Latest release: Aeromantic (Nuclear Blast)
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The Night Flight Orchestra began life as very much a side project – an avenue for members of Swedish metallers Soilwork and Arch Enemy to indulge their passion for classic AOR, from Boston to Journey and Foreigner.

But since signing to heavyweight label Nuclear Blast a few albums back, the project’s become a viable entity of its own, occupying increasingly more of its members’ time. They’ve carved a niche, too – becoming the go-to act for metal devotees who never knew they had a hankering for synth-heavy classic rock. Loud spoke to vocalist Björn ‘Speed’ Strid (also of Soilwork) on the day of release of new album Aeromantic (an occasion he admitted he’d been out celebrating the night before) about being prolific in the studio, balancing two high-profile bands, meeting his AOR heroes and more.

Q: This is your third album since 2017. Why has the band been so prolific of late? 

A: The biggest reason is because we never really leave the studio. We just keep on writing, we keep on having recording sessions whether there’s an album planned or not, and then we just work on this little vault of songs that we have. It’s an extremely productive Orchestra (laughs). We constantly write songs, and we always bounce song ideas back and forth. We also write a little on the road, we always bring recording gear and record demos. 

So there’s really no stopping it. I think that has been really good for us, because we never really feel the ending of an album cycle. That’s what I’m used to, that I’ve been doing with Soilwork for so many years. You do an album, you book six weeks in the studio, finish the album, you do press and then you go out on an 18-month touring cycle. Then you have a break for half a year, and then you build up this sort of pressure to approach a new album, because the next album is always the most important one (laughs). I think we’ve taken away that drama with Night Flight, because it just goes and goes and goes. Whenever we feel we like have enough songs that could form an album, where all the songs feel like they’re connected but still diverse enough, that’s when we go for it.

Q: It appears like prior to signing with Nuclear Blast for the Amber Galactic record that the band had very much been the definition of a side project. Now it seems like it’s become a viable entity of its own. Did you ever envision that happening? Was it always the plan?

A: There was not really any plan. The only thing I knew was that I felt at a very early stage that we had something special. When we got together to jam for the first time it was one of the greatest musical kicks of my life. It was unbelievable – the chemistry was there from the get-go. 

I don’t know, I felt that it became a band at a pretty early stage too. We felt that we had something really unique, and we’re definitely filling a empty void in the music scene. We felt that from the beginning. 

So for me it was pretty much a band all the way, but as you said, when we signed with Nuclear Blast as well, the distribution and for us to be able to tour, those chances became a lot bigger. It’s a way bigger label; the first two albums were released on a small Italian label who did everything they could to spread the word, but I think that’s when it really happened. And of course that was very inspiring, because we wanted to share it with as many people as possible. We felt like, ‘this is something special, and this is needed out there’. It felt like we were on a mission.

We’ve grown a lot as songwriters too. And I think we found our sound. Even though you can make so many pretty clear references to where our inspiration comes from, I think we’ve made it into our own. And of course having the backing of a big label makes such a big difference too. We have a great booking agent, too. Our first tour was a headline tour; it normally doesn’t happen that way. For example, with Soilwork we’d always start doing these long tours having the opening slot. Then we’d move up one step and suddenly we’re the direct support. That took years and years. But I think we just wanted to do it different with this band, ’cause it’s just so different. We wanted to bring a show, and not do like a four-band package. So our first tour was just us, and we wanted it to be like an “evening with”, rather than just being like a touring package coming through town. It was just very different from the start. We’ve been working really hard, but then again it’s a labour of love. We can’t really stop and… My mind is going 24/7 with melodies (laughs). I’m trying to rest my musical ear every now and then, because I think it’s important, but at the same time I can’t help it because I love it so much. 

Q: There’s also the scale of the live show production – again, is that something you envisioned early on?

A: Well, I wanted to have a full concept, because I always liked bands with full concepts. Awesome music, and there’s also the visual aspect of it. And of course we have the gimmicks too, but it’s a very serious band. I like that balance, where you have the gimmicks and make it a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but when you read through the lyrics it’s pretty melancholic at times. 

It builds up a really interesting balance, but what I really like is we have a full concept that we can bring on the road and we can develop. There’s really no boundaries of how we can develop our shows. If I could we’d bring a 747 on-stage (laughs), but we’re not really playing those kinds of big venues yet. I don’t really know if there is a venue where you could bring in a 747 (laughs). But you know what I mean – there’s really no limits to what you can do. That alone is beautiful, and very inspiring.

Q: You referenced that there is a nudge-and-a-wink to some of the conventions of this style of music, but it’s not a jokey pastiche type of deal whereby you’re lampooning it.

A: No, absolutely not. I’ve always been into bands that had a full concept. Like KISS, how can you not like that with the full concept they’ve had since the ’70s? There are more examples as well, like ABBA had a full concept too. It just feels… complete on all levels.

Q: Some reviewers were critical of the latest Soilwork album, believing that The Night Flight Orchestra influences were coming through. Was that something you were conscious of, something that occurred naturally? Do you bristle a little at that type of criticism?

A: Maybe I can understand why people feel like a song, for example like Stålfågel, has elements of, especially with the keyboards, that would remind you of The Night Flight Orchestra. But for me and 

David (Andersson, guitars) it’s completely different things. It’s completely different expressions and musical outlets. I think it’s a sense for melody that you carry with you wherever you go, so at some point of course it’s going to maybe remind of each other a little bit. 

But for me, it’s like completely different things, and I’ve felt that ever since we started The Night Flight Orchestra. I think Soilwork has become more extreme, more melancholic and dark again. That’s something that’s important for me, that I have that kind of outlet as well, and The Night Flight Orchestra is representing something else. I feel very balanced musically, but I know instantly when I work on a song if it’s for Night Flight or Soilwork, and I’m sure David would agree. It’s very easy for us to separate, and we want it to be different. But maybe I also understand that some people might think that; ‘oh,  Stålfågel, that sounds like an extreme version of Night Flight’. 

Q: So are Night Flight duties now consuming more of your time than in the past?

A: Yeah, definitely. The band has grown a lot, so now it’s really sort of a 50-50 deal. I need both to feel balanced, and I think that it’s the same for David as well. So what we try to do is divide the touring cycles for both bands, and not do everything at the same time, which we pretty much did last year. That was pretty intense; we did three festivals even where we played the same day, same stage, with both bands with just one hour in between (laughs). That was really weird. 

So we’re gonna try to avoid that. I think both bands deserve the attention and their time. But it’s hard to juggle sometimes, it really is. Because then we have to sort of plan a touring cycle, and then it’s like, ‘okay, at that point you guys need to be done, and then we just start with Soilwork’. So me and David are not really getting any breaks in between, when we switch between the two bands (laughs). 

But people don’t have to worry – I’m not quitting Soilwork. It’s very much a 50-50 deal for me. I need both in my life, and I feel like I have the best of both worlds. 

Q: So this year will primarily be Night Flight-related commitments then?

A: I would say it’s gonna be a Night Flight year, mostly. We’re gonna do a couple of shows with Soilwork, but no full tours. We’re gonna embark on a headline tour with Night Flight, starting in London. So that’s really exciting. We’re gonna do Scandinavia in the spring, and then do a lot of summer festivals as well. And hopefully we can make it to Australia at some point as well; that’s definitely on our wish-list. That’s definitely something we’re pushing for. 

Q: Have you encountered any members of bands that Night Flight Orchestra is influenced by, who have heard your music and are pleased that you’re flying the flag for that classic AOR sound? 

A: We did some festivals last summer, and we played with ZZ Top, Foreigner and Mother’s Finest. That was amazing. I don’t know if they checked us out, but that was great. We supported Toto last summer in Sweden, and they were the coolest people ever. Such gentlemen – they made extra space for us on-stage, and they were even watching the soundcheck. I could see Steve Lukather standing there, watching our soundcheck and I did not expect that. It was like, ‘Holy shit, it’s Steve Lukather’ (laughs).

They loved it. They watched the show, they hung out after the show and they definitely said, ‘You guys have something special, and it’s really cool to see a younger band doing this’. They were definitely into it, and I can’t believe how nice they were to us. They’ve been touring for God knows how long, and you don’t run into people like that very often, that have been around that long, that would create extra space on-stage for you. That was mind-blowing, amazing.

Q: Any famous last words?

A: We’re really gonna try and push to come to Australia. Please spread the word, and request our songs on radio. Hopefully there’s some kind of booking agent that would be interested in taking us over there. Thanks for being a fan, and supporting the band.