Guitarist/vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt of Swedish progressive metallers OPETH was interviewed on the September 30 – October 2 edition of Full Metal Jackie‘s nationally syndicated radio show. You can now listen to the chat using the Podbean widget below. A few excerpts follow.
Full Metal Jackie: We’re here to celebrate the new OPETH album, the twelfth record, called “Sorceress”. What kind of album did you envision “Sorceress” when you started writing the songs?
Mikael: “Well, I was hoping for an OPETH record, and I got it in the end. You know, it’s twelve records in now with this one, so I do a lot of press right now, and I get the question pretty much, like, ‘What were you thinking? What was going through your head? Who were your influences?’ and that kind of stuff. But I just wrote. I have a home studio; I just went down there, writing, hoping for the best, and I was lucky, I guess. I have a good work ethic, so I was there every day working. And this time around, I didn’t throw away that much stuff. I didn’t write too much shit, so to speak. I was lucky. I kept everything, I think. And I didn’t have any plans or anything. In the middle of the songwriting process, I realized that the songs I had completed so far were quite diverse; there were no two songs sounding the same to me. So I continued along those lines. I wanted a diverse record. I didn’t want to have one song being… Like, if you would hear just a song from the record, I didn’t want you to know what the rest of the album was gonna sound like. So I deliberately went for a diverse collection of songs, I think.”
Full Metal Jackie: How closely does an OPETH album, specifically this one, reflect your personal life at the time you’re writing the songs?
Mikael: “Well, lyrically, I guess it’s more kind of stashed experiences and thoughts, or whatever. Musically, same thing — stashed influences. I don’t write in between songwriting. Like, songwriting, for me, is… I focus during a period of time and I write songs, and once that is done, I don’t really write until the next time, so to speak. But I guess I’m stashing influences, because I consume a lot of music. I play a lot of music, I listen to records all the time, I buy loads and loads of records all the time, different genres. So I guess I kind of stash influences for those songwriting periods. So, I guess, both musically and lyrically, [it’s] quite personal — everything [is] pretty much taken from my private life. But it’s kind of… I’ll bring influences up afterwards. So it’s not usually… Like, if I was to write a lyric about my current state of mind, they would all be happy lyrics, so to speak, because I’m in a good place right now. And ‘happy’ and OPETH doesn’t really go hand in hand, generally. So I prefer to bring up some kind of moody or more kind of bleak memories or experience from the past, lyrically. And musically, it’s a little bit all over the place, but generally I consume music with a bit of… what we would say in Sweden ‘nerve.’ I don’t like happy music; I want it to be a bit bleak, I want to be a bit… I wanna sit up straight when I hear music. I don’t like Muzak, so to speak, I don’t like elevator music. It needs to be something substantial.”
Full Metal Jackie: OPETH really evolves and changes from album to album. What’s been the biggest challenge about being creatively fearless?
Mikael: “Well, I am quite fearless when it comes to… Like, I am now anyways. I guess there was a time in our career, so to speak, where I was a bit more wary about what people might think. Perhaps part of me wanted us to build a fanbase or something like that, or I was hoping that we [would] become more popular and I was hoping that everybody was gonna like whatever we were doing. But I don’t really care so much anymore, and I think that’s good for me. It would be very difficult for me to write music if I was adjusting my creativity to fit the taste of the listener, so to speak. I don’t believe in public opinion when it comes to this band or what we should do. So I just write. And over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of criticism for being unpredictable; you know, this band has gotten a lot of criticism for being unpredictable and not delivering what some fans think that they’ve earned or what they need or whatever. But I think the essence of OPETH is just to write music that we think is good for the time as opposed to building a career. I mean, we have a career thanks to that, I think; we have a career just because of the fact that we refuse to adjust — we do whatever we feel like. I think that’s the reason why we have a career, to be honest.”
Full Metal Jackie: Do you ever get creative and write on the road?
Mikael: “Never. There’s kind of a romantic aura around that, like musicians writing a masterpiece in Massachusetts. But I can’t. Maybe I’ve tried, but after the show, I’m gonna drink beer and drink wine, and when I wake up in the morning, I’m gonna go out hunting for records. And then it’s the soundchecks and the meet-and-greets, and whatever you’re doing. So there’s little time for that. And I need complete privacy, and I need an uncluttered calendar, if I’m gonna be able to write, because once I start, I wanna keep going and I don’t want any interruptions, which is why I never really gave it a go — like, writing on tour. I simply can’t see it being possible for me.”
Full Metal Jackie: And what you guys are writing, it’s complex. It’s not simple music.
Mikael: “No, it’s not simple music. But even if we were writing simple rock stuff with three chords or whatever, I’m not sure if I could make anything… if I could write anything relevant on tour. You need to sit down, I need to live with the music, I need to be kind of one with the music, if you know what I mean, because I do step into some type of bubble when I’m in a creative space and I get tunnel vision and all that kind of stuff. That can’t be interrupted by beer and people.”
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