Amorphis: Interview for Terrorverlag

Tomi Joutsen & Esa Holopainen - Essen, Germany 27.12.2011

Click here for the official German version!


Welcome back on the road after the short break... hope you had nice holidays!

Esa: Yeah, it was qui
te peaceful. Yours too?

Tomi: Yes,
pretty quiet, nothing special, just with the family.

Do you do the full traditional Finnish Christmas program with Santa visit and everything?

Esa: Depends a bit on the circumstances - this time we had no Santa, but otherwise it was very traditional, with Christmas ham for dinner and holiday sauna.

Tomi: No presents for me - we have agreed that the grown-ups don't get anything.

Esa: I got a book, the biography of Steve Jobs. And socks.

As the year is drawing to a close, let's look back at 2011 a bit. To start with the classical question, what were your personal highlights of the year?

Esa: Hmm ... there was so much happening, we had plenty of gigs and a new album, but I couldn't say what was the best thing about this year ...

Tomi: Yeah, hard to say, with so much going on! Right now at the end of the year there were so many shows - it's difficult to pick any individual things. Although, yes: the Japan tour in early summer! At least for me personally it was great. Otherwise ... was at there any outstanding festival this summer?

Esa: I cannot think of one in particular, there were so many. The longer the year goes on, the wearier you get from touring, so I do not know if we can wrestle any more highlights from the end of this year (laughs). But we had a whole lot of great shows!

Tomi: The feeling on the European tour has been really good, especially the last two gigs before the break were awesome, in London and Paris. We have visited some cities and countries on this tour that we hadn't been to before, that was great. And yesterday, it started right back at full power. I couldn't name a single top moment, but it was an eventful year, and very good for us on the whole.

Apart from your own - what were your gigs and albums of the year?

Esa: As far as shows go, at least for me Roger Waters' "The Wall" was a great experience, truly awesome. Rush were good, too.

Tomi: I don't go to big ice hall concerts, only to club gigs, for example, at Nosturi or Tavastia. Suicidal Tendencies were really cool, with a good dose of nostalgia involved. Today, stage diving is usually prohibited everywhere, but at that show people were diving like crazy, and there was a terrific atmosphere just like back in the nineties. Otherwise, I don't care too much about mass events, except for the occasional festival.
   As for records, I must have bought some thirty new ones this year, but can't think of them all right now. The new Mastodon I've listened to a lot and it's great. And the new Ghost Brigade got quite a few spins. Otherwise it's difficult to say - I would need to see the albums before me to remember them!

Esa: Yes, the new Mastodon is good, I listen to it quite often, too. The new Jane's Addiction is also good. That's pretty much about it already. Ghost Brigade sounds very nice, too.

Have you heard the new Insomnium?

Esa: Yeah, it's really good!

Tomi: I've only heard two songs so far. Gotta get that one, too!

Your own latest album made it to several international top lists as well and got you another EMMA nomination (Finnish Grammy equivalent), so obviously it wasn’t a bad year for Amorphis either. But how would you view it in the context of your career as a whole? For example compared to 2009 with its almost identical release/touring schedule?

Esa: I cannot remember anymore what happened in 2009! (laughs)

Tomi: Me neither...

Esa: I can't really compare, because the gigs come and go, there's always something new and you forget the old stuff, except for a few highlights maybe. I remember the tours as a whole, but most of it goes in one ear and out the other (laughs).

In Finland, the average chart placement of TBOT was a not as high as that of "Skyforger" two years ago. On the other hand, you made the German Top 20 for the first time, your European tour now is more extensive than ever and next month in South America you’ll be headlining venues that in 2009 you visited as warm-up act...

Esa: Yeah, the development continues steadily. Which is a good thing!

Do you plan to concentrate more on the international market in the future?

Esa: Well, yes, we've been consciously thinking about going abroad more as soon as there are serious chances. But we will definitely continue to play in Finland, quite a lot in fact. At the moment the situation is favorable for us and we have good opportunities for touring, so why not go for it?

Tomi: Regarding the statistics, they show that there's progress, even though I don't always feel it myself. At least the trend is not downwards, but rather upwards all the time. But now at the end of the year, having just completed the first leg of the tour and starting the second, my thoughts are simply focused on the here and now. Especially since the first gig was only yesterday; I'm still a bit tired. The tour is very intense, we've probably never had as many shows as now at the end of this year. But it's nice to be back on tour!

Esa: As Tomi said, the previous leg of the tour went very smoothly and it looks like it might be even easier this time because the distances are not so great.

Tomi: Isn't this the first time that we know the ticket pre-sales? We now always get the figures in advance by e-mail, and I do not know if this is good or bad, because we look at them very closely and if they are not so good, the feeling before entering the stage is easily something like "there's nobody there anyway". But so far all gigs went really well.

In Finland, your concert venues for spring 2012 will be much bigger than usual but also quite different - classical concert halls. What is to be expected from those shows?

Esa: We cannot say much about them yet, because we don't know ourselves. They will certainly be quite extraordinary, the venues alone would be enough to ensure that. We intend to put together a special set that has nothing to do with marketing the last album. Let's see what we can come up with. At the moment everything is still in the planning stages.

Tomi: We will begin rehearsals in March and have already discussed it a bit. Hopefully it will be an intense month in the rehearsal room!

I guess you won't come on stage in a tailcoat though...?

Tomi (grinning): I don't think so - at least I hope not! It is certainly something special, with new challenges and, hopefully, new perspectives. But nothing symphony-style, rather something down to earth.

Will there be any guest musicians?

Tomi: It's at least under consideration.

Esa: Yeah, that's still open, but let's see. Possibly!

Will those special performances mark the start of a new, more daring phase of musical exploration?

Tomi: It's more like a small break, because a larger Finnish tour would not make much sense at this time. We probably won't start preparing for the next album before late summer, and we thought it would be nice to offer people something more interesting. A little extra, and only for a few gigs in Finland before the festivals start again in May. So these shows won't give a hint at the next album yet, they just give us a little breathing space. We're not going to do anything of this sort abroad, are we?

Esa: No, there is nothing planned ... For us it's mostly about not just doing things the most convenient way, like simply playing the same stuff over and over until the new album comes out.

Thanks for the cue! Sticking to convenient patterns was the subject of last month's metal column in Sue Magazine, a Finnish music monthly. According to the author, it's hardly possible to find inspiration for relevant music anymore once a musician is well established and leads a happy and comfortable life. How do you feel about this statement?

Esa: I don't think that is true. Perhaps for some to a certain degree, but I wouldn't subscribe to that view. Often a band's early records mean a lot to people because of the emotions associated with them. They evoke certain feelings which have nothing to do with the quality of the albums and songs but with experiences from the past. The later works cannot offer that same feeling. But then again for other listeners, they may offer all the more. For albums and movies, it is usually not so important whether they are good. What counts most is when you got to know them and what was happening in your life at that time.

Tomi: It is difficult to say anything about the future. With regards to the next album, we are discussing about trying out new ways of working, and those will determine how the new tunes will develop. However, I would like to add that we're still in it wholeheartedly and always try to make the best possible album. What listeners will think about it afterwards is a different matter. We do not take a calculating approach or try to stay on safe ground, but choose the best songs from what we've composed and try to combine them into a functioning whole.

In Pasi Koskinen's days people criticized you for changing too often; nowadays some complain that the last few albums are too similar. Is it possible after all to stay true to one's own style without becoming repetitive?

Tomi: If the music becomes too inconsistent, you easily lose interest or start to wonder if it's still the same band. The last few albums contain elements that were already present in the first ones, such as the folk elements and Finnish themes. They form a style which might seem too familiar and safe to some, but it just happens to be the current sound of this band. In twenty years we may sound different, no idea - we'd have to take a break of ten years and develop a new sound! (Both laugh)
   Personally, I do not feel that we are stuck in a rut, but that we continue to develop all the time. Our latest album is certainly the one I've listened to most often of those that I've been involved in, and I'm very happy with it. Ultimately, there was not all that much criticism, as far as I'm aware - at least people weren't disappointed, the reviews were pretty positive and the gigs well attended. But we should definitely not rest on our laurels in satisfaction and trust that everything's fine and running smoothly. We must retain a certain hunger and stay creative. But we are all highly motivated and looking forward to recording a new album. Alternatively, we could of course stop making records and just play a few nostalgia shows at major festivals every year (grins). But right now we are all into it and committed to keeping it up.

Speaking of the new album, are you planning to continue collaborating with lyricist Pekka Kainulainen?

Tomi: That's still an open question, we haven't even thought of a topic. I don't know why we haven't discussed it yet, but so far we have no idea. Which in a way is a good thing.

Esa: It'll come with time, when the songs gradually take shape and the project starts. So far I haven't given the upcoming album much thought...

Tomi: We haven't had much time for that, with all those gigs...

Esa: Basically all we know is when, approximately, we're gonna start working on it.

As for your live shows - ever since Tomi joined the band, they have been praised for their energy, but in recent times criticism about lack of variety in the set has been increasing. Will you prove those critics right or wrong during the second leg of this tour?

Esa: Oh, I don't know, I haven't seen that many comments. Of course on the Internet you can find all sorts of opinions...

Tomi: It's a bit complicated, because the bandwidth of the fans is so great. Beginning with the age structure - some are not yet twenty, others represent the older generation. The younger ones have typically found the band through "Eclipse" and want to hear the newer stuff, whereas the older ones might prefer the first EP (laughs). Go and try to please everybody... We have quite a pool of songs at hand that we could play, about 40 or so, but some of them we scrapped because they didn't work that well in our opinion. We always try our best to put together a functioning set list. Perhaps we could be more audience-friendly and, for example, stage some stort of competition to find out what people really want to hear.

Now that would be something!

Tomi: It's just an idea. The people who write in internet forums are the hardcore fans, but beyond that there are still plenty of others whose opinions we usually never hear. Of course, many are annoyed that we always play "House of Sleep", but on the other hand, it is always a highlight where everyone sings along, and it would be stupid of us to drop it. It's always a matter of fine-tuning: to please the audience on the one hand, but also make the gigs fun for ourselves. Deliberately playing songs that don't work from our point of view would not be satisfying. To be honest, there would certainly be more variation if we allotted the set list anew every time, but it would be pretty exhausting. Once we have created a dramaturgically well-crafted set, it would be quite strenuous to start again from scratch every time.
   As for the second leg of the tour, we had no time at all for rehearsals, so changes to the repertoire are hardly to be expected. We are only human and simply had too much other stuff to do around Christmas.

Apart from the shows, what do you do to keep things interesting on tour?

Esa: Whenever possible, we try to get a little bit of fresh air. If we're unlucky, there's nothing worth seeing anywhere near the venue, and we must come up with other kinds of distraction. Or simply have a lazy day.

Tomi: A short walk always feels good. We usually don't wake up before 2 pm...

Esa: ... those who wake up during the day ... (laughs)

Tomi: ... and the venue opens at seven, that's five hours. Somehow you always manage to spend them, if not always in a purposeful way. Sometimes old friends live in town or there is a nice spa, but here, for example, there really isn't anything within walking distance.

It's just a former industrial site...

Tomi: Exactly. But sometimes the club is located in the center of town and you can take a nice walk around.

How do you like the line-up of this tour?

Esa: Leprous are not only a great band, but also really nice guys. Still very young, but they don't get drunk, and they know how to behave on the bus (laughs).

I guess you can't drink too much if you want to play that type of music...

Esa: True...

Tomi: Leprous is a really interesting band, young people, but absolutely professional.

How old are they?

Tomi: I think the oldest is 24.

Esa: Something like that.

Tomi: But they've been touring a lot, even internationally, and they're very motivated. Quite prog ... On the first part of the tour, we had Nahemah from Spain with us, who are also pretty progressive, and I rather liked them. The audience dug them, too, so it was a good package. Now there's The Man-Eating Tree instead, and musically they are pretty much my favorite of the three warm-up acts. Not sure if that's because they're from Finland.

First Nahemah, now TMET - why different opening acts for the two legs of this tour?

Tomi: Wasn't it because Man-Eating Tree didn't have time in November?

Esa: I think so.

Tomi: And Nahemah had already been in contact with us for a while, one of the guitarist has been to Finland several times and is good friends with Ville of Ghost Brigade. They had asked a couple of times before whether they could open some shows for us, and fortunately this time it happened. Touring with them was pleasant. But most of all I raise my hat to Leprous, each of their gigs that I've seen was top notch.

When you're touring with such a young band, do you sometimes find yourselves in some sort of mentor role?

Esa: I don't know, never really thought about it ...

Tomi: Leprous is certainly an exception, they are really smart and completely focused on the tour. Other bands are sometimes less refined... But they do sometimes ask us about touring and other stuff, and we try our best to give good answers. They are already quite experienced, though - they've even been to Japan recently. I'm sure we'll hear more of them in the future, if they keep going.

Looking at it the other way round - do you find it inspiring to tour with a fresh act who only just got started?

Esa: It's refreshing to see this youthful vigour, even though I don't draw inspiration for my own projects from it anymore. It's a lot of work, and I hope things will go well for them. As long as they believe in their music, and especially given her unwavering work ethic, I have absolutely no doubt that they'll succeed. Although today it is much harder for bands to get exposure than it used to be. It is quite different nowadays - the bands often get no support from their record label anymore, so they have to find it somewhere else.

Indeed... Tomi, your other band Sinisthra didn't get much support from its label either the last time around. But now you're going to play a show at the Finnish Metal Expo - is that an indication that the long-promised second album is finally on its way?

Tomi: I dunno ... Luckily, at least we can play there. The plan was to have the album finished by then, but no way. I'm afraid it will never be completed. The trouble is that it's really up to us, but I just don't have enough time, and the others of course don't rehearse much if one is missing all the time.

And right after this tour, Amorphis will continue with the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise in the Caribbean. Do you consider that to be work, or is it more of a holiday?

Esa: Well, there's not only the cruise. Prior to it there is one gig, and afterwards we'll go straight to South America, so basically it classifies as a business trip. But it should be pretty relaxed. Hopefully!

Tomi: Yes, that should be quite an extraordinary trip, especially since we'll hang out amidst the audience for four days. Something different for sure!

And finally... if the Maya calender is right and the world will end in a year from now, what's the one thing you'd really want to do before it?

Esa: Nothing! (laughs)

Tomi: It would be nice to take a bit of a holiday before - just a little trip to some city, and I'd be quite satisfied!

Text & Photos: T. Solda