Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt Is a Huge ABBA Fan
The prog-metal mastermind divulges some surprising favorites
Spring and summer are shaping up nicely for Opeth frontman, Mikael Åkerfeldt. In April, four of his creatively restless Swedish band’s classic albums got the deluxe reissue treatment. Then the band hit the road with their American metal brethren in Mastodon for a tour that wrapped May 12 in Atlanta. May also brought the release of the experimental, self-titled Storm Corrosion, Åkerfeldt’s collaboration with Porcupine Tree mastermind Steven Wilson. Starting in June, Opeth will rain their astonishingly complex, emotionally gripping prog-hard rock-metal hybrid down upon European stages. In the wake of all that activity, the resilient singer-guitarist took a moment to tell us about the things that keep him going, from fire eels to a certain Swedish quartet.
Favorite thing to do on tour between shows:
On tour I go out and get records every day. When I’m [in the U.S.] I’m concentrating on collecting American records; American presses. On this tour I’ve probably bought 200 vinyls so far and we’ve been on tour for five weeks. I got a bunch of Kiss stuff lately. I bought Mountain stuff, too, and a few 13th Floor Elevator records from a friend of mine. Generally, I’m just collecting psychedelic progressive-rock from the ’60s and ’70s. They have to be from the country that they’re from. I couldn’t live with having a copy of [Free’s] Fire and Water from a Spanish pressing, you know what I mean? It has to be the original. Otherwise I would feel nauseous.
Favorite music to listen to on tour:
When I go to bed, I still listen to ABBA for some reason. It just makes me feel comfortable. It makes me feel at home. But when we’re drinking, I’m usually the power DJ. I’m very restless when I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine, so I play songs really fast, and I never play a whole song. It’s like a compilation thing: everything from ABBA to bands like the Scorpions and Iron Maiden.
Favorite city to play:
It is really fun to play in Santiago, Chile. There are a lot of people coming out and they’re fucking crazy. They’re so loud. And it kind of detaches you from your role as a musician. You don’t really think about what you’re playing because you’re enjoying the whole thing. The crowds are always good. Most of the night I’m usually just listening to how we’re doing as a band as opposed to listening to how the crowd is reacting. But in Santiago it’s just crazy.
Favorite fan encounter:
We played a festival called Desert Rock, which was in Dubai. I had never been to Dubai and it’s mostly Muslim. We have a lot of fans out in the Middle East, but because of whatever restrictions, we can’t play in some of those countries. After the show, I met with, like, 50 fans from all over the Middle East — from Saudi Arabia, to Iran, to Iraq, from Jordan, and from Dubai, obviously. We were talking and they were so fucking happy. It was amazing for me. I was a bit drunk I think. But I was standing and talking to them about what it’s like in their countries. Like, if they want to listen to some of the records, they have to do it really secretly. Otherwise, they might be arrested. This music is forbidden. It’s illegal for them to go to shows and they can’t buy the record. It’s such a struggle for them just to listen to the music. It was really profound.
Favorite ways to unwind at home:
I have two daughters, so I spend a lot of time with them. It’s the beauty of this trade that I don’t have to grow up so much. I was interested in playing video games and stuff like that, but I’ve become more and more restless with age. I also have a fish tank I take care of with all sorts of fish. One, the direct translation would be a “fire eel.” I asked my daughters to name it but they just call it the eel. I have another big fish — I don’t know what they call it in English but it’s a big fucking fish that sits on the bottom just hanging out. I was sold when I bought it because I could eat it. When it’s too dull to watch, I might just fry it up!
I read a lot of musician’s biographies. I guess it’s not like fine literature if you’re reading a Mötley Crüe book, but that’s what I enjoy.
I do read some poetry but I only have one favorite poet that I read all the time. It’s a Swedish guy named Bruno K. Öijer. In the early days of the band, I got a lot of inspiration from him because his poems are a bit surreal, a bit twisted and dark. Very dark. I went to see one of his spoken-word shows once, and it was amazing. He’s like a rock star to me. I saw him in a record store once and I just froze. I was like, “Wow.” I love him.
Italian food. I like carpaccio. I love it. I could eat Italian food every day. In Italy, you can go into pretty much every restaurant and it’s going to be decent. When we’re on tour — because we’re always visiting these countries on tour and I never go on holiday — we’re connoisseurs when it comes to food. We’re not gonna run into McDonald’s, you know? Most of the time we eat really good food.
Favorite TV show:
There’s a couple of TV shows in Sweden that I watch. One is like COPS almost. They have cameras on the subway — so someone mugs this girl and there’s just people acting fucking stupid. It’s my favorite thing to watch. I also like cooking shows, especially if it’s got a bit of a twist, like Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. I love that. I love that shit even if it’s more produced. I still love it.
The first one that comes to mind is Smoke, the film with Harvey Keitel and William Hurt. I love that film. It makes me cry. I also love The Deer Hunter. It’s my favorite film of all time. If we’re talking newer films, I did love The Wrestler, it was a beautiful film. I loved Black Swan. That was fucking amazing. It’s the best film I’ve seen lately.
PRS built a guitar for Johnny Hiland, that he sent in for repair [to a guitar shop where Åkerfeldt once worked] and never picked up. It was just lying there so I played it. And I just — it was amazing. It was love. I didn’t end up getting it, but they built another guitar almost like that one, that I love. But I’m a very nostalgic person so I love very old guitars. I got a guitar from a guy who worked at another store and it was basically in two pieces. It was a wreck. It was fucking broken so he gave it to me and I fixed it up, and I still have it. We’ve recorded a few records with it, so it’s also one of my favorites.