Here’s one of those tough interviews that seem to encounter the wildest problems all the way from the point where the telephone conversation time is arranged to the moment when it is posted on the internet. Despite all those problems, we are proud to finally bring out a transcript of our conversation with Bjorn “Speed” Strid, the man behind the microphone in Sweden’s Soilwork, one of the leaders of Swedish melodic death metal who have unleashed an excellent release “Natural Born Chaos”, already their fourth full-length album, earlier this year. The conversation was rather spontaneous for I didn’t expect Bjorn to call me on that day and it was a miracle that I had a dictaphone with me and a free telephone line available in the office. Anyway, this is how it went. You have a new album out called “Natural Born Chaos”. Can you explain the album title to me?

Bjorn: Well, at first we had the album title “Natural Born Chaos” and we wanted to find the cover that was suitable for the title. Let me explain the title like this: chaos seems to be born naturally these days, either you’re born to a chaotic life or you’re raised in a chaotic life. And there are some people who don’t even get a chance to live a decent life. At the same time, there are moments when chaos is good, when it makes you realize something or gets you an insight about something, so I guess that’s the explanation of the title. I have only heard a couple of tracks from the new album, and I would like to know whether you use the clean vocals on the same scale as it was on your previous record, or does the new album have more clean vocals? What this ratio is going to be in the future?

Bjorn: That’s hard to say. Everything worked out really good with the clean vocals on the previous album “A Predator’s Portrait”, and we decided to take it a step forward, I guess, because we thought it worked out really good. I used a singing coach for a couple of months before the recording of “Natural Born Chaos”. It’s hard to say where we are going in the future, but we will never skip the screaming vocals, that’s for sure. Which is harder for you to perform, screaming vocals or clean vocals?

Bjorn: I think it’s the combination between those two because it’s really hard to first scream and then sing very clean. But I think it will work out really good because when we did the tour for the previous album, everything was fine, and I guess everybody in the band will have to sing some parts together to work it out with all the harmony stuff. I previously heard that your former keyboard player Carlos Del Olmo was going to paint the cover for “Natural Born Chaos”, but now it turns out that you have a different cover artist. Why is that?

Bjorn: Well, Carlos mailed us some suggestions for the cover, a couple of them were very good, but we wanted to make something different, maybe try somebody else. The previous album had a very dark black cover, and we wanted to do something different, a white cover that would still be very dramatic. So we decided to contact Travis Smith who has done covers for Nevermore and some of Devin Townsend’s stuff too. I think it worked out really good, it’s a different cover, but it’s still fine. By the way, how did you manage to get Devin Townsend to produce the record?

Bjorn: Well, it started when our guitarist Peter (Wichers) was looking at a website where Devin Townsend wrote some good words about Soilwork, and Devin Townsend is his biggest idol, so he was so glad. He decided to call up Century Media Records and ask for Devin’s number, he called Devin and they talked for like one hour (laughs). He just said thanks to Devin for the kind words on the website and stuff like that. They kept the contact, and Peter actually asked Devin if he would be interested to produce the next Soilwork album. And Devin said, “Hell yeah, I wanna do it!”. How was it like working with Devin?

Bjorn: That was amazing! We were pretty nervous before entering the studio with Devin, he’s a big personality, but he made us feel very comfortable in the studio and really pushed us to the limit and made us do our best. So it was great. But Fredrik Nordstrom is also listed as a producer in the press release for “Natural Born Chaos”. How did he and Devin divide the duties?

Bjorn: I guess they were cooperating on the entire album. All Soilwork songs have bonus tracks on Japanese versions. How do you choose the song that you are going to have as a bonus?

Bjorn: We’re actually doing that in our rehearsal room, we’re doing a special track for Japan so we don’t have to pick it after the recording. I hear that you have just made your first video. Where is it going to be available and what is there in the video?

Bjorn: It’s for the song “As We Speak”, the second song on the album. We recorded it in Gothenburg in Sweden with the video producer who had done videos for In Flames and HammerFall. I hope it will be shown on MTV 2 or something like that when the album is released. There are some possibilities to air it on the national TV here in Sweden, too. I don’t know what channel you are watching in Russia, but I hope it will be there too. You have new keyboard player Sven Karlsson in the band. How did you get in contact with him?

Bjorn: It started when Carlos jumped off the band in the middle of the five-week-long tour in Europe last year. There were plans for going to Japan in June last year, and when those plans were confirmed, we had to replace him with another keyboard player. A friend of mine called Michael Hakansson plays in Evergrey, and I decided to call him for I knew their keyboard player was very skilled. He had like two weeks to rehearse all the songs before going to Japan, and of course, he wanted to go to Japan with us. The shows in Japan were really good, so he asked him if he wanted to be a permanent member of Soilwork, and he said ‘yes’. As far as I know, all Soilwork members are involved in other projects and bands. How do you manage to combine all the stuff without encountering conflicts of schedules and stuff like that?

Bjorn: It’s very hard sometimes to be in all those bands. I have a project called Terror 2000, and we have just recorded our second album “Faster Disaster”. Actually, the same day that I got the final master of the Soilwork recording, we entered the studio with Terror 2000, that was a very tough time for me, you know. Do you think that Soilwork somehow profits from the involvement of its members in different bands?

Bjorn: Well, I guess we’re winning some new fans who discover Soilwork after hearing Terror 2000 or the side project of our drummer Henry (Ranta). He has a project called The Defaced together with Klas from Darkane. I guess it only does good to the band. Which is the best show that Soilwork has played? And what is the best show by other artist that you have seen?

Bjorn: That’s a tough one. We did a show in Romania last year, actually, it was in Transylvania. It was incredible, there was like 3,000 people, and they hadn’t seen a show for like three years, the last band to visit Romania before us was Metallica. So people were very hungry for metal, and it was fantastic! I guess Japan was great too. Of great performances of other bands that I have seen, Nevermore was really good and Halford is great live too. You played at Wacken Open Air last year, did you like the experience?

Bjorn: That was pretty early in the day, it was like 1 o’clock in the afternoon, and there wasn’t very much people, some 2,000 or 3,000. But that was an amazing audience, a lot of fistbanging, that was amazing, you know. We got to meet a lot of people there, we hang out with Dimmu Borgir, In Flames, Nevermore, Annihilator and all those bands. That was a really great experience. Bjorn, as far as I know you’re writing the lyrics for Soilwork. I haven’t had a chance to read the lyrics for the new album, can you tell me a little bit about their content?

Bjorn: As I work with kids, with their social problems, at school, they give me a lot of inspiration for my lyrics. Sometimes our songs tell stories of those kids. For example, “The Flameout” off “Natural Born Chaos” is about a young kid who always gets into troubles and doesn’t have any confidence at all. He doesn’t realize what he’s doing to people, he hurts them a lot and he doesn’t think there are people who love him and care about him, there is just hate inside of him. Nuclear Blast are using a quote from Rob Halford to advertise “Natural Born Chaos” on their web-site. Have you ever met Rob in person?

Bjorn: Well, it started when I was reading a Belgian metal magazine, there was a Halford interview and he was saying some good words about Soilwork. I was so glad to see it because he’s my biggest idol. Soon after I read the magazine Halford was about to play a gig in Malmo, a city very close to us. I decided to go there with a friend who fixed some backstage passes. We met Rob before the show, and I said, “Hi, I’m Speed from Soilwork, it’s great to meet you!” I gave him the new album and stuff like that. Then we watched his show and he was actually promoting Soilwork on stage! Wow!

Bjorn: That was so incredible! He actually ended the speech saying, “Hey Speed, see you after the show!” After the show there was a lot of people hanging out outside the backstage area, and everybody was saying “I know Rob Halford!”, “Me too!” And then his life guard came across and said, “Speed, walk through!” (laughs) So I went backstage and I spent like 20 minutes talking with him about music and stuff and having some beers. An incredible story!

Bjorn: Yeah, that’s amazing! Where did you play before joining Soilwork?

Bjorn: Ah… (pause) The band actually had the name Inferior Breed before changing it to Soilwork. Actually I was a guitar player in the beginning, I played in a punk crust band when I was like 13 or 14 years old, that’s all I played in. As far as I know, the music that Inferior Breed was playing is very different from what you do with Soilwork now. What kind of style did you follow back then?

Bjorn: That was more like Meshuggah, Carcass and Pantera - oriented music (a mind-blowing combination! - ed.). Then we got into 70s and 80s hard rock, wanted to have more melodies in our songs and so we founded Soilwork. Is there a chance that the first Soilwork demo will be re-released one day?

Bjorn: We’ll see about that, maybe there is a chance. You have played covers of “Egypt” by Mercyful Fate and “Burn” by Deep Purple? Is there anybody else whom you’d like to cover?

Bjorn: Oh, that’s hard to say… Maybe we could do a Rainbow cover, I would love to do “Kill The King” or maybe “Starlight” by Accept, that’s a great song. But I would also like to do an Elvis cover, that would be so cool! (laughs). Have you heard what Vondur did with “Love Me Tender”?

Bjorn: No! They played it so fast that you can’t actually recognize the song if you don’t know from the beginning what is it that they perform!

Bjorn: Oh, that’s cool! (laughs). I know that Michael Ammot (Arch Enemy, ex-Carcass) played a certain role in the band’s development. Are you still in contact with him?

Bjorn: No, we’re not. He’s a very busy person, he plays in both Arch Enemy and Spiritual Beggars. In 1996 he had a metal record store in our home town Helsingborg. We met him there, talked to him and gave him our demo. He sent it to WAR Music and Listenable Records and both labels were interested. We eventually signed a contract with Listenable Records, that was really nice for him to send those demos. How do you see the future of Soilwork? What are the band’s immediate plans and long-term plans?

Bjorn: Well, first of all it will be great to tour a lot more. We have done some tours, but I could tour a lot more to visit a lot of countries and hopefully get to Russia too, that would be so great to play there! I would also love to got to South America, visit a lot of countries, meet a lot of nice people and stuff like that. Hopefully we will create some very good music. You have a day job, you work in a children’s center. What are you going to do if it becomes impossible for you to continue with the band and the day-job at the same time?

Bjorn: That’s very hard sometimes, you know. When I’m in my office I have to answer e-mails and stuff like that for I don’t have access to the Internet at home. I have to do all the e-mails in my worktime and that’s very hard sometimes. But I’m working part-time, so that’s OK. What kind of music do you listen to at present? What records have impressed you the most in the past couple of months?

Bjorn: I haven’t been listening to many new metal albums recently, but I like the latest Opeth album “Blackwater Park”, Dimmu Borgir’s “Puritannical-blah-blah-blah” (laughs) and the latest Nevermore record. You know, I sometimes like to relax, lay on my sofa and listen to AC/DC “High Voltage” or whatever, of course, Judas Priest, “Killing Machine” by Priest is one of my favorite albums. I listen to a lot of stuff. Well, it’s about time to end this spontaneous interview. Please say a few words to your fans in Russia.

Bjorn: Well, I really hope that we can come and play in Russia, that’s one of my dreams actually. I really hope the fans will like the new album even though there’s a pretty big change from the previous album, but hopefully they will be surprised in a good way. This is one hell of a heavy and intense album with lots of melodies and an atmosphere. That’s it. Thank you very much for calling!

Bjorn: Thank you! Bye!

-- Roman The Maniac

(June, 2002)

Steelbath Suicide (Listenable, 1998)
Chainheart Machine (Nuclear Blast, 2000)
A Predator’s Portrait (Nuclear Blast, 2001)
Natural Born Chaos (Nuclear Blast, 2002)

* * *
Special thanks to Jaap Wagemaker (Nuclear Blast) for making this interview possible.

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