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BJÖRN STRID Talks SOILWORK's Övergivenheten, Scaling Back Partying On The Road & How The Number Of The Beast Changed His Life

Plus some of his side-project stuff.

Soilwork 2022

For over 20 years, Swedish melodic death metallers Soilwork have been firing on all cylinders, backing a ferocious output of releases with relentless global touring. That trend remains intact in 2022 with the imminent release of their 12th studio album Övergivenheten (available August 19th through Nuclear Blast).

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Longtime frontman Björn Strid sat down with Metal Injection for a retrospective look into the career-spanning new album, how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the songwriting and the bandmember's psyche, balancing duties with The Night Flight Orchestra – and whether or not he's a permanent member of Act of Denial – his habits and partying-status on the road, and how Iron Maiden's The Number of the Beast changed his life forever.

Obviously this has been a busy summer for you. A ton of touring and a load of new material. It's certainly not the dog days of the pandemic anymore. You guys are full speed ahead.

Yeah, for sure. We've been doing a bunch of festivals. I mean, normally on a fully packed festival summer we usually do like two or three shows every weekend, but this summer it's mostly one a weekend. So it's not zero to 100, it's more like zero to maybe 50, I guess. So it's quite smooth in comparison to other summers and it's just fun. It's, of course, a little bit hectic. And especially at all the airports… Stockholm has been a nightmare filling up. I don't know if you heard about it, but it's insane. You can be there like four hours before your departure and you can still miss your flight. It's ridiculous.

I always wonder about the European festival circuit. It must have a different feeling as opposed to a traditional European tour or a North American tour bill where you're on with the same bands night after night. Is it more fun, less fun, more difficult or more tedious? Because there are probably a lot of different elements at play when you're dealing with different promoters, juggling whatever part of the lineup you'd be on. How does it compare to, say, a headline tour?

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Well, I mean, there's pros and cons. I mean, just the fact that it's summer can be quite nice and you're obviously meeting up with fellow bands. The hangouts are a little bit better. When you're touring, which you usually do, maybe in the spring or the fall or the winter, it's kind of stuck in a tour bus, you know? Even though you have your little nook, I was going to say, where you have all your stuff and where you sleep. There are no lobby calls, no check ins or check outs or whatever. Everything's there and you can go to bed when you want. You can wake up whenever you want. That alone means a lot to me. 

I can't really handle the no sleeping thing, you know? Coming to the hotel after the show at like two in the morning and it's like okay, lobby call at six, so you better sleep right now! It's like, no, I'm not going to be able to do that. And then you just go to the airport and I'm the kind of guy who usually has whiskey and a beer before getting on the flight because I don't know, it sort of generates some death anxiety every time I fly, even though I love it at the same time. It's like a love-hate relationship and it wears you out. And I mean yeah, sure, I could just stick it through and not drink, but at the same time if you don't have any sleep in your body, your nerves are on the outside. I'd rather have a nice time getting on a flight and actually be a little bit buzzed instead. 

There's pros and cons. This summer is perfect, but usually when there's like three shows a weekend it's too much. But we also have done, in the past, where we actually joined with another band and we share a tour bus and try to book the same festivals and then do sort of off shows in between to connect the weekends. That's definitely the best way of doing it. That's my favorite because then it combines the touring that you have in the fall or the winter or whatever, but it's in the summer and you wake up at a new festival every day. It's brilliant.

Obviously you've been living this touring lifestyle for decades now, since the mid to late 90s. Personally, I go to a metal show and I wake up the next day hungover and my neck, back and legs hurt. And I always think what it would be like doing that 250-plus days a year? Did it take you a while to acclimatize to the idea of like okay, I can't push my body this hard, whether that be on stage or partying or finding the right balance of sleep. Was there a learning curve? Or is there still?

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I guess there maybe is still a little bit of a learning curve. I mean, it took some time to sort of realize how to cope with touring and to sort of keep a balance. Especially the party part of it all is something that you learn. I usually have a little bit of a pre-party, I guess, and no after parties these days. I used to have both, but then I realized I can't have that. It just doesn't work. I mean, it worked up until maybe 2010. That was like, what would you say? The peak. 

I was drinking a lot around then. That's when I just was like okay, I can't do this anymore. And then I really started to slow down. You know, I'm 43-years-old now. I'm going to be 44 in September. I can't really do that anymore. But I also enjoy having a little sort of gathering before the show with the guys in the band and listening to some classic rock and having a few drinks before we go on stage. I love that element. 

You know, I don't need to stay up and drink tequila until five in the morning anymore. I'd rather go to bed and wake up not hungover. Because once you're hungover on tour then you have to make up for that hangover for the rest of this tour, and then there's no going back. So it's a tough balance. But then, being on tour for a month, we play just about every day. We maybe have like four or five days off total in a month. You just gotta watch it and just make sure you don't get hungover. I mean, I can't really deal with that. 

Moving into this new record and I know this is one you're personally really proud of. Not to get too hyperbolic, but it really does feel like the culmination of a lot of changes in the Soilwork discography. Kind of the best of all worlds of all of these eras of the band. It's such a diverse and lengthy record as well.

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Well, I'm glad you feel that way. And I guess I can agree with you. I mean, it's hard because you've been living and breathing these songs for quite some time now, but it definitely takes you on a journey. You know, it's very diverse and very intense and very dark sometimes and almost has a destructive feel to it, but then it's super uplifting and empowering at the same time. So it's all in there. 

It's 14 songs and 65 minutes. It's a lot to take in, but it works. It's very dynamic. There's interludes and some of the songs are connected and there's some acoustic instruments in there as well, violin and stuff like that that we haven't really had in the past in the same way. And even a banjo in the intro for the title track, which is pretty wild. And I love how that turned out.

But it's mostly me and David [Andersson, guitarist] who have written the songs and we've been on different planets the last few years … It's been a really dark time [for David], the darkest time of his life. And it's something that he's still battling. And meanwhile I've gone into a very stable phase of my life a couple of years ago, and I'm in a really good place. And I feel pretty good where I'm at. 

And that's been sort of hard for me and David to sort of find a mutual vision. But at the same time I really wanted him to express whatever he's feeling. And it's quite dark and destructive and I've been maybe writing a little bit differently lyrically and also musically. And I think with his songs and my songs, it creates something quite special. Sven also wrote a song for the album, which is brilliant. I think maybe that's where the secret lies a little bit, because we know each other very well, me and David, and it's been a very hard album to make. 

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I'm really glad it's done and I think it was a good thing to spread out the recording sessions as well to get some distance to it. I mean, I think we would have collapsed if we booked the studio for six weeks and did this from scratch. I don't think that would have been good. I don't think we would have been able to be focused for that long and give each and every track the attention they deserve. 

So I think having these breaks in between and coming back and sort of getting like an a-ha moment where you're just like wow, this is what we recorded? This is amazing. It's like I know exactly what we're going to do in that song. Let's add this or that, you know? And that wouldn't have happened if we'd booked six weeks straight. 

And now adding Rasmus [Ehrnborn, bassist], who obviously had been touring with you guys for a few years. Now with him being a permanent part of the band, was he heavily involved in the recording process for this album?

Absolutely. He's playing bass on the whole album. And I think that also added some depth to our sound. You know, he's a fantastic bass player and he's like a real bass player. He doesn't always follow the guitar riffs. He's quite melodic in his playing and a brilliant human being. He's very much sort of like the glue in the band, if you know what I mean? Like a social genius and a good listener. So it was about time that he joined permanently. And I'm glad he's playing on the whole album because that definitely did take our sound to even a higher level, I guess. 

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Looking back at the Soilwork discography and it's kind of amazing to me it's been well over 20 years. And especially if you look at that period between 2000 and 2005 when you guys had an album out almost every year. We're hitting the 20 year anniversary of Natural Born Chaos and we got Figure Number Five anniversary next year.

What was the pace and the feeling within the band at that time? Because it must have felt like you guys were going a thousand miles an hour between the tours and the constant studio time. If you look at the transition between A Predator's Portrait to Natural Born Chaos, there were changes happening within the dynamic and sound of the band as well.

Yeah, it's really crazy that we did release one every year and what a constant flow of inspiration that was and then touring on top of it all. It's wild. I really don't know how we did it, but I think we were just so high on the fact that we managed to get this band together and that we managed to create something that we could be proud of and something that was sticking out quite a bit in the metal scene. 

As soon as one album was done we were already looking forward to the next one. We just loved being in the studio and we loved to be playing live and being on tour, you know? And we still do. Obviously we were a lot younger back then, but there's that drive, of course. It's like you didn't really need a break from music like you do today. 

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It's like with this album. When we were done with the touring for Verkligheten I was like okay, I need a break from this. And that's when COVID happened. And then it's like, timing wise, this is working out pretty good for me because I really need a break. Then again, I'm not saying that I welcomed a pandemic. That's not what I'm saying at all. It's just like the timing. A break is a break. It was a forced break. But anyways, I needed it. And then David just kept on writing because I think he had a really hard time not being able to escape being on tour, because it is the ultimate escape, being on tour. 

And then everybody says yes. Nobody's saying no. You don't know what day or time it is. Here we suddenly had a lot of uncertainty and just nothing. So I think a lot of people had to face their demons as well. They couldn't run anymore. And hopefully that did something good in the end, even though it was hard. A lot of people lost their jobs and stuff like that, too. It's just crazy, the whole thing. 

Has the fact that you've had The Night Flight Orchestra to pivot to helped with a reprieve from maybe feeling some, I don't want to say staleness in Soilwork, but the fact that you can go to a completely different genre of music to a degree where it's almost classic rock sounding, maybe even a pop rocks song structure that you definitely wouldn't do in Soilwork. Has that helped with keeping Soilwork fresh?

I think so, absolutely. Because I think I was quite frustrated for a while not being able to sort of channel all my influences and explore new things. And starting The Night Flight Orchestra was just magical. I don't know. It was a whole new world opening there. I didn't know if I could pull off that kind of singing or whatever. I've always been singing a little bit, but I never really explored that fully, you know? So I was very curious. And when that all fell into place, with all these brilliant musicians around me as well, it was one of the greatest musical kicks of my life. So it was quite special. 

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And I think I really developed very quickly and I found new ways to express myself vocally. And because The Night Flight Orchestra is very much a band where anything goes musically kind of, it's very free in that sense. So there was no boundaries. And I think that definitely did something. And I explored a lot of new things with my vocals. And I think that I brought that with me to Soilwork as well, even though for me it's two very, very different emotional outlets. 

It's very different units, but maybe just the technical side of things as well with the vocals, and also maybe I was able to connect more like through my vocals and not just being that guy who's screaming in the verse and then it's a melodic course. There's so much more to it than that, you know? It's like I erased the threshold somehow and I sort of found other voices to use more air or less air or whatever, all these things. So I think that definitely did some magic, and also for David, I think. 

You mentioned surrounding yourself with great musicians and that kind of leads me to Act of Denial. You had the Negative album last year, and I believe you guys are working on a follow up?

I mean it's very much of a session project. I hear a lot of people speaking of it, if I'm like a permanent member and you know, those are amazing musicians and I love being part of it, but it's also session work. So I've got to say, I'm not a permanent member. The bands that I consider permanent, like real bands for me, are Soilwork, The Night Flight Orchestra

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I also started a band called Donna Cannone where I play guitar with my fiancé. We have a band together and just released an album as well. People might want to check that out where I'm actually playing guitar and not singing for a change … These are very much sort of guest and session spots, and collaborating with great musicians. It's really cool to have Steve Di Giorgio on that album as well.  

What do you look for in terms of collaboration these days? Is it a challenge, or collaborating with friends? Like what's the big attraction for a project you'd decide to tackle?

Yeah I mean, it's definitely the challenge. And I think that's another thing I have that made me develop as a singer because I've been thrown some stuff that I'm not used to at all. And it's like wow, I don't know what to do with this, but I'm going to do my best. And then you come out on the other side and it's like wow, I didn't know I could sing like this!

It's been really interesting to collaborate with bands all over the world. It's mostly guest spots and session stuff, but it's a great exchange. It's a great way of staying alive financially as well. Of course, there's that side to it as well. And especially during COVID, it's been great. But that doesn't mean that I would take on whatever. It's got to be a challenge. But there's been a lot of cool stuff being thrown my way from all over the globe. And it's really cool. 

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I know you're a massive metal fan. Aside from being your livelihood, you've been a fan all your life. I heard it said you're a massive Priest and Iron Maiden fan. It's unreal to think it's 40 years of The Number of the Beast in 2022. That abum to me is perfect from top to bottom with zero filler. Is that your Holy Grail?

I remember I went to a gas station with my mom. I was seven-years-old and I saw the tape in the gas station. I was like oh, that looks amazing! I don't know what that is. I've seen it before, but I just gotta have it! And I convinced my mom to buy it. And then it's like please can we listen to it in the car on the way home? It's like yeah, sure. And then it started with "Invaders," the weirdest opening track ever. But my life just changed there, you know? And change completely. 

So yeah, I mean that that one probably had the biggest impact and then Stay Hungry with Twisted Sister and the first W.A.S.P. album as well. And I actually discovered Priest quite late. I didn't listen to them as a kid. I started listening to them at the beginning of the nineties, strangely enough. But then I went back, and I love all the seventies albums. One of my favorites is Killing Machine. I love the album and that probably has one of the coolest cover artworks ever. 

*Soilwork's Övergivenheten is available August 19th!

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