Interviews : Opeth
With Per Wiberg
So by now you all should have read my interview with Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity. In the same awesome night, I had the privilege of interviewing Opeth's newest member, Per Wiberg. Here it is.
Howís the tour going?
Good! Weíre going to a lot of places that weíve never played before in the states and Canada as well, so itís fun because you donít know what to expect. Itís cool.
What constitutes a bad tour? Whatís the worst thing thatís ever happened on tour?
I donít know, a bad tour would be that people wouldnít be getting along, at least to me. Some might say ticket sales or whatever, but of course thatís bad if you invest a lot of money in the tour and it just goes pear-shaped and we lose a lot of money as well, of course thatís a bad tour. But thereís nothing worse than being on a tour where people are constantly arguing. That to me would be a bad tour. But I think weíre fortunate enough to have good guys that work with us and the other bands that are on this tour as well are really nice people, so itís good.
Describe the new CD for the uninitiated; contrast Ghost reveries to previous albums.
Well I guess Iím the new guy, so my instrument, that is the keyboard, helps it to be a little bit more different than the older Opeth records, even though they had keyboards, but they were very sparse, except for damnation maybe, but itís always like, when you think about the Opeth catalog, Damnation is somewhat something on the side. But a lot of those elements on that record, I think that Damnation was the most important record for the band to do because I think that itís rubbed off, a lot, on Ghost Reveries. It seems that since Mikael (Ňckerfeldt) is the main writer in the band, he got a lot of new inspiration to have a new instrument in the band and also that they made damnation and that it was successful from a creative point of view.
So you were added just before the recording of Ghost Reveries?
Yeah, but Iíve been playing with the band mainly as a session guy since we started touring for the Damnation album so when the guys invited me to be in the band as a member, since Iíve been doing every tour since Damnation anyway so it wasnít like a big difference, so to me itís still the same. I knew the guys even before we started playing together, and Iíve always liked the band, so Iím pretty familiar with what kind of band it is. Itís that easy for me, I hope itís easy for them as wellÖ(laughing)
How much of an influence did you have on the new CD?
Well itís hard to say really, since Mikael writes most of the stuff, but I would say that since itís a new instrument in the band, then itís a bigger influence than I think of myself, because Iím used to playing keyboards. So I donít know and I guess nobody knows what the album would have sounded like if there hadnít been any keyboards on the album. I mean I know that Mike writes it, he wrote a lot of stuff with keyboards in mind this time around and heíd never done that, heíd just added keyboards in just to spice it up, so maybe itís a bigger influence on the music than I know about. But I think that for this album everyone in the band had maybe a little bit more to do with the music because we rehearsed a lot before this album, and they havenít done that for many albums. And I think that when you learn to play the parts and sort of make them your own,, like you can say "for that part, would it be better if I did this, or that," and you play with them and become used to seeing these sort of things, you add your own personality to it, and I think that the rehearsal helped a lot. And I think that itís made the album sound a lot more different than it would have beenÖ
Some people are saying itís the best Swedish album ever, over Abba, over everything else, yet it didnít win any awards in Sweden this year. Does that annoy you at all?
No. Not at all. As long as youíre happy with what you do yourself. Because first of all, you write and play music for your own amusement. And if youíre happy with that youíre proud of and enjoy playing night after night, I think thatís it. I mean of course I donít think that anyone in the band would complain if they received an award, but itís difficult to understand what these awards represent really. If you sell a lot of albums, of course thatís great, because if you want to make a living off of your music then you need to sell some albums. But does that make the music better?
(laughing) But I mean, I donít know. Sometimes it just seems to me like those award things are just for business people meeting each other and patting each other on the back and saying "Youíre good!" "No, youíre good!" "No, no. YOUíRE good!" Itís not that interesting to me.
Itís just completely extraneous?
(laughing) Yeah. I mean Iíve been in other bands before and we got nominated for Swedish Grammys and all these things and you never go. I just watch it on TV, being a cynical bastard and laughing.
(laughing) Just like "Whatever, fuck all this?"
(laughing) Well, I guess not exactly "fuck all this," because you do go and youíre meeting people and shaking hands and being nice; just for me personally itís not interesting. Itís just a waste of time. You could be practicing your instrument, or writing stuff, or whatever, instead of sitting there eating bad food.
What are your personal favorite Opeth releases?
I would say "My Arms, Your Hearse," because thatís the first Opeth album that blew me away. I sort of followed the band from when they released Orchid, I bought it and that sounded fresh to me, like a new take on extreme metal, with the long songs and the structures of the songs were more related to 60ís and 70ís progressive bands and still have that extreme metal element with Mikaelís vocals and everything. But "My Arms, Your Hearse" was the one that really got me hooked.
What about the record did that for you?
I donít know, I mean some records just do it because itís a certain time, you know? There wasnít anything at the time that had that that I was listening to. If that album was released today, it might not have been my favorite Opeth album. But it was also that I was in another band and we were recording in the same studio at the same time that they were recording "My Arms, Your Hearse" and we were, not arguing, but both bands wanted to, you know, you want to finish your album and the recording, and Mr. Fredman had double-booked the studio. Heís a bit whimsy (smiles) but everything turned out well.
Whatís it like to be headlining a major tour in North America?
Itís fantastic. Itís nothing you should take for granted. I mean growing up in Sweden and playing music, most music magazines, and especially metal and hard rock, all the kinds of music that Iím interested in, are from mainly the UK and the US or Canada. And as a kid, of course you dream about going to tour a place and play for people, and weíre lucky enough to do that, and I think that itís something that we should cherish and not take for granted. It goes fast in this business and someday nobody will like you, soÖ
Opeth has gone through 13 different musicians to get to the point it has today? Are you guys just really hard to get along with?
No, but most of them quit or got kicked out of the band even before we released the first album. So the last lineup has been, well except for me, since Iíve just been added, consistent since 1997. But maybe they were heard to get along with in the beginning, in the early days, you know? Cocky, young death metal musicians from the suburbs of Stockholm (laughing)...
Now you guys have hopped labels all throughout your career, but the switch to Roadrunner caught everyone off guard, why Roadrunner?
Because that seems to get the albums out. When I started playing with Opeth, the first tour was the damnation tour through North America with Porcupine Tree, and being a session guy you sort of look at things from the outside, and I was surprised at how many people werenít able to find the albums in stores, especially certain albums like "Still Life" and being able to play those big placed anywhere and people will com to the show, but it seems to be really hard to find the album. Hopefully thatís not an issue with Roadrunner because they have got great distribution all over the world. So at least the album is there if people want to have it. I think that was one of the main reasons. We got offers from loads of record labels, and a lot of them were money wise, maybe more lucrative than Roadrunner, but theyíve got great distribution and the possibility of taking things to another level.
What would be the differences if Opeth was only yourself? What would be done differently?
(laughs) It wouldnít sound the same, I guess! It would sound like shit! Thatís one that Iíve never thought about, actually. To me, Opeth has always been Mikaelís vision and of course if Iím in the band you have maybe a couple of ideas that you might want to get across, or try, otherwise there would be no point for me to be a member of the band. Of course you have suggestions or sounds or arrangements, but it still just stays Mikaelís vision. Opeth has always been a good band to me, and it would be a shame to ruin it just because youíre a greedy keyboard player! But Mike always asks for input from every band member anyway, soÖ But it would certainly not be the same, the vocals would suck!
How much pressure is put on you when every new band that comes out lists you guys as an influence?
I donít know. I donít know about the pressure really. Thatís hard to say. I think that the only pressure you get is from yourself. If youíre into this for the music, I think that pressure comes from yourself. You have to top yourself with every album. And also with live performances, if you fuck up live, you try to be better next time, but I think thatís the main pressure. Since Iím pretty new in the band, I canít say that I feel any sort of business pressure, you know? 'Oh, you canít waste (this amount) of money or whatever," I donít feel that at all. As long as we try to do what we do best, which is play music...
Ghost Reveries sold 15,000 copies in itsí first week, came out at #1 on the Billboard Current Hard Music Chart, #8 on the Top Hard Music Chart and #64 on the Top 200 Albums Chart for the week. What is your response to the sales?
Thatís fantastic. Thatís amazing, considering itís a band that writes ten-minute-plus songs, we donít get the huge airplay. Itís amazing. Itís like what I said about being on tour before, itís like "Seize the day, catch the moment." Weíre working hard to stay where weíre at, but you canít force your music onto people, if they donít like it anymore, thatís it. But we try to play good shows and tour a lot and hopefully it stays this way.
What would you do with your life if you weren't a musician?
Well that wouldn't be a life. There's never been that option, I've never thought about it. I've played music for so long, I started playing in bands since 1991, and I started to tour when I was 16. It's not an option, really. It's not something that I think about. Of course it's good to do different stuff to keep the music fresh all the time, but it could be anything, work out or whatever. But life without music has never been an option because music is life.
Describe your experience making the video for "The Grand Conjuration."
(laughing) Well, it was a very fast experience. We had a day off from the "Sounds of the underground" thing, and it was a last-minute decision, but during the tour we found out that we had to do the video during the tour and we had a day off in Los Angeles and we went down to a warehouse - abandoned - thing, where they shot the video and we basically sat for like 4 or 5 hours doing the band shots and said "Hi" to the nurse and the monster guy with the mask and the director, and that was it. We didn't have any time at all to have any input into that video. I mean it's really common, you know? We get all these screenplays and scripts or whatever, "Oh, what's it gonna look like?" and you go through it and it's like "Yeah, this could be good." And then you go there to do the shoot and it's like nothing, it's over. There's no point in arguing about it. You just hope that it comes out as a professional thing that looks good. I mean a lot of people have complained that "It's just an ordinary metal video," and maybe it is, but then again, we're a metal band. And of course it would be fun to do a video where you'd have a lot of creative input, but it's also that we don't have any time. We're constantly on the road as well and I think that we were lucky to be able to do a video...
Only three of your songs are available for free, legal download online, and none of them are hosted on your site. Is that an intentional move to discourage downloading?
Well, I don't think that it's anything that someone in the band has thought about at all, but I think that it's a thing that you have to start thinking about, because downloading gets bigger every day. And as you go along, you have to be able to have your music available in that format as well. And I guess that all the record labels have their own ideas about how they should do it, and why they should do it, but I think that it also comes down to a lot of things, like where you're able to send the music, and how, but it's definitely not something that any band members have thought about so far, I would say.
How do you guys pass the time when you're on the road?
Well it's the Olympics now, so it's pretty easy, you just switch on the telly. All of us are interested in sports, though Peter is more into hockey than the other guys, so that's of course interesting. Otherwise, there are a lot of computers around.
A lot of porn on the internet?
(Laughing) No! Actually not! Well, I can't answer for the other guys, so.. But being such a good guy, there's not a lot of porn on my computer!
I mean you try to make it like work that you get up in the morning and try to get online or whatever, I brought my guitar, so I can practice guitar and have an excellent keyboard so I can try to write stuff while I'm on the road. You have to sort of occupy yourself all the time, or it can be dangerous for other bands. It's easy to start drinking early in the morning and just because it's boring. But when you're in a cool town, it's always nice to take a walk and check things out, you know? Coffee, books...
And that was Per from Opeth. Then I did the aforemenioned DT interview and then watched The Devin Townsend Band onstage. They are a must-see. Townsend himself is every bit as funny onstage as a stand-up comedian. Next came Dark Tranquillity, which, as you all probably could have guessed, owned. Then I got the privilege of watching the amighty Opeth do their thing from backstage while hanging out with the guys from the Devin Townsend band. If any of you ever get a chance to see any of the three bands live, quit your job to go do it. They are all awesome, especially live. And this was a night that I will not soon forget.