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Interview: Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt on festivals, playing albums in their entirety

Posted by on May 12, 2017

Photo: Stuart Wood

Opeth have been at the forefront of progressive death metal for over 20 years now. The Swedish band’s latest album, Sorceress, is their first for Nuclear Blast and finds the band leaning into their ’70s prog influences. The band’s current tour with Gojira is more of an extensive tour than usual, and has found them playing some destination festivals, like Carolina Rebellion. We caught up with frontman Mikael Akerfeldt in Philadelphia last weekend, where their tour and Mastodon’s were combined to talk about touring, their new label, and his thoughts on playing their albums in their entirety.

So you’re on this bill that’s combined with the Mastodon tour today. Did you know about it coming about earlier on the tour?

Yes. I didn’t really look at the dates that we were presented with, but I think somewhere down the line we said that the Philadelphia show will join us because the tours were clashing. You could say that they hijacked our tour, but we’re really good friends with them and it’s good to see them. We played with them yesterday as well at the Carolina Rebellion.

 

That’s another question I was actually going to ask you about. You’re playing some of the larger festival shows in America. Do you think that they are anything like the festivals in Europe?

The European festivals are, of course, the ones we normally play that focus more on metal music. There are a couple of really big ones for that like, Hell Festival France, Wacken of course, and even Sweden Rock. Very big festivals, but yesterday was more of a mainstream thing. I didn’t understand half of what the fuck the bands were doing. Most of it was just radio friendly shit. I’m not counting bands that I like, it’s just these younger kids, I do not understand it. I wondered for a while, ‘what the hell are we doing here?’

 

Yeah, you’re not about to get played on the radio in between like Foo Fighters and Nickelback. What’s the audience reaction like from these people who probably have never heard of Opeth in their lives?

We played well, I thought. I think we stuck out. Whether we stuck out in a good or bad way is hard to say. I think we’re different than last night’s bill. We didn’t fit in. That, for us, is both a blessing and a curse at the same time. We don’t want to fit in.

 

I’m sure you’re much happier with your own fans.

I mean, we’re not really a festival type band. We play them just because its good promotion, and I guess it’s gained us a few fans. We like playing festivals because they are kind of easy, but we don’t really fit in with them. I’m happier about that than anything else. I guess that it was a good festival, but we had such a boring, dull, long, cold day yesterday that I just wanted to get it over with and leave.

 

 

So, it seems like you’re in America a little more for this album than you have been recently.

Yes.

 

Are you trying to tour more in the states?

No! We’re trying to tour less everywhere, actually. [laughs]. But the states are big, and you need to spend more time here. Europe is different. We did one show in Denmark, and one show in Norway or wherever. Here is so big. You can do a first premiere market tour, secondary market tour, third, and so on. You go to towns and villages that you’ve never heard of. We can tour forever here if we wanted to. The thing is, we don’t really want to tour now as much as we did. We had our share of really heavy touring back in the day, and for me personally it got a bit too much. I said, ‘look I’m not really going to do anymore five, six, sevenweek tours anymore.’

 

Well now you’re at the point where you can do special one-foff shows, like the one when you played Radio City Music Hall here in New York.

Yea, we do those things. I like doing those things. That’s a way to separate us from the rest in a way. I also believe in some kind of exclusivity with shows. There was awhile where we were everywhere and even if people always came out to the shows it felt like, ‘oh them again.’ So we figured that maybe if we created some type of exclusivity by doing shorter tours in more prestigious, nicer venues than that’s something that would work for us, and it really did. Now we played Radio City Music Hall. We played Arena in London. We played the Opera House in Sydney. A couple of places like that, and it was really nice. We’ve done the regular tour, and we do that still of course. I just want to basically cut down on touring because it’s not good for you. It’s not good for you. It’s as simple as that. It’s good in the financial aspect, but it’s not good for your metal health.

 

B: Yeah, I would imagine after a while.

After 27 years.

 

You’ve done some of your albums in their entirety. You did Blackwater Park, Ghost Reveries and others. Is that something you’re going to keep doing? 

I don’t like doing those kinds of things to be honest, or I don’t like the idea of doing them.

 

B: Did you in the beginning?

No. No, I always want to mix it up. We did those things because it was like an anniversary for those albums. It was never our idea, it was always the management who keeps track of them. That album is 20 years old now. It’s a good thing to draw people because make no mistake the reason why we’re touring (we still love being on stage playing live, but the rest is shit), so the reason for touring, why we’re touring is because that’s the bread and butter. Sounds a bit bad to say, but a bit of the cash flow. That’s good, I don’t mind it. I also don’t like living in the past, and trying to do that. I like living in the now, so to speak. It goes against my own feelings towards the whole thing, but we love those albums too and people want to hear them. People come out, and that’s good.

 

You’re basically on tour now with a much of metal bands. You’re not as much of a metal band anymore but…

Well we are a metal band when we want too. We still play some of those old songs when we want to. I guess we become a metal band every third song usually when we play live.

 

Would you want to do an all acoustic gig?

We’ve done that too. I don’t really think about it. A perfect scenario for me is too just do a good show in a good place. It doesn’t matter what we do, but I know the audience kind of likes those special things. We just haven’t really thought about it. We’re still touring for the last album and promoting that record. That’s basically what we’re focusing on.

 

Have you even started to think about the follow up yet? 

I thought about it maybe. I like to take a little bit of a break because it’s kind of like a rat race once you start writing for a record that’s the start of a whole touring cycle as well. Once you write, the management says “when can you record?” And then the whole cork starts turning. You start discussing tours again, and we’ve done that for many years now, so I like to take a little bit of a break.

 

B: You’ve guys have definitely earned it.

I think so.

 

Sorceress is your first album for Nuclear Blast. Does the label matter or it just a vessel to put your music out there?

Ultimately it doesn’t matter so much, but the thing is we’ve seen a difference because Roadrunner was going down, I figured. Our last album we did with them was a good record, but they didn’t really know what to do with it, if you know what I mean. They didn’t really push or do anything of value. It was just a generic release for them, which I understand is how it works, but once we started to work with Nuclear Blast, they were excited to work with us because we were a different band for them. They wanted us not because we were the biggest band in the world, but we give the label some type of credibility, and help them to move into other areas where they haven’t necessarily been before. So, they were really happy and really pushing for the record. They’ve been doing a really good job I think so far.

 

Are there any bands of different genres that you would like to tour with?

I don’t really keep track of new bands. I don’t really listen too much to new music if you know what I mean, but of course I would love to go out and support bands. Priest and Maiden, and that sort of stuff. That would be cool. That’s just a package. It has to be worthhile. We’ve been around for such a long time that I’ve kind of given up on that idea of building the band, so to speak. Even if you do it with every show. To have a nice package that is relevant for today, rather than going out with old farts which is what I personally would want to do.

 

Of course.

When we set up a tour, we get a list of band names of bands who want to tour with us. We pick one of them, or the management maybe has a finger in the pie. I don’t really care so much about it.

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