WS: Hello Mikael, thank you for your time. Our Magazin is called Whiskey-Soda and we had the pleasure before, not me, but my collegue and you smiled about our Magazines Name. As I know you are big wine drinker, I’m not gonna ask you my usual question. Instead I asked myself if you ever considered to have your own Opeth Wine Line made?
MA: Oh yeah, we’ve talked to two or three wine producers, and we even met one producer from Tuscany, Italy. We talked to them to do a wine, and they were Opeth fans and everything was good. It was gonna happen , we had the wine, a really good wine. But they were cooperating with a big wholesale company in Sweden, who got us in touch with each other. And then the guy who was our contact, left the company – so it didn’t materialize. And with the time, everybody’s doing wine and beer and whiskey and all that. All the metal bands did, so I lost interest in that. I don’t wanna be one of these bands saying: “Here’s another one.”
WS: So when you thought about it, it was quite early when not everybody was doing it yet.
WS: Interesting, but I just wanted to give you this – that was my connection. As I know you like wine I brought you a bottle of wine and we made a Whiskey-Soda-Opeth-Label for it!
MA: Wow! Wow! Thank you very much! I will enjoy it!
WS: So. Let’s talk about your new album a little bit?
MA: (Smiling) That was it with the alcohol questions?
WS: Well, yeah. Next time I’m gonna bring the Whiskey for Whiskey-Soda, okay?
MA: Well, I was a Whiskey Drinker. Scotch – but not the fine stuff. We had cups like this at the tour bus, Grant’s, one liter bottles. Every night, me and Mendez especially. This much Grant’s, and this much Coke. And as the tour progressed, the Grant’s got more and more and the Coke got less and less.
WS: So when the tour was over, you had to go to holiday to recover.
MA: I had to go to rehab. We stopped that, we were drinking too much, I was drinking too much. So we don’t have any hard liquor on the rider any more. Only wine and beer.
WS: I prefer to drink a good glass of wine or a dram of Single Malt and sit down and enjoy it.
MA: Yeah, sometimes I have a Calvados as a digestive nowadays. I like it very much! But I don’t drink hard liquor otherwise. And virtually never cocktails.
WS: So you get away further and further from the Rock Musicians Clichees. No more Metal, no more liquor, no more baby killing, no more girls! (Smiles)
MA: Well, for the most part, we’ve been a drinking band. We’ve never been the typical rockband in that direction. We’re Swedish People. Being Swedish comes with a limit. There’s a word in Swedish called “Jantelagen”. Swedish People are very subdue. Unless we go on holiday in Mallorca. As a band we’ve been fairly calm over the years. And definitely now.
WS: So. Let’s talk about your new album a little bit. I just read an interview with you recently where you said that you are not so much interested in high chart positions. Like you understand that it is good for the label and so it is good for you, but you prefer to focus on the musically side. Now with your new album, being the highest charting album in your band history in Germany. And the sales are some kind of recognition as well, especially after your change in musical style. Isn’t it a good thing in that meaning, to have high sales.
MA: I don’t know what “high sales” means. Sales can be manipulated. While concert attendance can’t. We’ve been touring with bands that sold quarter a million of their album, but they’re still supporting us. So sales are not a finger on the pulse. I don’t think, it can be manipulated by record labels or the industry. We’re on a major label now, because Warner took over Roadrunner. But I still don’t know really what it means. I’m not the guy looking at the sales like: “Wow, it’s finally happening after 25 years!” It’s always good, I’m not stupid. I want to sell as many records as possible, but it doesn’t make me flexing my chest.
WS: So when you say the concert attendance is more of a pulse to you, have they been increasing with the new album?
MA: Well, we just did six shows on this tour, so it’s kind of too early but I think so. The shows in the UK, some of them were really better, some were not. It’s really difficult to say now. When I think about it, it’s not so easy to say with touring either. You don’t know what goes on in the minds of your fans, so to speak. Because your fans might be a fan of another band touring as well, because now it’s busy touring. So you’re competing. It’s really hard to say. But one thing I can say for sure: We haven’t really gone down, either with records sales or concert attendance. I’m expecting a little bit more, though, because now we’ve done two records in a row that don’t appeal to the fans of the really heavy stuff. But it’s still too early to say if we’re going downhill, if we stay the same or if we go up.
WS: When I was reading reviews of “Pale Communion” and I wrote one myself I was feeling that you’re doing better with the new album than with “Heritage”.
MA: Yeah, but I think that might have to do with the people getting used to it. Because “Heritage” was a little bit of a bomb.
WS Like the people going: Okay, they’re not a metal band any more, but a Prog Rock Band.
MA: Sometimes, a little bit. We still swap between being a ballad band, a prog rock band and a metal band. We still play the heavy songs. It’s a dream position to all of us, because we like all of it! That’S been a big misunderstanding of a lot of people, especially about me and the band. That I don’t like the previous records any more, because we feel too mature and everything. It’s never been that way. For me, writing and recording an album it’s not like that I have a plan to go anywhere. We go for what sounds good. If we would’ve approached this band as corporation thinking of a commercial success, we would have done differently. Obviously! We’ve never cut our music to the needs of the industry or the fans. We want to have fans and we love our fans. But on our terms. And of course it’s impossible to please everbody.
WS: So we were just talking about reviews and the general impression that “Pale Communion” made. What do reviews of your art mean to you?
MA: I read them if I stumble on them. I don’t necessarily search for them, even if I have seen a few online. Somebody said: “You got a really good review in that Swedish Newspaper” – so I had to look it up online. And that site also listed other mags and newspapers, so I was like: “Ah, what the fuck are you guys writing?” (laughs). It’s not that I’m not interested, but it won’t change what I am doing and I won’t affect my confidence either. But of course I want good reviews. There was a time, several years ago, when the internet started happening and I got my e-mail set up and everything, I was much more sensitive to negative critizism. But also, which is a paradox, I went looking for them, the negative ones. I didn’t look on the good ones, because back in those days we almost only got good reviews. So I was looking for the negative ones and didn’t give a shit on the good ones. But now I read them, but I don’t get as upset – and don’t get as happy either. A good review is like: “Ah, that’s nice.” And then I forget about it. And another one is like: “Ah, that’s shit.”
WS: I don’t want to go into the depth of analyzing every song. The change in style is obvious, and in my opinion that it’s a great album is obvious, too. But I was wondering if there’s a certain part or something that you are especially proud of.
MA: Well, one thing that I’m proud of is the composition of the album as a whole. The sequenzing, how the songs blend together. And I’m maybe more happy about the songs on their own, as well. Like for instance, on the Deliverance Album, there’s a song I don’t particularly like today, which makes me think less of the whole record. So the composition of all the songs, the packaging, the whole thing means a lot to me. So I’m happy with that. That the songs fit together as a record. I’m still a record guy. I don’t go to spotify and listen to a song. I want it to work as a full record.
WS: There’s another question that just fits in here. It’s about the song “Goblin”. The song, and the sound is quite different from the rest of the album in my opinion. I want to challegenge you with a prevocational question. Wanna go for it? Yeah? Okay, here it comes: I was wandering why you chose to put it on the album in the first place and then, secondly, why did you put it at that particular place, like in the middle of the album and not at the end? Because I was feeling like that would have made a good bonus track or an EP. What was you thaught with that?
MA: Well, I finished the song, played it to the guys, they all liked it. WE all have the reference to the Band Goblin. And why I put it just there. Well, a lot of people tell me “Pale Communion” is an uplifting record, but for me, it’s a very dark record. So that song, and the song after it, ‘River”, at least the beginning part are there as a kind of equilibrium to the darker songs. It’s a bit more kind of playful, If you know what I mean. It’s also a new sound, that we haven’t really indulged in before. Wether you like it or not, it’s still something new for us and I want to have that kind of things on our records. I like that myself, why “Heritage” is all over the place.
WS: Let’s talk about he lyrics a little bit. I was wondering when it comes to Lyrics or Album topics in General, is there something that inspires you in particular. And just to pick up two song titles or citations of songs like “The Devils Orchard” or “God is dead” and also “Faith in others” on the new album now. Does that says something about your beliefs.
MA: No. “The Devils Orchard” – when I wrote that song, the demo version had the same chorus of phrase, “God Is Dead”. And everyone I played it to told me “that’s a really catchy phrase”. I just sang on the demo, making up words – and that was it. Everyone I played it to, it stuck to their minds. I remember I even told Steven Wilson, who mixed that record, that I was thinking about rewrite this part. But he said to me: “Keep that. It’s a strong thing. It kind of dates back to my past, to the early days of being a Death Metal Band. Where I wrote a lot of almost satanic and occult type of lyrics. But basically, the rest of the lyrics didn’t have to do anything with any kind of religious beliefs. The rest didn’t have to do anything with “God Is Dead”. It was just bollocks. But it made it to a song, which topic almost could have fitted on “Ghost Reveries”. So it’s certainly not about any beliefs. “Faith In Others” doesn’t have to do anything with “Faith” as in religion, it’s more about faith in other people.
WS: When talking about beliefs, I’ve got another interesting question for you. I just recently talked to a Swedish Death Metal Band and they’re all Christians. They’re a christian Death Metal Band.
MA: They’re Swedish?
WS: Yeah, and they’re quite awesome musically, they do this kind of Scandinavian, meldodic Metal stuff and they’re also quite profound when it comes to Lyrics and stuff. Do you know any christian Metal Bands, ever heard about that such stuff exists?
MA: Well, there was Mortification, I think they’re from Australia. But I can’t really remember what they sounded like. I am what is called an Atheist, so for me Religious topics in Music have a tendency to turn me off. Most of the religious bands have something about them that is almost like propaganda type of thing going on in their lyrics – and that makes me shy away from it. I’m actually Columnist in a Swedish Rock Magazine and I did a column about that: Music with religious undertones. Or music recorded by religious bands. And I started it with the question about how many great bands with religious beliefs in christianity are out there? How many are there? I could come up with any from my personal taste. Obviously I picked one band because that was what the column was about. This band called Salamander, they’re an old band from the 70’s and their album is called „The Ten Commandmends“. Kind of speaks for itself. They were in my opinion the best band with songs and lyrics based around their beliefs. I was never a big fan of Stryper. I was never a big fan of Mortification, or any of the others. I’m a big Stevie Wonder fan, one of my favourite records of all time is his „Innervisions“, and there’s a song called „Jesus Children of America“ on there. I can’t listen to it.
WS: You like the album, but you can’t listen to that particular song?
MA: Yeah, but I can’t really explain it. But I get turned off by music and religion. For me it doesn’t fit. But that’s no personal statement to the guys who are practicing this.
WS: Interesting topic, you could go on for hours about this, but we don’t have that time. So let’s go on to something different. The album release was postponed and I read it was because the Cover Artwork couldn’t get finished in time. Were you not satisfied with the outcome?
MA: No, it just took a lot of time. I had this grandiose idea with the three paintings. Each of this three parts almost took as much time as the Heritage Cover Artwork. I simply wasn’t thinking that far. I was pushing myself with all these ideas I had in my mind, but I didn’t think twice about timing. So he spent a lot of time on it. And I also had so many changes on it. And then I was just like: Wow, we are too late!
WS: Okay, but in the end everything came out like you wanted it to?
MA: Yeah, the Cover, I love it. The rest of the album booklet. There are a few mistakes in the Thank You Lists. Because these days they do so many versions of the same record, so they were sending me all these different Word Files I had to approve. And I didn’t really understand what was going to which version. So I finally went like: „Well, it’s fine!“ (laughs)
WS: I know you are a big Prog Fan and Opeth nowadays could also be described as a Prog Rock Band. I read about you saying that a lot of the Bands nowadays aren’t innovative enough and aren’t rebellious any more, that kind of direction. I asked myself, if there are newer bands in the Progressive Rock or Metal Genre, that you like?
MA: Well, it’s quite difficult. I don’t listen so much to new music. I’m too occupied with my old records. I get compilations sometimes and there are many competent bands. But when I hear an immediate reference to something that I know from the past I tend to get a bit turned off. I don’t wanna talk shit about any new bands and I don’t think they’re shit. They’re actually pretty good. And Metal Music. Well. It’s so easy to think about and it will probably make me sound like an old fart. But back in the seventies and eighties, and to a certain extend the nineties, where most of the metal bands I know had a clear identity. They never mixed up. Scorpions. You Immediately recognize them. Or Judas Priest. Purple. Sabbath. Led Zeppelin. My problem is, that I don’t feel the same about many new bands. When it comes to Metal at least. When it comes to Progressive. Well, as most people would expect I’m a big fan of Steven Wilsons work. I don’t think he’s ever written a bad song. I think it has more to do with taste, which is why I can’t say that bands are bad. Just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean they’re bad. It’s just that there’s a certain type of music that I cling to. Sometimes it only takes a few seconds for me to tell, this is something special.
WS: What about Soen, the band of your former drummer Martin Lopez? Have you heard their new album? It’s coming up now and reminds me of Opeth a little bit.
MA: A little bit. I heard one song from that, which I found sounded good. The first album reminded me of Tool strongly and I know when he was in the Band, he was always a big Tool fan. And that kind of makes sense. As I said: They’re really competent and good band, but not something that I would sit down and listen to.
WS: So you stick with the old stuff?
MA: There’s SO much! And I’m also a bit romantic when it comes to old bands. It’s nostalgia to a certain extend. It happens so often that I’m a few seconds into an old album and it just makes me „Wow, Amazing!“ It happens so often when I go through my records. So there’s no need for me to search for new music yet.
All Photos of Florian Stangl @ Metal-Fotos.de
Interview: Daniel Frick