Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt Interview: “I hate people telling me what to do, and I hate feeling boxed in.”

Lenny Kaye

There’s just something refreshing about a musician interviewing another musician – you won’t typically get the same kind of questions and the same programmed answers.  With that being said, eMusic  recruited contributing writer Lenny Kaye, a good friend to Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt as well as being a writer, record collector, and Patti Smith’s guitarist since the ’70’s so this is sure to make a great interview.  Check it out below:

There’s been a lot of discussion among the eMusic Opeth cognoscenti about whether Heritage should be considered a Mikael Akerfeldt solo record or an Opeth record. Is there a difference, and where is the dividing line in the creative process?

I don’t think it’s any more of a solo record than the other records I’ve written for. It is a band, like any other band, where one or two persons are the driving force, so to speak. In this band, it happens to be me. I write almost all the material, and I write for all the instruments too, but since I’m not a keyboard player, or a drummer, sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing. I might write something that’s impossible to play. When I record the demos, I make them very high-level demos, because I want to intimidate the other band members, and make them feel they have to top that. That’s when it really becomes a band. To some extent it’s still a democracy, even if I call the shots (laughs).

How detailed are the demos? When you bring them into rehearsal, are they really scripted, or is there room for the unexpected?

They’re very detailed. This album is a better-sounding, more human version of the demos. I spend a lot of time with the demos, especially with the drums. But it’s been like that ever since the possibility was there, with ProTools and the like. I can’t let things slide. Coming up with the drum beats, if I want to hear ghost notes on the snare, I’ll just keep working on them till they sound as human and as swinging as possible.

For the third and fourth albums, and even a couple of records later, we went into the studio with no material. I wrote everything during the nights, and we recorded during the days — which is interesting in a way, but I reached a point where I didn’t know whether it was good or shit, I was so tired. I think some of those records suffered as a result, even if some of it sounded spontaneous and cool. But it reached a point where I couldn’t do that anymore; I wanted to be more in control of what we were putting out there.

Heritage seems to make a statement about Opeth’s growth, discarding the signifiers of death metal, the growled vocals and rapid-fire bass drum, in favor of more prog-rock elements. Not that Opeth has ever shied from them, but this time you seem to have formally cut the cord that ties you to death metal.

It wasn’t a decision so much as not being able to continue writing in the metal way. I tried to write a couple metal-ly-sounding songs, and they weren’t the worst songs, but it wasn’t from the heart. I can’t just release something to maintain a career. It worried me for a bit. I was fooling myself for a little while, but then I ended up deleting those songs and starting over. And then I started coming up with the songs that ended up on the record, which were different sounding; it was like a floodgate opening.

The only ones who can say what constitutes an Opeth record would be the band. For our 10th album, people are surely expecting something; they expect us to change, and yet they want us to stay the same. What the fuck should I do? Should I just please people? No. It’s the same decision I made when I quit my job in the guitar store to devote myself to music, because it’s my worst nightmare to do something because you’re supposed to do it. I hate people telling me what to do, and I hate feeling boxed in.

Go read the whole thing.

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