Interview with Dirk Verbeuren (drums)
By Dane Prokofiev
Soilwork have never done a double album release before. Why this special treatment for the ninth studio outing, The Living Infinite?
Doing a double album was an idea Speed had been throwing around for a while. When we got to writing new music somewhere early last year, we went into it with a mindset of “let’s just try and see what happens.” We ended up with no less than 27 songs. Two of those didn’t make the final cut but the rest was strong enough to be album-worthy. It was a challenge to complete The Living Infinite and I think that’s exactly what we needed to keep our flame burning. We’ve dealt with too many line-up changes for the past years, and in part because of that, we couldn’t tour enough for our previous album The Panic Broadcast which built up some palpable frustration in us. We really wanted to show the world that Soilwork is still alive, growing and expanding. The Living Infinite is definitely a statement in that regard.
Why not release it in two parts on separate occasions like what Wintersun is doing with their Time album?
I think that’s a cool idea too ‘cause it builds anticipation for people to discover what’s next. But then again, you’re still just releasing a regular CD. We really wanted to do something different. One of the most important things, to us, was to make such a huge amount of music enjoyable in one sitting. The tracklist was a big focal point. Also, some of the more atypical material on The Living Infinite might not have made it onto a 10- song album. We have five songwriters in the band and that means some very different approaches. Sven, Sylvain and Björn all write music very differently and it’s fantastic when those different angles can be represented on a Soilwork record. I like for a record to be surprising, peaks and valleys if you know what I mean. Records that take more time to assimilate and appreciate are still the best records in the long run.
What are some of the risks involved in having so much material for a single album release?
Not enough strong material was the biggest risk in my mind. If we felt we lacked good songs, we would have definitely scrapped the whole idea- there’s no point in releasing a double album if you’re gonna have filler material on it. We respect our fans too much to do something like that anyway. The other risk is for so much music to get monotonous. Luckily we don’t really seem to have an issue when it comes to writing fresh-sounding stuff. In this current line-up, everyone feels strongly about trying new things and making every record a unique experience for whoever throws it on.
How will you deal with these risks if they don’t pay off?
In the end, no matter what you do, some people will love the result and others will hate it. Frankly, it’s not something we can sit and worry about. Each of us gave this record 110%. We would obviously like for Soilwork to keep pleasing our fans and to keep gaining new ones as well. But all we can really do is create the best record we possibly can, so we gotta be honest with ourselves and let the music that’s in us, come out. On this and the previous record, that’s exactly what we did with no exception. I’m confident that anyone who’s into metal in the broad sense of the word will thoroughly enjoy The Living Infinite. And for those who don’t- hey, that’s totally ok with me.
The band has stated that the album is based on an “oceanic concept.” Can you elaborate more about it?
Speed tends to draw inspiration for his lyrics from his personal experiences, and living where he lives, the ocean has always been a huge presence for him. ‘The Living Infinite’ is Jules Verne’s beautifully accurate description of the ocean, and Speed also found it to be a perfect metaphor to describe the ever-changing state of human emotions. As introspective and melancholic as they are, the lyrics do offer light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a whole lot of heartfelt emotion shining through. On another note, the concept also has a strong personal meaning to me. Our oceans are more threatened by pollution and overfishing than ever before, and those in power aren’t taking the necessary steps to protect that fragile balance. Like most people, I used to think ‘oh, there are regulations and laws in the open sea’. But if you can stomach watching a movie like Shark Water you’ll see how radically different and depressing reality is. Nobody’s enforcing anything whatsoever; it’s mostly entropy, total carelessness and mafia tactics out there. The ocean is a free-for-all grab bag with pretty much zero accountability. It’s all too easy to turn a blind eye to something that for most of us is not a part of our all-consuming daily lives. But in truth, we can all take small steps to make a huge difference, for example by boycotting companies dealing in shark fin products. My hope with The Living Infinite is that some of our fans might do some research and give this stuff some thought.
Aside from the obvious reference to Poseidon in the form of the trident, how does the album artwork relate to the album concept?
The colors, the peaceful aspect and the use of other water-related symbols all tie the concept together. Mircea Gabriel Eftemie did a fantastic job capturing what we had in mind. We wanted the artwork to be less hectic than the past few records so it would represent the sort of calm that the vastness of the ocean can bring. The cool thing is, we stayed at Speed’s place during the rehearsals. From his back door it’s twenty steps to the sea, so we got immersed- literally- in the album concept. My wife Hannah Verbeuren shot the booklet pictures right there as well.
Before Peter Wichers left the band, did he contribute anything to the new album?
It’s something we considered, but ultimately we felt it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to do that. As much as Peter has obviously been part of the Soilwork sound and style, and as much as he did a stellar job doing what he did, (the) truth is he couldn’t commit to being in the band anymore. The way we see it, it’s a total package- if you’re gonna be a band member, it’s gonna come with writing, recording, doing interviews, touring and everything else we have to do in order to exist. Peter just wasn’t feeling the touring part anymore. It didn’t work for him and with the priorities he has set in his life. And we absolutely respect that. I believe he’s much happier now than he was when he rejoined Soilwork. He could have written some killer tracks no matter what, but honestly, it would be a bit strange for us to go out there and work our asses off defending a record for 18- months that someone else wrote, when we have the means and the inspiration to write it ourselves. I guess, in a way, we wanted to prove to ourselves and to everyone else that we don’t have to rely on Peter for Soilwork to be Soilwork. Some people may disagree with that, of course. But that’s how we feel. And we have The Living Infinite to prove it.
How is David Andersson’s style different from Wichers’?
I’d say David uses more of the old school riffing style that Soilwork had back in the Chainheart/Predator (2000’s The Chainheart Machine and 2001’s A Predator’s Portrait) era. As Speed pointed out, the grandiose melancholic atmosphere of those early records is back with a vengeance on The Living Infinite. Also, Peter tends to write material that’s 80 or 90% finished as far as guitars and drums go. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing thing because his vision of a song is usually very inspired and just plain awesome. On the downside though, it allows for less direct input by the rest of us. Why change something that’s already perfect? In comparison, David’s demos for The Living Infinite were generally a lot “looser.” Sometimes they were just guitars without any drums, other times they came with basic drum patterns. I went in there and changed structures around, added little arrangements or entire sections, sped up or slowed down tempos- all of which is some cases really transformed the songs. It was pretty exciting for me to be a part of the writing process that way. And I had a lot of freedom to map out my beats from scratch as well. So to me, it felt like there was more interaction and personal input when writing this album. That’s not to say that we were unhappy working with Peter, far from it! It was just a little bit different this time around.
Does Andersson’s style bring anything new to the table for Soilwork?
David is an accomplished songwriter and lyricist in various musical genres. I’m not sure how that translates exactly in the material he wrote for The Living Infinite but I do know that he’s very open-minded to trying out anything and everything, which to me is a huge quality. I’m pretty blown away by some of his songs, like “Long Live The Misanthrope” and “Let The First Wave Rise,” because they really capture that old school Soilwork vibe- and not just by copying our old stuff. I guess what it comes down is that David brings fresh inspiration and excitement, which Sylvain does as well. It really is a strong team in that sense and I do hope this line-up will stay on course.
How do you deal with the dialectical tension between the desire to evolve musically and the need to preserve Soilwork’s original identity as far as possible?
The question is, how are people gonna perceive new material by a band that has done as many albums as we have? Some people will always prefer a past record as the defining one; as a music fan, I totally understand that. Usually it’s the album you discover a band with that hooks you, and that can never be topped in your world. For that exact reason, it would make no sense for us to try and force anything when writing new music. Our songs come from within anyway. The whole process is based on feelings as opposed to intellect. This being said, as I mentioned before, we do have a strong sense of evolving within the band’s framework. We don’t want to alienate anybody by doing non-metal stuff that belongs in a side project and at the same time, we don’t want to record the same album twice. The way I see it, we as individuals make Soilwork what it is. You can take pretty much any melodeath tune and put Speed’s vocals on it, and it’ll sound like Soilwork. He has his own identifiable style. The same goes for the rest of us. Bottom line is, there’s no point in overanalyzing. We give it our all, and when the end result is in, it’s up to everyone to make up their own opinion about it. In the meantime we’re already thinking about the next one!
Purchase The Living Infinite Now: http://bit.ly/sw-living-spl