Opeth Frontman on ‘Heritage’ and Headbanging to His Metal Heroes
Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt was a guest on Full Metal Jackie's radio show this path weekend. The singer-guitarist chatted about the band's new album 'Heritage,' being inspired by Joni Mitchell and rocking out to fellow metal acts. If you missed Full Metal Jackie's show, check out the full interview here:
Nice to see you.
It’s been a while.
Yeah two years, no a year, a year and a half right?
Yeah about a year and a half now, obviously celebrating the release of ‘Heritage’ a great record. Congratulations!
There’s been kind of a divided reaction among Opeth fans with this record. What invigorates you about people being so passionate about your music to have such strong opinions?
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 sometime. But they actually come out to shows and the people I meet they have all been liking it and the songs go down well and 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.
Was there a preconceived plan that you were going to go in this direction prior to going into writing and recording this record?
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 s--t and once I found my way it was easy and I wrote everything pretty quickly, in like six, seven months.
You’ve stated that David Crosby and Joni Mitchell affected ‘Heritage.’ What makes non-metal musicians metal in their appeal?
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 like a very soft acoustic song can be metal. I would assume that a lot of metal people out there don’t know what the f--- 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.
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?
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 onto 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 like none of those bands sounded a like, they were so different from each other, there was not a thing that put them together, Ozzy, his records and the Dio records and 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 f---ing bands as well, just seeing that there’s no longevity after '89. [Laughs]
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.
Yeah, well I saw Ozzy on the last tour and he was great. He sang well and the set list 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 f---ing great show.
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?
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 star struck 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.
Are you afraid you’re going to be let down?
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.
Yeah he was the coolest guy there was. I was actually just listening to some Sabbath on the way down here and Dio was so cool.
He was the greatest and he always delivered, I don’t have his singles with Ron and the Profits or whatever they were called at the time but he always delivered on the records and every time I saw him live he always delivered and once I finally met him in person he delivered a personality that I wish I’m going to be like him. He’s a role model for me in many ways.
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?
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.
What has ‘Heritage’ put Opeth in position to do next?’
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, 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.
Thank you so much for being on the show and congrats on another great record and I appreciate you being on the show once again.
Thank you very much Jackie.
This coming weekend, Full Metal Jackie talks to Corrosion of Conformity singer-bassist Mike Dean. Full Metal Jackie can be heard on radio stations around the country — for a full list of stations, go to fullmetaljackieradio.com. And for more on Opeth, check out Loudwire's recent interview with guitarist Fredrik Akesson here.
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