Dirk Verbeuren of Soilwork on playing a homemade drum kit made of cardboard boxes
Soilwork formed in Helsinborg, Sweden, in 1995 and developed out of the Gothenburg melodic death metal mold, incorporating aspects of NWOBHM and other styles of music to forge an angular yet flowing sound of its own. Though clearly rooted in prog, there is enough of punk frayed edges in the band's music to give it a more feral quality than that of some of its peers.
Before working on what would become the band's ninth album, guitarist Peter Wichers left the band for the second time last year. The group wasted no time in recovering and went on to write and record the first double album in the history of melodic death metal, The Living Infinite. We recently spoke with Soilwork's affable and good-humored drummer, the talented Dirk Verbeuren, about his early days as a drummer, his work with Toontrack and The Living Infinite.
Westword: How did you get exposed to heavy music as a youth?
Dirk Verbeuren: I grew up, pretty much, listening to the radio and my parents' vinyl collection with pop, rock and classical music. From there, I got really into hip-hop: the first Beastie Boys album, Run DMC's Raising Hell and stuff like that. I got more interested in guitars and heavy drums, and at the time, they had that song with Aerosmith, and Kerry King played on the third Beastie Boys album, so I guess that's how I first got interested in heavy music.
I made a friend who started giving me tapes with old Metallica and the Earache [Records] roster. I actually got the Grindcrusher compilation first, and I had never heard anything like that before. When I heard that, I thought, "What the hell is this?" From there I started seeking out all those bands like Morbid Angel, Napalm Death and all of that.
It was a great time for exploring music because there was so much going on and people were adventurous and breaking new ground. I was also listening to a lot of punk at that time too like Exploited, Dead Kennedys and Cramps. [Basically I was listening to] anything I could get my hands on that was weird and different.
What drew you to playing drums?
That came along around the same time I got into the extreme metal stuff. I was playing guitar at the time, and I actually played violin for a time as a kid, so totally different because I was then playing classical music stuff. I wasn't really into that music that much myself at the time. So when I heard, especially, Dave Lombardo on Reign in Blood and Mick Harris on that old Napalm Death stuff, that's really what made me want to play drums.
My first kit was made out of cardboard boxes, and I was playing with two wooden rulers that would rip my hands apart. So that was kind of funny. I was bashing away as fast as I could. One day my parents got me this second hand jazz kit and from there I never stopped.
How did you get started playing live music in Belgium and then connected to a more international scene. That seems to happen fairly quickly for bands Swedish bands like Soilwork and maybe for Belgian bands as well.
Yeah, the Swedish scene has always had international appeal, I guess. I'm not sure why. They're just really talented. I grew up in Belgium and France and Soilwork was established when I joined. I formed my own band Scarve back in late '93 in France. From there, I played live shows I booked other friends' bands, and I was doing session work early on. So whenever I had the opportunity to be on the road [as with Bent Sea and Aborted, which was a more garage-based metal band], both from France, I took it. I was a really shy so playing live it took me a long while to enjoy it and now I love it.
You were part of Powermad. How did you get connected with those guys?
That was a few years ago. It was funny because one week before I got the email from Joel DuBay, the singer and guitarist in Powermad who had performed in Wild At Heart in the scene with Nicolas Cage performing a song, I get that email from Joe and said, "That name sounds familiar." They emailed me and sent me some new songs they were working on, and we've slowly recorded the album. They're actually finishing it up now, so it took a while. But we played a few shows in the last couple of years. They're awesome dudes.
What attracted you to playing with Soilwork? Because obviously you were busy playing with bands before that.
With Scarve, we were recording pretty heavily at the time when Björn Strid called me. I was a big enough fan of A Predator's Portrait and Natural Born Chaos albums, so getting a call from the band, I thought, "Wow, this is amazing!" Initially I was supposed to fill in for a tour, and I of course said yes, and my schedule was pretty clear at the time, and I did a European tour with them. It went well, and we got along, and we had a blast.
From there, it just kind of evolved. Bands are mostly about human chemistry, and if you can get along, it goes really well. We found common ground right away, and that's the main reason things have turned out the way they did. We did some rehearsing before the tour, and a few shows in, we all felt like the tour kicked ass and was cool. After another year and a half, I joined the band full time. Scarve was putting out an album, and we were touring, so it was kind of hard for me to make the decision but eventually [I did].
How did you come to use Toontrack?
That happened through Fredrik Thordendal, the guitarist for Meshuggah. Scarve had toured Europe with Meshuggah as openers. We stayed in touch, and one day he called me and said, "Hey, you really need to do something with these Toontrack guys. They have a new thing that they're working on called Metal Foundry and they want you to go record some drums for them.
So I went to the studio. I had been playing on an electronic kit a little bit myself because I had bought one for at home because I couldn't play an acoustic kit there. But I wasn't super familiar with it, but when I started using their stuff and their sounds in that studio session for Metal Foundry I was totally blown away.
From there on out I've stayed in touch with them and offered to make more media libraries, which became the Library of the Extreme series I did for them. I became totally converted to that and actually built my own studio based on their software. I do a lot of session work now thanks to Toontracks.
In what ways do you feel it enhances or adds to your abilities and experiences as a drummer?
Well, there are a lot of things. First of all, playing on an electronic kit is very different from playing on an acoustic kit, so the fact that I went through that learning process was very good for me because those are two totally different approaches playing-wise. Now I can switch between the two.
And just the simple fact that I can have an electronic kit inside my house and play pretty much any time because it's not loud. And it still sounds great, so you can have album mixes without the drums and play along because it sounds like you're playing in a million dollar studio. So it's awesome for practicing.
Then it also allows me to record drums for artists and bands that don't have the budget to necessarily to book an acoustic studio and fly me there and get drums and pay for my hotel room et. cetera. So it allows me to work with a lot of more underground artists and younger bands that still want to have me play on their music, and we just exchange files on the Internet. I record drums, send them the mix-down track once everything is agreed to, and they can go ahead and use that. I've actually been working like that the past few years. It's fun. It's quite a revolution if you ask me.
Your latest album is The Living Infinite. Is there anything that you as a musician explored further on this record or otherwise pushed or challenged yourself to do?
It was an intense recording process. We started the songwriting after we separated with Peter Wichers. We wrote songs for five or six months, maybe, and we sent each other files, and I worked a lot of the structure of beats. We got together for about week before recording to assemble material. Once I was in the studio, I had, including setting up and breaking down the drums, nine days to record, at the time, 26 songs.
So the main challenge was that it was very tight time-wise, so I had to record three or four songs a day, no matter how I was feeling. So I had to be super focused, and I made the most of it. Over the years, one of the things I've pushed more is to improvise in the studio, to kind of explore beats instead of having something completely planned on most of the songs. Of course, there's going to be parts like that because you find something that works.
But in general, even compared to The Panic Broadcast, I did even more improvising and experimenting. Just trying to keep things fresh for myself and fun. So I would say it was one of the most spontaneous recording processes of which I've been a part so far.
Do you use two kick drums or do those blast beats with one?
No, I do the blast beats using a double pedal instead of two kick drums. I had no idea people did blast beats with one pedal, so I've always done it with two. One day I was watching Mick Harris videos and thought, "How does he play like that?" I never learned that style, so I do my two foot thing. So I'm doing my two foot thing while I learn to do the one foot blast. It's a work in progress.
It seems you tour pretty often. What are some things you've found interesting or amusing as you've toured the U.S.A.?
Oh, man. That's a vast subject. We usually tour a good portion of the year and the most interesting thing I would say is that it's not all that glamorous. You're with a [bunch] of sweaty guys on a bus driving from city to city. So it's a lot of interesting living conditions, if I am to put it nicely. Now we're doing a seven week run and it can be grueling at times. A lot of American venues don't have showers so you can't really get clean a lot of the times. It's pretty rock and roll--that's the best way to put it.
People don't always see that side of it. They see the show and are like, "Oh the rock star life." We always joke about that when we're on the bus. Playing live and meeting people is awesome and of course that's why we do it. But the rest of it is not always that easy.
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