
Friday 4th October, The Billboard, Melbourne
Saturday 5th October, The Gov, Adelaide
Sunday 6th October, Rosemount, Perth