Striking the chord - interview with Apocalyptica

Original french interview by Morgan Rivalin - Interview June 10, 2010 in Paris,
Rock Hard magazine

English translation - Vordaï Mercier

This August 23 will see the release of 7th Symphony, the seventh album of Apocalyptica's Finnish cellists. Under this little bit pompous title lies the worthy successor of Worlds Collide, another album full of often catchy singles, incarnated by confirmed singers, but also rough yet delicate instrumentals. We talked with the sympathetic Eicca Toppinen (Cello) and Mikko Siren (drums) whom we shall meet again Oct. 31 on stage at the Zenith in Paris.

RockHard: Worlds Collide (2007) has been more successful than any of your other records, especially in United States. How do you explain it?

Eicca: Sure enough it's a combination of several elements. But I think above all it's a good album! "I Don't Care" the single sang by Adam Gontier was an enormous hit on the US rock radio stations, but that's probably the favorable word of mouth of people who had listened to the whole album that impacted the most. From our part, we were doubtlessly more ready to "face" the American market, which is very hard. We worked a lot, but without focusing on the USA at 100 %. In France, we gave more concerts than usual and, every time, we played in front of a more and more important public. The last time, we played at the Olympia and next October, we will have a gig at the Zйnith. It’s wonderful to see that our efforts pay!

Mikko: When I arrived in Apocalyptica in 2003, we were playing in tiny venues with only 3 spotlights! It’s changed a lot...

RockHard: With the hindsight, are there still things you would like to have improved on Worlds Collide?

Mikko: Yes, of course! I think that the album’s singles were very striking ones, but we should have done better for the instrumental tracks. In my opinion, they were clearly inferior to the Cult (2003) ones, for example. I must say that we really had dedicated a lot of time and energy to the vocal titles... With 7th Symphony, we wanted to propose instrumental tracks which are really out of the ordinary, richer, longer, more progressive...Anyways, more interesting to listen to than ever.

Eicca: In the past all the demos we were accumulating could become either vocal pieces or instrumental tracks. In the case we were finally choosing the instrumental option, we ended with a tune within which a cello was playing the vocal line. It was a bit like listening a song without singing! It was for sure a little bit strange. Today, we make a clear distinction between our instrumental compositions and our songs. As a result, we have numerous demos of songs which don't appear on 7th Symphony and which we will probably use later. We wanted to have no more than four vocal tracks on the album and we didn't limit ourselves for the instrumental titles....

Mikko: It's this way that a title as "Beautiful" was able to be recorded. It's really different from all that we made in the past.

RockHard: I've read you recorded it completely naked...

Mikko: A strange choice of reading you have! (Laughs)
But it's true! First I must say that in Finland to undress is a very serious thing. It's even cultural for us. So when our producer, Joe Barresi (Tool, Enslaved), told us that, on "Beautiful", he wanted us to lay bare, we take him at his word! (Laughs) He was more talking of a minimalist musical approach, straightforward, but he let us do it, and he quite liked what we recorded in our birthday suits....

Eicca: Mikko, who's not the last when it's about messing around, started the stripping thing, and we've all imitated him! Joe couldn't believe his eyes! But I'm not sure he appreciated the view that much! (Laughs)

RockHard: Was that very much crucial moment filmed?

Eicca: Yes... Here, I realize moreover at the moment that I do not know where these tapes are! It's potentially very dangerous in the Internet era! (Laughs)

Mikko: If the video is put on YouTube, we lose all our fans in the second! (Laughs)

RockHard: Vocal tracks that appear in 7th Symphony have been once more written or co-written by composers who aren't members of the band. How do these collaborations usually occur?

Eicca: It's always different. Composers who solicit us send us some music, lyrics, sometimes both. When it comes to find the right singer for the right song, it can become sort of a jigsaw! You have to have quite a good imagination to figure out the final result, when we will have personalized the track in our own way... It's not always easy.

RockHard: Was it the case for “Not Strong Enough”, the tune with a Bon Jovi flavor, sung by Brent Smith (Shinedown) and written by Diane Warren (Aerosmith, Toni Braxton) who officiates a lot in Pop Music?

Eicca: Yes, absolutely. She simply played the song on piano, and I immediately loved it. But when it came to making it an Apocalyptica song, we suffered a lot! Finally, Mikko found the arrangement that fit, in our opinion.

Mikko: Eicca had already tried a lot of things, and he was about to give up when I got down to the job. I understand some can see a link with Bon Jovi songs, 'cause the single is very catchy. It's a nice compliment! But though, even if the melody is the same, I can guarantee that the song you can hear on 7th Symphony has nothing else in common anymore with the original demo! Anyway, we wouldn't content ourselves with a track that wouldn't sound like Apocalyptica, as captivating as it might be...

RockHard: But then what would you do if a composer proposes you a very good song, already finalized, and whose sound fits in with Apocalyptica?

Eicca: Then we would be as dumb as can be not to use it! (Laughs) A good song's a good song, let's leave it at that!

RockHard: Do the singers with whom you collaborate often want to put their style on the material you propose to them?

Eicca: We always supply to them finalized tunes, but generally they modify some words here or there, or add their own choruses to put themselves into the song. Very often, reading the lyrics, they say to us: "I wouldn't have said that in this way ", and propose to us something else. So there are small changes, and we understand it. A singer is a kind of actor. He has to feel comfortable with what he says to deliver a convincing performance...

Mikko: We're always happy when it happens. It means that said artist got involved in the song's recording, and that's what we are searching for. That's what occurred with Gavin Rossdale (Bush, Institute) who even have co-written "End Of Me" with Eicca and Johnny Andrews ( Widescreen, The 69 Eyes) (Editor's note: a singer/composer who already worked on Worlds Collide's tracks sung by Corey Taylor and Cristina Scabbia).

Eicca: But nevertheless, most of the time, because these musicians are very busy with their respective groups, we supply them "turnkey" tracks, so to speak.

RockHard: During Worlds Collide promotion you had already evoked collaboration with Joe Duplantier of Gojira. Was the version of "Bring Them To Light" we can hear on 7th Symphony recorded in 2007?

Eicca: No, it's very recent. In 2007, it was only a demo. At the time, our label heard that I had composed a title with Joe and announced this information in the press, but it was a little bit premature.... Furthermore, the song on which we had worked together was, according to the others members of the band, very too much heavy and brutal for Worlds Collide. We put it aside and had a little bit forgotten it until we fell again on this demo, while looking for something a little bit more powerful for 7th Symphony. This track doesn't have a real Gojira style, or an Apocalyptica one, it's what makes its strength!

RockHard: Joe Barresi must have been delighted to work with Joe Duplantier, as he had already told about the wish to produce a Gojira album...

Eicca: It's true! Joe went to Joe's... I mean to Joe Barresi's place, to Pasadena, in California, to record his vocal parts. He was in the USA at that moment so everything sorted out well. I heard that both Joes completely hit it off.

RockHard: Speaking about Joe Barresi, why did you decide to set your choice on him?

Eicca: We liked his previous works. Whether it is with Tool, Queens Of The Stone Age or other Scandinavian bands as Enslaved, Joe showed that he liked to work with groups who are out of the ordinary. He knows how to adapt to bands that often possess a unique sound. Joe is fascinated by the sound in a broad sense. He's a big lover of vintage amps and a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to effects, which was very precious for us in a period of work on those instrumentals that are more substantial than ever. When I met him, one year ago, I quickly understood that he was the right man for the job.

RockHard: Did you move to USA for logistic reasons, or do you always live in Finland?

Mikko: We still live in Finland. At the exception of a member of the band who wished to leave Helsinki for a quieter place, we live where we have always lived. Nevertheless, these last years, our record company effectively often suggested us to move to USA...

Eicca: We refuse that. Naturally, it would be the dream for them to have us all the time at their disposal. We would be their small puppets! (Laughs) There is no chance that it ever occurs. We make things our own way or we don't make them. In this job, it is essential to know how to tell "no" and to keep a maximum of control or people will erode you before you notice it. It is according to me the main danger menacing young groups. They have the impression to have to make absolutely everything they're asked and often finish imploding in full ascent.

RockHard: Did you sometimes feel that this danger was threatening you?

Mikko: Yes, and rather twice than once! Our working rhythm intensified a lot on Worlds Collide and we sometimes flirted with the split. We hadn't fun anymore and, in these conditions, the cohabitation in a small bus becomes more and more precarious. Fortunately, we drew from that the conclusions about what we need, instead of throwing in the towel, and we make things differently today.... (Editor's note: Mikko leaves us to answer to another interview)

Eicca: Every concert must be important, the promotion must be perfectly organized, the tours mustn't exceed three weeks... Here is an outline of what we ask. Every day you spend on the road has to make you understand why you are there rather than at home. If all these conditions are combined, then everything is OK. Because except the studio and the tours, Apocalyptica is a very respectful band concerning the members' private life. We are trustful that it's what will allow us to tour two or three years for 7th Symphony while keeping motivation to create its successor.

RockHard: Will it have a reference to number eight in the title?

Eicca: (Laughs) I have like that you make fun a bit at it, don't you? 7th Symphony is effectively our seventh album and I can imagine it's not a very original title... But at least it fits us well! (Ed.'s Note: We didn't dare to tell to Eicca that we had titled “The Sixth Symphony" on the cover of our mag, at Worlds Collide release)

RockHard: Is it frustrating not to be able to interpret on stage all the vocal tracks of your records, particularly because the singers who sing them are very rarely available and possess strong vocal identities?

Eicca: For sure they are far too busy to come and sing a song each night with us! (Laughs) Yes, it's a bit frustrating, even if sometimes, for a festival we can invite an artist to share the stage. We were able to do this with Adam Gontier, a few weeks ago, but it's generally difficult, because even on festivals, schedules are extremely tight. For the audience it seems as easy as can be, but in reality it's very complicated! In fact, it's the reason why we couldn't do “I'm Not Jesus” live with Corey Taylor, even if sometimes, Slipknot was around. Though, we found a palliative, by taking aboard a singer with us. The one who will be with us this fall is named Tipe Johnson. He's a Finnish guy who grew up in the USA and who's already accompanying us since some months.

RockHard: Will you collaborate again with Antero Manninen, the fourth cellist of your gigs, the one who never smiles?

Eicca: (Laughs) We were calling him Nosferatu and were telling everywhere that we had to put him back in his coffin after the gigs! Unfortunately, he's back in his symphonic orchestra, and he doesn't have time to devote to Apocalyptica anymore. But anyway I want you to know that he's a very funny guy in real life. That was just an act …

RockHard: What do we should expect for the 31th of October at the Zenith? Will we have a special show for the occasion?

Eicca: Without proposing anything grandiloquent, the production we take with us on this tour will be rather consequent, because we're mainly going to play in 2000 to 4000 places' venues. But the Zйnith is even bigger, it's true. If Joe Duplantier is around there, it would be great he could come and join us on stage, but I think he doesn't know yet where he will be at that. People who will come to see us this evening will be sure in any case to see the best concert we can deliver. Those who did not see us since 2008, to the Olympia, will see that we progressed in all aspects. And then, as it will be Halloween, it should reign a particular atmosphere....

©, 2010

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