Interview with Mikael Akerfeldt
Interviewed by Waspman
Toronto, Canada on April 7th, 2001
Mikael, thanks for doing this interview! Tell me about the tour so far.
We just started out. Y'know, last night will be our second gig.
You guys have never played in North America before.
No, not in Canada. We played in Milwaukee last year, that's our only
American show so far.
How did the New
Jersey MetalFest go last night?
Not bad, but not good either. The sound was pretty awful and we
didn't hear ourselves. The monitors on stage were pretty much not
working. But the crowd was pretty good, I hope somebody enjoyed it!
(laughs). Y'know, it's our first show for this tour so it's going to get
better. We didn't make too many fuckups! (laughs)
(laughs) That's good! (laughs). How was the crowd response for
It was good, y'know, they were clapping their hands. It was seated
and I don't like that. When you're in a metal band you want people to
stand up and have a good time. Then again, I know myself, if I had been
at a show with seats I would have taken them out! (laughs) You can't
blame anyone but it's more fun playing for an audience that's standing
up and you can tell if they're enjoying themselves.
Are there any plans for a live album? Perhaps after this tour?
I don't know actually. I can't see it coming. Our next thing with
Opeth is that we're going to put out a video. 'Cause we filmed the
entire recording of BLACKWATER PARK.
We've also got interview with all the band members as well as out
producer, Steven Wilson. We've also got some live footage 'cause we
played with Steven's band Porcupine Tree in Sweden a couple of weeks
back and that show was filmed so we're gonna through that in there.
That'll be a very cool package! Will it be on video and DVD?
I don't know the format right now. The guy who's doing it is an old
friend of mine.
I know that'll go over really well because a lot of people on
the website have been asking about Opeth live footage.
I think especially in the States and all of North America people seem
to be very into the video thing, while in Europe it's not a big thing.
Here it seems to be mandatory! (laughs)
(laughs) I guess it's 'cause here we don't have the opportunity
to see all of these great European bands. Another questions is do you
find it a challenge to translate such long and complex material to the
live stage? For example Metallica has long refused to play most of their
songs off of AND JUSTICE... because it's too hard.
Well y'know, when you have a fourteen minute song it's a lot easier
to have a couple of fuckups than if you're playing a three minute song.
(At this point the keyboard tech began soundcheck, to which Mikael
joked: "Sounds like Rainbow is playing!) Anyway, it's not as hard
as people think because for us it's just the music that we do, y'know,
it's not harder for us. As I said, having a song with that kind of
length, we do make fuckups every now and then.
What are you listening to these days?
Not much! Right now, I've bought a shitload of records before I came
over here. I haven't had time to listen to them. Much of the stuff I've
never heard of before That's what I'm listening to: stuff I've never
heard of! (laughs).
Do you listen to anything "special" to inspire you to
write when you're trying to come up with a new album?
It's hard to say. I listen to many different kinds of music, so I
think when I decided to sit down and write some stuff myself, all of
these influences come together...but it's hard to put your finger on a
single band. I still listen to the old heavy metal bands, y'know, like
Judas Priest. I used to have times where I only listened to Priest!
Since you brought them up, what do you think the new album is
going to be like?
I've no idea! I haven't heard Jugulator, only a couple of tracks.
Speaking of your influences, what inspires you to write such
Dunno! (laughs) It's just what I like. I've always been into metal,
and metal for me is not happy music. It's not that it has to be sad but
its aggression and everything. And we just put in so many different
influences. For me, heavy metal music doesn't have to be fast all the
time, I think people are wrong when they complain that we're
"soft" or something, because they're own favorite bands, like
Judas Priest have a few ballads. We put these influences together, also
with my kind of interest in the darker kind of music, it just happens
from itself I think.
You mentioned how people think that you're too soft at some
points, but I think that a lot of people that are into Opeth love the
fact that you've got such diverse dynamics. What role do you think
dynamics has in the Opeth sound?
That's everything. I think we would be nothing...The fact that we
have so many different influences in our songs and music will put some
dynamics in there. For me, it's the most important part of our sound.
Speaking specifically of BLACKWATER PARK, the first thing that
struck me was the album cover. What made you go with Travis Smith?
we had used him for STILL LIFE, and we were so happy with that cover we
decided to work with him again. I just asked him if he was interested
and he was - he's a big Opeth fan. I gave him pretty much free hands to
do whatever he wanted. Y'know, I gave him some hints on what I wanted
and he knew the album title and everything so he just sent me many
pictures and we chose this one because it was the best one.
So you had the album title in mind before you recorded the
Yes, it's the first time we've done that actually.
How did you come with the title?
There's a German band called Blackwater Park. They're an old band
that is one of the ones that I'm collecting. They put out a pretty rare
album called DARK BOX in 1971 that's pretty fucking hard to find, but
I've got it! (laughs) I just like the name of the band and thought that
it could suit an Opeth album, Y'know, we've done that in the past,
basically stealing album titles from other bands. (laughs)
(laughs) Did you take STILL LIFE from the Iron Maiden song?
LIFE, there's so many examples of that...y'know, Rolling Stones,
Fates Warning, there's a band called Still Life and of course the Iron
Maiden track, so y'know, there's so many. I like it.
BLACKWATER PARK is obviously a logical progression for the
Opeth sound, but where do you personally see it standing in the lineage
of all your albums?
I don't know, For me, it's just the newest album. I don't wanna skip
any of our albums, I think their all in a way equally good. At the time
that we were doing them that's what we were about. I think that every
album we've had in the past have been essential for BLACKWATER PARK to
happen. Right now, it's my favorite album, maybe because it's the most
recent one. I think we made a difference this time, like we always tried
to do. This time we worked with a producer that we haven't done for a
long time, so that was something new. A big thing for us, working with a
guy like Steven Wilson.
He's from Porcupine Tree? How did you get into contact with
He sent me an email actually. I've been a big Porcupine Tree fan for
years and he did an interview with a French journalist that I know and
he gave Steven a copy of STILL LIFE and my email address. He emailed me
and said he thought STILL LIFE was the best heavy metal he's ever heard
and I was blown away! I met him in London and asked him if he was
interested in producing the new album.
You mentioned that BLACKWATER PARK is your favorite Opeth album
right now, but what album would you recommend to a fan who was hearing
Opeth for the first time?
I think that it's pretty hard because the first two albums were a bit
different than the last three. I think if you hear BLACKWATER PARK you
will be interested in what we were doing before that one and you would
hear a connection between all of the albums if you go backwards. It's
very hard to say. I think they're all representative 'cause we were
there. This is our stuff and this is what we do...fuck the rest!
(laughs) I was listening to the album today and I noticed that
the guitar work in "Bleak" kind of reminds me of what Dan
Swano was doing in his Odyssey project.
I haven't heard Odyssey actually. I usually have all of the stuff
that Dan does because he sends it to me, but I haven't heard that one.
That song was more inspired by some ethnic music that the two Martins
were listening to. They live in the ghetto of Stockholm and have friends
from many different countries there and they got records from some
artists that we've never heard of. For example, some artists from
Lebanon. I instantly got inspired and wrote some riffs.
Are you still in contact with Dan?
Yeah! We don't talk that much because we live about two hours from
each other so we don't meet up too often. We talk on the phone once in
awhile but not too often, maybe a couple of times per year.
Going back to the music itself, the softer, mellower parts of
the songs are very haunting, making them seem almost as aggressive in
their own way as the heavy parts.
I think you're right. That's what many people don't hear when they
listen to us. Many people who are into the old school death metal, they
can't hear differences in the music unless it is so clear to them. I
think the mellow parts of Opeth areas aggressive in a way but it's a
very subtle way because it's always very depressive.
(Running out of time...) I have so many more questions! Just to
dive into a little bit of history here, is there any chance that Opeth
might return to the jazzy/fusion style of bass playing the Johan brought
to the band?
No, because Johan is not in the band anymore. People talk a lot about
his bass playing on MORNINGRISE, but personally I didn't really like the
bass on that album. I think that Johan, because he wasn't satisfied with
the bass on ORCHID, he wanted to have more space in the band. I think
that he got too much space and didn't use the bass as it was meant to
be, he used it as a solo instrument and I wasn't happy with the bass
sound. He was a very, very good bass player but Martin is as good. Right
now we want more or less a bass sound, not a solo sound.
(Being hurried by label rep...) Two quick questions: Who is
(laughs) No one. She's a fictional character. I took her from this
song by Uriah Heep called "Come Away Melinda".
I'll leave it open to you - any final comments that you'd like
Thanks for the interview! Check out BLACKWATER
Check out another interview
with Mikael in Metal-Rules.com