» Esa H./Tomi J. - Amorphis
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Interview conducted March 23 2018
Interview published May 15 2018

"I think it's really stupid when people are getting older and are trying to hide it somehow."

Finnish metallers Amorphis put out their new album Queen Of Time on May 18th and guitarist Esa Holopainen and vocalist Tomi Joutsen talked passionately about it on their quick visit to Stockholm, Sweden earlier this spring.

Tobbe: A new album is coming out soon and what can or what does that new album bring to the overall Amorphis catalogue?

Esa: Well, it will be Amorphis 2.0. [Laughs] It's a really epic, massive album in a way. It's the second album we work on with Jens Bogren as producer and he brought a lot of new ideas to the table. Like during the pre-production we rehearsed the songs in our rehearsing flat and he had a lot of ideas about taking in orchestral arrangements, choirs, saxophone and flutes and all kinds of stuff. There's a lot going on in Jens's mind when he sees, like, the bigger picture or the clear picture of the album. And it's fine, because he knows some of the material much better than us. That's his way of working, you know. He gets really deep into the songs, so. But yeah, it turned out great. It was a huge project to do and there were a lot of recordings with all the additional people and so on, but it really turned out fresh. A fresh Amorphis sound, so that's a great thing for us.

(Tomi:) I think, working with Jens, is like: he's a producer, and we have talked a lot about this album and it sounds a little bit like movie score music in a way, or has a cinematic feeling, but Jens is also like a director kind of guy. He has lots of ideas, but he also wants to bring our music into some kind of direction, or sideward, which is really interesting. And that's the great thing about cooperating with people outside of the band. Of course it would be possible to create a new Amorphis album with only us 6 guys and we have done some albums where we didn't have any, like, real producer. It was Marco Hietala who did some vocal producing with me on previous albums, but the rest of the music was produced by the band itself. But it's great to have some extra persons and that creates something new and there are funny accidents and, you know, it's a better story like that.

Tobbe: Am I right when I say that this new album takes a little step away from your last album Under The Red Cloud?

Esa: Perhaps a little bit. But we don't think in that way. Fur us, it's like: I don't know if it's straight continuing, but there are a lot of similar elements of course. Music-wise there are some new things, like a bit more progressive touch, a bit more layers and perhaps a bit more air in the songs. There's a lot of intros, outros and more, like, fragile, emotional parts in between songs. So, in that way, probably yes, I think. Under The Red Cloud probably was a bit more a straightforward album.

Tobbe: And if you could compare it to another Amorphis album, which album would that be? It's hard to answer of course.

Tomi: It's really, really tough, because this sounds so different because of this additional stuff, orchestra, so I think this is a completely new world of sounds in a way and it's really difficult to strip up everything. If we didn't have any orchestra or choirs and stuff like that, it would be easier to answer this question.

(Esa:) There's a lot of elements that we used in the past, like delayed guitars, or more ambience sort of touch, as well as a lot of the folk touch in Message In The Amber, which is a very traditional folkish Amorphis type of song. (Tomi:) And lyrics-wise, the topics on the album, I think, are quite global in a way. So it's not a political album at all or a concept album, but still the overall atmosphere or the philosophy or the spirit of the lyrics, I think, is the same.

Tobbe: About lyrics. For how long will your collaboration with Pekka [Kainulainen] continue?

Tomi: Until he's dead. [Esa laughs] But I don't know. It's been fun to work with him, because he's coming from the outside of the music scene. He's more like a painter and do some drawings and also performance art. Yeah, it's really weird. He's, like, over 60 years old and he's not into metal. Maybe nowadays he likes a little bit Amorphis, but... [Laughs]

You know, I don't know, was it a risk when we started to work with him or just a crazy idea? But the thing that came up was really interesting and we kind of opened a new door or a side path for the Amorphis story. And it's fun; he's really creative and for this album he wrote, like, 15 poems. Different inspiration here and there from his life, from old beliefs, myths and even from his mother's dream.

Tobbe: And before you lay down those vocals, in what way do you try to understand and embrace those lyrics in order to put your own emotion to it?

Tomi: He writes everything in Finnish and we actually met a couple of times last summer and talked about the lyrics. I didn't give any advice, but just normal talking, you know. When I started to listen to demos and when we started to rehearse the songs and do some arrangements I just read Pekka's lyrics at the same time and I tried to get some emotions from the music and tried to fit the text and the music together. I think the reason why it's, not easy, but quite comfortable is that he knows the concept of the band well and his texts are really inspired from the old beliefs and our music is also inspired by old folk music and things like that, so they fit perfectly together.

Tobbe: I guess the lyrics are important to the band of course, and to the hardcore fans, but is it possible to make the everyday fan embrace the lyrics as well?

Tomi: I don't know how much people listen to lyrics. Of course those who are English speaking listen to it, but, for example, from Finland, I don't know how much effort average fans put to the lyrics. (Esa:) We've got a lot of feedback where people have really found something from the lyrics or that it has brought a lot of relief to their everyday life, both from the music and from the lyrics, and that's for sure because the lyrics are very universal. We don't deal with any political topics, or social topics, or singing about partying or drinking.

It's like universal thinking and a lot of people can make their own mind about the lyrics and they can associate with the songs and with the lyrics. I think I probably know what Pekka has thought about with some of the lyrics, but when I listen to some of the songs I can put my own imagination on it and take a lot of things even to my everyday life from there. There's a lot of universal lyrics, you know, that people can relate to. I think it's a great thing.

(Tomi:) I think the one word that some fans describe Amorphis music like is "beautiful" and I think using Pekka as a lyricist makes our music even more beautiful because there are some really nice moments here and there and with the music they might form some kind of small film in your brain, you know. And that's weird; it's only music.

Tobbe: But as a vocalist, don't you ever have the desire to sing Amorphis lyrics completely written by yourself?

Tomi: No, because I know that I'm not able to do that. I tried to write some lyrics when I was a teenager, like 18 or something, and it's really difficult. It's just: I can't do it. Well, I can, but it would be really stupid to spoil the great music with some shitty lyrics, you know. I have to be honest. That's the way it is. And it would be really stupid, after working with Pekka, to sing just nonsense. I know that this band means a lot for some people and every time we release something they expect to get something massive and really emotional and I think those people will really love this one because we really put lots of emotions and things to it.

Tobbe: Is it sometimes hard to find a good balance between the melodic part in your music and the harsh vocals?

Esa: I think that it all comes pretty naturally from Tomi's side, you know. Of course, if we write the music and we know that there is, like, a part that is way more heavy than another part, then Tomi will probably add growling vocals there. And so, you know, as you write the music you start to think in that way; that you might do the part so that it will perhaps be nice to sing.

(Tomi:) I really like that you have some kind of contrast in your music. It's great to have, like, dynamic feelings. Of course, if you play black metal it's only blast beats, and that's totally fucking okay for me, you know, and that's one way to express yourself, but in our case it's great that we have so many things we can do. We can have some choirs and we can have some fucking, you know, blast beats if we want, but still it sounds like Amorphis.

Tobbe: You have some female vocals on this album as well. So, tell me all about it.

Esa: Yeah, it's Anneke van Giersbergen. I guess everybody knows her from her ex-band The Gathering. We've been really happy to work with Anneke before, with several projects, so we asked her if she had time to sing on the album, because she's out on tour a lot. And yeah, Jens was really into the idea of having Anneke on this album as well, so she sings on the track Amongst Stars, which became a really nice duet with Tomi. And besides Anneke we have this choir, run by Israeli girl Noa Gruman, and she has been working with her choir group on several of Jens's projects before, I think, like Moonspell and Orphaned Land. And she's doing some of the background vocals here and there, like on The Bee, for example.

(Tomi:) Working with Anneke is an honor; everyone loves her. And I think it's not that easy to get her on your album and it's great that we knew her before. We met her for the first time a couple of years ago on some festival. She was touring with this The Sirens project. She's really down to earth and a great artist of course and now we finally had a chance to record something together and it's nice.

Tobbe: And in a live situation, is it possible to have a guest vocalist? And the choirs and stuff?

Esa: The choirs: At least some of them we'll sample, because we've used samples before. That's no big issue to us. But there's a lot of things our keyboard player [Santeri Kallio] can do and a song like Amongst Stars, which is really catchy, would be of course great to play live, but I think we would need Anneke there. It wouldn't be fair to play it without her. But I'm sure that we will have a chance to perform that with her as well.

Tobbe: About putting different kinds of elements to the record. Is it crucial for the band to have such kind of variation and come out kind of original

Esa: It's not necessary, but it's the way we work and it's the way it just happens like, you know. Even though we have really solid and simple ideas it turns out like that. You know, we are 6 guys in the band and it's like: the basic sound of Amorphis is based on the keyboard lines and the guitar lines, the melodies and the harmony between Tomi's clean and harsh vocals. So the basic Amorphis sound is already a pile of many layers and then when we start to add more influences from different music it turns out to be quite a huge project.

(Tomi:) Yes, these guys are really creative and there is always lots of material when we start to do a new album. And it's not only one guy who composes music and that's a great thing also. For example, if we are in a club and we have a soundcheck and there is, like, 5 seconds where no one is playing, all of a sudden someone tries to play something and then someone else joins in and starts to jam, you know. These guys just love playing and to be creative and that's the flame in our band.

Tobbe: Can you sometimes overwork an idea, because you're a lot better with your instrument than you were when you first started out?

Tomi: Yeah, that happens many times, in that situation where we start to, like, arrange demos and stuff like that. (Esa:) Of course, yeah. It's very common, like on an individual level and within the band. That's a good thing about Jens; he listens to demos and then he gives ideas for some arrangements, if necessary. Because in our case, if we start to try things out at the rehearsing place we end up, like, trying so many different things just to make it sound a bit more complex and at the end of the day it's just a waste of time. [Laughs]

(Tomi:) But still, I think it's worth trying. You never know what happens, you know. It's good to have, like, proper time to arrange and talk about the structures and stuff like that.

Tobbe: Life on the road. Is it still enjoyable, as it once was, or is it more an everyday job nowadays?

Esa: It's as you take it. I think it's a bit easier and organized now, I guess. But it's still life on the road and it's not your own bed or anything like that. But I guess, in some twisted way, we like it. That's usually the test for the band chemistry and how the guys can tolerate each other. With all the farts. [Laughs] But, you know, it's great fun. The tour is what you make it yourself. If you start to party and so on, it can become really hard for everyone. And remember to rest a lot and to take it easy and to give space to each other; I think that's the best advice probably for a tour.

(Tomi:) I think people need some routines when you are touring. Like real touring, spending 5 weeks on the road. When you have those same routines day after day it's boring, but it makes you feel safe, you know. Luckily we are mostly doing headliner tours and when we are doing headliner tours we have shows at, let's say, 9 o'clock and soundcheck is at, let's say, 1 o'clock, and there's lots of hours between those hours and luckily some of the guys want to join me for a walk or something like that.

So we have lots of spare time to go to the city and see new places and to just hang around and try to forget the boring side of touring. I think it's about what you wanna do. If you just want to spend time hanging in your bunk, suffering from hang-over, that's totally okay, but at the same time you miss lots of things and what is happening right next to you. You just have to take a walk and all of a sudden you are in the center of the city and there are cafés and record shops and interesting people and stuff like that.

(Esa:) But then you get tired and you miss all the good partying in the night. [Laughs] (Tomi:) Yeah, that's right. But, talking about myself, I think it's easier and easier and I must admit that I enjoy my life more on the road nowadays than for example 10 years ago. It's easier to be relaxed now when you have done this many times and you know that you don't have to just spend time backstage.

You can do lots of things on a tour. For example, go to the gym, or go swimming, or bowling, or go to see a movie. But sometimes when you tour a lot you get fucking lazy, and that's like a trap. Nowadays it's not that bad because we have these fucking mobiles and internet is everywhere and that's one good way to just kill some time, but that makes you fucking lazy also. (Esa:) It really looks like, like, brain damage, if somebody would come into our backstage room. It's, like, 6 guys looking at their phone.

Tobbe: The older you get, to perform great on the actual shows, is that more important now than it ever was?

Esa: Yeah, for sure. At least we pay a lot more attention to our live shows than we did in the beginning. On the songs, lights, the visuals, everything. So yeah, for sure it has become more and more important to us to do really good quality shows. (Tomi:) And nowadays we have more technicians with us. We have guys who are taking care of guitars, drums and keyboards and also a light guy. Then we have this in-ear monitoring system, which helps a lot and makes your life more comfortable during the shows. In most of the songs we are also using click, you know, and that gives some kind of tightness to your music.

I think it's great fun to play shows nowadays, especially if we have a tour, a club tour, because the sound in in-ear monitors is perfect, like playing in a studio all the time, and at the same time you can have some ambience microphone and you can hear the atmosphere of the audience also. So that's great. But it makes us deaf, I think, 'cause I'm fucking blasting it all the time.

Tobbe: Have you ever felt some kind of frustration over never getting that really big break?

Esa: It's not frustrating. We are happy at the situation where we are at the moment. You know, our whole career has been like a roller coaster. Our second album, Tales From The Thousand Lakes, got really great reviews, and then with Elegy our reputation grew rapidly Suddenly we were playing for a lot of people and places were packed. Then we did a couple of albums, a bit more mellow albums, and that didn't please the people who probably liked the older death metal albums. So that was a big gap and there was a lot of frustration in the air at some point.

You know, when Tomi joined the band I think we got, like, a second chance for Amorphis, like: we really cleared the table and started to work really hard again. At the moment, the band is in a really good situation, you know. This is our work and we make our living out of the music. I guess that's everything we always wanted from the band and we have a solid fanbase. We don't have any high hopes about becoming, like, the next Iron Maiden or something. But never say never, but it's very unlikely to happen. But as long as we have a strong fanbase and we can play good shows all over the world, you know, we are absolutely fine.

(Tomi:) We have opened for Volbeat and also for Nightwish, and they are huge and you got to respect the guys, but as a singer I don't know. For example, Volbeat, I don't know if they play, like, 2 hours, and I don't know "Do I have the power for that?". You know, to be honest, because it's fucking 2 hours. It's a lot and the style we are doing, I have growls and clean stuff, is really hard work. We played in Copenhagen and there was like 47000 people there and what about if you get sick? You know, the pressure, it must be horrible to feel that if I do something wrong now we have to cancel the show and 47000 have to go back home. That must be horrible. So, I kind of like the stage that we are at at the moment.

Of course, if you play a show in a club you have some kind of pressure as well, but it's not such a big thing if we have to cancel, for example, one show or something like that. And I think 90 minutes is enough for me as a singer. I don't know how, for example, Bruce Springsteen… He plays, like, fucking 3 and a half hours or something. He's like a machine; I don't know. Or Nightwish now, I heard they play, like, 2 and a half hours. I don't know if I'm able to do that kind of show.

Tobbe: What kind of situation could make Amorphis call it a day some time in the future?

Esa: We haven't thought about that, but probably, you know, things can happen, like nobody likes us anymore or a lot of people don't like the music that we do in the future. There could be, like, an economic crisis, but I believe that we will still continue as a band making music. It's not about the money. Money is of course not the issue of making music. Then we just have to be manwhores in our spare time, or drive a cab or something. [Laughs]

But, you know, of course in those situations where someone is getting, like, really seriously ill and can't play anymore. Things like this can affect a band. There's a lot of elements that in general can affect a band's career, but we have such a good spirit in the air, inside the band, so I don't think that there will be any minor things that will have such an effect that we will quit the band.

(Tomi:) I think there are really bad examples of bands just still going on. They don't have any new albums and the guys look like grandpas hanging on stage. But on the other hand we had Lemmy and he showed that you can do the thing with style until the end. (Esa:) There are bands where, like, every member needs to take their own tour bus 'cause they don't get along with each other. That's really weird. Why keep going?

(Tomi:) I think it's really stupid when people are getting older and are trying to hide it somehow. Like, dyeing your hair year after year and people don't see, like, a gray hair. I think it's okay to get older. That's life, you know. I don't know, but I think it's not an issue here in Europe. For example, in the States there are some seniors that are, like, 70 and they try to look like they're in their 20's or something. Like totally white teeth and their hair looks fucking fake. You know, Lemmy did it with style, and the guys from Nifelheim also. They are fucking… Yeah, that's, you know "What the fuck!"

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