Dayal Patterson of The Quietus recently conducted an interview with guitarist Olavi Mikkonen and vocalist Johan Hegg of Swedish death metallers AMON AMARTH. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
The Quietus: So has the success of the band changed things a lot for you in the sense that you can now devote so much more of your time to the band?
Olavi Mikkonen: We have so much time to write songs now since we don’t do anything else other than playing in AMON AMARTH. We have much more time now than when we had day jobs and we had to rehearse in the evening. Now if we rehearse for one month, it’s more hours than normal bands that maybe rehearse like twice a week or whatever.
The Quietus: So going back to the writing process, did it worry you when you found you had this writing block?
Olavi Mikkonen: No, it comes and goes all the time, but usually I already have ideas before we start writing together, I have ideas that I have gathered at home. You know, whenever this touring cycle is over, it’s time to start presenting new stuff. And this time I didn’t have anything, I was totally empty. Luckily, Johan had ideas. My ideas more or less came during the summer and that’s when we were close to actually recording, so it was kinda too late already, because we already had such a great album, we didn’t need them. But now I actually have some songs already ready for the next album.
Johan Hegg: As long as the material that comes out sounds good, and we feel we can all work with it, it doesn’t matter who wrote it. Anybody who contributes something that sounds good and is interesting is welcome to contribute. We would be stupid otherwise. We’ve never been rigid with that, it’s just that we’ve always had a very high standard. But I think Johan [Söderberg, guitar] and the others have become more comfortable with writing stuff that suits our sound over time, because the stuff that he would come up with in the beginning wasn’t always stuff that fitted our band, but the songs he writes now could fit any AMON AMARTH album. So I think he grew into it, really. The more songs he produces that makes it on the album, the more confident he gets, which we are all very happy with as it gives us more opportunity to create more stuff.
The Quietus: You’ve stuck very much to your guns throughout your career lyrically but also musically. There are few bands who can genuinely be described as heavy who also manage to be so uplifting and whose tunes are so, well, hummable. What have been your main inspirations?
Olavi Mikkonen: I would say traditional heavy metal, combined with the heaviness of BOLT THROWER, some DEATH and SLAYER. I would say it’s a mix of all that and I think it’s the same now as it was 20 years ago. But of course we were there when AT THE GATES came, the album “Slaughter Of The Soul” was a big thing for everyone in Sweden. Then ten years ago I heard RAMMSTEIN for the first time and thought that was pretty cool. But I would say the foundation is still traditional heavy metal and old school death metal together.
The Quietus: With the last album being such a success, was there ever a temptation — or perhaps suggestion from outside the band — to maybe make the music more accessible in order to further expand your audience?
Olavi Mikkonen: We would never change style or anything like that just to get more famous, or try to be commercial or on the radio or whatever. Personally I would like to maybe make an even more brutal album next time, but that is something time will have to tell. But if I was trying to play music for the sake of money I would definitely not play this type of music. The way we see it, we are fortunate that we can do what we do and still make a living. You cannot be honest with your art and write honestly if you do not really believe in the music yourself. And if you’re not writing music that you yourself believe in, how can you convince the fans?
Johan Hegg: Obviously we’ve evolved but we don’t want to ever really change. We get better at our instruments and at arranging songs to make them more interesting, but I think it’s important for us to know who we are and it seems that fans enjoy that and like the fact that they know what they get with an AMON AMARTH album. Of course, every so often we get accused of being boring or something, but I think it’s worse when bands you love change too much and you don’t recognize them at all. So for me it’s mainly important that we like what we do.
Olavi Mikkonen: We don’t really aim too much to make each album different, but of course we try to add some fresh elements. For us the most important thing is to be as much AMON AMARTH as possible!
Read the entire interview from The Quietus.