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We hebben Opeth al talrijke keren live gezien sinds de jaren negentig. Ook brachten zij zelf al meerdere live registraties uit in het verleden. Toch zouden we durven stellen dat de Zweedse progressieve band met enige death metal invloeden dezer dagen in bloedvorm is. De nieuwe DVD/blu-ray ’Garden Of The Titans (Opeth Live At Red Rocks Amphitheatre)’ is dan ook een fantastische reflectie van hun huidige kunnen. Daar hoort een gezellig gesprek met bandleider Mike Åkerfeldt bij!

Door: Vera | Archiveer onder prog / sympho metal

Why this particular gig was chosen to be eternalized at Red Rocks Amphitheatre? I think it is a very special place…
It is special. I don’t think that many bands have played there who use screaming vocals. I think we are probably one of the first. Beautiful place. I could not believe if they planned us to play there. It was not me who decided it, but our tour agent and when I saw Red Rocks, I remembered the place. I grew up with – not that I was a big fan, but you could not avoid it - hearing U2’s ‘Under A Blood Red Sky’ and that was shot at this location. It is a beautiful place and we thought about it and said: yes let us play there. They talked about filming and recording it, and we said ‘Maybe’, because that’s the moment when I get nervous. Then we decided to go for it. If it was bad, we just skip it, but it turned out to be a good show. At least we thought. It is a beautiful place, pretty high up in altitude, so the temperature is cold and you are losing your breathe easily, but it is absolutely stunning. It was a big honour, it is a big thing for us. So we decided to go ahead with the filming and recording and here we are.

It turned into a majestic happening!
It is nice. It is not very interesting for me to sit around and watch myself though. (chuckles)

I can understand that, same goes for me when seeing pictures of myself…
When it was another band, it would be way more interesting for me, but I have to go through it, because of the production and things like that. And it looks cool and sounds much better than I remember. It was so fucking cold though. Maybe 3 or 4°C, so the fingers went numb and there was a wind coming from the East. For us it was a very difficult show. Nevertheless it was a good show and it sounded so much better than we thought.

Indeed, you all wear leather jackets…
We did not wear the leather jackets to look cool, it was because of the cold.

I think it is always better to watch Opeth in a nice, cozy environment, with people who are really focused on Opeth, better a club show than a festival. Don’t you think so?
Yes, I agree, We play festivals all the time, but I prefer club shows too. We love being at festivals for meeting friends and watching other bands, but when it comes to our own performances at the festivals, of course it is much more uncontrolled and a bit more difficult. I personally prefer playing in a beautiful environment. I like to play in a theatre or an amphitheatre, rather than playing in a sweaty old club, though I like both for different reasons. Our music probably comes across a little bit better in a beautiful old place.

Where there places you keep in mind of the ‘Sorceress’ tour you will remember as very special?
This one was the summit. When I entered the stage I was truly impressed. None of us was really happy with the show. We have done four DVDs including this one and every time we went from the stage we felt bad, but this time it was better than we thought and expected. It was great, only the fact that it was so cold, frightened me. Fear to make mistakes, but luckily we played quite alright I think.

And you change so many times your guitar, then the tuning can be wrong with that weather…
Yeah, there was something with my guitar, technical problems, at a certain point. The sound just was not there, but that’s business as usual. We are a live band and we do not expect everything to be flawless. It is just difficult when it happens when we are filming, since it makes you question where you should edit the film, so it is more smoothened. We decided to keep it in, all the mistakes are still there.

But I don’t think that people in the crowd will focus on that, there are having a good time, that’s obvious…
Indeed, I have been to many shows and afterwards some bands told me it sucked, but I really enjoyed it. In the crowd your perspectives are really different.

It is typical for modern life, everything has to be perfect…
Well, we are aiming for a perfect show. I don’t know how many shows we have played over the years, but I think it only happened five or six times over the years. It is not based on reality that you play a perfect show every night. There is always going to be something, whether you play bad or the guitars suck or you have technical problems… Red Rocks, that was not different from other shows to be honest.

When we look back at the nineties, you were one of the echelons to infiltrate progressive elements in extreme (death) metal, same development happened in black metal. You have reached high peaks with that approach. How do you look back at the nineties?
The nineties for me was searching. The band was founded in 1990, in the early nineties we were searching and the scene was very active, but we were not that active. We did not tour that much. We made some records indeed, but nothing really happened. I was involved in the scene, following what was happening, a lot of things happened and changed in metal.

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For me the nineties were an exciting time…
It was exciting and it was exciting to be part of that, but there were questions. I was questioning if this was the right thing to do, because I did not have any money. As exciting as it was, it was also a very difficult time for… just to make a living. I was not convinced that I was going to make it, I was just convinced of: ‘this is what I want to do, even if it is difficult’ you know. And then of course we changed a lot, we changed members, opinions, we changed business things, but what remained intact since the nineties is my affection with music. I love music and I love this band and I am still excited about music and about writing music. That’s the most important thing. I never wanted to change that perception on music. I still have the same perception on it as when I was a little boy.

One of the highlight is ‘In My Time Of Need’ and then I think of course of ‘In My Time Of Dying’ from Led Zeppelin…
Yes. (amusing laugh)

Are you in the category of people who crush them for using ideas and melodies from earlier artists or are you still a fan?
I am still a fan. I don’t care and I am really obsessed with music. Maybe it is a little bit too much what I am feeling, but if I like a chord sequence from another record, then maybe I can borrow it and do something else with it. I don’t want to steal it, but it sometimes happens that I steal. Maybe we can see it that way for Led Zeppelin.

And then you can also say that The Rolling Stones stole everything…
Yes of course. And Ritchie Blackmore, he stole so much. As much as Jimmy Page. And Black Sabbath they stole a lot.

But they added something new to it…
Yes indeed and I like to think that we do too. You don’t steal because you want to copy something and do exactly the same. You want to help yourself to move forward and it might help you to reach the next level, if you know what I mean.

How would you describe the personalities of the other guys in the band?
Well, in a couple of words. Axe our drummer, I would say… (thinks) I come to realize, the better I get to know them, the more complex they are. A couple of years ago, I would say ‘confused’ when I am thinking about Axe. But then – because he moved out to the country side right into the woods – and he is not confused anymore now. He is at the place where he is destined to be and he is raising chickens, growing pees and potatoes and salad and painting. Really wow! It is a mix of confused and really focused.

So he has found peace of mind now?
Definitely, because he has been living in Stockholm for a while and even if he liked the night life, he is into night food and night beer and of course there’s plenty of that in the city compared to the countryside, he never found his place here I think and now he has. Mendez I would say is very calm and very cool, like a cool person. The coolest person in the band actually.

Seems like the hipster in the band…
Yes, he definitely looks like a hipster and he actually lives in a collective now in Barcelona. He also grows potatoes and stuff like that, is painting and making his own bass guitars and painting them. He is also a family man, because he has got two kids. When I met him he hardly spoke Swedish, so we had to communicate in English. I was barely understanding what he was saying. He was a bit more wild and crazy then and now he is just the calmest guy ever. Fredrik is the metal guy for me. He loves metal and he loves everything about metal and he is very nostalgic about metal. From all of us, he spends the most time with his instruments. Practicing and stuff like that, because he is a shredder. But he is also very much into fine food and beer. He loves beer, so we go out quite often. We are actually neighbors, so we meet quite often with Fredrik. He is… I would say a simple guy, but he knows what he likes and he keeps to that. He loves his guitar playing in metal. He is starting to move into other kinds of music in the last couple of years, but remains very much into Saxon and Judas Priest. That type of metal. And Joakim had a rough patch in the last couple of years, but he is a very nice kind of gentleman type of guy and very open. He is extremely skilled as a musician and as a singer. I don’t think he gets enough credits for what he is doing, because it is hard to see back there behind the keyboards, but somebody, a fan once called him a Swiss knife, if you know what I mean. One of those knives from Switzerland with everything in: a saw, pair of scissors, toothpick… When we are not busy, he is playing with other formations of people, he is always very busy. I think it is good for him. He is constantly developing himself and I think that’s a necessary thing when you are in this band. If you are in this band and if you have a specific idea of what it is going to be, then you end up to be a little bit disappointed. So you really have to have a wider picture of music.

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Mmm yeah maybe. I think Opeth is the summit of being progressive, but on the other hand I also think that the people who play in the band have to be very disciplined and they have to play what you say…
Yeah I like that they play what I tell them, but I also like it when they make their own decisions. I usually show them my idea, but then I leave it open to them to kind of do their own thing, as long as they change it for the better.

I remember when we talked last time about ‘Sorceress’, the long tour cycle had to start and you were a bit nostalgic about leaving home. Was touring a windfall in the end? Was it okay?
Yes, it was okay. I have two daughters, you know that, but there was a time when I had tunnel visions. I had to do this! This meant that I had to pursuit my dream and what I was working with, for such a long time, but I had nothing to stop me. But now my tunnel vision is much wider and I have other interests in my life that I value as much as music. Before I had children, I said: ‘This is what I am doing and nobody can stop me.’ Since I have children, that changed of course. I don’t like the idea of going out on tour, but once I am out, I am working and I am doing the best that I can and I am starting to enjoy myself. I am starting to find my place. And that’s mostly being alone actually, like go out for long walks in the city that we are in and looking for record shops. Stuff like that. So I enjoy being on tour, but I can never say that I am enjoying being away from my kids and from my girlfriend. I simply hate that, to be honest and that is the price you pay I guess.

Indeed, that’s the price you pay when becoming a musician and being successful as you are, it has consequences. You better not blow them up…
No, I will not blow it up for sure, but I also don’t want to die in the process either. So the tours are shorter and each show matters more than before. In the past we were always open to suggestions and then we did twenty shows in a row and then we came home for three days and went out for another six weeks tour. I won’t do that anymore. I want to pay more attention to each show on the tour. Everybody in the band agrees on that. Mendez has got kids, Fredrik has kids too… everyone agrees on that. Now it would be impossible to maintain a good life if I just did one thing. I have to find a way to incorporate and mix everything in my life.

That is also good for the inspiration I think when you come at ease…
Yes, definitely. I also need some time when I am away from the band, because that’s when I find peace of mind. Most of the time, inspiration comes in the time when I am away from the band and I even don’t sit back that much to play guitar at home either, I just need that quiet from the band in order to be able to continue the band. So the silence in between tours and recordings, it is almost like they are part of me and the band members too, it is almost as important as being active.

Do you already have ideas or something for a next record?
No, not at all. Like I said at the beginning of the interview, I was in the studio and almost forgot about the interviews. I am spending a lot of time writing and recording demos of new music and that is basically what I am doing. Well, there are many ideas actually…

Are there bands you recently saw live which really haunted you?
Oh yeah. Roger Waters. Beautiful show. And the best show I have seen before that was ‘The Wall’ tour. That made me cry actually. So beautiful. Now it was ‘Us & Them’. That was a mixed show of things from his solo stuff and mostly Pink Floyd, so that was amazing to see. One of the best I have seen.

Are you not a fan of David Gilmour?
I love Dave Gilmour, but I have never seen him live, but I am definitely going to see him if he comes here. Now Nick Mason is coming, he is going to do some stuff from early Pink Floyd, the Syd Barrett era. I am looking forward to that.

To round off: please tell me if there is a chance we can see Opeth again in the Netherlands or Belgium in the near future?
There is a chance of course, but we haven’t really been talking about tours recently. That will happen with the next record. But we do have some festivals next year. (for instance Inferno, Norway – Download, UK – Wacken, Germany – Vera)

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