The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
Mikael Akerfeldt Opeth – Interview
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Opeth have always been a band that have strived to push the boundaries of music and while the band caught a bit of flak with their last album "Heritage", their latest album "Pale Communion" shows that the band are not ready to give in to expectations and instead delivered what is arguably a fantastic album. With an upcoming tour to Australia in May, we caught up with the main man himself Mikael Akerfeldt to discuss the tour and the new direction Opeth have gone into.



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Andrew: So how has Opeth been in 2015 so far?

Mikael: We've been pretty alive and kicking I think. We kinda toned down the touring a little bit, we haven't been touring as much as we normally do which is good and bad I think. We did a European and a U.S. tour at the end of 2014 and then took a break at Christmas and then on a break until 2 weeks ago or something like that. And we did a few shows in Turkey and Greece and now we're gearing up for Japan and Australia obviously. So far so good but it's not been super busy in the touring sense at least.

Andrew: So how have the shows been so far and how have the new songs been responding to the fans?

Mikael: Really good I have to say! I didn't expect it but there's almost like there's some type of ecstatic vibe going on every now and again when we play and especially the new ones which have gone down really well. You're surprised when you put together the setlist and you think, like "We're gonna play this old nugget from the past' and people are going to go berserk. What happens is that a lot of people have been going really crazy to some of the new songs which always makes me happy of course, it makes us feel relevant so to speak! We play a lot of old shit too and we try to cover as many albums as we can, that's almost like the frame of mind that we have when we tour. We want to please as many people as possible and our way of doing that is to try and cover as many records as possible so that's what we're still doing.

Andrew: Yeah and obviously you have a number of albums now because you have been around for quite some time so is it getting more difficult as the years go by in putting a setlist together?

Mikael: I think it's a luxury problem, it's not something that makes us go into depression and have to talk to a counsellor about. It's still fun to put together a setlist and you look at the songs and I'm like 'That's a good setlist! That's going to go down well'. You can't know instantly if it's going to go down well. When we move songs around and try to make the setlist ideal so to speak, to make it work and make it dynamic...I hate going to shows where it's just the same shit all the way through so we try to avoid that and do something thatr's a bit more dynamic I guess. I wouldn't say it's hard, there's a lot of things in life that is way harder than putting together a setlist.

Andrew: It doesn't surprise me that fans are responding well to the new album because I have to say that out of all the material that you have put out over the years, this is one of the best albums you have put out. I love the progressive rock nature of it and I know you guys have been going in that direction on the last few albums but do you find that maybe (compared to) the responses on the last few albums that on this one they are maybe finally starting to come around and understanding where you are going with the music?

Mikael: Yeah I mean I do understand and appreciate that "Heritage" was a little bit of a shock to fans who are more into the heavy, death metal type of sound and maybe it's a bit much to expect them to take it all in so we got a bit of shit for that record. I love that album with a passion because for me it was natural but I have seen that with the coming of the "Pale Communion" record that people come up to me and say 'I did not like Heritage when it came out but when you put out Pale Communion I finally understood Heritage and now I'm starting to like it'. So I'm hoping it's going to escalate into a love for that record. People have been more gentle with us with "Pale Communion" coming out but there is I don't have social media, I don't correspond with the fans in that sense so I don't really get a lot of the confrontations about what the hell we are doing. My overall response to that question would be that, like you were saying, people might be getting used to and maybe understand a little bit better about what we are trying to do. And for me that is good of course, I never had a problem. For me it was never a big step, for everybody in the band it was not a massive thing for us to do "Heritage" but I do accept that it might have been too curvy of a curve ball for people who are not in the band but now it's starting to calm down a little bit.

Andrew: I'm not really sure where the big surprise amongst the fans come from to be honest because Opeth has always been one of those bands that have been about trying new things and going in different directions and "Heritage" is just one of the many things that you guys do. I think it's a great thing!

Mikael: Yeah well me too, it's essential for this band. I mean it's really important for us if we're going to put out a record, we better stand behind it. And "Heritage", even if it's a different sounding record, we tried or I tried writing songs that were more linear to the sound that people are familiar with when it comes to Opeth. But I didn't feel it, it wasn't in my heart. The songs wern't bad or anything like that but they were not right, there was something lacking in those songs and what was lacking was the belief from the other guys when I played it to them. They were like 'Eh, not sure about that' so we needed a change and we did change a little bit and what happened was we kinda found our way back into writing songs the way I should be writing songs. And that's without boundaries and without thinking of commerical success and without thinking of whether we're doing what we are supposed to do like what the fans expect basically. So we put together with "Heritage" and "Pale Communion" and every record in our discography that has been done, they have been written under the same premises and that's us basically writing music that we want to hear.

Andrew: Yeah that's right I think that's the only way to go about it is to be just completely honest with yourself and I think eventually the fans will come around and go 'Yeah at least they're honest about it'. Whether they like it or not is another thing but at least the honesty is still there.

Mikael: Yeah I think it would of been bad for us to do another so-so type of record that follows the style of "Watershed" and "Ghost Reveries". It would of been impossible for one but I think it would of been really bad for our career and for us as musicians as a band to put out a record that we didn't believe in, even if it sounded like the Opeth that people are accustomed to so it was really important for us to make this change now. And like you said I'm hoping that people are going to learn to appreciate what we're doing now and perhaps by that time we're going to change again into something even more outrageous.

Andrew: Haha yeah that's the way to do it, make some surprises out there!

Mikael: I hate to find myself being bored in my life's work and life's love, with music. If I find myself being bored doing this, then it's over.

Andrew: Now you mentioned before that you are coming to Australia in May so we're looking forward to this. I know you guys have been to Australia a few times now so how do you find the crowds over here? Do you enjoy it all the time?

Mikael: Yeah very much! It's not a massive difference between Australian crowds and anywhere else in the world to be honest. It's not like we go to Australia and expect the crowd to react this way, they are an Opeth crowd basically. They're usually very respectful, they come to listen to the songs the way they are played live with emphasis on live because we don't have tapes or anything like that. We're a live band, everything you hear is warts and all. I think that's what's expected of us in a live situation, people come to hear the songs and to have a good time but it's not much of a show going on. There's not a lot of entertainment for the eye haha! We have a good light show and we play the songs as good as we can and that's it basically.

Andrew: How true to the album do you stick to or do you change things here and there?

Mikael: Generally we try to be very true to the recorded version of the songs but the recorded version of the songs sometimes have more tracks than we are able to reproduce if you know what I mean. We have to rearrange the songs in order to get close to the original version. So sometimes there's a guitar line that we can't play because we're busy playing something else, then we have to solve that. So either we solve that by either singing it vocally or there's a keyboard line playing it instead of a guitar so we try to get as close to the original version as we can. But with that said there's a few songs that we play where there's room for improvisation and stuff like that but generally we try to play the songs close to the recorded versions.

Andrew: OK so when you actually write and record songs, do you ever think about how they will actually play out live?

Mikael: Unfortunately no. I can run into some serious problems sometimes being a guitar player and the singer like I have to split my brain in half in order to pull it off so it can be really difficult. Like if you are familiar with the song "Ghost of Perdition" off the "Ghost Reveries" record, that song has over 100 tracks on the recorded version.

Andrew: Oh wow!

Mikael: And that's impossible to reproduce live but we try to do our best. It's a massive challenge sometimes to get the songs sounding right but I have to say the most difficult songs to get right are the simple low key songs. There's a couple of songs that we tried out multiple times playing it and it just doesn't sound right because some songs are just purely based on feel, like if you don't have the feel or if we as a collective don't have that feel then it just doesn't sound right. There's a couple of songs that we just scrapped from playing live because we don't get that feel in the rehearsal room. We might get it when we're on stage but not in the rehearsal room, it's just impossible. That's the most difficult songs, the easier songs.

Andrew: What about the newer songs, how are they to play live?

Mikael: Very difficult. We're playing 3 songs from the new album but we rehearsed 5 songs, we rehearsed "The River" which is insanely difficult, one of the most difficult songs ever to play and to sing. It's fucking difficult! And the song "Moon Above, Sun Below" we also rehearsed and that's fucking impossible but it's still in the works. Our goal is to play every song that we have ever recorded, is going to be played live at some point. It's a massive challenge and it's insanely difficult, the new songs are insanely difficult to play.

Andrew: But also fun to play at the same time.

Mikael: Oh really fun, when we get it right. You can play it 3 times and get close to what you want to hear for like 10 seconds on one version and be like 'Wow that sounded really good but the rest sound like absolute horseshit!'. It's a challenge and fun and all that but it's so difficult. I kinda regret sometimes that we're not a 3 chord blues based rock band, we can just go out and play those fucking songs without thinking but there you go, it's what we are.

Andrew: That's something you can throw out to the fans, just do a completely blues based album and that would really shake things up a bit!

Mikael: Haha yeah I would love that but even I would understand maybe that would be a little too hard for 95% of a our fanbase to stomach!

Andrew: Haha well we are looking forward to seeing you in Australia again, it's a pleasure seeing you come back. We can't wait so thanks for taking the time to chat with us today, it's been an absolute pleasure!

Mikael: Thanks for talking to me and in line with what you said, we can't wait to get back. It's something we really look forward to!

OPETH tour dates:

Sunday 3rd May - SYDNEY Enmore Theatre
w/ Special Guest sleepmakeswaves

Monday 4th May - ADELAIDE The Gov
w/ Special Guest Dyssidia

Wednesday 6th May - BRISBANE Eatons Hill
w/ Special Guest Caligula's Horse

Thursday 7th May - MELBOURNE The Forum
w/ Special Guest Myridian

Friday 8th May - PERTH Astor Theatre
w/ Special Guest Voyager Australia

Tickets on sale at Metropolis Touring.

Interview by Andrew "Schizodeluxe" Massie on April 3rd 2015