Interview with Eicca Toppinen and Kirsi Ylijoki about their side-project band "Cherry & The Vireps"

The side-project band of Eicca Toppinen and Kirsi Ylijoki "Cherry & the Vipers" played 23th of august for The Blanko's new album release party at the famous Helsinki club "Virgin Oil Co. Club".
We met Kirsi (vocals), Samu (guitars) and Eicca (drums), at that occasion, a few days before the release of their debut eponym album. Eicca joined the interview a bit later, after the preparations for the upcoming show.

First, how are you and how do you feel, just a couple of hours before the gig?

Samu: Waiting.

Kirsi: I've been in a few places to do interviews, on Sunday, then I attended our rehearsal yesterday evening for the next single, so I was looking forward to it.

How did you have the idea to create Cherry & The Vipers?

Kirsi: I had an idea, something like 4 years ago: we have lots of instruments at home, we have a big room there in a cellar, and therefore it would be nice to collect all our friends and they'd be rehearsing and have fun, and start to play... And during 1 year, we decided, therefore there were lot of people playing, different people came to play drums and stuffs... but after one year, we have found out that "OK, we're like a band so let's continue". And we started to practice seriously and make public gigs after that.

Samu: it was more like a small practice first, that kind of gigs.

Kirsi: but it was suddenly, after a lot of playing.

Samu: But we had cover songs.

We know that "Cherry" is a direct reference to your name - Kirsi (Kirsikka in finnish means Cherry), so why did you choose "The Vipers"?

Kirsi: That somehow came out with the letters of my name. Letter K ("kyy") means in Finnish "viper", so: Kirsi Ylijoki, and "band" is in Finnish "yhtya". So it came like... I don't know... It's hard to explain it in English.

Samu, how did you enter the band? Did you have a band before?

Samu: Yes, I still have a few bands. We all live in the same area, at the country side. We have some friends, we knew each other... (looks for the right word)

Kirsi: Common friends.

Samu: Yeah, and one of them, a guitarist, asked me to come.

So thanks to them, you met Kirsi & Eicca and ended up in the band?

Kirsi: No he didn't. In fact, I heard from our common friend he was a good guitarist, that he wanted to come and play with us. So I drove to his place, something like 20 km. "Hello, I'm Kirsi, let's come to our home..." (Laughter)

Samu: Yeah, that's how it worked. I didn't know what to expect, and I was like "Hmm yeah, let's try" ...

Was it the same with Jarkko?

Kirsi: One of Jarkko's son was in the same class than our kids. And when they were 8, at school, the kids started to play together, and so we met, because they keep wanting to be at our place. Like, "Is it OK? You keep him, I'll bring him home...". And we became Facebook friends, so we started to know each others, us adults. And then once, we didn't have a bassist, nobody really wanted to play the bass... I wrote on Facebook "If somebody around there wanted to have a hobby and play the bass"... and some 2 minutes later, Jarkko put "Fine, I've been playing the bass for a long time, I really want to play the bass!!"

In your opinion, which style defines best to the music you make?

Samu: We all come from the different musical backgrounds. I've been playing blues, progressive rock, folk... Like all these types of music. But then we realized we have many things in common. When we played all these cover songs, we like to play different cover songs, from the 60s to... (searches his words)

Kirsi: nowadays, today's punk and pop and... just rock'n'roll. And then we found that we're all on fire while playing. But it's a mix of everything, we don't want to do anything... certain.

You're making your debut album. How do you feel about its approaching release? September, I think?

Kirsi: Yes, 6th September. It has been really an exciting trip to do these songs together.

Samu: in the beginning of this year we had much interest in "tabula rasa", I don't think it was planned from the start. But Eicca started to do some riffs and we started to write some lyrics, and later on, I've been also getting more into writing riffs and opening up, because I also thought about what the style would be like. And here, it's gonna be something like punk rock, and there are also more cover songs.

How was it, to record this album?

Kirsi: It was really fun, and somehow it was easy. We have a really great producer, Rake Eskolin, who wanted to do the album with us, and he listened to our demo and gave us a lot of good ideas for our songs also, and the work went very well with Rake.

For me it was the first time recording songs in studio, and also because it was the first time for Cherry and the Vipers in which I had to start singing my own lyrics, as I had only sung covers. So it was really first time for me, and I was "Aw, I can't sing this, no, this is bad" (Laughs), but Rake putted me so much force. That how we did this.

Samu: But still he gave us a lot of freedom.

Kirsi: Freedom, yeah. He did let the spirit come. "I know what you're meaning, just do it". (Laughs)

Samu: He could take the best out of us.

Was it all the same person that wrote the music and make the lyrics, or did you do it together?

Kirsi: When we started it was quite fast. I had written a lot of different little things, and then when Eicca started to do the songs, suddenly, he compose a lot of songs and do the demos for me, it was quite easy. And after that we played together, and in the end of the process also Samu brings two songs, and we all liked them very much, and on some other song there is also Samu's lyrics...

Samu: It was quite a natural process, everybody brought something.

Kirsi: And also some songs, when Eicca did the demo, might sound really heavy... I like heavy, you know, but we said that's not what we do.

Samu: That was some Black Sabbath ! (Laughs)

Kirsi: So we started to bring colors for example in Samu's playing... It's not a different stuff, but we give it a different shape and color etc. So after the change maybe some heavy songs are not heavy songs anymore, they're really something else.

Samu: But there's still some heavy sounding songs, a little bit. Old school heavy, at least.

The majority of your songs are in Finnish, except "Highway".

Kirsi: Well, the text is also in Finnish, it's only the name. Samu was composing a song, then I wrote the lyrics and it's in Finnish. We decided to put the name in Finnish, but then...

Samu: It was just a title, but you know because it was a really straightforward song...

Kirsi: Like driving two thousand kilometers on the highway, really fast! (Both laugh)

Samu: And I think you got that very well with the lyrics, these are very straight lyrics, like when you go on the highway, but it's in Finnish anyway.

Kirsi: And then we changed the name back to "Highway". I think I want to keep it "Highway"!

Samu: Yeah, because we gave it also a Finnish name, but "Highway" was better.

For the lyrics, you want to keep always the Finnish language, not write in English?

Kirsi: Yes, always.

Antti Hyyrynen worked with you for your last two video clips ("Sekaisin" and "Rautaa vai rakkauta"). Why did you chose him and how did it come to this footage?

Kirsi: I discovered the band Stam1na something like nine years ago, and after that, quite soon I was listening to a lot of their stuff, and going to the gigs, and we became friends very quickly with the whole band. And then Antti asked me to act, because I did act in a lot of videos of other bands and other kind of stuff like that. Then we worked together a lot, and after that we were so good friends that it was quite easy for me to ask Anti to direct our first video for our song, because we wanted to do our first video just for fun, for ourselves. That's why we chose Antti. And it was really easy to take also our first single, when we did it, because we were a little bit afraid: "Oh, our old song, let's do it with Antti". (Laughs) And also because the guys came to know him about one year ago and they got very well along. It was very easy for everybody. Because it's not always easy to be in front of the cameras when you are playing.

Samu: It was also the same team from one video to the other, so you get to know the people.

Kirsi: Yes, it was so familiar to do the other stuff again. And Antti is the only person who had seen my lyrics, who had read them, because I was so afraid, but he said "No no, I like them!"

Your another single was released today ("Lemmenpeitto") and there will be a video clip with Ville Juurikkala. Did you already shoot the video?

Kirsi: Yes, yesterday! I am just coming from meeting Ville , because he wanted to show me the clips, he was so excited about the shooting. I saw him quickly. Because we got to know each other about six years ago, or more. Ville has done a lot of work with Apocalyptica. I also asked Ville, earlier, when I knew that we where going to do our own music: "Do you want to make a video with us?"

During your gigs, you play alot of covers, what do these songs mean to you, why choose those.

Kirsi: We have listened to a lot of music and then there were lots of songs that we had never even started to practice, lot we have played only in rehearsals, but never live and... We have played really much.

Samu: And if somebody didn't like the song, then "I don't really want to do this song", then we don't do it because it's really a democratic way that everyone wants to do the songs.

You play mostly in bars, what does it make you feel to be at the beginning of the band, as a leader, and how does it enlighten you on what Eicca already lived during his career with Apocalyptica?

Kirsi: You know, I think it"s kind of the same way when I was younger, because I"m an actor in my "real" work, so when you start to do something that you really do have a passion for, like acting for me. So, first I have a small production somewhere, and we"re just acting and doing plays with friends. Then you get educated, and it's your profession and then you get bigger and bigger, and the stage, and the TV. So I think it's just the same work somehow. And it's also important when you are big somewhere or have done some big things, like in acting, as an actor I've acted on the main stage of the National Theatre many times, and in many places. But you know, even at the same time I can go with some actor, and we have a comedy for two people, we go to some bar and sit there, with only two chairs. It's important to do all kinds of things because it's only a question of telling stories and giving energy and feelings. It's nice, you know, and also Eicca has to answer for himself, because we do everything by ourselves, because we have done all these things all ourselves. That's why we are really one up, because we are adults we do not dream about anything anymore because everyone already has a career. We really love this thing now, and it's nice to keep it. I don't know if I really answered your question! (Laughs)

That's okay!

Samu: I must say that it's also like a beginning for Eicca because he started playing drums and he loved it from the beginning and he's been doing the same process.

Because he comes from a huge band, I could say, and now he comes from...

Samu : Yeah, but still you know it's like to start from zero. It doesn't matter that we have very small places to play. People knew Eicca and Kirsi before... It doesn't mean that this work could be rushed. You have to work, do a lot of work, that's what we've been doing! (Laughter)

Kirsi, you said you are an actress. When did you decide to become a singer or is it something you liked?

Kirsi: It was just... suddenly! It happened there in our home, because it started there, it just happened and it gave fire to this thing and it became my passion doing this band thing. I didn't plan anything, you know, this Cherry and the Vipers thing, it was just our road...

Samu: Maybe you just wanted a small break from acting, just doing something a little different...

Kirsi: Yeah, something small and nobody telling me "do this" and "do that" because when you are an actor you are always chosen to do some role and you're always working in front of eyes. When you are practicing a play in the theatre there is always the director watching you, and after this comes the audience. And when you are doing TV it's always the whole group (TV crew) and always a camera and the audience and everybody's watching you all the time. I've done this for 20 years so I wanted a little break to have some fun and all! (Laughs)

And what do you prefer, being an actress or a singer?

Kirsi: It's kind of the same work you know, somehow the basis is the same thing. You wanna tell stories. It's very difficult to try to explain it in English! (They all laugh) There are very difficult questions! (Laughs)

Samu: It"s very good changing the mood anyway, because like a month ago we did one gig, it was in a theater in the west part of Finland during the summer. And was a comedy, cause she did two shows in the daytime and we had a Vipers gig in the evening. It was quite a date. (laughter)

As a singer, which singer inspires you the most?

Kirsi: Which singers? Soooooo many! Oh my God. Many of them are from Finland, you know... Ismo Alanko, Hyrde (Veli Antti "Hyrde" Hyyrynen )... Dave Grohl... I don't know! Many! (She Laughs)

So, what changes has the band brought to you?

Kirsi: It's a totally new kind of career for me and I have never been with the same people all the time, the same group. I was all the time with different people in the theatre or on TV, so it's the first time I have a whole group, just these three people and me. We have grown together for years. So it's really the first time. And it's an opportunity to learn new things!

Samu: Of course it makes me happy playing in different places, many times. I'm happy we've had so many gigs, there're a lot of possibilities to do what we like, because I can play and I like to play with this band so... I'm very happy to work with them.

How do you see the future of the band?

Kirsi: The light is still really bright! (All laugh)

Eicca, how does it feel to play drums now? Leave cello for drums?

Eicca: It feel great, it's a lot of fun. Of course it's always cool to learn new things. When we started playing, my drumming really wasn't very good, but by playing the shows and learning all the things... It's really fun. And it's also a lot different from Apocalyptica, you know, being always in the front. People have expectations for Apocalyptica shows, and it's so different with Cherry. We just go somewhere, most of the people don't even know us, they don't know the band, they just come to the show and they just freak out. It's a lot of fun then.

I know you used to play it when your were a child?

Eicca: Yes, a little bit. But then I didn't play for almost ten years, erm, twenty years before this band.

You had a lot to do this year with Apocalyptica, did you at least have time to rest, because you have a lot of projects?

Eicca: I don't know rest. What does that mean? (Laughs) Actually I've been working a lot. I had like one or two months in autumn [2012], when we had our last shows with Apocalyptica in China, and then I didn't do so much for one of two months, but then started Wagner, and at the same time I started to write songs for Cherry, but this is actually for me always holiday when I don't need to travel. It's the pressure that "now ok I have to leave after five days and I need to do this and this and this before I leave, and then I'll come back from tour and there will be things to take care of," so it's been relaxing that I've been able to do timings for days, and weeks, and this I don't know, "I don't want to work today I'll work tomorrow..." But it's been fun, both projects have been so enjoyable. Wagner it's been massive work, there's a lot of music, I wrote one hour of totally new compositions for the piece. But it was great to write the Wagner thing, and then the Cherry songs at the same time, because it was nice to change from one style to another, because some days I was more in the mood to write some things for Wagner, or in the mood to write songs for Cherry, so I think it worked great. At the moment I don't feel too relaxed, because it's been busy all August, but it's good, it's good.

I personally saw the Wagner shows...

Eicca: Yes, we will release a live CD out of it. The full show, because we don't really use the Wagner songs, because the orchestra it was hardcore to sync for them, and the orchestra wasn't as big as a regular Wagner orchestra is, so... But we'll release all the songs that I wrote for the piece, all the new Apocalyptica stuff, on this live CD, in November. With Apocalyptica we have one extra Wagner show in end of September (Actually postponed to June 2014), and around the same time we'll start talking about a new studio album, and start to write songs, and slowly come back together.

As a drummer now, which drummer inspires you most?

Eicca: I'm not used to have these kind of idols, that this is the greatest... There are so many different great drummers. But of course, from my own history, Dave Lombardo was always a great professional. And I like Lars Ulrich. Some people say he's not good because he's not always in time, but I like his style. He plays music, not just drums, it's a completely different approach, and I think my drumming is also a bit closer to his approach to play drums. I'm not super critical with the time. I don't practice, you know, I don't decide what kind of feel I play, it's always on the moment, what I feel on stage, the kind of impulses I get from them, I just live it on the moment. My favorite drummers are not the most technical ones. I like the ones that have an original style and sound. And of course Mikko Siren in one of my favorite drummers. Really, I like his style very much. I've been fan of his style a long time, it's great that he's been able to great a style that I'm able to recognize in any band he plays. When I hear his drumming, I an say "hey, it's Mikko playing". That's something for drummer, to create a unique stuff.

And what do you think about Cherry comparing with Apocalyptica?

Eicca: They are two different worlds, though the origin is the same - making music. Playing in Cherry is kind of getting back to the roots, like, you know, playing in some old bars, do everything by ourselves, driving a car, do all the road stuff. It's a little funny, we are selling out all the shows in old bars, and when we come to play there - it's really like be back to the roots, like a teenage band.

I've also tried to be on the background in this band, so to say, because I feel it's more Kirsi's band, she is leading the theme, and I am very happy to be in that role that I just play drums. Of course, I can take care of a lot of practical things around the band, but it's my habit. It's really enjoyable to be on the background, because in Apocalyptica I'm always in the front, leading, I take care of the most of the things, in Apocalyptica we have an exact structure of the things, it's not so flexible to make big changes, except for the stage - that's the place, where we can make quick changes. And in Cherry - we are free, we can do whatever we like, how we feel and don't care about what other people think about it. And that's great to have such a freedom.

And you still... because you only play in Finland.

Eicca: Yeah, it's easy to do, touring is so easy: we go somewhere, next day we come home, or even the same night, like today. We don't have a lot of gigs this autumn, just in the South of Finland, it's so different, it's more like "Hey, let's go party and play a show". You know, like a party weekend, but also working at the same time, but that doesn't feel like work, actually, comparing to Apocalyptica, when we go touring for 3 weeks and every day is the same routine - we are on the road in the bus, then the interview, sound check and the show. Which is fun as well, but that's the great difference. Playing in Apocalyptica is like working in a big corporation, and playing in Cherry is like working in a small independent company. Trying to figure something new and crazy. And that's actually what we are trying to get back with Apocalyptica.

Now we start to think about the next album and the music for the next album, we decided that we are not going to listen to anyone outside the band, we just gather, 4 of us, and start talking about music, write music, play music, and only on that point that we are really sure: this is exactly what we want to do and this is exactly how we want the album to sound - we can start talk to other people. Because in Apocalyptica's world there are always a lot of people, who want to get involved in the process, you know, they tell you to do this and this kind of a song, to get the rotation on the radio, blah blah blah, too many people trying to get involved in the creative part, now we want to get all the power back to us. And we'll fire everybody, hahaha, joking. We just do what we like, if other people like that too - that's great.

So, would you like to play somewhere else than in Finland?

Kirsi: Well we haven't planned it but maybe someday! (All laugh) Well put our things in the car and drive somewhere!

Somewhere in Scandinavia for instance?

Kirsi: Maybe! I don't know! Or maybe in Estonia!

Eicca: Yeah, Estonia, for sure, and maybe Russia. I think, there are a lot of places we would go to play small gigs. There are so many people who are fans of Finland, or like Finnish bands in general, and there are also so many people that they don't care so much about the language. They aren't stuck on language and with the Finnish language of course you can"t get big audiences with the strange language of Finland. But of course you can always get those places that you can take your small van, have all the beer in the small van and drive around, and go to play some place for 50 people. And, that's fun! That's rock and roll.

Why not in France? (Laughs)

Eicca: Yeah, yeah...

Kirsi: France? Yeah why not!

Samu (to the interwier): You are from France?

Yeah and we are not so far from Finland! (All laugh)

So, thank you for your time! Have a nice gig!

Interview: Morgane

Special thanks for the help to:
Vordai Mercier, Claire Desoulle, Tatiana Kos, Michelle Schoofs, Yulia Bessonova.

© Apocalyptica France team,
©, 2013

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