Dave Pehling of KTVU.com recently conducted an interview with vocalist/guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt of Swedish progressive metallers OPETH. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
KTVU.com: “Heritage” seems the biggest departure sonically for OPETH since “Damnation”. Was the absence of death metal elements — specifically the brutal guitar riffs and your trademark growl — a conscious aim to step away from that at the outset, or did you find your songwriting moving naturally in that direction?
Mikael: More or less naturally. I felt that we couldn’t really do more with that sound. I felt as a songwriter I had kind of perfected that formula and couldn’t really take it anywhere else. And I didn’t really want to. I tried a little bit, but it didn’t really work out. I was just gravitating towards something else when I was writing this record and ended up with an album that was a bit more rootsy. I’m tired of contemporary metal production. It sounds so fucking slick and there’s a lack of dynamics. I wanted to record in a different way too. So having that in mind, I guess the songs took shape in a different way than they have before. It’s also a matter of me not listening to death metal. I haven’t been listening to death metal since the early ’90s, you know? Even when we did the first record [“Orchid” in 1994], I was more or less done with listening to metal. I didn’t anything interesting was coming out. Yet we were just finding our feet and starting a career of our own, and we were a part of the whole genre. But ever since that basically, I’ve been gravitating towards liking this type of stuff more and more.
KTVU.com: Given the intricacy of OPETH’s music, do you generally stick with a specific, rehearsed setlist for a whole tour, or do the songs change from night to night?
Mikael: Generally we are a little bit of both. Lately we’ve been going out on a limb a lot. We might not have practiced a song as much as we should have, but we’ll be like, “Let’s just play it tonight,” just to get it over with. Because that’s the best practice, just to play it live. But on this tour, we are sticking a little bit to the same setlist because there’s such a strict time thing going on. We have to play exactly one hour and ten minutes. The first couple of shows we went over by five minutes every night and our tour manager was saying, “You have to do something! You have to change,” because people are getting pissed or whatever. So now we have a set list that’s perfect for the timing and it also happens to be perfect for us. We love playing these songs that we’re playing and it really showcases all of the aspects of this band. It’s a lot of new material and some very calm songs and in the end we play three rather heavier songs. By doing that, it kind of shows that we’re quite versatile. It almost sounds like a different band. As a spectator, I think that would be interesting. I’d like to think that we come across as interesting at least.
KTVU.com: One aspect of your concerts I’ve always enjoyed is the contrast between these dark, brutal epics you play and your hilariously deadpan stage banter. I’ve had more laughs at OPETH shows than at all other metal bands’ shows combined. Do you think much about what you are going to say? Is it all off the cuff? And is that a way to provide some comic relief to the intensity of the songs?
Mikael: Well, I don’t really think about what I say. Sometimes I can say stupid things. People will kind of remind me afterwards, like “What the fuck did you say there?” and I’m like “Uh, I don’t know. I can’t remember.” I have some type of sense of humor, but I think what makes it funny is that it’s unexpected. People don’t expect that … well, now they do when they go to the shows. They’re like “Tell a fucking joke, Mike!” and then I don’t know what to say. But I think the fun thing about what I’m saying — if you write it down, it’s not really funny — it’s just that in that situation and because it’s a bit unexpected, it becomes funny. People are more used to going to metal shows where the front man is doing the cliche type of talk, like, “Get your horns in the air!” or “You guys are the fucking best!” That kind of stuff. I can’t really find that in myself. I can’t do that and keep a straight face. I think it’s fucking ridiculous, you know? So the way I am onstage when I talk between songs is a bit of a distorted and boosted version of me offstage I guess. And that’s all it is. I’m not really funny like a comedian. But sometimes the vibe is right and it becomes a fun situation. I especially like to make fun of myself and the band members and metal in general.
Read the entire interview from KTVU.com.