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Interview with Soen’s Joel Ekelöf: “We feel better than ever.”

Interview with Soen’s Joel Ekelöf: “We feel better than ever.”

While visiting Istanbul to catch the second-to-last show on Soen’s mesmerizing “Atlantis” orchestra-backed tour (you can check out our review of the eponymous album here), I seize the opportunity to catch up with frontman Joel Ekelöf right as the band’s latest record, “Memorial”, has been released to the public.

From the love of Istanbul to the love of touring the world at large, we talk about how the new album has been received, how the pandemic has influenced the band artistically, but also personally, how artists need to continuously evolve and expand. And much more.


Thank you so much for taking the time to sit with me today, at what is a very special moment for Soen, because the new album has just come out, but also in, as I know it, a very special place for the band as well, as I’ve personally met a few people who discovered you right here, in Istanbul. Many of them were Persian, and, at a time of great turmoil for Iran, they truly resonated with your messages of hope and fighting against oppression. And I’ve had a few conversations with people who said your music and lyrics inspired them to stand up and fight against all the bad things that are happening to them.

Oh, I’m glad to hear that.

So, how does it feel to be back here?

It’s fantastic. It’s a bit special with Istanbul; we have a great fan base here, and the reception is always fantastic. It’s special, and it’s not all bands that have the possibility to play in Istanbul for this many people. So it’s a little bit of a special thing, you know?

That’s great. And it’s also a special moment in the sense that you’re coming very close to ending your “Atlantis” tour and going into the “Memorial” tour, which feels like a bit of a bridge; it’s like “Atlantis” is an ode to all of your work so far, and “Memorial” feels a bit like a new era for Soen. So, while on that subject, even if it’s early, even if the album has just come out, you’ve had a lot of reviews and maybe quite a few early listeners; how do you feel the album has been received so far?

I mean, it’s over expectations. It’s fantastic. The reviews have been fantastic, so we cannot wish for more. And also, what has been happening in the latest days is that now it has reached all the fans, so suddenly you realize that everyone can hear the album in its entirety. And it’s great, it’s a great feeling. You know, I can’t control what people think about the music; we can only do the music that we love, and then, if people like it or not, that is not within our reach at all. So, in a way, it’s like we’ve already lost control over that, but now it’s just fantastic to hear what they say. And I’m glad they like it. Of course, it warms your heart.

I’m sure. I listened to it on the plane ride here for the first time, actually, and thematically and compositionally it’s recognizably Soen. There are some newer, heavier elements interspersed with soft passages, and a good balance between forceful songs and emotional ballads; the duet is also a very nice touch. But there is a shift in style on this album, and while Soen has historically evolved with every single album—no standing still, no standing in one place—there is a shift, mainly in the overall production of the album. Was there a creative decision behind this? Did you deliberately want to change the sound, to give it a different touch than previous albums?

I don’t think… That’s not how we plan it; we just do what we like, you know, and it becomes different. Because you don’t want to repeat yourself, it’s boring [laughs]. And, when I’ve heard people criticize the album, then usually the critics are asking why it doesn’t sound like “Tellurian” anymore, or why it doesn’t sound like “Lykaia” anymore, and you can’t do that [laughs]. Those albums have been made, and we are different people now, we won’t repeat ourselves. So we have to move on. And we’re always going to try new things and new ways of producing, or maybe I will sing in different ways. That’s just… people evolve, you know? And I can only hope that people want to join the ride.

Those albums have been made, and we are different people now, we won’t repeat ourselves.


Soen Photo by Jeremy Saffer

I understand. And you’ve very nicely segued into my next question, which is about the vocals. I know that for me, personally, as well as for other fans, your voice is an anchor of sorts into the music, an aspect that is very profoundly Soen. And, on this new album, you have experimented with different styles of singing, which I believe feel the most different compared to previous recordings. So I was wondering if the idea to change things up in this department was there from the beginning, as in you knew that on this album you wanted to experiment with the vocals in different ways, or it was just something that happened in the studio and you said “Ok, I want this to be the vocal style for the future”?

Yes, but it’s not exactly like that, it’s not going to be the vocal style for the future. It’s more that I was trying different expressions, and the way the songs turned out just had this good fit with this kind of expression. I wanted to push the vocals in a more… I tried different expressions on these songs, and it was always the more powerful, more aggressive vocals that sort of made it fit. It was like the songs just craved for those kinds of vocals. That’s how it was. So I think it’s the way we write songs nowadays and the way we feel mentally. For example, I think the pandemic really made us crave live performances; when you were at home and you couldn’t tour, you realized how much you missed that touring part. And when we got out, it was just this huge, like, catharsis; you just felt like it was an explosion of energy and emotions. And I think that affected this album a lot. It’s, you know, we wanted to have a live-sounding album, like a big, powerful album that was just like a big train coming. So you have to blame the pandemic for this unfortunate event [laughs].

When you were at home and you couldn’t tour, you realized how much you missed that touring part. And when we got out, it was just this huge, like, catharsis; you just felt like it was an explosion of energy and emotions. And I think that affected this album a lot.

It’s not about blame at all [laughs]; it’s actually not even just about the different vocal styles, which are interesting and, I believe, in a live environment will sound great. It’s more of a package with how the vocals are processed, which is new and quite different on certain tracks, such as the pre-released singles. Less so on the ballads. But I think what you said about wanting to express the energy of the songs not only through the lyrics, but through the vocal styles as well, sheds some light on that.

Yeah, but in a way, if you look at my vocal style from “Cognitive” until now, I guess my expression and mentality have changed a bit from more inward-looking to more outward-looking. And I’m in a phase, right now, at least, where I just want to express things and I just want to go and embrace the world, you know? I just feel like that. Maybe on “Cognitive” I was more of this inward-looking person. And there’s nothing wrong with any of these phases, but my personality is in another place right now than it was on “Cognitive”. Production-wise, we just wanted this album to feel like a knockout, so that’s maybe what you can achieve with that kind of production.

And does the “knockout” effect maybe involve breaking out of the, let’s say, “confines” of progressive metal? Because perhaps that’s where the comparisons to “Tellurian” or “Lykaia” you were referencing earlier could be coming from, particularly with older-school fans.

Yes, but that’s the thing, I don’t think that we are sworn into a progressive formula. We’re in progressive metal, I would define that Soen belongs to progressive metal, but we’re also a metal band. So it’s… when you go to a Soen concert, you go to a powerful metal concert with a lot of progressive elements in it. So, what can I say about that? I think you will always find the progressive elements in Soen’s music, but if you’re very dogmatic about that, then you need to find another band. And there are several. And there are so many bands now that go, like, super-technical in one direction.  Some bands are just going into art rock things within this scene. You know, there aren’t many bands that preserve the legacy of metal on the prog metal scene. And I think Soen needs to be there and support the metal part. Even though… I’m sorry, you’re from The Progspace, but hey, you know, there’s always “Tellurian” [laughs]. No, I’m kidding, I’m kidding. But I think the old prog bands, they had more songs; if you listen to, say, Jethro Tull or old Genesis, for example, which I love, and Yes; all of these bands had these great songs, just these great written prog rock songs. And I think that’s really important. Maybe some bands today forget about that, you know? They just make technical parts for 11 minutes that don’t belong together, that are not built into a song. And I think that’s a shame.

It’s jazz [laughs].

Exactly, it’s basically like improvisation for 11 minutes. And that was not what the giants did. So, stop doing that, guys.

Now that you’re confirming this, I actually noticed that certain instrumental parts of the new album are reminiscent of more classic metal and even classic rock, like the guitar solos. So I guess you were taking inspiration from music heroes that belong to different genres.

Yes; I think that, in a way, things we might not have done on “Cognitive” or “Tellurian”, in the sense of, let’s call it “cliché” metal things, we can do today as a tribute to the classic bands that we can be proud of, you know?

So, given this genre-expanding potential, do you anticipate perhaps reaching new audiences with this new album? Precisely because it’s different and more open to different kinds of music lovers?

We’ll see, I don’t know. We just did an album that we really… I love this album. I didn’t have a clue what people would say about it. I think it’s the best we have done; if people would have said it was crap, then sorry for them. Now we got really good reviews, so I’m very happy for that, but, you know, it’s hard. You can never anticipate the audience, in a way. And we just did “Atlantis”, which is a symphonic, semi-acoustic album; we can’t get more prog than that. And we’re doing that show today, so I don’t think that people should worry that we have lost anything. It’s just more of everything with Soen.

It will be very interesting and exciting to hear the new songs in a live setting, that’s for sure. So, what’s next for Soen? Is “Memorial” a stepping stone towards something, or is the road just… open?

It’s a lot about touring now. Touring, touring, touring. And the good thing is we have such a great album, we have such a great band, we have such a fantastic set-up, everyone is in a very good place. I mean, if you watch a concert today, you can see that we’re having fun when we play and that we like each other. So there’s no reason for us to stop right now, we’re going to tour a lot. The touring will give us inspiration for what comes next. So it depends, you know? I think, actually, the crowds that come to our concerts play a big role in the development of Soen, funnily enough. I mean it when I say that we’re not making music to try to anticipate what people will like, we never do that. But the people that come to the concerts, they do affect how we perform and how we perceive music. It’s unavoidable. So let’s see if the crowd can steer us in any direction in the future. If everyone starts to anticipate that we will make a metal album, then we will maybe make, like, a huge concept album with just strings.

So we can expect to be surprised?

Yes, 26-minute-long songs [laughs].

That could be interesting [laughs]. So, to conclude, is there anything else you would like to share with The Progspace’s audience?

I would just say: have faith in us, come to a show, watch us play. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed, we feel better than ever. Ok?


About the Author

Alina (WuTheLotus)

Music fiend from Romania. Sometimes I write.

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