Chris Annunziata, host of The Metal Teddy Bear Experience show on 90.3 WMSC-FM, interviewed Mikael Akerfeldt of death ‘n’ toll turned seventies style rock band Opeth at the Starland Ballroom on March 7th. Chris steadfastly transcribed the extensive interview and most graciously submitted it us. Mikael discusses his touring experiences with Megadeth and Gojira along with his childhood security blanket and love of raw meat. The recorded version is at the end.
Welcome back to The Metal Teddy Bear Experience, this is your host Chris and I am with Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth. How are you doing?
Pretty good, how are you?
I’m doing pretty well. I actually got to see you guys yesterday at the Philadelphia show. You guys killed it. It was a stacked tour: Gojira, Devin, obviously Opeth, Eagles of Death Metal. It was a great, great show.
Mastodon, you shouldn’t forget.
Oh, Mastodon, how could I forget, the headliners. So, how was the show for you and the bands?
Well, yesterday was rough because it was so cold, as I was saying throughout the show. I couldn’t feel my fingers. I couldn’t feel the pick in my hands. I couldn’t feel how hard I was pushing, holding it and I couldn’t feel the strings. It was difficult to play but I thought it was a good show. The crowd seemed to really be into it, that’s what counts in the end.
I was actually surprised how they fit so many people into that area because it was really tight. I don’t know if you knew this but we had to wait around twice around the block to get in.
Yeah, I know I saw it. When I went out record shopping I saw the line outside, so it was crazy. It was sold out since, you know, quite long and I think it was four and half thousand people there. We always played inside the Electric Factory, so I didn’t know that they were setting up shows outside. It looked a bit like a parking lot.
Yeah. I know they did that here (Starland Ballroom) actually. They did Sounds of the Underground here.
During your performance you mentioned how you vaped with Dave Mustaine. Was that true?
Can you tell me a little bit about that experience?
Well, I mean, I was pretty drunk at the time. We were touring with them on Gigantour and I think Dave took a liking to me a little bit, you know. Every now and then and he would not say hi to me, you know? Depending on his mood but we talked a lot. He’s a good guy, fun guy to talk to. Contrary to what a lot of people think about him and his big narcissist type of guy who’s just moody as hell. Yeah, he could be a bit moody but he was fun. So what happened was I got to his dressing room, or their dressing room, I can’t remember what I was doing there to be honest but he was smoking this thing. I never seen it, and he’s like, “Do you want a hit?” the other guys too, like the crew, there’s other people in there and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll try it”. But it’s not for me. I don’t smoke weed or that kind of stuff but I got really, really high actually.
You got to try something once, right?
Yeah, well, I don’t, I haven’t tried anything. I’m Swedish, we drink…beer. I’m a wine guy. So I never tried all the classic type drugs.
I feel like every time I see you guys, at least at one show, there’s a guy who yells out, “Black Rose Immortal”. Do you ever get tired of hearing that?
No but I’m used to hearing that. It’s that and “Free Bird” every show, here in the U.S. But like what I said yesterday, I don’t think anyone would recognized the song, not even the people shouting for it. We never really played it live but I don’t get tired of it. It’s just people yell out something. Maybe it something to do with credibility of knowing this obscure long track from twenty years ago. We listened to it a couple of times, as the whole band, like should we play this song? And afterwards, we’re like, “Nah”.
That would eat of a chunk of your set right there.
Yeah, exactly. We have twelve albums out now. You want to cover as many as you can I guess.
Well, I know Morningrise came out in 1996, so there’s no 20th Anniversary for that, but do you think you’ll play it in its entirety ever?
Well…I’m not really into those kind of things. We’ve done that a couple times. It’s alright I guess. I mean, that would be fun. There’s only five songs on the record because of that long track and we tried to make the record clock in at 66 minutes and 6 seconds. But we fucked it up in the mastering and got 66 point 7 seconds. We tried. But you never know, I would probably say no to those kind of things. That’s a long time ago. Those albums to most of our fans, they never reached those type of classic status, you know? So I think the general public probably would prefer if we played something like an album that is a bit more well-known.
I went to Radio City Music Hall when you guys played Ghost Reveries and that got a great reaction.
Did we? No we didn’t. We played the Beacon when we did “Ghost Reveries”. Radio City Music Hall was Deliverance, Damnation kind of mix.
I’m just messing up my shows then.
Seen you guys a lot. Like you said, twelve albums now, you released Sorceress back in September. Do you ever go back and check out songs that you…you know, from all your albums?
Yeah, like I said, we did listen to “Black Rose Immortal” to see if we wanted to play it but yeah, we do that every now and then. Mostly for, it sounds dull, but research, what could we pull out that we haven’t played, that we could play. I mean, we could play all the songs but what would work? So there’s still a couple of songs in the catalog we never played live. Mostly from the newer records. We do every now and then and we sometimes pick a song, “okay haven’t played this” we rehearse it, everybody knows it and then last minute, most often we’re like “Nah, fuck it”.
I like how you were asking for fan requests at the show I saw you at, like you said at Beacon Theater, you were asking for random songs. I thought that was really cool. Bands don’t usually do that.
No, that’s fun. We’ve done that a couple of times but you get thrown off because you forget. Of course we don’t rehearse the whole catalog. There’s songs we haven’t played for hundreds of years. But it’s fun doing that, for us too. It makes us kinda fall on our asses, if you know what I mean, but I like that type of connection with the crowd where it makes us a bit more human.
Well, my sister had a recommendation. Can you play that really pretty song off one of her favorite albums?
Oh yeah, that one.
So if you could figure that out, that would be great.
Yeah, that’s a great song, that one…
Recently, Mike Portnoy talked to TeamRock and he says, “I want to work with Mikael Akerfeldt. We talked about it all the time…” So what ideas have you had for collaboration?
Well, it’s mostly him, you know, he’s bit of a workaholic. He’s a friend of mine now, he’s a cool guy, great drummer. I would love to do something with him but initially when he brought it up, he wanted to do something really heavy. I’ve been doing that for a long time and I was like, not really interesting for me. I want to do something else. So it all depends. We talked about collaborating on the record, a project I have with Steven Wilson called Storm Corrosion. We ended up with no drums. We didn’t need a lot of drums for those songs. Just had a little bit of pieces there and I don’t think that would be enough for Mike. You never know, it’s one of those things. Every time we meet, every time we e-mail, or whatever, we talk about it. It hasn’t materialized, we haven’t any ideas on what it should be. Generally, I’m the type of musician that tries to put everything I want into Opeth. So I don’t really have the need for side projects. He’s with Dream Theater before, Winery Dogs, Adrenaline Mob, lots of different bands, lots of different styles. But we try to bring everything into Opeth which leaves me quite content in that sense. I don’t have too much I can’t explore within the band.
Storm Corrosion, was that the last time you did something?
Yeah, that was very different from anything I’ve done before. That ended up inspiring me to write for Opeth too. That was a one off thing, at least that sound, is a one off thing. If we do something again, it will be something different.
Any talks about that?
Yeah, same there, all the time. Me and Steve talk about that.
During my interviews I ask Three Random Silly Questions, are you ready to take part in that?
Back in 2011, you were interviewed by Nardwuar. How did you feel during that interview?
What’s his name? Oh right, that guy with the hat!
You’re reactions or expressions were priceless.
Yeah, he was fun. I didn’t know who he was.
They didn’t tell you?
No, they just tell you, you have an interview. So he comes in, I am like, “Who’s this…clown?” I had many interviews where…this guy dressed up as Elvis or whatever. Most of the time it’s not even funny but that guy was quite funny. He done some research. He knew a lot about the band so he wasn’t there to get a laugh on my expense. He knew stuff about us. It was a good interview from what I remember.
So you enjoyed it?
Yeah, I did enjoy it actually. He did this thing in the end were he said…He just stopped…and he said something and then he turned quiet and just stood there like a statue. I was like, what am I supposed to do now? Is it over? Should I walk away? He just stood there. It was quite funny.
Question number 2: What is your go to food/drink or stuffed bear while on tour?
I don’t have a stuffed bear. When I was a kid I had a blanket, a little blanket instead of a toy. I called it “Yellow” because it was yellow. But I don’t have anything like that anymore. What was it food and drinks?
Maybe Tostitos? (A bag was on the table next to him)
Yeah, no I don’t like that. I don’t eat that stuff, whatever it’s called. I love tuna, tatar, I love raw meat tatar, lobster. We have a culinary interest in this band. We love food.
You go out to places?
Yeah, we do. We love to go out to nice places. Tomorrow, for instance, we are going to Indian together with the whole crew. We always take them out and pay for their nice dinner, for work moral and that type of stuff. And drinks would be, Coke Zero-addicted. Milk, water, orange juice, apple juice, beer-IPA’s, red wine, preferably Italian, bubbly champagne, like that. That’s about it.
Question number 3: What was the weirdest thing you had to sign?
I might have dreamt this but I think I signed a baby….
I think Twelve Foot Ninja actually said that too…
I think I have actually.
Is that awkward for you?
Of course. I’m wondering, looking at the mom and dad, “what are you thinking?” You are put on the spot. A lot of the times with people wanting their fucking privates signed or foreheads, dogs, like that type of stuff. They do it for a gag and most of the time I don’t find it funny. I just find it a bit tragic. Mostly we sign records, pieces of paper but a lot of the time we sign a tattoo. They have the Opeth thing and they want to get the autograph tattooed as well. Some odd things happen. Not all the time, I go what are you thinking? We try to not make a big scene out of it. We just sign it and move on. Even babies.
I don’t know if I would sign a baby. That’s kinda weird.
Yeah, I might have dreamt it up or maybe I heard this story and made it into my own. Can’t remember to be honest. It wasn’t on the flesh at least. It was on a shirt.
At least there won’t be a tattoo or anything.
No, I hope not.
Like we said before, you embarking on a short tour with my favorite bands Gojira, Devin Townsend, were you as stoked as the fans when this happened?
Not really, to be honest. Like, it’s just a tour. I never met the Gojira guys, I mean, I’ve said hi to them at festivals but never talked to them. I’m more excited about getting to known new people. Musically, they’re great, both bands are great. I’m so well into the old shit I haven’t listen to much to their music. But I think it’s a great package for the fans. I’m not that really…I’m just elsewhere. Gojira is a fucking heavy band. Devin, of course, is Devin. He is a good friend of mine, so I really respect them but I don’t really listen to their records.
Any upcoming plans for Opeth?
Well, yeah. Mostly shows. This short two weeks. Then we have some festivals and stuff like that. Then a couple of tours, a UK tour. We shortened down the tours now. We don’t do the 6-7 week tours anymore, which is nice. I think we have a UK tour set up in the Fall.
Thank you for doing this interview, I really appreciate it and best of luck on tour.
Cheers man. Thank you.