OPETH: Hope Doesn't Always Leave:
An Interview with Mikael Akerfeldt
Despite 2004 looking to be an exciting year for Opeth, their "Lamentations Over America Tour" got off to a bit of a rocky start, but one that was swiftly overcome. And with a Swedish Grammy award nomination in the best Rock/Metal category, the band's first ever DVD about to be released, and tour dates scheduled throughout March of this year, things are only getting better and better for these Swede rockers.
"We had a bad start on this tour because the drummer had to go home, he had some personal problems to take care of, " explains Opeth's lead singer Mikael Akerfeldt.
"We had to cancel the first show, the second show we did a couple songs with the drum tech. Tonight we're going to do the same but also Gene Hoglan, from Strapping Young Lad, is going to play two songs with us. It's just going to be fun, I think. "
The brief joint effort with Hoglan went smoother than most would expect of anyone coming in from another band to jam in lieu of one of the primary musicians. "Gene listened to the two songs that we're playing with him and did both pretty much in the first take. Amazing! " Says Akerfeldt.
The following night after I spoke to Akerfeldt, Opeth's drummer, Martin Lopez, did indeed rejoin his band mates in Seattle to resume the new tour and New Year excitement. The highlight of which is the DVD to be released on February 24.
"It's called Lamentations and it was recorded at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London. We did two shows that night, we played one metal show as well as a heavy set. It's basically two hours of live music on there, and also an hour of documentary from the recording of the last two albums. "
The hour-plus performance represented on the DVD doesn't deviate much from what Opeth likes to give on most nights. "We usually play like an hour and a half, at least. If we can, we'd probably play like two hours. It's fun. You don't notice [being tired] until afterward. While you're up there you just do it. "
Akerfeldt continues, " [Afterward] you're still pumped up. You don't notice it until maybe a couple hours after the show...when the alcohol sets in, " he chuckles.
The most recent of the last two releases, Damnation, was voted one of the best Hard Rock and Metal CDs of 2003 by the editors of Amazon.com, and also produced Opeth's first video ever. The video was made for the song "Windowpane" and has received a respectable amount of airplay on MTV's Headbangers Ball. "To be honest, 'Windowpane' was not meant to be a video, " Akerfeldt explains, "We thought that was only meant to be like a promo thing for record labels and stuff. We didn't think they were going to show it or air it at all. So we were kind of surprised, and it was done on zero budget pretty much. "
"We never were too much into doing videos but Damnation kind of presented a new opportunity for us to do [them] because the songs are shorter than the regular, so to speak, songs. We always had planned to do one but we'd never done one properly, and 'Windowpane' is by no means a proper video, I don't think. It's more like presenting the band. "
Despite the success that "Windowpane's" video is receiving, there might not be a follow-up video for Opeth anytime in the near future.
"I don't know. I wouldn't mind but it's just that with the music scene as it is today Damnation is getting old. It's been out for some time now, so it depends. If the record company wants to do a video, we'll do it. "
Akerfeldt continues, "We were talking with a video director, the guitar player from Entombed. He has a production company for music videos and we were talking about doing something but it all comes down to if the record company wants to do it. I doubt it, but maybe. "
Even with a grueling schedule planned for the next couple of months, Opeth's already looking to beginning work on the next album after the duration of the 2004 tour.
"I think we only have one day off after this tour, then we leave again for Hungary, Greece, and Jordan. [Then] Australia, and then we're done. I think we're going to do a few summer festivals. But we're going to start concentrating on writing new music and hopefully record next winter."
"I've been away so much I haven't had time to write new material but I'm working on one song right now which is going fairly well. I need some proper time off before I really sit down and start working for real, if you know what I mean. After we're done with the Australian tour, I might have two months off or something before I pick up the guitar. "
"Last year, I think we did 200 shows - and that's a lot. I think all of the band needs a proper break. "
Though, Akerfeldt does the bulk of the song writing process for Opeth's albums, the process isn't quite as despotically operated as one might think.
"I do pretty much all the writing, at least for the last five albums I wrote all the material. We don't rehearse that much - so we pretty much meet up in the studio and everybody goes through their parts and kind of arranges it the way they want it to sound. I just present the core of the song. "
"I have a vague idea of what I want the song to sound like, if they're too far off I'd probably say, 'Maybe not.' But it's not like I'm the total boss, everybody has to be happy. "
Akerfeldt's preproduction songwriting process is a little more lax than when the band goes into the studio. "If I have a melody I just make up fun lyrics, like singing about carpets or something," he laughs, "Fit in with whatever melody I've got. And then I write the lyrics afterward. "
After Opeth's Australian gig, Akerfeldt and his new bride will be honeymooning down-under as well.
Opeth will be playing Chicago's House of Blues on February 17.
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