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Pale Communion’s last song, “Faith in Others,” is probably its softest, but it still has a very dark, ominous vibe. Yeah, it’s one I’m proud of. I think it’s one of those songs with an interesting sound where you know you have something special. When [former Porcupine Tree frontman/guitarist] Steven Wilson told me that he wished he’d written the song, I knew it was a good one! That was the first song I wrote for Pale Communion, so it set the tone for the rest of the album. It’s a special song—it’s depressing and charismatic, and the chord changes are what give it such emotion. I remember playing the original demo to the rest of the band. We all became so somber and quiet—we even cried. That’s when I knew it would be the album closer.
Let’s talk about gear for a bit. Are you still using Laney heads and cabinets? No, I use Marshalls now. I had a long relationship with Laney, but a few years back I met Paul Marshall and he told me he loved our band. He told me backstage after our show, “That's the first time I’ve been at a rock show and I haven’t seen a mosh pit. What the fuck is going on here?” I said, “Well, sorry, but what are you saying?!” He laughed and told us that he wanted to see Marshall stacks behind us onstage. It’s like a childhood dream to have access to their impressive range and history of amplifiers—I couldn’t resist. I was very reluctant to leave Laney, because I’m very loyal and they’ve taken great care of me in the past. But I had to tell them I was sorry and switch. Laney has always been great and that door isn’t closed—just a different chapter for now.
But to answer your question, we used Marshalls in the studio. I mainly used the Satriani JVM head and a handwired, reissued Bluesbreaker combo.
Did you mostly use your signature PRS guitar? Yep, there are plenty of PRS guitars on the record. The PRS is the nicest guitar I’ve ever had—and it has my name on it, too [laughs]. I also used a ’67 Gibson Flying V and two ’60s Stratocasters—one is a near-original ’64, and the other is a ’68 that I put together from random period-correct pieces that I’ve found on tour or online. The original ’64 is on the first verse and solo of “River.” I used a PRS SE Angelus acoustic quite a bit, too.
In this full-set footage from Rock am Ring 2014, Opeth’s dynamic range is on display from the quiet, brooding “Hope Leaves” to the twin-guitar assault of Fredrik and Mikael during the growling, sprint-to-the-finish closer “Blackwater Park.”
Do you have a particular gauge of strings or brand you like to use? I generally play regular .010s from Thomastik-Infeld. I did switch briefly to heavy-bottom .011s when we did Ghost Reveries, because most of the songs were written in dropped-D and dropped-D and a variation of open Dmadd9 tuning [D–A–D–F–A–E], which made the strings a bit too loose with the regular .010s. I was glad to go back, because my hands are too weak [laughs].
Aside from Ghost Reveries, why haven’t you ventured away from standard tuning to give yourself more songwriting options? I like it actually, because to me the guitar sounds the best within standard tuning. Besides, I don’t feel like I've run out of ideas with standard E tuning. The reason why I did that alternate tuning for the Ghost Reveries record was that I needed to find new ways to express myself and push myself. I was listening to acoustic guitar players like Bert Jansch and Nick Drake, and they use a lot of tunings. I also had a bit of an agenda, because I figured with an open tuning I could just put my finger across the six strings, and I’d get chords. That would make it easy for me to come up with things. I found that I could make cool stuff with alternate tunings, and before I knew it, I was experimenting with some really complex stuff. This song called “The Baying of the Hounds” is just insanely difficult to play and I started out just plucking strings with all the frets barred by one finger. I didn’t write the piece to make it difficult, but I’d discovered all these different-sounding chords once I opened up, and I ended up having to do these huge stretches. I’d have no problem going back to an open tuning if I dry up again, but I have plenty more in the E tank.You’re a big collector of vinyl records in all sorts of genres. What would an avid Opeth fan be shocked to see in your collection?
Well, I have two songs by Rihanna on my iPod. When I listen to them, I make sure that other people aren’t around or else I’ll get picked on [laughs]. When people read this—like Fredrik—they’re going to be angry, but I’m not ashamed to have that on my iPod. I’m a believer in good songs—it doesn’t matter what genre it is. I think it would be stupid to restrict yourself to certain genres. I listen to all sorts of music, to be honest. While we did the Still Life record—which is said to be one of our more experimental and groundbreaking records—we were all listening to Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions. That was the only record that was constantly playing in the studio as we were recording, and I’m not ashamed about that or enjoying Rihanna!