“Opeth” Interview

by Chetan Wunny

I had the honor and privilege to chat with Fredrik Akesson, the guitarist of the progressive death/progressive rock band, Opeth. We had a 45 minute long conversation over skype, and it will truly be something to cherish. Enjoy.

Hello! Good evening, Fredrik. It’s a pleasure.

Good evening to you, the pleasure is all mine

Tiring day?

(Laughs) the usual really, we just got done with sound check for our show tonight. Nothing we don’t do everyday.

So, it’s been tiring (laughs) I’ll get right to it then.
How’s it looking in the world of Opeth?

Really good, quite a lot of touring now; I believe this is number 36 on the ‘Sorceress’ tour? Number 36 tonight, so..we just got done with sound check, reception’s been very good. So, we’re happy, you know?

Opeth’s 12th studio album ‘Sorceress’ just came out on September 29th. How has the initial reception been so far?
It sounds a little heavier and darker than the ‘Heritage’ and ‘Pale Communion’.

I haven’t read every interview, review or anything like that, but the reception’s been great so far. We played quite a few tracks off ‘Sorceress’ live; we played ‘The Wilde Flowers’ and ‘Will O the Wisp’ as well, and you could tell they recognized it. So, more people seemed to come out to the shows and seemed to enjoy the tracks lyrically as well and not just with the musical aspects in mind. So yeah, people seemed to enjoy the songs when we played them live. ‘Sorceress’ is defenitly darker, we aimed to make it heavier than ‘Heritage’ and ‘Pale Communion’, we really like how it turned out.

Opeth have been around a long time, and are one of the heavyweights in the industry now. Looking back, at the band’s inception, back in 1989 and to where you guys stand today, how much do you think your music has evolved? Taking into account all the lineup and record label changes.
Is it hard to keep up with and adapt to time and change? Musically speaking.

Change in labels hasn’t really affected the creativity of the music. Opeth’s always been independent when it comes to that. We don’t have any interference with regards to producing or songwriting. I believe it’s always been like that, before I was in the band as well. I mean, the band has always worked with an objective; I’ve been in the band for almost 10 years I think and every album has something different to over. Like, every album is a journey so to speak. The band has developed quite a lot. Of course, I can only speak for that period of time I’ve been with the band (laughs). I think we’re getting better and better the more shows we perform together, and we seem to be putting tighter and tighter shows. Everyone strives to improve individually as well, so you know..it’s an ongoing journey.

As far as adapting to time and change goes, we don’t think too much, you know? We just do what we do. Generations evolve and as a band, so do we. So, we’ve undergone a lot of changes musically. Instead of using the word ‘change’  I would say we have evolved. Taste in music or anything is bound to vary, and it’s like the law of nature, you know? Like I said, we don’t think and we keep doing what we’re doing.

‘Sorceress’, Anyone in particular you are referring to? Is there a story behind the title?

Well, the intro to the album ‘Persephone’ derives heavily from greek mythology; Hades, the realm of death, 9 months up on earth. So, that’s kinda the only mythological thing on the album and I guess in a way can relate to ‘Sorceress’? But it’s not a concept album. There are a few small elements that relate to it a little bit, and also the fact that it’s a really cool title, that’s what we talked about. That’s pretty much the gist of the title as far as I know, but i might be wrong.

What are the lyrical themes and concepts explored in ‘Sorceress’? Could you walk us through the writing process?

Mikael’s lyrics well, they’re always personal lyrics and I guess he, in a way deals with the pains of being in a relationship or something like that, you know. It’s his lyrics, so I can’t really go in depth. Kind of a boring answer I know, but I only have a generalized picture of his lyrics. About the songwriting process, getting to the second part of your question. Mikael writes the majority of the material. I have a home studio at my house so I record maybe 5 or 6 ideas, once worked on Mikael has some space where we rehearse, like a demo studio. We worked together on a track called ‘strange brew’ on this album, which was one of the ideas I came up with. Apart from that, Miakel is really good at focusing when it comes to writing, he’s bit of a lone wolf when it comes to that but he asks me to come down and lay a few guitar solos and other ideas; the other guys as well. So that’s basically the whole process. A song can start with a drum beat or a guitar riff, you know, we build a song from there.

I’ve listened to the ‘Sorceress’ several times now, and I’m in love with it. It seems to lay out a more melodic tone and gives out a more doomier feel. The last 3 albums in general, seem to have been heavily influenced by jazz, falling under jazz fusion. How did Jazz come into play there?

You know, I think that’s because of heavy prog rock influences from the 1970s. Maybe a little Miles Davis as well. I’d say it’s a sort of Swedish melancholic jazz? It’s probably one of the reasons I would say. You know Mikael has an extensive vinyl collection of obscure prog rock albums from the 70’s. All these bands from Italy and other places. I think it comes from the inspiration from listening to all kinds of music, you know?

A question I hear a lot of fans asking, myself included.
“Where is the Opeth that played progressive death? Where are the gutturals?”
No doubt the band’s evolved and taken a more mature tone, incorporating a lot of complex melodies. But what was it that made you guys drop the magnitude?
Any chance we’ll get to hear another progressive death album in the future?

It happened after the ‘Watershed’ album, and can be seen in ‘Heritage’ that came right after that. We really liked the songs off ‘Watershed’. But then, we thought we should try something different, and Mikael felt the same way. At the beginning we were like “Are we really gonna do this?”, you know and I heard the new songs and it made sense. The band needed to do what it needed to do. The growls reached it’s peak on ‘Watershed’ and we wanted to try something new. Nobody had heard this side of Opeth before. Something different from the progressive death stuff, you know but we still love to play those songs live, and we don’t know what the next album is going to sound like (laughs) hope that answered your question.

You guys being an old school metal band, what is your opinion on the acts that are out today, and the metal scene as a whole?
Is there anything that scares you when looking at the state of the music industry today?

I don’t keep track of all the bands coming out, you know? When we’re on the tour bus we mainly listen to the old stuff, like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and stuff like that. Then been listening to ‘The Sword’, hadn’t listened to them before, they had a lot of cool songs so it was great listening to those guys.

But I think the metal scene is definitely alive, a lot of good bands. There are some bands I really don’t like. Can’t like everything right? Not everybody likes Opeth either (Laughs). It’s just the span and all the categories of metal these days, just a lot. I’m more of classic metalhead I guess.

As far as the music industry today goes, we just do what we do and try not to think too much. We just put our music out there. Now there’s downloads and all that. We just started our own YouTube channel. We are active on our Facebook and Instagram and all that. We were quite lazy when it came to social media before. We tried to be mysterious before, but that didn’t hold up (laughs). There’s not much you can do about the downloads and everything, we expect people to buy it off stores and get the full experience of the album. But I guess kids these days flick through songs within seconds. When we were doing this tour we sold quite a few records. I feel that people in the metal community buy albums. They like collecting and whatnot. I feel the status of the metal industry is doing far better when compared to other genres.

Anything you’ve listening to off late? Anything that’s taken a spot on your playlist?

I’ve been listening to the latest Testament. Brotherhood of the snake. It’s pretty cool. Been a fan of those guys. The latest Vader album, I gotta check that out soon.

What’s Miakel like in the studios? I’ve always pictured him as someone who’s super focused and basically possessed when it comes to working on music.

Well, we defenitly work together.

When he’s writing and stuff, he’s pretty much alone but in the studios we usually work together, especially on the guitar tone. He’s definitely involved in the studios. Focused and very involved. I think that’s the part he enjoys the most, you know, being in the studio. I really enjoy it as well. It’s like building a puzzle in a way, and magic just happens. It’s a great feeling when all the layers come through and everything comes together. He’s definitely very focused. Sometimes when I’m working on guitar solos I like to be totally alone and he doesn’t come stand over my back, breathe down my neck, so he’s not a complete control freak. He trusts people in the band to take care of a few things themselves. So yeah, everyone’s pretty involved in piecing a track together. But he’s definitely on top of his game and loves doing what he does.

Opeth has played quite a few unplugged shows, with a diverse acoustic setlist. Has it been difficult re-arranging the heavier tracks into mellowed down versions? Have there been any heavy tracks you guys wanted to play as acoustic versions, but didn’t do so well when mellowed down?

We usually pick tracks that are suited to it, but we did one track ‘Demon of the fall’, which is a heavy song, we had to work a little bit with that because we didn’t know what to do with the vocals, since they were all growls. We figured out a way to do it with harmony and a strange melody. I think it came out pretty cool, had a spooky vibe to it. So it was kinda interesting to do versions of heavier songs at our unplugged shows.

Do you guys get to go sightseeing when you tour different countries? Experience different cultures and whatnot?

Not really, no. We stay up late every night cause we play late, wake up at around noon the next day. Sound check after a couple hours before a show. I try to take a walk when I can, an hour at least. And in the off times we get a chance to do something or the other, but not a lot of it. You usually don’t have the strength after a show (laughs). But we do have some good times you know. One time, we got to spend our day at the beach in Maldives. The paradise island. That was probably our biggest off time moment.

You  are currently touring Europe, and will be in Australia/New Zealand in February, 2017. Excited to be touring Australia again?
Any other big news you’d like to tease the fans with?

Yeah, that’s right. We’re touring Holland at the moment. We’ll make a stop at New Zealand for a show there, then 5 or 6 shows in Australia. Haven’t been there in a long time, so yeah, we’re pretty excited. In fact, we’re gonna play at the Opera house, so that’s something. I’m not allowed to say this (laughs) but we might try to film or record it or something.

As far as news go, we’re gonna be touring Australia like you mentioned. Then plan on doing a few shows in South America and back the states after that I guess. In May, a couple of festivals in the states. I don’t think it’s official yet but it’s definitely gonna happen. We haven’t thought up plans for another album or anything like that, we don’t know where we’ll go, that’s the fun of it.

On a side note, my grandfather is 84 years old, and is a huge fan of Opeth. He’s the person who raised me into rock and metal.

Oh yeah? Wow, that’s amazing (laughs)

That’s something we’ve noticed. The age span in the audience is quite wide. Which is pretty cool, we have these old prog dudes, and a lot of young people as well.

Thank you for your time, it’s been a pleasure getting to interview one of my favorite bands of all time. Anything you’d like to say to the MHF magazine readers before you sign off?

I’d like to thank all our fans for their continued support. We really really appreciate it. Hope you guys enjoy the new album. We’ll see you guys on the road.

Chetan (aka Wunny) / MHF