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Exclusive! Interview With Drummer Martin Lopez of Opeth

By Brian Davis, Contributor
Sunday, March 7, 2004 @ 11:11 PM

Swedish Skinbasher Lopez Gives

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Perhaps itís me, but it seems that regardless of the genre, certain members of any given band tend to be overlooked when it comes to interviews, publicity, etc. 9 times out of 10, the primary focus is on the person that stands in front of the mic, or the one who writes all the music. Hell, Iím certainly guilty -- Itís kinda hard not to acknowledge those things. But it stands to reason that no single person makes a band, and perhaps we tend to overlook just how much influence some of these other vital members actually have on the bandís sound. Such is certainly the case with Martin Lopez. Quiet and soft spoken, always to the back of the stage and obscured by a menacingly lethal drum kit, most people donít know much about the man who indisputably reigns as one of the most elite drummers in the music industry.

There are countless reasons that the unique sound and song structure of Opeth permeates the Death Metal scene, and a number of those reasons are due in no small part to the unique influences of Martin Lopez. Integrating some of the worldís best Death Metal-styled drumming with an abundance of diverse cultural influences, Martin does more than his share to ensure that Opeth remains a constantly improving and evolving machine, helping drive them to the ever- increasing level of standards that the band has established and its fans have come to expect. And enshrouding it all is an uncommon level of humility on Martinís part, exuding at all times the simple yet utterly fulfilling contentment and satisfaction that he receives from merely being able to build his life around that which is most important -- MUSIC.

KNAC.COM: Where are you guys right now?
LOPEZ: Uh, we are in Atlanta. Weíre playing Atlanta tonight.

KNAC.COM: How many shows do you have left on the tour?
LOPEZ: I donít knowÖ like 15 more, maybe? Maybe a few more than that.

KNAC.COM: How has the tour been going?
LOPEZ: Yeah, itís been going good. I mean we had some problems in the first shows so we had toÖ not cancel, but the guys had to play an acoustic set on the songs because I had to stay at home and I couldnít travel with them. I had some problems with hospitals and stuff so I had to stay there, you know, but it was just the first two dates. After that, Iíve been good -- every show has been great.

KNAC.COM: Well, thatís good. Alright -- letís get a little history. You were actually born in Sweden?
LOPEZ: Yeah, I was born in Sweden.

KNAC.COM: And how did you meet [Opeth bassist] Martin Mendez?
LOPEZ: I moved to Uraguay when I was young -- maybe 5 or something, and I met Martin when we were around 13 or something. We became friends and started playing in the same band.

KNAC.COM: When did you guys move back to Sweden?
LOPEZ: When I was 16.

KNAC.COM: And then you played on Once Sent From The Golden Hall with Amon Amarth, right?
LOPEZ: Exactly. That was my first record -- I think I recorded that when I was maybe 17, 18.

KNAC.COM: Wow, impressive! And you did just that one album with them then went to Opeth?
LOPEZ: Yeah, I did the one album and started rehearsals for the next one to come, but then I had the opportunity to join Opeth WITH Martin. Weíve been there since then -- about í97, I think.

KNAC.COM: Do you do other side work besides Opeth? Session work, etc?
LOPEZ: Actually, yeah -- I mean, I try to play as much as I can in different bands or music styles. I even give lessons at home, but lately we have been touring so much I havenít had time. But we have a big break coming up, so Iíll be putting some other stuff out from a side project weíve got-- me and Martin Mendez.

KNAC.COM: Anything specific that you can talk about now that we can look forward to?
LOPEZ: One of the projects is prettyÖ I donít know, itís like the one weíve been working with for the most time when we have time offÖ some Tool-ish, Katatonia, Opeth kind of stuff with a touch of ethnic music. But yeah, weíve recorded a couple pieces for the songs, but we havenít had the time to put everything together for an album. And thatís what weíre going to do when we have this break.

KNAC.COM: So, is Opeth going to basically take the rest of the year off? You guys have been touring pretty heavy.
LOPEZ: Yeah, we have done so many shows -- it has been a little bit too hard. So, we finish this tour, then we have a day off, and then we do some otherÖ I donít know, say 15 shows in Europe and Australia. And then yeah, then weíre finally taking that break that means so much, and we can write new material and play something else. [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: I was going to ask about that -- on the ĎDamnationí tour, Mikael was talking about an idea he had for the next album about doing just two exceptionally long songs -- is that still the plan?
LOPEZ: Yeah, we have many balls in the air. We have that idea, we have the idea of doing 6 ďdoubleĒ songs, kind of mixing Damnation and Deliverance -- I donít know, we have many ideas so far, so we donít know how it will turn out.

KNAC.COM: So no real set direction yet?
LOPEZ: No. The music will be Opeth -- I mean itís not going to be a Damnation album again. Itís going to be normal -- a normal Opeth album, anyway -- and the best weíve done. Thatís what we really -- thatís whatís important for us, thatís why weíre taking a year off for the first time and this will be the first time weíve ever rehearsed before an album. So we want to really, really try to do it the best we can. And so far we havenít [rehearsed before recordings], because before we recorded Deliverance and Damnation we only rehearsed once -- one time, for only 3 hours. Same thing happening with all the other albums we recorded together. So this time weíre going to try to rehearse and do the BEST we can, so it should be fun.

KNAC.COM: I just reviewed the DVD also, and you guys were talking about everything that you encountered trying to record Deliverance and Damnation, all the troubles you had at the first studio, and you were saying how you wanted to get everything laid out. People can watch the DVD and thereís a lot of details in the Biography section of your website [http://www.opeth.com] about the problems with recording, but was there anything specifically for you that made it so terrible?
LOPEZ: Yeah, one of the things was the studio was like a cave. I mean literally having no windows at all. And it was the hottest summer in Sweden since 1940-something, and just being in there for -- you know, in Sweden you donít see much sun, itís all about the winter the whole time and dark -- so to be the whole summer inside, I mean we never got out, we just ordered food. So that was, you know, pretty harsh. It was actually -- I mean that recording was nasty; we had some bad times. I had the chance to leave for a little while after I recorded the drums, so it was heavier on [vcalist] Mike [Ňkerfeldt], who stayed there the whole time.

KNAC.COM: So in retrospect, now that you guys -- Iíd say Deliverance and Damnation have been a pretty major success; this is what -- your third tour in the US now in support of this, and you just came out with the DVD. In retrospect do you think everything you guys went through was worth it? Are you pleased with the finished product and the way its been received?
LOPEZ: Actually, yeah! I mean, we do this because we think this is the best job you can have. Of course itís still a job, so sometimes it gets -- sometimes itís not fun, some days you donít feel up to playing, but you gotta do it. Perhaps you get sick, or whatever. But I mean, we meet the fans -- we always think our fans are different from other bandsí fans, I donít knowÖ I talk to some fans and they tell me how much our music means to them and itís like, you know, you really appreciate it because thatís what make you -- just that moment is worth everything, having those fans tell you this album made me so happy when it came out. You know, itís just that connection with the fans is worth all the touring and the bad times we have.

KNAC.COM: So whatís been your overall impression as far as fans here in the US? Are you seeing a swell in the fanbase here?
LOPEZ: Yeah, yeah, we are, actually. You know, we get pretty shocked every tour when it comes to ticket sales, because we are still growing, so itís fun to know that people Ė [Laughs] You know the thing with doing Damnation is that everyone said it would be a commercial suicide, like we werenít going to have any fans after that. Of course we donít really care, weíre going to do what we want to -- when youíre a player you have to play what you want to play -- so we did it anyway. And to tell you the truth, after Damnation came out the fanbase was just growing and growing.

KNAC.COM: I agree. Actually when I heard Deliverance was the first time Iíd heard you guys, and of course Iíve gotten heavily into the band since then, but just in visiting your forum and what not, since Damnation came out almost everybody has been raving about it; itís been a real boost for the bandís popularity and getting some acknowledgement from people that maybe wouldnít have heard you guys otherwise.
LOPEZ: Yeah, exactly. Touring that much makes you bigger by showing yourselves, its good promotion. Thatís why weíve done it so much -- besides the thought that we love to play live. We hate waiting and we hate traveling and all that, but we love doing a gig and sharing our music with the crowds. You know, the bigger the crowd the better the gig because more people get connected with us.

KNAC.COM: Alright, Iíve got a question here -- donít know if youíll want to answer it -- but when I saw Opeth with Lacuna Coil on the Deliverance tour, you had a band called Yakuza -- I thought they were HORRIBLE. Is that something where you guys have full control over who is on the bill?
LOPEZ: No, no. I actually think they were pretty good in the thing that they did, you know, Death Metal with saxophones.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, it was very different.
LOPEZ: So for me that gives them all respect, just doing something that hasnít been done. But we donít -- weíd never heard of that group before we went on tour with them, I never heard Devildriver before we went on tour with them. Itís not about us; thatís the guys with the suits and the briefcases.

KNAC.COM: And they just tell you, ďthis is who youíre gonna tour withĒ?
LOPEZ: Exactly. Sometimes we get to choose; sometimes we are like, ďOkay. We donít care -- we wanna tour with Porcupine Tree or KatatoniaĒ and weíve done it.

KNAC.COM: Alright. Youíre relatively young, arenít you -- 26, is that right?
LOPEZ: 25.

KNAC.COM: 25, okay. Where do you see yourself in 10 years or so?
LOPEZ: Playing, playing, playing! Hopefully not touring that much [Laughs] but Iíve been playing music since I was 4 and itís the only thing Iíve ever done in my whole life; itís the only thing I know how to do, and its the only thing I like doing everydayÖ besides a couple fun things [Laughs]. So of course in ten years hopefully weíre still together. At this time we are all about ourselves playing music, thatís for sure, and hopefully we can have this band and keep this band; the thing is that the day we feel we canít do a better record than we did before is the day that there is no point in playing anymore.

KNAC.COM: I just read something on Blabbermouth.net just the other day about you having talked to James Murphy when you were in Tampa about possibly participating on the upcoming Death Tribute CD that heís been working on. Is that true?
LOPEZ: Yeah, actually he asked me something about -- he told me they were doing that and he asked me if I was interested, and you know I am a Death fan -- HUGE -- Death is one of my top 3 favorite bands. So of course you get flattered. I mean, James Murphy was an idol for me when I was a kid and he made a lot of great, important albums -- for me, anyway. So yeah, I was flattered, and Iím gonna try to get the time worked out to record those.

KNAC.COM: Thatís great, because not only are you giving a lot of attention to such an influential band like Death and the work that Chuck Schuldiner did, but also this goes to James Murphy and the cancer that heís fighting, so thatís another excellent reason why this is such a special project.
LOPEZ: And the other thing is just playing with him for me is a great thing.

KNAC.COM: Playing with a hero.
LOPEZ: Yeah, with fucking James Murphy! [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: Are there any specific songs that you hope to be able to play on?
LOPEZ: He told me to just to pick a song, and I got so many favorites I donít know if I wanna do something from Individual [Thought Patterns] or Symbolic or to go for one of the old albums you know, itís like, ďAaah!Ē I donít know which one to pick. [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: Haha! At least you get to choose yourself though, thatís good.
LOPEZ: Yeah.

KNAC.COM: Okay, what would your favorite Opeth album be if you had to pick one?
LOPEZ: UhhÖ Okay, I donít wanna count Damnation in this because itís a different kind of Opeth, but musically -- I know when it comes to musical, the best album is Deliverance, because I think we evolved the whole time. But for me, emotionally -- or how you can call it -- Still Life was actually the album that -- when we recorded it, I sat home and said, ďFuck! This is good!Ē [Laughs] Thatís when I first thought that we were really good.

KNAC.COM: Yes, that is definitely a good answer; that would be my answer -- Still Life is by far my favorite. Everything about it is just awesome.
LOPEZ: Cool. Itís hard to get in the States -- I know there are a lot of fans who havenít heard it.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, and thatís a shame, too.
LOPEZ: Yeah, it is because, I donít know -- I loved it. We play some songs from that album live now.

KNAC.COM: Right. You played ďFace Of MelindaĒ on the ĎDamnationí tour, and that was just phenomenal.
LOPEZ: And we do ďThe Moor,Ē the first track. I love it.

KNAC.COM: Now, on the website under your personal section you have a playlist, and you mention both Tool -- Lateralus and APC -- Mer De Noms. Thatís not a very typical answer in the Death Metal scene -- what is it about those bands that you like so much?
LOPEZ: First of all -- nobody does what they do. Tool is just unique; like nobody else. Then you have the musicianship -- those guys are genius at what they do. Youíve got the best singer in the world, youíve got Danny Carey on drums and youíve got the composition of the music they write. Its really -- you know, it really touched me. So thatís one of my favorite bands. Of course I listen to a lot of Death Metal stuff -- the thing is being on tour the whole time and playing with Death Metal bands makes you change your music tastes when youíre at home listening to something. When you put something on, you try to listen to something different than what youíre hearing every night.

KNAC.COM: Alright just a couple more here real quick. What gear do you play? Whatís your set up?
LOPEZ: Iím playing Premia -- Iím sponsored by Premia and Sabian. Right now Iím doing that. I got some offers from some other places, so I may be changing sponsors. Not Sabian, though. The guys are using PRS and Martin is using Fender.

KNAC.COM: Is Sweden your favorite place to play? Is that where you seem to have the biggest fan reaction, being from there?
LOPEZ: Actually, our favorite place to play -- for me, anyway, and I think all of us would say -- Italy. Italy is very good, and then Mexico was a great experience. And playing in the States -- I mean we can do 50 gigs here and have a lot of crowds, when in Italy you have only 5 maybe. The USA is more a continent than a country.

KNAC.COM: Youíre commonly regarded as one of the best drummers in the business today.
LOPEZ: Thanks! [Laughs] Thatís cool.

KNAC.COM: Who do you look up to? Youíve become this major legend to everybody else, but who is it that inspired you to start playing?
LOPEZ: Gene Hoglan [of Strapping Young Lad, ex-Death]. I mean I love [Dave] Lombardo [Slayer] and so on, but when I heard Individual Thought Patterns with Death, I heard Gene Hoglan for the first time and it was like, ďDamn! This guy is the best drummer in the world!Ē I actually couldnít play those gigs that I told you at the beginning [of the interview] because I had to stay home for personal reasons, and he played two songs with Opeth, and I was really, really flattered. Having him as a backup, its likeÖ Okay!!

KNAC.COM: [Laughs] Yeah, youíve obviously made it if youíve got him filling in for you. Alright -- whoís your favorite band to tour with?
LOPEZ: To tour with? Uh, maybeÖ Katatonia. I mean theyíre our friends, so we toured with them in Europe and we had a great time.

KNAC.COM: What do you think would be the odds ofÖ personally Tool and Opeth are my favorite bands, and I think that would be the ultimate tour.
LOPEZ: Thatís our dream -- I mean everyone in the band -- thatís like the best band that weíd like to tour with the most. You know, to open for Tool would be a HUGE step in our career.

KNAC.COM: Do you think that will ever be a possibility?
LOPEZ: I donít know, I mean the possibility is always there. We really would like to do that.

KNAC.COM: It just seems that with the direction of music now, with metal going back to the old roots of technicality and skill it just seems that now more than ever you could get a unique Death Metal band like Opeth on the stage with Tool and have the ultimate show that we possibly wouldnít have been able to see before.
LOPEZ: Yeah, I think we would really fit to play with Tool, because their music and our music is completely different, but at the same time itís the same in that we do something that nobody else does. And just that thing of being unique and having hard parts as well as soft parts would make that tour good. I think a lot of Tool fans that havenít heard us could get hooked when they see us live. So it would be really good for us doing that. And more than that, just seeing Tool play for 30 gigs or something -- thatís more than enough for me, you know? I love that band!

KNAC.COM: I completely agree -- weíll all cross our fingers. Well, I guess we can wrap it up thereÖ
LOPEZ: Uh, weíve got some more interviews coming up, but I can take a few last questions if you have something.

KNAC.COM: Great, ok -- I have a quote here -- My friend Krista helped me with some of these questions, and she had given me a quote from Ruthless Reviews, and in reviewing Deliverance it says, ďThe real story behind Deliverance is the emergence of Martin Lopez as the biggest ass kicking motherfucker to sit behind the trap set since the mighty Hellhammer himselfÖ.Ē
LOPEZ: Alright!!

KNAC.COM: Yeah, thatís quite the compliment! It goes on that in a lot of parts, ď...instead of doing straight beats with [your] hands, [youíre] playing chops totally counter to what [your] feet are doing.Ē And so that led Krista to wonder -- are you trying to work towards a polyrhythmic style with your approach?
LOPEZ: Yeah, but I donít-- itís not something that I plan. Itís not like I sit down and say, ďIíll put a polyrhythm here because thatís what I wantĒ -- usually I hear the riffs and I just try to make it groove. Iíd say playing in a lot of South American bands, and even African bands, Arabic bands and so on, gives you a lot of different ways to express yourself through the music. So I believe that my drumming is no different than other Death Metal drummers, but itís just because we see music from a different view. Death Metal for me is more than music; itís an aggression that you want to get out from your body. But drumming itself is about making a groove, and I think Latin Jazz or Arabic music has a lot more groove than Death Metal, so I try to put those things together. If I think that it would fit then I think that Iím going to try that.

KNAC.COM: And Mike mentions on the DVD that you and Martin have all these extra influences that he wouldnít normally think of -- like you said, the different ethnic sounds and stuff that youíve incorporated to broaden the bandís range.
LOPEZ: Yeah, we come from two completely different cultures. [Guitarist] Peter [Lindgren] and Mike -- theyíre Swedish guys who have always been into Death, and Mendez and I come from a completely different continent with a different language and everything is different. So putting that together -- it took awhileÖ

KNAC.COM: But itís starting to click now.
LOPEZ: Yeah, so of course it makes the band sound differently.

KNAC.COM: Well, itís definitely working. So when do you plan on starting the actual rehearsal for the new CD?
LOPEZ: I think weíre gonna finish the tour, take a week off, and then weíre going to start rehearsing. We really want to do the album well.

KNAC.COM: Ok, well -- thanks a lot! I appreciate.
LOPEZ: Thank you!

KNAC.COM: Good luck with the rest of the tour.
LOPEZ: Alright. Take care, thanks for the interview. Bye.

A HUGE extra -- special thanks to my good friend Krista G. for not only bringing me to Opeth in the first place, and the extra input on helping create these questions, but for the relentless support in getting me off my ass and pushing me to make my dreams come true. THANK YOU!

(Photos from Opeth.com/ Rev Aaron, ReturnToThePit)

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