"Three cigarettes and a shot of Scotch!"
Oh, if it were that easy! In choosing Opeth to partake in this yearís Sounds of the Underground, it was an odd choice to say the least but a very wise one indeed. Those of you familiar with Opethís history, I wonít insult you by reciting their bio to you. I couldnít begin to give it justice anyway! [Note: Fortunately, there is a very extensive one at www.opeth.com for your reading pleasure]
Mikael Ňkerfeldt is truly a dedicated man. Opethís frontman feels deeply and luckily we are able to share in his depth of emotion. This dedication extends throughout his inner workings: his loyal fans, his impeccable bandmates, the love of his young family and his music. His music morphs into many different facets: Bloodbath and Katatonia to name a few and his main prize, Opeth. August 30th is the release date of the long awaited recording of Ghost Reveries courtesy of their new label, Roadrunner Records. As per usually, it will not be short of the excellent musicianship that Opeth is notorious for. Itís impressionable, just as Mikael was on me. Read onÖ
Erika: You guys had an awesome set here in Chicago. Why did you decide to do the Sounds of the Underground tour? Who approached you?
Mikael: It was our American agent is basically running this whole tour, I think it was his idea and heís been hooking up our tours for the last couple of years. He told us about this idea and we thought it was a good one. Because weíre putting out an album at the end of August so itís a good chance to bounce around the new album and play in front of some new fans because most of the bands on this bill arenít what, I think, you know actually ďOpeth FansĒ I think many people in the crowds had never heard of us before. Itís a good chance for us to reach out to a whole new audience I guess.
Erika: Right, I thought it was a wonderful opportunity and the kind of songs you chose for the setlist I thought, got across pretty well.
Mikael: Yeah, yeah every show has been alright, ya know! Itís been going down pretty well.
Erika: How did you decide to choose that specific setlist for that kind of crowd?
Mikael: We rehearsed maybe an hour and a half worth of songs back home in Stockholm. The last couple of nights weíve been playing the same set. We could change the setlists every night if we wanted to. Ya know, we played songs that we felt right playing. We only have 30, 40 minutes. We play what we think we could lure people into.
Erika: Well, you chose well.
Mikael: (Humbled) Thank you.
Erika: Did you guys perform at the Wacken Air Festival already?
Mikael: No, weíre [Opeth] not going to play there but Iím going there personally because Iím doing a show with one of my past projects, itís a one of show Iím doing with a band called BloodbathÖ
Erika: Yes, Iím very familiar. How did Bloodbath form and whoís idea was it to play Wacken? For that matter, how do you split up your time to play with Bloodbath and Opeth?
Mikael: I ask my wife if Iím free. [Laughter] Itís my best friend really. Itís his band, he plays in the Swedish band called Katatonia. Him [Jonas Renkse] and the guitar player from there started Bloodbath years ago basically but they never did anything. In the beginning it was meant to pay tribute to old school Swedish death metal. So I recorded many EPs with them and full lengths with them. I decided I donít have time because Opeth takes up all my time and when Iím off, I want to be with my family. But I said yes to this show because itís a one of show.
Erika: When is it taking place exactly?
Mikael: I think itís the 6th of August or somewhere around there. The new album will be put out the 30th of August. So what weíre gonna do is come back home, do some festivals in Europe and a European tour. I think weíre coming back over here either support of some big band or doing our own headline tour.
Erika: Now did Andy Sneap participate in the new album? What should fans expect from it?
Mikael: No, he only made Deliverance, our pervious album. This time we produced it ourselves. We did not have an outside producer for this one.
Erika: I know your keyboard player Per [Wiberg] was with Spiritual Beggars, now is he a permanent member of Opeth?
Mikael: Yeah, he is a permanent member of Opeth but he is also still a member of Spiritual Beggars too. Itís just that Spiritual Beggars has turned more into a project because every member of the band has other bands and other priorities. So they only record when they have time and record when they write when it would be cool to record. So itís not like a 100% band itís more or less like a project these days.
Erika: Gotcha. Does the name Opeth have any specific meaning?
Mikael: Not really. Itís a name that we took from a book by an author called Wilbur Smith. It was called Opet without the H at the end and it was the city [built by an Egyptian culture that reached Africa two thousand years ago]. It was like a science fiction type of book. It was the first singer of this band came up with the name.
Erika: You guys have had great accomplishments and with respect to your fans you have an extremely loyal fan base which is wonderful!
Mikael: Thank you.
Erika: But you guys had a record deal without even cutting a demo, is that correct?
Mikael: Yeah, because our first label was UK based label called Candlelight Records, still running you know. [I agree] And at the time we didnít have any demos or anything but we recorded rehearsal tapes. And there was a band on Candlelight records called Emperor, they had a few albums. The guitar player made compilation tapes of unsigned bands that he found good, ya know. He squeezed in ten seconds of an Opeth rehearsal tape just at the end of the tape and we were the only band from that cassette tape who got signed. [Chuckles]
Erika: Wow, okay. Now with this album, whatís the name of the album to be released in August?
Mikael: Itís called Ghost Reveries.
Erika: AhhhÖAnd how has Roadrunner been treating you guys?
Mikael: Well, itís been good so far! You know, weíre piled up with work. We have loads of stuff to do everyday but itís still a very fresh signing. Weíve only been with them for a couple of months or something like that. Theyíve got a lot to prove.
Erika: You mentioned that recording Damnation and Deliverance was something you'd never do again, why is that?
Mikael: [Deadpans] It was horrible!
Erika: But in what regards?
Mikael: All sorts of things. We had personal problems within the band, we had technical difficulties in the studio and our engineer was drunk and he couldnít help usÖ
Erika: Oh, wow.
Mikael: The songs werenít done. I basically wrote two albums worth of songs in the studio and recorded during the day. So I wrote during the night and recorded during the day. It was just big hassle. Nothing I would recommend.
Erika: Yes, understandable. That was counted as one album and you were paid for that one album as such. How did you feel about that? How did you deal with that?
Mikael: It was my idea. Weíre not a money band, we into the music. So when I got this idea to do two albums at the same time, the record label at the time was very reluctant. You know they were like ĎWell I donít know about thisí but I talked them into it. Okay, so letís make it count as one album in the contract. I really wanted to do it. And I talked them into it.
Erika: Well, Iím glad it worked out to your advantage. [Laughter] As far as your vocals go and your approach to your vocals on the upcoming album, you go from melodic heavenly vocals to the deep demonic growl. Do you strain your vocal chords? Do you perform any specific pre-show warm up exercises?
Mikael: Three cigarettes and a shot of Scotch! [Laughter] But no, itís no problem for me. The actually hardest part for me is the clean singing, that will put a strain on my vocal chords. But Iíve been doing it for such a long time, itís more or less effortless these days. As long as I donít drink so much when Iím sick or if I have a cold or the flu or something and I drink then I will loose my voice otherwise it will be there for me.
Erika: The lyrical content for this album, what was your approach to it?
Mikael: I had this early idea about writing some kind of occult concept, it would look like some sort of a regression to my death metal roots but I ended up writing a couple of songs that are connected together, surrounding almost like a cult or different demonic possession type of thing. But not writing a childish thing, I wanted to write it more like a poetic type of way if you know what I mean. [I agree] A couple of songs surround that theme and a couple of songs surround other things.
Erika: Whatís going to be the first release off of this album?
Mikael: We going to do, because our songs are so long, we gonna put out two edit versions of two songs on the album and one full length of an edit. Itís a song called "The Grand Conjuration" that I think weíre going to shoot the video for at the end of this tour. The second will be "Ghost of Perdition".
Erika: You contributed some work to Porcupine Treesí for their Deadwing album, how was that experience as oppose to working with the guys in Opeth?
Mikael: Well, Steven [Wilson] has been our producer in the past so working with him is almost like working with a member from my own band. And he asked me basically because he likes my guitar playing and my singing. He wanted to do some type of vocals and guitar solos so Porcupine Trees is one of my favorite bands of all time so there was no way I would say no. Very surprised that he asked me. I was very honored. It was just a cool thing! To work with him is easy, I mean we have the same type ofÖ we listen to music in the same way I guess. My ideas, itís a good chance he would like what I come up with, you know. Heís very easy to work with.
Erika: As far as arrangements go within Opeth, how do you arrange for the guitar solos?
Mikael: Well, for guitar solos, this album, I do most of the guitar solos. Peter [Lindgren] will do one solo. We just basically, if he really really likes, he really really wants the solo, he takes. Same with me, if thereís something I wanna do or if I have an idea for a specific reason, Iíll take the solo. It just so happen to be that this time around I did more than I usually do and he did less.
Erika: Out of all of the Opeth albums that have been released what was your favorite one?
Mikael: Out of all that have been released, itís hard to say. I think Damnation I really like because itís an oddball album, you know. And I like Blackwater Park , thatís a good album. I like all of them. Itís not like I hate the other ones. I think the other ones are good. But out of all my favorites right now itís probably the new one but that has not been released. Damnation and Blackwater Park.
Erika: So now your favorite song off the new one?
Mikael: Favorite song off the new one would be "Isolation Years", I really like that song?
Mikael: Sometimes I think itís like one of those songs that Iíve been meaning to write for a long time. I did the demo for the song and I was so happy my wife cried when she heard the demo and everythingÖ
Erika: [Touched] Oh my godÖ
Mikael: Iím happy that the finished version came out better!
Erika: Now thatís a compliment. But she would know best right?
Mikael: Yes. Yeah, definitely! She liked the recorded version too.
Erika: If you could commission another band to cover an Opeth song, who would do it and which song would it be?
Mikael: Thatís a tough question. [Laughs] I would like to see Tool cover a song. And a good song for them would beÖ "Isolation Years".
Erika: The first music you remember hearing in your house growing up in your household?
Mikael: Well, that was what my mom and dad would listen to. It was The Beatles or Abba you know, Shirley Bassey and The Supremes! [Laughter]
Erika: And who are you listening to now?
Mikael: Err, right now, Iím listening to what I brought with me on this tour. So itís basically Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell Iíve been listening to a lot on this tour.
Erika: Oh wow!
Mikael: New Nile which I like a lot. King Crimsonís Red, stuff like thatÖ
Erika: If you could produce a CD for anyone, who would it be?
Mikael: I never been a producer for my own band so that would be very hard to say. Iíve co-produced sometimes with my friends in Katatonia which I really like. But Iím not so interested in the whole production thing unless Iím very into the band, so they would be close friend.
Erika: If you could speak any other language beside SwedishÖ I understand you guys are fluent Spanish too right?
Mikael: Oh, itís only the two Martins in the band because theyíre from Uruguay. They speak Spanish. I donít know Spanish. I only understand a little bit of it and a little bit German but obviously Spanish would be my first priority.
Erika: What was your first job?
Mikael: My first proper job was in a guitar store. I worked for Martin Guitars in Sweden, the general agency for them. The agency sold guitars and strings and such through other stores but we had a store of our own, so we had customer coming in, Iíd help them, guitar repair everything.
Erika: If not music then what?
Mikael: ErrrÖdeath. [Serious but laughs]
Erika: Music or death? Okay. What do you think your bandmates would choose? What would they do if it wasnít for Opeth?
Mikael: Peter has a wide education so joining this band was probably the worst economical choice he could ever do! He could make a million bucks though his education. As for the Martins itís very hard to say, I know they have worked in a slaughterhouse, they have been dealing out newspapers but I have no idea what they would do. I think Martin Mendez is a very good artist. He likes to draw, so he would probably be an artist. Per Wiberg has a part time job at home but heís a full blooded musician thereís no other way he would leave music.
Erika: And any specific plans after this tour?
Mikael: Well first for me itís Wacken but at the end of August Iím going to spend time with my wife and daughter.
Erika: How old is your daughter?!
Mikael: Ten months. [Chuckles]
Erika: Ahhh, well safe travels and much success on your album. Youíll be home soon!
Mikael: I hope so. I canít wait. Thank you.
Special thanks to Mikael and Opeth, the guys at Adrenaline, Tim from the Opeth crew and Jamie at Roadrunner.
Click here for photos of the band during Sounds of the Underground
Here for photos of the band on their headlining tour