Mum! Soilwork's drummer Dirk Verbeuren is swearing again...

Drum clinics in China; industrial electro and side-project mayhem...

Having just returned from a festival in Slovenia, Soilwork’s drummer Dirk Verbeuren is at home in Los Angeles, gathering his energy for next week, when the band starts the European leg of their upcoming tour. The band are currently promoting The Living Infinite, their ninth album, which also happens to be their first double album - and apparently the first double album in melodic death metal history. Is that true, Dirk? He laughs. “Yeah! That’s what I heard; I haven’t really kept track if other bands have done this but for us, it was a very fun and interesting thing to approach things with a different kind of angle. It’s very exciting how well it came together so we’re very stoked about it.”

I ask how the composing/recording process worked for this album, seeing as Dirk lives in America, vocalist Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid lives in Canada, and one of the guitarists Sylvain Coudret lives in France: “We started using the internet, sending each other song ideas; nowadays I have my studio so I can record electronic drums; the guys can send me guitars and I can send the tracks back with drum ideas on it so that’s how we kind of got the basics done, and from there, we got together for about a week or so in Sweden. We reconvened at an old rehearsal space and worked on tracks together, worked on the arrangements, getting everybody’s input into that, then spent two months in the studio. It was an intense recording session but it actually went really smoothly and we had a lot of fun and it turned out really good.”

And with Peter Wichers (guitar) leaving the band again last year, David Andersson stepped in again to help out. Has he always been there for you, like a good mate after a break-up? Dirk is suitably impressed with David’s performance. “He’s really been helpful to us. I think he’s done three tours with us since 2006, and we’ve always been able to call David for help. We’ve got to know him over the years, and when we split up with Peter this time, it kind of felt like a logical thing to have David join the band. I think this was the right time and we all already knew how talented he is and that we could really get along with him as well. I think he’s really proved himself with all the new stuff that he wrote for the new record; he wrote some really amazing songs for us.”

We get into a discussion about how a band’s direction and sound can shift when a member decides to leave, with Dirk noting some of the issues Soilwork experienced with Sworn to a Great Divide (2007). He recognises that it had some great tracks but “It didn’t really make for a unified record. I just think that none of us really felt a 100 per cent happy with the direction.” He cites the lack of unified direction as one of the record’s failings but adds “I think we learned from that on The Panic Broadcast (2010) and The Living Infinite where we learnt that imposing direction is not a good thing, everybody can express how they feel about new material and stuff like that and in the end I think we needed to stay open throughout the course, and not get stuck – and if anybody in the band ever feels that a song isn’t good or that something we’re doing isn’t right then we usually just change it or drop it because if you have one unhappy person in the band, that’s enough to sour things so we’ve really learned to manage things differently when it comes to that.’

He raves about the band’s recent tour in North America with Jeff Loomis and Blackguard (“It was a lot of fun, man!”), praising Jeff for his professionalism despite having issues which included having equipment stolen and the death of his father. Dirk even managed to play some shows with Jeff at the end of the tour; “It was a very good, very long, tour.”

I point out that it must have been good practice for the upcoming tour which clocks in at almost eight weeks.“Exactly! We’ll be ready - though we have a break in the middle so after the Australian and Asian dates we get to come home for two weeks – the fact that it’s breaking things up, that helps a lot. We’re looking forward to it; it’s been almost three years since we came to see you guys and the tours in Australia are always a lot of fun for us. We can’t wait to play the material for people and get a feel for how people appreciate the album down there. It’s gonna be fun!”

We touch on his trips to China last year to hold a couple of drum clinics and for Dirk it was a lot of fun. “A lot of people came out to the shows and were very enthusiastic. China is a really interesting place to go to because it’s developing at a super-fast pace right now, and as far as the music scene goes, there’s a lot going on with a lot of young people very much into the music that we play. It was very exciting and an eye-opening experience.”

And what’s happening with your other bands Scarve and Bent Sea? “Bent Sea have just released an on-line split single with Torture Division and I have Shane Embury from Napalm Death playing bass in the band now; we’ve recorded a bunch of songs – they’ve just been finished so there’ll be several releases throughout the year – and then with Scarve we’re also working on new material. That’ll probably take a little bit longer but we’re hoping to record a new album next year. We’re actually going to get together, we’ve scheduled that, and do some rehearsing so we can get some songs laid down so both those projects are active.”

And I hear you have an urge to make some electronic industrial music? “I would love to. I listen to a lot of Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, and Black Lung; all those weird, very rhythm-driven and atmospheric electronic bands. I really get into that stuff. I actually started working on some of that stuff a few years ago but I never really got to finish it the way I wanted to. Eventually when there’s enough time in my schedule I’m definitely going to work on stuff like that because for me it’s a whole different musical avenue that I’m really excited about and that I feel I can express myself in.”

Getting back to The Living Infinite; out of the 20 tracks, what are some of your favourites? It’s like asking a parent to chose a favourite child. He struggles but comes up with “One of the songs I really like playing live is Long Live the Misanthrope because it’s a song with a drum line where I can really let loose – that one’s always fun. I also really like the instrumental Loyal Shadow; it’s a little interlude really but it’s an awesome song. Of course there’s the opening track Spectrum of Eternity – I like playing fast – so whenever we play that song, it’s always a challenge for me, and I like taking it on!” I was surprised (and delighted) to hear Justin Sullivan (New Model Army) doing guest vocals on Windswept Mercy; a result of Bjorn being a big New Model Army fan. What’s your view on that track? “It just kind of happened in a very natural way, and I think it turned out really good. It really fits in with the song so it’s nice to have an unexpected guest like that.”

I read that Bjorn is really digging the whole double album concept; can we expect another one soon? “The idea initially came from Bjorn and it definitely kind of opened all of our eyes and minds to the fact that we don’t have to stick to the traditional format if we don’t feel like it. Right now there are a lot of ideas being thrown around in the band and I’m not sure what the release is gonna be; maybe it’s gonna be a seven inch; maybe it’s gonna be a triple album! I don’t know but we’re definitely gonna try and keep things a little bit different, you know? Experiment and have fun…”

And with Bjorn and Dave Sheldon (X’s For Eyes) starting Elegy Guitarworks, do you have any plans to diversify? Maybe some hand-carved drumsticks? He laughs at the idea (surely there’s plenty of down-time on tours to do some serious whittling?) before coming round to it. “How awesome would that be?! I just haven’t had the time; I’m so busy doing session work and stuff – I want days to be 48 hours long instead of 24 so I can get all my stuff done – I work pretty closely with Tama and Meinl and Evans; my endorsements take me out and I do drum clinics. It would be really nice in the future to make some models – and I’m sure when the time is right, it’ll happen – I already have my signature drumsticks from Tama and I’m really happy with that.”

Alas; our time is at an end. But before I go, I mention that later on I’ll be interviewing Devin Townsend (who I know that Dirk has recently worked with) so I ask if he’d like me to pass on a message to Devin. Dirk says something totally obscene that I won’t repeat in these hallowed pages. But it’s to do with something that rhymes with ‘hunt’…

You work it out.

Soilwork; hitting Australia in October.