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Eicca Toppinen (Apocalyptica)

Interview with Eicca Toppinen from Apocalyptica
by Maria Voutiriadou, Dimitris Kontogeorgakos at 04 October 2010, 4:10 AM

Four cellos playing Metal at House Of Blues was a not-to-miss experience. And on top of that METAL TEMPLE had the opportunity to discuss about the latest APOCALYPTICA news with the tall Finnish cello player Eicca Toppinen who was in an honest friendly mood. We owe many thanks to the band’s management who was mostly polite in arranging this interview.

So, Eicca let’s start talking about the new album. You actually in the latest albums you have many guest singers; how you decide who singer fits to a song?
Every time is a little bit different but for this album, most of the songs we had them written and we were thinking about it. We had a lot of vocal tracks in the beginning, about 8-10, some of them with no top lines and some others with complete lyrics and stuff. And then, based to the music we found out who would fit better to the song so, we started approaching people. The only exception was the GOJIRA track; I wrote this track when Joe and I had a song writing session two, three years ago in France and that was a song we wrote together and it we were just waiting the right timing to record it.

Is there anyone singer that you would like to have in the album but for some reason you couldn’t?
One was Maynard from TOOL; he was really going to make a song but then, in the last minute he was too busy with PUSCIFER, his side project and he said that he couldn’t concentrate enough and he wanted to change so many things and you know, I had written the song but there was not enough time to make his changes. Also, Bruce Dickinson was really to come to the album but he had the new MAIDEN record, so we have to skip that also.

Don’t you have any problems with the labels getting involved so many artists in?
Yes, we have. That’s the worst part in the whole collaboration thing because labels are very protective; they own artists and it’s always about timing. Is not that much about money; we never pay a lot of money to anybody to come to APOCALYPTICA but everybody has to want to do the song. The really problem is that they can’t be releases of artists in similar labels, like we in the case we hd to postpone the North American release comparing to the other world because STONE SOUR had a single still on the radio and Roadrunner said ‘no, you can not release it before we’re done with that song’, so, it’s so much about the politics. That’s the down side of making collaborations.

But you like doing it.
Yeah, of course, but that’s the down side of the coin.

Is this the reason why you don’t have a regular singer? I mean, you have now a drummer that’s a regular member of APOCALYPTICA; don’t you want to have a regular singer?
We have actually nowadays on tour, we have Tipe Johnson, the guy from LENINGRAD COWBOYS and now he’s touring with us for a half year and that’s fun but also we want to use that possibility; we are one of these bands that use so many singers from so different styles, so, we want to use also that ability.

What is your composing process especially in the latest album? I mean, when we have regular bands, they start with a guitar riff; what do you start with, a cello riff? Do you work on a piano?
We use everything, cello, guitar, piano, some songs even can start from drums. Every song has a different approach.

So, all the guys in APOCALYPTICA work on the album?
Everybody write songs separately and then we work the songs together. We had a lot of co-writings, writing a song with different people like “End Of Me”, I give it in the guy, Johnny Andrews, I’ve been working with him many times.

But, who’s the guy that takes the final decisions?
Maybe I have the last word (laughs). I used to do everything in the past and now I’m very happy that everybody is more involved in the recording and writing songs. I think that this makes music more interesting when there are more people involved, like Mikko, the drummer, when he’s writing songs, his musical background is not so much Metal, he played more in rock bands and electro stuff, he wrote “On The Rooftop With Quasimodo” which is a new kind of type for APOCALYPTICA song, he wrote it with the logic, programming and piano keyboard you know, and it was really exciting to transfer the music to cellos and trying to work with effects and pedals and stuff like that. I think that this is correct because has to do with the variety of the album.

Do you want to evolve in every album or you want to keep a certain signature in your music?
Like in the song “Not Strong Enough” that’s written by Diane Warren, I met her in Los Angeles last year on May and she wanted to play me some songs and I was listening to those songs and they were great but had nothing to do with the APOCALYPTICA style. So, she told me that she had one song and she was playing piano and I told her ‘there’s something special in this one, can I get the song?’ and I took it. We wanted so much to do this song but we’ve got the feeling that it didn’t fit very well. So, when we finally found the arrangements we said ‘yes, now it sound like an APOCALYPTICA song’. And it was very important that we felt all together that this song was like us.

It’s a great song! Will you play it tonight?
Mmm, “Not Strong Enough” maybe no tonight. Sorry (laughs). The time is limited, we have only 70 minutes to play tonight because it’s three bands in the billing and it’s kind of tough because people want some METALLICA songs, we want to play a lot of new staff, we don’t want to play only the singles, we want to play the acoustic ones, we have an acoustic number of songs in the middle of the set and then, we want to do a more progressive staff with the opening track, “At The Gates Of Manala”, so it’s a kind… we have to many good songs to play (laughs)! We just got such a good problem (laughs)!

What about inspiration? I mean, when you have an instrumental track and you don’t have the lyrics to connect it with a title, how do you choose the title?
The whole thing with the titles was horrible, especially in the past. We had always working titles but most of the times they were in Finnish; I remember in one album we had the title in Finnish, we had also a dictionary and we tried to have this play with the words, so the result was a total disaster (laughs)! Some times we know exactly what we need the song to be named but we don’t want t o limit our music, for example “this song is about this”. We want the listener to have the freedom to create images in his mind and experience it in so many different ways. But this time this thing was more clear, we had a specific title name for each track, it was more simple. For me, I don’t have titles normally when I write a song, it’s more when I hear the final result and according to the picture I get when I’m listening to it, that will be the title, like “At The Gates Of Manala” or “Rage Of Poseidon”.

I was going to ask you about this one.
On “Rage Of Poseidon”, when I was listening to it, I said ‘that’s a fucking crazy song’, even if I had written it (laughs), and the picture I had was like listening to the Mediterranean sea, 2000 years ago looking at a bunch of people inside their wooden boats trying find their way. This kind of thing and then it goes totally mad when the rage of Poseidon; when Poseidon takes the boat and brings it down in the Aegean sea (laughs). We actually had a little bit humor while we search for a title, not taking too more serious. And then, we had songs like “Sacra”.

That was my next question.
“Sacra” was for me… I wanted to be in ‘sacra’.

What’s the meaning of the title?
“Sacra” is actually that kind in the East, like these guys (showing the golden Buda statues that were around us in the ‘House Of Blues’ room). I’m not in to yoga so much but I know about it; it’s a kind of a spiritual thing and the ‘sacra’ is the main thing in the back which considers as the middle of soul. For me, is very important and is a serious song.

What about the “Sacra” video clip? Has to do in any way with the music?
I haven’t seen that! I think that some fan has made it; it’s not an official video clip. I didn’t know that (laughs). People were doing a lot of stuff with music, take the music and make their own videos.

It was actually in BlabberMouth like ‘the official “Sacra” video clip’.
That’s strange (laughs)! We have released a video for “End Of Me” from “7th Symphony” and actually we prepare 2 more videos that are ready, “Broken Pieces” and “Not Strong Enough” and with “End Of Me” it’s like a trilogy; they all connected together. We had this character from the album cover and she’s the main character of the three videos and we shoot all the videos in the same location basically. Of course, the story board is pretty abstract, you know, but still there is an inner layer through the whole three videos. The director is Lisa Mann; she’s Canadian and she filmed also “I Don’t Care” video. When we were working with her on that video, we really felt that she was able to see something in the band and the way we felt. And that’s why we wanted to get her and shoot all the three videos for our new album. She managed to pass all this decadent beauty that our music has through images and she’s not from the Metal world at all! We didn’t want some standard rock video. We’ve done about 20 videos during all these years and finally, we wanted something different.

You said that Lisa has nothing to do with Metal; is APOCALYPTICA a Metal band?
That’s always the hard question (laughs). Yes, I think we are a Metal band but not in the very traditional way. I think it’s hard to say that it’s Metal because we are in the other side but I think that our attitude is Metal. For me, Metal means more like the level of the energy and the attitude and there are a lot of Metal bands that I think they don’t have these. Many Metal bands have a lot of distortion and they finally seemed to be ugly and nasty (laughs) and aggressive, but this is not necessarily Metal. It might be heavy music, whatever, heavy rock but it’s not Metal. MASSIVE ATTACK could be Metal for me in a way because they have certain intensity, it’s very dark. SYSTEM OF A DOWN is a good example too. The way I hear Metal, it’s not the traditional Metal band but they wipe floors with the most of the Metal bands out there because their energy is so intense and so raw; it has anarchy, it’s punk. For me when I was kid on 80s, I was a big fan of thrash Metal, obviously METALLICA, SLAYER, SEPULTURA, PANTERA, those bands and I think Metal on those times that was the punk of 80s and the beginning of 90s, ok? And now, in 2010, some of the Metal has totally lost its teeth, has lost its anarchy becoming mainstream, too comfortable. That’s my personal feeling. I love bands like NAPALM DEATH, I saw NAPALM DEATH like 4 weeks ago when we played on the same festival. They were great because they have the anarchy, they are still punk and they have still the energy. That’s exactly happens when we want to make an album, we have high energy, even if we play beautiful classical songs. We use to have a lot of emotion and meaning in what we do.

Exactly! You should bring Barney to sing on APOCALYPTICA from NAPALM DEATH.
Yeah (laughs), he is great on stage, I love him, even he doesn’t look like the Metal guy at all but he is crazy, he’s insane on stage!

What you would say to someone that says that APOCALYPTICA is the cover band of METALLICA? Do you feel that is a label belongs to the past?
Yes. We used to be. But today we play 14 songs and there are gonna be 3 METALLICA songs. I think when we started to tour Europe, they might be even less. We want to play more songs and no more than 3 METALLICA ones. We are not going to play “Enter Sandman”, you know? We don’t want to make the easiest. We have “Master Of Puppets” tonight, you can enjoy that. But still for us playing METALLICA songs is about fun and for audience’s fun but more serious is to play our new songs like “At The Gates Of Manala”, “Sacra” or “Beautiful”.

Ok, last question: is there any song, one song that you’d like to do a cover?
Not at the moment, otherwise we had done that. We did a cover song for the UK Metal Hammer, for the tribute of BLACK SABBATH album, we made a cover of “Spiral Architect” and that was fun, it was very different from our album production. We have to deal with a 70s song, ritual/ retro style, the drums were very soft and the cellos very acoustic. It’s actually great song. It’s not a BLACK SABBATH pick-up song, not that known. But when we want to do a cover song, we must be able to bring something new. That’s why we don’t want to do more METALLICA covers because our sound is so different from the start. It would be really have more sense when it was more classical and more acoustic. But for making a cover, we must have something new to say about this song. Most of the tribute albums are very boring because there are bands with the exact way setup, playing the songs in the same way, a little bit different singing and maybe a little bit faster or slower but is not creative or innovative, you know. Why to make a worse version (laughs)? Why to make a boring version (laughs)? That should be illegal (laughs)! Ok, it’s good to have tribute albums and stuff like that but you have to say something new on it, you must ‘steal’ the soul of the song and create something totally different. That’s our philosophy.

Ok Eicca, say whatever you like to finish this interview.
I miss the Greek fans, I have to say that I miss playing in Greece, I don’t know why we don’t have Greece in our touring schedule, I don’t know what’s wrong with Greece! I’m going to Greece only for holidays now, we used to play in 90s there many times.

I saw you for the first time in Greece, in Rodon club.
That was a great venue! I remember that, we played 2 times there I think and then Thessaloniki also 2 times. But I don’t know why we don’t get an invitation to play in some Greek festival either. Nobody is asking us to play in Greece. That’s a shame! It’s a shame because it would be fun (laughs)!


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Edited 09 June 2023

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