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Soilwork interview (10/2003)

With: Sven Karlsson [keyboards]
Conducted by: Justin
Published: 02.10.2003

Band profile:


Although Sweden's [Helingburg] Soilwork was officially launched in 1996, the group actually came together a year beforehand, under the name of Inferior Breed. The name change to Soilwork signified a change in direction, and the name itself represented a reward for people who work with hands on approach].
Lead/rhythm guitarist Peter Wichers, bassist Carl-Gustav Döös, drummer Jimmy Persson and vocalist Bjorn "Speed" Strid founded the group.
Ludvig Svartz was added to the lead/rhythm guitar attack, but Döös soon left the group, leaving Wichers handling bass duties on their demo 'In Dreams We Fall Into The Eternal Lake'. Fellow Swede Michael Amott [Guitarist for Spiritual Beggars and Arch Enemy] passed the demo around, which ultimately led to a deal with French label Listenable Records. New bass player Ola Flink joined prior to Soilwork heading into the studio. Their debut 'Steel Bath Suicide' was released in 1998.
Their sophomore release 'The Chainheart Machine' was a definite progression, and was a huge display of growth in as little as a year.
The line up changed once more, with drummer Henry Ranta [Also in The Defaced and Terror 2000] mounting the drum kit, Ola Frenning tackling lead/rhythm guitar duties, and Ola Flink filling in the vacant bass role.
2001 was a breakthrough year for Soilwork. The band found a new home with Nuclear Blast, and set about working on a new album. Their third album 'A Predator's Portrait' delivered everything that Soilwork had promising to that point, and the metal community took notice [Including some very vocal praise from the metal god himself Rob Halford]. Lucrative support slots with Annihilator and Nevermore gave Soilwork the opportunity to play in front of potential fans, with excellent results.
The final member to join Soilwork was full time keyboardist Sven Karlsson [Ex-Embraced and Evergrey]. No sooner had he joined, they entered the studio with producer/musical chameleon Devin Townsend to work on their fourth release.
'Natural Born Chaos', released in 2002, was a landmark album. Everything from the production, the artwork, the songs and the performances proved that Soilwork were progressing at a pace that most found hard to fathom. Reviews were full of praise, and the album went onto to outsell all of the bands previous releases.
A lengthy hiatus wouldn't have been out of the question for the hard working six-piece group. However, they regrouped, entered the studio, and knocked out their fifth album 'Figure Number Five'.

- Speaking down the line is keyboardist Sven Karlsson about the new album, fans expectations, joining the group and the stress of using their own production skills.

I actually received a phone call from Strid, in regards to filling in on the keyboards for Soilwork's tour of Japan. I said I would do it, and it went well. When we got back, they asked me to be a full time member. We soon went into the studio to make 'Natural Born Chaos', and now we have our new album out.

- The new album that Karlsson speaks of is Soilwork's fifth release 'Figure Number Five'. After working with producer Devin Townsend on 'Natural Born Chaos', Soilwork have chosen to produce themselves on their latest release.

We produced this album ourselves, so it's a bit different. We also we recorded in three different studios. So the whole process was actually something that we had never tried before. The drums were recorded in one studio, the guitars and keyboards in another, and the vocals and bass in the third. We didn't actually get to hear the final completed album until the final mix. It was quite a different experience. Since we didn't rehearse anything before going into the studio, we didn't really know what the finished product was really going to sound like. It was very nerve wracking actually, but I'm really happy with the finished result. I think it's the best sounding Soilwork album so far.

- Each successive Soilwork album has a distinct emphasis on melody, particularly 'Natural Born Chaos'. 'Figure Number Five' still retains the Soilwork melody, but if anything, seems a little heavier. Karlsson couldn't agree more.

It's kind of a natural progression from 'Natural Born Chaos'. Actually, some of the songs on 'Figure Number Five' could easily have been on 'Natural Born Chaos'. It's really easy to hear the similarities. But as you point out, it's perhaps a little bit heavier. The melodic side is mostly Strid's doing. His vocals have really evolved over time, and even further than ever on 'Natural Born Chaos'. His vocals are progressing; the aggressive stuff is harsher, while the melodic moments really allow him to sing more. It's his trademark! [Laughs]

- The reason Soilwork has opted to self-produce this album had more to do with practicality rather than fans expectations of repeating a proven formula.

When it came time to do 'Figure Number Five', we thought we could do it ourselves. We did approach Devin about producing this one, but he couldn't make it. He had too much work on at the time [Producing other bands, his own music and touring]. 'Natural Born Chaos' was a big learning process, production wise, for us. When he wasn't available, we felt that we would try to do it on our own this time. As much as Devin helped us last time, and we thank Devin for that, I think we did a good job on this one.

- Production is an enormous part of making an album. You would have to wonder if Soilwork were ever nervous at the prospect of going at it alone. It would seem that it never entered their collective minds.

We didn't have time to be nervous, but it was such a stressful three months. We went from writing the album, and heading straight into the studio to record the album. It was the worst thing I had ever done in my musical career, in a professional recording sense I mean. Having said that, it was a good experience in the end. It was good to know that we ended up knowing that we were confident enough to know that we could do it our own. That was a good feeling knowing that.

- Only time will determine whether the stress of playing producer and musician at the same time had a role in shaping the eleven tracks on 'Figure Number Five', but the material certainly does have an edge that works well for Soilwork.

When Wichers and I began the writing sessions for the new album, I was never personally under any stress. I just had a lot of ideas, and I know that Wichers had a lot of ideas also. When we had enough songs, we just started recorded it. It was really only during the recording process that was a bit stressful. I really don't know if you can tell by listening to the album. Perhaps the new material is a little more edgy. It's hard to say at this time.

- Vocalist Strid usually handles the lyrical aspect of 'Figure Number Five' and its accompanying artwork. And while Karlsson is unsure about specifics, he does shed a little light on the matter.

The front cover artwork was done by Soilwork's former keyboard player Carlos Del Olmo Holmberg [Nailstream Artwork]. I think it incorporates some Swedish artists sculpture or something like that. I don't really know, because I was really involved in that process. Everything happened so fast, and we needed a cover. He had that one, so we used it. It's really that simple, but it still incorporates the Soilwork symbol in the background. As you mentioned, the artwork itself features some driftwood, or something like that! [Laughs] I don't really know if there's any specific meaning to it all. It's still got the Soilwork symbol though. It's very easy to recognise. It's not too much information for people to take in. It's a simple cover, as opposed to the last one. That was really detailed, and had a very specific meaning to it. As for the album title, I suppose it's a natural reference to being the fifth Soilwork album. I think it also has something to do with being the fifth wheel in society, and stuff like that. As for the lyrics on the album, I'm not really the right person to ask about that. I didn't write any of the lyrics on this album. I wouldn't like to speculate what Strid is trying to say on the album.

- A year between 'Natural Born Chaos' and 'Figure Number Five' isn't a long time, but that doesn't appear to be an issue with Soilwork.

It wasn't our intention of doing the follow up album so soon. We simply had enough good songs for a new album. I don't see it as a negative thing to release a new album every year. I don't think the time in between releases is an issue. As long as the songs are good, and you feel confident with them, you should just put them out there. That's my philosophy anyway. It was never a plan to release it, it just happened. It felt right at the time. Does Nuclear Blast ever put any pressure on? No, no, no. We never listen to them. They have nothing to say regarding when we're going to release an album, or which songs suit our sound, or anything creative for that matter. We decide all that ourselves. The only pressure on this album was a time pressure when it came to recording. Otherwise, it was an alright process of making the album.

- Soilwork's rival band In Flames [Who also appear in Soilwork's new promotional clip for 'Rejection Role'] copped a bit of criticism for the overtly melodic direction they took with 'Reroute To Remain'. However, Soilwork look set to bypass most bad reviews because of the edgier material on 'Figure Number Five'.

I don't know how people will react to the album, but I hope you're right. You never know. If that's true though [About the edgier material], then I'm really happy. I don't enjoy losing fans, but at the same time, it doesn't come into my mind when I'm writing music. I never take into account if the fans are going to like it or not. But like I said, I hope you're right. We don't want to lose any fans with 'Figure Number Five'. We only want to gain new ones. There are some fans out there that expect us to sound like we did on 'The Chainheart Machine' album. We did an album that sounds like that, and we don't want to do another one like that. We try to evolve constantly, for those out there that don't like that, that's their problem.

I would like to personally thank Sven Karlsson for his generous time, and Markus Wosgien [Nuclear Blast] for making the interview possible.


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