INTERVIEW: Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt

Opeth have always been a little left of centre, especially when taking the iconic sounds of death metal out of the 90s and into the naughties and infusing it with a progressive edge. But nowhere has that prog influence been more inspired – and even jarring – than on their new album, Heritage. There’s barely a hint of metal to be found on the album and absolutely no death growling anywhere. In its place there’s distorted organ, nylon string guitar, and – you’re not gonna believe this – fully authentic 1970s-style jazz fusion in the style of Mahavishnu Orchestra. Mikael Åkerfeldt explains the abrupt change in style…

There’s an obvious fusion feel to a lot of the material on Heritage. Where did that come from?

We’ve been listening to not only fusion but all sorts of music. And the fusion aspect comes from Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham… I listened to Alphonse Mouzon, the drummer who was with Larry Coryell in The Eleventh House; some Herbie Hancock; the Headhunters, who are a mix of free-form and jazz and pop and whatever. But we listened to all styles of music. Some influences are more there than others, but I think we’ve been quite taken by the sounds of fusion for quite some time now, all of us.

How did you write it? Fusion is very ‘musician’ music.

I write everything on my own. I’m not really a good keyboard player, although I’m learning and I would love to be better. But with Opeth I can play what I want to hear, and I can play it fairly well. But I really, really rely on the other guys to make it proper for the actual recording once we go into the studio. I make demos of everything, and the demos, if I do say so myself, they’re pretty fucking good-sounding! I work a lot on the drums. Every ghost hit on the snare has got to be there. Everything’s there. So I want to have a splendid demo that I can present to the other guys so they should almost feel intimidated! I tell them, “You make it better than this and we have a real fucking thing going here!” And they always do! I think it’s inspirational for them to get that kind of level from the demos. Once they come up with something it’s gonna be fucking outrageous.

It must be great to have musicians who are professional enough to deal with that!

Yeah! I surround myself with really, really good musicians, but they are also more than metal musicians. They listen to all sorts of music, they’re interested in their own instruments and in developing their skills for those instruments. That’s been the case since the beginning. We always aimed to be fairly competent musicians because it makes experimentation so much easier. I mean, we could not have been doing this album with just a bunch of musicians who can only play metal. It’d be physically impossible.

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My interview with Motley Crue’s Mick Mars


Check out my interview with Motley Crue’s Mick Mars for The Brag. Here’s a snippet.

Lee made headlines recently with a statement that the day of the album is over. Mars agrees, to a point, and is considering how exactly to release his own solo material when it’s ready. He’s pondering single releases or an EP, “to give people a taste of what it’d be,” he explains. “Then if people want to dig deeper you could do an album of ten songs – it depends on what they say about the singles. If they say ‘this song didn’t do so well’, then rewrite it a different way, put it out and see what happens! Then you put out the greatest singles of the week!” he laughs. “I mean, when I was young, you had LPs – y’know, the vinyl stuff – and it’s kind of bubbling back a little bit, a little trickle of it. But I’d go out and buy a Cream album, like Disraeli Gears or something like that, take the album cover – and it was that glow-under-the-blacklight stuff – and I would just sit and look at it for hours, turn it around, find different stuff, find hidden little things. That’s what records were, and they’re not like that any more.”

CLICK HERE for the full interview!

INTERVIEW: Dream Theater’s John Petrucci

When Mike Portnoy quit Dream Theater a year ago, it could have been a disaster for the band. Instead they went into audition mode, recruiting former Extreme/Steve Vai drummer Mike Mangini to record A Dramatic Turn Of Events. The new album is classic Dream Theater, with odd time signatures, clever arrangements, genre-hopping, long instrumental sections and plenty of shred. Mangini proves he’s the perfect man for the job, and the entire band sounds energised and inspired by the new, more democratic approach to composition. It’s their most varied and creative work since 1999’s Scenes From A Memory.

The first impression I had of this album was “This reminds me of something. What is it? Oh! Dream Theater!” It really brings back the things I really loved about the Images & Words era.

Cool! We were definitely conscious to look at our goals for the new album and really talk to each other beforehand. I had a lot of conversations with Jordan (Rudess, keys) about the compositional direction, and trying to hone in on the elements that make the band special in our eyes. We had a conversation with James (LaBrie) about where we wanted to take the vocals melodically, and conversations with John Myung (bass) not only about the album but each song. We had a very focused general outlook of the entire writing process. And not only that but as a producer what it was going to sound like when it was all said and done. So that probably helped keep it in that direction.

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Mick Mars talks Fender Stratocasters

Mötley Crüe’s Mick Mars plays some of the coolest Fender Strats in the biz. Have you seen the cool distressed-looking Strats with neck and bridge humbuckers, big fat headstocks and Floyd Roses that he routinely uses? They’re high on my wish-list of guitars-that-don’t-exist-yet-but-totally-should. Well recently I interviewed Mars for a non-guitarry publication, but eventually – we both being guitarists, and guitarists being a particularly talkative lot  – the conversation turned to Strats and why they’re so damn cool. So, since it wouldn’t really be appropriate for the magazine the interview was for, here’s the little guitarry portion of the chat, just for I Heart Guitar readers. Enjoy!

It seems like whenever I see you interviewed on camera, you’re always surrounded by Strats. Why is it about them that you like?

Maybe I’m a little bit strange, because I’ve got a lot of Stratocasters – ’60s, ’50s – but I like the bigger headstocks. I dunno, I like Stratocasters, and that really shows it: here’s a big, giant Fender Stratocaster logo in your face! Like, when Marshall amps first came out they had that little tiny logo, and then they went up to this gigantic, huge thing. It’s like that kind of a deal. I don’t know, I just prefer the bigger headstocks. It’s funny, when I was a kid I didn’t, but when I got older I started to like the bigger headstocks, which started in ’66.”

Has there been any talk of doing a signature model Fender for you, based on the customs you use with the humbuckers and Floyd Rose?

There’s been some talk between Guitar Center and Fender. I don’t know how far it’s gotten, but Guitar Center want to do a limited edition of my guitar, like they did with Eric Clapton’s ‘Blackie.’ So they’re talking to Fender about it. But I don’t know. There’s a little excitement going on, but right now Fender is in the middle of switching up. People are coming in, people are leaving, and they’re right in the middle of that. They’re still Fender but some people have taken over this, some people have retired, some of the people I worked with have left the company. So the guitar is still in the talking stages, and they’re still excited about it.”

INTERVIEW: Eskimo Joe’s Kav Temperley

Eskimo Joe’s new album, Ghosts of The Past, finds the band returning the more stripped back feel of four-times-platinum Black Fingernails, Red Wine (2006), after the more elaborate orchestration and experimentation of 2009’s Inshalla. Produced by Matt Lovell, who produced Black Fingernails, the first single is “When We Were Kids.” I spoke with bass player/vocalist Kav Temperley a few days after the band returned from what was, by all accounts, a pretty kickass set that the Splendour In The Grass festival.

You just played Splendour. That must have been cool.

It was amazing. We were really lucky to play from about six to seven, so we played just as the sun set. You play to this amphitheatre and you can see it filling up with people… Kanye West got helicoptered in, Kate Moss was hanging backstage…

You’ve travelled such a long distance since I first saw you guys at the bar at the University of Canberra in the late 90s.

Yeah. We’ll probably be back at the uni bar one day.

The press release for the new album says this album is a return to your rock roots. 

It’s definitely a rock and roll record. We had an idea of going into the studio with two people on guitar, bass, upright piano and drums, and to just have that treatment. If you listen to The Pixies’ Doolittle, they can make everything work on those instruments. They can make everything work, and they don’t need anything else. It’s all there. And that was our intent. And when you start doing that, you end up having a much more rock and roll-sounding record. That’s just the nature of it. The last record had all these moments which were kind of almost like Toto’s “Africa” or something like that, whereas this is much more down to The Police and The Pixies again.

Or at least Toto’s later, post-Africa stuff!

Yeah! There ya go!

So it was a conscious decision to do something different to the previous one?

Yeah. For us it’s always about kicking against whatever we did before, and the last record was eclectic. You had Led Zeppelin rock things but there was also Peter Gabriel kind of moments on it. It was going all over the place, and we just really wanted to make a very uniform-sounding record, where if you press play you know exactly what record you’re listening to. That’s kind of what happened with Black Fingernails, Red Wine. There was nothing premeditated about it. The album before it, Songs Of The City, was kind of eclectic and we just wanted a very uniform-sounding record, and that’s what we’ve done again, and this is what it sounds like. All of my favourite records, like Harvest by Neil Young, it doesn’t matter what’s on the record, it sounds like the same session. The same musicians in the same room, performing a different song. That, to me, is what always works best. But then, the ‘white’ album by The Beatles has always been one of my favourite records, and even though that sounds like the same band playing a bunch of different styles, it’s still a very eclectic album, and at the end of the day it still sounds like the white album.

 

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INTERVIEW: Trivium’s Matt Heafy & Corey Beaulieu

We all know Trivium can play. They’ve been able to shred with the best of them ever since their first album, 2003’s Ember To Inferno, while and 2008’s Shogun veered close to progressive metal more than once, with its complex single note lines and ferocious 7-string riffage. But new album In Waves (Roadrunner) finds these Floridians exploring more restrained territory – to a point. The riffs are more direct, the tones are huge, and the songwriting is tight and purposeful. Guitarists Corey Beaulieu and Matt Heafy refined their approach without losing their edge or power, a rare feat in a world were ‘stripped back songwriting’ is usually taken to mean ‘wimpy.’ There’s still plenty of precision in the latest evolution of the Trivium sound, and there’s more than enough aggression to satisfy fans of the band’s early hardcore days, but In Waves stands out as the best sounding and most repeat-listenable Trivium album to date. I spoke with Heafy and Beaulieu about what went into the project, and what ultimately came out.

You started working on this album quite a while ago. Is that how you always work?

COREY BEAULIEU Mostly on every record, while we’re touring for the previous record, we stockpile ideas. Once we get off tour we have a lot of stuff we can start digging into and putting together. We use the tour to write and put together ideas so that when we start on the next record we’re a bit ahead. We’ve already got stuff we’ve been working on over time and that has been allowed to develop. Some of the songs go back pretty far back in the Shogun touring cycle.

What was your guitar approach on this album?

BEAULIEU It was about focusing on the songs, and writing songs that are straight to the point. It wasn’t all about technical stuff or trying to riff out a lot or show off. It was just making sure everything in the song was what needed to be there and nothing more. Taking a songwriter’s approach and not trying to be a flashy guitar player. It’s all about making the song and the riff the best it can be. It’s a lot simpler technically. We took that approach for the playing stuff, and the solos were whatever was needed for the song, whether it was a crazy solo or something more melodic. The songs dictated the lead stuff.

MATT HEAFY We were thinking about telling [producer] Colin Richardson, “We want a combination of this, this and that…” but I’m pretty sure we held all of our comments until we saw him in person. The guitar process was long. Normally, every record we’ve ever done, you get a BS scratch guitar tone and send it off to be mixed later, but Colin’s whole thing is he doesn’t want to record a second of music until he has a tone that will be the final tone of the record. I think we spent about five days on the guitar tone.

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My interview with Matt Heafy from Trivium

CLICK HERE to read my interview with Trivium’s Matt Heafy (Spanish translation here thanks to Trivium Mexico)

Here’s a snippet:

“This whole record is a response to everything we see in music and in metal. It’s always done the same way: a band will release a song, then release the album cover, and they explain what every little thing is supposed to mean. But we didn’t want to do it that way. It’s exactly like you said: we wanted to control the flow of information. I always thought it irritating that people seem to know the album title and cover so early, and people make their entire assumption about the record in just those little ways. So we set up all those teasers, and we didn’t announce the record title until after “In Waves” was out, and people didn’t know yet that In Waves was the record title. So we wanted to make it more of an experience like it used to be. Even when I was a kid, when a band was about to release a record, it was a little more exciting. You didn’t know everything that was going on, all the details of the record. We wanted to make it fun for the listener, and fun for people to wait for the record to come out. And it’s worked out really well. There have been little weird things, like Amazon posted little 30-second samples of every song, and we didn’t know they were going to do that, but we decided to embrace it and use it to our advantage, so I tweeted about it and suddenly thousands of kids were able to listen to the samples. But then some will make their whole assumption of the record based on a 30-second sample of a chorus. That’s what’s gonna happen, but there’s still that mystique with the record, because it hasn’t leaked, knock on wood. I’m sure it will before it comes out but, knock on wood, I hope it doesn’t because since there’s so much emphasis on the music and the visuals on this record; the visuals are something you really can’t duplicate by ripping it online. You have to get the special edition to see the documentary, the live video, the packaging, the vinyl that comes with the special edition, all that good stuff. It’s more about making it an old-school physical experience of an album.”

INTERVIEW: Queensryche’s Geoff Tate

Queensryche have never done what was expected of them. They pioneered progressive metal with the legendary concept album Operation: Mindcrime but followed it up with the pop-metal blockbuster Empire. Then they followed Empire with the dark, moody Promised Land. They finally released a sequel to Operation: Mindcrime in 2006, and followed that up with American Soldier, a heavy, intense journey into to horrors of war, both physical and emotional, culled from interviews with actual returned servicemen. New album Dedicated To Chaos (Roadrunner) is a complete about-face from American Soldier, a rhythm-driven, kaleidoscopic examination of modern attention spans (or the lack thereof).

Drummer Scott Rockenfield and bass player Eddie Jackson kickstarted the direction of the album when they turned in a series of riffs and jams that were a world away from the guitar-driven darkness of American Soldier. “That’s what makes it interesting and keeps us coming back for more as musicians,” says singer Geoff Tate, down the line at 2am Melbourne time. “In fact, one of the things that drew us together years ago when we first started out was the ability for almost everyone in the band to really communicate their thoughts on music, and to share their musical influences, which are pretty vast. I think if you look at all of our record collections we probably own every record ever made! I personally own seven or eight thousand records!”

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