Opeth is currently out on the road in support of Sorceress, and as I said in my 10/10 review, this album is a progressive masterpiece. They’ve continued to evolve, and take risks, and the end result is a magical journey for the listener. At their recent show here in New York City, they treated fans to the new and old material at the historic Radio City Music Hall, and I recently got to speak with Mikael Akerfeldt about that special concert, as well as the new record. Enjoy my chat with the legendary vocalist below!
Metal Mark: Mikael, I have to start off by thanking you for your recent set here in New York City at Radio City Music Hall. That was an experience I’ll never forget.
Mikael Akerfeldt: Well thank you for being there. That was definitely one of those shows where we all walked off stage, and shared the same smile. It was a special night, and I’m with you, it was an experience I’ll never forget either. There was some magic in the air that night, and I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as we did.
MM: I wasn’t the only one that enjoyed it either. I remember looking around at the fans during the set, and they were all smiling from ear to ear like I was.
MA: Yea, I remember looking out at the crowd after the first song, and seeing the audience, and it took me a minute to realize that this show was really happening. I mean, Opeth at Radio City Music Hall. Who would have ever thought? I absolutely loved it.
MM: While like you did at Radio City, you guys have brought in some of the new material to the set list, and it seemed to mix quite well with the rest of the catalog. Do you feel that way?
MA: I totally agree with you. It’s effortless. Sometimes bringing in new material may come off as forced or contrived, but the new stuff has been fitting in quite nicely. It flows, and it seems like the audience hears that as well. This is actually the first time that I can remember that we’ve ever put out a new record, and fans are chanting for the new material. That has never happened before.
MA: I think so (laughs). I mean obviously I can’t hear every fan in the building from the stage, but yea, it’s definitely something I’m hearing more of on this recent run of shows, which is just awesome. It’s good to know people are enjoying the new stuff.
MM: How couldn’t they? The album is a diverse masterpiece. I actually feel like it’s the most diverse album you’ve ever put out.
MA: I feel that same way. It wasn’t meant to be that way when I started to write the material, but it definitely came out that way. The first song I wrote for the record was ‘The Wilde Flowers.’ Once that was completed, and I started to work on the other songs, I quickly became aware of how different they were from one another. I thought it was cool, and something different, so I grasped the diversity of those songs, and kept up with that mindset for the rest of the material. We’ve always had diversity in our music, which I love, but never on a full record like Sorceress.
MM: Did that focus on diversity make the songwriting harder, or more fun for you?
MA: It was actually easier that I thought. I wrote on the road ya know, so I had the freedom and time to really take notice of every little piece of each song, and it came together rather quickly. Honestly, I don’t think I got rid of any music for this record. Everything I demoed ended up on the album. Nothing was discarded.
MM: You’re just that damn good.
MA: Evidently (laughs). No, trust me. For previous records, I’ve had a lot of trouble with certain arrangements, but this one was easier for many reasons. Once I set my mind to it, the music just flowed, and it was a blast writing the new stuff. I love creating music man. It’s what keeps me going.
MM: One thing that definitely stood out for me on this record was your vocal performance. There are certain songs where you tried something new, or added different ranges. Was that also of great importance to you, or is it just a progression you’ve mastered over the past few albums?
MA: Well I definitely don’t think I’ve mastered anything. Once you master something, what’s the point of doing it anymore. You can always get better at whatever you do. I take great pride in my vocals, and I push myself to discover new techniques, styles, and whatever else. I’ve always had the screams. I’ve done that for decades, but since the past few records haven’t called for screams, I’ve definitely pushed my clean vocals to new levels. It’s what the music called for, and I answer that calling in the best way I can. I don’t know if I necessarily did anything differently, but it’s just me evolving with the music, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.
MM: I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the new album. The sales numbers came out last week, and it did extremely well all over the world. How happy are you with the response so far?
MA: I’m extremely happy people are enjoying it. Like most musicians, I write this music for myself, and put it out there for people to hear. Some like it, some may not, but the response has been extremely positive to the new material, and so we are very pleased. We don’t go around high-fiving each other once the numbers are released though. We appreciate the support, of course, but sales numbers isn’t what music is about to me. Music is much more than numbers, or money, or fame, or a profession. I hate calling it my job. There is something more to music than all of that, and if you don’t realize that, I feel you’re in this for the wrong reasons. Success to me is happiness. With whatever you do in life, if you are happy, than I feel that’s a success.
MM: You should be very happy then, because the devotion you have from your fans is something really special. You’ve evolved so much as a band, and although some people may complain about the lack of screams or “heaviness,” you’ve created a distinctive sound that is Opeth. Fans who fully understand that are still behind you 100%.
MA: Yeah, I think our fans are amazing. I’m not ignorant to the fact that the past three records may have lost some fans, but from what I see, it’s brought in a ton of new fans as well. Whether you appreciate the old or new material, or our full catalog, it’s greatly appreciated. We can’t worry about what others think when we write our music. We write what makes us happy, and I think you can hear that in all of our records.
MM: You can also see it on stage. I’ve seen you guys in concert seventeen times, and just like at the recent show at Radio City, you seem to be having just as much fun as you always have.
MA: That’s good to hear. I’m not going to lie, there are a lot of days when I don’t want to be on tour. It’s just a fact. It sounds bad, but it’s the truth. I miss my kids. I miss my girlfriend. I miss that part of my life while on the road, and those are the most important things in life to me. So on a lot of nights I may not want to step on stage, but once I do, there’s always a moment that takes me right back into that happy place. Whether it’s seeing the smiles on the people faces, or how well we played a certain track, there’s always a moment that clicks with me, and I love that so much.
MM: Is that what keeps you going? A lot of musicians can look at their catalogs, be satisfied, and walk away. I don’t think you’re one of those, but I could be wrong.
MA: No, you are right. I’m not one of those musicians. It’s hard for me to put into words how much I love music. I love the writing process. I love the recording process. I love playing it on stage. I love making people happy with the songs I write. It’s the reason I feel I was put on this planet. I don’t know who I would be, or what I would do without it in my life. It’s part of me, and I don’t ever want to not be around it.
MM: Well that’s good news to hear. You’ve had an incredible career, and in three years, it will be thirty years since you started Opeth. Can we expect something special like you’ve done for previous anniversaries?
MA: I would like to think so, but it’s not the way I think. I live for today ya know. I live for the moment. If we are lucky enough to be around for three more years, I’m sure we will do something special. It’s amazing to think we’ve been around this long, so it will definitely be worthy of something special. For now, we are focused on the new Sorceress material, and bringing the new songs to fans everywhere. This record holds a special place in my heart, and we don’t want to let that feeling pass us by. Like I said before, success to me is based on happiness, and I couldn’t be happier with Opeth right now.