Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth

Interviewed by Ty Brookman on 3/9/2004
Transcribed by Ty Brookman

For the record I am not an Opeth fanboy, god knows they have enough already. But what I will easily admit to is an absolute admiration for their music, musicianship and overall frenetic take on modern day metal. Opeth’s music is so emotionally driven in a live setting that they quickly command your attention and harness every ounce until the last note is played. Not many bands can hold me prisoner these days for a straight 1:45 and something has to be said for that. Also the fact that sitting and chatting with Mikael Åkerfeldt was as comfortable as sitting around with your good friends, ads for good measure as well. His demeanor is so relaxed and absolutely stricken of any signs of ego you just can’t help but like the guy. Thousands upon thousands of words have already been written on Opeth’s behalf, mostly good but of course the locus will swarm and quickly scoff the mighty Opeth. However to this day I have yet to read an actual well written burn that contains any semblance of validity. Face it fucks, put your money where your mouth is and pick up a guitar and prove this fucking band wrong! I personally wish Opeth all the success in the world because at the end of the day, their career within metal has and will influence the next generation of metal music.

Ty Brookman: By my count this marks Opeth’s fourth visit to the states in support of Damnation and Deliverance. What differences have you seen from the first tour to this tour, which I am assuming is the last for the US?

Mikael Åkerfeldt: Yeah, it’s gonna be the last for a while. The main difference, I guess, is more people coming along with some bigger and better venues. I guess just everything went up a notch on this tour. But all the tours have been very good I think, the four tours for these 2 albums. One was very different because we did the Damnation thing with all the calm songs but people seem to enjoy that too. So it’s pretty cool.

TB: A bit of controversy sprouted with Kataklysm losing out to Devildriver for this tour. Your thoughts on Devildriver?

MÅ: I like them, I’ve never heard them before, but like everybody I kind of had my mind made up about them before, but they were nothing like that. They’re more of, I would say, a death metal band, and all the shit they’re getting I think is pretty much uncalled for. People just slag them off because of Dez Fafara’s past in Coal Chamber, and it’s a shame and it’s hard for them. At some gigs people are like “Fuck Off” and “You Guys Suck”, and regardless if you don’t like a band you just don’t do that stuff at shows. I think they’re great people and a tight, brutal band. Kataklysm, that thing I never got the offer for them to tour with us so I didn’t know. All of sudden there are fights and stuff but I didn’t know they were supposed to tour with us.

TB: Just more fucking drama. All right, from a performing state of mind how do you feel about the early show such as this one as opposed to playing much later in the evening?

MÅ: Doesn’t matter, it’s kind of nice in a way to get done early especially if you want to go out drinking. But I’m sick, so now for me it doesn’t really matter when we play. So we just do the gig, we’ve done so many early shows in the past so it’s nothing new. They’ve got a really weird law here, when you’re 16 years old you can’t be outside after 10pm or something.

TB: Is it 10pm? That’s just ridiculous, whatever the hell it is. I’ve gotta haul ass down here at 5pm, I don’t have the luxury of just hanging around in the middle of the week doing nothing waiting for shows to start. It’s alright though I’m usually buzzed up around 9pm and ready to go home.

[From someone on the bus] You guys probably have to get up and go to work around here in the morning.

TB: Yeah, unfortunately I just don’t have the luxury. Speaking of that, is the band paying for itself now?

MÅ: Yeah, we’re paying for our own tours. On the early tours we took tour support from the labels but now we try to do it ourselves, which is good.

TB: When out on tour for just the Damnation material with Porcupine Tree, were there ever any shows where the urge to rip into some heavy ass shit occurred?

MÅ: Yeah, every show. Because every show people were screaming, “Play some heavy shit!” We tried to promote those shows as well as we could, that they’d be mellow shows. They know about our abilities to kick off a death metal tune, and on that particular tour Porcupine Tree was actually heavier than us. We could have played a heavy tune but that tour was in support of Damnation. So that’s why we tried not to listen to too much of the screams in between the songs.

TB: I think it was pretty obvious, you guys made it pretty clear that the tour was gonna be just for Damnation. Fickle fucking metal fans.

MÅ: Well, I can understand why they wanna hear the heavy stuff, especially if it was their first gig with us. I can understand that if it was their first time at an Opeth gig they’d wanna hear some of the heavy stuff but we’re back.

TB: How are you working the set tonight? How much Damnation material?

MÅ: Two songs

TB: Two songs? That’s perfect.

MÅ: The rest of the songs will be the heavier songs, we’ll pull out a few songs we’ve never played live before. And playing some of the faster songs we’ve got, I’d say it’s a pretty brutal set.

TB: I’m looking forward to it. So speaking of PT, when is the full on collaboration with Steven Wilson and yourself going to occur?

MÅ: I don’t know. We’ve been talking about it for quite a long time now, and I’m really looking forward to doing something with him, it’s just a matter of time. Both Porcupine Tree and us have been touring a lot and we really haven’t had the time. And the time I get after this tour I have to start writing for the new Opeth album. I’m not sure when that’s gonna happen, but I’m pretty sure it’s gonna happen.

TB: A lot of people want it to happen.

MÅ: Yeah, it’s gonna be cool. I don’t know what it should be like. I think he’ll want to do some death metal thing.

TB: Oh he wants to go all heavy? [laughter]

MÅ: I don’t wanna go soft really, but I wanna do something that doesn’t sound like PT or Opeth. So I’m not sure exactly what it will be.

TB: Should be interesting to hear regardless. What can you tell me about the performance you did for the upcoming Ayreon album?

MÅ: I don’t know so much, I only heard the parts I sang on. I did vocals for 6 or 7 tracks or something like that. But I don’t sing the whole songs, he usually has about 3 singers on every song and you do like trade-offs with other singers. But what I’ve heard was great, and I think it’s gonna be good. I even did some death screams.

TB: Yeah, the little trailer I saw looks like it’s gonna be amazing with so many guest appearances. Lets talk a little about your upcoming Lamentations DVD, I am curious if there is any truth to the rumor that Music for Nations forbid any of your previously released material with Candlelight and Peaceville to be recorded on this DVD?

MÅ: Yes, they didn’t forbid it but it was like we had to pay rights and whatnot and I don’t really know about how that kind of stuff works. But obviously those songs are on different publishing and Candlelight had the rights to those songs. We played "Demon of the Fall" anyway, but that didn’t make it on the DVD, but if we put out a live album that will be on there too. It’s unfortunate, but it came out very well. I think the whole idea of the night was for Deliverance and Damnation, so we did the entire Damnation album plus "Harvest" from Blackwater Park. Then 5 or 6 heavy songs so it turned out well anyway.

TB: Oh absolutely, but of course there’s the old-school Opeth fans who will complain.

MÅ: I can understand that and we’d like to play songs from every album but we’d still have a problem because we just don’t have the time. On this set we rehearsed songs from every album, I think we have 5 songs from My Arms, Your Hearse and onward that we’ve never played in the U.S. before. We only have 1 hour 30 minutes or so, and there are some songs we have to play like "Demon of the Fall", "Drapery Falls" and "Deliverance". Those songs we have to play, and we’re also playing like "April Ethereal", "Blackwater Park", "The Moor"; stuff like that.

TB: "Fair Judgment" tonight?

MÅ: No, apart from these 3 songs we changed the whole set lists completely.

TB: Yeah, I caught a couple people ragging that your set list was the same from show to show on tour.

MÅ: Yes it is, people have been bugging us but if you look at what we’ve done from every tour we’ve had a new set always. Like Damnation, all those songs were never played live. We’ve played just about every song we’ve ever recorded live, with exception of a few, so I think that’s uncalled for.

TB: Face it man, you can never make them all happy.

MÅ: It’s impossible.

TB: What’s your opinion on the whole DVD packaging and bands doing it now? Do you see it as being pretty essential that a band put out a DVD now?

MÅ: Yeah, that’s why we did. The label’s like [mockingly] “you’re gonna sell loads, you’re gonna make loads of money”. And we’re like yeah, yeah...whatever. I was never into the whole idea of DVD’s until I saw it and I think it’s really good especially the documentary and that’s what I’ve been missing on other DVD’s I’ve seen from other bands on the same level as us. It’s some gig from 10 years ago and some shaky cameras. But I think our documentary is a real good inside on how the band works on a personal level, which is what I wanna see. One good documentary is Metallica’s A Year and a Half in the Life, it’s really good.

TB: Studio footage man, I’d have to think that’s what a lot of people want to see.

MÅ: I think it came out very well and very representative of the band that we didn’t portray ourselves as some cool guys. We’re just geeks who are into music and I think that’s what it shows.

TB: What kind of feedback have you received from the "Windowpane" video and also will we see an Opeth video for your heavy material?

MÅ: I would like to but there’s always the problem with the length of the songs and I won’t cut them up. I’d like to do it, but there’s always the budget, it’s expensive. "Windowpane" had zero budget because it was the same guy who did the documentary. But hopefully for the next album we’ll do something. But I think if we do an album with 6 or 7 heavy tracks and 2 mellow ones the label will call one of them the single because they’re shorter and catchier, so to speak. It would be cool for us to do a soundtrack/short film for one of the long and heavy songs. We’ll have to see.

TB: I am not quite sure if you want to comment on it or not but could you shed a little light on the situation with Martin Lopez concerning his anxiety attacks?

MÅ: Yeah, we had to cancel a few shows and we feel very bad about that so we decided we were going to be very open with it. He basically suffered panic attacks and anxiety attacks and severe depression from working too hard and touring so much. It got to the point where he called me up the day before the first scheduled Jordan gig saying that he couldn’t go and he was just a wreck. So we took some rest before this gig and then the same thing happened when we went to Frankfurt where we had a connecting flight to Canada and he said he couldn’t go, he had to go home and we had to support him with that. He went back home, we missed 3 gigs. Well he missed them, we did the gigs anyway with our drum tech and Gene Hoglan. He went to a psychologist and they did tests on him and it’s actually some stuff in his blood that makes his heart beat faster and that’s the reason why he’s been depressed. Now he’s getting medication and I think the biggest breakthrough for him was knowing what it was because he was literally going insane. And he was seriously thinking that maybe he’d have to leave the band and he was scared that we would fire him. But from Seattle, which was the first gig on this tour, he was back and I think he’s happier now because he knows we’ve been doing this for such a long time and it’s like a rejuvenation for him in a way to be back.

TB: That’s good to hear. How was the show with Gene though?

MÅ: It was cool. We called him up the day before the gig and asked him if he could play the "Drapery Falls" and he said he hadn’t heard it but Devon had it on disc. Then we played it at sound check and he nailed it the first time. And as the support bands were on he was listening to "Demon of the Fall" on headphones and then nailed it during the gig. He’s amazing and a really great, great guy. I don’t know him really, but I met him a couple of times and we got to spend some time with him and he’s definitely a friend.

TB: Anybody get that on film?

MÅ: Yeah, I think some of the guys from Devildriver filmed it. I haven’t seen it though. He actually fucked up during Damnation, it was like he was doing some fusion stuff but we got it back together. It was an honor though, because Gene Hoglan is like Martin’s idol, so we called him up and told him that Gene was stepping in.

TB: Speaking of Martin, he recently mentioned an interest in playing on a track on the upcoming Death tribute disc that James Murphy is campaigning. Has Chuck Schuldiner’s music had any significant influence on Opeth?

MÅ: Oh definitely, Leprosy was like the first death metal album I bought when it came out and I heard Scream Bloody Gore and I heard loads of death metal bands but I never really bought any albums because I never had any cash. I was a major Death fan in particular his vocals and then later on Spiritual Healing when it became a bit more technical. Martin’s gonna participate on that album which is a great honor for him I think. He’s maybe even a bigger Death fan than I am, but all of us were into that.

TB: You have been touring relentlessly for Damnation and Deliverance, is the end anywhere near in sight?

MÅ: Yeah, we have another 7 or 8 gigs on this tour, then we head home for another 10 gigs and then finish off in Australia. I’m gonna spend my honeymoon there, then we’ll be back home on the 11th of April, that’s basically the date when we have time off without any real prospects. We’ve got one summer festival but that’s a festival I go to anyway, The Sweden Rock Festival.

TB: Now without question you pour your life’s blood into the songs you write. I am curious when you come across fucked up statements by people who say your music is contrived and utterly over hyped, which in my opinion is very much driven by the fact that you have actually seen success as metal musicians. At this point throughout the many mediums it almost seems trendy for these fuckers to rip on your music?

MÅ: Yeah, but that’s the way it is. It kind of irritates me in a way but I really don’t give a fuck. We know what we’ve been doing, we’ve been doing this for 14 years and we’ve never sold out. We’ve never done anything of the likes, not even for our fans, to please them musically. I think Opeth is a one of a kind band, I don’t think there are any other bands that sound like us, so we’re pretty sure about what we’ve got going. If people wanna slag us off, then go ahead. I never slag off bands really, even though sometimes I want to, but I have respect for every band that’s doing whatever the fuck they want to do.

TB: Well, yeah I think some bands might deserve some slack but like I said it seems like it’s almost trendy thing to do when it comes to Opeth.

MÅ: Everybody’s got an opinion and now especially with the Internet everybody can get their opinion heard. You know, like I heard this guy on this message board say this and that and on and on. It’s easier for you to see what people think which is both good and bad so you get all this slagging which comes from nowhere. That’s the ironic thing, there was this certain band that had been slagging us off, then one of the members was on our bus drinking our beer then the next day he slags us off, and it’s like you two-faced bitch. So to be honest I don’t care because we know what we’ve got.

TB: Speaking of message boards, what do you think of your own message board? It’s pretty fucking chaotic.

MÅ: Yeah, we’ve got the freaks. But I think it's fun. It’s cool, people like to talk music and criticize music and fight music. And I like to read it because some people are so fucked up its funny and I actually look for the threads where they’re slagging you off and in some sick way I like to read it. Sometimes though I think it gets a bit out of hand when they are discussing my weight, my mustache and that kind of stuff. But it’s all good, I think it's fun, if I were a kid I would be there all the time.

TB: Well even though you recently wrote and recorded two albums for the masses soon it will be time to think about new material, have you had any discussions yet for the next album as in what direction it will take?

MÅ: Well, I’ve been working on one song but we’ve been away for so long and it’s hard to write on the road. The little time I have between tours I wanna hang out with my wife. So I haven’t been writing that much but that’s what this upcoming break is for. I’m gonna take some time off, and then start writing. Basically the song I’m working on is turning out really interesting, I’ve been using an open tuning and it’s gonna bring out both heavy and mellow which is our style. It’s hard to say if it’s going to be more heavy or more melodic or a little of both. I want it to be extreme as a motherfucker at times but then beautiful at times as well, still incorporating influences from Damnation.