Keeping the Spirit with Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth
The week prior to their appearance at the Belasco Theater in Downtown Los Angeles, I spoke with singer and guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth. Their album Sorceress is their best yet, showing true growth in Akerfeldt’s singing and guitar playing, joined by the amazing musicianship of bassist Martin Mendez, guitarist Fredrik Akesson, drummer Martin Axenrot and keyboardist Joakim Svalberg. Sorceress returns us to a world where bands jammed, played in the same rooms for hours and weeks and months before releasing a new album, one where every song counted, the artwork was important and only the best performances were on the wax. Listeners can pore over each song and find new previously unnoticed riffs or tones making for a satisfying experience time after time.
Hello Mikael, I remember seeing Opeth open for Danzig. It was a show around this time, Halloween.
Was that in California?
Yes, at the Universal Amphitheatre, now closed.
I remember that one. Horrible show but I remember it.
You were good. I just remember someone yelling “You should be headlining!”
(Laughs) That was then. We were all in awe of opening for them. That was a big thing for me personally because I had been playing Misfits songs and Danzig songs with my first band so that was a big deal for me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we should be headlining.
I asked a few people on Facebook if they had a question for you and Matt Barton asked: “What is a favorite city to play live and who is your biggest musical influence?”
It has to be more than for the concert itself. So I would say Brussels because there’s lots of good record shops there. During the day I am always out hunting for records. I do that all the time anyway, but Brussels has lots of stores. Musical hero I would say Richie Blackmore.
Have you taken some of his mannerisms?
I think some of his antics, I think I’m probably not as moody as him. One thing I admire about him is that he is fearless. Which is something that I want, that’s what I strive to be. I’ve so far been doing a pretty good job. I just do what I want to do. That’s what Blackmore‘s always done. He’s in one of the biggest bands on the planet, he doesn’t feel like it anymore and he just leaves.
Maybe sometime down the road we’ll have a band named Akerfeldt.
No, I wouldn’t go that far. My ego is not bigger than yours. I’m used to all the attention but I would never become one of them people who thinks I’m the dog’s bollocks, you know? I’m just a guy that plays music at the end of the day.
You’ve always seemed to have a good sense of humor with your onstage talk. Who are some of your favorite comedians or funny movies?
I like a lot of humor and I like clever humor and stupid humor equally. I love Family Guy for instance, it cracks me up, its so fucking dumb. I like humor that is uncomfortable. Like the British The Office. Anything Ricky Gervais does, I like that. I’m into dry humor and uncomfortable humor and politically incorrect humor. I do love seeing people trip over a banana peel too. I do love farts. It just never gets old.
Unless you’re stuck on the bus when someone does it.
There’s a lot of that on the bus. Luckily on this bus I have my own little boudoir in the back. Not because I have a massive ego but we pack the bus with people, there’s 12 bunks and 30 people so someone had to take the back lounge and that was me. So I’m spared that from other people.
When you started out what was the musical climate like? Did you feel like at the time you needed to play metal?
When I started playing in a band it was the late 80’s. When the Death Metal boom hit Scandinavia. It kind of gave us a voice. The kids who didn’t have the musical training, kids who couldn’t sing. It gave us a way out. All my friends were into metal music, myself included. I couldn’t really play guitar that well and I couldn’t sing. We were saved by Death Metal. That gave us a way to be in a band, to actually sound decent in the scheme of things. There were a lot of Death Metal bands in those days, then came the Black Metal boom which was around the time that we got signed and did our first record. The Stockholm scene… we were not included. Nobody knew who we were. We weren’t from the right area, the other bands weren’t friends of ours and there wasn’t much support for us from the other bands but they in turn really supported each other. We decided after a while to do it on our own, we didn’t need to rely on getting a show because we needed this band, we had to fix everything on our own. Needless to say, little happened because we didn’t know how. The climate was, I wouldn’t say harsh, it was just very excluding.
All that you went through in the past helped you get to where you are now.
To a certain extent I guess that’s true. We never relied on anyone else to fix anything. From nothing we created this. That feels good but it doesn’t feel like we got our revenge. It wasn’t that bad, it was just hard to get into the scene. We went to all all the shows, we bought all the demos. But we were excluded from all that.
I think it all worked to your favor. I hear a lot of bands that are unafraid to blend metal and rock and different moods and styles and maybe Opeth was a trailblazer and made it OK to mix things up.
I hope so, that we must have made some type of impact over the years. I don’t think of those types of things. I think that’s for the history books. We just did it our own way. Its been the same ever since. We don’t care what we’re supposed to do, that we’re supposed to belong to a certain scene.
For Heritage, Pale Communion and now Sorceress you sound like, without being derivative, you’re keeping the spirit of the bands you grew up with where there’s intricacy and movements and the playing. I think its wonderful.
Its not at all that we want to sound derivative. It’s really changed me. Our records and productions kind of escalated into some type of perfect territory. It just became a bit dull for me. I found that its difficult for me to pay attention to music that sounds clinical, if you know what I mean. So we wanted to get back to something, for lack of a better word, non-perfect. A bit more sloppy, a bit more…I’m not saying deliberately sloppy but like how we recorded a few albums it was just ridiculous. It wasn’t fun, we had to be perfect, you had to be able to solo each track on the console and it’s going to sound perfectly on its own. That’s just stupid as far as I’m concerned.
We went back to doing records with preferences with the stuff that we grew up listening to and what I’m consuming now. Which is older music. I’m into older stuff. I love the sound of 70’s records and that’s basically how I wanted to sound as opposed to that clinical, sharp sound that metal productions have these days.
I love the direction you’ve taken. I think it’s an evolution of what you were already doing before and I think you’re getting better.
We think we are getting better, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you now, if we constantly got worse. For us its really important to evolve, its part of this band and if you’re a supporter of this band you have to ready for that. Otherwise you’re going to run into trouble.
I’ve yet to be disappointed. I know you have a tight schedule so I’ll let you get to the next interview. Thank you for your time and I will see you in Los Angeles next week.
Cheers man, thanks.
(Interview by Bret Miller – Live Photo by Jack Lue)