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Amorphis: Sleepy bears and blue elephants
An excellent new album that received praise in practically every European Metal medium, sold out concerts – the Finnish band Amorphis has every reason to celebrate. And even more, as they can avoid the dark winter in their home country for a while... before they are off on their European tour with Swallow The Sun and Insomnium (check out our tourdates), bass player Niclas Etelävuori answers STALKER´s questions...
Your new CD “Silent Waters” deals again with Finnish mythology Kalevala – what is so fascinating about it, in your opinion?
Actually, when we had to read it at school, I wasn´t really into it. When I joined the band 8 years ago I had to read it again because everybody asked about it (laughs). I think the stories are fascinating in many ways and they still relate to things happening today, just like human growth and all that. Maybe we can relate to characters like Väinemöinen (sort of bard/old wizard, the ed.), Lemminkäinen (a kind of hero/Casanova, the ed.), they are mostly like us (laughs) and they make good stories...
Well, but the main story about Lemminkäinen is that his mutilated remains were fished from the river Tuonela by his mom, and he was put together again ... how to relate to that?
Well, I have never been down and went to pieces like that (laughs), but there are times your mom has to put you back together and put you on a straight line again, so it´s maybe more metaphorical...
Who is Pekka Kainulainen who wrote the lyrics for Silent Waters?
It is a friend of Tomi Joutsen, he was actually his old school teacher. He wrote poems in Finnish (based on the stories in the Kalevala, the ed.) that we translated.
Apropos Tomi Joutsen, in the media he is sometimes still labelled being the new singer, although he´s not that new any more... but did he fit in easily?
Not that new any more... he has been with us a few years already. It clicked quite fast, we just knew when we met him that this is the type of guy we want, and the question was if he can accept us. Then we went straight on a tour to North America for five weeks, so the first week was a bit like we didn´t really know what is going to happen, but then it started to work well and has been like that ever since. It feels like he is the new guy, but he has been in the band for three years now, and time just flies by... (laughs)
I noticed at Ankkarock, there was a lot more humour on stage, Tomi reacted to shouts from the audience (see our STALKER report, the ed.) - is this his new performance style?
It depends... he is quite spontaneous sometimes, and if he doesn´t have anything to say he doesn´t talk much, and sometimes he talks more. But it´s cool... it´s not so serious...
What was for your the most crucial change in the band, in all those years?
When I joined the band it was pretty low, I would say, motivation-wise, everyone was a bit sick of it. And then we started again just to do our best, in the last few years, with “Far From The Sun” as the final chapter... and then we just tried if we could just find someone being better to replace Pasi. “Then we continue, otherwise we stop.” Luckily we found somebody.
Luckily indeed, you had two sold-out shows at Tavastia, and three magazines declared “Silent Waters” as the album of the month – it seems like a re-birth of Amorphis ...
Yeeeah! It´s going well, all the time we get news like this, so it´s fun! And our shows have been sold out so far ...
Did all that meet your expectations?
No, I´ve been in this business for 15 years, so I don´t expect that much any more (laughs) I am just happy about the way it turned out, and it seems to be going well. But you never know what´s coming, so I keep my feet on the ground.
A pretty courageous approach is also your “Silent Waters” video – basically it´s just Tomi´s face (laughter). Was that the idea of the director?
Yeah, it was pretty much his idea. We were planning to do another video, actually, but for some reason the video shoot got cancelled, and then there was such a hurry to do a new one, and we did this (laughs). But he had this plan all the time, there were two plans, one was to go outside and do it. I don´t know, it was the first time we did something with Blue Screen, it was quite funny.
This summer I noticed you played almost every Finnish festival, like A LOT ...
Yeah, pretty much. The ones we didn´t do last year we played now, and even some of the same ones...
... so from your perspective, which is the best Finnish summer festival?
(long pause) I don´t know... Ruisrock is good... (another long pause)... I am not so fond of the Midsummer festivals, but almost every other festival is OK (laughs)
So you like the big ones better, the REAL big ones?
OF COURSE! (laughter) I´m getting old, I need a lot of space ...
Well, so looking back, what do you think was a big mistake for the band?
Hm... (long pause) I can only speak for the time I´ve been in the band... it was maybe when we signed with a major label, that kind of killed everything we had. But luckily we got away from that contract, we only did one album.
So your advice for a young upcoming band would be?
Don´t trust anyone! (laughs) You know, sometimes a big label might seem like a good idea, it all looks very great, and when they are very enthusiastic they do anything for you. But then when it all stops you are fucked. You can´t do anything. And you never know. If you are a Metalband and you go to a major label, it might be working fine in some countries. We didn´t have much problems in Finland, we had people in the office who liked our stuff. But then again in some other country there is nobody who is even into Rock. So rather have somebody who knows what they are doing... now we are very happy with Nuclear Blast, fortunately we got back there.
Being in the Metal scene for such a long time, what are the biggest – positive and negative - changes that happened?
When I was a kid and started to get into Metal, it was like “You weirdo!” (laughs) Now, in Finland at least, it´s so mainstream... it´s good, of course, for Metal bands, but it´s a bit strange ... (laughs) It was somehow rebellious and underground, when I got into it, and now it´s like ... even my grandmother likes it...
Well, she´s no longer among us, but I am sure she would love Amorphis, too, as everybody in my family (laughs)... besides that Lordi and Nightwish ... there are so many big bands now. I think it´s good thing but it might bring some bad things, when there is too much of it, and when it crosses over from mainstream, like those old Schlager vocalists singing Metal ...
Did anything change in the fan base, or is there a big difference between your fans in Europe and in the US, for example?
Well, I just noticed that many of our fans are quite old... and their kids are quite old, and there are kids coming to see our festival shows, like 6-7 years old, and something like that has not happened before. In America it´s a big difference, it´s like from grandfathers to small kids, a 75-year old in the audience who is totally into that music. They might be more open there, like older generations do Rock´n´Roll, they had it first... but you never know, it depends. Sometimes you play in a club with age limits, and then again festivals where anyone can come...
You also visit Russia on your upcoming tour – I experienced that fans there are really enthusiastic...
It is always been great to go to Russia. First time we were a bit scared because we did not know what´s going to happen, but then it was excellent, and you can always count on the fact that it´s going to be great there. This time we are going even further, near Vladivostok. I checked on the map, this place is closer to San Francisco than to Moscow (laughs) I am not sure what´s going to happen, but I am sure we are going to have a good time.
How much is a certain “Finnish-ness” present in the band, besides your Kalevala lyrics?
It´s hard to say, we played Graspop last summer, and at Wacken and there was a day with one stage and only Finnish bands (laughs) – so I don´t know if the Finnish thing is so special any more. Of course we are proud of hour heritage and what we are doing, we never tried to put it on the market, we just do our music and tell our stories.
But I remember that some years ago you were pretty much the first (and the only) big Metal band from Finland, now the situation is a bit different. Do you feel that you helped to open the way for others?
Amorphis for sure did it, and a lot of bands came after that. Back in those days nobody could ever think that a Finnish band could release an album outside of Finland. Now everyone is doing it. I think in Amorphis´ case it was the American label, it kind of happened that way.
Do you remember any real bad show, or something absurd that happened?
Well, we had quite many... but there is one I´ll never forget (laughs). We played in Istanbul, Turkey, the building was overcrowded. We were supposed to play on the bigger stage in the same building, but there was something wrong with electricity, we played 1,5 songs, then they said we had to stop and we were moved to the smaller stage upstairs. Again the area was way too small, people were jumping, and the floor felt like moving, like a trampoline. We played one song, then we had to stop again and move out to some other place, we had to wait for 45 minutes until authorities came and we could continue, but only for a couple of minutes, then everybody was moved out of the building... That was all very chaotic, and nobody told us in English what was really happening. We were sitting backstage, and the guy there just spoke Turkish to us. Every time we asked something he just opened a new bottle of beer and gave it to us. After those 45 minutes there were a lot of open but still full beer bottles standing around...
So it was afterwards that we found out that after our concert two pillars broke down in the floor underneath, so the whole building was about to collapse any minute... there could have been hundreds of dead people... THAT was really weird!
Back to the Kalevala: If the band could be characters there, who would be who?
I think everybody would like to be Kullervo (another hero-character, but with an extreme tendency to mishap and bad luck, the ed.) or Lemminkäinen... I think Santeri would be Ilmarinen (the legendary smith, the ed.), Väinemöinen would be Esa, maybe (laughter)...
Maybe it´s easier – especially for people who don´t know the Kalevala – to use Star Wars – who would be who?
I think even though he is the smallest in the band, Jan would be Chewbacca, and Tomi (Koivusaari) would be Han Solo, Tomi Joutsen would be the Jedi-knight (long pause) Esa would be the Emperor (laughter), and I would probably be this guy with the Jet-backpack – Boba Fett. And Sande, well, I don´t remember the name of the character, but there is this band in Episode IV on keyboards...
Oh, the one that looks like a blue elephant...
So could you imagine to live anywhere else in the world, like move to L.A.?
Not L.A., but yes, almost anywhere else (laughs) I´ve been all my life in Helsinki, I don´t know .... I wouldn´t mind living somewhere else for a while. I can always come back. I wouldn´t mind to go somewhere else in winter. I never get used to the cold.
A surprising statement from a Finn...
When winter comes I just stay inside for a few months. I am like a bear, awake the whole summer and asleep in winter. So when we are on tour in winter I only come out of the bus when it´s show time... and if you haven´t seen us live for a while you should definitely come and see us, because the shows are getting more and more insane all the time (laughs)
Thanks for the interview!
Author: Klaudia Weber, photos: K. Weber, Amorphis Date: 2007-11-04