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Martin Lopez: “Somehow we try to reach out to people and try to unify everybody. We keep fighting for that alternative and try to make a better world in the end.”

Heftige, strakke riffs, gesofistikeerde elegantie en sociaal engagement in de teksten komt allemaal samen in de intrigerende muziek van de Zweedse band Soen. Hun vijfde studioalbum ‘Imperial’ is weer uitermate doordacht, welluidend en briljant. Redenen genoeg om een volgend gesprek te hebben met drummer/componist en mastermind Martin Lopez over de diepgravende intenties in zijn uitzonderlijke kunst.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 03 februari 2021

In 2019 we talked about the previous album ‘Lotus’. What happened next? I guess you toured a lot when it was still possible?
Yes, we did two legs touring for that album and festivals. Anything possible we could do to promote that album. Early 2020 we went to South America, but then the pandemic came and after four shows in Mexico we had to come back. Actually we started writing ‘Imperial’ right after ‘Lotus’ came out.

You are the main song writer, but how did your ideas turn into proper compositions?
Yes I am the main song writer, coming up with riffs and ideas and then I meet with singer Joel, going through everything that I wrote to see what is good enough for a Soen album. He comes up with vocals and we see when magic happens from there back and forth. Then it goes to Lars and Cody for their ideas and input. So it is team work at the end of the day.

From a Swedish band you are becoming more and more and international outfit…
(chuckles) Yes, we are an international band. Cody is from Canada and still lives in Ottawa and our new bass player Oleksii Kobel is from Ukraine and lives in Kiev. But this is doable today, because of the wonders of technology we can send files, almost like being in the same room and then we get together before we go on tour and rehearse. That works for us. We have never been the kind of band that rehearses every week. Normally I write my songs at home and Joel lives just 200 metres from here and we meet for a couple of weeks for a more intense pre-productions. We have families, so we cannot play around in the rehearsal room anymore.

Due to the pandemic you had more time to work on the new songs, isn’t it?
Most of them were already written before the pandemic, but the pandemic gave us more time to improve everything and write better lyrics. We could perfect it when we needed to.

All albums have a certain concept. What is it this time?
We write a lot about humanity and society and things that really matter to us. Somehow we try to reach out to people and try to unify everybody. We keep fighting for that alternative and try to make a better world in the end.

I experience listening to Soen as a kind of comfort and solace…
We talk about serious issues. We are not the kind of happy band, but we are not a negative band either.

It is the second album with guitarist Cody Ford involved, so he could stay…
Cody is a fantastic guitar player. He really fits in our band. He is how a guitar player should be and he is a great guy to have around, so he is definitely an important part of Soen by now.

Why did Stefan Stenberg leave the band?
He came to a point where there was so much stuff happening in his life and he needed to prioritize his family from the band. It was really hard for him and it was really hard for us. He is and remains a good friend of ours and we respect his choice of course.

How did you find Oleksii Kobel?
A friend showed me an Instagram video from him and it was awesome. An amazing player with a great sense of groove and melody. So I contacted him and we tried out things and he fits like a glove. A blessing to find that guy!

Fortunately, because changes are always difficult…
It is, because it is not only the way you play, you also have to be kind of the same mentally in the same place. There is no sense in having someone in a band you don’t like. I have seen that many times in other bands and it is a nightmare.

What struck me is that you take another producer for every album, at least for the mix and mastering. Is there a certain reason for that?
No, it is just a natural process. While writing the music, we sometimes go for a calm and tender mix and try to find someone who represents the need of the music somehow. We just try to connect things. Sometimes the music is different and then the mix has to change.

This time I don’t know them. Iñaki Marconi as producer and Kane Churko for mix and mastering, these names are new to me…
Iñaki did the production for ‘Lotus’ as well and he has been involved in the band for a long time now. You can consider him as a kind of fifth member of the band. Kane is a new guy for us. I think we used Jaime Gomez Arellano on the last album, but this time we went for Kane Churko. He is more a song oriented guy and ‘Imperial’ needed that approach.

Melancholy happens to be a very important feature in Soen, for instance in ‘Monarch’, isn’t it?
Emotion is a very important part of Soen. We don’t bring only entertainment to headbang on, we want to go deep into people’s hearts and souls. That was already present on the first album.

In ‘Illusion’ I even hear some doom metal influences. Can you find yourself in that?
Yes, I listened to some doom bands and I guess everything that you like inspires you and finds its way into the music.

Most of the time you have titles of one word. Is that a strategy?
We want people to get into it. We don’t want to give away too much with a title. They have to get involved and understand what the lyrics are about and find their own way to the music. Soen picks a title reliable to the music, then it is up to the listener to get deeper into the song and find out what we are singing about.

A sentence that struck me in ‘Illusion’ was: ‘with every step we take, we get further from harmony’. That’s so true in this world…
I feel that way. I think we are lesser connected than ever. Everyone is just sitting there with headphones, staring at a screen. Among humans, in humanity, the unity is getting lost. Not only by that, but also due to all politicians who are saying that we are enemies. If you are right, you are an enemy of left and if you are left, you are an enemy of the right winged people. We are just losing our way, because we don’t talk to each other anymore like we were supposed to do, just to find out that – for the most – people on the other side are not that bad. We lost that contact and now we have to be careful for the virus, but it makes us more separated from each other too, with obligatory social distance.

The video clips for ‘Monarch’ and ‘Antagonist’ are real gems. Can you tell a bit more of your approach of making visual additions?
We looked around and tried to find a producer for that, someone that we think can take a song and present it the way that we like to. We try not to give him too many ideas, because we try to believe that a creative mind would be able to do it without people telling him what to do. We talked to some people, just to see what kind of ideas they had and we went for the best ideas. It is brilliant I think.

In the video of ‘Monarch’ we see a snake and on the cover one can also see a snake. Any thoughts on that?
There is a connection and actually the ‘Monarch’ video is part of a trilogy. It is the first one and there are two more videos coming. It is supposed to be connected to that whole thing, with the video, the snake and the whole ‘Imperial’ album pretty much.

‘Imperial’ and ‘Monarch’ invokes references to kings and queens and royalty…
The way that we live is that we are still in an empire. An old empire, but of course we have those huge corporations who are telling us how to live. You should measure happiness on how much money you have. The only way to be happy is to be rich and perfect. We don’t believe in that. You should not work ten hours to buy a better car. You should spend most of your time doing what you love and be with the ones that you love, because that is the only thing that matters. When spending your time chasing money, you will come to a point where you realize that you have spent your whole fucking life in something that is not going to make you happy, unless you are happy with yourself and with the ones that you love. That’s a bit of the whole idea of ‘Imperial’.

Sounds as if there is a worldwide authority that commands us…
Everything is commercialized. With a blind following of people running behind money. Some people are famous because they have money and they do anything and hurt anyone to make more money. It is so bad. We are against it and we know there’s more people against it, but our voices are not heard by the media, because they are not interesting enough. So we just want to connect with those people.

That is a good purpose, because people don’t think further… they just want to have the newest iphone…
It is hard for younger generations. They cannot allow it and be part of society, because they don’t have all those things. We want to somehow telling them that it is not the way to live. It is not important, it is just a shallow thing which doesn’t matter when you are older. It is not an easy time and things have to be talked about. Now we are making money soldiers of our kids. They have to be trained and chase money. They kind of forget the important part: to be empathetic to each other and care for each other. Trying to do the best you can, so that everybody can be happy, not only yourself.

You are from Uruguayan origin. Do you have any memories on that country?
Yes, I am born in Sweden, but I moved to Uruguay when I was seven. I went to school there and I came back to Sweden when I was seventeen. Of course I have a lot of friends there, I speak Spanish and I have a huge connection with Uruguay. I went back to Uruguay in 2002, then I came back to Sweden in 2004 to do some band stuff and in 2006 I met my wife and we have a kid and I stayed in Sweden. And I started the band Soen. I have a kid and I am staying here now.

I see there are concerts scheduled in April. Will that happen?
No, we are going to postpone that tour. We will see. We are going to do that later this year or next year. We have to wait.

Is there still something that you are working on now that you have more time?
Yes we are. We are working on a show where we will play our heavier songs in a soft way, all our ballads too with a string quartet and try to make something different out of it. It sounds magical, but we don’t know what we are going to do with it. We have time and it is something we wanted to do for a long time, so we are getting into that and it is going to be really good.