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ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: MIKAEL ÅKERFELDT (OPETH).

Name: Mikael Åkerfeldt
Band: Opeth
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Website: opeth.com

How and when was your interest in music sparked?
Very early on. I’ve been a music consumer for as long as I remember really. I was into Abba and Björn Skifs (”Hooked on a Feeling”) and whatever that was on the radio. My grandmother was a poet, painter and a musician of sorts and she gave me my first guitar. When I got into heavy metal in the late ’70s/early ’80s I had ”arrived.” I identified with the whole scene and started building a plan for my own musicality, I guess. I wrote my first ”real” song,”Abandon Life” in 1987 or 1988. So I was 13-14 years old then. Needless to say, it wasn’t remarkable in any way. But it was mine!

You’ve been in Opeth now since 1989, released 13 albums, traveled the world, won awards and had a quite remarkable career. Are there any moments or events along the way that stand out to you personally?
The thing I’m most proud of is the fact that I persevered, actually. 30 years in Opeth, and I’m still as love-smitten with music as I was when I discovered it. It turns out it wasn’t something I grew out of but rather nourished and made sure it grew further. I’m not infatuated with the business or its rules and obligations, but I guess you can’t have it all. Then on a more shallow note, of course, I’m happy with the awards, but in the end they don’t mean anything. A small group of people decided it was our turn at some point so it’s not an accolade on the level of selling out the Royal Albert Hall or the Sydney Opera House. I still love playing legendary venues. Last big feather in the hat in terms of venues was the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Outstanding!

You have always been the creative motor and the architect behind your ever-changing sound and desire for experimentation. From where do you draw inspiration and how has this changed over the years?
Ultimately I draw most inspiration from other music. I steal a lot to be honest. But I also re-mold it and try to make it mine. With that said I believe I have my own sound and the band definitely has it’s own identity. But I don’t think I would be as inspired if I didn’t surround myself with music most of the time. Once you have the inspiration and the musicality it’s easier to write music based on an emotion. So I don’t have to listen to music to get inspired anymore. To be honest, music consumption for me is a relaxing thing I do for leisure, but at the same time a part of my brain is also working I suppose.

What does your personal writing spot or home studio look like in terms of gear?
I just updated it and got a new computer, a new sound card and double screens. One for edit and one for the mix. This is big for me. I’m very loyal with my gear. I use it until it blows up. Almost literally. I used the same setup from 2006 to 2020 really. I just packed it away the other week actually. So I was used to things going slow. Used to hiccups. Used to losing material as I hadn’t saved etc. Loading up EZdrummer meant I could go up and make a pot of coffee, take out the garbage and come back down to see that I still hade a minute of waiting ahead. With the new studio everything’s so fast. It works perfectly, It’s hugely inspirational and I couldn’t be happier. It’s flawless really.

On that note, what’s your process like when composing for an upcoming record? Do you set aside dedicated “on the job” time to write or does it happen when it happens?
More or less it happens when it happens. As a writer it’s important for me to admit defeat one day and come back the next. I really think stepping away is still a part of the work itself. It’s part of the process to be shit every now and then. As is deleting shit you did the previous day. Deletion of an idea is a growing ground for the next. It has to be fun, that’s the bottom line. And when it is fun…wow, I get lost. It’s like I’m in a trance. That’s why I can only break down what I’ve done much later. I have to step out of the zone to understand what I did when I was inside, you see. So I keep a discipline to try and do something every day if I’m in a writing mode. If I only start up a new session that’s good enough really. If we’re in touring mode I don’t write at all, however. They are two completely separate things of what I do.

Out of everything that comes with being in a band – writing, recording, jamming, touring, traveling (the list goes on)…what is your favorite part?
Writing and recording without a doubt. When I was younger I wanted some respect and perhaps even fame. It was important to me to be recognized as I was such a bum for so long. It was important for my self esteem and also to have something to show to my parents. Now when I do have some respect and even some fame it’s much easier to just be me. And who I am really, is a songwriter rather than a guitarist, singer or even performer. I love to build things from nothing and stand back and see what I was capable of this time. For good and bad, I guess. I hate traveling. Airports are the worst. I like being in different cities and check out the record shops and just walking around. Love it. Jamming is not for me. It’s sometimes fun but the music usually pans out to some half assed blues-rock with lots of soloing. Rarely interesting to listen to but fun to do. I got some flack for not being a jammer as it would allegedly suit my taste in music and perhaps my personality. But I get restless with musical democracy. At some point I have to stop it all and go: “Look, this is shit…but if we did this and that, we’d be on to something.”

If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you’d do for a career?
I’d have my own record shop. It’s still a dream of mine. And it will happen at some point. The best used vinyl shop ever.

You are an avid Superior Drummer 3 user. How do you use the program in your work and how does it help your creative process?
Recently, yes. I had EZdrummer before as I mentioned. Superior Drummer 3 is outstanding! Shit, I love it to bits. I am a good drummer in my head, and I love drums and drummers. They’re the most sympathetic musicians. Usually the weirdos too, actually. I gravitate towards drummers. They’re usually down to earth and I find it remarkable that they can do all that stuff. I write all the drums and I tap it into the system on a MIDI pad. So I rarely drag and drop. Then I hand it over to Axenrot, our drummer, who usually goes: “Interesting…” Drums are such an integral part of a group. Shit music with great drums is still easier for me to listen to than good music with shit drums. So I can listen to Dave Weckl and go: ”Wow! The song is the most horrendous pile of self-indulgent, detached shit I have ever heard, but…those fills are nice!” The best scenario for me is a group where there’s no ambitions to be a virtuoso. If you don’t really listen to what the drummer is doing that is usually a good sign for the quality of the song itself. I love Mahavishnu Orchestra, though. It’s raw and dirty and evil-sounding. And the musicians are top drawer, of course. But they also have a taste similar to mine. If you listen to ”Apocalypse” for instance. That’s my stuff. It combines great music and musicians with severe cases of personal ambition, but they also have a sound nailed down. It’s lovely. But I regress. I tap on my MIDI pad. I get a good groove down. Usually I quantize once I’m done with a part, but then I drag most of the hits so they’re not exact. I need it to sound like a real, great drummer. I spend a lot of time with the velocity too. Now with Superior Drummer 3 you can draw the velocity right in its interface to match my playing style on the MIDI pad. I spend most time with the drums out of all the instruments. Next to scoring strings really. Those two are the most difficult to get it right. It’s hard to explain everything I do as I just do it. But in the end it will sound like a great drummer is playing to the song.

What other Toontrack products do you use?
EZkeys Vintage Upright, Grand Piano, Dream Machine, Mellotoon and what have you. I can’t really play the keyboard that well, so I have to double-check my fingers are floating above the right set of keys about ten times before I hit the record button. But they sound great. I usually EQ everything to make it match the sound I’m after. I have recently used the ”Honky Tonk” sound on the Vintage Upright. I love it. It’s quite out of tune and sits real well in many of the mixes I’m working on right now. Waiting for a superb Hammond plug-in. Hint, hint!

Best studio moment ever?
I love it when I’m in the producer’s role and the other guys are playing. When I’m playing myself I go all machine-y. I just want it done even if I don’t really loathe playing at all. But when the other guys are doing their thing, that’s when I really fill my shoes I think. I’m probably a complete asshole most of the time, but I get so carried away. I think they ‘Boyz’ know me well enough by now to not take offense of my restlessness.

…and worst stage moment ever?
Probably when there’s been bottles flying by my head. I do wish for something bad to happen to those people who throw things at you. I’ve only been hit once I think, right in my chest. It wasn’t that bad but I couldn’t get it out of my head. For some reason I tend to be better when I’m angry, which pains me to say. With that said, I’m more or less irritated every time I go up on stage. The audience is a bit of an enemy at first, and we have to turn them. Haha! It sounds awful, but I mean it in the best possible way. I love them, and I love that they give us their time. But you’re only as good as your last performance. Every night I keep thinking I want to intimidate them into submission. Like some fucking Earl of whatever. I think generally my irritation stems from my own insecurity. After 30 years I’m still quite insecure up there.

FIVE QUICK QUESTIONS.

If you could only keep/play one guitar moving forward…which one in your collection would you pick and why?
I have a custom made Modern Eagle from PRS. It’s the only one of its kind and made specifically for me. I treasure it higher than the others as I wouldn’t be able to buy another even if I wanted to.

You could only bring one record to listen to during a massively long tour, which one would it be and why?
The “White Album” by The Beatles. Because it’s the longest Beatles album. It has everything too! A complete masterpiece from which many other masterpieces should be measured.

Big festival or club show?
Difficult. Big festivals are nice and sweet and short and there’s a bigger crowd. Small club gigs are our own however. We control them. Ultimately, I’d choose a great performance at a club gig over a great performance at a festival I think.

Name one piece of gear you can’t live without in your studio (and it can’t be the guitar or the computer!).
If you need any additional buttering-up of your brilliance, here goes: Superior drummer 3.

Your all-time top five list of albums!

The Beatles “White Album”
Black Sabbath “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”
Joni Mitchell “Court and Spark”
Judas Priest “Sad Wings of Destiny”
Nick Drake “Bryter Layter”

OPETH “UNIVERSAL TRUTH”
opeth-sorceress-logo
LISTEN TO “SORCERESS” REMIXED WITH THE BIG ROCK DRUMS EZX.

This song was remixed using the original instrument stems and multitrack drums from the recording session. The drums were converted from audio to MIDI. All drum sounds heard are from the Big Rock Drums EZX.

Song used with permission. “Sorceress” is out worldwide on Nuclear Blast. Get it here: www.nuclearblast.com/opeth-sorceress


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