Interview conducted May 20 2009
Interview published June 02 2009
Helsinki's Amorphis have been at
the top of their game for the past few years, due in no small part to
the kick in the arse given to them by no-longer-new vocalist Tomi
Joutsen. Skyclad (debatably) started it all with
The Wayward Sons Of Mother Earth, but Amorphis gave folk-infused metal
balls with 1992's The Karelian Isthmus. The early '00s saw the band stepping
slightly away from their roots, but return to form Eclipse saw fans rejoice
as the Finns revisited national epic the Kalevala. Silent Waters followed,
which now flows into Skyforger, in this writer's opinion the most cohesive
album since Elegy. Over the phone lines from Helsinki, Joutsen enlightens
Lord Randall: You got your start with Amorphis
with 2006's Eclipse, which was seen not only as a musical comeback for
the band, but one in which they returned to their national roots with
a tale taken from the Kalevala. Having been in bands yourself both as
a singer and musician, and knowing the history of Amorphis, did you feel
a bit of nervousness stepping into such an already established entity?
Tomi: Yeah, of course! I was a fan before I
joined, and I knew that this band is one of legend, and they started
something new in the metal scene of the early '90s. I had some pressures
also because Pasi [Koskinen, former vocalist] did a great job, and
lots of people love him. At the same time, I had some new ideas and
things I wanted to bring to the band. I was quite optimistic when
I joined Amorphis, but you never know how the fans are going to react
when a member (especially a frontman) is replaced. I've been lucky
in that, because both the fans and guys in the band have been really
open-minded in their acceptance.
Randall: In the past, vocalist Pasi Koskinen had written a good
portion of the lyrics, yet it seems that since your appearance, guitarists
Esa [Holopainen] and Tomi [Koivusaari] have contributed more lyrics. Was
this due to your unfamiliarity with English as regards its use in lyric-writing?
Tomi: Exactly! Truthfully when Pasi left there
wasn't anyone in the band who wanted to write lyrics, so we thought
it would be a good time to get some more influence from the Kalevala.
The music they were writing was more folk in a way, bringing in more
influences from their past, so it made perfect sense.
Lord Randall: On Skyforger, lyrics are credited
to Pekka Kainulainen, as they were on Still Waters. As a vocalist, do
you feel it's more important to write your own lyrics when possible, or
to feel genuinely passionate about what you're singing regardless of who
wrote the words?
Tomi: As you said, he wrote the lyrics for
the last album also, and did really great work, so we wanted to continue
with him. He knows so much about the book, and he's an artist as well,
so he really was the right guy for us. We fit the poems he wrote to
the music that had been done, and came out with something we feel
is best for Amorphis, as least for the time being. To be honest, the
best situation would be that the singer is writing the lyrics, but
I can tell you right now, that means we'd have a lot less fans [Laughter]!
I haven't ever really been that into that aspect of being a vocalist,
and I'm used to singing lyrics that other people have written, so
it's not a problem for me. The passion, the emotion is what's important,
and I feel I bring that in a way that is convincing and heartfelt.
Lord Randall: Understanding that Eclipse
may have been mostly written and arranged before you even joined the band,
what have you done since to put your own stamp, your own signature into
the Amorphis sound?
Tomi: I think one thing we are is
we have more energy at the moment. If you see Amorphis playing live
these days, we have more energy than we've had in the past 6 years,
which is something I feel I had a part in. I was really motivated
when I joined and wanted to show what I was capable of, while at the
same time keeping my feet on the ground and being myself. I've done
my time in other bands, and these guys have been playing together
for so many years that I think we're in a good place right now to
benefit from each other.
Lord Randall: Skyforger has been called
the final installment in a trilogy of concept albums dealing with stories
from the Kalevala. Was this planned from the start, and where do you go
Tomi: Maybe the next will
what I'd like
to do is something different, yet still Amorphis - something like
possibly a death metal only EP, or an acoustic one. We've been working
with the same team for the past 3 albums, and we've recorded 2 of
them at Sonic Pump, which is here in Helsinki and gives us a chance
to go home every night and clear our heads. By the time we get into
the studio the songs are mostly if not all done, and we know what
we want. It's good then that we can have some distance from the music
at times instead of just living at a studio for weeks on end.
Randall: Just like Van Halen never had a #1 album in American until
Sammy Hagar joined, Amorphis has been the recipient of both their first
gold albums, and now "Silver Bride" has entered the Finnish
national chart at #1. It has to feel good to know you contributed to this
Tomi: [Laughs] I don't know what happened,
but I guess we did something right! I'm very glad and humbled that
people like what we did. We did lots of shows and promotion for those
albums just like for this one, so this is just our energy coming back
to us. We have lots of ideas for the future, and I could see us 10
years down the road still playing in this lineup.
Lord Randall: Esa calls Skyforger a "...unified
entity", and the most musical album you've done. Do you feel that
music - that albums can be in a very mystical sense living, breathing
creatures speaking to the listener?
Tomi: My favourite albums were and still are
the kind where you can't just listen to 1 song here or there and have
it affect you. I like the ones where you have to give the album the
time it deserves and let it take you away from the stresses and strain
of everyday life. This album is one of those, though most of the topics
are sad, or more gloomy. Even these types of music can be a good escape.
Lord Randall: I've often felt that albums
and live shows are in a sense a dialogue between the musicians and their
fans, with the band communicating through their albums, then the audience
responding in the concert setting.
Tomi: Yeah, it's always nice to see people
enjoying the music. We don't really have the kind of sound you could
convincingly mosh to, and lots of times our audience isn't really
the headbanging type anyway. Sometimes I'll look out and see people
just standing with their eyes closed just enjoying the show. It's
still a little confusing sometimes, because I'll be looking at the
other guys going "Did we fuck up? What did we do?" [Laughter].
They're just enjoying the music in their own way.
Lord Randall: I've been a fan of the band
since Tales From The Thousand Lakes, and I feel that Skyforger is the
first album where the mixture of folk tales and rock and roll have reached
the ideal blend.
Tomi: Thank you, that's a great compliment!
I think that some of the folk metal bands who call themselves that
just want to have a beer and dance to the music. There's nothing wrong
with that, and I listen to that stuff myself, but for me the sad melodies
are really what's important in Amorphis. We have pagan influences
in our lyrics, but have never really tried to be anything except Amorphis,
so I'm glad that's being noticed now.
Randall: Travis Smith has been involved in the art direction of
all the albums of your tenure. What do you feel his images bring to the
music within? I'm sure you've heard enough of the similarity between the
cover image this time around and that of A Static Lullaby's Faso Latido.
Tomi: We will usually give him a few ideas
- like with Silent Waters we knew we wanted to have a swan, as that's
kind of the focus of the album. Of course he has his ideas, but he's
really open-minded and ready to listen to our thoughts on his work.
We appreciate that about him, because it can be really frustrating
as an artist to hear critiques from band members who only have vague
ideas and know little to nothing about the creation of that kind of
art. [Laughter] Yeah, we know about the similarity of album covers,
but there are as many things different as there are alike. It's not
like every album with an upside down cross on the cover gets compared
to every other, you know?
Lord Randall: Maybe I'm hallucinating a
bit on this, but remember the old Iron Maiden albums, how there was always
a hidden skull somewhere in the cover art that you had to look for? I
noticed a circular theme in the art of the trilogy. There's the obvious
sphere on the cover of Eclipse, the moon on Still Waters, and the circles
in the flower on the back panel of Skyforger. Am I off base on this?
Tomi: I do remember that about the old Maiden
albums, but I'd honestly never noticed the circle theme on the last
3 of ours! I'm going to have to pull them out and look more closely,
because you might have something there! I do think it's great when
an artist (maybe) subconsciously ties pieces with a similar theme
together. It makes the whole thing more cohesive.
Lord Randall: So, spill it. How'd you get
Lars Ulrich's dad to be in the "Silver Bride" video?
Randall: Explain for those who aren't familiar a little of the
story of the Silver Bride. Also, what do you think it is about the Kalevala
that so captivates the hearts the Finnish people?
Tomi: In a way it's a sad love story. The main
character is a blacksmith who wants to have a wife. He meets a girl
but something goes wrong, so he makes a bride for himself out of silver
and gold. He can't get love from her though. It's kind of like nowadays,
you can have lots of money and possessions but still not be happy.
Of course when we're at school we have to study about the book, which
was one of my favourite parts of school [Laughs]. Not everyone has
this respect for the old ways, not even in Finland. I mean, it's a
part of the culture in statues and engravings and plaques around the
different cities, but it's not like we're all walking around Helsinki
thinking "Kalevala, Kalevala". For me at least it's more
of a subconscious thing, this respect for our ancestry and the old
way of thinking.
Lord Randall: Though most write mythological
stories off as simple fairy tales, there was always an element of truth
(however strained) to lessons they held within. What do you think happens
when technology takes over the world? What happens when the legends are
Tomi: It's really important to have a history,
and to know something about where you came from. I think it gives
you a sense of power. I really like older people in a way, because
you know they have a kind of wisdom that we don't. They know how the
world was working a hundred years ago before all the computers, cell
phones and iPods. I use that stuff as much as anyone, but it seems
that life was more simple back then as far as knowing how you related
to those around you and to the Earth itself. It's really difficult
to be alive today in that respect, because you have to search harder
for that connection.
Lord Randall: What does the rest of the
year look like for Amorphis?
Tomi: Summer's almost here in Finland, so we
have a few festivals here, and some over in Europe, the summer festival
circuit. After summer come some shows in Russia (which is always fun),
then a new European tour. Early next year we want to get to South
America and Australia, and later on hopefully a US tour if we can
find a good package.