Interview with Peter Lindgren of Opeth
In July of 2001, when Opeth toured the US for the first time, I was lucky enough to see them. Doubly lucky, actually, because I saw them twice: once at their debut performance at the Milwaukee Metalfest and the second time at the Hard Rock Café in Chicago, where we had arranged to meet up with them before the show. They had heard that it was going to be a video guitar lesson/interview, but I don?t think they realized exactly what that meant (few do). So when we showed up with video cameras and asked, ?Where should we setup?? It was a bit of a surprise. There was no place quiet enough at the venue, so I eventually convinced the band that we should just go to our office, which was less than a mile away.
I recall meeting Peter (Lindgren) first and asking him if he would like to get Mikael (Akerfeldt) and Martin (Lopez) to come along as well. He agreed and went to find them. I listened to him conversing with them, in Swedish of course, trying to explain what we were proposing to do. The only word I heard repeatedly was ?spiele? which was accompanied each time by a little air guitar. I?m guessing that meant ?to play.? Then Martin or Mike would reply, ?Spiele?? Peter would nod and soon we had the three of them, Michael, Martin, and Peter along with two guitars (Martin used a cheap bass from our office) and we were ready to go. I hailed a cab and we were off.
We arrived at the office minutes later and unloaded. I can only imagine what the doorman was thinking as 6 long hairs in T-shirts walked in carrying guitars and headed to the 21st floor of our building, which was filled primarily with lawyers in suits, toupees, and shiny shoes.
When we were setting up the amps, and I was adjusting the distortion and trying to coax some mediocre tone from the little practice amps that we were using for the shoot, Michael said, ?I think we should do it clean. It will be easier for people to hear and understand what we?re playing.? How many metal bands do you know that have the confidence in their music, which is normally heard distorted, to play it on the clean channel for a video? That statement spoke volumes to me. The video lesson that followed was in my humble opinion, one of the best we ever shot, and now you finally get to see it.
For those of you who have never heard of Opeth, they are a four-piece from Sweden that play progressive rock/metal. Most people think Dream Theater when they hear the term progressive metal, but I assure you, they sound nothing like Dream Theater. I guess a layman?s recipe for Opeth could be to take a base of Metallica and Iron Maiden and sprinkle in some ?70s era prog-rock like Trick of the Tale era Genesis, or maybe Rush, and then add in equal parts of growling and singing, and you would start to get the taste of Opeth. But really, their sound is all their own. If you?re into heavy music, you owe it to yourself to check out this band.
For those of you who have been enlightened, I recently had another opportunity to speak with one of Opeth?s guitarists, Peter Lindgren, about their new album Deliverance, and about the state of metal today. Check it out, and then watch the videos!
Guitar.com: I listened to the new album a little bit and I?m very excited about it. It seems a little heavier than Blackwater Park.
Peter Lindgren: It is. You know we really tried to avoid doing a Blackwater Park Part II. It would have been really easy just to do a simple follow-up, but we really wanted to do something different. That?s why. You know that we were recording two albums?
Guitar.com: Yeah, I had heard rumors on the Internet that it was gonna be one album that was really heavy, and then the other was gonna be mainly acoustic. Is that true?
Lindgren: That?s basically true, you know, that album you?ve got in your hands now, it is heavier than Blackwater Park, for example. But the other album is really mellow; kind of ?70s kind of production, sounds like it was recorded in 1971 almost.
Guitar.com: So did you record them in different studios and everything?
Lindgren: No, we actually recorded at the same time, we recorded both at the same time, and we just changed the production. When we recorded the drums for Deliverance, for example, we just took the kit down and put it up again, changed the microphones a lot so it would sound different. And when we recorded that, then we went on to the guitars and so on, and did that throughout the whole record session. So we sort of recorded two albums in the same amount of time used to record one, which is a nightmare.
Guitar.com: Did you record one on a digital medium and the other one on analog, or are they both digital?
Lindgren: They were recorded exactly the same way, but we mixed down the individual recordings, the recording procedures, but there was no intention that was really to the production in any sense. We recorded the drums on analog tapes, but we probably wouldn?t do it again because it caused us problems. The drum production was done on analog tapes, and then the rest more or less is digital. It?s just that the sound, even though the clean guitars and vocals on the mellow album were recorded digitally, Steven Wilson is mixing it and he?s mixing it in a different way than Andy Sneap, who [mixed] Deliverance.
Guitar.com: Do you have a title for the second part yet?
Lindgren: Yeah, we do, it?s called Damnation.
Guitar.com: That?s a little different; I?d expect the heavier album to be called Damnation.
Lindgren: Yeah, I know. That?s on purpose of course. But it?s a good thing, because I think you know if we had called the heavy one Damnationand this mellow one Deliveranceit would have been a bit obvious. We just chose to swap them around.
Guitar.com: That?s cool. Do you have any moments that you?re particularly fond of on the new album? Is there one song that?s your favorite?
Lindgren: It usually differs a bit whenever I listen to it. At the moment I think ?Master?s Apprentice? is my favorite song. At first it was probably ?Deliverance,? but it changes. One song that really came out better than I expected was ?By the Pain I See in Others,? the last song. We were a bit worried about that song because we experimented so much with this circus kind of riff in the middle of the song and we didn?t exactly know what to do with it but I think it came out really good in the end. Usually we just write the basics before we enter the studio and then we experiment a lot, so it?s always like we don?t know what?s gonna come out in the end when we record things. When I get back home after recording, I?m as excited as any Opeth fan when I get the new album because I don?t know exactly what?s on there.
Guitar.com: I really like ?Deliverance,? that?s one of my favorite tracks, and it seems as though you?ve incorporated some of the more modern styles into that song. Specifically, at the end, that very syncopated, sort-of off-time riff?was that a conscious effort, or is that something that just came out? The palm-muted, chunky stuff like that is very popular right now, especially with Meshuggah and other bands like that. Was that something you were going for?
Lindgren: No, not really, we wanted to do a heavy album but Mike wrote that riff and he was just playing around with it. He had this drum machine and was just playing around and he came up with this drum thing, and then he started playing to it and just tried to do something to it. But you know, the palm-muting thing, it?s not all over the album or anything, and we don?t ever have plans to try to do like copies of something else. We didn?t want to do a palm-muted album or anything. It?s just that that?s a good riff so we thought we should put it on the album. The idea was to have it as a fade-out actually and that?s why it?s so long, so we just recorded three minutes of it in order to be able to fade it out. But while listening to it we got sort of hypnotized almost because it just sort of repeats itself and you get confused when you hear it almost and hypnotized. So we thought, why not keep it as it is? And it?s really long, you get hypnotized almost when you hear it.
Guitar.com: It?s a really great riff. I really like the guitar behind it too, that?s playing the octave, sort of strumming.
Lindgren: Yeah, we usually put names on our riffs and bits and pieces, and that one is called ?Skeleton.? And the guitar breaks before everything breaks out, that?s where we tried to f&%k up the sound a bit so it would sound almost bad, but it reminds me of a skeleton or something so we just named it ?Skeleton.?
Guitar.com: That?s very cool, I noticed the one track, ?For Absent Friends,? that?s a very powerful and moving song, and probably my second favorite. It?s amazing to me how you guys can write heavy music that?s also beautiful. I know that sounds a little bizarre, but that piece is so strong, you could almost just play that on the radio, but at the same time it?s got a really dark feel to it that makes it Opeth, and nobody else plays like that.
Lindgren: Aw, thank you.
[Author?s Note: Something that struck me when we filmed the video, and again when I did this interview, was/is how humble and personable they were/are. Talking to them is as easy as talking to a friend you?ve had for years. They make you feel welcome and as though they?re as excited to be talking to a fan as you are to be talking to one of the greatest bands on the planet. They truly deserve their success on every level.]
Guitar.com: How do you guys, specifically with the clean pieces, go about coming up with the textures? There are so many different layers of guitar in there; it creates such a complex sound.
Lindgren: It?s different. Sometimes you know if it?s a good riff, it could be all done as soon as you write it but there?s also sometimes when we experiment a lot. I mean the basics are always written, like I said, but we could think that, ?We have the basics, now we should do something on top,? for example, maybe a lead or something. And then we just plug the guitar in and try to find a good sound, and just see what comes out, you know? It?s a good way to work because in the studio, you always have a great sound compared to when you?re home, in your home-studio kind of thing where it doesn?t sound really good, so you don?t know if it?s really good or if it?s good but not great. So most of the times we write the basics at home, then we add something on top, which is done in the studio with just experimental things almost, and in that way we just catch the moment. But we always strive for the same thing in the band, we like the same kind of music, all of us, and we always like the deflective sound.
Guitar.com: How long did you spend recording this album?
Lindgren: We recorded two albums at the same time. We recorded Damnationand Deliverancethroughout the whole recording. The recording for both albums was seven weeks, and then we mixed Deliverancefor ten days, and Damnation, the mellow album, is not mixed yet so that?s probably gonna be ten more days. Mixing and recording would be ten weeks I think. But that?s for two albums. On average it?s like five weeks per album, which is shorter than whatever we?ve done in a couple albums now.
Guitar.com: So, Blackwater Parkfor example, was longer than five weeks?
Lindgren: Blackwater Parkwas seven weeks including mixing, and I think that My Arms Your Hearsewas about five and a half weeks, including mixing.
Guitar.com: So it?s not too far off?
Lindgren: No, the thing was the recording in itself was longer than previously, it?s just that we decided we should do two albums. And when I look back at it, I?m glad that we did it, and I really am satisfied with what we?ve done, you know? Both albums sound totally great to me; it?s just that [since we were] recording two albums at the same time it turned out that we had to work twice as hard as we usually do so we?re never going to record two albums at the same time again.
Guitar.com: Blackwater Parkdefinitely sounds different from all of the other Opeth albums, if just in production quality it?s a little more ?poppy,? whereas this one sounds a little more like classic Opeth. I noticed on this album you went back to producing it yourselves, whereas the last one was done with the guy from Porcupine Tree, is that correct?
Lindgren: Yeah, the thing is he was co-producing the vocals? here?s the story, it?s a bit of a long story. Steven Wilson was co-producing both vocals and lead guitars on Blackwater Park, as well as doing that on this album. The thing is that on Blackwater Parkwe recorded and mixed in a studio called Studio Fredman, which is the same studio as all the Gothenburg bands record in. So we did the mixing and everything there. This time, we started in another studio, so we sort of almost did everything on our own. And then we recorded a couple weeks in Fredman, and then we mixed it with Andy Sneap in Nottingham. So all in all, Fredrik Nordström, who is in charge of Fredman, doesn?t have anything to do with this album except that we borrowed his studio for three weeks. This is probably what makes it sound heavier than before, and Andy Sneap?s mixing qualities are just a bit different than Fredrik Nordström?s. So it?s got a rougher production and it?s heavier. I sort of like the Blackwater Parkproduction but the ?poppiness,? if you will, that has nothing much to do with Steven Wilson I think. He was just producing the vocals, but he didn?t have much to do with the overall sound, we mixed it with Fredrik Nordström. I think it?s Fredrik Nordström?s mixing that comes through in Blackwater Park, and it?s Andy Sneap?s mixing that comes through in Deliverance. I think I like this more, it?s a bit rougher and heavier.
Guitar.com: Who writes more of the heavy stuff, you or Mike?
Lindgren: I know that when we started writing music together, he came from the death metal part of metal and I came from thrash metal so I was more into the palm-muting thing, if you will. So I think he was the one who wrote the death metal kind of riffs. There was a time when I wrote more heavy stuff, but now it?s like it switches off back and forth. But really he?s writing most of the material nowadays in total anyway. Both of us really like the heavy stuff. People ask us, ?Are you going to abandon the death metal vocals? Are you going to abandon the clean parts?? or whatever but I think both of us really like both parts of our music; both the screaming death metal thing and the progressive ?70s kind of moody style, almost singer-songwriter stuff. I think none of us is heavier in the approach of songwriting than the other, but I could say that he writes most of the material and the heavy stuff is his thing and that?s why I love the clean and soft parts I think.
Guitar.com: Do you feel like the line-up is pretty solid now? I know it?s been the same for the last couple of albums. Is everybody getting along well, does everything seem to be going OK?
Lindgren: Yes, we have a great band. It feels like a band. We have a great feeling between ourselves. We?re really good friends and everything. I think when we recorded Orchidand Morningrise, in those years we had a solid three-piece. It was Me, Mikael, and the drummer. It was the bass player that was a bit?he wasn?t in the band, as a band member almost, he started as a session-musician. We had a good band-feeling at the time but this time with these four, we have a good band-feeling between the four and the whole band is much more in harmony. We?ve been touring and people tell us that we seem to get so well along, you know, we never fight or anything, we?re just like four brothers that go well along. And I think that shines through in the music and I also say that when we?re on tour you know, if you like the people you play with, I think you perform better. There are always occasions, say like Van Halen or whatever, if people don?t get along, you can feel that?there?s like a tension in the air maybe. But I think we get really well along, and I think that in the same way you can feel that when you see us live, for example.
Guitar.com: I remember when I saw you guys for the first time at Metalfest in Milwaukee, I remember just being so impressed with how easily I could tell you guys were having a great time on stage. And there are so many bands that get up in front of people and try to put on an image like they?re really mad or angry or whatever, and you guys were just having a great time. And like you said, it really comes across.
Lindgren: Another thing about that is that we don?t have much of an image, you know? We don?t have to do something before we get up on stage, all we do is tell the other guys, ?Good luck.? And then you?re onstage. We?re the same people onstage as we are outside the stage. That helps, and I also think it helps that Milwaukee was a special gig because it was the first American gig and the reception was fantastic, we didn?t expect it. We were sort of surprised in a positive way. I didn?t expect so many people to show up at the gig, none of us did. But it?s the same even if we?re playing the 22nd gig on the tour, you know? I think it?s just about enjoying yourselves. There?s no point for us trying to look angry, because we?re just ourselves on stage. And it helps so much if you like the rest of the guys, and if the audience is good, that?s all there is to it.
Guitar.com: What are you listening to nowadays, what do you have in your CD player at home?
Lindgren: I listen to Damnationof course, because I got a rough mix of it, its not mixed yet. There?s this one album that?s out in the U.S., it?s not going to be released in Europe until next year. It?s the new Porcupine Tree album, In Absentia?one of the best albums I?ve ever heard I think. Steven Wilson always surprises you with how good he is. You think when you meet him that he?s a genius, and then he puts out the new album and it?s even better than you ever could have expected. I got the new 16 Horsepower album.
Guitar.com: I love that CD, Folklore, right? That?s a great disc. I have all their albums.
Lindgren: Yeah, someone recommended them to me a couple of years ago. He just saw them live and he was just blown away by their performance on stage and he said to me, ?You have to listen to this band? and I was like, ?s&%t??and I really want to see them live, I haven?t had the opportunity yet. They?re one of my favorite bands, people don?t know about them, but I think they?re one of the best bands around. There?s another band I really like, who just put out a new album this week which I haven?t heard?I saw it on the Internet and there was one song that I downloaded which didn?t sound so good. But the first three albums by this band?they?re called The Black Heart Procession, an American band. They?re really sort of lo-fi almost. They?ve got a lot of nerve in their music. That?s what I listen to at the moment, of new bands. But I always go back to my old records, what I listened to during the ?80s and ?70s.
Guitar.com: You mentioned you were from a thrash background, what are some of your thrash influences?
Lindgren: Metallica, of course. I have the same base of music as the rest of the guys in the band, especially Mike, we grew up in the same kind of music like Iron Maiden and stuff but we both turned onto the heavier kind of music, but whereas he turned onto death metal first, I turned onto Metallica and those kinds of bands. And then I discovered death metal later on, but that was Entombed and Morbid Angel, those kinds of bands. I went through my thrash metal collection, it?s just a part of time, a period of my life where I listened to thrash metal but when I look back at it, most of it is really bad, you know? There?s some really good bands, like Metallica, Testament?but there?s so many bad bands, and I didn?t understand that at the time. I just loved the palm-muting riffing, all that, but mostly it?s crap.
Guitar.com: It?s interesting to me how a scene stagnates as it fills with imitation bands. Much of the new extreme metal sound is similar to In Flames and Soilwork, and I think At the Gates started it when they put out Slaughter of the Soul. The release of that album ushered in a new sound, and then a bunch of bands started expanding on that. In Flames and Soilwork have sort of honed that into ?their? sound, but I?m really surprised at how their sound, at least the production, on their last two albums has become very ?nu-metal.?
Lindgren: Yeah, I know! I heard the new album and I?ve heard all about the nu-metal influence and everything, with Slipknot and everything. It wasn?t as much nu-metal as I had expected. The thing with In Flames and those kinds of bands like Soilwork, Dark Tranquility?they?re all from the same town, Gothenburg, and they know each other so well, they?ve all been in the same bands, they switched members in the early years, and I think they listen a lot to each other and sort of influence each other. Whereas for example, I think we don?t sound like them.
I know them now because we?ve been recording in Gothenburg but I don?t listen to other death metal bands that are rivals, you know? Because I?m not really interested, I?m not up-to-date in what?s going on in the death metal scene. It?s just that, you hear bands when you tour with them and so on, and I think, not many bands are really good. It?s not that I think we?re so much better than everybody else, which maybe sometimes I do, it?s just that most bands, and I?m not just speaking of In Flames or anything, but most bands in the death metal scene seem to get stuck in the same thing that they?ve been doing for several years. When they try to do new stuff, they just look to their closest neighbor or whatever. They look at charts, and with charts it?s just about nu- metal, nu-metal. It?s pretty obvious that most bands, when they get stuck they try to find a new way and it?s like ?What?s going on right now?? They can?t do much or anything because they haven?t done it in their early years, but I think it?s dangerous when you start to look at other kinds of music to try to find out what you should have [figured out] yourself, you know?
Guitar.com: I think that?s a great piece of advice to musicians who are trying to make it. Along that same line, what advice would you give to musicians who are trying to make it as a band? Has anybody given you any advice that has helped you make it and succeed, or like when things weren?t going so well that kept you coming back to it?
Lindgren: The thing that I really think of is like a cliché almost. I think you should try to always listen to different kinds of music, but I think you should also try to make something on your own out of it. I mean, there?s nothing wrong with being influenced by stuff, we?re influenced by all these bands, different bands, but the thing is, try to step out of what you think that people are gonna like. Try to just do whatever you feel is really good, even though people might not understand it in the beginning or whatever, even if people think it?s crap, you shouldn?t pay attention to that. You should just continue doing what you like, because if you like what you?re doing, I think it turns out good. Rather than just trying to copy something that you like, yet you know that it?s been done before but you try to do it anyway?there?s no point, because it?s been done before. Everybody is an individual and I think everybody?s got something that?s really unique. So just try to do what you really like, no matter if people say to you that it?s crap or whatever, just continue doing it, cause it?s gonna be good at some point cause it?s what you really like doing. So I would say just be yourself?just like a cliché, isn?t it?
Guitar.com: It?s so surprising to me how frequently overlooked that is, and that?s one of the main criteria that I look for in music that I listen to: originality. That?s why, if I had to pick one band to call my favorite, I would probably choose Opeth. No one sounds like Opeth, at all.
Lindgren: Like 16 Horsepower, they?re totally unique and there are no bands that sound like them, and especially they haven?t tried to sound like someone else. They sound like they want to sound, and they probably are influenced by loads of bands or whatever, but they did something unique out of that. And I think that shines through so easily in music, if you try to copy stuff or if you try to do it your own way, you can see that I think.
Guitar.com: I agree completely. Have you had any embarrassing moments onstage, or any horror stories from the road? Anything that?s particularly amusing or something that you can look back on and say, ?Oh man we lost our guitars, we had to borrow some?? Anything like that?
Lindgren: We did this U.S. tour last year (2001) and we played Topeka, Kansas, and just 42 people came. We figured that there were too few people so we couldn?t go up and headbang, you know? We just couldn?t, so we sort of went up onstage and said ?Hello? to the people, ?We?re just gonna do this show now.? So we just were standing there, sort of almost rehearsing and there was like a communication, even more than we usually communicate with the audience. This was like us and them, because there were as many people in the crowd as there was on stage almost. And that was in all consideration, because we didn?t know what to do onstage so we did nothing, you know? But I think, we told the audience that there?s so few people out but we?re gonna play for you anyway but we have to do it in some other way. So we just were standing there, and I think they enjoyed it because we communicated with them all the time.
There was another point during the European tour, Mike lost his voice, he caught a cold. When he was supposed to sing the clean vocals, his voice sounded like a witch, and that ruined everything and was really embarrassing onstage. The next day was Hamburg, and his voice was worse, but we said, ?We?re gonna do the show??we?d put up signs in the door? ?We?re gonna do the show, Mike is not gonna sing. We?re gonna have guest vocals.? We were doing this tour with Katatonia and Novembre the Italian band, we made the two guys from Katatonia join us and they each did a song on their own for us, and the two guys from Novembre, the drummer and the vocalist, each of them sang a song for us, as well, you know? So we did the songs with guest vocalists, and three of the songs were instrumental. That was probably the most strange gig we?ve ever played. Mike was just standing on the left hand side of the stage like I do cause he didn?t have to sing, and Anders of Katatonia was screaming death vocals, that was really, really different. I think nobody left when they read the sign in the door, and it?s almost like a classic gig now, you can read about it on the Internet.
Guitar.com: That sounds like an amazing show.
Lindgren: Yeah?I wouldn?t want to do it again because I had to host the show. But it was really fun when I look back at it, that?s probably the most awkward gig we?ve ever done.
Guitar.com: Sounds like a classic moment. Thanks a lot for your time, Peter.
Lindgren: Thank you.
About the Author
Author John Welborn, a long-time behind-the-scenes player at Guitar.com, is a self-proclaimed programmer, geek, and guitar hero in training. Check out his version of metal at http://www.empyreansky.com