» Eicca Toppinen - Apocalyptica
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Interview conducted November 27 2019
Interview published January 8 2020

"We are not independent and we are not gods. We are cancer cells of the world."

Apocalyptica's new making Cell-0 is out on January 10th and Metal Covenant were given some time together with Eicca Toppinen.

Tobbe: What kind of stuff does Apocalyptica come out with this time?

Eicca: This time it's an epic, fully instrumental, very Apocalyptica album. It's a very interesting record and somehow maybe related with an attitude to the album Cult [2000], which is our third album and the first one with original music. This time just with all the experience we have gained during all these years, when it comes to songwriting, arrangement, production, and sound. All that stuff just brought into a different level.

I think the album is a very colorful journey, you know. I think it's very rewarding for people who want to sit down and concentrate. It's very cinematic in many ways. I call it a journey, because that's what it does when you listen to it; that it brings you imagination somewhere. It creates thoughts and it creates visions and stuff, so. I haven't found any album that I could compare it with.

There's no album that I would say "It's a little bit like that. It's a little bit like this.". So I don't know anything that would be kind of from the same territory. But maybe that's only because I don't know enough music. [Laughs] But it's pretty unique and a very high-quality product.

Tobbe: In a time where people stream their music a lot, and also have their own playlists with one song from there, and one song from that band, you create a 54-minute instrumental album. That's kind of the opposite to what people would expect nowadays. Isn't that kind of a bold move?

Eicca: For us it felt like it was the only move we could do, because that was the most interesting thing for us. A couple of years ago we did Plays Metallica By Four Cellos [1996] - The 20th anniversary tour. We had been touring with that for two and a half years. It was fully instrumental and we brought it into the classical venues. We played the first album first, in the way that we were just seated. We just played the album from the beginning to the end. So we actually went really back into the core and the very starting point of Apocalyptica and that kind of gave us a new kind of perspective and, like, "We'll go to find the Cell-0 [Cell Zero] of Apocalyptica.".

Cell-0 for us is the origin of everything in the universe, because of the fact that everything comes from the same. It's just different kinds of cell structures, where the Cell-0 is the origin of everything. So we wanted to find the origin in Cell-0 of Apocalyptica and to build the music out of that. And it felt very clear, to do that we didn't want to have a producer. We wanted to self-produce it because we know ourselves best. We don't want anybody that we need to explain to what we want to do and we don't want anyone to explain to us what we should do.

Same thing with featuring artists; we didn't want to involve anybody. We just didn't want to involve anybody else. We just locked in ourselves in the studio. The 4 of us + 1 recording engineer. We didn't play the music to anybody and didn't get any feedback from anyone. We were just focusing on, you know, what we want to do, and how we feel, and try to making it exciting and meaningful. And then actually it started to grow; the whole Cell-0 themes. All the song titles and everything actually relate to our feelings of being part of the universe and being part of this bigger picture.

We feel that the human race has kind of lost its grip on that and kind of the understanding and the respect so we have become ignorant to the fact that we are actually part of this bigger picture. We are not independent and we are not gods. We are cancer cells of the world. We are doing all our best to kill other living organisms and forms of life. You know, for our benefit. Not understanding that it's not actually for our benefit, because in the big picture we are just a piece of shit in a universal perspective.

So we are not that important. We can be wiped out easily. We can wipe ourselves out and nobody cares, really. And everything else will grow again, you know, in a matter of time. It's kind of something that we should understand, that we need to realize that we need to be respectful for the nature. The fact that we can create places like towns and that we can create digital worlds, and whatever, is fucking nothing in the bigger perspective. And actually a very short time ago we were still climbing in trees, you know.

But it's part of the human race that we are ignorant to the history. We forget all history and what happened 30 years ago. People don't even remember anymore. People don't remember things from Second World War [1939-1945], even in Finland and it was a big thing for us. So it's important to know your roots, and understand where we come from, and to be in touch with your human kind, and therefore respect all the beauty around you. And I think this album became some kind of manifest of those kinds of thoughts. And with the music we want to give people a platform to think by themselves and experience it themselves.

With the song titles we give a little guideline to the territory where the music maybe comes from. But not explaining more, because we don't want to tell people what to think. We want to give them a platform to think by themselves. Everyone of us has our own responsibility. We're one little, little piece in this huge organism. And I think that's what the album is reflecting mainly. In a micro level to the universal perspective, because it doesn't change and the same elements repeat in all perspectives.

Tobbe: If people listen to Apocalyptica for the first time, how will you convey this full meaning to them, just by letting them listen to the music?

Eicca: The beauty of instrumental music is that every listener can experience it in their very own unique way. And that's why the music needs to work without any side story as well. But it's like with every art. Like acting for example. When you act in a movie or on TV, every actor needs to go inside the story for the role. It's important to have it because that comes through somehow in the final result.

And I think it's the same with the music. You know, when we have an inner story in the music somehow, that somehow comes across without explanation. Not in detail, but instrumental music shouldn't have details. It's self-explanatory in a way. And experiencing music and art… We can still feel completely opposite emotions and feelings experiencing the same music, you know.

Something that is very beautiful and light for me can for another type of person be miserably dark. I've experienced that once while I was doing music for a short movie, like, 20 years ago. The director and I, our objectives were not the same. You know, she was saying something and I was trying to do that and she felt that it was so far away.

Tobbe: Again, if someone would listen to Apocalyptica for the first time, would this be the record to listen to or is it maybe better to start with another one?

Eicca: This would be the record to listen to, because what we have learned during these years when we were doing a lot of those vocal tracks and singles with really great producers is how to help the listener to listen. There needs to be a red line through the song. The more complex the music is, the more clear it needs to be. You know, "Where is the point? What's the attention point for your ear?".

And I think in this album that really works. Even after the first listening, you can follow up the music and you can understand the music. But then, when you listen to it more and more, there's so many sublayers and subcolors and feels that require many times of listening.

Some of my favorite albums I understood by the fifth listening, because it was as a fluffy mess until I got used to the sound and got used to how the songs are going. But I think on this album, for the first-time listener, things are actually presented in an understandable way.

Tobbe: I personally prefer to listen to this album through my headphones. For me it is kind of the right thing to do, instead of having background noises and stuff, and you can concentrate a little bit more and see the full story in a different way.

Eicca: Yeah, it's like that for everybody. You know, when you have drums and vocals in a song, they take up most of the space, and other things are just colors around that. But now when we don't have vocals, all these little colors and flavors are telling the story, and that requires more attention. And that's why listening without interruption is actually necessary for this kind of music.

If you listen to it in a noisy situation, especially for the first time, if you don't know the music, it actually becomes disturbing. I wouldn't listen to this in a noisy place, unless I really know the music and know how it goes so I can imagine what I don't hear. But when I don't know that, then it's just noise.

Tobbe: You mentioned something about unique in the beginning, and I think many bands struggle to be unique, but you guys don't have that problem, because you are one of the most unique bands out there in the metal genre. So, how may that affect your songwriting?

Eicca: Actually it's interesting that you say that, because I think with Shadowmaker [2015] we tried to not be very unique. We tried to be like others. You know, that's why it's a very vocal driven album and the songs have a certain form. I was curious to see how far we could go on that path. Like kind of ignoring the instruments and just taking the songs, the sound, performance and lyrics… I think we almost got a big loss with that.

And like I said earlier about the Plays Metallica tour, it's was actually very important to come back to the roots, because that helped us to see what people outside of the band see as most special and most unique in Apocalyptica. We have kind of ignored that for a while now. "Maybe we should actually take a look at it and grow things out of that."

And that's exactly what I explained about the Cell-0 thing. Because of course during these years we sometimes have been a little bit annoyed that we are a cello band and we don't belong, kind of. We are not counted in with the real bands sometimes, or whatever. It's kind of like we're all the time somewhere in between, but now we think that that's the coolest thing you can be. [Laughs] So let's put our strength, energy and focus on that and make that even sharper, you know.

Tobbe: It's interesting that you admit that you have looked back at your past work and created something out of that and tried to build from the start, because most bands don't admit that they are actually looking at their past work.

Eicca: I think as a human being it's part of understanding who you are. You need to be able to reflect on the past. It's a completely different thing than living in the past. That's the most stupid thing you can do, to live in the past. You need to be able to kind of see the facts.

It's more like try to see the facts from the past and try to learn something out of that. That's how we can grow as human beings and understand ourselves better. And as a band it's the same kind of process. To understand our band better we had to look at things, like, from the outside. Like having a therapy type of thing.

Tobbe: How are you able to get so heavy without using the traditional instruments? What's your secret?

Eicca: We play heavy. The way that we play is actually the biggest part of it. Cello has a rich sound. There are certain qualities in guitars that cellos can't reach. The easiest thing for us is to make cellos sound like guitars, but we are trying to avoid that, because then why play with cellos, when it's fucking 10 times more difficult than to play the same style with guitars? Why make all the effort if the result would be the same? [Laughs] So the challenge is how to keep it heavy, but still unique and cello-ish.

Tobbe: Do you think that people will be able to create real cello live sound with computers one day?

Eicca: Hm. I think sound-wise, yes. Why not? Because if you are nerd enough you can spent a billion hours of programing every detail. I don't see the worth of it, but you can see big movie composers in Hollywood have, like, this army of computers creating a full orchestra. And it sounds pretty much real. So that seems not to be a problem anymore, to imitate reality.

You know, [The] Prodigy did metal with computers already, like, 20 years ago. But what computers can't do, at least so far, and I don't see that happening in the long-time future, before there's a kind of computer brain, like a solid one, is to create the magic that happens in the performance, you know. And on a record I don't know. Whatever can happen and it's a matter of who wants to do what.

But in a live situation a computer can't replace a live player. And as long as the game is not completely lost with the human race, people want to be connected with other people, and that's the magic of a concert situation, for example. We connect with the music, as a tool. We connect with all the people in the hall and they connect with us on stage.

And that's why I love to play shows. That's the only reason. Otherwise, if it would have been more mechanic, why do it so much, and why repeat it every night? Because the connection is not repeating anything. It's like creating a unique moment once again, and once again, with different people.

Tobbe: About live shows: I come to think of that you recently played a live show with Sabaton. But first, you recently recorded, or re-recorded, a song with Sabaton, and tell me about that collaboration.

Eicca: Yeah, the whole collaboration with Sabaton has been very interesting. You know, Pär [Sundström], the manager and bass player of Sabaton, came to see us on tour maybe two years ago, and he told us about his tour and his idea that he would love to have us with them. His idea in general was that they wanted to create the best possible evening for their fans, and that's why they wanted to be very picky with the bands.

But also, from the very first date, put us together. To have us do something together. To really make it into an event. You know, we have side projects, like we did a version of Fields Of Verdun [Original version is on Sabaton's album The Great War, 2019], for the first single. And then now we've made Angels Calling [Original version is on Sabaton's album Attero Dominatus, 2006].

And we just played with them. We actually joined them on stage, in their set, so we combined the two bands. We actually took it to another level, because we had Elize Ryd from Amaranthe singing with us. And actually Perttu [Kivilaakso] from our band is gonna join Amaranthe for one song. So we are combining and the whole idea of why we do this is, first of all, because we like each other, but it's also that we want to connect fans of different bands as well. When we unite, maybe it creates a feeling in the hall that every single person in the venue is part of the event, and that makes the event very special.

So it has been really cool, because the Sabaton people are super nice. Pär really wants us to have the best show possible. It's not like "They can't have this and this light, because then our show doesn't look so great.". It's more like "Everybody should be great.".

Tobbe: And even if you guys do a great show before Sabaton, people won't forget about Sabaton's show anyway.

Eicca: Yes, it's much better, the better mood the audience is in. If people are excited when they come on stage it's much better, rather than there is a support act that the audience hates. So everything is built up really, really nicely with Sabaton. I'm super excited. This one-off show in Helsinki was really great, in all possible ways, and I can't wait to get properly on tour with them. It's gonna be a great tour. It's called "The Great Tour" and it's gonna be a great tour.

See also: review of the album

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