Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt Talks ‘Sorceress’ Writing Process, Fan Opinions, High Fives + More
Opeth mastermind Mikael Akerfeldt was the guest on Full Metal Jackie’s weekend radio program. The frontman discussed the band’s new album, ‘Sorceress,’ declared he doesn’t believe in public opinion when it comes to his ever-shifting music and detailed his mindset during the writing process. From there, he mentioned his dwindling enthusiasm for touring as well as not being keen on giving high fives. Check out the chat below.
How are you doing, my friend?
I’m pretty good. How are you?
We’re here to celebrate the new Opeth album. The 12th record, called Sorceress. What kind of album did you envision Sorceress when you started writing the songs?
Well, I was hoping for an Opeth record and we got it in the end. Twelve records in now with this one, I do a lot of press right now and I get the question all the time. What were you thinking? Who are your influences? I just wrote. I have a home studio, I just went down there writing, hoping for the best and I got it. I was lucky, I guess.
I was writing – I have a good work ethic, so I was there every day working. This time around I didn’t throw away that much stuff. I didn’t write too much s–t so to speak. I was lucky. I kept everything, I think. 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 — if you would hear a song from the record, I didn’t want you to know what the rest of the album was going to sound like. I deliberately went for a diverse collection of songs, I think.
How closely does an Opeth album, specifically this one, reflect your personal life at the time you’re writing the songs?
Well, lyrically it’s more past experience and thoughts or whatever. Musically, same thing. Past influences. I don’t write in between songwriting. Songwriting for me, I focus during a period of time when 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, different genres. I guess I kind of stash influences for those songwriting periods.
So, musically and lyrically it’s quite personal. Everything pretty much taken from my private life. I’ll bring influences up afterwards. It’s not usually — if I was to write lyric about my current state of mind, they’d all be happy lyrics so to speak, because I’m in a good place right now. Happy and Opeth doesn’t really go hand in hand, generally. I prefer to bring up some kind of moody or more bleak memories or experience from the past, lyrically.
Musically it’s a little bit all over the place … I want it to be a bit bleak, I want to be a bit — I want to sit up straight when I hear music. I don’t like muzak, I don’t like elevator music. It needs to be something substantial.
Opeth really evolves and changes from album to album. What’s been the biggest challenge about being creatively fearless?
I am quite fearless. I am now anyways, I guess there was a time in our career where I was a bit more wary about what people might think. Perhaps part of me wanted us to build a fanbase or something, or I was hoping that we’d become more popular and I was hoping that everybody was going to like whatever we were doing. 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. I don’t believe in public opinion when it comes to this band or what we should do. I just write. Over the years I’ve got a lot of criticism for being unpredictable. 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. But the essence of Opeth is to write music that we think is good for the time as opposed to building a career. We have a career thanks to that, I think. We have a career just because 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.
This was recorded really quickly. Was that intentional to keep it spontaneous, or does this band just work fast?
Nowadays we work fast. There was a time where we very, I wouldn’t say slow, but we were unprepared in the studio. We’ve done records, gone into the studio not having any songs. We haven’t rehearsed or anything. But now we had songs, we still don’t really rehearse before going into the studio, even Axe our drummer and Mendez our bass player, they rehearse together to get the foundations down together to create some type of live feeling for the records. I love being in the studio, looking back on this recording I wish we would have spent more time, not because we needed it but because it was fun.
We had a great time recording this record. We booked 12 days or something, 13 days maybe and recorded for 10-11 days, which is quick. It’s fast for us. But I guess that’s how we work these days. It’s good to do it that way. Those records we did in the past, we spent over a month in the studio and in the end when we came out we were all wrecks, basically, and it wasn’t fun. This way, it’s fun 100 percent of the time and you really long for the next time that you’re going to do a record. We had a great time. It’s good for us to record fast, besides everything was done, it’s not like we were rushing things. We took it easy. We went out to the pub a few nights, went to have a curry a few nights. It was basically a vacation, even if it wasn’t.
You’ve got a ton of fall touring happening and there’s three special shows on the tour. Sydney, London and New York. There’s going to be two sets each show, different songs, than the regular tour dates. What’s significant to you about the cities and venues you chose for those three shows?
I don’t have anything to do with where we’re going to play. I just jump on the bus and when I wake up I’m in a new city. Sometimes I have to check where I am. I don’t sit down with agents and the managers saying, we should really play here and there. I don’t really care to be honest. There are some key cities, if you’re going on a world tour, of course it makes sense if you’re playing some capitals like London and New York. Not the capitals, but you know what I mean. Places we normally play.
For the rest, we’re happy to play anywhere and we treat each show — New York and London, they’re important of course but we don’t treat that any differently than we do Saskatoon. We play as well as we can every night, we give it our all every night. It doesn’t really matter where we play, we’re still gonna play the best we can. Of course some shows are important on a commercial level because there’s a lot of press, journalists or important people coming down or record label people coming down and they want to see a good show and want to high five you after the show, so that’s important to them.
Are you a big high fiver?
I don’t do – Swedes, we kind of keep in the background. I would high five but I would blush a little bit. We just play, so I don’t really know where else we’re gonna play on that North American tour.
Mikael, what can we expect going into 2017?
We’ll do North America, we go back for not long, I think it’s a week off at home and we head out for a European tour in November. Then I think we have December, January off. February we’re doing Australia and New Zealand. I guess we’re doing, we’re going to be playing a lot.
Personally I don’t like to tour as much as we — we’ve been touring so much over the years and I’ve been away so much. I don’t really want to do that anymore so I need breaks in between the tours. But we’re gonna hit every territory. South America, Japan, wherever we’re gonna play. Usually we play everywhere on the tours. The only confirmed tours that we have is North America, European and the Aussie tour.
You’ll be quite busy for awhile, it seems.
Yes, it will be busy. I’m nervous about going on tour for some strange reason. It’s like, you get comfortable back home. I get comfortable doing creative things, working with music back home. So going on tour, you have to step into this different frame of mind.
Do you ever get creative and write on the road?
I always wonder how bands do that. I can’t imagine it’s conducive to your creative juices flowing, I imagine that everybody’s got their what works for them with what the location is and level of distractions and how you get yourself into the mindset.
There’s a romantic aura around that, like musicians writing a masterpiece in Massachusetts. I can’t. Maybe I’ve tried. 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 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 want to keep going and I don’t want any interruptions, which is why I never really give it a go. Writing on tour. I simply can’t see it being possible for me.
And what you guys are writing, it’s complex. It’s not simple music.
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 — could write anything relevant on tour. You need to sit down, I need to live with the music. I need to be kinda one with the music, because I do go into some type of bubble when I’m in a creative space and I get tunnel vision and all that stuff. That cannot be interrupted by beer and people.
Best of luck. I will not high five you.
Well, you can. When I see you I’m gonna be ready and I’ll high five you first.
[Laughs] I’m not a high fiver myself. I’ve left plenty of people hanging. I feel like I’d be doing you a disservice because my heart is not in it.
Yeah okay, that’s fine. I won’t cry if you don’t high five me. I have other ways of — a simple nod will do. Even give you a hug.
It’s definitely an awkward moment when someone wants to high five you and you don’t high five them back [laughs].
The most avid high fiver I’ve ever met is Sebastian Bach.
Oh, he loves to high five it.
Like 100 million times during 10 minutes. But he can get away with it.
[Laughs] Thank you so much for taking the time.
Cheers Jackie, thank you so much.
Thanks to Mikael Akerfeldt for the interview. Grab your copy of Opeth’s ‘Sorceress’ at Amazon or digitally through iTunes. Keep up with everything the band is doing including tour dates by following Opeth’s Facebook page. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.
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