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Apocalyptica (part 1): Curiosity is the key
At the end of their support tour for the US band Sixx:A.M. in the States, cellist Perttu Kivilaakso and I decided to sit down together and have an intensive chat about their latest album “Shadowmaker”, even though the band´s schedule was busy and the idea for this interview had come out of the blue and was fully spontaneous.
We met up in Philadelphia ahead of their show and managed to lock ourselves up in the Sixx:A.M. massage room to have the first part of our extensive chat on their latest album. Therefore, stay tuned for part 2, coming soon!
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Let´s start off with the fact that you did not have a record label when you started working on this album... Was that on purpose?
Yeah, that´s true. “7th Symphony” completed our previous deal, so we were actually in this wonderful situation that - the “Wagner reloaded” thing we were able to do as one-kind of a deal - so with “Shadowmaker” we did not have any rush to make a deal with anybody, because we wanted to have the feeling that we have all the time and space on earth to gather ideas just for ourselves. Simply because at some point we felt it was difficult to connect the music with all of the vocal stuff for example – which is the most fragile subject, of course, in regards of everything that is existing now.
But especially for that decision, I feel the urge to say that the only rational way how we were able to see the next step in our group was to have this solution: to find an own vocalist, because everything from being free from record companies and deals, being free from pressure from outside, we were finally – mostly me and Eicca – we were concentrating on making fucking music. Which like...amazing, you know.
So has it been not like this before?
Of course it has been, but there has always been so much other stuff around, too – in business wise, earlier we may have needed actually to even think “ok, we got to find a certain kind of a singer, we need to seek for Corey Taylor” – something, and then we need to do a song for him. Or something like this. It has not been so pure actually than this time – I think “Shadowmaker” and “Till Death do us part”, they were the first songs composed for this album.
Actually, “Till Death do us part” was composed by me already about 1.5 years ago when I thought it would be a cool intro for the album and then it started to develop during the year. So it was a really really fresh feeling even before we had idea about Franky (Perez; singer on the latest album, the ed.), we were able to start writing music without considering any concepts and stuff like this. That was a very refreshing thing. Then we realized pretty soon that most of the songs we made during the last spring had a pretty vocal drive, that´s for sure. Then we realized that the best and only way how we show our own identity is to seek for a guy kind of belonging to the group. We don´t need to promote ourselves every time like “this is Corey Taylor featuring Apocalyptica”. I love Corey Taylor, but he took so much attention away from us. (laughs)
That´s the basics of it, and being able to make such a decision without any management or record company´s pressure – because I am sure that if we had deals, they would have still probably encouraged us to or even forced us towards name-dropping and once again repeating all the same with the guest vocalists because it is easier to sell, of course, with the famous names. So we took an incredible risk this way, but as an artist I think we can still better look at ourselves in the mirror. This was somehow pure...
So how come that you decided on Franky Perez and not someone else from the many candidates that you had? What made him stand out?
There were couple of really good options. I think three guys were in the final round, and I remember when we really roughly counted away from maybe amongst 50 persons, I already said at the very first moment “I just think that Franky Perez is a good one, but he may be even too good for us”. Somehow I had this feeling – I loved his voice already then. I knew it from when we had all the choices, I sent a mail to the guys that I´m quite confident that Franky Perez is our guy though I fear because of all the stuff he has done, like SLASH... He´s a busy man even without Apocalyptica, I was thinking that he may not have the time to make the commitment for such a long period with us.
But in the end, the final round after we had to hear all the “I´m not Jesus” and stuff like this - they all recorded the demos of it - Franky and the rest of the couple of guys moved to the final round, which was “Hole in my Soul”. And actually there was something really really special in Franky´s demo for it, so vocal-wise it was very very clear in the end. And of course, the experience is something, we didn´t feel like starting to teach some rookie to the manners that we´ve been here for 20 years already. So in that sense, Franky just feels so right in this place, and I am sure that actually you must even kind of agree with it – also the chemistry on stage, he is a rock cock but not too much. Actually I have to confess that I´m even the biggest guy from us that has always been skeptical towards vocals, because in the past I felt that it is distracting from me – I have to shine, I´m the fucking lead cello of the group...
Yeah, this funny thing was going on in here, but still it is funny that with Franky I was the first person to say “Ok, now I know my place, now I know that this guy belongs here”, because with him and his voice I was able to see my position much better than ever, basically. That creates an interesting thing as cellist, and as a lead cellist I feel - we had Franky at the rehearsals already a couple of months before the recordings - that me and him we were able to tweak our parts, so that they were not clashing with each other. You can imagine that in the past, when we were inviting people, and even busy people, to record, it many times happened that we recorded our cellos just as we would guess that we play, and then somebody is singing on top of it and we hope that it just matches...
So, me and Franky did a lot of work together and for example “Dead Man´s Eyes” is the result of such a thing, having this feeling that I want to support in some parts, his parts, his phrases, his lyrics, and then finding parts where the cello can rise above the vocals and stuff like this. So it is really a refreshing experience to actually have this feel of a real man and that is definitely something that has been missing since probably “Cult”, because “Cult” was the last time when our concept was clear – which is pretty fucking funny.
With “Reflections” we made it the way that we recorded the cellos first, and then we just got the idea to go and ask Dave Lombardo to play some drums – so actually that was a development that happened during the recordings. “Cult” was clear: we were four cellos, and then the producer and everyone was doing crazy shit and percussions and we were trying a bunch of things, but the concept itself was very clear. “Reflections” started to make it a more laboratory experimental thing with adding stuff afterwards and then with the “Apocalyptica” album we added some vocals into there and then of course how it has been going all the way. So this time it was amazing that we had five people of whom everybody knows what to do exactly when we started recording and therefore I feel that “Shadowmaker” is the most clear and detailed record of ours.
Vocals often feel for people as if it was a step away from what the band actually is “supposed” to be... I heard quite often that it feels like “Franky featuring Apocalyptica”.
Let´s forget Franky and how we did for a moment. I feel more that Apocalyptica´s main thing is the cello. The fact that it is us three nowadays climbing on stage with Mikko´s support (drums) doing crazy fucking shit, and that´s our soul. And then it reflects to the music we compose, and well, yeah, I got two epic songs on this album, the two last ones (“Till Death Do Us Part” and “Dead Man´s Eyes) and therefore I feel personally pretty satisfied and even proud of those tracks, even the other one is also with vocals. Because I was able to capture some very strong spirit in there, and therefore I would say it is very much Apocalyptica, in the sense that it comes from the fucking heart of the music maker, and it is the same with most of the other tracks.
“Shadowmaker”, “Hole in my Soul”, they are so full of strong emotions, “Sea Song” even... I understand that “Sea Song” is actually pretty far from everything we´ve done so far, but that´s also the reason that we are an experimental group who wants to try different kinds of things. We didn´t flirt earlier with that James Blunt style or whatever, or we didn´t do Techno stuff, and actually we were thinking – whilst composing – “fucking hell, we have to get those songs that we have never made” (laughs). We want to find the limits and challenge ourselves as music makers. Therefore, I feel that no matter how much there are vocals or not, there is a so strong Apocalyptica spirit.
About Franky... how can I say it? How can I determine what Apocalyptica is supposed to be, actually? In the end, I can´t even answer your question, but I answer it that way that I think, Apocalyptica is supposed to be the vision of how we feel at the very current moment when we start doing music and songs (smiles), because we can´t do it otherwise. We cannot follow any other path, and that´s the most important thing for us.
It has been like this since the very beginning - the main flame and basically the only reason for the entire band´s existence is curiosity. When we started, we were fooling around with ourselves, playing just for us.
This whole starting story, first playing Metallica and then something else, alright. Why don´t we do it like with the old songs, maybe someone would be interested – without any expectations, we couldn´t even believe that anyone would be fucking interested in (Eicca) Toppinen´s “Harmageddon” or fucking “M.B.”, you know? (laughs)
So it has all the time been about being curious, wanting to go forward, wanting to develop as a group, wanting to learn about music and making, creating, learning about composing. For me, the main challenge throughout all those “Conclusion”s, “Farewell”s, “Beautiful”s, whatever there has been, leading to “Dead Man´s Eyes” – I have many times just composed ballads, because I wanted to create beautiful music, and that has always been the same feeling, but always containing the will to go forward and to find still more....
We added drums, we added vocals, then now we did this for the same reason: we need to have this feeling that we´re not stuck somewhere, and I kind of believe, because we are still able to play concerts all around, there are people who are interested in Apocalyptica. So I strongly feel that our own audience is kind of consisting of curious music lovers. And so you guys, who have been following all those steps – and I am sure that this is not the first time that people are skeptic – actually, this is not even the biggest change. We´ve had the touring vocalist already for like 8 years or something, basically this idea of how we do the vocal songs, so one or more tracks here or there. I don´t see that a big difference. I must admit that I would have put even one more instrumental song still onto the album, but it already is like 65 minutes long, so... (laughs)
Definitely. I feel the pain of some people that they are protective about the fact that Apocalyptica used to be an instrumental group and that´s a right opinion, that´s totally right, but just to explain it: we cannot restrict ourselves as a music maker and as music lovers, where we go. Or, when I sit down at home and start composing, I don´t like to... Actually I even have to say that sometimes I have hated to compose for Apocalyptica, because sometimes there is this delicate feeling “I am forced to do a certain kind of a song” and if you get the feeling that “now I need to compose this and this type of a song”, then it is not anymore yours. That´s why I do just like music without worrying about anything, this is the only way.
For example the opera nowadays, I composed for it at the start of the year – it was the most amazing thing, because nobody told me anything about anything and I was just into it and loving the music. Most of the coolest Apocalyptica tracks I have done, for example, are exactly this, and I am sure that only that way you are able to capture some kind of a real soul and spirit in the music. That, not to worry about anything, like “if I do this or this, are people satisfied” – that´s already like... that´s a forced step. That makes it easily artificial. Therefore, just follow your heart and hope it´s not so wrong in the end. (grins)
But has there been a time when you did feel restricted in that way, e.g. due to record labels, management wishes?
Hmmm. Sometimes, there has been the feeling of like... a pressure that we need to get some kind of a radio track, for example. And if you try to do a song with this feeling that it goes to the radio and that it has to be a hit, then it may be a more calculating style of composing. Then you must kind of think of things and not follow the heart too much, but this time we did a lot of vocal songs and we didn´t worry so much.
So yeah, this time we didn´t actually think so much about the radio, we started to do songs... for example, many of Eicca´s songs – we didn´t decide if they are vocal or instrumental tracks, and some of the songs they even turned out to be vocal tracks, because of the fact that we got Franky there and we realized that he is actually good in telling stories and it just felt better. I can even admit that he was able to tell the story better than me with boring instrumental melodies. It adds to the music.
And about the cello sound, I think this gave us freedom – we knew that we will have the most amazing American sound from Nick Raskulinecz (producer) and Greg Fidelman (mixing) – unbelievable that we got to be working with such guys. So actually my parts, I was so happy about the fact that Franky was taking care of basically the main vocal lead and I was able to create exciting, challenging, trickier, stranger and weirder whatever cello lines for me. You can imagine how fucking boring it was back in the days when I played some “I´m not Jesus” vocal parts with the cello – I honestly hated it “bim bim bimbim” (imitates the cello line of it)... I´m quite sure it was visible...
So for me, it is not a thing for us anymore to imitate vocals with the cellos and then it goes rather to the composing. If you do instrumental music, try to think it totally different than doing a vocal song that now just happens to be with no voice... Like, we have a lot of this kind of songs as well, “Stroke” or whatever in the instrumental music, which actually could fit very well with vocals. But this time, that´s the reason why all those instrumentals are even more experimental for our own taste.
“Riot Lights” went to a totally other direction, because we didn´t want to create something that is really melody driven or... I had to do something weird all the time, so we have quite a lot of pure cello sound. It is actually a funny track that there is a lot of programming, but it contains so much of clear cello things. So I have heard and I am sure that many people have thought that there is no natural cello sound on this one, but I almost feel that there is even more – at least in my tracks – more natural cello sound than in the previous one. But this is how it goes. (laughs)
We just follow our hearts, we love what we are doing, we are excited about it... and we evolve and only demand that our audience evolves with us.
To be continued
Author: Carina Ullmann, transl. K.Weber, photos: C. Ullmann, band
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