Soilwork: Dirk Verbeuren Interview

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At the Fort Lauderdale stop of Soilwork’s tour supporting Soulfly we caught up with Dirk Verbeuren, who alongside playing in Soilwork has played for acts as diverse as Devin Townsend, Satyricon, Scarve and even his own grindcore project Bent Sea. We talked about his influences, his work with Devin Townsend and his Australian Doppelganger Steve Hughes.

To start out, how did you end up doing work for ToonTrack?
Initially, Fredrik from Meshuggah actually hooked me up with them. I believe he’s one of the founders of the company. This must have been back in, I have to remember the year now… probably in 2008, 2009. He reached out to me and said, “You know, you should do something with us. Can you play some e drums and we can record you and stuff?” and I said “Sure”. So that’s how it started.
How did you decide what beats to record?
Well, the first time I did it, it was just improvised really. There was no thought behind it really, it was just finding out how it worked. From there, came my idea to organize it. So, I talked to the guys at Toontrack and said “hey would you like me to make this of the extreme and just really categorize everything so it’s easier for people to use.
Have you ever used Toontrack for your own recordings?
No, I use the software all the time for my recordings because I do a lot of work at my own studio which is all electronic. So I use the sounds from the software, but obviously I play everything. I don’t use the stuff I prerecorded for them.

You do a lot of studio work right?
I do, yes.
How did you end up getting into that?
Kind of by chance. People started asking me and from there, after some years, I realized I like doing this, it’s fun, I might as well just kind of push for that. I started advertising on my website and from there, things just started rolling.
Is the studio work normally metal or do you do other stuff?
Most of the time it’s metal, but I’ve recently done fusion with a guitarist from Pakistan. Totally not metal at all. I’ve done a few pop songs here and there. Whatever I come across.
What pop songs?
It’s nothing known, it’s an artist from Texas and he wanted to make a different version of one of the songs he had so I recorded drums for that.
That’s really weird, how’d you end up doing the work?
A friend I know got me in touch that way. I listen to all kinds of music so if it’s something I feel I can contribute to, I’ll do it.
Do you have influences outside of metal?
Plenty, yeah. Jazz fusion and electronic. I listen to a lot of weird English electronic music and from some other countries as well, but a lot of that scene is English or British. I grew up listening to a lot of hip hop and rap, more like the old school stuff from the 80s.
How did you get from hip hop and rap to death metal?
I don’t know, it was on when I was a kid. That’s what I listen, I really enjoy that style. When I went to school at one point, someone started handing me tapes and was like “oh here, you should check out Metallica and Slayer!” and I got really into all that stuff.

With your studio work, have you ever been hired specifically to do the Dirk Blast?
There’s been some of that yeah, but I usually use it when it’s appropriate in a song, like most things. So it’s not really like “hey can you do the Dirk Blast for us?” But I get a lot of very fast stuff.
How did you develop the Dirk Blast?
It’s based on a rudiment and one of the teachers I had when I was in middle school, back in ’93 or ’94 was telling us one of the great ways to learn techniques is to play them all over the kit. So I was just practicing this particular rudiment and I happened to kind of put the accents on the high hat and the rest on the snare and I was like this kind of sounds like a blast beat. So then, I added the feet to it and there it was.

What’s your best story recording with Devin Townsend? I know there has to be 100 of them.
Yeah, I was going to say that. I mean, I think the funniest thing was probably seeing his face when we were rehearsing because he had sent me demos and the whole idea behind Deconstruction was to make something really over the top, just insane.
You definitely managed that.
So he didn’t know how I was going to pull that stuff off, and I don’t think he knew the Dirk Blast. He had some parts that were super inhumanly fast. So, when him and I went to this little studio that’s near where he lives and just him and I kind of practiced the tracks before I went into the studio. So, I think I actually have a video of it… when I first started doing the Dirk Blast on one of these songs, he just couldn’t believe it. He was like “you found a way to play this stuff!” It was really funny. We had a blast along the way, he’s such a great guy and a humorous character so we had a lot of fun.
How was the Deconstruction live show?
That was tough! It was probably the one single show I did the most rehearsing for. I think I spent like six months preparing for that one hour on stage cause the level of that stuff is really high. On top of that, I only recorded like four or five songs on the album and the other songs were done by Ryan so I didn’t really know the drum parts to those songs and some of them are really complex. It took me a lot of time to figure out what he was doing and learn to play it. We did some rehearsing with the band. It was a bit of a stressful show, but it was fun, we enjoyed it.

Do you approach playing that sort of progressive stuff differently than death metal?
No, I don’t think too much about the styles that I’m doing. For me it’s just about having a good groove all the way through and having fun doing it. That’s very important.
Did Soilwork approach the new album differently than the ones?
We don’t sit and think too much about it but I think we always try to incorporate new ideas and things we come across. On this album there’s a lot of things like slide guitar that we’re using. There’s some melodic ideas that we’ve toyed with that we’ve never really used before. There’s songs where I’m blasting and there’s really soft music behind it, so we’re trying to work with contrast. When you write an album like that, it sort of just develops itself as it goes. You don’t have a set idea of how the final product is going to sound, you discover that as you’re working on it.
How did they end up incorporating slide guitar?
It’s just something David enjoys a lot and we all listen to different styles of music, it’s not just me. I think it’s just something he felt was right for his song ideas.

You play guitar yourself don’t you?
Yeah, a little bit.
You have a band you do all the guitar work for right?
Yes, Bent Sea, but that’s a grindcore band so it doesn’t demand the same level of technical playing that Soilwork does. I wouldn’t be able to play a lot of Soilwork stuff but I write for them, so there’s actually a song I wrote for the Ride Majestic but it ended up only being on the Japanese version of the CD only. It’s a little bit different than the rest, I have a different writing style.
When you write, do you start on the drum kit?
For Bent Sea I start everything on drums, I make song structures on drums then I add guitars and stuff. But for Soilwork, it starts more with guitar riffs and ideas I have and I make them into songs. I haven’t done a whole lot of it for Soilwork, but I’m hoping to do more. It’s fun songwriting. It’s good to have an understanding of what the other guys are doing. It helps when working together and you kind of have an idea of what can be done and how you can interact with things.

Does playing guitar help you with drumming live?
Oh yeah, I know that for certain songs for example, well most of the stuff we play to a click nowadays but most of the older stuff we don’t, but I tend to like to play the fast songs really fast. But I know that there’s a limit that if I go too fast then they’re not going to be able to play it properly so there’s no point in doing that.
I guess you could mess with them.
I do sometimes, between you and I! It’s funny!
Switching up fills, speeding up?
I do a lot of improvising live, well maybe a lot is exaggerating. People expect to hear the songs more or less like they are, but I do switch stuff up for myself to keep it fun. When I was younger and I didn’t have the experience I did now, I was much more bound to this is what I’m playing here and this is what I’m playing there. Now, I’m just having fun, I’m not worrying about it.

Do you prefer to play with or without a click?
It really depends on the song. The click does give you a certain sense of security cause you kind of know you’re on it and some nights the internal clock is faster and some nights it’s slower. At least with the click you know. For some songs though, it’s fun without it, I would hate to have to do the whole show with it the whole time. We always have a few songs that are free.
Which songs do you play without a click?
“Bastard Chain”, which is an older song. That one we’ve always played without a click, there’s never been a click for that one. There’s songs like “Follow the Hollow” which we’ve never played with a click either. Some faster stuff, like back “Blind Eye Halo” that was always one that I would go as fast as I could.
Do they ever complain that you play too fast?
Oh yeah! We joke about it.

Do you know the band Slaughter Lord from Australia?
You know what, actually I think I have a CD of theirs. Yeah, I think they did some kind of compilation CD at some point with some of their stuff.
Are you aware that you sort of look like Steve Hughes from Slaughter Lord?
An Australian lookalike!
Here’s a picture.
Oh yeah for sure. Thanks for showing me that, it’s hilarious. Could’ve been me! We’re actually going to Australia next year, maybe I’ll bump into him.

You moved to LA right?
Yes.
When did you do that?
Initially I moved to America in early 2006. I lived in LA for a while then, moved to the east coast for a little bit, my wife and I, then we moved back to LA a few years ago. So it’s been about three years that we’ve been back in LA.
Did you move there because it’s a good place as a studio musician?
Yeah, and she’s a photographer. So it makes sense for us to be in a city where there’s a lot of entertainment happening. It’s easy to find work there. And it’s a great climate!

Do you have a favorite crowd to play to, any festivals?
Not really, I find that, especially in the recent years, the crowd really depends on us a lot. If we give 1000%, then the crowd will follow. On this tour we’ve really been pushing that every single night.

How about some future Scarve material?
Okay, so I did some drums a few months ago. Just rough drums at Lawrence’s studio, he sang on the last album. We worked on some song structure ideas based on some old riffs we had laying around from 2005. We’ll see, since we’re not all in the same place anymore, we used to rehearse a lot together and we can’t really do that. Depending on peoples’ schedules. I don’t know. Hopefully we get an album together at some point.

Do you think you’ll tour?
It would be nice but… to be honest, I doubt that. We were never really a big band. It was an underground. People that know Soilwork may know Scarve a little bit because of Sylvain and myself but we never made any money whatsoever when we were working with the band. To go on tour nowadays, we’re not 20 and we have families and stuff, it would have to add up financially. I don’t know though, we’d definitely consider it. If there were offers coming in, we’d definitely look at them and see if we could pull it off. Probably in France we could do a tour, that’s where we were the biggest. We could probably finagle something.
Hellfest or something?
Yeah! That’d be great! We actually played Fury Fest back in ’04, which I think is the old Hellfest. I think the band actually played Hellfest around the time when I was moving to the US. The band played a few shows with a fill in drummer since I couldn’t be there.
How about 70,000 Tons of Metal?
That would be awesome.
You played 70,000 Tons with Soilwork in 2014 right?
Yes, and I was filling in with Satyricon too. That was fun. It was totally an honor to play with them.
Was that last minute or did they know Frost wasn’t getting in?
They knew he wasn’t getting in but they had several candidates. I had spoken to them several weeks prior to the boat and they asked if I would be able to do it. I said sure, I’m going to be there anyways so why not. But they said they’re probably going to have Joey Jordison do it, so I was like okay, whatever, keep me posted. Two days before I was flying to the boat, they were like Joey can’t do it! Can you still do it? So I learned their whole set in like no time, it was intense.
How did you manage to learn the whole set in two days?
I did nothing but drumming for two days. 24/7 drumming for two days. I had sheet music on stage.
Wasn’t the sheet music flying away?
Yeah, Jimmy my drum tech was taping everything. It was crazy. I only fucked up like once.
You pulled it off, it sounded great. I don’t think anyone was yelling for Frost.
I guess that’s a good thing. He’s awesome though.
I would love to see him live some time.
Yeah, hopefully he could make it. He has been to the US a number of times but currently it’s looking really bad with this current situation.

Did you guys cut it close with your visas?
Super close. The guys got their visas 24 hours before flying here.
Decapitated cancelled because of that right?
Yeah.
What are bands doing now about the visa situation?
We’re doing the same thing we always have done but now there’s tighter immigration laws. They’re not obliged to let you in. If whatever officer working there doesn’t feel like filing your stuff, and then they don’t. This is the government you’re dealing with, they can do whatever they want. To be fair, I understand the part where America is under fire all the time from countries all over the world. It’s not a bad thing that immigration is tight, but then again, we’re metal bands. It’s not like we’re going to cause any issues. I understand that they’re tight with that stuff, coming from Europe where some countries let everybody in for a number of years and now they’re dealing with the consequences. There needs to be some kind of middle ground where you can let the right people in and be aware of what’s happening.
Do you guys use a visa service?
Yeah, we always use a service directly with our management. Luckily, they managed to push things and make it happen but we cut it really close which was scary. It would’ve been just me otherwise. I don’t want to play a show by myself.
You know, I saw Buckethead once with a backing track instead of a drummer, maybe you could do Dirk with a backing guitar track?
Maybe, but it works better for someone that’s already at the front of the stage. For me it would be like, I’m back there, that doesn’t really work.
You could do the Stryper thing, turn your drums sideways….
Well, I think people would be upset. They’d want to see Björn and the rest of the guys.


Jackie Miller

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