Heart of Steel: Interviews

Interview with Mikael Akerfeldt

Interviewed by Waspman
Toronto, Canada on April 7th, 2001

Hi 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 the show?

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! (laughs)


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 bleak music?

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?

Well, 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 album?

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?

STILL 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 him?

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)


(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 Melinda?

(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 to give?

Thanks for the interview! Check out BLACKWATER PARK!

Check out another interview with Mikael in Metal-Rules.com

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