Interview with Olavi Mikkonen
4th November 2016 @ Roundhouse, London
Interview by Torbjørn ‘Toby’ Jørstad
Amon Amarth released their critically acclaimed concept album Jomsviking earlier this year. After numerous festival appearances and supporting Megadeth on tour in the US, the band recently embarked on their European headline tour. Guitarist and founding member Olavi Mikkonen was kind enough to talk to Metal-Rules.com before their sold out show in London this past Friday.
First of all, congratulations for “Raise your Horns” being nominated for ‘song of the year’ and also Johan being nominated for ‘best vocalist’ by Revolver Magazine. How did you guys receive those news and what was the reaction like?
“Actually I saw it yesterday, but I think I heard about it a few weeks ago. Yeah, that’s cool, I didn’t really look too much into the vocalist part, but on the song nomination the other bands were Metallica, Testament, Megadeth and probably Ghost. So I mean it’s a great lineup of artists, so it’s cool to be mentioned among those bands.”
Do you think you guys have a fair shot at winning?
“You never know, but I don’t really have too high hopes. Metallica probably have 20 000, no, 20 million more fans than we have, so I mean… you can’t really compete with a band like that, but like I said its cool that they mention us among those bands.”
Having played a few UK shows on this tour so far, how are the audiences treating you guys? I’ve seen that some shows have been sold out, and I think this one’s as well.
“It’s been great! Like you said it’s sold out tonight, I think it’s the third one in a row so yeah, it’s been really good. The UK crowd is always good, all the crowds are… all the Amon Amarth fans are great!”
You’re playing along side some veterans in the scene this year, you’ve got Testament and Grand Magus, and earlier you opened up for Megadeth in the US. Do you have any funny behind the scenes moments or stories to tell?
“I don’t know if I have any funny stories… I think for the Megadeth run there was nothing out of the ordinary happening. But that was a great tour, we had a lot of fun. The Megadeth guys are really cool, all of them, and also the Suicidal [Tendencies] guys… So that was a really cool tour. This tour has only been running for a week now, so we haven’t really hanged out much yet, but obviously as the tour continues I think we’re gonna have some drinking sessions… but it’s been good. I’m a huge fan of both bands on this tour, so me personally I think it’s a fucking awesome lineup, couldn’t have asked for anything better!”
The Megadeth Dystopia tour had bands from a pretty good range of different subgenres playing… You had you guys with your melodic death metal, Megadeth doing thrash and Metal Church playing the more classic heavy metal… How were you received by the audiences? Do you feel like a lot of people came out to see you guys?
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure there were a few fans who were coming out to the show especially for us. I think for the most part it was Megadeth fans, but I think we made a lot of new fans, because you could see that the response always got better towards the end of our set, and that’s kind of signaling that we’re gaining new fans. Like I said earlier we had a really good time on that tour and the lineup pretty much covered it all, like you mentioned. It’s cool when you make those sort of packages, especially for someone like me, I can listen to all sorts of metal. One day I listen to really soft metal and one day I listen to really extreme stuff. I think most metal fans are kinda wide in their [taste in] metal, I don’t think many people are just narrowed into one style or subgenre.”
Do you ever worry about screwing up a part in a song live? Is that something that’s in the back of your head?
“Not really, I screw up all the time. I don’t really care, I mean it’s live. It’s not really like I screw up big time, but it happens. Sometimes you get blinded or maybe it’s too dark and you can’t find the notes. It is what it is, and you can hear when you’re off. Playing live, you have one shot, it’s not like when you’re recording an album you can do takes until you’re satisfied. Also the headbanging… I can probably play spotless if I just stand there still and concentrate, sure, but how fun is that? It would not be fun for me, it would not be fun for the fans. I like to fucking rock out, and when you rock out, you can’t always control it, sometimes you play the wrong notes. It’s not like we play wrong all the time, but I seriously don’t give a fuck. I just go out there, having fun, rocking out, and I’m pretty sure the fans are rocking out too.”
What’s your warm up routine like before a show? Do you have a certain ritual you have to do?
“It’s not so much a ritual, but I have my routine: I usually start warming up 45 minutes to an hour before the show, to get the speed in the picking hand down. The downpicking is always the trickiest for me, to get it up to the right speed, and then I warm up the neck and spin my head around a lot. But I always have this thing that I’ve been doing pretty much the last 10 years I think, as soon as the intro tape kicks in I start spinning my head really fast behind the stage, that’s my thing. Then I think half a minute into the intro, I do this du du du [riff chugging motion] on the guitar on the same spot every night, every show, always. If I don’t do that I’m like ‘ah, fuck, somethings gonna happen now’. It is a little weird, like a lucky charm!”
Having personally seen you live three times over the summer, with the exception of “Victorious March”, you don’t seem to be playing much material from your first three albums live… Is there any particular reason for that?
“There’s not really a reason for it. We don’t really play any of those songs on this tour, but in the past we’ve always tried to squeeze in something. The thing is that, and the reality is, 80 % of the fans don’t get into it, and those [old] songs are always the ones that the least amount of people appreciate. As a band you wanna play songs that people get into and appreciate. The 20 % that really wanna hear the old stuff, I feel sorry for them when we’re not playing that, but you know it is what it is. Unfortunately on this tour there are no songs from before Versus the World which kind of sucks, I really love to play those songs too.”
Would you guys ever consider doing something like Sabaton where you have your own festival or cruise and play intimate shows with old songs?
“Not really, but we definitely have plans… I’m not gonna reveal any plans now, but we’re gonna do something next summer that’s gonna be a little out of the ordinary.”
“Yeah, maybe” [laughs].
Amon Amarth has for a very long time had a very defined sound, your music and formula being pretty distinctive. It’s clearly a formula that works, but has there ever been any internal debate within the band on whether you should expand your sound, try out different styles from other subgenres, or has it always been mainly agreed upon to be like it is today?
“I don’t think we’ve had any debates or anything like that on what direction we should go. I mean obviously we have ideas before we start writing, ‘maybe we should try to do something like that or that’, but in the end it’s always whatever comes up. You can’t really force it, you know, ‘now we’re gonna do a super extreme album’ and only do that, it doesn’t really work like that. What’s coming out, that’s what we’re gonna work on. I would love to go, ‘lets do a fucking brutal fast album’, but maybe we don’t have good ideas, and when we write songs, the songs that end up on the album are always the songs that we think are the best ones.”
Jomsviking was your first go at a concept album. How did the research and the development of the story for that album go? What was the creative process like for you?
“We had an idea to make a concept album, and after the first couple of months Johan [Hegg] came up with this Jomsviking idea. He kind of wrote a movie script, so we had that as the base for the album. So we cut out 11 pieces of the movie script that were going to be the 11 songs on the album. Then we started to puzzle together the ideas we already had, what’s gonna work with what, and we also had some blank parts that we needed music for. It was kind of challenging, kind of like writing on demand, cause we already had this story; ‘alright, we need something that fits here’ and we had to strive for that. That was a really cool approach to writing an album, and also this is the album that we’ve been bouncing back and forth ideas between all of us in the band the most. This is the one we worked together on the most.”
How into Norse mythology and Vikings are you yourself? Is it all for lyrical purposes and imagery or do have a passion for it?
“Back in the day when we started I was really into it, I loved everything about it and read everything I could read and saw all the movies, but of course back then there wasn’t really that many movies. These days, I mean I still really like it, I have not seen the Vikings series [History TV series], it’s really nothing for me, but I still like books and I’ve seen The Last Kingdom, and I really like that one. I like all kind of ancient history, warfare and stuff like that. I’m not into the new, modern stuff, you know, when you push a button and you have a bomb go off. I like the man against man, ancient warfare stuff.”
How was the process of hiring Jocke Wallgren as your new drummer? How was the decision, replacing Fredrik who you had played with you for 17 years?
“It was a big decision of course, but the thing is that we needed that change. That change was necessary for the rest of us to be able to continue, for the bands longevity, or however you wanna put it. Decisions like that is not easy, and a decision like that should not be easy. When we started out without a drummer, working on the album, we felt that we didn’t wanna take in a new guy that we didn’t know at all. When you write an album you need somebody you trust, somebody you sort of know, and that’s why we chose to have Tobias Gustafsson, who is an old friend of us, for the writing and recording process of the album. Jocke was the name among all the ones we had when we started to really look into finding a permanent drummer. The rehearsals we did with him worked out great, and we didn’t really think too much about it. He’s a great guy, it worked out, we said ‘yeah, let’s try’ and we did a couple of shows, and we are more than happy. It was one or two months ago that we officially made him the new permanent drummer, and we’re in a good place now.”
Amon Amarth usually releases a new album roughly every 2-3 years, so it’s probably a little early to be asking about new album details now, but do you have a plan for what you will do after the Jomsviking Tour ends in Copenhagen in December?
“Then we’re gonna have a break and then we’ll continue the tour for the most of next year. There’s not gonna be any talks of a new album yet, but we have some ideas, some that we’ve had for many years, so we’ll see. We’re definitely gonna continue touring next year as well!”
Thank you very much, and good luck with tonight’s show and the rest of the tour!
Catch the band on any of their upcoming tour dates!
Nov. 07 – Casino de Paris, Paris, France
Nov. 09 – Santana 27, Bilbao, Spain
Nov. 10 – Coliseu do Porto, Porto, Portugal
Nov. 11 – La Riviera, Madrid, Spain
Nov. 12 – Razzmatazz, Barcelona, Spain
Nov. 13 – Transbordeur, Lyon, France
Nov. 15 – SALLE METROPOLE, Lausanne, Switzerland
Nov. 16 – Komplex 457, Zurich, Switzerland
Nov. 17 – Stadthalle Offenbach, Offenbach Am Main, Germany
Nov. 18 – MHPArena, Ludwigsburg, Germany
Nov. 19 – Zenith, Munich, Germany
Nov. 21 – Alcatraz, Milan, Italy
Nov. 22 – Planet Music Gasometer, Vienna, Austria
Nov. 23 – Haus Auensee, Leipzig, Germany
Nov. 25 – Forum Karlin, Prague, Czech Republic
Nov. 26 – Eventzentrum Geiselwind. Geiselwind, Germany
Nov. 27 – Columbiahalle, Berlin, Germany
Nov. 28 – Refinery Gallery, Bratislava, Slovakia
Nov. 29 – Tvornica. Zagreb, Croatia
Dec. 01 – Fix Factory of Sound, Thessaloníki, Greece
Dec. 02 – Piraeus Academy, Athina, Greece
Dec. 03 – Hristo Botev Hall, Sofia, Bulgaria
Dec. 04 – Arenele Romane, Bucharest, Romania
Dec. 06 – Barba Negra, Budapest, Hungary
Dec. 07 – Kwadrat, Kraków, Poland
Dec. 08 – B90, Gdansk, Poland
Dec. 09 – Progresja, Warszawa, Poland
Dec. 10 – Loftas, Vilnius, Lithuania
Dec. 12 – Rock Café, Tallinn, Estonia
Dec. 13 – Black Box, Helsinki, Finland
Dec. 15 – Sentrum Scene, Oslo, Norway
Dec. 16 – Liseberghallen, Gothenburg, Sweden
Dec. 17 – Arenan, Stockholm, Sweden
Dec. 18 – Store VEGA, København V, Denmark