In a given group's career, that group usually pens an album by which they are always measured. The best known example within the metal realm is likely 1986's "Master Of Puppets", an album that Metallica's future albums have always been measured against. However, knowing a said album is deemed your greatest can be a curse. With such knowledge, a given group might attempt to rehash said album, hoping that the result garners similar success.
On a smaller scale in the metal realm, SOiL experienced this with 2001's "Scars", and by their own admission, suffered from "tunnel vision". However, the Chicago, Illinois act have seen the light, and hope that fifth studio full length "Picture Perfect" is a return to winning ways.
Throughout 2008 to 2009, SOiL penned material for "Picture Perfect", the group having been reduced to a quartet following the November 2007 departure of guitarist Shaun Glass. While Dave Fortman mixed, Johnny K returned as producer, his production services previously featuring on "Scars" and "Redefine" (2004). Stephen Jensen / F3 Studios designed the album's cover artwork. Two of "Picture Perfect"'s tracks were co-written with outside writers: "Surrounded" was co-written with ex-Bad Company / ex-Ted Nugent vocalist Brian Howe, whereas "Wasted" was co-written with John 5 (Rob Zombie / ex-Marilyn Manson) and producer Bob Marlette. Inaugural single "Like It Is" deals with how people try to alter the truth, and never seem to deliver what they promise. "Picture Perfect" will be issued throughout Europe by AFM Records on October 23rd, while its issue elsewhere will be handled by Bieler Bros. Records on the 20th.
On August 1st, SOiL performed a the inaugural Sonisphere Festival at Knebworth Park in the UK. Beginning November 4th at Manchester's Academy, SOiL will support Shinedown, the European tour coming to a conclusion on the 20th at Den Atelier in Luxembourg.
On September 22nd at 22:00 GMT, SOiL guitarist Adam Zadel telephoned Hit The Lights' Robert Gray to discuss "Picture Perfect", amongst other topics.
Adam Zadel: Hello.
Is this Adam?
Yeah, this is Adam.
This is Robert. How are you Adam?
I'm good. How are you doing Robert?
I'm alright. Would it be alright if I began the interview?
First of all, could you provide some background information on 'Picture Perfect'?
'Picture Perfect' took awhile, and has been the culmination of a lot of writing from over the past good three years or so. We've obviously gone through a couple of changes throughout that time. I always write when we're on the road and so on as far as riffs and putting together songs go, but we didn't really get down to work on any material until we were finished with the 'True Self' record back in about early to mid 2007. Ever since then, we just wanted to draw back, and not really push too hard to just come out with another record right away. To us, it seemed like 'True Self' was a little rushed, even though it was a good record. We wanted to draw back, and actually work on our material. We didn't want to plan things, but just wanted to relax, and get back to enjoying music again. We didn't put any timeline, or any stress, or anything, on ourselves in terms of releasing a new record.
As far as writing goes, honestly, it was me, Tim and Tom just sitting in a room, and really hashing out riffs. We got together at least three to four days a week, and just hung out. Writing songs was actually a real, fun process, for a change. Writing was really relaxed; we would work on some material, pass out a basic structure, record it, and then just chill out. We used to joke about calling it 'The SOiL Boys Club For Men' because we would just sit there and talk and drink for an hour or two, and then we'd play a little bit, come up with a cool tune, and just move on. The process was a little bit different than what we'd always done in the past; we always used to work on material, and then once we had a song, we would rehearse it, rehearse it, and rehearse it, and that would just beat the life out of these songs before we ever even got into the studio. We wanted to take a different approach this time. In a nutshell, that culminated in the writing process, as far as how we came up with the material for 'Picture Perfect'.
In releasing 2006's 'True Self', SOiL had a new vocalist in A. J. Cavalier. For that reason, did the band feel the need to rush the album's writing, recording and release to silence the critics? People who might've said "I don't know what the new singer will be like", and so on?
You know, I think that feeling might've been there. I'm not going to lie - that probably had something to do with it. If it had been up to me, I think we should've probably taken awhile longer, and thought things through a little bit more. But we were rolling, because we had just finished with 'Redefine' when Ryan quit, and just wanted to keep on rolling, and then just not miss a beat. That was just the way that one went though. It's a live and learn process, being in a band, at least if you want to be in a band for any kind of long term period. You'll get a little bit of what you want, and a lot of what you don't want (laughs).
(Laughs) You've spoken about the writing process for 'Picture Perfect', and how SOiL wasn't in a rush and everything. Also, the album's writing process was described as a "breath of fresh air". As a result of all that, what new ingredients are in the mix? In your own words, how would you describe 'Picture Perfect'?
'Picture Perfect' is probably a better mixture of everything that we've ever done, and everything we've wanted to do. I think the album revisits things that we did even before 'Scars', and I think it even expands on things we wanted to do with 'True Self', or even the last couple of records. 'Picture Perfect' has a good span of material. I had some old material that we just never really got around to visiting. Once again, as part of the writing process and the song selection process, we hadn't had this many songs to choose from since 'Scars' - we did have a very large supply of songs to choose from. I look at the album in a cool way like that. We were definitely able to sit back, and pick songs that were more stretched out, and still represented the band. 'Picture Perfect' shows a little bit more of our personalities and influences.
Would you say that 'Picture Perfect' represents all the musical aspects of SOiL then?
I would certainly say so, yeah. Every guy in every band says that their newest record is their favourite record, but I definitely have to put a big seal of approval on this one, especially for me, because 'Picture Perfect' is my guitar record - I pretty much had everything to do with almost all the riffs. Me and Tim worked on a couple of things, but for the most part, they're all my parts. I was able to breathe more, and just do things my way. I went back to some of my influences. Instead of playing big, strong chords all the time, which I love, I tried to make use of some better, cooler chords, cooler chord progressions, and different key changes, things that we haven't done before. The album doesn't mutate what we've done, but just basically takes where we were, where we left off with 'True Self', and just catapults it further.
You've mentioned the freedom you had, so what did that allow you to do with 'Picture Perfect''s songs that you might not have been allowed to do with past SOiL songs?
Honestly, I think on 'True Self' we just... 'Scars' came out, and then that album did really well. Everyone then said "Well, you better do something like 'Scars', you better do something like 'Scars'", and you start to get some sort of tunnel vision. If some people have a preconceived notion of where you are, and where the band needs to be, you start to fall into this rut that everyone might be assuming you into, if you understand what I'm saying. I think we did fall into a little bit of that trap, and honestly, to refer back to the writing process being a breath of fresh air as you said, that's what was so cool about how we wrote 'Picture Perfect''s songs.
We just shut ourselves out from everything that was going on, and thought "You know what? Fuck this. Let's write what we enjoy, and let's try to not let what's going on around us influence where we're coming from. Let's just do a record from the heart, and let's write songs from the heart. At the end of the day, when we have a whole bunch of songs together, we'll pick which ones just stand out as the best songs". That's pretty much what we did, and to come back to what you're asking, yeah, I definitely think that, if anything, we were starting to pigeonhole our own selves a little bit by trying to meet the expectations of past records and past successes, or whatever. But the fact is, if you keep doing that, you'll just beat yourself over the head. I like McDonalds, but I can't eat there every day of my life.
(Laughs) Guitarist Shaun Glass was a part of 'True Self', and obviously, he parted ways with SOiL in November 2007. In some respects, did you feel as though you were second fiddle to him? That he put so much of his stamp on the group's material that you were left by the wayside?
Well, I'll tell you this right now. Shaun was, I guess you could say, blessed with the gift of having a large mouth as a child, and he loved to toot his own horn louder than anyone in the band. Basically, as much as he ever might want to take credit, or shout off about how he did everything or did this or that, he never really gave credit where credit was due. To be honest, he probably had a pretty small percentage of the responsibility for the music written and so on in the band.
"We didn't want to plan things, but just wanted to relax, and get back to enjoying music again."
How would SOiL's songwriting process work while Shaun was part of the group? And how would you compare that to how SOiL's songwriting process works now? Obviously, the group has one guitarist now, so how do things differ?
In a roundabout way, that's how things started becoming bland. Things just always went the same way, and basically, we always said "We gotta write, gotta write, gotta write". We then just, instead of sitting back and thinking about what we did, or just being relaxed with it, we were just pummeling riff, riff, and riff after riff after riff. You're not even enjoying yourself. Things became like a music factory - it was like "C'mon. Just relax, and do something". Back in the day, it started to become an assembly line.
Shaun would always have a collection of riffs. He'd come to practice, and I'd just know what he'd been listening to right before he came to practice. I'd tell him "No, not that. Not that.. Not that", and he was very forceful with what he had written, so he would basically play until I'd say "Ok, fine. We'll take that". I would then write the rest of the song around it, and then the song would be there. That was the standard, typically. Also, I would write in my own time, record with a drum machine, come to practice, bring the recording, and present a song in its entirety. That's pretty much how the music portion of it always went, and as far as lyrics went, way back we'd give the song to Ryan. If I had some lyrical ideas, I'd give those, and then we'd come back, and bounce off each other a little bit. Or, we'd give him just the music, and he'd come up with lyrics, and then we'd bounce back a little bit on that. It works a little bit differently with A. J. now, because he pretty much likes to have a good handle on what he says and so on. He's a lot more serious about his lyrics and where they come from, so he's definitely a bigger contributor lyrically.
'Picture Perfect' is SOiL's second album to be recorded with A. J. Cavalier. In light of that, how is the group more comfortable with one another in terms of songwriting and interaction?
I don't know. You grow together. We do live apart from each other - A. J. lives in L. A. - but even when Ryan was in the band, we would always write the riffs and the music as a band. The lyrics would then be written, and then we'd come back together. In a certain sense, the writing process still works that way. Within that, you get the same feeling of distance from the guy that's in the band with you (laughs). It's strange, but it's always been a part of our structure, and has been the way we've always done things. It's something that we're used to, so it doesn't really phase us either way, but as far as getting along and becoming more comfortable, he's been in the band for five years, so we know each other pretty well by now - the "getting to know you" period is over (laughs).
(Laughs) In asking that question, I meant were there certain things that SOiL possibly learnt about A. J.'s ability? That the group thought they'd incorporate on 'Picture Perfect''s songs? Certain things that weren't incorporated on 'True Self''s songs?
Honestly, just the expansion of musical variety. We have some songs on 'Picture Perfect' that are just as heavy, if not heavier, than anything we've ever done before, and then we have some things on the album that are lighter than anything we've ever done before. A. J. has a very good range, and has a very good demand for detail that he puts on himself, which is reflected in the writing and the performance of the music, which is really cool.
And for 'Picture Perfect', SOiL obviously reunited with producer Johnny K as well.
Yeah. It was good to be back with Johnny. He always has great things to say, and was a very helpful force in making the band what it was way back in the day. Not only is he a cool person we owe a lot to due to the past, we're really excited at the help he's given us again with 'Picture Perfect'. It's good to be back with him again. It was cool.
As a producer, what does Johnny K bring to the table which suits SOiL?
To put it in a nutshell, usually what a "producer" does, and this is what Johnny does too, is sit down and listen to your material. A producer will tell you "Hey, this is cool.. That's not.. This is going on for too long.. This is going on for not long enough.. You need something extra here, and you need something extra there". They don't actually write music for you, but basically help you along, and tell you about the overall sound. You want to make sure the tones are all great, and that the songs are put together in a reasonable manner which accentuates the cool parts that you've already written. That's what I would define as producing, and then there's obviously writing, as well as "Hey, I want you to play this riff like this because I had it, I wrote it", or "I want you to sing this line because I wrote that". A producer helps out in just expanding what you've already done, without necessarily picking up an instrument, and writing songs for you.
Johnny's always been very excellent at that; he helps take apart a song, and has you look at that song again as well as thinking about that song again. Johnny'll say "Hey, is this absolutely the best structure that you can possibly have?", and then he'll expand and explain himself a little bit. We'll then try something out, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Everything that we usually come up with with Johnny is usually great though. He leaves no stone unturned, and that's the fantastic part. You walk out of the studio feeling "You know what? If nothing else, this song is the best we could possibly record".
Also, 'Picture Perfect' was mixed by Dave Fortman.
Yep.. yep.. Crazy king Dave (laughs). He's a cool guy. Man, he had the mix down. We went down there, and he plugged the equipment in. Normally, when you have an album's songs mixed, you have to rearrange a couple of things here and there, and return to a few mixes. He said "All right. I got my mixes up - come here and check them out guys", and he just blared 'Picture Perfect' through the speaker. We just thought "Ok. I guess we didn't even need to show up" (laughs). Dave had the album's mix down, and it was set. There's a real art to mixing, because that's the true outcome, and the actual tonality of your record. That's the way it's presented to people. Mixing is like presenting a plate of food - it has to look all nice and palatable, and that's obviously what a mixer does. He did a great job with 'Picture Perfect'. Couldn't be happier.
Were there any specific albums that Dave Fortman mixed which prompted SOiL to use his services?
Honestly? Not really. Dave's name came up. We knew his work, and obviously, we've heard albums he's worked on, like those by Mudvayne, Slipknot, and Evanescence of course. We weren't really looking for someone specific. We put the word out to our lawyer and so on, who said "I've got this guy. He's great - he's done all this stuff before". We worked with several different people before, and were just kicking names around. His name came up, and we thought "You know what? This guy is really awesome". We love his work. We weren't sitting around thinking of the ideal person to have mix 'Picture Perfect'. We were just taking things as they come, and his name came up. Obviously, we just dove on it, and said "Oh hell yeah. Let's just do it".
Two tracks on 'Picture Perfect' were co-written with outside writers. One of them is "Surrounded", which was co-written with Brian Howe (ex-Bad Company / ex-Ted Nugent).
Yes, yes. We actually talked about different producers and so on to work with, and the name Brian Howe came up, but it was a different Brian Howe - he's done other records. We got in contact with this Brian Howe, who said "Oh yeah. I'm the singer of Bad Company". He said he was writing material, and that he'd send some over that he was working on. We thought "Man, this is pretty cool. If we SOiL-ize this, this could be pretty awesome". "Surrounded" was out of our box, but we thought "Yeah, let's give it a try". We rocked the song out, and thought "You know what? This is really awesome. This should definitely be a part of our record". One thing we set out to do was a little bit of experimentation, where we actually worked with someone outside the band. We've written hundreds of songs, and you come to that point in your game where you think "You know what? We've written hundreds of songs, and they're cool, but maybe it'd be nice to add a new flavour into the mix for a change, and see what happens". We ventured out on that song, and I think it turned out pretty well. "Surrounded" is a cool tune, and definitely expands our horizons a little bit, that's for sure.
"'Picture Perfect' is probably a better mixture of everything that we've ever done, and everything we've wanted to do."
And the second of those two tracks is "Wasted", which was co-written with John 5 and Bob Marlette.
Yeah. "Wasted" just came in at the last second - Tim got an email. Actually, we were almost packing up in the studio. Tim got an email from John 5, who said "Hey man. I heard you guys are doing a record. I'm a real big fan of the band. I've had these riffs and this thing I've been working on, and I'd love for you guys to check it out". He sent the track over, and once again, we thought "You know what? We don't want to leave any stone unturned". We gave the song a try - we sat there, literally just about taking the drumset down, thinking "You know what? Screw it. We can make a song out of this" (laughs). We rifled "Wasted" off, and did some tracks before there was even lyrics or anything. Tom laid the drums down, and me and him worked it out. We sent the song over to A. J., and he threw down some vocals on it. We just thought "Man, let's jam. We'll rock with this", and "Wasted" ended up making the cut. So, there it is.
'True Self' was released through DRT Entertainment, which folded. How do you feel DRT Entertainment ceasing operations affected 'True Self''s potential?
It's one of those unfortunate things that you don't have control over. When you're in the record business, things go that way sometimes. Once again, we're rolling with the punches. Can I say what really might've happened if it would've went this way, or that way? Not really. Yeah, it did probably hurt that record. DRT folding didn't make us too happy, let's just put it that way. You have to pick your battles; sometimes you win some, and sometimes you lose some. We got a little bit short changed as far as how 'True Self' got worked and what not, and that's another disappointing thing about that record. You can only take what you're given sometimes though, and work with what you got. That's what we always do. We're survivors, and are always just hanging in there, working with what we got because we still love what we do.
For 'Picture Perfect''s release, it was originally reported that SOiL had signed with Driven Music Group. What happened between SOiL and Driven Music Group?
Driven Music Group's contact was with some friends of ours, and basically, we worked together, just talking. We wrote, and weren't in a hurry to do anything. We weren't in a hurry to come out with a record, and were just shooting ideas for a deal around. We struck up a little bit of a deal, but as our record progressed, and as their company progressed, Driven wanted to split off and do more of the Christian thing. We were more into.. I guess the word is "secular" music. We weren't about that. We had an idea of how we wanted to do things, and they had an idea of how they wanted to do things. It was a totally cool split, and was basically almost a non-deal. Nothing was ever released, and nothing ever happened. It was just a blip on the radar.
For 'Picture Perfect''s release, SOiL eventually signed with AFM Records to handle its European release, and with Bieler Bros. Records to handle its release outside of Europe.
AFM were our distributors in Europe for the 'True Self' record, actually, and we had struck up a good rapport with them when we were promoting 'True Self' when we were over in Germany. We kept in contact - Tim's very good at keeping in contact with people, and letting everybody know what's going on. We were really excited about making a new record, so that's how we happened into that deal over there, which we're quite happy with. They're doing a great job, and the Bieler deal came about after we were already finishing up the record, and the Driven thing went away. We've always been in contact with Bieler, so it made sense. It was a really good fit.
What do you feel the future holds for SOiL?
I don't know. We're just gonna go play some shows, and have some fun man (laughs). That's about it. We're just gonna do what we love doing, and that's it. That's what the future holds.
Do you have a message for the fans of SOiL?
Buy 'Picture Perfect' (laughs). I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Ok. Thanks for the interview Adam. It's really appreciated.
I appreciate you taking the time to do this for us.
All the best. I hope 'Picture Perfect' is a success.
Thank you so much. Hopefully we'll see you when we're over in the UK in November.
Ok. All the best.
Cool, great. Have a good one.
Interview by Robert Gray
"Writing songs was actually a real, fun process, for a change."