Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt Talks ‘Sorceress,’ Beer, Record Collecting + More
Opeth's latest album, Sorceress, was released on Sept. 30. The band is currently touring the U.S. in support of the disc, and Loudwire recently caught up with frontman Mikael Akerfeldt for a chat about the album's recording and lyrics, their new label imprint, craft beer, record collecting and other topics. Check out our interview with Mikael Akerfeldt below:
The new album, Sorceress, is now out. Do you pay attention to the charts when the band releases a new disc?
We're No. 1 in Germany, which everybody was happy about. Good chart positions in Europe. Generally, I don't really know what it means. It's important for the record label. Of course, the higher the better. It feels corrupt. It doesn't say so much, the chart positioning. We didn't celebrate [when the disc first came out]. We were out touring. We were playing on the day of the release. I think everybody forgot it was released that day.
The promotion cycle now seems to have gotten a lot longer where you're releasing singles months in advance of the album.
Yeah, there's more of that. That's a sign of the times. I'm really against all that stuff. If it was up to me, nothing would be released before. No journalists would get the record until it's actually out. I know ... it becomes a business. Luckily, we have a record label that we work with and management and all that kind of stuff. Those people take care of that and I just play.
With this album, you've said you wanted to make every song diverse and different. How do you balance the diversity with still making a cohesive disc?
I think the idea of Opeth is that it's depending on your taste. You're probably going to find our record not so cohesive, unless you know where we're coming from. I think you need to do a little bit of Opeth research if you're going to find the record cohesive. To me, it's always cohesive because the music I listen to spans so many types of genres. I don't have a problem adjusting.
The same goes when I write music. It doesn't bother me if it's not cohesive in that sense. The only thing I want to be going for us when we make records is that it's going to be good, that we all like it. Then, it's up to journalists or fans to decide whether they think it's cohesive. It differs from person to person. Some might think it sucks because its not and some people might like that it's a friendly type of vibe that we have on our records. There's no wordly truth to anything. It's just a record with songs that we like and it's up to everyone else to decide what they think.
Do you struggle at all with song order when you're putting an album together or does that usually flow together pretty easily?
I would say pretty easily. In the middle of the recording or writing process I want to feel like this is the possible opener and this is the possible closing song. Once I have those I feel fairly safe. I would also feel fairly open to experimentation with everything that's in between. But I want that specific opening track and that specific closer.
The lyrics on the album deal a lot with a negative side of love. Is that something that's a reflection of your personal life, something you thought would make interesting songs, or a combination of both?
I wouldn't be able to write those types of lyrics if it didn't come from myself. You can't just make up those types of things. What happened was I had some rough times in the past couple of years. I didn't intend to write lyrics like that. That's what came out. It felt good to be able to relate to them, to a certain extent.
There's some fiction in there, of course. Everything is a bit distorted and everything is made to sound a bit cooler than reality. It feels good to relate to them a little bit more because there are a lot of lyrics in the past that have nothing to do with me. Just cool words strung together. The lyrics came out a bit more simple than before, and maybe they come across as a bit more naïve, but at least they matter to me.
At this point, you do what you want when it comes to writing songs and the style that you want to play in. Have you always been that way?
If I think back it's probably always been like that. There probably was a time where I felt that we belonged to the metal scene a bit more than we do now. I wanted us to be part of the metal scene because the bulk of our fans come from the metal scene and I wanted to be part of that scene.
I've never felt that I've been restricting my writing. I've been thinking that metal fans are okay with strange things going on in our records. I've been proven wrong sometimes and proven right sometimes. With time I let go of that feeling of wanting to belong anywhere. Of course, we're still a metal band. When we choose to play really heavy we can. When we choose to play soft we can. Genres have become less and less important to us with time.
A lot of bands, as they progress, it takes them longer and longer to record an album. You have cut your time down considerably. Was that a concerted effort or is it just the way it worked out?
It worked out that way. It's good for finances if you spend less time in the studio. We happen to love being in the studio. We love it, all of us. We have so much fun recording records now. In the past when we spent a month plus in the studio it was never fun.
I like to say, without sounding like we're boasting, that we're at the top of our game now. We know what to expect from each other. We know what we are as a band and what we want to achieve. Its just a matter of us nailing it down on takes. We could easily spend longer in the studio and have fun all the time, but I think there's no point booking a studio for longer than what you need. This time it was 12 days.
The album was released on your own imprint through Nuclear Blast.
Yeah. We signed a licensing contract with Nuclear Blast, while in the past we had a regular record contract. That's the difference with the deal that we have with Nuclear Blast than the previous one. We decided to set up our own imprint because it was good timing. We've been talking about that for a little while. It's all brand new still. We really don’t know where to take it. We could do solo records or side projects or even sign up other bands. We'll see where we're going to take it. It's all new to us.
What is the significance of the label’s name, Moderbolaget?
It's Swedish and it actually means “mother label” or “parent label.” It doesn't matter what label we're on, we're still going to be the parent label.
Do you have the rights to the masters to be able to reissue your older material on your label?
I can't remember exactly because we've been on so many different labels. Some of those records are supposed to come back to us. For sure, we could do that. That's another reason why we started our own imprint. Once we get the rights to release a reissue of some of the early records, we could do it through our own label.
We signed some s--tty deals back in the day and signed away the records for 25, 30 years or something like that. I think we still have to wait a little bit longer. Once they come through, yes, we'll probably do that.
You're in the midst of a North American tour. When you're over here, is there a certain food or a restaurant that you may go out of your way to go to that you might not be able to get in Sweden?
Yes. American food is legendary to Swedes. You go over here with the notion that you're going to get fat. Cheese on everything, and lots of it. It's been getting more and more easy to find good food here for us. That's been linear to our own interest in food because back in the day we were happy with McDonald's.
Now, we deliberately go out and look for good restaurants and you can really find some great food here. I think our collective view on what we love best about American food is easily steak. They're the best in the world here. Generally, we like to go to a high end steakhouse on our days off.
You also have your own beer now, a stout and a pale ale.
They're lovely. I love beer. Everybody in the band loves beer. The stout was a bit too strong. It's 9 percent or something like that. You can only drink one of them at a time. But the IPA is really good. We had a few cases sent to the studio when we were recording and we drank all of it quickly. It was very good, and deliberately made the percentage a bit lower so you could drink a lot.
Do you try craft beers when you're on tour? You could have that in your rider.
Yeah, it's on our rider. We have asked for local breweries everywhere we play. Wherever we are we usually get a case of a diverse range of beers, like pilsners or IPAs or whatever’s local. That’s been pretty successful so far. We've come up on lots of good stuff that way.
You are a well known record collector. Do you try to make time to stop by record stores when you’re here?
Yes, I buy a lot. We're in Detroit now and I went out yesterday and bought, not a bag of records, but a box of records. I spent a good 350 bucks buying some. There's lots of record stores in Detroit. I bought lots of Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. I was looking for Detroit bands, but they were out. I still came away with lots of good stuff. I have too much. If I'm going to put it in my suitcase it will be too heavy. I have to pay a fine. I have to buy a second suitcase for the records.
Do you have a favorite record store in the U.S.?
I like the ones that are not so famous. Of course, you have Amoeba in L.A. and San Francisco and they're good. But they know everything. They know what they have and they know how to price it. I prefer to go to small towns. I usually find a flea market or a thrift store or a record shop. Those are the best because it's cheap, you pick up some good stuff.
I usually buy American stuff when I'm here. If I'm the Czech Republic I go for Czech Republic stuff, or Germany, I buy German stuff. Here, I can pick up Mountain records and Grand Funk records and jazz.
With so many records in your collection, how do you have them sorted and categorized?
I love your questions! Now we're talking. I have lots of records and I buy double of everything. The White Album by the Beatles, I probably have 30 original UK copies and a couple of U.S. copies and some German copies of that one. My own collection, what I consume, the stuff I actually play, one section is UK bands and artists, ‘60s and ‘70s. Then, there's the metal section. There's an extreme metal section. There's the Australia/New Zealand section.
There's the Nordic section with Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. There's a Dutch and Belgian section, there's an Italian section. There's a North American section with Canadian and U.S. artists. There's the soundtrack section, there's the compilation album section, the jazz section. There's a blues section and a soul section. Then, there's a new section. New bands, like new pressings on vinyl. There's a section of that. Then there's s--tloads of doubles all over. There's records in my kid's room, in the kitchen, in the rehearsal room, everywhere.
Did Nuclear Blast let you raid their warehouse when you signed with them?
No, but I did that when we were on Music For Nations, because they put out Metallica and Mercyful Fate and stuff like that. The first time I went there I got so much stuff that I couldn't even shake the hand of the boss because I had too much stuff in my hands.
Then I felt bad because I hadn't taken enough. The moment I came back home I called him up and asked him about those records that I left behind. They were like, "Sorry Mikael, we've thrown that away. It's in a container on the landfill now." I'm like, "No!" Horrible. Nightmare.
2016 is the 20th anniversary of your second album, Morningrise. As you look back on that one, what stands out from that recording process?
Smoking. I smoked a lot during that recording. I was only 23 years old and none of the guys apart from me are still in the band. We had a good time. We spent a month in the studio, which was a long time for us then. The first record was recorded and mixed in 12 days. The second one we spent a month, I think. We had a good time.
It was a bit of a sterile recording. The ADATs had made their march into the technological side of recording. That's a horrible format. We recorded acoustic guitars and vocals on ADATs. I never liked the sound on that. But It was good. We had a good time. The band was pretty tight. We were pretty pretentious then. We played a lot of chess and smoked a lot of cigarettes.
Is there anything else that you’d like to mention?
No, but if you come up with any more record collecting questions you can always call again!
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