Interview with Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth
Interview questions by Decadent
HM: G`day Mikael, how have things been for you lately?
Mikael: Good, I`ve been taking it easy but also working a little bit with some new material. Playing badminton with our keyboard player + hanging out with my wife and cats. Playing some Playstation with my best buddy, Jonas. Regular stuff for a 30 year old man.
HM: Recently your label "Music for Nations" closed down, leaving Opeth stranded. How has the search for a new label been, and any ideas who are the most likely contenders to sign with?
Mikael: We`ve gotten a wide array of offers, everything from big labels to labels who want us to pay $200 to appear on some obscure compilation tape.
To be honest, I don`t care who we sign to as long as they can do the job right. I concentrate on the music while our management is taking care of the business.
Right now I think we`ve gotten 12 serious offers that we`re looking through.
HM: Last year Damnation was released, an obvious change of style from more aggressive metal to pure melodious rock. I`m aware that this is something of a one-off, and that is wasn`t an overall change of style for the band. With this in mind, what did you expect to achieve from this album, and how has the response been?
Mikael: It`s been good overall. I think most metal dudes accepted this album as they knew we`re into 60´s and 70´s psychedelia and so on. I love the album. I think it`s one of our best however different it might be. "Damnation" has outsold the previous record and I think the reason being that we`ve reached out to people who are into rock and psychedelia, like Pink Floyd or whatever. Many people say to me that they`ve never been into metal, but they love "Damnation" and got into Opeth through that album. We`re bringing some new people into the metal scene!
HM: The live DVD "Lamentations: Live at Shepherd`s Bush Empire" was released this year with a live show including both a non-metal set, and a regular metal set. Why did you choose to play the Damnation album in its entirety live?
Mikael: We wanted and needed to promote that record as much as we could as it was so different to the others. It was also our most recent album, we`re touring for it anyways. And finally, we could clearly display the two sides of this band live. Some were quite shocked about the fact that we could pull this off.
HM: The DVD also includes a lengthy documentary on the recordings of your last two albums, Deliverance and Damnation. It seems that your
producer Steven Wilson played a strong part in those recording sessions, in both creation and production. Will he be contributing as strongly in the next album, or will his role be downplayed?
Mikael: I don`t know. I`ve asked him to help us out again and he said yes. He`s going to produce the next album but we`re not sure how it`s gonna work. His contribution is very "heat of the moment" as is the entire recording process for us. If he comes up with an idea, we`ll try it. That`s basically as far as it goes.
HM: As was seen in the documentary, you entered the studio before a lot of the material was written. This seemed to cause quite a bit of frustration as you had to somewhat cram the writing process into a smaller timeframe. For the recording of the next album, will you be booking the studio before all the entire album is written, or will you finalise everything beforehand?
Mikael: In a dream world I`d book the studio once everything is written. But I also work well under a certain amount of pressure. The last 2 records was obviously a little bit too much for me, and I`ve learned a lot from that experience. We`ll be more prepared next time round, definitely, but I also want some kind of pressure on me and the band…we like to be on the edge ya know!
HM: During your Damnation and Lamentation tours, you hired keyboardist Per Wiberg of Spiritual Beggars to play live keys. I`m quite eager to know; will he become a full time member of Opeth, or just remain a live contributor?
Mikael: I hope so! I love the guy and he`s a phenomenal player + he can sing backing vocals. We`ve given him the offer to join, but he hasn`t said yes yet.
HM: I`ve heard you`ve been having a few ideas for the next album. An epic, occultist, darker concept album was on your mind last I heard. There was also some mention of Celtic Frost influence, as well as Gregorian Chanting. Have any of these ideas solidified in your song writing yet? How much has been written so far, and in what direction?
Mikael: Haha, yes, that was said after I`ve written this certain part that sounded a bit like Celtic frost, after it came a mellow part with Gregorian chant style vocals. I`ll say these things for the people to have something to talk about. People probably think that that`s what the next album will be like as a whole.Obviously that`s not true, and I don`t really know myself yet. I`m working on maybe 4 different songs right now and all I know is that it`s gonna be great!
HM: Will any of the other members of Opeth be contributing to the material on the new album, or will you be writing all the songs yourself? Have you been rehearsing any new songs with the rest of the band?
Mikael: No rehearsals yet, we will though. I can`t say if the other guys will be writing some songs. I`ve been writing pretty much everything since "My Arms Your Hearse", so I`d be surprised, although happy if they presented a cool track to me.
HM: Opeth`s earlier albums contained a lot of dual melodies and acoustic folk parts; something which seems to have been left out on more recent albums. Will these be making a comeback in the next album, or will progression leave this style behind?
Mikael: Hard to say. I liked folk music in the early days of the band. Today I can barely listen to it. I loved Wishbone ash which I still love. Iron maiden, Thin Lizzy, At the gates, My dying bride etc…those bands got me into the whole harmony guitar thing. It got out of hand in the mid 90´s. Every band was doing that thing. I got tired of it and we changed a little bit. You gotta bear in mind though that what I might think sounds "folky" somebody else think sounds like "hippie shit". I don`t believe in regression, or "back to roots"…it always ends up like crap. If people only like our first 2 albums, sorry…that was it. We will never do an album like that again, but if we would, I`m sure it`d be hated by the same people craving it.
HM: Your website`s news section says "Keep your eyes open for Michail Korge". Who is Mchail Korge?
Mikael: That`s classified information I`m afraid!
HM: Will Opeth be doing another world tour in support of the next album? Will you be returning to Australia?
Mikael: Most definitely! We`ll tour there for the next album I`m sure!
HM: The Ultimate Metal hosted Opeth message hosts a barrage of Opeth fans from all over the world. I`ve notice you post there a few times so it`s apparent that you enjoy visiting the place yourself. There are a few members of the board who had a few questions for you, if you don`t mind:
Moonlapse would like to know: How exactly do you `write` music? Do you normally just sit there with the guitar playing random things until an idea comes about... do you focus on writing a chord progression first... a melody that`s been in your head perhaps. I`d like to know how the average Opeth riff and melody come about.
Mikael: Either I play guitar til something comes up, or I get a riff or arrangement in my head. It also happened that I program the drum machine with some cool beat and just make up a riff to the beat. It all depends on what kind of song I`m writing, really.
HM: AWMM would like to know: In an interview before the release of Still Life, there was mention of a song being written titled "The Willow Tree".
Was this song scrapped, or renamed? If it was renamed, which song did it become known as?
Mikael: I can`t remember now, it was probably renamed. I think it might be "The moor". I know I used to namedrop a few titles just to gain some interest. I usually had some real titles and some working titles. Like "To bid you farewell" was called "Autumn" and "Twilight is my robe" was "Oath" and so on….
HM: AWMM would like to know: Will there be any further happenings with Sorskogen? Will the track "Mordet i Grottan ever wind up as a bonus track on any upcoming releases?
Mikael: No, I might do some more songs. I took the chorus from that song and put it into "To rid the disease" from the last album. The song is very tongue in cheek. Even though I love it, it was so "embodiment of prog rock" with the moogs, mellotrons etc…more like a demonstration than a real idea.
HM: Longinus would like to know: What is your favorite Opeth song, lyrically?
MA: I can`t remember all of them now. I`m more a fan of certain lines than entire lyrics. Overall I was happy with "Face of Melinda" as it was my first rhyming lyric.
HM: Rejvk would like to know: What have you been listening to lately?
Mikael: I`m listening to Def Leppard "Pyromania" right now, haha! I listened to Roy Harper earlier today + I`ve also been listening to Heart a lot, believe it or not.
HM: Thanks very much for your time Mikael, I hope to see you with Opeth down under some time in 2005. I hope all goes well for you and the band in future.