Symphony of destruction

Original French article: Isabelle Le Maguet (Rock Hard, #69, 2007)

           

"Many a mickle makes a muckle", is a good proverb, and fits very well to Apocalyptica's case. Each time they come to France the size of the venues is enlarging and the number of their adepts is expanding quite significatively. Though, at its beginnings, the band had many detractors who couldn't conceive metal without guitars… Or couldn't associate metal and cellos! No matter…Since then, the Finns have walked quite a long road, and it's with Worlds Collide they come back to the front of the scene, a place they specially like. On the 12th of July, in Berlin, Germany, we discovered Apocalyptica's 6th album, and were impressed, to say the least. This record, in addition of being full of guest-collaborations, also shows a coming-back to a more intense and fiery music, which metal and hard-rock fan should easily love. Two good reasons to dwell on the vast Apocalyptica's subject which destroyed without any hesitation musical patterns' routine with its divine symphonies, for a moment.

You played an enormous number of concerts after the release of Apocalyptica, your last album. Isn't this kind of schedule hard to stand?

Perttu: Frankly, it is! You can see it just by taking a look at us (laughter)! Seriously, it's true that all the long travels we've done on the roads all over the world have been particularly exhausting, but the warm welcome that we received gave us the strength to go on. To face the demand, which was constantly increasing since the release of the new record, was no bed of roses, but it's so good to feel supported and appreciated. Instead of frightening us, this growing interest motivated us, and allowed us to gather all our strength to go and conquer new territories.

Eicca: We could probably have reduced a bit the number of gigs and play only the most important of them, the " necessary " ones. But to perform constantly in the same places doesn't help the band to develop the way it should and to the top of popularity. That's why we barely refuse an offer, and don't hesitate to go to more remote countries or cities, where few bands usually play. Still it's clear that this strategy requires more energy, and many sacrifices. To stay on the road more than the half of the year is not compatible with a normal family life. You have to accept to make concessions, and that's not always easy. The encroachment on everyday life is definitely harder to manage than the intense physical efforts needed by these long tours. I don't know how the musicians that play in several bands and are always on tour deal with that. They must have no life outside, it's impossible! Of course, we tour a lot, but the moment comes where we need a long break, to enjoy our families and recharge our batteries. Perttu: On the other hand, we are now impatient to go back on the road. Our last tour is far away and World Collides, our album, necessited more than nine months of hard work. We really feel the need to let loose on stage!

Eicca: It's true that the massive tour makes us see the big world, and I miss it a bit, now. Moreover the long Life Burns tour ended with very exotic places, South America, Lebanon, and Balkanic countries. Playing there was very exiting, and we'll try to do this again, once we will finish Europe, USA, and summer festivals in 2008.

A comment about the tour you did as a support band for Rammstein?

It was quite a help, especially in France and in the UK. In the other countries, Rammstein's audience knew the band already; it didn't have a big impact on our popularity. In Serbia, for example we sold as many tickets as Rammstein.

There are five years between the "Live" and the "Life Burns Tour" DVD, released last year. When you compare these performances, what are the main differences you see, apart of course the addition of drums?

First, we've matured a lot (laughter)! Over the years, we've gained more freedom, on our playing level and on the show level. Both have better timing, and in a rhythmic point of view, the cellos have more room. We are also more self-assured than we used to be. Our first DVD was recorded during the Cult era, the period of our career where we were the most under pressure, 'cause we wanted to show that Apocalyptica was really playing metal, and not some kind of classical music. We were caring a lot about giving intense performances and had a corresponding attitude to this message. Our behaviour on stage is much more natural today, as well as the interaction we have with the audience.

Last year, you also delivered a Best-of, Amplified. Was it really useful, or was this record part of the deal you had with Universal Records, that you left since for Sony BMG?

Both (laughter)! We always wanted to offer something special to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the release of our first album. In 1996, or even two years after when we recorded Inquisition Symphony, nobody would have bet a dime on Apocalyptica, and neither we thought we would go so far. A compilation album showing our evolution seemed a good way to mark the occasion.

Do you think about re-recording some of your old tracks with your drummer, Mikko Siren?

Nothing is certain. For the moment, we just play some of them live, like "Struggle", for example, which allows the fans to discover what these songs sound like with drums. Though, it's not impossible that forthcoming single's B-Sides are used which didn't have drums originally. Some times ago, Mikko, Paavo and I participated to a dance show, organized by a renowned choreographer. For this occasion, we played tracks we never performed live before, like "Coma", "Leave Me Alone" and even "Beyond Time", on which drums were added. We liked this experience a lot, but unfortunately the show, that lasted 40 minutes, has not been recorded.

Mikko became an official band member. In which way did his new status influed on Worlds Collide recording?

Mikko had a more important part in the composition process, which led us in changing our work method. This time, drums were included since the beginning, whereas previously we had the bad habit to add it only when cello parts were written. In this way, the two instruments are on the same wavelength and blend much better. The tremendous number of gigs we've played with Mikko makes us a very bonded band, and this can be clearly heard on Worlds Collide.

On this record, there are many prestigious guests: Dave Lombardo from Slayer (Last Hope), Till Lindemann from Rammstein (Helden), Cristina Scabbia from Lacuna Coil (S.O.S. Anything But Love), Corey Taylor from Slipknot and Stone Sour (I'm Not Jesus), all coming from metal world, while those that were appearing on Apocalyptica, your previous album, were more from rock music (Ville Valo from HIM, Lauri Ylonen from The Rasmus, Manu from Dolly). The whole album is also more intense than his precedor. Did you decide to come back to the roots?

Perttu: I'm happy of what you say, because personally, my biggest fear was that we realise a record that would sound too pop. When we started to work on Worlds Collide, I felt like that it was taking a too soft direction, and I was relieved to discover that the final result had quite ba**s.

Eicca: It's true that when I finally listened to the final version, I effectively thought that its rhythm was really sustained, which I didn't remark when recording the tracks one by one. That means we didn't conceive it on that purpose! (laughter)! The guest list really seems to point a "metal revival", but you have to know that we would have liked to have Pink, and even Tori Amos to appear on that record, which would have sounded differently. Whatever its dominant style, Worlds collide is at least less messy than our precedent LP's. In the past we tended to overdo the thing to the disadvantage of what was important. We have learned to identify our priorities and this technique is working really well, 'cause the intensity never dumbs down, and there's also room left for new sonorities.

Why did you choose those artists in particular?

There are musicians we appreciate the work and with whom we wanted to collaborate. Generally our choices depend on the songs themselves. When a track needs feminine vocals, we agree on a list of singers we had the occasion to meet already or whom we like the performances. When we don't know personally the artist that we want to reach, we contact her record company, an intermediary which then proves effective in finalizing the project. For Worlds Collide, we were pretty lucky, because most people we thought of responded positively. However, there are some songs that we could not use because we were unable to get the singer we wanted. Contrary to what people may think, it's never easy to set up this kind of collaboration. Between the groups that are on tour and those who are locked in the studio, conflicting schedules are common and you must be able to manage those parameters.

Some musicians are obliged to refuse, because they dislike being disturbed when they work on their own album, on which they need to be fully focused. It's an attitude we perfectly understand, because we have refused some offers for that same reason. Labels policies can also be a problem. For example, our record can't be released at the same time as one of our guest's, because it could weaken its topicality, same for a single. Again, having been faced with the opposite situation, we accept the fact.

All these guests are coming from different countries. Have you thought in terms of marketing and sales when you contacted them?

Not at all. It's true it may seems intentional, 'cause we even have a Japanese guest on the album! But the fact is we didn't think of him at the beginning. Honestly I don't even remember when and how we met Tomayasu Hotei (note from journalist: very notorious Japanese composer) but it appears that he loves Apocalyptica. For reasons I don't know, our respective managements took contact, and our manager then asked us if we were interested to have him on the album. At the end of the day, this collaboration is of course a good selling point in Japan, because he is famous there, but his presence on Worlds Collide was not at all expected. This does not prevent us from really loving what he does. We know his work, notably by the Kill Bill soundtrack, and we were enthusiastic when we were asked to work together. Same, Adam Gontier's name (from Canadian band Three Days Grace), was submitted to us by the US pole of our label. They did some propositions that we refused, but we were impressed by this artist's vocal timbre. Coincidentally we were actually searching for a hoarse voice for the song "I Don't Care", so we just jumped on the occasion. Last, we chose Cristina Scabbia because she's really talented: her voice is one of the most interesting ones of the metal scene.

Who are the other personalities you would like to collaborate with?

There are tons! We got in touch with Jonathan Davis (Korn), but also with Serj Tankian (System of a Down) who was in the middle of composing for his solo project, which explains why he couldn't join us. Like I said we also thought about Pink, but she was unfortunately too busy. We wrote a song just for her, and we hope to be able to concretise it one day in the future.

Helden, the German cover of David Bowie's "Heroes", sung by Till Lindemann, is particularly impressive. How did you convince him?

We had already planned to work together two years ago while we were composing Repressed (Note by Journalist: song recorded for the release of the Amplified best-of). Initially, Till should have sung on this track, but it didn't happen and Max (Cavalera, from Soulfly & Cavalera Conspiracy, ex-Sepultura) and Matt Tuck (Bullet for My Valentine) finally took his place. As our bands appreciate each other and that Till still wanted to do something, we knew that this was still in store. We just had to find the proper occasion to meet up again, and that David Bowie's cover was the one, particularly because we didn't want to offer Till to sing on a tune close to Rammstein's; that would have been uninteresting, both for him and for us. Making this song has been a challenge for him, because the track has already a lot of personality by itself, and the fact that it is arranged in Apocalyptica mode made the exercise more difficult (laughter)!

This cover is also less conventional than the one we get used from your part…

Sure! Before we work on a cover we prefer to find an original point of view to show a difference. We need to feel that something special happens when we revisit a song.

Have you ever thought about doing a gig without any covers?

That could be possible, but then our fans would be disappointed. They partly buy their tickets to hear Metallica's cover and it would be really unfair not to give them this pleasure. When we are on stage, we are there to entertain people and make them happy. We sort of put ourselves to their service, and these songs are part of it.

Joe Duplantier (Gojira) was supposed to be part of the guests of Worlds Collide, why doesn't he finally appear on the album?

His participation was announced a little bit too fast. We've recorded a demo with Joe earlier this year, but Jacob Hellner, our producer, found it was too different from the rest of the album and it would be unwise to include it. We followed his advice, and as we had nearly thirty songs available, it wasn't difficult to choose another one in replacement. The funniest is that Jacob recently listened again to the demos we'd done, and he completely changed his mind on this track! He said "why didn't we keep it, it's awesome"! Unfortunately it was far too late to include it on Worlds Collide, and even with all the doable work, we wouldn't had been able to finalize it on time. But it's not lost, and we'll find a way to use it one day. Moreover it is an interesting song in the sense that its style is both far from Apocalyptica and Gojira It rather reminds of Slayer's and Sepultura's first tracks. So it's really fast (laughter)! When we met in Paris to record it, Joe even told me that he had never sang like that before. This guy is extremely talented, and I really enjoyed our collaboration.

Ion is an excellent instrumental track, but it would be very conducive to the addition of vocals. What is the determinant factor for that kind of decision?

Generally, it's quite obvious. When we composed I'm not Jesus, it was evident that this song had a lot of potential and was getting particularly well with the addition of vocal lines. In most cases, instrumentals express themselves, but sometimes, some of them require a particular type of voice. When we can't find the perfect fit, we prefer to put the stuff aside rather than record it with an inadequate singer or release a half-way instrumental.

Is it important for you to keep a balance between instrumentals and sung tracks?

Absolutely. On Worlds Collide, there are vocals on four songs, which is really the maximum. Instrumentals have to be the major part of the album, 'cause they are our trademark. I disagree with some of the fans who consider Apocalyptica as an ordinary rock/metal band. We are foremost an instrumental band, and this major characteristic will always make us off-standard. On the other hand, there are also people who beef after singing, drums and distortion and who don't like the way we evolved. They must be really boring (laughter)! Of course a song like I'm Not Jesus takes us away from our original style, but its quality is worth taking the risk.

About the words, did each guest participate to write lyrics, the same way Max Cavalera had finalised those of Repressed?

No, not this time, I co-wrote "I don't care" with an American friend of mine, who did those of "I'm Not Jesus" and "S.O.S. Anything but love". Personally I don't think I' m a lyricist at heart, and furthermore it's difficult for me to express myself in steady English.

Over the years, you enriched your music with the singing, and then drums. On Worlds Collide, it's the guitar of Tomoyasu Hotei that makes its appearance on a song (Grace). Are all these additions the proof that finally cellos cannot express everything?

Everything has its limit, but so far we have been able to express what we had in mind. After carrying out several albums, all of which have duration, we have to propose something new. Without that, our style would become monotonous, and people would get tired of us. Sometimes a song is good, but it lacks a little something so that it has a certain impact. In that case, we try to find this thing that will make the stuff different. Having that done by cellos is not crucial. If a track needs a guitar, we bring it into the song, and if it requires a few piano lines, like I Don't Care, for example, we don't hesitate to add some. The most important thing is to obtain good music, whatever the way we use to reach that.

Worlds Collide is a title that fits particularly well to this new album. Is it a reference to the meeting of rock, metal and classical music?

That can be a meaning, because many styles are effectively colliding on this album, and more generally in Apocalyptica's universe. The notion associated with Worlds Collide is more in an abstract level, and everybody can finally use his personal interpretation. For us this title is significative in the way that, with this album, we will try to seduce new audiences, the ones that were so far reluctant about that mix between genres we offer.

Do you think some of your fans started listening to classical music because of you?

Absolutely! We've received many messages from people who, after discovering our music, developed interest for classical music and became addicted. In the contrary, some who couldn't stand metal changed their mind and listen to it constantly. Some of the fans even started to learn Finnish (laughter)!

Paavo: We're lucky enough to have open-minded fans, coming from different horizons and having different ages. During our gigs, we always enjoy to see the youngest at the front rows headbanging, and the oldest sitting in the back of the hall, enjoying the show in their own way. Nowadays too many bands and fans stay stuck in their small worlds. They don't bother to take a look around and open to the world they live in. Our audience, at the contrary, is made of people that made the effort to go out of their bubble, and search for new emotions. It's a permanent challenge for us to keep on pleasing them.

Is classical music press still ignoring you?

Eicca: Yeah, nothing changed about that. These journalists keep on having nothing to do with us at all, and we're really fine with that. Maybe we are not good enough for them? (Laughter) People from the classical scene tend to think they are part of an elite and so try to protect themselves from what comes from outside and is different. More, they are often winging about rock and metal bands who, they pretend, "steal" the state subsidies. So, the climate is a bit tense.

Paavo: Some journalists gave us a few marks of interest, though. Here I'm thinking of a music critic who works for the biggest Finnish newspaper and who bothered to make a chronicle of Apocalyptica. He wrote only positive stuff, which has touched us a lot. Even if this press doesn't adore us, I think we inspire them a certain respect, what is at least a good thing. It's hardly noticeable, but we make a good promotion for classical music, and cellos are a little bit more fashionable. Because of us, kids that are actually learning to play can see that what they are taught in can be useful, but also that the instrument' possibilities are infinite.

When you created Apocalyptica, was breaking the lines between the styles your main goal?

We didn't have any goal at that time (laughter)! In the beginning, we just wanted to have fun playing Metallica covers, and we didn't mean to make a band. We didn't even have a name when we had the opportunity to record the first album! We all were thinking to have a career in classical music, so Apocalyptica stayed a hobby for quite a while.

The number of your collaborations with strangers is always increasing. Is it to say that Apocalyptica is more a European, if not International band than a Finnish one?

Perttu: As individuals, we undeniably have a typical Finnish character, but as a band, it's true that we feel more European. As you said, our music is a melting-pot of many nationalities, and the crew that helps us is also international, which explains that Finland only has a small place in our world. Eicca: The mood of " Apocalyptica " album was quite Finnish, first because we composed it at my place, in full country side, but also with the presence of Ville Valo and Lauri Ylonen. Worlds Collide has effectively been confronted with more international influences, and it's clear that a track like " I'm Not Jesus " sounds really American. That said, it's not that important for us to wave the Finnish flag in every occasion. We are proud to come from Finland, but it has nothing more than other countries.

About that, were you happy to represent Finland as guests at the last Eurovision contest?

To be honest, we were representing more Apocalyptica than Finland (laughter)! The organisation guys, whom we know well, begged us to participate to this event. In the end we accepted, at the condition express that we would play what we wanted. We had fun to do it, even if this ceremony was typically Finnish, I.E. terribly boring!

Perttu: So we tried to give a more international or exotic touch to the show (laughter)!

Eicca: It's true that our attitude and the mood of our performance have finally shown that there's something else than this smooth and prim Eurovision scene.

Insert: Who is Mikko Siren?

We took the opportunity of this meeting in Berlin to ask a few questions to Mikko Siren, drummer and light-hearted fellow of the guys, and now official member of Apocalyptica.

Could you talk a bit about your personal history?

Mikko: I play drums since I'm 9. Before that I used to play violin, but as I didn't want to end up gay, I chose a manlier instrument (laughter)! I was surrounded by music since my youngest age, because my parents were true music lovers. I have hundred of photos with me around 3 or 4, where you can see me with headphones and drumstick, headbanging with my mother. I think that was a sign of fate! Before being an Apocalyptica member, I took part in a few Finnish pop and rock bands. I was quite a lot in the electronic music, and house and trance scene.

What are the differences between playing in a "regular" band and being part of Apocalyptica?

Mikko:Mainly the arrangements, which are often hard. In a lambda band, guitars are put more on the foreground, which can't be done in Apocalyptica. The guys have to be on the same level, on the contrary, and that's not a simple thing to manage with. We also had to create a common language to understand each others. Since I don't come from the same musical scene like Paavo, Perttu and Eicca, we had to find a common ground, so that we can work in complete harmony.

What would be your own description of Worlds Collide, on which you had quite an impact?

Mikko: think this album is much more intense than Apocalyptica. We wanted to release a really captivating record and the result is very satisfying. Even the slower tracks catch your attention and don't dump this dominant intensity. Its " acrimony " also makes it less accessible at the first listening. Our producer, Jacob Hellner pushed us on our very limits, and our efforts, combined with his talent, gave an incomparable power to our respective instruments.

English translation by Vordaï, © 2008

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