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Esa Holopainen (Amorphis)

Interview with Esa Holopainen from Amorphis
by Orpheus Spiliotopoulos at 10 March 2006, 11:55 AM

Time moves on whether we like it or not. Things change, we age and the song remains the same. But what about the band Amorphis? Who would have thought that in 2006 Amorphis would (of course) be around but without Pasi Koskinen (singer)? And who would have thought that they'd come up with such a prolific replacement like Mr. Tomi Joutsen? Their comeback album, Eclipse (Nuclear Blast Records), sure stunned the hell out of me - probably one of 2006's best releases - and since I was given the chance to interview longtime guitarist Esa Holopainen, here's what he confessed on the phone (a no doubt quite informative and funny interview)…

Since Metal Temple is an online magazine, I would like to ask you how you feel about the internet as a musician but also as an individual.

Well, it has definitely helped us, the people, a lot with communication. It makes it much more easier to communicate with people with e-mail and webphones and so on. It has also brought cheap tools for recordings closer…

…like ProTools and stuff…

Exactly. Still of course I like doing music in the normal basics like with acoustics and a normal tape recorder…(Laughs) But it helps when you actually try to do Demos, when you actually want to Demo some songs and bring them over to your band mates.

Do you feel you’re more in touch with your fans, as a band, now with the internet?

Yeah, sure. On your webpage for example you can always update yourself (sic) on fans’ opinions, you know, basically you get to know what people think about you or the album…

Whether that’s good or bad, right?

Yeah, exactly. And of course it’s also a quick tool for people to download the new album before it hits the stores! (Laughs)

Exactly! (Laughs) What’s your opinion on that?

Ah, I don’t know…

…I haven’t searched yet but I bet that if I searched, I’m sure I’ll find mp3s on the internet…

Yeah. Well, I kind of understand it. It’s something you can’t really help and you have to live with it. In some ways it’s a good promotion. Still in some ways it’s unfair because nobody asked permission from the owners of the music. But I consider this the same thing as was with cassettes in the past and today anyway it’s a good tool for promotion.

I always thought that if someone downloaded something and he liked it, he’d always go and buy it. Because you can’t download the booklet and the artwork, you know…

Exactly! And I also think that this is one little push for the record labels to release excellent quality albums, in a good package with booklets and everything, stuff that actually make an album worth buying.

Ok. New album, new singer and what’s the feeling within the band right now?

A really good feeling! Now that we’ve finished the new album and we’re just waiting for it to be released, it’s a great relieve to realize that it’s the best album that we’ve had so far. And hopefully this lineup will stay! (Laughs)

Yeah, I hope so too! (Laughs) You guys went through a rough period until you came across Tommy, right?

Yeah, we came to the point where we spoke with Pasi \[Koskinen - ex-Amorphis singer] and he told us he wasn’t motivated anymore and he couldn’t tour with the band anymore. We had a straight talk about everything and thought it would be better if he left the band…

Since you’ve been in the bend since forever, are you the kind of a person who’d hold back hard feelings like for example with Pasi?

I don’t think there are any bad feelings regarding Pasi. We didn’t have like a crisis in the band, you know, like someone wouldn’t like someone else or something like that. It was just that Passi had lost his motivation for our music and our band. I mean, we’re still very good friends! So, there was no drama…

It was more of a business wise decision, right?

Yeah, exactly. I mean, when we recorded Far From The Sun (2003, EMI) we noticed he wasn’t that interested anymore. Everyone in the band could hear his sound wasn’t as powerful as it used to be in the early days. But yeah, that’s the way it goes. I think we found a better singer - I can’t really say a better singer - a more motivated singer, a guy with a lot of energy and who also brought back the growls (Laughs).

The growls, yeah! (Laughs) So, now that the album is done and is about to be released, how do you feel about Tommy’s approach, overall, since I know as a fact that he was free to do the vocals the way he wanted to?

Yes, I think we all realized just how good he was and what a good job he did when we heard the final results at the studio. We knew roughly what it was going to be like but the final results really amazed us, how good he really is. I think he surprised himself as well. He’s a guy who can really, really get into the music, inside the music and get different feelings and different moods through his voice and into the music so now that I think about it, he was definitely the perfect choice for us!

His voice does cover a wide vocal spectrum…

Yes! It’s amazing. It’s like he lives quite well with the music that he sings. He can go from a really aggressive mood to a really emotional side as well.

What are your favorite tracks on the new album?

I really like the song The Smoke because it has a good a good reference between the aggressive vocals and the clean vocals. I think there’s a good harmony between the heavier and the emotional side of the band…

Here’s a funny question now… Well, I don’t speak Finnish but isn’t Perkele something like God damnit or shit in English? (Laughs)

Yeah, it’s a swearing word. But if you know its original meaning, it used to be the God of fire in old beliefs. Perkele was like the devil…

Ahhh, because when I once met your countrymen Sentenced, they were all the time like Perkele! and Perkele! and I remember asking them hey, what’s that word all about and they replied it’s like when the Germans say ‘sheize’ (English: ‘shit’)… (Laughs)

Yeah, it is as well. (Laughs)

Who came up with the album’s title (Eclipse) and what does it symbolize. Additionally, who designed the cover artwork?

The cover artwork is done by Travis Smith who’s also worked with Opeth and Katatonia. We really got into his art and his style. So, we got in contact with him - I think it was back in July (2005) - and asked him if he’d be interested in doing the next Amorphis album. He was really interested and he told us he’s a big fan of our Tuonela (1999) album and that he really likes the cover artwork of that album. In November we finally finished the artwork with him and it turned out really nice. Later on we came up with Eclipse as the title. I remember Tommy and I, we were at Nuclear Blast’s headquarters to do the pre-listening session and during that trip we came up with the title…

Oh, during the trip?

Yeah, we were we have to come up with the title before we go to Nuclear Blast’s office and we started reading the lyrics and checking out the cover art again and again and we came up with Eclipse because it fits the artwork well. It represents the dark side of the human mind as well which is like the basic theme of the lyrics.

Since you just said lyrics, the album’s based on the Kalevala again, right?

Yes.

Wasn’t Tales From The Thousand Lakes based on the Kalevala too?

Yes it was and actually Elegy was also based on that.

So, what is the Kalevala to you since you seem to be using it a lot in your career?


Well, it’s an old book. Like for example you Greeks have the Odyssey, so the Kalevala is kind of like the same book to us. It’s old mythology, it talks about the old traditions of Finnish people, a lot of tales, a lot of stories, mythological stories and it’s something that fascinates us. This time we took a story from there that is quite sad. It’s an unfortunate story about a man who’s life is really unfortunate. The idea for this came up a few years ago when we were asked by a Finnish director if we would be interested in doing a soundtrack for his film project and the film would be about the story of … \[sorry, I couldn’t make out what that name was]. So yeah, when we were trying to see what the lyrical theme would be for the new album, this tales from the Kalevala popped into our minds and that’s how we started to proceed with the lyrics.

So it’s basically your main source of inspiration, right?

Yes it is, because, you know we’re generally influenced by Folk music and old traditions, so it was an interesting to do the lyrics from.

Since you mentioned you’ve got influences from Folk music etc and I personally know you’re a quite perplexed band when it comes to music, how would you characterize Amorphis as a band to someone who asked you today. I’ve heard people call you a psychedelic Metal band, a former Black Metal band etc. What would you have to say about that?

It’s really hard to describe our music. I guess I would just say that we’re a Metal band but with different melodies and elements. But to analyze our music more, I think it needs more than just a few words…(Laughs)

I’m sure about that! (Laughs)

It’s really hard sometimes when you try to explain your music to people. It’s really hard to say it’s just Metal. It includes other elements too … and by that time you’ve already confused the people… (Laughs)

I’m sure you’ve noticed that Amorphis has fans who lean more towards Tale From The Thousand Lakes and then you’ve got fans who came in at about Tuonela. Does that ever trouble you, as far as how people look at your work?

Yeah, I think that there’s like the two sides of fans; the ones who grew up with the band and like the early stuff and the ones who like just the latest albums. I don’t know, I guess it’s just the way it goes. In some ways I think it’s funny but I also think it’s good too because you have fans who like either the first half of your albums or the second half. It would suck if everyone liked only the first albums… It’s funny but, you know…

You’re used to it…

Yeah, we’re used to it and I guess that’s just the way it goes. Hopefully the older fans will be getting into this album because too… (Laughs)

I personally like it, a lot.

Thank you!

But you know why? I think it’s because it combines a lot of things. You’ve got Tales From The Thousand Lakes somewhere in there, but also more progressive or psychedelic elements and then you’ve got those heavy growls again… It’s really beautiful because it’s all a great combination, you know.

Yeah. And it’s funny, really, because this album came quite naturally for us. We didn’t think like let’s do a heavy album again. I think a big reason concerning how this album turned out to be this way is our new singer, Tommy. He wasn’t involved with writing music but he had a big influence on what the sound would be like.

Any videos for the new album?

Oh, yes, there’s going to be a video for House Of Sleep. It was finalized today and it should be released next week!

What are your plans for after the Finnish tour that’ll take place in March?

At the moment we’re booking the European dates so hopefully in April we’ll start touring Europe more.

Are you in talks with any big festivals?

I think we’e definitely going to appear at Wacken Open Air in Germany. Gates Of Metal in Sweden - Tuska in Finland.

Has any Greek promoter approached you yet?

I don’t know yet. Hopefully! We really have to come over there! We’ve been there two times in the past, in Athens and Thessaloniki.

And of course I missed both shows so that’s why I asked you.. (Laughs)

Oh! (Laughs)

Are there any plans for a DVD?

Yes, there’s been talks with Nuclear Blast about a DVD.

A live recording?…

Yes. Definitely a live recording. I think it serves a DVD best if it was a live recording.

So, you don’t know any details like for example if it’s going to be parts from various concerts etc…


The idea was to record two different concerts with two different sets.

And in different cities, I suppose.

Yes. That would be nice, I think…

Ok. Since Finland’s a quite active Metal country, what’s your fellow countrymen musicians?

Indeed there are a lot of Metal bands in Finland. I really like how well Nightwish have done…

Hmmm, would you like to make a comment on Tarja’s \[Turunen - singer] departure from Nightwish?

I think I expected that to happen since the relationship between Tarja & her husband and the band wasn’t the best possible. This was coming at some point.

You’re not related to Nightwish’s Holopainen in any way, are you?

Ah! His father’s from the same heritage, from the same area…

So you’re distant relatives? No way! (Laughs)

Yeah! (Laughs) We’re distant relatives. I mean, Tuomas and I have been talking from long ago..

You Holopainens are all over the Metal world! Holopainen here and…(Laughs)

…and Holopainen there! (Laughs)

And what about the other Finnish bands, like Children of Bodom…

Yeah! They’re also doing really, really well, plus we’ve been sharing the same rehearsing room with them. They are really nice guys!

I have a question for you.

Sure.

Since Apocalyptica are from Finland, right?…

Yeah.

… would you guys ever do a special album or a special mixed set / combined set / live set with Apocalyptica? It just came to my mind right now…

Ah, yeah, that would be an interesting idea, yeah!

With the cellos…

Yeah, that would be really nice! I think we’ve thought about it in the past but never tried it…

Do you know them personally?

Yes, I know Eicca \[Toppinen] very well! He’s a really nice guy.

Ok, seems I forgot to ask you a few really serious questions like for example if you saw an Elephant humping a penguin, what would you do?

\[Bursts out in Laughter] … I’d probably check my medication!

Final words of this interview are yours! You may end this interview in any way you’d like to.

A greeting to all Metal Temple readers! This was really nice interview, really nice!

I’m glad you liked it! (Laughs)

Yeah, it was fun! (Laughs)



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