Interview with Olavi Mikkonen of Amon Amarth!
Your new album, Surtur Rising, just came out, it reach the Billboard Top 40 in the USA, what do you have in your thoughts and feelings towards that so far?
Of course, it’s great. Of course, I would be lying if I told you otherwise. (laughs) But you know, we don’t really think too much about it, it’s just a you know, a cool thing, it doesn’t really change our life too much.
I know you guys have eight or nine albums out–
Yeah, I think it’s– I haven’t counted myself, it might be eight or nine, I don’t know… (laughs)
How do you feel you connected to this one more so than all of the others, or was there really a difference?
Ummm…. (pauses) I don’t know if it’s any different from the previous ones, I mean, whenever it’s time for us to start writing a new album, we just dig our heads into it, try to make the best out of it, and the best songs we can ever come up with. We don’t really reflect too much on our history or what we have done in the past. We just, you know… (pauses) You know, when it’s time, it’s time. We just try to deliver as good as possible.
How do you feel your fans are connecting to this one?
Umm… I haven’t really spoke to too many yet because you know, the tour just started, and we haven’t met so many fans, but the comments I’ve seen on the internet, all is positive, and the fans we have met, they’ve all been very you know, happy about our album; they really like it a lot… So it seems very good.
I noticed that it’s a little bit more melodic compared to Twilight of the Thunder God…
Yeah! It is, I think we– this time around, we (pauses) reached all the corners, you know, more burtal stuff, the same time we have the most epic songs we’ve ever made, and at the same time, we have the most melodic songs we made. We tried to– everything we did in the past, this time around we tried to make more out of everything. So yeah, there’s definitely some very melodic stuff in it.
Yeah, when you began the writing process, how did the music and instrumentals begin to materialize or form inside your mind, like when you were writing the guitar riffs and solos?
(pauses) Hmmm… Ummm…. I don’t really know what to answer on that because I don’t really reflect too much– to me, it’s just so natural, I just grab the guitar and after a while there is something, and I work with it and you know…(pauses) Umm… I mean, I would say the only songs that’s a little bit different written on this album, is the last song, Doom of a Dead Man, then I had a piece of lyrics that tried to, you know, picture how that would sound like.
But except for that, it starts with one riff maybe, then you know, after a while you get a second riff to that riff and then you bounce the idea around with the other guys, then you maybe have a drum beat, and then from the drum beat, you get a break, and you know it’s all– and every song is differently written and there’s not really a formula, you know?
Yeah, it’s different with every album…
Yeah, yeah… I think every song is different.
Yeah, and since you just said that it’s so natural for you… How did you translate your visions of the songs from the lyrics, from your mind onto the record?
Hmm… (pauses) These are deep questions you have.
Yeah, actually, wow. (laughs) (pauses) Well, I guess, I mean… Every time you have an idea, at least on this record, since we had the producer very close to us while we made the songs, he was, you know, every time we had a few songs ready, he came to our rehearsal place, and we made some arrangements and stuff like that. And with him of course, we found some ideas that you know, how to express the songs and stuff like that.
So, I think… (pauses) Maybe he was like a guy we could bounce with because he’s the guy who can make reality of it because he’s the one who’s doing the final product. But, I don’t know. I’m not a deep guy at all. (laughs) So, I’m just, you know… We just– I’m more like a, “we take it as it is” and I don’t think too much [about] why it is a certain way and stuff like that.
Ok. How do you feel Amon Amarth have grown as artists throughout the process of creating this album more so than every other album that’s been released?
Umm.We try to work as a unit that everybody’s involved, and I think this time around we were even more collaborating with each other. It was like, it didn’t matter if I had a few riffs, or Johan [Söderberg, guitarist] had a started out with a few riffs, we just wrote it down, and then like everybody in the band, togheter we built it up. So I would say that’s probably something that we– Of course we had done it in the past, but maybe not as much. SO I would say, you know, the teamwork.
Would you say that you really connected through Surtur Rising with a certain specialness?
Yeah, of course! All the songs are like your babies, somehow. So, I would say it’s always a lot of important things, and I think, I like The Last Stand of Frej [Sutur Rising], that is probably our most epic moment we have ever created, and yeah, that’s very special to me, and I enjoyed it a lot. And there’s of course lots of other songs as well that I really like a lot, and that feel special.
But it’s kind of like, it’s difficult to say what is better, if one is better than the other because you like them all, obviously, because it wouldn’t be in the record. So, yeah, there are a few, but there’s always going to be songs that I like, but they’re going to change, I’m pretty sure. And you know, after some weeks, I like another song. So, I would say, they’re very special, all of them, for me.
How do you feel the melodies in the songs in general, portray or symbolize you as a person?
Hmmm… Well, I’m a kind of– I like sad things. Like, I like melancholy things, that’s you know, I like to write that kind of melodies, not the happy stuff. I like the sad stuff. But of course I do write a lot of cheesy, happy things as well, but my favorite thing is to write the really sad stuff, and you know… I try to picture something terrible happening, maybe someone close to me is dying or something like that, I try to picture how that would sound like musically.
How I try to write; if I’m in a mood that I want to write something very sad, then I just, you know, have those kinds of pictures in my head, or I watch a very sad movie or something like that. That’s how I create that kind of melodies. But for all the other melodies, I would say, you know, since we grown up with bands like [Iron] Maiden and [Judas] Priest. So, that’s a very big part of our influence. And I always liked a lot of heavy music with a lot of melodies. So, I guess I get inspired and influenced by that and I still lsiten a lot to the bands I listened to when I was a kid.
What’s your favorite Judas Priest song/album?
Wow. There are so many… (pauses) Guitar wise, it might be Electric Eye [Screaming For Vengeance]… But, I don’t know, there’s so many good songs. I don’t really want to say one is better, but Freewheel Burning [Defenders of the Faith] is definitely one of my favorites. I like the faster stuff…
When you were writing the new album, how did you make the songs feel alive, as if they took on a life of their own?
We always try pick — when we write the songs, we always write songs that are going to feel good to play in a live situation. So, it’s you know… (pauses) I guess that’s how we made it separate and their like, own characters…
When you were recording, did you and everyone else in the band, try to capture that live energy “feel” you have while you’re performing on stage, and translate it into so that everyone who is listening can feel what Amon Amarth is really about?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, like I said in the past [answer] that when we write the songs, we want them to be good live songs, because I would say our strength is as a live band. And in the studio of course, it’s kind of difficult to get that since we don’t’ record together. But when we recorded the drums, we were all in the studio and played along to the drums, so we could make small changes if we needed maybe different, you know, if we wanted a song a little bit faster, or slower, or whatever.
So, yeah, I would say at least this time around, that was our way to try to make a life-feeling into the songs when we recorded the drums.
So, that is how you pretty much translated it separately? I’m trying to think of the question… How did you recreate that atmosphere you have live to put it on the album?
I would say, umm… (pauses) Of course it’s lots of (pauses) I don’t know if we did that so much in the studio, I think we already did that when we wrote the songs, because when you’re in the studio, you don’t really, you don’t have the live feeling because you have to sit there on your own and nail all your parts, but since we- when we wrote the songs, we wrote them to be, you know, to be good live songs. So, I think we already had that atmosphere and we didn’t really have to do that in the studio.
When I was listening to Surtur Rising before it even released, there was a lot of movement within the album, because it’s so melodic, it just feels like it moves when you listen to it. Why is that such an important element to have within your songs?
Why? Because we like it that way. (laughs) I don’t know, for us, it is very important to have a good balance between brutality, heaviness, and melody. And the melodies are the strength of the band. And since traditional heavy metal, they have a melodic vocalist, we don’t do melodic vocals. That’s why the guitar melodies are very, very important, and those are the hooks. That’s what you’re going to remember.
So, it’s very, very important, and it’s always been that. And, already when we started the band, we wanted to have a good mix of you know, the melody from heavy metal and the brutalness from Slayer or Death or you know, Bolt Thrower, and stuff like that. So, yeah…
You’ve pretty much been in this band for 20 years, even when it was called Scum… How and when did you know and feel that this new album was complete and ready to release compared to when you released your very first Amon Amarth album? Was there a change at all with how you knew that it was ready?
Well, back then, I think we were… (Pauses) We didn’t really see the band that seriously, we just had fun in the beginning, you know, it was a way for us to get free beer and have a few shows. It wasn’t really– And today’s it’s very serious and obviously there’s a lot of pressure; not pressure on us, we don’t really feel pressure, but there’s a lot of expectations, and everybody expects us to deliver good.
I think we have a very high standard today if a song is good or not, or if it fits or not. So, I mean, whenever we had the ten songs, we felt they were good, because otherwise we wouldn’t have those songs, because we don’t– we’re too old to work with stuff that is decent. That’s just– then we just throw it away. And we don’t really, time wise, we have all the time we need, so we’re not in a hurry.
When we had ten songs, that’s maximum what I think is good for an album. I think if you have more, an album gets too long; that’s at least my personal [beliefs]. I think between eight or ten songs is perfect. And we have ten great songs, and then we were ready, and we just hit it.
Yeah, you mentioned something about having a bunch of pressure on the band. How did the pressure affect you for the last couple of albums because you said everyone expects good stuff from you?
Umm. Well, I would say… I don’t really feel pressure from anybody outside [of] the band. I guess it’s just, I would say, I get– the one who’s (pauses) I would say I’m giving myself most pressure, you know? I don’t really take it too seriously, I mean, I know what we are capable of, and I know we can make good songs. And you know, we’re a great band, we so work great together, so I don’t really worry too much. I mean, sometimes you have a lot of ideas, sometimes you don’t have anything. And that’s the way it is.
I mean, you cant help it. I mean, I’ve been without ideas for months and then suddenly one week you pull out like four songs or something like that. So, I don’t think too much about it. And like I said, there’s no time– we don’t have any, we don’t have to deliver in a certain time or anything. So we don’t– we take it as it is and if we feel confident, then it’s good.
So, it’s like a creative freedom.
With every album released, a new transition occurs… With the new album just releasing, how does this transition vary to when you released your very, very first album, Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds?
Yeah, I mean… If I compare the first one to the new one, or step-by-step, or? … I mean, of course back then, we were like, rookies. And like I said, it was about fun, and we didn’t really take it too seriously, and even when we were in the studio, we were like partying and recording stuff when we were drunk and stuff like that.
And today, everything is like super, super serious, I mean we have a producer that is like, very strict and you have to play the same guitar parts a hundred times before he’s happy. And (laughs) you know, it’s very, very different. And also, like, time wise, I mean the first album was recorded in like two weeks, and now we use like almost three months; it’s not really three months, more than two months…
So, it’s very, in that aspect, very different… And also, (pauses) since we, back then, we didn’t have so many fans. It was just the local guys that thought we were kind of cool. And today we have a lot of fans everywhere. So, of course it’s a huge difference that way. But you know, like I said before, we’re not– we are serious guys, but we don’t take everything too seriously. We just take it as it is, we just– it is what it is. And as long as we think what we do is good, then it’s good.
With everything that Amon Amarth has accomplished, what do you want to be most known for by your fans?
Wow… Ummm… Personally, or the band?
Personally, for you as it’s kind of hard to answer for the entire band…
Yeah. Hopefully I’ll be known for a decent songwriter, I guess. (laughs) I mean, since that’s one of my biggest passions in life, to write music, and yeah, songwriter. That would be good for me. And I’m super-proud of Amon Amarth, what we have come since you know, and like you said, next year is going to be twenty years, and it’s just kind of like, unbelievable to think about, because I still remember us when we were just kids having fun, and it’s crazy that we are here today, and that we are still around.
And we are friends within the band and we like to work together, it’s kind of incredible because we tour so much and we live so much together. And so, I would say I’m probably most proud of the band that we have achieved and we have come here to where we are today and I will– what I want maybe our fans to remember is the songwriting.
Yeah, you guys haven’t really haven’t really had too many lineup changes over the past almost twenty years. Why do you think it is that makes you guys have such a strong bond and not really have those heated arguments that break up the band?
Umm… Well, I guess we argue quite a lot. I think… (pauses) I guess the biggest thing, the biggest issue is that we didn’t become very big like, for us, it took many, many years and we all have our feet on the ground and we don’t have any egos in the band or anything like that. And everybody knows that the band is very important.
And pretty much everything that we have today, the houses and our families is much thanked to the band and you know, we wouldn’t have the kind of lives we have today if it wasn’t for the band. We would not be living our dream if it wasn’t for the band. I think everybody in the band has realized that and everybody wants to keep that and it’s very precious to everybody. So we share that very, very precious– and the reason why we have a consistent lineup, I think, is that everybody in the band has the same passion for our band.
And everybody, every member feels that they are important in the band, everybody has a saying, we are like democrats, we vote for everything and everybody, we have the same rights, you know? And also like, we share the money equally, so we don’t fight about money or– We have made– we have learned from other band’s mistakes, you know?
If you read books from Guns n’ Roses, you learn why those guys split up (laughs) and also other bands. So, I think we have learned from all of that. We try to avoid those kinds of mistakes. And also like I said, everybody, we are like a unit, when we write the songs, we write them together. So, everybody is involved and I think that means a lot.
Yeah, you said that you are very, very passionate, this is one of your biggest passions… How exactly did you passion spark for metal and when did you know that you wanted to be a guitarist and just be in a band?
Guitarist was already, I don’t know how old I was, maybe eight-night years old. I was standing in front of the mirror trying to be Ace Frehley and already back then, I had an– we were playing in a garage, makeup with KISS, playing along to the live album, and already back then, I wanted to be a guitarist, but I didn’t have a guitar. I, after a while, got a guitar, and then you know… (pauses) During the 80’s, all [sic] Accept, [Iron] Maiden, and [Judas] Priest, and then I got into Slayer, and then you know, then I heard death metal.
And I think like, 87′ I formed Scum, and then you know, I think I already knew I wanted to do this, but of course I would not imagine that I would be sitting here today like, twenty years later. But, I think year, it was, I was so into KISS and Ace Frehley, and he’s probably the main reason why I am playing guitar, and then later on, I found new idols like Jake Lee from Ozzy was my favorite guitarist for many, many years. Then, when I heard Slayer, I totally wanted to do thrash metal and that was the– and then the first time I heard growling vocals, I knew that’s what I want to, that’s what kind of singer, (laughs) that’s what I want to have, you know?
This question is kind of similar to one of my previous questions, but you guys have already left a legacy behind because you guys started a one-of-a-kind genre… How do you want your legacy to be symbolized and perceived?
Hmmm… Wow… (pauses) I’m really bad at answering deep questions. (laughs)
No, you’re doing amazing.
Hmm… Well, it would be cool if somebody wanted to raise a “roost” over us, it would be awesome, that would be really cool. (laughs)
How do you feel your fans already appreciate the legacy that Amon Amarth already has left?
How I feel it? Hmm… Every time I talk to fans after shows, I see, and also when we play live, I see everybody singing along, especially if we meet people after the show, and they tell stories about how they lost somebody or something and how they connect to the songs and the lyrics that’s really heartbreaking and then you actually feel that you’re not moving your own heart, you’re also moving other people’s hearts. And that’s very cool.
Describe the journey in the last twenty years with the best highlights that you can think of, that you’ve been through?
Ummm… There’s been so many, I would say that whenever you have a highlight, then a year later you get something that’s even better, so for us, touring with Slayer in Europe was amazing since we are all huge Slayer fans, and that was huge for us. And, we played in India, that was very, very cool, and it was very different to work with what we are used to because the kids over there, they don’t get very many shows, if they get any shows at all…
So they are very, very into it and very dedicated. That was very cool. And (pauses) and also, I like the fact that we are all still around and that we are friends in the band. I think that’s, for me, the highlight, the high point, that we still actually get along.
And also that we, that we didn’t give up because we had so many… We had to take so many steps backwards, we never gave up. And I think that’s something I’m very proud of, even if it’s been tough very many times, and very close to calling it quits because of many reasons, but we never gave up and I think that’s a good thing.
Amon Amarth has really established yourselves with a different type of metal and have made a mark in this industry, what would you do now if you could redefine something within metal and contribute something to it in the most present time?
Well, I would, I guess our biggest goal is to maintain the leader of Viking Metal, but to do something different would be perhaps to be awesome to make a soundtrack to a movie, a complete movie. Like a very epic movie.
Like a fantasy type of movie?
Yeah, that would be very, very cool and different.
When you’re on stage, how do you try to connect through the music when you’re playing guitar to connect to the crowd?
Umm… I don’t really know how it happens. It’s something that just, when you go out there and you hit the first tune, you’re a completely different person and you know, I don’t know how to describe it, but just go up and kick ass. And usually, the crowd is good, we got to be better.
So, you always try to top yourself…
Yeah, definitely. That is what life is all about, you can’t always– you have to always to better.
Most artists or musicians say that they feel that they’re on fire when they’re performing or recording, do you ever feel that feeling?
Yeah, sure. I get high on stage. It sounds cheesy, but it is like that…
How does it feel as you’re being high?
Great and especially if you have a very good crowd. The crowd is so, is a huge power of the show. So if it’s a good show, then the whole show is going to be good. And always you have to see, have eye contact, and sing along together with the kids. It’s fantastic.
Every musician has different techniques whether it be with guitars, vocals, drums, etcetera, and with you being a guitarist, the different techniques mainly come from emotion and passion within yourself. What it is it inside of you that makes you different from every other artist?
Well, I don’t think I am that much different. Umm… I don’t really, I did not invent any new technique or anything. (laughs) I don’t know, I mean–
But you have a distinct sound that no one else has…
Yeah, yeah… I guess it’s a– I guess what makes our music different is that, it’s not complicated. We don’t do too complicated riffing and I don’t know… (pauses) yeah, probably that. I wouldn’t say our music is easy, but if you’re a very skilled guitar player, you might not think it’s fun to play our kind of music because it’s not so difficult to play, but we don’t see it that way.
We are… Music for us doesn’t have to be difficult, it has to have a good hook and sound good and people connect to it. That’s more important to us than technical skills and that’s how we always saw it and I think that’s what makes us different from other bands.
This relates to my last question… How does your passion and emotion, when you play, how does it make the fan or listener able to distinguish your certain vibe and uniqueness from any other artist?
Hmm… Wow…. (pauses) I mean, I don’t know. I mean Slayer is a fantastic live band and I don’t want to say that we are better than them. (laughs) So, I don’t know! I don’t think, I’m not sure if we’re better than any other band. We just have a lot of fun and we allenjoy playing live. And I think if you have fun and enjoy it, also the fans see through that, you know? And we always try to be focused and every show is very important and… (pauses) And I think, we kind of like– it’s real, we are true, you know?
We enjoy it so much that since we enjoy it so much and since the fans enjoy it, then they will see that this is good shit.
(laughs) Those are all of my questions, I know there were a lot and thank you for taking the time to answer all of them… But… Would you like to say anything else?
Yeah, I think I have to start warming up! I’m not sure what time it is. (laughs)