Dirk Verbeuren: Smashing Soilwork
Dirk Verbeuren: Infinitely Variable
You think you know Dirk Verbeuren, the rail-thin long-beard responsible for the seamless blasts and furious fills of Soilwork. But the Swedish melodic metallers are a mere fraction of this multifaceted basher’s life.
Verbeuren recently moved from Cleveland, home for the last few years, to put down stakes in Los Angeles. This would be a cliché for any other drummer, but in Verbeuren’s case it seems a particularly risky move. Firstly, Soilwork is a Sweden-based band. For Verbeuren – a Belgian native who grew up in Paris before relocating to the States – to move even further away from the other ’Workers can only make his life more difficult. Or so you would think. “I actually liked Cleveland a lot [is something you don’t hear every day – Eds.] but there is a lot more music opportunity here.”
Since cutting The Living Infinite, the band’s ninth long-player, Verbeuren spent late 2012 and early 2013 doing session work at his new home studio for a variety of bands when not slaving away on ToonTrack’s Library Of The Extreme. In addition, he has the unenviable task of learning the album’s whopping 20 songs.
Unlike previous release The Panic Broadcast, everyone in the band wrote songs for The Living Infinite, which translated into more work for the 38-year-old drummer. “Because so many people in the band were contributing, the guys gave me demos that were really rough,” he explains. “Some of them had drums but they were really rudimentary, so I had to create the main structure, and some [of the demos] didn’t even have drums at all, [laughs] so I did a lot more arranging this time.”
After laying the drum parts on his electronic kit in the studio in L.A., he sent them back to the guys and then they rehearsed for two weeks before entering Fascination Street Studios. “It was an old barn with a big drum room, right by the ocean, way in the south of Sweden,” he recalls of the sessions while staying at singer Björn Strid’s place near Helsingborg at night. “On a clear day you can see Denmark from his backyard. We’d wake up in the morning and practice and record in the afternoon.”
Many of Living Infinite’s songs are very untypical of Soilwork and at first Verbeuren struggled to make them work with his usual toolbox of beats. “With a double album we didn’t think we had to make them all aggressive and maximum intensity like we would if it was only ten songs,” he says. “Past albums have had grooving parts but now there were more ghost notes and things like that. As much as I like it to play hard all the time, [laughs] extreme metal isn’t very dynamic, so that’s always what I’m trying to do to give it more flavors.”
This range of feels and approaches forced Verbeuren out of his comfort zone. Although he pulled it off in the studio, he’s starting to get a little nervous with the tour just around the corner. “I’m not sure which song is the most challenging … all of them? [laughs] I’ll have to get back to you on that because they’re still so new to me.”
Verbeuren had a mix of bass and guitars in his in-ears during tracking and that was enough of a road map. “I actually recorded a few of the songs with nothing, just the click, and I found that I actually played better that way sometimes. It’s something I recently discovered: As important as the guitars are it can start feeling like I’m a little too locked into them, but when it’s just drums your imagination is a little more free – you don’t have a sound right there in your face. So as long as I could hum the part and hear it in my head that was enough.”
Soilworks’s melodic metal has a slick feel without a Pro Tools vibe. Sure, there is triggering in the studio, but it has the rough edges of a human drummer about it. “I always insist on having the most natural acoustic sound possible,” he says. “I don’t think the triggers are at the forefront anywhere except maybe the really fast parts where it needs to add maybe a little bit of attack to the volume. But even there, for example, I had a long discussion with the band and Jens [Bogren, producer] about how when there’s blastbeats, I don’t want them to have the same volume as the other beats because they’re going to go down in volume. When you’re going 260 [bpm] you’re not hitting that hard. That’s just the way it is.”
Live, there are no triggers, even though some people at shows have thought that in the past because Verbeuren’s sound guy put a “trigger microphone” on the snare drum. Certain engineers the band worked with use the actual sound of the trigger microphone to add some crack to the rimshot, but it was never connected to a sound module, just used as a regular mike. “When people are like, ’Oh, look, he has a huge drum thing on his snare; he triggers his snare,’ it’s an obvious reaction, but as a matter of fact I never have triggered anything live at all. I don’t know if that’s a bad choice, and maybe I sound like crap, but I’m just comfortable playing acoustically, and I just give it my all every night, and I try and hit as hard as I can, and hit as consistent as I can.”
As for ToonTrack, Dirk is already on to his next project with the Swedish software company, known for its Drumkit From Hell program, featuring the beats of Gene Hoglan, Tomas Haake, and other beasts of metal drumming. The company’s Library Of The Extreme, an ongoing project for the past few years, is Verbeuren’s baby. “I think three volumes cover it as far as I’m concerned because it’s a lot of death, grind, black, thrash, all that stuff. I felt the only thing that I could really add to it at this point was more basic hard-rock metal beats. So I still wanted to add onto that the more straightforward, maybe not-always-as-fast beats and a few more groovier things as well. So I think they will release it under another moniker, but yeah, I’m starting work on that now and I’m hoping to get it done by fall.”