OPETH has been one of the longest running bands from the Scandinavian region. The band is particularly noted for writing songs that dwell in Extreme Metal and progressive genres; have also experimented over the years with their interesting song structures and writing that goes unparalleled. We are speaking with the band’s guitarist, Fredrik Åkesson about a lot of things with regards to the new album- Sorceress; Steven Wilson, record labels, the band’s writing and much more, right after they finished their US Tour last November. Excerpts:
MJM. Greetings from India! Thank you so much for taking time out to do this interview with us, Fred. Been trying to reach you for quite some time and we finally get to speak now.
Fred: Yeah, this interview was supposed to be last week right? Sorry about that. We have been on the road and it’s too hectic. Besides, we don’t get to use our phones so much due to the network issues haha! Hope you are doing good.
MJM. I am doing fine, thanks! How is Opeth doing now?
Fred: Everyone is doing well! We are in the middle of the ‘Sorceress’ tour and we did North America and we are playing tonight in Milano in Italy and it’s been really good so far. Couple of gambles and its fun to play the new songs; so we have a really strong set- list on this tour. The people who come to the shows seem really happy. So it feels great!
MJM. You guys recently finished the US tour. How has the reception been so far with the new album?
Fred: It seems that they are listening to lots of new songs, such as the title track of Sorceress called ‘The Wilde Flowers’ and it goes down really well I think. People really enjoyed it and we released the lyric videos for the songs before the start of the North American tour on the same date as the release here or the day before or something. So we played songs that were on the lyric videos and it seems like people have played a lot of attention to it. I think overall it’s a good reception. We have some good reviews so far and also chart positions; such as Number one in Germany, which is just amazing!
MJM. To me, Opeth is definitely one of Sweden’s greatest metal exports. You have been part of the band since ‘Watershed’ that released back in 2008. How does it feel when you look back in time? How much has this band been an important part of your life all these years?
Fred: Oh, it definitely becomes a huge part of your life of course! And by next year, it becomes ten years with the band or so. It goes with a lot of parallel thoughts and differences and lot of ups and downs; with the career so high when we did so many tours and festivals. It’s also still inspiring to play with Opeth because musically, it’s always a challenge and I think everybody tries to improve their individual playing, all the time and that of course pushes the band up by a notch every time we put an album or so. Playing all this holds us really tight now and every small detail, production wise also has fallen into place and also going with minor technical guitar details haha! We have also worked specially on production, our custom lights, they can rotate 30 degrees. Lots of cool stuff with those things. We try and set up the game a little bit!
MJM. You have played with various bands such as Krux, Talisman, also did a DVD with Tiamat, before joining Opeth. How has this transition been for you?
Fred: Well, I think since the first band I played was Talisman and we had a lot of technical and progressive stuff in it and in some songs there’s a lot of solos and it was cool for me. They were a generation older than me but we grew up in that era. It was a good warm up for me. Tiamat was different; very Death Metal and Doomy. And Krux was pure epic Doom Metal. I also played Arch Enemy for a while with faster, aggressive, Melodic Thrash and Death Metal stuff. That was what I did before Opeth. That kind of high energy stuff to playing Opeth to especially going live was a transition. That was a different approach for it. Mikael has a different approach to playing live and he likes to crack jokes in between the songs. He’s more relaxed and he goes like, “Hey, motherfuckers come on” haha! This was a bit of a transition and now playing live is just relaxing. That’s all, I am gonna say hahaha! But it’s definitely been a good thing for me to be with different sides before joining Opeth. Also, in Mikael’s way of playing riffs and stuff, that was really indulging.
MJM. Before you sit to write an album, what goes into the writing process? How do you execute things and set the benchmark for an album? Let’s say Sorceress for example.
Fred: Well, usually Mikael sits on it and has a story to tell in the demo studio. He’s a bit of a lone wolf. And for this album, I recorded parts in my home studio; some may represent five different ideas and one of them was to be used, also it’s a very different version from what I did. We took it down to the studio and we started recording bits and pieces and it had kinda grown from there, usually it was fun to be able to write new songs. Mikael has pretty much everything down when you need. He called me up and said, “Hey, can you come down and play this song and then I asked him to put down his solo and then usually improvise and stuff and then I go home and re-learn it and overcome it, so that I know what I am doing. So, it kinda varies, so when we were done, we check out the demos and then we start with the bass and the drums live and they have the demos like click track. And it’s good for everyone, and then we also record the vocal lines and work on corrections there, check over rides and layers. So that we get the entire idea of the song. After that, we play on top of the bass and the drums to take out the demo away, so it becomes more alive. We make use of click tracks. It’s been a more helpful way of recording live.
MJM. What inspires you to change the sound of each album and make it different from each other? Right from the earlier albums that changed the band’s idea and perception of the music to the later years too and evolving continuously in terms of sound, production etc.
Fred: I think it’s something that kinda comes out naturally without us thinking too much about it to write a song. It starts with a small idea, for this album we did the cover very early with a ‘Peacock’ so that has been inspiring I think to visualize the album cover and Mike’s sound. And for the second part of your question, well, I think it feels like the fan base is broken up a little bit you know. It’s still a lot of metalheads coming to our show but it’s also the others who are into Rush and stuff. And, I met some of those people who listened to our album Heritage and after a while, they get curious about the back catalogue, so they liked the more Extreme Death stuff now as well, which is kinda funny because they have shown interest in that as they haven’t heard our first albums, which is still pretty cool. Then we also have younger people as well who come to our show, it’s great and I hadn’t heard all the reviews of the new album. There are always complaints you know, we get used to that but for us the most important thing is to pass through it and be confident with our music and give our best, which I think is the most important thing.
MJM. So, were you ever skeptical about the audience’s perception when the band changed its sound? How did the band see the audience’s reaction to it?
Fred: Oh, we wrote it the way we wanted it to write it. For this album, when Mikael sent the idea, that’s when I felt it was all natural. That’s the most important thing. From Heritage, we pushed it even more. The older songs without growls and that of course, upset some old school fans. We have to, we did that tour; but we still did it. It’s important for us and the fans to know what can happen. It’s important to give their dose of metal! The stuff we are going to play tonight is 70% of the extreme stuff. Some people will need to know, we can’t please everybody. The band just needs to do their thing. We are always up for doing something fresh and creative. We never know what can turn out. We don’t know what the stuff will be like.
MJM. How important is it for the band to integrate a more organic sound even though the band has been evolving from album to album? Irrespective of whether it sounds heavy or softer.
Fred: It’s very important. I spend a lot of time with the guitar again and stuff like that. For the latest album, we talked about the production, quite a lot. We wanted to evolve from Heritage. We wanted to put more guitars on this album. I think this is heavier of the three after Watershed, in some parts at least. We did speak about doing something a bit more heavy. Let’s see what happens the next time.
MJM. Has the change of record labels added to the value of the band’s music? You were quite devastated when some fans accused the band of ‘selling out’ in 2005, after being signed to ‘Roadrunner Records’. Of course, times have changed but what was going through your mind back then?
Fred: I wasn’t in the band then, yes but I know the story. It was ridiculous to call us sell out! It was definitely not true; I will say this because since I joined the band, nobody from the label or management can come in with ideas with this band, creative wise. They have never affected the decisions on songs or music wise so it’s totally forbidden that the record labels interfering with the creative side. So it’s always been like that I am sure it has been like that for this album too. In the end, it’s the band’s best distribution to get the album out; going from Roadrunner Records to Nuclear Blast now. They’ve put out the options that they have and we are just free to go out and Mikael and the manager went and had lots of meetings with labels. Lots of changes, when Roadrunner was a classic record deal but with this album we have formed our own label called ‘Moderbolaget Records‘, Swedish name which means ‘Mother company’ or something like that. The album is licensed through Nuclear Blast. So it feels good. We are on top of the game. We had like to give Nuclear Blast credits for doing a great job so far. They put up great promotion schedules. They made the album come with Number one in Germany, Number eight in UK so there have been good results. So it feels good. So far we like working with them.
MJM. Tell us about the relationship the band shared with Steven Wilson which goes back over a decade. How did the idea of collaborating with him come about?
Fred: First time I listened to the band, he was co-producing Blackwater Park, which was the first one he did. Then he did Deliverance and Damnation. I think when we worked on Heritage, he was in the studio on the producer bill. So he was with ideas and anything like that. It has been great working with him, we are great friends and he’s also one of Mikael’s best friends. They have a good connection. He’s a cool guy to hang out with. We even played a couple of shows together. He’s extremely talented. He’s a great person.
MJM. How is the scene in Scandinavia? Tell us about the Black and Death Metal scene back there.
Fred: We are friends with a lot of those guys you know. A lot of these bands seem to like us. The other day, Dimmu Borgir guys came to our show. We are friends with those guys for a very long time. Mikael said, back in the day, some of the Extreme Metal bands actually liked Opeth. Opeth wasn’t a Black Metal band. They had listened to those songs but maybe they liked the more melancholic and poly-rhythmic notes that are in it you know; which was a part of our thing. I think Opeth is always down with our thing. And it’s interesting that Eric from Watain, an Extreme Metal band, he came up to me and said that Heritage was his absolute favourite Opeth album. Many of these Extreme Metal musicians seem to like the newer style records, it sounds crazy but it seems like that.
MJM. You guys played in India many years ago. Any plans of touring the country again?
Fred: Ahh, yes, I hope India is going to happen soon. We’ve had some really nice shows back then. I am a huge fan of the Indian food hahah!
MJM. How was the experience when you played here for the first time?
Fred: I hope so! We talk a lot about coming to India with our manager. We didn’t come from Pale Communion album, last was Heritage I think. We played in Mumbai and the first time was in Chennai. That was for the Watershed album. It was a very special show. It was like a big arena in the middle of a jungle. It was very exotic for us, you know. We were sitting right outside our room and camping was exotic. Also the show was fantastic. We played to over 10,000 people and that’s one of the biggest shows we have ever done. Yeah, we have to come back you know. We feel that we have a strong support in India. Almost every show we have played, there’s always a few people from India. So we definitely want to make it there again. We hope to come back with this album. We haven’t confirmed anything yet. I definitely want to push for it. India is definitely in the works!
MJM. Many thanks for speaking with us. It was a pleasure. Good luck with the new release and touring.
Fred: Thank you for your great support. We want to come back to India and play more shows, hopefully. Meanwhile, hope you like the new album.
MJM. Thanks so much again. You take care too.
Fred: My pleasure. I am very sorry; it took me such a long time for this. You take care!
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Harsha Vardhan (Metaljesus Magazine- Chief Editor/ Owner)