With Swedish metallers Opeth recently touring with prog overlords Dream Theater, Chris Cope caught up with axeman Fredrik Akesson to talk about his role in the band and why Scandinavia creates so many big, bad metalheads.
It’s nearly show-time at the final UK show of the tour, and we’re enlisted with the task of taking the burly, hairy man out of his cosy dressing room for a chat. Thankfully Fredrik doesn’t mind standing about in the cold wasteland of boxes and gear behind the stage. It’s extremely dark. Hope he doesn’t bite…
Yeah absolutely, it’s going really good. This is the last show in the UK and the reception has been really good. We’re playing bigger crowds than we usually do – we’ve never done an arena tour before in Europe.
I like the 1000 people, smaller club shows as well. You have a better connection with the crowd, but I like festivals too. Bit of a different world, but you can’t live without either of them.
Not really, because our music styles are very different. Every band on the bill sounds very different. We don’t have as many solos, even though I like to play stuff like that. We have solos but it’s not that type of shreddy playing. I was a bit nervous before the first show we played in America with them as we hadn’t done a tour with them before, but now you know the guys it’s different. You were like, “Oh shit, it’s Dream Theater. Those guys can play really well, I’d better play well tonight too.” It’s inspiring in a way as well to hear John Petrucci playing backstage. It makes you want to practice even more.
I wouldn’t say that. I’ve grown up with other guitar players but I’ve always admired his skills. I listened a bit to the first two Dream Theater records when I was younger but I’ve never really studied his style or learnt whole Dream Theater songs but I have watched some clips of his guitar instructional video.
I try and have a diverse style. If I want to play something fast and more metal then I’ll pull that off, but there’s also more spacey stuff like Dave Gilmour and Mark Knopfler, slower stuff, more feel based. The most important thing to me when it comes to solos is that it suits the song well. I try to make solos that are within the song rather than making make solos to show off. When I was a kid I always practised playing fast, when I was 16/17, and then I got into looser players. It’s important to know a bit of the old school style of playing, not just the ‘woo woo’ playing [he proceeds to play air guitar].
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No, absolutely not. It’s progressive rock and they do what they do and it’s their thing. I like it. It’s fun, and it’s a lot of solos but it’s a cool part of the show. With other bands you might get bored of the solos but here it’s always interesting to check them out.
I’ve been in the band more than two and a half years, so I feel like I’ve grown into the band very well.
Yeah, absolutely. Opeth fans are quite picky as well. It is also challenging music to play, the songs are very long and contain a more finger style of playing. I had played a bit of that before but not to that extent. Mikael [Akerfeldt] has a bit of his own technique with his finger style so I had to learn a lot about his way of playing guitar. That was really good though cause I feel that it has broadened my guitar playing.
I think so. We listened to a couple of the live shows from this tour and it sounded really tight together. Our sounds are different as well, so I guess you get a fatter sound too.
I’ve played with them before when I was in Arch Enemy. We did a tour together in America, on the Gigantour with Megadeth, but I knew Mikael a little bit before that, we had hung out at festivals and stuff and I knew he liked my guitar playing. Six or seven years ago we’d talked about jamming together but it never really happened.
Yes, huge fan.
Yeah, though you just had to practice. I went over a lot to Mikael’s house and sat down and played guitar together. It was important to get all the details down – I’m very picky with details and stuff. Now I’m really anxious to do a new record, although we’re gonna have a bit of a break after this.
It was fun because I joined the band in the beginning of the writing process. I’ve written some guitar parts here and there but we co-wrote one song together, ‘Porcelain Heart’, which was the first single, so that was flattering to have a part in a song. We’ll see what happens next time.
It’s hard for me to say. If I’m happy and the guys in the band are happy with what I do then that’s my first goal. I have problems judging myself or praising myself. I would like to contribute something, but I like to have respect of the old songs too and play them the way it was.
Yeah, that’s what the other guys are saying at least. I feel that the band is developing still after each record. There’s a development from Ghost Reveries to Watershed, and it’s important that every album has their own little theme or style – doesn’t feel like any other album, although we like to still maintain the old more black elements. I don’t think we’ll step away from that more, although maybe some people thought we did on Watershed. But we’re definitely not going in a softer direction, it’s just the way the songs came out.
I don’t think so. There have always been melodies in Opeth, from the first album. There’s calm acoustic parts, more foresty parts. Every heavy Opeth song I suppose has a calmer moment as well, which I guess is a very important part of Opeth’s songs and dynamics.
Yeah I think so. A lot of Dream Theater fans might not like it, especially the growl vocals. In America they were a bit more restricted when we toured with them, but now even Dream Theater use a bit of growl in some songs. Mike Portnoy is like [makes a sound like a tiger and pulls an odd-looking face].
Yeah I think they’re really great musicians, all of them.
I used to listen to them when I was younger, but I’ve listened to the new album and the first song was cool – the other stuff I need to listen to more. Maybe I’m not into the softer stuff, but they’re doing with own thing and I really respect that. It’s cool that their music can draw almost arena crowds. Touring with them has been a cool collab…collaboration. I’m Swedish [he says, before making another funny noise and gesturing about language difficulties].
I guess it’s so dark there all year, you have the summer with three months with sunshine but that’s about it. You just sit at home and play, or at least that was it for me I guess. Also, when I was there, young bands got support from some organisations for rehearsal rooms and they could borrow vocal PAs and amps. I don’t know how it works today but there was some governmental organisations were pretty good on that, which was important.
We’ve got to go as the whispered excitement of the opening band’s arrival lingers in the air. Fredrik well wishes, but it’s only then that Thrash Hits realises we forgot to ask him just how he gets his hair so voluminous. Maybe next time.