Mikhail Madnani of IndianRockMP3.com conducted an interview with guitarist Fredrik Åkesson of Swedish progressive metallers OPETH one day before the band’s February 5 performance at the “Summer Storm” festival in Bangalore, India. Check out the interview below.
After you did your toured with arch enemy (featured on their DVD) and you joined Opeth how has the transition been from that band to Opeth?
Fredrik: It was different but luckily for me I got to join the band in the writing process for watershed which was a good thing. So if I compare it to arch enemy I was basically playing Chris Amott’s parts but in Opeth I got to be part of the band and more involved. Of course music is very different. Opeth demands different styles of guitar playing and I had to practice to learn Mikael’s style of guitar playing. I was a fan of the band before but it is a different thing listening and playing music. Now I have been in the band almost 5 years now so I feel very comfortable with this style.
Opeth’s been going in an obvious old school prog direction with a few songs on Watershed and completely on Heritage. Have you had any input into this or is it all Mikael?
Fredrik: I would say it is mostly Mikael. I do like the progressive parts. So many different elements of prog music. I think it is mainly the way Mikael feels when he starts writing a new album. I remember when I heard stuff that he wasn’t gonna do any growls, I was a bit worried and asked if he was sure about it. When I heard the songs, I really liked them and there wasn’t any room for death metal vocals on these songs. Some people think that he cant; do it anymore but that’s bullshit. We’ve rehearsed and we’re gonna play some of the heavy stuff tomorrow. The band does not want to repeat itself to maintain sales or anything. Many bands do the same thing to keep things rolling. I’m fortunate to be in a band where we sometimes make bold steps aside from the routine. But I still think the new album sounds like Opeth and it is definitely dark and moody.
When everyone heard The Devil’s Orchard everyone was skeptical because there were no growls at all and the style was so different. After giving it a few listens I think everyone understood it.
Fredrik: I agree. It is an album that takes a few listens to digest. Every Opeth album is like that where you discover more and more with each listen.
In the song burden (which happens to be one of my favourite songs), I want to know whose idea it was to do the detuning at the end of the song?
Fredrik: It was a spontaneous idea we had in the studio during the recording. It was Mikael’s idea for me to go and detune the guitars to make them sound like shit haha. But at the end I stumble on this box and Mikael started laughing and that is the ending which goes into the next song on the album. Some people hate that and I think we like the fact that it is a very beautiful part and that it kind of transforms into something ugly.
Back to Heritage. When Roadrunner released the final album artwork, there were mixed opinions because it is very different from all the other Opeth album covers including Watershed. Who came up with the concept for the artwork?
Fredrik: Our manager Andy actually came up with the concept of the tree. He said I see a tree. It was collaboration between him and Mikael. He had a dream. Travis Smith did the artwork; he has done all the artwork since Still Life I believe. I think it connects with the 70′s prog rock feel that the music on the album has. It is more like an oil painting design. It is a bit fun but it is also dark. There’s symbolism in there. The burning city and the 9 stars in the sky which represent the other Opeth albums. The sun is the 10th which is heritage. You have the death metal roots with the devil and hell at the bottom.
On to some guitar questions. You just told us that you have been with Marshall for 2 days now officially and PRS. What effects do you use?
Fredrik: I use lots of Dunlop and MXR pedals. A guy in Sweden at SOS got a rack system for me. I like the old stomp-box idea. The idea is I don’t have to run audio cables to the back of the pedal board so I keep everything at the back to keep the shortest path. Basically what I use is an MXR micro amp which is what I use for all the distorted tones. I have a carbon copy delay which I really like. I like the warm and analog echo. Univibe phasor with a bit more spacier tone. I use a compression pedal for some of the finger picking parts. Also I use a jim Dunlop crybaby rack wah. I also use a Dunlop volume pedal which I love because it lets me do volume swells and the crunchy old school guitar sounds.
In the last DVD at the Albert hall (Evolution XX) you did Blackwater park and then one song from each album. Can you comment on the Bangalore setlist since it is the first show of the new tour?
Fredrik: It is gonna be very different from the 2011 heritage tour we did in North America and Europe. We did an acoustic set there. Tomorrow we bring in some of the older heavier songs. We’re gonna focus a bit on the new album but we’re bringing in some old songs as well. You can expect more growls.
How does it feel playing the old Opeth songs? Do you try and replicate the parts as they are on the album or do you like adding your own solos?
Fredrik: I try to play Peter’s solos exactly as they are because I believe that the fans wanna hear them like that and I think they’re really good as well. He played some interesting solos and it is inspiring learning those solos. Maybe in some songs we added some solos but not necessarily change a lot. For instance Mikael wanted me to do an improvised solo on Hope Leaves at the Royal Albert Hall. Only small parts are added sometimes but I want to keep it as original as possible.
What are your favourite Opeth albums that you haven’t been a part of?
Fredrik: Still Life. Actually I like them all. When we did the evolution XX tour, I really enjoyed playing a couple of songs from the first few albums and I really think we brought a new energy to the old songs. With Axe and everybody, those songs sounded really cool.
Have you been involved in any of the old album re-masters that are being released like Still Life 5.1 mix? What are your views about re-mastering classics?
Fredrik: I think the re-master sounds better. The guitars sound better than the original here but usually people have a certain connection with the original and it takes a lot for them to stop listening to it and move to something that sounds different for the same songs.
Which newer bands are you listening to in the metal scene?
Fredrik: I got the new Mastodon album. I think they’re good and I went to see them live. I like the Ghost album as well, Opus Eponymous. I really like when Devin Townsend releases something new like Ziltoid. I used to listen to Nevermore when they were around. I’m curious to hear the new Meshuggah album. Those guys are good friends