Thursday, March 24, 2011

Shaxul Interview with Olavi Mikkonen of Amon Amarth

Interview with Olavi Mikkonen, guitarist for Amon Amarth (3/16/2011)

Shaxul: You play a gibson Explorer on stage, correct?

Olavi: Yeah, that's the one I mainly use when I'm playing while standing. Live and at our rehearsal space. At home I play a flying V or
a Les Paul. I been using the one I have (Explorer) since last season. I think I got it during 2008. It was custom made. I have viking
ornaments on it. That's my main live guitar. I haven't done a new one yet for this season, I'm gonna do it after the summer. It's like
2 or 3 years old and it's kind of worn out...but it'll work for another half year. My spare one I think is brand new. I got a few new ones
before the recording, so I got them maybe a half year ago.

SHaxul: So, you are a "gibson person."

Olavi: Yes. I used to play Jackson. Maybe like 15 years ago I had one that was similar design as "Kelly." I haven't seen those ones so much anymore.
I don't know what happened to that model, but it looks similar to the Explorer [Marty Freidman used a "Kelly" in Megadeth]. But back then I already
really wanted an Explorer but I couldn't afford it. Now I have almost too many! So it's alright.

SHAXUL: Which one is your "baby?"

OLAVI: It's my first one. I got it I think in '98. That's the one I have recorded with all our albums, except "Surtur Rising" and "Twilight if the
Thunder god." For those I used another Explorer, but for all other albums it's my first one. It's really heavy, it's a really old one has
a very cool sound. It's the most precious one, but it's also kind of worn out...but I don't wanna change anything because I might lose the great tone.

SHAXUL: What kind of pickups you got in that thing?

OLAVI: I only use the originals. I don't use EMgs at all. I used to in the past on one guitar but I didn't really like it. Too much distortion and stuff
like that. I want the guitar to be very clean and then I can use distortion from that.


OLAVI: Now we play with Peavy. I play a 6505.

SHAXUL: On the new song "War of the gods" it sounds like you are trying to expand the dynamic/melodic range of the sound.

OLAVI: Yeah, but that song is kind of like a "traditional" Amon Amarth song. It doesn't really have that much new to it. We released that song first because
you's a kind of "safe" song. It's better to hear the whole album because we actually have alot of new elements that we have added.

SHAXUL: Which song to you is the most different sounding on the new album?

OLAVI: Perhaps the last song, "Doom over a Dead Man." We have alot of orchestral arrangments. I would say that is something different. And also
I would say "For Victory or Death" is very melodic and has also alot of orchestral arrangments. Also we used effects on the guitars which almost
sounds like keyboards...that's also something I've never done in the past.

SHAXUL: So you are doing something maybe more symphonic?

OLAVI: Not really, you said in the beginning...create more dynamics. Of course it's not taking over [the effects/orchestral arrangements]
we are still a guitar based band and will always be. I would rather say, out producer - he likes to create all these dynamics with different instruments and
stuff. I think we in the band, we are afraid to try new it's good to have a producer that really wants to try.

SHAXUL: What did you personally want to do for the new Amon Amarth album?

OLAVI: I wanted to add more brutality and I wanted to do songs that were not in the typical formula that we had so many times in the past. Like "War
of the gods." That's typical Amon Amarth formula. So I would say perhaps 7 of the 10 songs are a little bit different than what we used to do, so I am pretty
happy. But if it's better or worse? I don't know, that is something we have to figure out later on.

SHAXUL: It seems like you have a very strong core sound and you are very good at progressing without losing that core sound.

OLAVI: Yeah, I think that is our goal. Trying to maintain our sound, but still try to add things to make it sound fresh. Even when we write songs...
we are very picky. If something sounds too similar to something else we just throw it away. We have a very high standard. We Throw away alot of ideas
if we think it's not good enough. So I think we really put alot of energy into the songs. And that's always been how we work. We never have any spare songs
or anything like that. If it's not gonna be on the album, we don't work with it. I think in the end, that's how we make a good album I guess.

SHAXUL: How were you hoping to increase the brutality of the music?

OLAVI: I don't really know...the main thing is, we wanted a really brutal approach to the production. For instance we have a song "A Beast am I" on the
new album and that's probably the most brutal song we have ever done. It's kind of difficult to explain but...I guess alot of people would have expected
us to try to get commercial or whatever...because we've had so much success recently. So I wanted to go the opposite road. Do a more brutal album instead.
We really like working together. Since we have such a team effort, that's why I think we can deliver good stuff. And not to forget the producer. He is
very good at making the songs interesting.

SHAXUL: Do you write most of the riffs?

OLAVI: It's mostly me and the other guitarist. And the drummer also has a few ideas. But when we go to reheasal everybody takes the riffs. And I think
this way everybody feels like they are a part of the creation (creating the stuff).

SHAXUL: There's almost a simplicity to the sound, which may not be simple at all, but I think the songs are put together so well that it comes off sounding
more simple than being "overly flashy."

OLAVI: No, that's never been our thing. We're not that technical...some of the hooks or the riffs sound very simple and they might be simple, but the trick
is to come up with the riffs. To come up with those riffs is probably not so simple as it sounds, you know what I mean?

SHAXUL: On the previous album, I really liked the riff in "Tattered Flags and Bloodied Banners." Who wrote that riff?

OLAVI: That's probably me. [laughs] It was me! I think that was something I was just jamming...the previous season while waiting for soundcheck or
something like that. I don't know where I really got it from. I guess I wanted to make something you know, the rhythm was kinda like a march. But still
have a very catchy melody to it. I think that was one of the first riffs I wrote for that album. At least with "Twilight" I wrote most of my parts during
tours. I brought one of these "travel guitars" I dunno if you've seen those? Really small. So I bought one of those and I had it for like 3 tours.

SHAXUL: That's too bad. I thought maybe you go on some mountain somewhere holding the riffs up to the gods for approval!

OLAVI: [laughs] Yeah, that would be awesome!

SHAXUL: I read you had bobbleheads for one album. Do you have anything like that coming out for the new album? Any little toys or anything like that?

OLAVI: Yeah I think we have this one edition - I think it's called the "deluxe version" where you can have Surture the action figure. The character that
we have on the album cover.

SHAXUL: So it's going to be as big as a house right?

OLAVI: Yes, it will be very difficult to get by mailorder [wink wink] No it's going to be a normal action figure.

SHAXUL: I noticed there are many bonus features of the new CD. 4 Live sets of 4 different albums?

OLAVI: I think in the US that's going to be included with the normal edition. US the normal one is the CD and the DVD. You know, since we CAN add a DVD
we like to do that. Maybe it's gonna cost $2 more. But instead or releasing a DVD later with the same content, we think it's kinda fair to give our fans
as much as possible while they buy our album. There's no need now to release a DVD later...The Kiss and Accept covers are only going to be available with
the deluxe version, with the action figure. And the other cover of System of the Down will be on the digital i-tunes edition.

SHAXUL: SO you guys are fans of System of the Down?

OLAVI: I wouldn't say "fans" but we like the "Aerial" song. We went to Japan before we went into the studio. And in Japan they have the Karioki bars. And
you know, they had that song and we were singing it and then we decided we were going to do a cover of it. We had a private party and everyone can just drink
beer and sing along. So we thought it would be fun to make a cover of that is not so obvious as people would expect from us. Some people complain
that our music is always so consistent, so this is a way to show that we can do something different.

SHAXUL: I understand there are some big fans of 80s Bay Area Metal in your band?

OLAVI: Yes! We are all old enough I think...we can appreciate that. I mean we all grew up with those kinda bands. And also traditional Heavy Metal from the
80s like Maiden, Accept, and Priest. Of course when we write riffs we are influenced by those bands.

SHAXUL: How about Heavy Load?

OLAVI: Heavy Load the Swedish band? Yes of course, they were kinda heroes back then!

SHAXUL: Were they the first Viking band?

OLAVI: least what I know. But I'm not sure. No, they should have been the first. Because Bathory started later. The Viking thing.

Shaxul: What about Helvetes Port, have you heard them?

OLAVI: ...YES. I haven't really listened to the whole album but they made a very cool video I saw on youtube.

SHAXUL: They wear funny clothes and they sound like Heavy Load!

OLAVI: Yes, definately. I think they are very cool and they have a great sense of humor as well.

SHAXUL: Does it get complicated getting good beer on the road? Do you have someone who is in charge of getting the good beer?

OLAVI: We always get it from the venue so we don't have to worry about that. If we have a problem, we always have too much. I'm probably the one that doesn't
really care that much, but I think the other guys are kinda picky. But nobody in the band really likes Budweiser or Coors or Miller Light or ANY "Light"
at all. Samuel Adams is pretty good. And also in America you have many good beers in Microbrews. Like Fat Tire and some other good beers.

SHAXUL: SO what is the common beer you all like?

OLAVI: There's a beer in the East Coast. I think it's around North Carolina. Usually we get a beer called Ying Ling? Sound kinda like Japanese? But that's
actually pretty good. I think everybody in the band likes that. And also Samuel Adams. Everybody likes that. But we don't like Heineken, or Bud Light, or

SHAXUL: So I read that you no longer have drinking horns?

OLAVI: No, the customs in Brasil took them. They have these scans, and they see them. That's kinda crazy because we been around the whole world and nobody
had a problem. But in Brasil I'm not sure why that have that kind of securety.

SHAXUL: Maybe you'll have to rent horns now when you come into town.

OLAVI: Yeah, we can have plastic ones! We haven't gotten any new ones, but I think we will this summer.

SHAXUL: Your music has a very somber feeling most of the time. Are you fans of doom Metal?

OLAVI: Not really. I mean, the other guitarist - he likes My Dying Bride alot. I'm not too much - I get bored quite easily. Maybe I'm not listening to
much of that kinda music but I still like when we do "doomier" stuff. It's kinda fun to play that.

SHAXUL: You had a "best of" album that came out recently.

OLAVI: Yeah, that was for the Japanese market. We never "made it" in Japan. So the label put together a "best of" CD to try to build the band in Japan
because we were going there for a show. That's the only country that really we haven't "made it." I don't know, some people claim that - some peopl in the
music industry they say that Japanese people are afraid of Vikings or something I dunno. Even when we played there the management they wanted us to
not have any Viking backdrops but we totally laughed at them and did the show as we always do. I don't know, some people say that the Viking thing is not
working in Japan. That might be true I don't know.

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