December 30, 2014 Interview – Olavi Mikkonen of Amon Amarth
Sailing across the seven seas, Swedish Metal band Amon Amarth have achieved international success in their two decade plus excursion. Begun originally as a group of friends with a love for Heavy Metal gathering to mess around with instruments, soon formed into the heavy melodic outfit fans know today. Dedicated to their craft, Amon Amarth has released nine studio records in the process, tirelessly tour the world, and has become one of the more recognized names in the Heavy Metal world. Recently we sat down with founding guitarist Olavi Mikkonen to discuss the past of the band, their fellowship as musicians, plans for the future, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Amon Amarth has been going strong now for over two decades. In that time the band has released nine records and toured all over the world. You have been part of the band since the beginning, tell us a little bit about what the ride has been like over the years?
Olavi Mikkonen – Yes, it has been a hell of a ride. It started as a couple of friends forming a band just to make some noise and hopefully get a gig somewhere so then you can have beer for free. Then twenty years later, that is what you are doing for a living, so yes it is quite crazy. I think we always did it our way. We never had anyone come in and tell us what to do or anything like that. We have always been honest to ourselves. I think as a band, we have had the same line up now since 1998 and it is working. Yes, it has been a good round. Sometimes when you wake up and think about it, it is kind of crazy.
CrypticRock.com – It has to be a very surreal feeling to be able to play music that you love for a living.
Olavi Mikkonen – Yes, definitely and we have been touring with a lot of bands that I have been a huge fan of and today still; I am a fan of those bands. Also, I have met a lot of great of musicians that I had also been a fan of as a little kid. So yes, sometimes it is kind of crazy, but I think the good thing with our band is that it took us a long time to make it, if we call it make it. We still have our feet on the ground and we do not take things for granted. We have been working very hard for it and I think that is a good thing to have as a band. We are just normal guys; we go to a grocery store like everyone else. At the same time our profession is standing on face when the people are singing our songs. It is crazy, but it is still fun and I wish we could do this for many more years but I guess it is up to our fans. When they stop supporting us, that is when it is all over I guess.
CrypticRock.com – Now as mentioned, the band has toured all over the world and certainly have been to North America a generous amount of times over the past ten years. You returned to North America for the second time in less than a year this past November. It is obvious the venues have gotten bigger with each passing year. How does it feel that North American Metal fans have embraced Amon Amarth so well?
Olavi Mikkonen – Well, technically, that is pretty much global. It is not only in America, it is everywhere. When we started, we played small bars, which had about 450 people maximum. Now we maximize big places, so yes there is a difference, but like I said, we appreciate where we are today much more because we had been doing all those smaller places and clubs and driving ourselves around the globe. When you are having a bad day, you have to think ten years backwards and then you realize how good things are today.
CrypticRock.com – It is very good that you remember where you came from and remain humble and really appreciate things like that.
Olavi Mikkonen – I think you have to. If you get blind from your success, then I think that is when things are going to go downhill. I think you always have to remember where you come from. Also, I think that is something that we need to continue and always try to get better at. When we write albums, it does not matter how good an album we make, the next one has to be better. We need to work harder for every record. I think that is the attitude we had since day one and we still have it. I think that is one of the keys of why we are successful these days. We never settle for less. We never got to a point where we started relaxing.
CrypticRock.com – In years past, the band has always toured with fellow European bands in the genre and even many from your home country such as Enslaved and Sabaton. Does Amon Amarth seek to bring fellow Swedish bands on tour to support the scene? With that said, what do you think of the current Swedish Metal scene?
Olavi Mikkonen – I do not think it is really important if it is a Swedish band or German band or American band. I think the most important thing is that we actually like the band and we think that our fans are going to like the band, too. I think that is the most important thing. The last thing we want to do is tour with bands that we do not like or our fans are not going to like. When people come to a show, we want them to enjoy all the bands. With that said, I think the Swedish bands are very good. I think there are a lot of bands, even younger bands that are still in the demo stage, that are doing very well. I think a lot of good bands are going to come up in the next five years or so.
CrypticRock.com – That is very exciting for the Metal scene. It has been a little over a year since Deceivers of the Gods was released. The record exhibits strong melodies Amon Amarth has always been known for. How important is it for you that band stay true to their roots in strong melodic guitar riffs?
Olavi Mikkonen – I think it is really important because that is kind of the signature of the band. I think it is also important that we all feel the stuff as we write it. I cannot really remember, except for maybe in the beginning, but I would say for the last eight albums, at no point was there anything that we were ashamed of or we thought was just alright but released because we needed another song. I think we always tried our best to really work hard on stuff. I think even today our standard is higher than ever, but that is just my opinion. When it comes to the style we play, I think that it is really important that we maintain that, and of course, we always try to find new angles. As a songwriter, my influences are pretty much the same as I had twenty years ago.
CypticRock.com – It is essential for a band to stick to their roots, especially if something is working very well for you and it feels natural. You want to play what you like to play while still growing as a musician.
Olavi Mikkonen – Exactly, and the thing is that I have been reading a lot of interviews with bands lately and they all say that it is boring to play the same thing all the time, but I totally feel the opposite. It is more difficult to maintain without really repeating. To this day, I have probably written more than a hundred songs and it is really difficult to come up with something totally new. I think it is challenging to try to maintain your style but still add something fresh and new all the time. It would be easier for us to totally change our style completely, but to me, that is a kind of failure. If you already have something that you think is good, there is no reason to change it.
CrypticRock.com – The band’s line-up has been consistent since 1998. Many bands have members come and go, but Amon Amarth has stuck together. What has been the key to band’s chemistry?
Olavi Mikkonen – I think the main key is that we do not really fight about stuff. I mean, we are kind of like five brothers, so of course once in a while we get mad at each other, but it is not really any big issue. We do not really have too much to fight about to be honest. When we started to roll in money, we made a decision to share everything equally. It does not matter who writes what, all the royalties are being shared. Compared to other bands who maybe have one or two guys who earn more than others, which causes tension, we have it equal here so we do not fight about money. For the last ten years, we have all been married, so we do not fight about girls. Those are two things that we do not have to fight about. The third thing is that we are all on the same page; we have found our style and we really do not need to change around too much.
CypticRock.com – That is actually very good that you get along so well. Maybe it is the way that you have managed the band with everyone equal rather than one or two members getting everything as far as compensation for all your hard work. It seems that it is all working well. I think another thing is that you have been friends for a long time. That also helps a lot. You have stuck with each other so you also know each other’s personalities.
Olavi Mikkonen – Yeah, like I said, we are kind of more like brothers. After a tour, we do not really hang out too much, but when we are touring, we actually hang out. On a day off, we always get together as a band. When we go walking around or wherever we go on a day off, we always do things together. I know a lot of other bands that have not even been around as long as we have and when they have a day off, they all go to their own rooms and do not see each other until the next day. We can hang around with each other and we like to write songs together. Of course, when we are home, we kind of stay away from each other a little bit. I think we still have the chemistry as when we started out.
CrypticRock.com – Being that the band does play live so often and traveling so often around the world, when do you find time to write new material and do you sometimes come across times where you find it difficult to write new material?
Olavi Mikkonen – I tried to write a little bit a few years back while we were touring but that did not really work too well. I think whenever the touring is done, we kind of take time off and we all start coming out with ideas, and when the time is right, then we kind of get together to see what we have. I know that every other year or year and a half we release an album, I think that is kind of just the cycle that we have, that we have been comfortable with. It is not like we have to. If we do not have stuff, then we just wait until we do. I think usually when a touring cycle is done then we take a month or two off and we kind of start working.
CrypticRock.com – One can imagine you probably need the time off to spend with your families and unwind a little bit and relax before you get back into the writing process.
Olavi Mikkonen – Yes, definitely, but sometimes when you come home from a tour, you might be inspired and have some cool ideas. Usually, we work by ourselves at home with our ideas and then when we have enough stuff, we get together as a band. Usually, we talk a lot about our ideas. We have already started to talk about the next one. The ideas that we have are very promising and I am already excited to start working with this good stuff.
CrypticRock.com – Well that is great to hear that new Amon Amarth material is already being brainstormed. My last question for you is regarding films. CrypticRock.com is a Rock/Metal and Horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of Horror films, and if so, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Olavi Mikkonen – I used to be very into Horror movies many years ago, but I have not seen too many Horror movies in the last five to ten years. What I really liked back then were some of the Japanese films such as Ringu (1998). There are American versions of them too like The Ring (2002) and stuff like that. I always liked the Japanese because they were kind of primitive. I thought it was very good stuff and I really liked it.