Being in the game for more than 20 years successful melancholic dark rock/metal masters AMORPHIS still manage to surprise, to delight and to step up to their status. With their tenth studio album »The Beginning Of Times« these Finns prove once more that there is no other band if it comes to amazing, natural sounding melodies, deep emotions and a bit of unique sonic darkness – powerfully performed with some more really heavy parts this time around. This album will be your soundtrack for both cosy summer nights as well as the following fall and winter season!
Some days ago I had a chat with Tomi Joutsen, Amorphis‘ singer…
Hi Tomi and welcome to Metal Shock and Italy!
Thank you, Tarja, I answer to you here at home in Lohja, Finland.
I would like to ask first something about the past … Amorphis was born in 1990 in Helsinki. How it all began?
Yeah, I joined the band in 2004, but I tell you all what I know about the band’s early days. It all started as Abhorrence-band, where played Tomi Koivusaari (Guitarist and original vocalist), Esa Holopainen (guitars), Olli-Pekka Laine (bass), and Jan Rechberger (drums). Initially the band played Abhorrence’s songs, so the first publications have songs from that period. But that’s how it went on little by little, when the line-up was established. The genre, of course, has changed a lot over the years, but the guys were young and the band was among the very first Finnish bands in this genre.
What about the name “Amorphis”, where does it come from and what does it mean?
I don’t know who invented it first, but the name comes from the word “amorphous” (no determinate form or shape), which describes well the band. If our name would be for example “Headless Pigs” I don’t think it would fit the band’s current genre very well, lol.
Please, present us the current band members and their roles …
Esa Holopainen is our solo guitarist. Tomi Koivusaari is on rhythm guitars. Niclas Etelävuori plays the bass guitar, and Jan Rechberger is our drummer. Santeri Kallio plays keyboards, and I’m the singer. The feelings in a band are good… if you think that we have been together, ever since I joined the band, ie since 2004. Even if it isn’t so long time, but earlier the line-up changed quite oftent. So now it seems good and right. We are all very motivated and we have a good inspiration to do new stuff.
You have been “categorized” as Progressive metal, but what is Amorphis’ personal touch that makes your music sounds yours?
Yeah, I think it’s this line-up, that marks our music. The band has three original members, the drummer and the guitarists, so the basic sound comes from there. In fact, I can not define precisely what would be our genre, but maybe we could just call it heavy metal, even if we’ve been classified on many genres. But one part of our identity comes from delay-effects and wah-pedals that we use a lot, as well as many analog-sounding guitar effects. Also the Keyboard is a pretty big part of our music, which has quite much melodies, and I guess it is a kind of melancholy, which pushes out.
Your break-through came in 1994, with “Tales From The Thousand Lakes” -album. How it changed the band’s life?
Of course it was a big deal when the album came out on Relapse Records, and when it suddenly got such a big success. Relapse did a good promotion, especially in the States. The album went on there really well. The band made an U.S. tour, and played abroad a lot, which was quite a big thing for a Finnish band. I guess the people in Finland didn’t really understand what kind of pioneering work Amorphis was doing.
The only thing that was quite distressing, was the fact that the record deal was pretty poor. But you know, the guys were really young, 19-20 years, and when they got a 3-4 albums’ deal from such an important label, and it seemed first like gold was dropped from the sky. But even if the album sold well, the money itself didn’t return to the band, anyhow not in a way that it was expected. And it probably began to gnaw the band’s mood at some point.
But that album is still quite clearly the most important Amorphis album, a sort of cornerstone. But at that time, Finland wasn’t fully aware of how the record company should manage the music business, the right skills were lacking. Now, obviously the situation is very different, the Finnish record companies are professional, they know how to export and import bands and big names.
You joined the band on late 2004, and you recorded “Eclipse”, which jumped right away on Finnish Charts. Can you assess in what way your input brought along for the band’s success?
Well, I cannot really say that it was because of me. My strengh and weakness, in the same package, was that I came from the “bush”, from small circles. For me, everything was new, and I had a lot of enthusiasm and desire to do things, you know, the guys had played around for 15 years, so I guess their motivation was slightly decreased and the thoughts were no longer fully involved in the job. I think it’s my passion and joy that brought along something new to the band.
Btw, how you met? Did you know each other already before?
No we didn’t. The Band organized an open search to find a new singer, and they got quite a huge amount of demos around the world. There were a lot of good singers, but nobody could do well both the clean- and the death-vocals. I think there were a couple of singer-candidates in the finals, but something was still missing. You know, I also have another band “Sinisthra, ” and the band’s guitarist, Markku, is a good friend of Tomi Koivusaari, and they had talked about the situation on the phone. And Markku, at some point, proposed: “maybe you should test our singer Tomi”. Pretty soon Tomi called me and proposed a meeting … and I’m still on that same road.
In 2007, came out “Silent Waters”, which started your wide evasion in Europe and around the world. What memories you have from those days?
I couldn’t indicate any single memory, but after the album the followed next few years were pretty intense. But for me personally it was heavy learning, everything was new to me, the new countries, festivals and events were one big challenge for me. But one of the greatest memories is probably the first American tour, that we made even before the “Eclipse” and “Far From The Sun” albums, you know the albums where I wasn’t yet as a singer. So, for me it was quite a difficult and demanding situation since the starting blocks. At the same time it was for me my very first tour on which I was ever involved, in a country where I had never been before, not even as a tourist. So it was like a school for me, but after I had survived the first tour-week, I realized that I can really do this. And during those 5 weeks, going around in a tour-bus, we got to know each other quite well.
Last summer you released your first live DVD, which coincided with your 20-year anniversary. What was the reaction of your public and critics?
Yeah, the initial input for the DVD came from the fact that we hadn’t made any DVD yet, so we decided to do it well, also to celebrate our 20th anniversary. Also our record company, Nuclear Blast, proposed that we could re-record songs from Amorphis’ three first albums, so we made the DVD as a proper anniversary package. It got good reviews and praises from medias. But comparing it to an album, of course a DVD seems to be less interesting, so sales figures are not probably very great. But it was made more to fans, as a collectors item. The DVD includes also a gig from Germany, and one-hour-interview-set, including the old band members as well.
We started the process really a year ago, when we started to put together songs that each of us had prepared. You know, there are many composers in the band, and each of us had prepared the songs into demo versions. We started to work them through last summer, the 15-songs-studio-demo was ready at the end of summer. Then we made an European tour in the autumn. We had the intention to get all ready before the tour, but it turned out that we managed to record only the instrument parts. So, the vocals we, me and Marko, recorded on January, this year. Even if it took a long time, the actual studio days were not so many. You know, the final songs arise in the studio, while recording the album. Pekka Kainulainen made the lyrics, the same guy who made the lyrics also to “Silent Waters” and “Skyforger”. So, he prepared them first in Finnish and then we’ll translated them in English, and after that we, me and Marko, arranged the lyrics. Our studio work is based on intuition, preparing one song a day.
Please tell me about the song themes…
This album, as well as many other of our albums, are inspired by The Kalevala (Finnish National Epic). And this time the album theme treats “Väinämöinen”. Pekka Kainulainen knows very well the Kalevala-stuff, and he made a 15-poems-collection about “Väinämöinen”, so the album tells about this Character and about the birth of the world… so, quite a small-scale theme, ahahah. You know, we are not a hyper-masculine band, so we didn’t want to make any masculine hero story, but Pekka has a nice way to tell about these things, so Väinämöinen comes out more as a human person. Some songs are telling about the thoughts that “Väinämöinen” maybe had while thinking about certain things. But otherwise the story is faithful to the Kalevala.
Yeah, we got an agreement from a Finnish chicken company … lol, just kidding … well, initially we had some ideas, this big egg was one of them … The egg is strongly related to the album theme, you know, “The Beginning Of Times “… the Kalevala myth is telling about the world and how it was built on fragments of duck eggs, and therefore we wanted to put an egg on the cover, as a timeless and universal life symbol. Well, you may think that the cover is not very heavy-metallic, but it fits well to the theme. When Pekka Kainulainen, who is also an artist, saw the egg and behind it a small glow of an island, he was touched and said: “Hey, it’s Finland there that dawns, with its rising people power…” The cover art has been made by Travis Smith, who made also the cover art to our previous album.
How it’s different from your previous album “Skyforger”?
Probably this album is not really that much different from the last one. Of course, we’ve added some new stuff on it. To start, there are more songs (15), as on many previous albums there’re only 10 songs. But music-wise, the keyboard parts have new stuff, the song structures are more complex and have more progressive grip. And there’s more female vocals as well. Then Tomi Koivusaari learned also to play the lap steal guitar, which you can hear on this album. Anyway, you can still recognize it Amorphis, even if new elements are involved.
What expectations do you have on this album?
I couldn’t tell yet, let’s wait that the album comes out first. But I don’t think that Amorphis could become much more famous than we are today, as our music is somewhat marginal. Of course I hope that the album brings us more listeners and fans around the world. But I don’t think that we’ll blow up the bank with it LOL. I only hope that the things will continue the same way, and that we could do more new albums in the future…
When the tour starts? and do you already know what countries it will hit?
This summer, almost every weekend, we’ll play in various festivals. Then after summer, we’ll have about 17 gigs in Finland, then comes the Russian tour, after which we’ll make two European tours, first one at end of the year (Eastern Europe) and the second one immediately at the beginning of next year (Central Europe). And now in June we are touring in Japan with Children Of Bodom. So let’s say, this year will be quite busy. The set lists will include, of course, the songs from the new album, but also the best ones from the old ones.
Btw, among all the Amorphis songs, what is your favorite?
Yeah, my favorite songs can be found from the first two albums, because by them I got to know the band, and there’re involved so many memories of different festivals where I went to. But one of my favorite songs is probably “Into Hiding” from the album “Tales from the Thousand Lakes”, which we still are playing in our shows, and it is always a great moment. And sometimes, I’d hope that Tomi Koivusaari, the original lead singer, could go on singing, while I could go among the audience …
Well, thinking of it now, I don’t believe we’ll have some holidays. You know, all of us are doing this for living, ambitiously. And because the band has many composers, to process new material is not difficult. That means that we can make a new album quickly. But I don’t believe that next year will be published anything, but surely we’ll spend some time in the studio. But I hope that next year we could do an U.S. tour.
Now, let’s set free the ideas and dreams… ie where would you like to see you in seven years from now?
Well yeah … before Amorphis I had also some private life lol. I had a day job for 10 years and I started a family. So my success came pretty late, but if for any reasons, it would disappear suddenly, my life wouldn’t stop, because I have already the basic elements in my life. But I hope of course that in 7 years from now we will still do good music, which people like, and what interests us.
How is your cooperation with Nuclear Blast?
Very good thanks! The important thing is the fact that NB, which has a long history as a metal label, they are not restricting us in any way. When we had a pre-listening session for this new album, in Helsinki last year, the record company heard the songs for the very first time. And I think it is a good sign of confidence! and I hope the situation remains the same also in the future, that we can make music on our own terms and to be able to maintain my family.
And now the last question… what are your greetings to your fans and to our readers?
I hope that people will listen to our new album, all 15 songs through a couple of times. You know, today, especially young people listen often to a song from here and another there, but I hope they’ll listen to this album from the beginning to the end, as a whole. So take your time, because this is the album that doesn’t necessarily “open” after the first listening. And if you like it, we hope to see you on our shows.
Thank you Tomi, it was nice to chat with you! Hope to see you soon!
Thank you Tarja! Here in Finland it’s the spring-time at its best See you!
Interview by Tarja Virmakari – Photos: Stefan De Batselier and Denis Goria
You I need – Amorphis (2011)