My friend and Get Ready To Rock! colleague Emily D last got the opportunity to speak to Amon Amarth drummer Fredrik Andersson shortly after the release of 'Fate Of Norns', and they're one of my favourite bands so I found it was especially interesting to do a follow-up interview with guitarist Olavi Mikkonen about the slightly new direction the band is going in with their stonkingly-good latest release, 'With Oden On Our Side', and their recent touring experiences.
You've recently released your latest album. I wondered how it differed from writing 'Fate Of Norns'?
Olavi: After 'Fate of Norns' we came to a level where we could live off the music, so that of course helps a lot. Because in the past we always rehearsed in the evenings, a few times a week, but this time around when we started to rehearse and write songs, we just did it as a daytime job. We went to a rehearsal place from 9 to 5 every day. So it was more intense writing so to speak. But we didn't enter the rehearsal until we had enough material so the first rehearsal was in January, and we rehearsed for a whole month, and in the end we recorded a demo with 5 songs. Then we took off for 2 months, we didn't see each other and everybody was gathering new ideas. We met again in April and nailed down 4 songs and then we had an album just in time to go into the studio and record it.
Was it quite difficult to discipline yourself to actually work 9 to 5 on the music?
Olavi: No, no. Like I said, in the past we always rehearsed every week. Even if we didn't have anything new we still rehearsed every week just to keep us in the loop. But this time for instance for January we already had so many ideas so I was excited to go and show the other guys new stuff and everybody felt that vibe. So it was very good. And also, for instance, Johan (Hegg, vocals) was sitting in on the rehearsal while we were creating songs, and he just sat down and getting ideas for lyrics. Everybody was at rehearsal all day so we were more like a unit.
Did you come up with everything as a group effort in your song-writing then?
Olavi: Yes. More or less. Of course since it's me or Johan (Söderberg, guitars) as guitarists we're still writing all the riffs but it's not always about riffs. It's like beats and cool breaks or whatever - that's something we work on together as a whole band.
Is that something that you've always done or is that something that's developed over time as you've grown closer?
Olavi: Yeah I think this time around it's something new, because we haven't really worked as a unit this way. Because always in the past, for my songs I always for instance knew what drum-beat there should be, I knew how Johan would sing his vocals. But now we've created it together.
I noticed from your tour diary you're staying in posh hotels and getting massages and all this kind of stuff. It must be quite strange when you start off as a band and you've seen the seedier side of touring?
Olavi: Of course, of course. I couldn't imagine this 15 years ago, when I started what later became Amon Amarth. So yeah, it feels like it's finally our time so to speak. About the massage thing, the thing is that I don't know if you've seen us live so many times but I don't do anything else than headbanging for 90 minutes so it's kind of stressful for the neck so it's good once in a week to get some massage to get back to normal again.
That's the thing, being on the road, it's okay if you're an opening band or just going out for a couple of weeks having fun, like a vacation. But this is what we do, we tour constantly and this tour is only five weeks in Europe but we're still going to continue on in America for another three weeks so it's not a party, it's a job. And the last show after 8 weeks has to be as good as the first one and you have to be in shape.
And being headliners as well?
Olavi: Yeah, you have the responsibility because in the end it's like our band draw the people and if we make a bad show nobody's going to come up and see us next time so every night it's got to be 100%.
So with all the people that you've played with, is there anyone that you've particularly enjoyed playing with or is there anyone in the future you would like to play with.
Olavi: We're going to tour with Children Of Bodom in America after this tour. I think they're awesome guys, very funny and we had a very good tour with them last time. So that's going to be nice, to meet them again. And then of course Deicide. When we were a new band they took us and treated us very nicely, and that's something that we're never going to forget. They were very nice guys to us and we liked them a lot and I wouldn't mind touring with Deicide. But of course who doesn't want to tour with Motorhead or Slayer, or Priest or Maiden? That's a dream for everyone.
You've played some pretty big festivals. I saw you myself at Wacken a couple of years back, it was awesome. You played at 2 in the morning. How do you get such energy to play?
Olavi: It's adrenaline, I guess.
And do you find you get nervous before gigs?
Not at all?
Olavi: No. I think it's because I started to play in a band when I was 14 years old or 13, and I've been on the stage playing guitar so for me it's natural. So I never get nervous before a gig. But if I were to do something else, for instance if I were to do a speech or something, I would probably shake and be really nervous. But playing guitar on stage it's like sleeping, it's so natural. Of course sometimes you feel butterflies, if it's a cool show - like Wacken, what is it 20-25,000 people? Of course that's a lot of butterflies. But that's just nice.
But like you said before, you still get the adrenaline and the enthusiasm to play?
Olavi: Yes yes of course! We played Croatia a few weeks ago. And last time we played Croatia it was a disaster festival. All bands cancelled except for us. We didn't get paid but since we were already there and had to stay there for a couple of days anyway we thought 'Hey, we'll play the festival anyway'. And the fans got so grateful because we were the only band who played because the other bands just left Croatia. So on this tour we felt very welcome back in Croatia. And I don't usually get goosebumps, but during the intro in Croatia I did. It was a very loud audience.
What I found interesting from reading your tour diary online is that you seem to remember the different countries that you play in and the different venues, rather than it all becoming a blur.
Olavi: That's why we need to write them down, because if I look back now what happened 3 weeks ago it's like 'I don't know'. So that's why we write them down each evening, or the next morning.
It's something you have to do more as a band now isn't it? You have to get more involved with things?
Olavi: Yeah of course. I've always written my own diary just to remember. It's so hard to look back. For instance when we played Mexico, thinking about it I don't really remember that much, but then I go back to my diary and I can read it and it jogs my memory. So it's good.
It makes it more personal for your fans I think, to know how you see things. And you've got things like Myspace where you can demonstrate your music to new fans.
You used to be called Scum. Why did you decide to change your name?
Olavi: That was the name I had in my first band but it was more punkish, the old style of hardcoreish, like Dies Irae and The Accused and that kind of stuff. So we thought Scum was very nice, fit in well with that. I think the Scum name just followed. But by the time we became Amon Amarth when Johan and Ted (Lundström, bass) joined, we felt like that was a new beginning.
Amon Amarth is named after 'The Lord Of The Rings' (Amon Amarth, in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, is the Sindarin name of Mount Doom). Do you like the films?
Olavi: Not really to be honest. I'm not so impressed. Because I don't really like watching movies when trees are walking. I think it's very powerful and effective, all the battle scenes and that, but they're not really my kind of movies.
You write a lot about Vikings and Norse mythology and the new album continues on with that theme. Are you actually interested in your own country's history?
Olavi: Yeah, I think it's fascinating. Also I have a lot of friends that are Vikings so to speak. They live like Vikings. They create all these leather shoes and everything and they also have a battle group, they have families, children and horses. They have a house with a square where you have horses and they have a lake and they also have two Viking ships so it's cool.
I don't live like that but I admire them because they live like that and I think it's very cool. And also I think that all the gods and that it's funny to read, it's interesting. I don't really believe in any god besides myself - not that I am a god but I am the one that decides what will happen in my life. I think it's fascinating to read about it. To me it's like reading whatever fiction book. I think it's cool, I think it's interesting.
So you don't actually have any Norse beliefs, for example being buried in a mound?
Olavi: No, I don't have it. I guess Johan the vocalist has a different belief. Because I believe there is nobody higher than yourself in that respect.
You worked with a new producer with this album. How did you find that?
Olavi: After 'Fate Of Norns' we felt like we were going to stop working the way that we had done in the past. We said that we would produce it ourselves and it was like 5 guys and an engineer having different opinions about how drum kicks should sound or a guitar sounds. We were like 'No more!'. So the next record we were going to have a producer doing the whole production. We started looking at different producers. If you chose a producer then probably you're going to sound like bands that he produced previously.
Jens Bogren did Opeth and Katatonia which are so totally different from us. And I thought that was a very good thing. Then I talked to Jens and he was very interested, and he had a very good view on how we should sound. So we had an hour's discussion and we nailed it down that he was going to do it and we are very happy about that decision.
I think this new album's got a slightly smoother sound to it. Do you think it's any different to your other material?
Olavi: I think it's clearer. You can hear all the melodies. But I think it's a little more powerful than in the past. That's my opinion.
Still heavy then?
My colleague interviewed Fredrik (Andersson, drums) a while back and he said that the Swedish government paid you when you first started out. That's quite an awesome thing - government support for a metal band.
Olavi: Yeah. When I started to play guitar I was borrowing a guitar - it wasn't school but it was something you did after school. And they had a drum kit and also had one, not a music but a guy who knew how to play drums and taught and he showed us a song or something. And then we played and rehearsed. I think that's cool, very cool, because then you can get into music without really having your own instrument. Because now there's a lot of really cheap instruments but 15 years ago they weren't really that cheap.
It's good to have government support, because quite often kids are into metal and they like it because it's anti-establishment, and you feel that you're not supported.
Olavi: But for the government thing is not only metal. It's just to keep young people activated, doing something. And then if you play black metal or jazz it's no different.
So what's the future for Amon Amarth?
Olavi: Conquering the world - continuing to conquer the world!
And is there anything else you'd like to say to your fans?
Olavi: Those who didn't see us tonight, check us out later in spring, because we'll be back in the UK.
Interview © November 2006 Amanda Hyne
Related>> Album review
Related>> Gig review
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