AMON AMARTH – guitarist Olavi Mikkonen

April 9th, 2009
by Hanntu

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Interview with guitarist Olavi Mikkonen

Interview conducted and transcribed by HannTu

Amon Amarth finally return to the UK on a headlining tour, on the back of an unbelievably good seventh studio album, TWILIGHT OF THE THUNDER GODS, and I was eager to get some of the guys’ thoughts. I got to speak to Olavi Mikkonen, one of their two guitarists. His English wasn’t amazing, but he was friendly and very good-natured, great to speak to.

TWILIGHT OF THE THUNDER GODS

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How’s the new album been received worldwide?

Really good, really well, I haven’t heard anything bad about it.

How’s it doing in terms of sales?

As far as I know, better than…it’s gonna get better, it’s gonna be better than the last one, compared to what we sold after bla bla bla, it’s all good.

What did you set out to achieve with this album?

I don’t think we think in terms like that. We just want to please ourselves, have fun, make albums and songs that we like. We don’t really think so much, put any goals or anything like that.

What about in terms of progression, personally as musicians and the band as a whole?

Ummm….I didn’t get that.

Like, did you hear any progression in yourselves?

Yeah of course, we get better the more we play, and…and I would say we’re perhaps better somehow, we’re more skilled. Johan (Hegg) has also learned to handle his voice better during the years. I think that’s just normal, it’s nothing…

And in terms of songwriting and things like that…



Yeah we learn from mistakes you know, when you make songs and then after a few years, ahhh maybe we should have done like this and that, and then you can take that and make new songs.

So you listen to the old stuff and think ‘If I could do that now…’

‘I would have done it like this.’ Yeah and that’s sort of…you have it in the back of your head when you start writing something new.

Do you have a specific example or is it in general?



Sometimes in the old songs there might be riffs or a part that is too long, stuff like that, you learn maybe that it’s enough to have it only two times instead of four times, that smaller stuff that maybe nobody ever thinks of. But when you listen to the songs it’s kinda different.

It’s quite interesting, the new album, all the songs are like four minutes, four minutes fifteen seconds, whereas a lot of your old stuff was above five minutes. You’ve only got one song that’s six minutes long, so it’s sort of become more focused.

Yeah it’s sort of like taking out all the unnecessary parts, keep the song interesting and intense the whole time.

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Did you do anything different in the songwriting, or the production or the recording, anything different in the studio?



I think we kind of did it the same way as we did for ODEN. We recorded with the same producer, as far as I remember, we recorded exactly the same way. We had a different setup of gear, we had new amps this time…

Which amps?

We had Krank for the TWILIGHT album. Besides that it’s more or less the same.

LG Petrov from Entombed did some vocals on ‘Guardians of Asgaard’, how did that happen?

I think, it started with me and Johan when we were hanging out in one of these rock places back home, and LG was there, had some beers, talked, said it would be fun to have you in for a song…

And he just came in…

Yeah and he said yeah, it would be cool. And then the next Monday after that, we started to write the song, and then we had him in mind all the time, then you know…

And it happened…

Yeah!

What’s he doing nowadays, cos Entombed hasn’t done anything…



Yeah, they still…they might not do so much in the UK, but they still do shows everywhere else.

Who plays Roope’s solo live?



*Olavi points to Johan Soderberg*

You’re amazing riff writers and riff players, but you’re not concentrated too much on the solo work.

No, me as a guitarist, I’ve never been interested in trying to be a solo guitarist, I don’t practise, I don’t have patience enough to sit and practise speed. I’m totally lousy when it comes to solos and stuff like that, but I think there’s never been my…I’ve never been into it. I’ve always been into riffs, metal riffs.

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Your riffs are extremely melodic, and even your solos, even though they’re not fast…

They’re simple but somehow they fit in.

Exactly, yeah, they do fit in. Okay, whose idea was it to get Apocalyptica to play?

That was something that came up in the studio, I don’t really remember who came up with the idea to have an orchestra part, but the idea first was to use some local guys to do it. Then I think it was me that said hey, we should ask Apocalyptica cos that would be really cool and we did, and they said yes.

How did you know about them?

I’ve seen them live a few times, and of course I know them as everybody else from the Metallica thing.

What are the live songs that you will play from the new album, what are the favourites?

I really like ‘Twilight’ because it’s so intense, I like ‘Free Will Sacrifice’, it’s also really intense live, I like ‘Guardians’. Those three are my favourites from the new one, live.

Are you guys going to play ‘Tattered Flags’?



Yes.

YES!

We are also going to play ‘Varyags of Miklagaard’, so that’s five new songs.

Awesome, that’s my favourite song (‘Tattered Flags and Bloody Banners’), I’m going to be standing in the pit singing along to the chorus, it’s amazing, it’s an amazing song.

*laughs* Alright!

When I interviewed Johan back in ’07 when you guys came here, the exact same venue, opening for Dimmu Borgir, I asked him who was the riffmaster and he said it was you. Is that still the case?

…Uhh…yeah…I still maybe do 70, 65% of it, but I get a lot of help from the other guitarist.

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Okay. Who did the artwork for the album?

It’s Tom Teal (sp?), he did the picture, and it’s Thomas Ewerhard that is putting all the signs together. Thomas Ewerhard, he’s been doing all our covers, except for the first one, and Tom Teal, he also pictured VERSUS THE WORLD and CRUSHER.

So he came up with the concept, and someone else…

No we gave them what’s going be the title, what the album, title track and the title of the album, and then we…I think they got the lyrics and also got a story about it, cos it’s maybe not so easy to just give lyrics, so they got the full story and so they draw it from there.

You’ve already recorded one video, ‘Twilight’, and I think I saw on your website that you’re in the middle of recording another one…

Yeah we already did it a few weeks ago.

Oh okay, you’ve already finished it. ‘Guardians’ is a bit of a different concept, visually. Who came up with that concept?

I think that was the film team.

So obviously you guys have some input…

Yeah of course, we get a script from them what it’s gonna be about, and then we work it from there.

Was it easy to get LG to come and shoot?

Yeah, sure! He likes Polish beer…

‘Give me some beer!’

Nah we had fun in Poland, it was cold and a lot of snow…

Yeah it looked fucking freezing!

But at least the snow kept the beer cold, so…

That’s always good. Do you like shooting video?

No, to be honest. It’s like…let’s say you work for sixteen hours a day, it’s two hours work, the rest is waiting.

Waiting for the lights and…

Waiting, yeah, waiting waiting, they move the cameras there, waiting, testing, they doing that, testing that. Actual action is so little, I can’t understand how movie stars actually can make it.


TOURING


Well they get paid shitloads to wait around! Okay, the last time you headlined the UK was in ’07, with Finntroll and Octavia Sperati, how does it feel to be headlining again, cos it’s been a long time.



Feels really nice, it’s nice that we can bring a bigger production that we have ever done, it’s great, I’m excited!

Longer set…

Yeah long set, and playing songs from the new album, it’s gonna be great.

So the last time you brought Wintersun, Tyr, Finntroll. This time it’s Obituary, Legion of the Damned opening for you, how do you feel about that?

Ah it feels really great, I’m a huge fan of Legion of the Damned, I think they’re really cool. And hey, Obituary!

It’s a bit of a mixed lineup, Obituary, death-thrash metal, Keep of Kalessin, black metal, Legion of the Damned, pure thrash metal.

It’s a great package for a good night.

So something for everyone.

Yeah, even if you like one of the bands, you might not be the biggest fan of some of the other bands, but still it’s going to be enjoyable. It’s not like metal for one band, grindcore for another, it’s still in the same…yeah it’s perfect for our fans.

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What was the tour with Slayer like?

On a personal level, it was amazing. Slayer’s been my favourite band since ’88 (Olavi is wearing a Slayer tshirt), and finally to tour with them that’s fucking amazing, hang out with Kerry King. That was the highlight of my career as a musician.

Any funny stories that you can tell, any crap that happened?



*long pause*

I better not tell. *laughs*

Cool. Bloodshed over Bochum tell me everything, I’m so envious that the fans in Germany get to see four nights of you playing all your old stuff, what was that like?



Before, it was a lot of stress, it was a lot of songs to learn. I’m just a human guy y’know, so many riffs to remember, but in the end everything worked out perfectly. I mean, of course we were maybe not playing totally perfect, but it was not bad, I would say nobody noticed any mistakes. So I was really nervous, because it’s so many riffs to remember, like which part is coming here? But besides that it was really really cool, and besides that it’s fucking amazing that we had people from Australia, America, the whole of Europe, and they want to spend four nights between Christmas and also end up in New Year’s Eve.

Well it’s almost better than a festival, because you know what you’re going to get, a really fucking good band.

Yeah there was no other band, it was only us. When they opened the doors, they had a meet and greet for an hour or something like that. And then we played the album, took a break for five minutes, then we did a best-of from the newer stuff and we tried to every night to have a different best-of, so it was not completely the same. And then New Year’s Eve, we also played VERSUS THE WORLD and then all the classics, all from new albums, all the best songs that everyone thinks is the best songs, and also we ended with some stuff from the first mini-CD. So I think everybody was pleased, and then we had a party. *laughs*

Awesome, so when can we expect to see the DVD? Was it recorded for a DVD?

It got recorded, but I guess it’s something we’re gonna keep until we have a good DVD, and maybe it’s gonna be bonus material. So it’s not gonna be a DVD now, because we wanna have something more, perhaps going to be some bonus stuff.

So not like the entire concert in a DVD, it’s going to be two or three songs.

No no. I think…I’m only assuming, but I think the plan is that the next time we make a DVD it’s gonna be about something, maybe a big show or something like that. Then we gonna add the whole Bochum thing as a bonus.

Oh fuck that’s gonna be amazing…Wow. Okay, you guys have a full schedule touring in Europe, and North America, South America and a few festivals as well. What are you going to do after that? Is it time for a break?

Yes! In September we’re going to have a break for a month and then we’re gonna start rolling again, for another half year.



Do you write on the road?

I did it for TWILIGHT, but I haven’t started yet, it’s too early. Y’know, completely off from that for a while.

Okay, last guitar question of my own, cos I’ve been trying to play your stuff. You downtune to B right?

Yeah.

Do you play it on a normal guitar, or a seven-string?

Normal.

So do you change the string to a B string for a seven string guitar?

Yeah, we use…no it’s not the seven string package we use, but the strings are very thick.

So it’s not a 46?

No, it’s…I think thickest is like 62, and thinnest is 13.

Okay, cos I’ve been downtuning it, and it flaps like crazy.

You need thicker strings!

Okay thanks for the interview, have a good show!

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Thanks to Andy Turner at Metal Blade for setting up the interview!

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