Original French interview: Roman Perrot (Hard-n-Heavy magazine, #135/2008)
A bit more than ten years after its birth in Helsinki in Finland, Apocalyptica have become a big war machine, on stage and from a commercial point of view. Those who have started like a "simple" Metallica cover-band, are nowadays really close to a global success which is only waiting for the launch of them sixth and new album, Worlds Collide.
"Refuse/Resist" (Sepultura); "One" , "Master of Puppets ", "Enter Sandman" (Metallica) ; "Domination" (Pantera)… it's interpreting those great metal classic by cellos that Apocalyptica quietly but certainly gained a name and a reputation within the metal world. Over the albums, the Finns increasingly moved from this position of "cover-band" to become a "real band" in the noble sense, composing and recording true and good songs. If the purists never knew what to think about this atypical band, the others, morever those who were lucky enough to see them live, know that on stage, Apocalyptica is as good as, if not far better than most of current metal bands.
It is a top form Eicca, and quite happy to speak to us about his last new born, Worlds Collide, that we meet in a select hotel of capital, along with drummer Mikko Siren.
Putting Worlds Collide in perspective with rest of your discography, we face the speediest and most metal of Apocalyptica's albums.
Eicca Toppinen: We didn't conceive it for that purpose, but when we meet journalists, this is always the first remark! We have no other choice than to believe you! (Laughter) Still, it's surprising, because we really focused on intensity of the songs during the composition, and not on heaviness. This constant tension is certainly the cause of that weight feeling it carries.
Mikko Siren: We didn't think of what the album should be, we just tried to create the music we love, deep and full of emotions. While working, we have talked a lot about what "metal" is exactly. We ended up with the conclusion it is more a state of mind, finally. For example, in my mind, Johnny Cash is much more metal than 90% of the bands that claim to be. Why? Because metal almost became a mainstream stuff, like rock or pop, nowadays! In one hand, it's a good thing, but in the other hand, the style loses of its value. There's no more rebellion today in playing metal, it's too clean, too tamed, too aseptized. Metal lacks surprise, while previously it was unpredictable, and this is mainly due to the business that dums everything down.
What are the bands you should call "metal", today?
Most of the bands are not metal for me. These are just bands abusing of double-bass just to pretend they are. A song is not a metal song just because you can hear the disto. More often it's pure shit if there's not energy and intensity in it. In that sense, I think a band like System of a Down is very interesting, because they succeeded in creating something extraordinary. They treat the metal like no one before. One of the best albums I heard lately is 1000 Days by Tool. Tool is for me to metal what Massive Attack is to pop. With this kind of band, you don't have just songs, but truly a whole world. It creates new things, and not just throw blast beats here and everywhere… which can be fun too, that said (laughter)!
On Worlds Collide, we can find famous guests like Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour), Till Lindemann (Rammstein), Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil)… If it's not the first time, here we can see that it gives the album a worldwide echo, both in musical and commercial terms. Were you aiming at the US, when working on this record?
Eicca Toppinen: I would lie if I'd say the band is not willing to export our music, but we didn't ask Corey or Till to sing for that single reason. If the album sells in US we will be glad. But the most important is the songs are good, and the album quality level is international (laughter)!
How did you work with all these artists spread around the world and keeping the dead lines you had?
It was not easy, sometimes. For Cristina Scabbia, we've been lucky, 'cause she could come and see us in studio in Stockholm to record her parts. It's always pleasant to be able to proceed this way. Corey, however, couldn't come from the U.S., so we sent him the song by internet and he worked on his vocals at home. To plan those kinds of collaborations is a fu**** mess, you know!
You must agree on everybody's schedules, and more, with the different record companies' policies. All this sh** of bumph and rights comes and fu*** many ideas. Between the moment when an artist says to you "yes, I would love to participate to your record" and the one where you have his voice on your song, there is a fuc**** long road to go through (laughter)!
While waiting for record companies, managements and all this high society to agree, you have the time to get older (laughter)!
It's really stressful, in a way, because before the album is completely done, you never really know what it will sound like. Just to take the example of Till Lindemann, imagine that, he was able to put his vocals only on the last week of the recording session!
The song with Corey from Slipknot, "I'm Not Jesus", is really special, it almost sounds like Stone Sour.
In fact, this track sounds very American and not European like the rest of your songs. It comes from the fact that it is an American guy, Johnny Andrews, who wrote it, like "SOS-Anything But Love" with Cristina Scabbia. The funny thing in that collaboration with Corey, is it's a bit thanks to you French peeps! Indeed we met him at Hellfest in 2006, and then again in Rock Am Ring in Germany when he was touring with Slipknot. We got on, and when the song has been finished, we instantanely thought of his so powerful voice timbre. We asked him and he immediately accepted.
On the track "Helden", with Till from Rammstein, the lyrics are the one from "Heroes" by David Bowie, but in German, why did you made this choice?
We really wanted to make something special with Till. We wrote a very slow and melancholic drum part, and showed him. He said "ok, let me put my vocals on that and work on the arrengements and after that, you'll see if you want to keep it or not." Once the song done we were like "Woaw, really sounds like Apocalyptica!" The fact to have these lyrics in German is giving a dark mood to it, and even more with his hoarse voice. It was very important to us to do a cover, but in a really arranged version that wouldn't mimic the original.
Dave Lombardo plays on "Last Hope", he's a recurrent guest on the three last albums. Mikko, being the drummer, it must be particular to collaborate with someone like Dave?
Mikko Siren: As you say!!! Every musician that is interested in metal dreams of playing with him! He is so inspired and happy when he plays. When he's behind his kit, he keeps on smiling, just like a kid! He has a really incredible ability to let go, whatever he plays good or bad. He's just body and soul in what he does, and then comes up with crazy ideas. Some are good, some are not, but he stays straight, always keeping on experimenting things. On the last album, I engineered his drum part. I can tell you that I was not swaggering when I had to push the button and tell him " Errr, We're going to do it one more time, man" (laughter)!
Eicca Toppinen: It's always exciting to work with Dave, because you never know what's going to happen or what he will come to do. We wrote "Last Hope" for him with Mikko. We sent him the track with room enough to let him give his whole range. It's a purely thrash song, but with a positive vibe. The best point in this album, like in that song, is that's it's not black or white. You don't have a violent and fast track and then a ballad. There are inner variations in each song.
I'd like to talk about your work with Joe Duplantier, Gojira'singer. Why isn't this song in the album?
We came in studio here in Paris for two day to record a tune with Joe. It's a pure thrash blasting track, but because of delays on the schedule, we didn't have the time to finalize it and put it on the album. But the song will be on the US version of Worlds Collide. We were even thinking about asking him lyrics for others tracks, but we would have ended up with too many songs. That's quite a deal, when you're a musician, you tend to love all your stuff and want to put everything on the album, but I don't like the idea you could be bored listening to a record. Still we keep in mind the idea to work again with Joe in the future.
In our February 2005 issue (which one you were on cover) you said to us that Apocalyptica "was not more a cellists' band which is playing rock, but a rock band which is playing cellos". That sentence never seemed as true as today.
Completely! In that album we wanted the cellos to be a secondary issue. Our first goal was to write good songs, and play them the best we can. Finally cellos are not so important in the project, it's the music that leads the thing. Of course, we actually are cellists and we love our instruments, but they have to serve the music, and not the contrary. It's been a long journey to consider ourselves as a true rock band, at least. We became conscious of it happening during the tour for the last album, Apocalyptica. It's on that tour we first took Mikko with us and he officially became a member of the band.
Do you consider Apocalyptica as a different band than when you were just covering Metallica?
(Immediately) Yeah, completely! When we started in 1993, there wasn't even a band, we were just cellists playing Metallica for fun. We began to become a real band with Cult (2000) and we finished to fulfil this evolution with the tour after the release of Apocalyptica (2005), integrating a drummer to our live show. That's the reason why we chose this moment to make a best-of, to show people how much we have changed. During the Cult recording period, we had to endure a huge pressure in order to make us do another cover album. I fought hard to impose the idea of going in a different direction. Today, when I look back, I'm quite proud of the journey. Each of our records is different and the whole is like a long trip. We never planned a career, all was step by step. With Worlds Collide, we end a chapter, and begin a new one.
What are your ambitions and your desires, today?
I'm really looking forward to go back on tour, 'cause it's on stage that Apocalyptica shows all his strength. It gives you another vision of the band, you listen to us in a different way after that. We just love to surprise people who think that guys playing classic instruments can't be metal. That's the whole challenge. I am not pretentious enough to say we're the world best live band, but I think we're one of the most intense. I like the fact that on this album we get closer to the intensity we have on stage. I'm also really excited to compose again. New doors opened in the way we work, and I'm curious to explore them all. We will go on working hard and go where we desire to go, and not where the others wait for us to go.
Insert on the first page
Corey Taylor, Cristina Scabbia or Till from Rammstein are not the first to be guest singing on an Apocalyptica album. Since Cult, The Finns get used to confiing the mic to singers coming from many musical universes. A little summary: Mathias Sayer from The Farmer Boys and Sandra Nasic from Guano Apes on Cult Special Edition; Linda Sundblad of Lambretta (Swedish pop-rock band) and Nina Hagen on Reflections; Lauri Ylonen from The Rasmus on Life Burns and on Bittersweet with Ville Valo from HIM. Manu from French band Dolly on "En Vie", covered, first in English and a second time in German, by Marta Jandova in Apocalyptica Special Edition; Max Cavalera and Matt Tuck (Bullet For My Valentine) on Repressed in the best-of Amplified - A Decade Of Reinventing Cello; and not forgetting Adam Gontier of Three days Grace (Canadian rock band) who sings "I Don't Care" on Worlds Collide. According to Eicca, others prestigious collaborations are planned, but indeed "It is still too early to speak about it"
English translation by Vordaï, © 2008