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Amorphis

Melodieuze death metal, folklore, aanstekelijke melodieën en Finse melancholie… Sinds de jaren negentig weet Amorphis er een onweerstaanbare mix van te maken, gereflecteerd op twaalf studioalbums. Daar kwam zopas half mei nog eentje bij: ‘Queen Of Time’ dat voor het eerst ook orkestrale arrangementen en koorzang toevoegt, maar zonder het typische Amorphis geluid onder te sneeuwen. We togen naar Düsseldorf om gitarist/songschrijver Esa Holopainen en zanger Tomi Joutsen hun zegje te laten doen over hun nieuwe baby.

Door: Vera | Archiveer onder prog / sympho metal

This is a promotion trip all over Europe. How are you doing?
Esa: ‘Yeah we started from London on Monday, yesterday Paris and from here in Dusseldorf we go to Stockholm this evening and then back home. It’s been interesting.’

Tomi: ‘People are still interested in what we are doing.’

But you kept the fire burning, because people could watch you on stages all over the world with different shows, like the celebration of the ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’ album a while ago…
Esa: ‘Indeed, we have different productions. For us it is interesting and for the audience as well I think. It is important that you don’t play the same songs on every tour.’

Did the reflection on older work have a kind of impact on the new material?
Esa: ‘I don’t know. We don’t look back that much. We just concentrate on the new album. It is a new project. Of course you take subconscious influences from what you have done before, but we don’t really think that way when working on a new album. A new album is always a new project and that’s the great thing about making music.’

In addition to your well-known sound, there are few new elements in the music on ‘Queen Of Time’…
Esa: ‘The most obvious is the addition of the orchestra. It adds a freshness to our sound, which is great. When we had the first mixes we were really happy. We surprised ourselves as well that we really managed to do so. It is an upgraded sound.’

What struck me is that you had a long tour cycle and when you came home, you did not take a break, but after one day you already started to work on the new material. Why did you do that?
Esa: ‘Because we are stupid (laughs). No, seriously… we had written the songs before. In Spring and Summer we sent demos to each other, so we knew the material, but we did not have that much time to rehearse before the preproduction and the record, so we had to start rehearse immediately after the shows. It was a little bit stressful, but it was alright.’

Tomi: ‘For us, rehearsing is more like arranging things, because we don’t have that much technical parts in our music. Of course there are some parts that needed some practice, but it is not that we have to practice eight hours a day one week. Mostly it is about in which key we should transfer something or put some more tremolo on that part, deciding this is chorus and this is verse… things like that.’

Esa: ‘Most of the rehearsing we do at home. When we come together it happens to be a check if everything works. We are not a band that gathers in the rehearsal room to write songs, like Tomi said, it is more about trying songs in a different key and stuff like that.’

Tomi: ‘It remains great though, if someone comes up with a good idea, we can try it out with the band. Everyone just wants to create great music. There is no problem with egos or stuff like that. Of course Esa does the lion share of the composing, but we all can add our ideas. We don’t have any rules about writing an Amorphis track. That is the good thing about Amorphis, because in some bands, there is just one leader, which is great in some cases, but not in our case.’

Esa: ‘I am not the master with slaves (laughs).’

I know that you have a special lyricist, Pekka Kainulainen, but I hope that you can also tell me something about the lyrics and the general concept…
Tomi: ‘Well, there is no concept on this album, all small stories from here and there. Pekka wrote fifteen poems and he took lots of inspiration from his personal life I think and from the state of the world, what is going on these days, but also from old beliefs and myths. It was a great combination again. I met Pekka a couple of times last Summer and we talked about the lyrics. It is always interesting when he writes lyrics, then we see what’s in his mind. It is nice that we have this cooperation, because he is not from the metal scene, so he represents a totally different aspect.’

Since the beginning, he was more specialized in your main topic, the Kalevala, I guess…
Tomi: ‘Indeed and he is more of a painter. He does a lot of drawings, but he is not listening to metal. It is weird how well these two different worlds can be together in Amorphis. On one hand heavy metal and on the other side a traditional artist from Finland. I think it is quite unique also in a way. Actually Pekka released a book many years ago and I think that’s very unique as well. He put all these original poems that he has done for us and he also did some drawings there, over hundred drawings. Over four hundred pages, that is really unique in Finland. In a way it is also our history that he wrote down and illustrated. We are amazed by that book.’

Are the lyrics still based on the Kalevala these days?
Tomi: ‘Well, not straight, but I think it plays such a huge role in Pekka’s life that it must be found under the surface anyway. The old beliefs and the cosmic powers that people used to worship… it is hidden in his works.’

It should also have a link with the rise and fall of civilization, like we see in Europe now that things are not going so well…
Esa: ‘That is reflected in the artwork, with the bee. And the song ‘The Bee’.

Tomi: ‘When we were talking about the artwork, we needed a subject and colours. It comes from the lyrics. The bee is important in many stories and it is a beautiful looking creature.’

Esa: ‘I don’t think so. Horrible. Brr (laughs)’

It is said: when there are no bees anymore, our whole eco system will collapse. Another wonder happens to be honey, it remains good for ages. Seems like it is a creature from another world…
Tomi: ‘That’s right, I am glad you know the characteristics of bees.’

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There are a lot of guests… can you shine a light on their contributions?
Esa: ‘In the first song ‘The Bee’ we already have the laryngeal singer Albert Kuvezin. We came in contact with him through our drummer Jan Rechberger. His father is composer and had been working with him before. It adds a nice flavour to the song. We have saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby from Shining in ‘Daughter Of Hate’. With Chrigel Glanzmann from Eluveitie – he adds pipes and flutes on several songs – we have worked before, because he could be heard on our former album ‘Under The Red Cloud’ as well. He was on tour this time and he got a chance to visit Jens in the studio. We did not have time to meet him, because we were working in another room, but that’s how this addition came into being. A nice thing to have him again.’

Tomi: ‘Last but not least we even have a Dutch connection this time with Anneke van Giersbergen singing in ‘Amongst Stars’.

Esa: ‘When we wrote the songs we had the intention for additions, like flutes... Now we have a mix from the real flutes and the keyboard flutes, but that’s all the work from our producer Jens Bogren. Even we ourselves cannot tell the difference sometimes. There are obvious parts where you can hear the real flutes, but on some parts it is pretty hard to tell if it is a real flute or keyboards.’

Tomi: ‘We have one big issue: we are from Finland and it is important that you can notice that all you can hear is related to Finland. At the same time it is nice that we can cooperate with people from outside of Finland, so we have this international mixture. For example: the choir is from Israel. We love that global thing, it is very important for us.’

Esa: ‘That’s the thing, you know. Of course we have people who are brilliant in certain disciplines, but at the end of the day, the result counts. The sounds you hear. You have to listen to the songs without analyzing it too much. Does it move you or not? That’s what matters. Not if this is a real flute or synthesizer.’

Tomi: ‘I understand, as a journalist you try to go as deep as possible into the contents of music, as musician we have the same approach, but in the end music is entertaining and art, not mathematics to analyze or dissect. Listening with the heart instead of the mind, that’s important, many musicians have that tendency as well, approaching their art with too much analyzing.’

Tell me about your relation with producer Jens Bogren. I feel he is very important for you and you decided to work with him for the second time. What about the development of your relationship?
Esa: ‘It was very nice to see that he was really happy to work with us on this album and he really got some ambitious ideas, like the orchestra and the choirs. We like him a lot, but it is very obvious that he likes to work with Amorphis too. It is a good, extremely good working relationship, almost like a friendship relation. But at the same time he does not let us go the easy way, he is really picky for us. He does not spare us, nothing is easy. He wants to record a lot of takes. He makes you play or sing until he’s got the perfect take. It is a hard way, but it is a good way and I like the idea that – even though he uses ten hours a day to record - we still went out eating and relaxing with him. There is no copy/paste when recording with him, you really have to play every note, several times until the proper song is done. He does not want to do that. In a way, how he works is the modern way to do an old school album, a sort of natural album, a natural sound. That is a great thing and nowadays he is a really famous producer. We had to book the studio one year before the recordings. It is no wonder, he is quite a genius.’

How do you look at the addition of orchestral layers and choirs as a band?
Esa: ‘As a band we did not have anything to do with those arrangements, it is Jens’ work. He had this idea that he wanted to use real orchestral instruments. I think it turned out great, we were really amazed when we heard the result. We were a little bit afraid of this classical influence, it should not be dominant in our sound. We are a band, a six piece band, and we already have enough layers from our side. But Jens does it very well. All those classical instruments and choirs, they serve the songs and keep the themes. It is only an extra, still they are in the background. It just makes the whole thing sound more massive and bombastic.’

We see a remarkable return in the band: your original bass player Olli-Pekka is back…
Esa: ‘Yes, Oppu is back in business.’ (chuckles) ‘It is fun to play with him again. He did some guest appearances on stage when we did the ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’ tour and we remained friends anyways. We remained in contact throughout the years for every once in a while. Of course it is sad that Niclas left the band after seventeen years, but something great came out of that. We had the chance to start rehearsing and write the new music straight with Oppu. One of his songs ended up as a bonus track, ‘As Mountains Crumble’. There is also a second bonus track ‘Brother And Sister’. Jens decided which tracks should be added as bonus and he also chose the ten basic songs, because we had written 17 or 18 new songs.’

He is becoming the boss of Amorphis…
Esa: ‘Well, I think we need a boss in a way, because there are six guys in the band and it is good that someone decides. Not always, but when we are recording stuff it is good to have someone outside the band ruling the roast.’

I thought it was you…
Esa: ‘No, I take some initiatives and write the stuff, but as far as leadership goes, I am really not a dominant guy.’

Tomi: ‘That’s why we hired Jens, because if there is no big idea it might become really lame after a while. We should keep compromising I think.’

Esa: ‘We have written and recorded albums, produced by ourselves. It is not necessary to have a producer, but having one make things better I think. It definitely gives a better result. With a long history, it is fine to expand your ways of working with fresh ideas. It is always great to meet people we can cooperate with. That’s pretty interesting and it helps you as a musician taking decisions.’

Tomi: ‘Of course the chemistry in the band is very important and if you argue every day, it is really hard. It is very natural though, it would be weird if everybody would agree. It proves that we are really into what we are doing, with heart and soul.’

Esa: ‘Everybody has good ideas and bad ideas, there is a natural competition, but it is fine to have someone cutting the knot. Our final goal is to create something beautiful and powerful.’

You always kept being open for other projects as well. Some of you have other bands…
Tomi: ‘Yeah but these are just projects. Amorphis is the real thing, our priority. I spend the time with them when we have a couple of months in which no big things happen with Amorphis. Spare time occupation, like in Hallatar.’



Why did Niclas leave the band?
Esa: ‘He did not get along with our management. It was just two persons always arguing. I don’t want to go into any details. On the other hand Niclas was maybe a bit tired of touring. We had to respect his decision. Now we are friends again and we are very glad that he will continue with his career. He has this new band now (Flat Earth – Vera) with the guitarist and drummer from HIM. Indeed, Gas Lipstick on drums. Gas has a lot of projects.’

What are the plans for video clips?
We actually did already one and Pekka, our lyricist is in it. He is acting, he is doing two roles there. I think the first video will come out this week. It is a lyric video for the song called ‘The Bee’ and the second video will be for the song ‘Wrong Direction’. Later we think about a third video.’

Just by seeing the artwork, I guess it is the same artist as the one who did ‘Under The Red Cloud’, isn’t it?
Esa: ‘Yes, indeed. His artist name is Valnoir, which stands for the Frenchman Jean-Emanuel Simoulin. He is a great guy.’

Tomi: ‘We just wanted to give him some main ideas, some pictures that we had in our minds, we sent some lyrics also. We just wanted to have something very symmetric on the cover. The way he put everything on the cover is really beautiful and very detailed and refined.’

Esa: ‘We were really happy with what he did for our previous album, so here again we wanted to continue with this artist, just like with our producer Jens. He does not want to make too much compromises and he really knows what he is doing. So here we have another dominant character (laughs). He has really strong visions and opinions, but that is okay.’

What about the plans for touring?
Esa: ‘We start with a couple of shows in Finland. Then Japan. We have the Summer Festivals. In Belgium we will play at the Alcatraz festival in August. We start our world tour for the new album in September/October in North America. With a very strong package, bands that all have their own audience. We will tour with Dark Tranquillity, Moonspell and Omnium Gatherum. We are really looking forward to that, since it looks like a huge club of friends going on the road. Next year we will tour in Europe.’

In Finland you celebrate ‘Kalevala day’ on the 28th of February… Do you celebrate that?
Tomi: ‘Not that much. It is only a tradition from times gone by. It is not like people are going to family and celebrate it or having a public holiday. It is just an old tradition.’

When came the moment in your career that you could live from the band?
Esa: ‘In other words, the date that we started to earn money with the band… It just happened at some point that we got some income from shows and sales, but not enough to live from. I guess it happened when we started to tour more. Back in the nineties it was rather impossible. It took many years for us before we started earning any money with the music. I think the first time we started to earn decent amount where you could live from, was around the time when Tomi joined us (2005 – Vera). Then we reached new heights. The albums before, like ‘Am Universum’ or ‘Far From The Sun’, sold pretty well, but the tours did not make any money back in the days. But now we are in the fortunate position that we can live from the band.’

Tomi: ‘I took that step about ten years ago. I tried to do both for a couple of years, the band and working, but it was impossible, because I was working with kids and young people. I just had not inner energy enough for both things. Amorphis needed my presence. So I decided to quit my job. Well, it would be easy if you are single, but we have families and kids and stuff. Lots of bills have to be paid, but I can do this for several years more I hope, so I cannot complain.’

Not so long ago I read in the news that Finland happened to be the best country to live in, in Europe. People are most happy there. Is this true?
Esa: ‘Well, that’s what they say, but the Finnish people do not believe that.’

Tomi: ‘Our social system works really well in Finland, but we have a lot of taxes. So the system works, but I don’t know if it makes people more happy, but the weather is horrible.’

Esa: ‘I am not the happiest person all the time. I guess it is the same thing everywhere. I don’t know how they calculated that. It depends on what happiness is. Maybe they should do a blood test to find out if we are happy. It is really difficult to say if we are happy people, because we are not.’
Tomi: ‘At least we don’t want to be it.’

Esa: ‘If you want to see happy people, you have to go to Holland, to a coffee shop.’ (laughs)

Fake news probably…
Tomi: ‘Mostly known is that we don’t speak that much and we drink lots of alcohol. We commit suicide and things like that…’

What I always liked in Finnish music is the kind of melancholic feel, always present. That’s one of the important things why I like Amorphis and Finnish metal…
Esa: ‘And that is another thing which cannot explain why Finnish people are the most happy ones. The opposite I would say.’

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