Soilwork interview (04/2013)
|Conducted by:||Susan (in person)|
Soilwork hit Seattle a few days ago on their North American tour with Jeff Loomis and Blackguard. I had a great chat with drummer extraordinaire Dirk Verbeuren before the show; some topics included Soilwork's progression, recording their double album The Living Infinite, plans for his other bands Scarve and Bent Sea, why he loves teaching drums, and what sorts of music he'd like to play next.
It was another lovely day in Seattle; despite a cool spring breeze, coats were not necessary. I arrived early at the club and joined several of the musicians and crew who were taking some fresh air by the front door as the sound checks got under way inside. For early April, weather like this was a treat. After meeting up with Soilwork's tour manager, I headed in the club and heard a bit of the band warming up and doing their sound check.
The energy is so unique at this point in the day: you know that in a matter of hours the space will be packed with people, the lights dark, and the soundwaves pulsing with cheers and metal music. However, it's at this early time when the real work happens. Musicians and crew and loading in amps, instruments, and other equipment straight onto the floor; someone is standing on a ladder adjusting lights; someone else is unpacking boxes of t-shirts and setting up the merch table while getting the app on her phone ready to take credit cards. A band plays in the background, testing their equipment, while the theatre is being prepared.
After Soilwork's soundcheck, their manager introduced me to drummer Dirk Verbeuren; we headed to the tour bus in search of some place quiet for the interview. This particular tour bus has a bit of a "living room" set up in the front and we greeted several other guys on our way to a seating area in the back. The hallway is lined with narrow bunks stacked 3 and 4 high; a very economical use of space, and they did look quite comfortable for what they were. Though, it seems one really must enjoy being "cozy" if one wants to make it as a rock star or roadie!
Susan: How's the tour going so far?
Dirk: It's going great so far! We've had tremendous response to the record and so a lot of people have shown up and yeah, it's been our best tour in a while for sure.
Susan: Why did you guys decide to make a double record?
Dirk: Well, Speed (Björn "Speed" Strid) came up with the idea back in, like, 2 years ago and it was just kinda like, wow, a double album! But I guess we kind of thought about it and grew accustomed to the idea and eventually when we started writing everybody worked really hard and we ended up with a lot of great stuff.
Susan: Just too many good songs?
Dirk: Yeah, yeah it was a great project to take on, something different to do. Of course the first prerequisite was that we were going to have a lot of good stuff but it happened so, why not?
Susan: Was it much more difficult to record a double album?
Dirk: Actually it went pretty smoothly because we had a great team and we set it up so that people could record at the same time, we had like 3 people at the same time recording their parts on different songs so we kinda worked it out beforehand. But it was definitely intense.
Susan: Your arms didn't fall off?
Dirk: Almost! (laughs)
Susan: Can you tell me about Soilwork's writing process?
Dirk: Yeah. We live all over the place: I'm in the US, Bjorn's in Canada, got some guys in Sweden in different cities like kinda far away and Sylvain's in France, so obviously the internet is the way to go! So, we just write demos each on our own kind of and send them back and forth and exchange ideas. Luckily I can record drums at home, the guys can record guitars, Bjorn can record vocals, Sven records his stuff, so nowadays it's just so easy with technology to work that way and we know each other pretty well obviously over the years we've developed a good understanding as to what works and not, what we feel collectively can work and not. But it was a very open writing process. It was fun because the whole band contributed to each song. There's a number of songs that we managed to rehearse together before going into the studio and another number of songs where we worked ahead of time before we could meet and kinda establish what was going to happen. So, we've worked that way for a while but it was more collaborative than on the past few albums because we did get everybody to contribute more.
Susan: Now you play with several different bands so when you come up with a musical idea do you compose specifically for each band or do you come up with an idea and say "I think this would work for Soilwork!"
Dirk: Yeah, it's kinda like that I guess. I only wrote one song by myself for this record which is actually the first time that I wrote like a full Soilwork song from A-Z and that's actually a bonus track so it hasn't even been used on the record yet (laughs).
Susan: Well good for you!
Dirk: Yeah, it'll come out someday! But I contributed a lot to the other guys' songs but when I write music for my own grindcore band it's kind of like a state of mind thing like where you're like I'm in this mood now so I'll work on that.
Susan: You've been with Soilwork for almost 10 years. How would you describe their evolution? You've done a lot!
Dirk: Yeah we have, we've been super busy! Hmmm, well, of course when I came in first it's kinda like you're the new guy, and so I wasn't very involved in the beginning with a lot of stuff and as I got to know the guys and the dynamics kind of evolved I became more of like the go-to guy, now I'm kind of like the business guy in the band and I do a lot of the emails and I'm kind of the connection between the band and the manger and the booking agent and this and that. So, obviously that evolved quite a bit.
Musically, I would say that, hmm (long pause)… there were a number of years there around the time that I joined where it was a little bit torn. Like, different people wanted to go in different directions and I think some people kind of pushed through their direction and then other people were pushed to the background a little bit. And it wasn't like a mean thing or whatever it was just kinda what happened at the time. So, some people started voicing their opinion more over the years and some frustration was brewing and we had some lineup changes. But now we're at the point where we feel more than ever that, like I said, everybody can really contribute their voice and their ideas and we try to kind of open it up for that, where maybe people who weren't heard as much in the past had more of a voice and also the fact that we did this double album, The Living Infinite, allowed for more different things to go into it, too. Because maybe some of the stuff would have been cut on a regular length CD. And now it's like we can be a little more adventurous/experimental, maybe go different ways and have it on there.
Susan: Do you ever get pressure from the label to compose a certain way? Or do they let you do your own thing?
Dirk: They're very cool with us. They trust us totally - even now because when Peter (Peter Wichers, guitar), when we separated with Peter again before starting this record and we were a little bit worried like, you know, he's been an important part of the band, he's one of the co-founders, he's a big aspect in the songwriting in a number of the past records and stuff and so we were a little bit worried the label would, you know, lose some trust in us. But actually they were totally cool and they loved the idea of doing the double album and they just trusted us. I mean we never even sent them demos! We just go in and record and say, "here's the album."
Susan: So one of my colleagues at Metal Storm is wondering if anything is planned for Scarve or if that is dead and buried?
Dirk: No, we're working on stuff slowly but surely. It's a long time in the making because obviously it's been a little pushed to the background with Soilwork being so busy and everybody in Scarve just having their own personal stuff going on, you know. We pushed really hard for that band for a number of years and did all the touring and did all the underground things and it didn't really pay off in terms of the band growing, sales-wise, that much. So, it came to a point where you turn 30, people started having children and things, so you have to make decisions so we kinda put it on the back burner for a while. But we are definitely planning to do another record when the time is right.
Susan: Ok, good!
Dirk: So you can reassure. (laughs)
Susan: I will! Do you have any ideas or demos that you guys are sending each other or is it just something for the future?
Dirk: Some rough ideas but nothing really… I don't know, I personally would like to go back a little to the Irradiant style. That's my personal wish. Of course, we'll see where things are going to take us, we're not going to force it. But I think that was definitely, for me, our most concise album and the one that I look back on the most fondly. So, that would be my blueprint.
Susan: I notice that you play drums and guitar in Bent Sea.
Susan: Is that the first band where you've played something other than drums?
Dirk: Pretty much, yeah! I mean, I wouldn't play guitar live, though! (laughs) Because I'm terrible, I'm a terrible guitarist. But it works for songwriting. I've done that in the past with Scarve and now with Soilwork, too, for the one song I wrote. But with Bent Sea since it's grindcore and it has the whole punk vibe and the whole very, like, spontaneous raw vibe, that's what I wanted. For me, that's my outlet where it's like no pressure. No contract, no managers, none of that. It's just like sit down, have fun, when you're feeling like it. Same thing for the other people that are involved like Shane (Embury) from Napalm Death has just recorded bass at my house for the new stuff, a few weeks ago, before this tour. So, it's really like whenever people get together and can make things happen we make it happen so we just have fun with it. I'm loving playing guitar, yeah.
Susan: That's so important.
Dirk: Yeah, it's a blast.
Susan: So, you stay really busy. I mean, you've talked about Soilwork is really busy but you do so much session work. How is it different being in the studio for Soilwork, or for Bent Sea or for one of your main bands versus doing session work?
Dirk: A lot of session work I do out of my house now; I set up my electronics studio there with electronic drums and two-track software and that works really great. It allows me to work for bands and artists that have lower budgets, that can't necessarily afford to rent a studio and an engineer and get drums and all this stuff because that's like, you know, that's more for people who are signed and have a more established core. So, it allows me to work with a lot of very cool and interesting and talented people all over the world. I've worked with people from Ukraine, Japan, the US and Europe.
Dirk: Yeah, it's crazy. Once I opened that up I had a lot of things coming in and it's really interesting because even a lot of the younger kids that are starting out bring sometimes a very different angle to music. So, I learn from that and have a lot of fun with it. Then there are, of course, some of the bigger sessions with like Jeff Loomis, for example, who I played with on the last album, and Devin Townsend, where they fly me in and I go to a studio. So, it's a little bit different in the sense that with Soilwork where I know the guys and we know what we're doing and it's very natural. With the other people sometimes I have to kind of see, ok, what do they want? What do they want to do? But, I have to say, though, it's usually very smooth because they usually hire me because they like what I do so most of these people, like Devin and Jeff and stuff are like, "yeah, just play what you want" and stuff. Maybe they'll say here and there like "I want that beat" but in general I get a lot of freedom. So, I couldn't be happier.
Susan: It's easy to stay connected with some of those bands when you're recording at home?
Dirk: Yeah, it is. I mean the home thing is more like we send files back and forth: I'll track and song and send it to them and see how they feel and some people will want more specific stuff than others. But yeah. it works really well actually.
Susan: Cool. I noticed that you do a lot of teaching also and I'm wondering if you can talk about your teaching style?
Dirk: I try to get a vibe for what the people need most. I listen, if possible I listen to what they do and just ask them, "So, what are you looking to get better at?" And that's my starting point. It's very open like, I don't come in with like "here's the lesson" I first feel it out and just adapt, just go with the flow. Because I've had so many different teachers myself in the past when I was going to the music school in Nancy , back when I was like 19 years old (Music Academy International in Nancy, France). I had teachers from all different horizons like rock, jazz, funk, you name it, like all different kinds of musical backgrounds. And that taught me that there's really no limits to the stuff you can learn from different styles.
So, I keep it very open. If a guy comes to me and says, you know, "I just want to be able to play faster double kick," ok I have some solutions for that. If somebody comes to me and is like, "I want to work on my groove," which is a totally different thing, we'll work on that. I just stay open to people's needs, that's my key.
Susan: Ok, cool. How was the clinic tour in China?
Dirk: Oh, it was awesome! There was two, actually! It was really fun. I'd never been there, so it was kinda weird to board a plane by myself and be like, "I'm going to be in China in like 15 hours!" But it was fun and people were really cool. It was definitely interesting to see how that country kinda works. Everyone told me I hadn't seen the "real" China since I was only in big cities. So, I didn't get to see… there's obviously not much time to walk around even though I did get to visit a few cool things.
But it was really fun because there were a lot of people at the clinics and, (laughs) the best memory I have is this clinic in I think it was Wuhan, which is actually a big city where they make a lot of cymbals. So, I played this clinic there and I started playing a song and it had some blast beats in it and spontaneously as I started playing the blast beat part people just start clapping. They hadn't really seen that, I guess, much, I'm guessing! So, they were just like, "what's he doing!? This crazy fast beat!" And they just started clapping and I was like, "wow, this is crazy!" In our countries this is, like, old news. We had blast beats in, like, '85, you know, so it was really cool!
Susan: Nice! How about some of the lessons you've done on this tour? I noticed you're setting up some of those, have they been fun?
Dirk: Yeah, yeah, it's awesome. I get to meet people, fellow drummers, and some of them have a lot of experience, others are more starting out. But I view it as an exchange thing more than like I'm the teacher and I'm doing a lesson. I learn from these people, too, and from how they approach things. So, it's more of a conversation, really. So, of course we exchange some tips and tricks and I show them some of my techniques if that's what they're looking for but it's a human exchange, interaction, yeah.
Susan: How many languages do you speak?
Dirk: Three. French, because I lived in France for a long time, my native tongue is Dutch, well Flemish but yeah, Dutch, and then, English.
Susan: Ok! I wasn't sure since you're in a Swedish band and you're from Belgium and you're living in the US, I thought who knows how many it could be!
Dirk: (laughs) Yeah, my Swedish isn't quite up to par yet. I can understand it when they're talking but it's not quite, there yet.
Susan: Got it. What is the best road food?
Dirk: Oh boy…
Susan: You go to so many different countries, have you picked up any traditions?
Dirk: That's a good question because I'm vegetarian so already that eliminates a lot of stuff.
Susan: Especially in this country?
Dirk: Well, actually, America is very good for vegetarian food. I would say it's probably one of the best places. Like, some cities have so much stuff. I live in L.A. and there's tons of stuff there. I love Thai food, so that will usually be something I gravitate towards if it's available. Stuff with rice and noodles and lots of veggies and stuff. And I just love the Thai flavor with coconut, things like that.
Susan: Mmmm, the tom kah soup?
Dirk: Yeah, that stuff always gets me! But I've learned to appreciate Mexican food a lot, too, living in California. That's like my wife's favorite food is Mexican so we go to Mexican restaurants quite a bit.
Susan: She's got good taste, then!
Dirk: (laughs) Yeah! Exactly.
Susan: So, you've played in so many different genres of bands. Are there any genres of metal or of other music that you want to play in a band but haven't yet?
Dirk: I would love to make electronic music. I have listened to that for many years. I have actually started working on some stuff a number of years ago but I didn't really get to finish it. But that would be something that I would really like one day to sit down and just get all the stuff that I need and work on that. I'm really passionate about it; I was actually listening to some stuff yesterday night in my bunk falling asleep. I love all those weird like industrialish electronic bands that have crazy rhythmical ideas, like Squarepusher and Aphex Twin and Black Lung, all those bands are huge inspirations for me, drumming-wise, because they're so intense and they have so many cool things going on. So, yeah, hopefully one day I can take time off and sit at home and make electronic music.
Susan: Well, you seem like the kind of person who likes to stay very busy so I'm sure you'll be able to make that happen one way or another!
Dirk: Yeah, one day!
Susan: Well, that kind of leads into my next question which is, what other music besides metal and besides electronic music do you like?
Dirk: Umm, I grew up on pop music so I still tend to seek out some good pop every now and then. Like, I really liked Lady Gaga's first two albums, I guess. Didn't like the new one that much. So, I listened to her for a while. But, you know, Prince, I always keep up with what he's doing. That was the first record I ever bought was a Prince album, so he's always somebody I stay connected with throughout the years.
Yeah, a lot of stuff, really. At my house, my wife a lot of times is the one who will throw on a record and she listens to a lot of stuff that I don't necessarily know that well, so I'm always interested to hear the stuff she grew up with, like a lot of rockabilly, maybe some older blues, she's big into the Rolling Stones, so I've really learned to appreciate them. We're actually going to try to go see them since we found out they're playing some California shows in May! I've never seen them and she hasn't either, so that'd be really awesome to see them. But yeah, I listen to all kinds of things. On the bus here a lot of stuff gets played. Everyone in Soilwork has a pretty wide musical taste so most of the time I'm into it and I try to pick up on some good songs and good ideas.
Susan: Ok! Well, my last question: You've been a musician for so long and have had a lot of success. Can you think back to when you were just starting out and what you thought this kind of life would be like and how it's different?
Dirk: (big laugh) Oh yeah, oh sure! I don't think I was the kind of kid who was dreaming of the rock star life because I think to me that was, like that was never going to happen. I was thinking more at the time like with Scarve, "Oh, if we could do an album that would be so cool!" You know? So I think for a lot of bands and artists when you're young you set these small steps. So, then eventually we wanted to make better albums, and then better albums let to Soilwork noticing me and calling me and touring with them. Then it was like, "Wow, it'd be cool to do an album with Soilwork!" So, it's really a gradual thing. I think it must be really hard for bands who have success like when they're young and they do an album and it explodes. I don't know how you can handle that because there are really a lot of different things to take in. Just this life in general, the way you have the live on the road and the business you have to deal with… I have to kind of like touch up on all the different aspects and keep track of what's going on or else you're just going to get run over by, you know, people managing you. Unfortunately, as a band you have to kind of guard your stuff. So, we've learned that throughout the years we've changed management a few times and kind of grew wiser, too.
But it's definitely not as glamorous as people think that's for sure! And I'm sure that's been said before but just look at our bus. We're like 15, 16 people on a bus for 7 weeks. And people don't realize that I mean the space you have is like, how you and I are sitting right now? That's what you get when it's good. Usually there would be someone sitting here too (he points to the space on the couch between us).
Susan: Three of four people on this couch?
Dirk: Yeah! So people think, sure, Metallica they each have their own bus like this but… that's Metallica (laughs). But most bands it's more like this and you deal with closed quarters and, yeah. But it's fun, I mean, the time you spend on stage and you meet fans and that makes it all worth it. So, I'm stoked every night playing drums!
Susan: Good! Well, I'm glad the tour's going well. Have a good show tonight and thank you so much!
Dirk: Thank you, Susan!
Posted on 07.04.2013 by
Susan appreciates quality metal regardless of sub-genre. Metal Storm Staff since 2006.
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