Interview with Frederik Akesson from Opeth

Written by Jarrod Henry

Opeth, like some of their progressive rock predecessors, are probably one of the only bands who could pull off the kind of show they’ve just performed at Wembley Arena, Radio City Music Hall and the Sydney Opera House. With a mammoth set consisting of the seminal albums Damnation and Deliverance performed in their entirety for the first time back-to-back plus another set of songs from their critically acclaimed new album Sorceress, the response from fans across the globe has been akin to the heady days of Beatlemania. With such a wealth of material to draw on, spanning all the way back to their death metal beginnings in the late eighties, the three performances have been heralded as the pinnacle of the band’s live career, and a show not too be missed.

Guitarist Frederik Akesson joined Opeth in 2007 ahead of the recording of Watershed and has seen the band go through a series of sonic changes in recent years. Divesting themselves of many of the heavier qualities that marked the band’s formative years and infusing the sound with vintage keyboards, complex time signatures and an overall sound that harkens back to the days of seventies progressive rock. A bold, ambitious and, according to vocalist Mikael Akerfeldt, a necessary one. Now, with the release of Sorceress, Opeth have once again pushed sonic boundaries even further, creating a dense, dark and stunningly beautiful work, and Akesson couldn’t be happier.

Hi Frederik thank you so much for taking the time to have a chat with me this afternoon. I really appreciate it.

My pleasure.

Whereabouts are you right now?

Right now, at my apartment in Stockholm. Right outside Stockholm. It’s about 20 or 15 minute walk to the South side of Stockholm. You know, that’s where I live. It’s really close to Mikael. It’s walking distance from here, about a 10 minute walk.

Oh, that must be handy.

Yeah, handy for a beer drinking session!

Ha ha absolutely! Firstly, congratulations on the new album, “Sorceress.” It’s an absolutely brilliant achievement.

Thank you so much. We’re really happy about it as well.

The album definitely forges forward with some more changes in the sound of Opeth. Did the writing and recording process differ from that of “Pale Communion” and “Heritage”?

Not really. I mean we went to the same studio again, Rockfield in Wales. That’s where we were for the “Pale Communion” sessions. Personally, me and Michael wrote a track together on this one called, “Strange Brew” so that was a bit different for compared to “Pale Communion”, for me at least. We added a little writing studio at our rehearsal room, and that’s mainly where Michael sat and he asked us down to listen to the song sound-shape, I guess. Me down to ground guitar solos. We worked on this one song together called “Strange Brew”. Usually what we do is that we’ll make a really good demo made, and we use the demo as a click-track basically.

Right

It’s more natural, and the foundations of the drums, bass, and the ground basic ideas are there, and generally we worked on it for a couple of weeks together. They kind of come up with their own drums and try out different stuff. We used the demo as the template when we were recording them. Then we  record the drum selection, so they can hear the guitar lines and vocal lines and keyboards, stuff like that. When they’re done, we take everything out and play after the bass and drums. Then we start with the guitars and everything else, like building a puzzle.

Ok

We are working at it, but the method has been the same since Watershed actually.

I read that this album was recorded in 12 days. That must have been a pretty serious amount of pressure to perform under.

Yeah, it went faster than last time. We also worked with Tom Valgetti once again, and he knows the rooms proper.

With regards to translating the songs for the live performance, how has that been going, and do you have any personal favorites from the new album that you’re really enjoying playing live at the moment?

Yeah, “Wilde Flowers” is the one we play. We usually start off the set with the title track and that’s also real fun to play. The “Wilde Flowers” … It’s kind of demanding. Well, actually, the guitar solo is a bit demanding to nail that every night. It’s a bit of a challenge. It works good. Before we play that song, we play a couple of older, more death metal- ish type of songs. It works well with those. Playing two of those songs and it kicks in afterwards. It’s a cool blend. We work a lot on the set list to have a good flow between old and new and the variation between tempos and the keys and stuff like that. But I’m really looking forward to playing more songs from the new album. There are certain songs we like to play. I think we are putting out a new video for a song called “Era”. I think that song could be really cool to play live and the song “Chrysalis”.

Yes, very much so.

Also, “Strange Brew” it can be interesting to play that. So it’s definitely more songs that we want to play live in this album. 

Yes! That’s right. Speaking of which- obviously you’re doing some very special series at select venues around the world, including a sold out show at the Sydney Opera House. Is this something that we might even see come to Perth or other parts of Australia in the future?

Not sure. This will definitely be the last of these shows. We only did it at the Wembley Arena and we did it at the Radio City Music Hall in New York, and we did it in LA. Sydney’s going to be the last with this particular set list which is an extra set containing songs from the “Damnation” and “Deliverance” albums.

Right.

A few of those songs were never played live before. Like “Death Whispered a Lullaby” or “By The Pain I See in Others” from the Deliverance album. It’s a treat for the hardcore fans. Having that said, why not play a longer set but in a different way in the future … 

Obviously you’ve just done the “Damnation and Deliverance” shows at Wembley Arena. Which of the shows do you prefer? Do you like the larger, sort of arena style shows, or do you like the smaller, sort of theatre based shows?

Well theatre based, you get a better connection with the crowd, and you can feel a bit more rocking if you’re playing a big hall, but I like the variation of both. We are very privileged to be able to play both. I think the framing of a show is important too. Playing in beautiful venues like the opera houses frame the show in a different way. It’s a different experience for both the band and the audience. Instead of being in a square hall, where the surrounds can be actually pretty boring if you’re playing in a hokey arena. Playing the Radio City Hall was beautiful. 

Radio City Music Hall, I mean, that’s hallowed ground for the premiers for some absolutely amazing albums. I think Pink Floyd premiered the “Dark Side of the Moon” officially when it was called that album in 1973 I think.

Oh I didn’t know that.

Yeah, that’s one of my favorite albums.

Yeah, me too. Well, I’ll remember that.

Seeing as I’m a guitarist and a bit of a gear head myself, I was going to ask you about your current touring rig.

Yeah, sure. We basically use two different rigs. Sometimes we have to go with our fly rig when we go to Australia, because it’s way too expensive to ship. I can go through my main rig a little bit. Both me and Michael use the JVM Marshall Joe Satriani model. For the album, I used quite a lot of the Freidman amp which I love. I think it’s a fantastic amp. It reminds me of Plexi Tones. This one goes to 11!! For the flying rigs, we use the Fractal Audio Ax FX II.  We do need a lot of different sounds, everything from heavy rhythm with echo or without. We’ve been using these guitars with Piezo pick ups in them for the last three years, and that’s been a major improvement I think, for a live sound to go from very heavy sounds to very close to the real deal type of acoustic steel string sound.  Before we used clean guitars and it doesn’t come across as good as it does now. From the Deliverance album, we played the song called “By the Pain I See in Others” and there’s a part there where you can hear the acoustic picking part and also it’s distorted at the same time, so it’s really cool to be able to use that in the distorted and acoustic way as well. Also, sometimes it’s nice to combine it with a delay or a reverb to get another dimension to the song. Effects-wise basically, what I use is a bunch of JM Dunlop MXR pedals. I’ve been using the new one. We use phasers and stuff like that.  If I need the start and delay effect, I have a Voodoo Labs switching system with us, with a G control pedal board, so I have eight different pedal loops. I also have the Ax FX in there with the JR mixer so it’s linear blending but I only use the delays and reverbs for the Ax FX.

Right!

If I need a special timed thing, I also have the ability to put up at the end of a song, a massive echo reverb thing that echoes through my guitar, to tie the songs together. I’m getting really gnarly here with the guitar talk. We used a wireless Shure ULXD4, I think that sounds really good. I will always be using the cord, but this is the first wired, so I think I can’t really tell the difference actually.

Are you using your signature PRS guitars as well?

Pretty much back home because now since we started with the Piezo pick-ups, we more or less have to use them, basically. I’m bringing down to Australia only three guitars. We have a few different tunings but all of them are equipped with the Piezo. That’s the main reason we don’t have them anymore. We can put them in the signature ones, but maybe we’ll do that for the future, but right now I have a combination of a P24, a custom P24 – oh, that’s the P24, a custom with a whammy bar, and I have the P22 with a solid bridge and the P245 Gibson style, like my Signature. So that’s what I’m going to bring down to Australia.

Excellent. Well, that’s pretty much it for me, Fredrick! Thank you so much for your time this afternoon. I’m really, really looking forward to the show that you’re doing here in Perth.

Oh, I love to come back to Perth. I won’t go swimming this time. [laughter]. Damn near burned my back last time trying to surf. I was really lousy at it.

I’m sure we could find a few people who would love to give you lessons, though, mate.

Oh, that sounds great! Thank you for talking to me. Cheers!

I hope the rest of your shows go really well. All the best at the Sydney Opera House.

Thanks again Jarrod, bye now. 

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February 8th, 2017

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