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The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
Apocalyptica Eicca Toppinen – Interview
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It's been almost 20 years since the world was first introduced to the cello masters of heavy music that is Apocalyptica when their now famous Metallica tribute album was released. Fast forward to 2015 and many albums and tours later and we see a band that has gone on to bigger and better things. With a new album "Shadowmaker" on it's way soon and their upcoming appearance at this year's Soundwave Festival in Australia, it seemed like a perfect time to find out all the latest with the band.



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Andrew: So let's discuss the upcoming tour in Australia for The Soundwave Festival. Are you looking forward to it?

Eicca: Definitely! In 2012 was the first time we played shows in Australia and the crowds were phenomenal. The audience was really fantastic so I'm really looking forward and very excited to see what happens in the festival.

Andrew: Yeah I was going to ask you how your last tour was in Australia. Obviously it turned out to be very good for you guys.

Eicca: It was really good. I was surprised to see there was a solid fanbase even though we had never played there before. I love the venues, I love the crowd, it's really good. I love the whole country and all the cities that we visited. It was purely a very positive experience.

Andrew: Obviously you have played many countries around the world so how do you find the crowds here in Australia compared to some of the other places you have been to?

Eicca: It's very difficult to compare different audiences because every audience is a little different and at the same time they have a lot of the same kind of feel. But I would say it's a combination of the UK audience and American audience. There was one thing I recognised in Australia at the shows and in general at clubs and bars is that people love to sing and they sing loud! That was something that was really recognisable in Australian people haha!

Andrew: That's a sign that fans love your music when they start singing all of your songs I think.

Eicca: Yeah it was fantastic!

Andrew: OK so you got the Soundwave Festivals coming up, how do festival shows differ compared to club shows? Do you keep the shows the same or are they different in some way?

Eicca: I think they are different and of course usually on the big festival lineup, your slot might only be 45 minutes or an hour. It's different on a shorter set than it is on a 100 minute show. Also you need to take care of that if it's a club show, everybody in a club comes to see Apocalyptica and then on a festival maybe most of the people have never heard of us. So it's a different kind of challenge, you need to catch those people, you need to serve the fans who expect to see you and also you need to catch the audience that didn't come to see you, they came for another band or they came just for the event. So it's a little different feel when planning the setlist, you need to make the festival set a little more entertaining or you need to have a little more attention. I know how easily it happens, I've been in the crowd at a festival many times and I know how easy it is at a big festival to lose the intensity and the interest of the band on stage. If you like the band it might be like OK after a couple of songs let's go have a burger and let's go see another stage. That's a challenge to keep those people and that's why the festival set needs to be really tight and needs to always give you something new and exciting, something that will make people stay there.

Andrew: Yeah definitely, that's obviously the idea behind the festival. It showcases a lot of bands that some people have never heard of that maybe would be interested in checking out.

Eicca: Yeah that's the cool side of the festival is that in one moment you can have 15 - 20,000...I don't know how big the crowd is going to be at Soundwave but at the bigger festivals you can have 10 to 20,000 people who wouldn't buy your ticket before but after the festival they maybe come to see your club show. I think that's the coolest part of the festival.

Andrew: Do you still after all these years get some maybe wierd or strange reactions because in heavy music in general it's not very common to see cellos on stage. So do you still get wierd or different reactions from people who have never heard of you before?

Eicca: Yeah but we are used to very wierd and strange reactions haha! But I think with people who have heard about us and they heard stories about Apocalyptica who play cellos, when they see us live, I think the way we do it the people are usually like woah! What the fuck is going on? What's happened? I'm happy that it's mainly positive feedback from what I have heard and what I get.

Andrew: I remember the first time I heard you guys do the Metallica cover album and I was thinking Jesus Christ it's cellos! I never knew anything about cellos but it sounded so heavy, this is great! Looking back on that now after all these years, did you ever think you would come this far with this music in your career?

Eicca: No absolutely not. We were classicaly trained cellists and what we thought when we did the first album was all about classical music and when we started to play Metallica songs around 1993 just for fun to put together, we never even thought to make a record. And in 1995 we played at the rock club in Helsinki as part of an event and based on that performance we were offered to make a record. Very small independant label in Helsinki, one guy working in a label. He came to us amd said he would love to make a record with us and we thought he was crazy. We were like 'are you fucking serious man?' Who would listen to this on a record? He was like no, no let's make a record. And we made the record and became a big success and at that time we didn't know what was going to happen but then we got requests for shows, we played more and more shows. We realized our sound changed while playing shows so now we had to make another record. And then we made a new record and record by record we kept going on an on and we never had a master plan so in the beginning we had absolutely no expectations for anything. So it's amazing to look back 18 years ago or almost 19 years since the first (album) and after the first album everybody was saying 'oh this is a novelty act, this is a novelty thing, works for one album but no more' and we made another album after that and people were like 'OK but what now? You played 2 albums of covers, who would be interested in you anymore?' But we had a feeling, let's do this record, we want to do this record because we found the core, we found the identity for the band. We realized we had to make our own music and then we made "Cult". We never had a master plan, we always focused on the album we were doing and then the touring and then take the next step and it looks like we did something right.

Andrew: Yeah absolutely right, you've had so much sucesss and so many people love it.

Eicca: Or we're pretty persistent haha! I think we are stronger than ever before.

Andrew: Speaking of albums, now you have a new album on it's way "Shadowmaker". What can you tell me about this album?

Eicca: It's always hard to talk about albums without being a nerdy musician. I think it's a totally new kind of record for Apocalyptica especially because we have one singer on the whole album and I think it's making the whole album more solid. It's more of a band record compared to the album that we have had guest vocalists so I think it's more solid. We had a break when we stopped touring for "7th Symphony", we had one year off, we didn't write a single song for a record, nothing except for "Wagner Reloaded" but for the regular stuff, nothing. And after the break we came together and if we wanted to do something, we have to do exactly what we want to do and this record is the result of that, that journey. We wanted to challenge ourselves even more and we wanted to be tight as a band before the pre-production and the thing that Franky (Perez, vocalist) was part of the pre-production, we spent weeks with him in the rehearsal room arranging the songs and getting things more defined before we went into the studio. I think this album is full of attitude, it's a real attitude record.

Andrew: Yeah I have heard a few preview songs from the album and it sounds great and Franky does an amazing job. How did you get him to do vocals on the album?

Eicca: It was actually the beginning of June last year when we made the decision to, 'OK there's no more guest vocalists on this record, we need to find a guy who makes the record and will tour with us for the record. It's like a puzzle where all the pieces of the puzzle are spread all over, they are not connected and we need to get those pieces connected. And ways to have one singer to make the whole thing more understandable for people, to make the working circumstances more comfortable for us where things are not so dependant on people outside of the band - the guests, the managers and the label - so it's all about us. And our manager put a quite request in the business like 'OK Apocalyptica searching for a singer for the record, do we have any suggestions or any people who are great singers who do not have the right band yet' and we got about 20-25 suggestions. We went through them and asked 5 of them to make a recording and from those we picked out 3 and asked them to sing a little piece of "Hole In My Soul" from the new album and Franky was the obvious choice. So he came through the record company search, somebody said at the American label that he's the guy, I've used him many times on session musicians, he's great and he didn't have anything active going except his solo record but nothing band-wise'. And I love Franky's voice, he's not just a regular singer. He has a very soulful sound and he's able to sing different styles which is perfect for Apocalyptica because our songs are not only heavy metal, it's a variety of different colors and different dynamics and the singer needs to match that and I think Franky is a perfect match.

Andrew: Yeah definitely. And because there's a lot of melody in your songs I think his voice is perfect for it so yeah I think he's a great choice.

Eicca: Yeah I'm very excited to get on tour with him. We did a couple of shows in Canada last August, a test run and it worked perfectly together so I'm really expecting a lot from upcoming tours.

Andrew: If the opportunity came up, would you consider keeping him permanently as a band member?

Eicca: It's too early to think about it but nothing is decided! Now we got the record done and then we will have touring more or less for 2 years and at the end of that time or sometime during those 2 years we will know. But it wouldn't be an impossible option to have Franky in the band but it's too early to think about it. We have been through several concepts and we still want the option to change the concept to do something different.

Andrew: OK cool. So we have a couple of questions that we try to ask everyone which has a bit to do with your influences. If you could be a fly on the wall for the recording of any classic album in history, what would it be?

Eicca: Without thinking about it, the first album was "Master Of Puppets" which came to my mind. I don't know why haha! I have a lot of favorite records but I follow my intuition.

Andrew: Oh you can't go wrong with Master Of Puppets, it's an absolute classic album. Who do you consider to be your biggest influence, the reason you got into music in the first place?

Eicca: I started to play cello when I was a kid so it wasn't so much about music, it was more about the interest in playing an instrument. But the biggest influence on why I became a professional, on the first day when I was a cello player it was composers like Mstislav Rostropovich. The classical music I love but at the same time I really loved heavy metal and when I think of what happens today when I write music, I am more influenced by metal and rock music than classical music. And I think the music that you grow up with, and for me it was Jimi Hendrix, Billy Idol, Metallica obviously, Pantera, Anthrax, I love 1980's thrash metal. I consider myself an 80's thrash metal kid! And I think somehow you get new music during your life and different styles but somehow the music you are into when you grow up as a teenager, it's the most crucial and it's something you can't get rid of haha!

Andrew: I totally agree. Every generation says the music they grew up with is still the best music and every generation says that.

Eicca: Yeah it's such a big part of your personality and your identity. It's strange how music can be connected to your growing up process. Between 13 and 22 years roughly that time the music you listen to is never going to be hated, it brings in something in your heart that your mind doesn't even get.

Andrew: Exactly you are absolutely right about that. And for you, what is the meaning of life?

Eicca: What is the meaning of life? That is kind of an easy question haha! I don't know, the meaning of life is to live. To live and whatever it holds, that is a larger story haha! Just to add to your question, it's to live and to feel alive.

Andrew: Haha awesome! Well it's been an interesting chat and looking forward to seeing you at Soundwave next month so thanks again!

Eicca: Hey nice talking to you and we will see you at Soundwave!

Interview by Andrew "Schizodeluxe" Massie on January 14th 2015