Interview: Martin Lopez & Joel Ekelöf / Soen

21.10.2015

Backstages of music clubs sometimes tend to be chaotic places. Band members, crew members, gear, drinks, food, noise, laughs, people are coming in, guitars are taken out – sometimes everything happens at the same time and it can be a challenge to actually talk in such an environment. But there are conversations that are beyond it all. There are thought exchanges, that almost make the reality disappear, as you sink into the excitement and importance of what is being shared. This conversation was such a case. Here’s an interview with Martin Lopez (drums) and Joel Ekelöf (vocal) of Swedish progressive rock band Soen before the band’s gig in Wrocław.

Interview Soen 10.2015

Let’s me start with what something I reckon you hear quite often. Comparisons with Tool – aren’t you already fed up with them? I personally think that looking at Soen only as a band sounding like Tool is a bit unfair to you.

Martin: I don’t really care. Tool is one of my favorite bands, so I’m cool with that. A hundred bands can sound like Lamb of God and nobody will actually notice that, because there are many bands playing a similar style. Tool came up with the whole new genre and there are not many bands, that play that category of music. Similarities between our bands were noticed, when our first album came out, but to be honest it actually helped us a lot, because you know, people who listen to Tool don’t have many choices (laughs).

To me the biggest thing you and Tool have in common is not Joel’s voice, which is compared to Maynard’s or toolish riffs, but the musicianship. Both bands consist of individuals with great technical skills and imagination, but when the members come together in music, it’s all coherent and balanced and that is very valuable.

Martin: We try to erase the individuality of every member and go for the team power. As a band we are fighting together for the same cause and try not to just have 5 guys showing off with their skills. That kind of music never gives me much emotionally. Technical abilities are not really necessary.

Joel: Technical abilities are out there to get people the margin needed for full expression. If you really know your instrument well, you are able to put into a song the exact emotion you want to have there.

Martin: The better musician you are the more you have to choose from. That makes the music more interesting and allows you to do different things in every song. We never do any riffs of parts just because we want to reach some kind of complexity.

Speaking of riffs, Steve DiGorgio is no longer with you, but I remember reading one interview with you Martin, where you said, that you wanted to have him in the band, because he has a very specific way of playing bass, which brings a softness to metal music. There is definitely softness in Soen’s music, but if you look at some of your riffs, like the one in Ennui or Pluton, riff-wise they are pretty heavy or even brutal, but they are either played or produced in a way, which makes them sound more sophisticated than just strong. Was it your conscious choice to make them sound that way?

Martin: I write those heavy riffs, but I try to pick the notes, that would make the music darker or make you feel a little bit uncomfortable, without having to use the brutal rhythms or extreme speed. For me it gives a certain level of classiness. All of us don’t have to be brutal to make the part sound so. You just have to go through those riffs and pick given notes, that will make it sound strong and at the same time maintain the groove.

Your latest album – Tellurian – means “something that is of the earth” and it stands for humanity and the connection we all have as human beings. Within this context and in relation to both the lyrics and the album cover, I was wondering if that album is a statement of the fact, that this connection is lost, warning that it might be lost or hope, that it won’t be lost?

Joel: That’s one of the possible interpretations. The theme, that is important on this album is to question the authority. People should think for themselves, question what they are being told and not just accept it.

Martin: The album also says, that we all come from the same places. It reflects for example what justice is all about. How the world is shared today and in how sick is the way it actually operates That is unacceptable and through our music we want to put out the message, that all the people don’t have to live in friendship, but we as people do have a brotherhood between us, so it would be good, if we at least didn’t oppress each other. We would like to see the acceptance, that is currently forgotten, to be brought back.

I guess one can reflect about this acceptance even now, especially in Europe, which is facing the refugee crisis. Of course, while being aware of the need of distance and limited trust towards everything that is said and shown in the media, I have a feeling, that we as people haven’t lost that connection yet, but have definitely gotten further apart.

Joel: In times like this we are being tested. It’s sad to see, that so many people are cracking now and are not able to show sympathy. I think that right now Europe is really on the verge of disaster.

Martin: The immigrants situation separates people even more, because on one hand there are a lot of people who support and help the immigrants and many, that are against them. It’s just the whole thing about borders and flags and artificial settlements saying, that this part of the land is mine and you stay on the other side of the line. That is just stupid. I think there shouldn’t be any borders, even if it’s only a utopia. We are all humans. I’d rather have all of us fucked than to have us separated or to have one group fight the other. Of course, you also have religion in that, which sometimes makes it impossible for people to come together. There are people, who hate the world we live in or the democracy that we have, so the question is how can you understand each other in such a situation? It’s tough and it might take hundreds of years.

Joel: We’re not aspiring to be politicians. We’re not saying we have solutions to all those problems. We are just trying to do what we can with the music.

What can you actually do with the music?

Joel: We can inspire people and get them to think in a broader way.

Martin: We are not going to preach, but at the same time if you ask me what I think of the situation, I will say, that I can’t stand the sight of kids starving. I’d rather give half of what I have to save those kids. Anyone who doesn’t do that, for me can just fuck off, because that is the only logical way to do. Anything else is close to evil. When you see those boats and kids on them how the hell can you be against those people coming to your country? It’s insane.

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Ok, onto another topic. When you create music, here I mainly mean work in the studio, do you more often do everything you want to do within the time that was given to you or do everything you can, because of the time, that was taken away from you, for example by external factors, like deadlines, etc.?

Joel: I would say it’s mixed, but we definitely never compromise with our music.

Martin: The thing is, that you can work on a song forever. We do take the time we need to make the song as perfect, as we would like it to be, but when you ask about deadlines, we actually need to have them for ourselves in order to be able to finish the song and stop working on it.

Do you happen to have some regrets once a song is finished and released?

Martin: Always, but then we change it live. When you have a song and you play it every night, you connect with it emotionally and start to have to better feeling of it, which allows you to change the things you did or didn’t do on the album. I think after each tour cycle the songs are a lot better than at the moment of album release.

If I may ask you about your parts, Joel. What does the creation process look like in your case? Do you usually have some subject you’d like to express in the lyrics and you look for words or are the words inspired by the sounds?

Joel: It’s both, but usually we would first have a song and then would come up with a theme. The sounds do give a lot of feeling for a subject and eventually words.

Martin: Actually by listening to the music you realize quite fast what the lyrics should be about. The vibe of the songs decides it.

Joel: Yes, you get to the stage, where the song starts to live on its own. The sounds start to tell you the themes and if that happens you should just follow the song.

How is it though when you are a listener? Are the sounds more important to you than lyrics or are these two inseparable?

Martin: The lyrics are music. You can’t separate them. The lyrics should not only emotionally connect with the music, but they also have to sound good as an instrument.

What about the music in a language you don’t understand?

Martin: We listen to a lot of music where we don’t understand the lyrics. It’s quite beautiful, because you get to use your fantasy a lot more and you kind of get a feeling what they lyrics are about. Interestingly, in most cases different people get the same feelings what the lyrics are about without understanding them, which is actually quite magic.

Soen Wrocław FirlejSoen
Wrocław, 07.10.2015
photo by Marzena Józefczyk

Being a touring musician, what would you say is the most invisible thing to the audience?

Martin: These guys (Martin points at members of their crew). They are the actual stars of a tour. They are the people, that make it all happen. When we get off the bus we sit at the backstage, play some guitar, eat something, then we play for one hour, but to make all of this actually happen is down to the crew and it is really a 24 hour job. The good crew is important not only in terms of technical side of the show, like the sound or gear, but also when it comes to the vibe of the show and your mood. Especially with the music like ours, where you have all these different emotions and states of mind, the aggressive parts, the melancholic parts, the energetic ones. In order to play it all as good as possible, you need to be in a good and psychologically balanced mood and to have that, you need to have people around you, that are not only good and experienced workers, but also, simply friends. So to find a good crew is one of the most important things for a touring band.

Touring is quite a lot of pressure, actually. We love to do it and we will do it for a long time, but there is an element of heavy duty, because whatever happens during the day, you cannot stop the show. If you’re sick, you’re sad or your dog died at home, nobody cares about it when the intro starts.

The world doesn’t stop.

Joel: Exactly and that’s the tough part. We don’t handle a sick leave, you know.

Ok, but unless somebody breaks his arm, when the guitarist is sick he still can play, same with the drummer, but if you are sick Joel and you loose your voice, then I guess it might be impossible for you to perform. Do you actually protect your voice somehow on tour?

Joel: Of course, if you sing you have to be prepared all the time. I eat a lot of ginger. Actually all singers out there do. It’s good for your body.

Another long question. Alan Moore, the British comic writer and recently also a magician, once said: ”It is not the job of artists to give the audience what the audience want. If they audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn’t be the audience. They would be the artist. It is the job of the artists to give the audience what they need.” Would you agree?

Joel: Never ever even start thinking about what the audience wants. That would damage your creative process, damage the quality of what you do.

But how can you know what the audience needs?

Martin: You can at least know what’s the best you have to give and give the audience exactly that.

Joel: You have to give them what you feel that is the best for you. Listen to your inner voice and share what it tells you. If we do something we don’t believe in ourselves, then it won’t do any good to anybody.

Martin: It is balancing on thin ice, though. For example you sort of know which songs people want to hear live, but you have to play only those songs you want to play. So far, we have only two albums and haven’t toured that much, so we still enjoy ever song that we play, but with time it can get tough to play a hit from the first album for like the 500th time. If that happens, you should remove it from the setlist. If you don’t, you will be lying to the audience and all the magic will disappear. You will be acting on stage instead of actually feeling the song and for me that is a bad gig. That is turning something special into entertainment and we are not here for the entertainment, but for connecting and sharing emotions with the audience.

Last one. If there was one album, which you could play to one person and that person would hear and feel the album the same way you do and by that would understand how you feel that music, which album would that be?

Martin: Depends on the person. If it was someone that I love, a family or friend, I would say Pink Floyd “The Wall”.

Joel: I would choose Genesis ”Selling England by the pound”.

You precede my next question Martin, because I wanted to ask who would be that person.

Martin (laughs): So to answer your question in full and name the exact person, I would play it to one of my kids, for example my oldest son.

Why?

Martin: Because I would like him to love the music as much as I do. He’s part of the new generation, a generation that didn’t have the chance of discovering music like we did. The media are feeding them with what they should listen to, how they should look

and who they should be. When we were kids there was no internet and we listened to music on vinyl, which allowed us to use our imagination more, to dream, to build your character. Today kids’ idols are people from the “American Idol” and all this manufactured crap, so they are not given the time to actually feel the music the way we did. Life is a lot more stressful now, so I would love for him to sit down, go through the whole album, discover the emotions and beauty of music and how deep you can feel all those notes and rhythms.

Do you as a father somehow protect him from all the crap that kids are being fed with through the internet or tv?

Martin: I’m trying. The thing is, I don’t believe that your child should be your soldier in your battle against society. I give him all the tools to choose the path that he wants to walk, but a kid will always choose a way himself, or his friends or school will tell him which is the right one. You cannot force your kid to be outside of it all and do what his father does, because in that case you turn your child into a weirdo and he won’t be accepted at school and in society. So sometimes you just have to give up and hope for the best.

But you know what, I have to say that what you have just asked about, him hearing the album the way I hear it, that is the best question I ever got. I have realized just now how amazingly deep that thought is. It’s really beautiful and now I will actually force him to listen to “The Wall” (laughs).

(laughs) Thank you for your nice words and to both of you for the conversation.

IMG_6371_smallSoen (Wrocław, 07.10.2015)
From left: Marcus Jidell (guitar), Joel Eklöf (vocal), Lars Åhlund (keys/guitar), Stefan Stenberg (bass), Martin Lopez (drums)
photo by
Marzena Józefczyk

Interviewer: Chris Bienkiewicz

Contact the author: rockoko@rockoko.pl

Facebook: Kris

 
 
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