Björn “Speed” Strid rose to fame as the frontman of the Swedish melodic death metal titans, Soilwork, but in recent years he’s also had the chance to indulge his classic rock side in The Night Flight Orchestra. We discussed the group’s new album, Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough, and the band’s unexpected recent success.
Hi Björn, how are you?
I’m good, it’s the last day of recording for the new Soilwork album in the middle of everything. It’s been pretty intense, but I’m good.
So you’ve been recording and promoting at the same time?
You’re a busy man!
Anyway, you’ve got a new Night Flight Orchestra album coming out in June, just one year after Amber Galactic. How come you made another record so soon?
We basically just keep on recording stuff, because we have two producers in the band with their own studios. So we just keep on having recording sessions, because we think it’s fun and we don’t like to be away from each other too long. It’s an extremely creative unit, so we never really stopped as far as recording goes. When we noticed that we had enough songs to make an album, we thought: “Yeah, why not?” ‘Cause it’s sort of boring sitting around with like 40 songs, and you feel that some of them would shape up to be a really good album. We have so much fun with this, so we thought it was a good idea.
And of course back in the 70s bands like Black Sabbath, Rush, and KISS would put out two albums within a year.
Yes, that’s true! [chuckles]
So you’re kind of following in their footsteps. You’ve got a space concept on the album once again – is it a continuation of Amber Galactic?
I would say so, especially [as] you mentioned before, it’s only been a year. I think that’s like a natural continuation of the picture that we’re painting up. Who knows what’s gonna happen on the next album? But we felt that we were not really done when it comes to that. I think that’s like a never-ending source, because we have David [Andersson], the guitarist – he’s reading like five sci-fi books every week. So there’s plenty more where that came from basically. [laughs]
Are you into sci-fi personally?
No, that’s funny: when it comes to sci-fi, I’m very nostalgic, sort of a retro guy. I do like 80s and 70s stuff, but when it comes to new stuff, I’m not that into it. I like drama and thrillers basically, with some exceptions: just like everyone else, I love Stranger Things. [laughs] They just have that sort of retro feel. But at the same time, I think David has sort of introduced me to space through this band, and I really like it. I like the picture that we’re painting up with this band.
I can hear more of the 80s influences that started on the last album already. What kind of inspirations did you have this time around?
It’s sort of always been the same: it’s this big pot of bands and songs and concepts that we enjoy and discuss around, but at the same time we don’t discuss it too much, because I think we communicate musically very well. We don’t have to plan things out too much. It was like a mutual decision to skip the 70s keyboards and focus more on 80s keyboards. I think it added that extra 80s flair to it. But then again, I don’t think we’re too focused on just [going]: “Oh, let’s do 80s this time,” and that’s it. It needs to go deeper than that, and obviously there are a lot of influences there that are not only [from the] 80s. I think we’re sort of hijacking that era and making it into our own, even more so with this new album.
Did Richard [Larsson, keyboards] have a bigger role in the writing process this time?
Yeah, I mean he’s always been a key part of the band. He always added that extra flair to it, and he’s a brilliant keyboard player and has a great sense of melody as well. I guess he’s slightly more present on this new one, though that being said, I think it’s a rocking record. It’s there, and I think it’s also pretty unique in today’s retro rock wave. You don’t hear a lot of it – I mean, if you wanna hear sort of 80s keyboards, you might wanna go to some of those new-school AOR bands that try to sound fresh, but in the end it all falls apart and sounds like 2002 with a tacky production that’s way too plastic. I think we were looking for something very organic, but still with a sort of 80s flair keyboardwise, you know? And everything else, of course.
I want to ask about “Pretty Thing Closing In”, because it has that “Another Brick in the Wall” vibe. How did that song come about?
That song was actually written for Amber Galactic, but somehow it didn’t really fit in on that record, and this time around it felt like a perfect song to have on this record. We [unclear] it a little bit as well, and it has a really nice epic feel to it, and very dreamy obviously. I think it could fit in just about any 80s movie, or late 70s for that matter, or even Stranger Things – I think that’s absolutely amazing. It has a really special feel to it, and I guess it’s a little bit of a shocker when it comes in in the middle of the album.
I could definitely imagine it in a movie! As an interesting detail for the Finnish fans, there’s a female spoken-word bit on the title-track, “Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough”, so where did that come from?
Yeah, throughout our whole career – which is not that long – it’s been like a tradition to collect women’s voices from around the world. Those were all people that we know, so we haven’t sampled anything from the internet. Those were all friends of ours, so we’ve been collecting all kinds of languages and yes, finally Finnish! We haven’t had that before.
It must sound exotic. [laughter]
Well, you’re pretty close. We spend so much time in Finland too, so maybe it’s not as exotic to us as it is to some other people – somebody who’s sitting in… I don’t know, Chicago, listening to it. But it feels close to home and feels like something that we needed to have sooner or later, and I think it fits the song.
I remember there being some Russian, Japanese, and French on the last album.
Yeah, I think we had some Portuguese as well, and Polish, Ukrainian… Just about everything. [laughter]
Now, obviously this must be a fun band for you guys, but do you still feel that it’s important to introduce some new ingredients on every album to keep things fresh?
Yeah, I really think so – we don’t wanna get stuck. We’re 100% serious with this band – it’s a real band to us. Maybe some people are thinking like “Are they serious or not?” and the truth is, we are really serious. Of course we like the gimmicks and the whole concept of it all, and things they can connect to nostalgia-wise, but it’s also something that we’re providing for ourselves and people out there, music fans in general, that we think is missing out there. So I think it’s a mission, but that being said, we always aim to surprise our fans and also ourselves. Of course we wanna take this a step further for each and every album. There are so many ways of creating music – people say that everything is written by now, and that might be true in a sense, but I think you can do it in so many shapes and forms. It’s about creating moods as well, more than anything.
Absolutely. Did you encounter any cynicism back when you started, like “Death metal guys playing classic rock? That can’t possibly work!”
Yeah, we’ve got that response a little bit, but at the same time most people have been really happily surprised. I didn’t really know what to think, like “Oh, some people are really gonna look down on me!” [laughter] Anyway, I’m doing this because I love it, so I couldn’t care less in the end. But we’ve gotten a lot of great responses, even from people that just listen to black metal: they’re like hardcore black metal fans, and then it’s like “You know what? This is not that bad, I kind of like it!”
That’s really cool.
Yeah, it’s been really interesting to see what kind of impact it had on some people’s music taste.
You’re obviously involved in multiple bands, so when you’re writing music, do you immediately know whether something will become a Soilwork riff or a Night Flight Orchestra song, or have there ever been ideas that could’ve fit either band?
There probably could’ve been, but at the same time somehow this switch for me is very easy. It’s totally different expressions – of course there’s melodies that could maybe fit on a Soilwork record and vice versa, but I feel that it’s very easy for me to separate things. I have a clear picture in mind: even if it starts with a melody, when I hear the melody I have the rest of the song in mind already, and therefore it’s easy for me to separate it.
Last time most of the material was written by David, but what about the new album?
Sort of the same situation: David wrote most of the stuff, I’ve written some, and Sebastian [Forslund, guitar and percussions] has written some as well. And Richard Larsson, the keyboard player, wrote one song as well. But in the end it’s so much different from metal too, because there’s so many arrangements and so much different details that come through, and that really makes the song. So in the end, it really is the band that arranges the whole thing, even though David is the mastermind musically.
Amber Galactic was pretty successful for you, and I know that a lot of people – including myself – first discovered you with that record. Did you expect all of that, such as the Swedish Grammy nomination and the first European tour?
No, I didn’t. I mean, we were pretty shocked, especially with the Grammy nomination. We’ve been sort of close with Soilwork before, and we’ve been doing this for 20 years with that band, and now it’s happening with The Night Flight Orchestra, so that’s kind of a surprise. We had a lot of faith in the music, and it was something that we really, really loved and were really proud of – and still are, of course. I mean, when you have that faith, nothing can really stop you. Of course you wanna see good reactions and good reviews, and we got that, and I was just really excited that people were getting what it is we’re trying to do with this band. It’s very much a soundtrack, like a world trip soundtrack or a soundtrack of being in motion. I think they really understood that and they were ok with the gimmicks. There’s a little bit of tongue-in-cheek there, but at the same time it’s 100% serious, so there’s some really nice balance in there. I think people really smile when they hear our music, you know? It reminds them of something good, but it also reminds them of something that is a perfect soundtrack of today’s life as well. It’s needed and it’s been missing for quite some time.
Totally! Did it feel funny to get a nomination with NFO so quickly, as opposed to Soilwork, because you guys have been around for ages?
Yeah, that’s how life is sometimes: when you’re really expecting something and you really think you deserve it or whatever, you know? There’s been times I’ve been feeling like that, but then in the end you just let it go and do your thing. Then out of the blue, when you least expect it, that’s what’s gonna happen. [laughs] That’s just how it is, that’s life I guess.
You sing some pretty high notes on the NFO albums. Do you feel that having this other band where you get to sing in a different way has helped you improve as a vocalist?
Absolutely! I think I needed to do a 20-year journey with Soilwork to build up a good stamina for the voice. So I built up the strength, and I was always curious to try out singing in the style of what NFO does, and in my mind I could hear myself singing it. There were some doubts of course, but when we started jamming, I was like: “Wow, I can do this and I can really feel it.” It was a never pastiche, like “Yeah, let’s sound like Lou Gramm from Foreigner”, you know? I really felt it coming from inside and it was something I’d been longing for for a long time, so it came out natural and it was a huge kick. I think this band has given me a stronger voice that I brought with me to Soilwork, so I think I’ve improved as a metal singer as well. It feeds off each other in a good way.
Awesome. Do you guys still have some goals that you want to achieve with this band?
Yeah, it feels like the journey has just begun in a way. So many things have happened already – we released two albums before Amber Galactic, and that was on a small Italian label, and then Nuclear Blast picked us up, gave us pull, and after that it just sort of exploded. We’re not 100% ready for that [chuckles], but we’re enjoying the ride and we’re all excited to see what’s going to come with this new album as well.
Do you think it’ll be a bit harder to juggle your time between Soilwork and NFO, now that the latter is growing quite a bit?
Yeah, it might be. Thank God we have the same booking agent! [laughter] Otherwise it’d be an absolute nightmare. That’s gonna make things a little bit easier, and Soilwork means so much to me as well. It’s something that I need in my life, to have this sort of musical balance, and I’m at that point where I feel very balanced. ‘Cause I always used to think, “Oh, I need to have a band like this, I need an outlet for that!” Now I feel like I have everything I need, and I really treasure both. I hope we can find a way to make it work without collapsing. [laughs]
You’re coming to Finland for the first time this fall.
What can the fans expect from the Helsinki show?
Well, a real rock show the way it was meant to be: we have back-up singers and everything, and it really has a feeling of ‘an evening with,’q rather than just a touring package. It’s a rock show, you know, and I think that is missing out there a little bit, in the traditional sense. I think people are gonna be very excited, it’s gonna be a lot of fun.
At the beginning you mentioned that the Soilwork album is nearly finished, so when is it coming out?
We haven’t set a release date yet, but it might take a while, so obviously I’m not allowed to give out any release date yet. [chuckles] But we’re discussing back and forth, so we’ll see.
Finally, if you had a time machine and you could see any concert in rock history, which one would you go to?
Ooh… [pause] Can I pick a festival?
US Festival 1983. But then California Jam 1974 as well, with Deep Purple… I think it was David Coverdale’s first show with Deep Purple – that would’ve been amazing. But I would say US Festival in 1983, which was in San Bernandino, California.
Oh yeah, those are some legendary events. Anyway, I’m out of questions now, so thanks for your time and good luck with the album.
Thank you so much, hope to see you soon!
Yeah, see you in Helsinki!
Sounds great, take care!
Photos: Nuclear Blast