Forged By Fire


Архив интервью | Русская версия

Over nearly 20 years of its existence, legendary Finnish metallers Amorphis have always been true to their name (a derivative of “amorphous”, “formless”): the musicians have more than once surprised their fans not only with musical innovations, but with numerous line-up changes. I guess there’s no need to remind you how many singers, keyboardists and drummers have played in the band. But I definitely must say that only one person has been loyal to the band that he started all this time – guitarist Esa Holopainen. That is why when I was offered an opportunity to interview Amorphis on the eve of the release of their new album “Skyforger”, I decided that I should talk to Esa. He is the person who should know everything about the band.
Esa phoned me nine days before the official release of “Skyforger”, and throughout the next 30 minutes we desperately tried to hear each other – unfortunately the communication was so poor as if my partner was on the Moon. Nevertheless, I managed not only to discuss with Esa the new Amorphis album, but also to find out what impressions he got from visiting the U.S., why he loves Finntroll, and when he plans to play for us in Russia.

Your new studio album “Skyforger” will be released in nine days. Do you have any concrete expectations connected with it, or is it like “come what may”?

Of course it’s always exciting when you’re about to release a new album. I have a quite positive feeling for this album and I’ll be very happy if it does as well as “Eclipse” (2006) and “Silent Waters” (2007). And touring-wise there are a lot of shows booked already. So yeah, I have good expectations.

You have already released the single for this album called “Silver Bride”. Why have you chosen this very song? Do you think that it represents the forthcoming album in the best way?

It’s always difficult when you have to pick one song that would represent the whole album. Definitely it doesn’t represent what the album is about. It’s just a catchy song with quite typical “Amorphis” elements in it. And so it was quite obvious to pick it for our first single.

What about a video? Do you have any ideas so far?

Yeah! We’ve already filmed a video, our first video for “Silver Bride”. There would be a lot of fire, and we also have a blacksmith there forging something. I haven’t seen the result yet, but hopefully it gets some edits, I guess, during this week. We are looking forward to see how it looks like. It’s always very scary to think of a video coming out, because of course you want it to be a good video.

Let’s talk a bit about the visual side of “Skyforger”. Actually, all your albums have very special covers. This time it’s a burning tree, I believe. What kind of symbol is it?

It represents the tree of life. It’s because the album tells the legend of the old blacksmith god. People used to believe that he was a sort of the creator of the world and that he forged the sky and forged the earth. So what we wanted for the cover was this tree of life.

But it’s burning!

Yes, some burning represents the forge with fire in it.

Ok, let’s return to the god-forger. Could you tell something more about this image and say how it’s connected with the main idea of the album?

Well, he was one of the main characters in the Kalevala-saga, that we’ve been writing our lyrics from… So it’s really about creating… creating different things around the world. So that’s the main theme of the album, I guess.

I see. How do you decide in a whole what should be depicted on the cover of the album?

It’s a big process usually. It starts from the lyrics, then comes communicating with the artist. This time, as it was for “Eclipse” and “Silent Waters”, it’s Travis Smith. His way of thinking is very much the same to ours, so he usually can visualize all our ideas very well. So actually it starts with communicating with the artist, who’s going to do the cover images, and checking the lyrics to decide what we can come up with.

As far as I know, many of your lyrics are some poems originally written in Finnish and then translated into English. Don’t you think that these translations lack some spirit, something important that was in the original?

Yes, sometimes it’s a compromise when you are translating into English. But still I think our lyrics have a more universal sense when they are written in English, than, for example, if we had done it in Finnish. The grammar and the way you pronounce the words in English and in Finnish are very different. So sometimes you have to think hard on how to translate these poems without loosing their sense and beauty. But I think we manage pretty good. People can get the message, I guess.

So this time it’s Kalevala again… It feels like the mythology gives you an endless source for lyrics. What does it give you personally?

It has become such an important part of us. You know, all this saga has been involved in our lyrics for so many years, so definitely it has a great personal effect on us as well… And it’s so great to learn something about what people used to believe and the way of life people used to live before any of the religions that have spread over here. In that way it’s very interesting. And you know, they had a great idea of the powers of surrounding nature – all of them were animated as persons.

Yeah, that’s great. And do you have anything personal in your lyrics? I mean, something based on your own life experience, not on that of previous generations…

Not really. I just try to live my life in a sort of “normal way” and avoid all the religion and political shit around me. This kind of music gives you a chance of getting away from everyday life. There’s a lot of shit going around and you just don’t want to think about it. And traditions help you escape from all that.

So it’s some kind of imaginary world…

Yes, exactly.

According to your opinion is your music a kind of entertaining one, or does it still have some great ideas to impose?

It’s just music… What we are trying to achieve is the source for people…well… (pause) So that they can just enjoy the music and forget the surrounding things and their own worries.

Ok, then let’s jump to the musical side of the album. Should your fans expect any drastic changes in your music?

Compared to “Silent Waters”, “Skyforger” is a more melodic album, it’s a more musical album. I guess, there’s much more happening music-wise on this album… There are more up-tempo songs and I can say that there’s much more playing on this album than on the previous one. And there was much more rehearsing for it than for previous one. Behind it there’s really hard work. These, I guess, are the main differences.

Looking back at all your previous works can you define the main causes of changes in your music? Maybe some outside influence…

Well, the albums “Eclipse”, “Silent Waters” and “Skyforger” are pretty much of the same element. When we started to write music for “Eclipse” we more or less looked at what we’d done ourselves. We didn’t pay much attention to the musical process as a whole, so all these three albums are mostly influenced by us. We started to look back and think what’s good in our music and what the main elements were and the reasons why we are doing this kind of music. And looking back at all our history I think it’s the biggest influence on these three albums. There were a lot of things changing after Tomi (singer Tomi Joutsen) joined the band. People really accepted Tomi as our singer, and everything started to explore again, and everything was great again! So I don’t think that there are that many new elements in our music. There are quite safe “Amorphis” elements in it. We haven’t experienced an influence from reggae music or whatever…

Talking about the influence… During your musical career you’ve influenced the metal stage in quite a lot of ways. Do you see (or hear) anything “yours” in younger bands? How do you feel about it?

Yeah, there are a lot of bands, which are in some way connected with Amorphis. You know, there is this folk-metal wave going on. It starts with Ensiferum, Finntroll, Moonsorrow… All these bands name us as the influential band. That’s a great honor, of course, if you can be an influential musician for a newcoming band. It feels good for sure!

So you like these bands, don’t you?

I like them, yes. Especially Finntroll. They are great guys to drink beer with!

You have published your tour dates on your official site. A lot of concerts in Europe, but no Russia there…

Well, we are coming to Russia for two shows in September, it’s gonna be St. Petersburg and Moscow. That’s not said yet on our web-page, but I’m almost sure that we’re coming over, because I just talked with our agent and he said that if I’m going to do interviews, I should mention there that we’re coming over in September.

So what do you expect from Russian audience?

The same as before – great passion! It’s a great feeling usually when you play for the Russian audience. Last time we were in Russia we did a bigger tour, we went to Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, and that was pretty fun. I don’t know if we’re going to play in Vladivostok once again. There’re lots of those places you don’t go every day. (laughs) But that’s a great fun!

As far as I know last year you played a tour in the U.S. What are your impressions?

Am… Alright. It’s big country as well as Russia, so it’s a lot of traveling there. We had shows almost every day for 5 or 6 weeks. In all the big cities you can see that economical change that has happened in the U.S. A lot of places are closed. The economy is going down a lot there. I don’t know what is going to happen in the future. I guess, bands are always going to play there, but I don’t think there’s going to be that much action there. But it was nice, quite nice.

Are you going to invade any new regions?

We are going to… Now we have South America as well. We’ve been once in Mexico, but we have never done that kind of shows there. The Mexican tour will include, I guess, 6 shows, something like that. Then we’ll go to Australia as well, it’s a new territory for us.

And what about some eastern countries like Japan? You know, some Finnish bands are quite popular there…

Hopefully something will be arranged there. We went to Japan with the release of “Silent Waters” and did one festival show there. It would be nice to go back to this great country.

Oh yes, you often play some festivals and open-airs. Do you make any difference between your own concerts and that kind of shows?

Festivals are always like… You know, you play maximum 1 hour and you’ve got to be really concentrated. It’s totally different from the proper show, where you can play like 1.5 hours. Festivals are really fast and they are like trash parties with lots of bands there. And your own shows are more like real work, because you have to rehearse, and then you play 1.5 or 2 hours, and you can bring all your production there. So it’s more real work than festival. That’s the main difference. And when you have your own shows you can count on that all the people there have come to see your band.

Festivals give you the opportunity of meeting some other bands. Don’t you get then any ideas of common projects?

No, usually not. But there are thoughts appearing just on stage, some kind of… quick decisions. Especially when you are touring with some bands, you always have someone saying, “Oh, it would be so great to have a project with you guys!” But that never happens. It’s just… talk and talk and talk… (laughs) Nobody has time. When we come home we don’t have time anymore.

Ok, let’s discuss a bit some business themes. You take part in advertising projects (like that one with Koch musical instruments) and your merchandise is very developed. Do you feel like you are not only a musician, but a businessman too?

Oh, I don’t know anything about what’s going on with the merchandise. I’m always like “oh, it’s new design, great”. (laughs)  There are other people who are handling all that. I don’t even have time to think about what’s going there. But of course we always agree with what’s coming out as merchandise. We say “ok, that’s fine, let’s do that”, but…

But you don’t come up with ideas, don’t you?

No-o-o-o…. When the album is coming out I’m more involved in album artwork. Actually, I spend time on bigger things than merchandise.

I see. And once more about business – the members of your band have side-projects. Doesn’t it get in the way with Amorphis?

These are not those kinds of projects which can take much time from Amorphis. It’s always when we have spare time with Amorphis that they spend it doing their own projects. But that never affects our Amorphis-work.

And do you like the things they do there?

I don’t mind.

Don’t you want to do something else too?

Actually, I have lots of instrumental projects. But I don’t have time to do them properly. Amorphis takes 24 hours a day!

Could you describe in a few words the recording process of Amorphis?

Well, it usually starts the same way. We go to the studio and play all the instruments with drums. Then we start to overdub them. Everybody is playing different instrumental versions for the same song to find the best sound. Then we start to add usually bass- and rhythm-guitars, and then we have lead-guitars and keyboards and all the additional instruments. The final thing we do is the vocal production, the singing. So that’s basically how we work in the studio.

Can anybody, I mean not the member of the band, suggest or advice anything?

Yea, sure! We always take other people’s ideas. For this album we had our friend Marco Hietala from Nightwish, he was helping us with producing vocals. If there are some ideas and suggestions that some things could be done in another way, that’s a great help.

What kind of music do you listen to when you have free time?

You mean, what do I do when I have free time?

Well, if you want to tell me this you’re almost welcome.

In wintertime I go skiing! (laughs) And in summertime I used to go “talking” to nature. And if you’re asking me about the music, I like listening to bands like Porcupine Tree or Paradise Lost. Actually, I have really varied musical tastes and I listen to different kinds of music. It depends on in which mood I am. I still like these good old death metal albums like those from Morbid Angel – all these classics.

And it feels like all the members of Amorphis have different musical tastes…

Yeah, we have some common bands we like, but we also have some totally different music we listen to. Tomi, our singer, is very much into what’s going on now. He likes many newcomer bands. The things we can listen all together are bands like Porcupine Tree. That’s something everybody enjoys.

Do you believe that this difference in musical preferences help you to develop your own Amorphis style?

Yes, for sure, it helps. When you’re open-minded, with different tastes in music it helps you a lot in writing your own music. It helps you to see the music in different ways.

Do you want to say something special to your Russian fans?

Well, we’re definitely looking forward to our 2 shows there. We always enjoy being in Russia very much. It’s just awesome!

And maybe you are also interested in Russian culture and mythology, aren’t you?

I haven’t read anything about it yet. But that may be very interesting!

And I’ve got the last question. During Amorphis’ history you’ve changed singers a few times. Have you ever thought of singing for your band all by yourself?

No! If I’m going to sing, please tell me “stop it, man!” (laughs, and I can also hear someone’s laughter in the background)

Is it that bad?

Oh, I don’t know. When I was going to school I was a pretty good singer. And now I can sing something only when I’m drunk. And I usually go to karaoke, but that’s another story… (laughs)

Well, it brings us to the end of our time, so thank you and welcome to Russia!



Amorphis on the Internet:

Special thanks to Yury “Surgeon” (Irond) for arranging this interview

Ksenia Artamonova
April 19, 2009

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