Noisey recently conducted an interview with guitarist/vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt of Swedish progressive metallers OPETH. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Noisey: From those first days with ERUPTION to the upcoming OPETH release, how have you seen yourself evolve both personally and artistically since the first chord or lyric you wrote?
Mikael Åkerfeldt: Wow. I was 14 when I had that band ERUPTION. It was a three-piece, and I did write the songs, but we also played some covers. But it was just a learning thing for me, just a fun thing to play together with your pals and play some heavy metal songs. We did some MISFITS covers and stuff like that — really simple stuff, and I remember I was just blown away by the fact that you could get these instruments to sound good together. That you could have a drumbeat, a bass guitar that would add to the guitar riffs that I was playing just blew my mind. It was really just innocent fun, basically, in those days, and then now it’s been so many years since, but it’s what I do. It’s what’s kind of shaped my whole personality and my whole life. I owe so much to music. Like I said, it’s become part of my personality. Everybody who knows me knows how important it is for me. I’ve changed so much. It’s impossible to say. But I like to keep that innocence intact a little bit, because I don’t want to get too carried away in the business side of things. I’m interested in the business side of things, but I still value the creativity and the creative side of being in a band more than anything else. I mean, I have a career, so to speak, and we do make a living doing this now, which is fantastic, of course, but I like to think it’s never been at the expense of that initial innocence in creativity. It’s still there.
Noisey: Was there a different approach with this latest record as opposed to “Heritage”, and what does OPETH‘s writing process generally look like from its genesis to the point where you guys feel comfortable that you’ve created something singular?
Mikael Åkerfeldt: Normally when I start writing for a record, I’m a bit nervous. You don’t know whether or not you’re going to be able to come up with something that you like or come up with something at all, to be honest. I was inspired because pretty early on, I wrote a song on the new album — the last song on there, which I ended up being really happy with. So I had some type of guidelines which was more melody, I think. “Heritage” was somewhat deliberately f**ked up all over the place because I love f**ked-up-all-over-the-place-type music, but I wanted to do something more melodic with this album, so there’s stronger vocal melodies and more melodies overall for this album. I was pretty consistent with that frame of mind throughout the writing process, so at least I had a plan with this album, and I normally don’t, to be honest.
Noisey: What’s been the greatest obstacle for you personally since you first began to play music professionally, and how did you overcome it?
Mikael Åkerfeldt: Well, there’s been many obstacles. Financially, like in the early days with the first four or five records, we didn’t make a penny. And at the same time, I lived with my mom until I was 23 or something like that, which was horrible. There were lots of obstacles. For many years, I think a lot of people just thought I was a dreamer. Like, “You’ll never get to where you want to go,” because of whatever. It sounds boring to bring up finances, but eventually, you have to pay a bill or pay the rent or something like that, then dreams are not enough. You need something else. Our career, though, was still fairly easy, I have to say. We never had to sell ourselves or things like that in order to get a headstart somewhat. We got our first record deal based on a 10-second rehearsal tape so that was easy. That wasn’t a problem. We did three records with them. We didn’t really tour or anything, and we didn’t make any money, but we had three records out that were pretty good and exciting for the time. Then we got a new record deal with a bigger label that was run by an even bigger label that eventually ended up taking us on, and then we got to Roadrunner. Everything on the business side of things has been pretty smooth, but we didn’t make a living until we put out the fifth or sixth album. That was difficult, but the motivation for me was never faltering. It was always there. I could live on canned food. That wasn’t a problem, because music made me happy. But I would have to say, even if it sounds boring, that the biggest obstacle was that I didn’t feel part of society. I couldn’t buy food. I couldn’t buy anything, so I had to borrow money from my mother and stuff like that, so that was a big obstacle for us. I still kept my motivation intact because it was the only thing that made me happy. I couldn’t see myself getting a so-called normal job because it wouldn’t have made me happy. I’m determined in that way that no obstacle is going to stop me.