INTERVIEW with MARTIN LOPEZ of SOEN
“Supergroup” is a loaded word in music. Negative connotations swirl at its mention: a lineup of “where are they now” musicians thrown together as a cash grab by their label; a one-hit-wonder radio single; one, maybe two albums and they’re done. Soen endeavors to buck each of these trends as they prepare to release Lotus, their fourth full length studio album together. “If you think about it, Joel [Ekelörf] has done twice as many records with Soen as he did with Willowtree” says drummer Martin Lopez about the ephemeral nature of supergroups. He’s quick to point out that even though members of Soen may have done notable work in the past, the band is not a side project for any of its members but rather a full-time commitment.
Martin called us up to talk about growing as musicians, touring internationally, and their new album, Lotus, available February 1st, 2019 from Silver Lining Records.
JGILBERT: How are things with the group?
MARTIN LOPEZ: Good, man! Good. The album has been getting a lot of positive feedback,which we’re really happy about. Now I’m just enjoying myself for a bit.
JG: I want to talk about the album. Given the extensive backstory of many members of Soen, how would you say the new material compares to other things the band or its members have done? Is it a continuation or something separate?
ML: Well, i’m a musician and I’ve been the same musician all this time. I play the music that I love and even if it differs [now and then] it will still be inspired by stuff that I’ve done before. So for me it’s both something new and a continuation because we’re the same guys.
JG: How do you find new inspiration and new ideas to continue making music that’s special to you?
ML: I don’t think we “look” for ideas. When we sit down and start writing new material, everything inspires us. Not only music, but whatever books we’re reading or movies we were watching. It’s about finding that emotion that you want to reach with certain songs. Additionally, there’s music all over the world from different cultures as well as metal bands, old and new, that are in our head when we’re writing and that inspires us, too.
JG: Soen is an international group of musicians, yes?
ML: Yes, there is myself: I am Uruguayan and also Swedish; we have [guitarist] Cody Ford: he is Canadian; and then we have three Swedes.
JG: Do you think that international makeup helps you make music that appeals to an international audience? Or do you just do what comes naturally and let people who enjoy it come to you?
ML: It’s hard to say, because we all listen to the same bands; music is pretty much the same for all of us. And also the band’s music since the start has been written by [singer] Joel and I, and also [guitarist] Stefan Stenberg. Cody just came into the band so he only had the opportunity to write solos for this album. But of course I think it’s good to have members from all over the world because it’s more interesting. It’s also better when on tour because we can learn from each other’s experiences and lives.
JG: I read an interview with you from the previous album where you expressed how important it is to you that Soen remains “special” and “fun”. Would you say that you’ve held to that with the new record? Is it still special to you?
ML: [Lotus] is actually even more special to me than any of the other ones, I have to say. I think that this is the first album where I’m really really happy with the end result. With all of the previous albums, I’ve been proud of the music but had problems with the production and never reached the vision that I had behind all the music. I think we really got there this time and I’m really happy about that and I’m happy to be talking about the album and doing interviews. With Lykaia… I don’t know, maybe it wasn’t all I was expecting it to be. It’s really important for us as a band to be able to do what we want when we want to. We want to protect our music and our freedom to create because it’s so important for Soen to make us happy. We don’t want to make records and do tours because we have to or our label makes us do it every year.
JG: So when do you know that it is time to make a new record?
ML: We’re always writing new material, and when we feel we have enough new music that’s better than our old songs we just make the record! And it seems it takes us every two years.
JG: You say that you wait until it all sound better than the old songs. Is that a priority for you? To always be better than your last album?
ML: Well, yeah! I think it would be sad to make music without growing as a musician or as a songwriter. I’m always trying to progress my own abilities and to learn more. That’s the main goal, I think.
JG: Speaking of always striving for improvement, I read somewhere that analog equipment played a big role in recording the new album. Can you elaborate?
ML: The new album was recorded with both analog and digital equipment. We recorded the last one all analog and to be honest we weren’t as happy as we expected; it wasn’t as heavy as we wanted it to be. So this time we met with producers David Castillo and Iñaki Marconi, and they wanted to use both so we went for it. But just because we used digital equipment to record and produce it doesn’t mean we just copy/paste stuff. It’s important to maintain that human element for that genuine emotion and we’d rather have a mistake or two if it makes for a believable sound that to be too perfect and ultimately unhappy with the result.
JG: It seems like you’re very particular about the band’s sound. How do you make sure it comes out right consistently when you’re touring different countries and having to play so many kinds of venues?
ML: Yeah, it’s a real challenge, so we have a really good sound guy! We try to rely on our own equipment as much as possible with mics and mixers and such but sometimes we play a big festival and we have to play with what they have. But I don’t think the equipment is more important than the band. The Beatles were playing with crap instruments at the start but they sounded amazing because what matters then and now is who’s behind the instruments. That’s a bit of the problem with the digital stuff; if you’re having too much help from the digital equipment, the backing tracks and such it’s not good. You need to be honest and real about what you do to feel good about it, I think .And to share it with an audience, I want it to be the actual essence of our band because if it’s not, then it’s not your band. I dunno, maybe I’m just old, hahaha.
JG: I agree! You’ve said in the past that you don’t want to sound like a “too perfect” studio band and that playing together as a band helped you reach that goal. Being an international band, how often are you able to get together to rehearse?
ML: Well although we have international backgrounds, right now everybody lives really close except Cody. We all live within ten minutes or so of our rehearsal space so we get together quite often in the studio. I don’t like writing songs on my own so much because it sounds too one-sided. All of us have certain qualities that can be brought in to make a Soen song; as soon as we have enough material to share, we get together and see who can contribute what. It’s more exciting to see what comes out.
JG: What does Lotus, the album, mean to you?
ML: It’s a great record for me, personally. We made that best record we could. I like the lyrics, I like the music, and I think we made a better record than the previous one. I hope our fans agree. Things have been tough for us so far.
JG: A lot of the bands people compare Soen to aren’t really making music today that sounds like the music people loved from those same artists. Take the Opeth albums you worked on, for example: that era for them is over and they’re doing different things now but you’re continuing in the style of the music you love and I think people still want to hear that.
ML: It’s nice to hear that. It’s tough because people are really into judging. Some people say that because our members were in this or that band that we’re trying to sound like something or another. But we’re not trying to sound like anything other than ourselves. We love Opeth and we love Tool; and we love Katatonia and death metal… so it’s gonna remind you of all these because that’s the music we want to play. At the end of the day, the most important thing is the quality of the music; if it’s good or not. We work really hard on the music that we make.
JG I think your hard work really shows on the new record. Is there anything else you want to talk about before I let you get to your next interview?
ML: Well first we want to thank you for the interview! Also we will be going on tour for Lotus in 2019. We’re going to try to tour the States but…
JG: You’re trying to come to the US?
ML: Well, we’re trying.
JG: I hear it’s hard for bands to come here.
ML: It’s so fucking hard! It’s not like it was before, it’s almost impossible now but we’re trying. All the regulations have changed and it feels like they don’t even want bands playing right now.
JG: It’s pretty crazy over here these days. Thank you for joining us and we wish you the best success with your new album, Lotus, and your tour!
ML: Thank you!
Soen’s fourth studio album, Lotus will be available February 1st, 2019.
Tour dates and additional information available at http://soenmusic.com/tourdates/