Vocalist/guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt of Swedish progressive metallers OPETH was interviewed on this past weekend’s (November 11-13) edition of Full Metal Jackie‘s nationally syndicated radio show. You can now listen to the chat using the audio player below. A few excerpts from the question-and-answer session follow.
Full Metal Jackie: There’s been kind of a divided reaction among OPETH fans [to the new album, "Heritage"]. What invigorates you about people being so passionate about your music to have such strong opinions?
Mikael: Well, I like it. I expected it to be somewhat of a “watershed” record than “Watershed” was, I guess. I haven’t been following reactions on the Net because it seems like people who post on forums, they are overly negative sometimes. But they actually come out to shows, and the people I meet, they have all been liking it and the songs go down well. I mean, it is a different record, but I don’t think it’s like an outrageous step for us at all. To be honest, I think it kind of makes sense that we’re doing a record like this now, so I’m not worried. I don’t really care too much. This is what we want to listen to right now from ourselves, so to speak, so that’s the only thing that matters.
Full Metal Jackie: Was there a preconceived plan that you were going to go in this direction prior to going into writing and recording this record?
Mikael: No, not really. It was one of those things that just kind of happened. I wrote a couple of songs that were kind of metally sounding, whatever, which they weren’t bad, I guess, but I didn’t feel them at all and I was working a little bit with them and then bassist [Martin] Mendez said, “Is this really going to be the new record?” and he, basically, didn’t like it, which had me scrapping those songs and starting from scratch. It felt like I found my feet, so to speak, and I started writing the real shit and once I found my way, it was easy. I wrote everything pretty quickly — in, like, six, seven months.
Full Metal Jackie: You’ve stated that David Crosby and Joni Mitchell affected “Heritage”. What makes non-metal musicians metal in their appeal?
Mikael: Well, to me I’m a bit disillusioned with what metal really is today. Some of the things that I’m told “This is a great metal record” doesn’t feel like metal to me. It’s become a little bit of an attitude, and I think, basically, a very soft acoustic song can be metal. I would assume that a lot of metal people out there don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, which is fine. I haven’t really been too much getting into new contemporary metal music for years now — I always come back to stuff from the ’70s and ’80s — and it just seems like those types of records have more of a longevity. Even if I still love metal music very much, most, if not all, of the records I’ve been writing I’ve been drawing inspirations from stuff just like Joni Mitchell, if you know what I mean. It’s been essential for me writing a metal song to take influence from non-metal music, and I guess through doing that, we created our own type of brand of metal music. But, as I said, the word “metal,” I’m not really sure what it means today.
Full Metal Jackie: It’s definitely changed over the years. But let’s say if you were going to look back at growing up, I know you have a very diverse taste in music, who would you say were your favorites and bands that influenced you?
Mikael: When I was really little, I listened to Eurovision, we would have the Eurovision Song Contest and whoever won that. I was into ABBA, DAVID BOWIE and stuff like that. Then along came metal music, and where I grew up was this small place just three streets, and the older kids they turned me on to metal music, basically, and it was massive in Sweden at the time. The whole New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, the German scene, we had a domestic scene with bands like YNGWIE MALMSTEEN, TREAT and EUROPE, and, you know, those kinds of bands. BATHORY, of course, later on. When I was growing up, it was the big metal bands. I loved them, and I still do, like the SCORPIONS, JUDAS PRIEST, MAIDEN, KISS — those types of bands. I was just talking to a friend about that today. None of those bands sounded alike, they were so different from each other, there was not a thing that put them together. [For example] Ozzy, his records, and the Dio records. Today I have a problem sometimes telling bands apart, which never happened back in the day. It might be a big dose of nostalgia as well, but those records are in my DNA, they’re part of me, and I will always listen to them and I will always draw inspiration from those types of records. Somewhere in the ’90s and the 2000s, I kind of lost track of what was going on at the time, the bands that were going on at the time. Getting into the whole death metal thing was a big thing for me, and there’s many great bands there, but there’s a lot of fucking bands as well, just seeing that there’s no longevity after ’89. [Laughs]
Full Metal Jackie: How do you feel about some of the bands that you did like growing up continuing? Yngwie is still out there touring and Ozzy‘s still able to go out there and play.
Mikael: Yeah, well, I saw Ozzy on the last tour and he was great. He sang well and the setlist was great — lots of songs I’ve never heard him play before and some SABBATH stuff; he had a little bit of everything. It was a great show and we played with many of these guys, we played with JUDAS PRIEST during the summer, we played with WHITESNAKE and they, for me, they put on a fucking great show.
Full Metal Jackie: Do you still go and watch on the side of the stage and watch these bands you love? I’m sure you’ve seen them a ton of times but do you still get excited as a music fan?
Mikael: I get crazy, I go crazy. I don’t go on the side of the stage, I go out in the crowd and check them out and I go crazy. I mean, they’re my heroes. I have been fortunate enough to, because I have this band and whatever, meet some of these guys and I’m starstruck like I can’t believe it. Sometimes I don’t dare to go up to them like Matthias Jabs from the SCORPIONS was at a music fair selling guitars and he was just there as a guitar shop owner and he’s sitting right there and I’m like “I can’t, I don’t dare to go up to him,” because he was, like, my idol.
Full Metal Jackie: Are you afraid you’re going to be let down?
Mikael: No I’m not. I’m sure they’re all great people. Out of all my idols that I’ve met, all of them have been really really gentle, especially Ronnie Dio.
Full Metal Jackie: People didn’t really have much time to get into “Heritage” before the U.S. tour began. Do you think their reactions to those songs in the set will be different by the time you come back to America next year?
Mikael: Probably. Very likely, but the first show we did, the record wasn’t even out yet at the time and we played quite a few songs from the record and introduced the songs and it was dead quiet, but as the tour went along, at every show when we play these songs we get great feedback for them. I’m sure they’re probably going to settle in the discography like the other records and people are going to have their favorites or whatever. So far so good. We went on tour before the record came out and now it feels like they’re OPETH songs just as much as the other songs.
Full Metal Jackie: What has “Heritage” put OPETH in position to do next?’
Mikael: I don’t know, really, I can’t even think what I’m going to do tomorrow, let alone with what the next type of music is going to be like. We’re at a point in our career where at every record it could be the last record, but I’m hoping it’s not going to be. I think with “Heritage” we have a future, I’m excited about writing more music. [I'm] not saying we want to repeat “Heritage”, but it gave me some hope for the future for this band, musically, of course. We all love it and we have a good time playing those songs and I guess once we go into the studio next time, it’s impossible to say what type of music it’s going to be but it’s going to be good.