INTERVIEW WITH TOMI KOIVUSAARI AND SANTERI KALLIO FROM AMORPHIS
«I would say is something for the fans… when we met fans and they are like oh my God it reminded me when I was young. That’s the best prize. Of course is for the fans, not much for us«
Today September 4th 2015 is the record release of the new and long awaited album «Under The Red Cloud» (2015, Nuclear Blast) from the Finnish progressive metal band AMORPHIS. A few months ago we sat down to chat with two members of the band, Tomi Koivusaari (rhythm guitar) and Santeri Kallio (keyboards) in the Suomenlinnan Studios in the Suomenlinna Island (Helsinki) after the listening session of this great new album. Here is the interview:
Santeri: Did you like the new album?
Yeah, Is really nice and progressive. One song have this oriental feeling. As an introduction, how you describe the sound of the band and what are your main influences?
Tomi: Well, many influences. Is hard to say because when we started those there influences were a bit little different, when we started the influences were bands like MORBID ANGEL, CARCASS and stuff like that. But also some 70’s bands, like PINK FLOYD from the beginning as well. I still think those bands are somewhere still present but of course our musical taste have developed and evolved during the years.
Of course because when you started how old were you?
Tomi: I was like 17. And now I’m not. Now I’m 19 (laughs).
Was the writing process of «Under The Red Cloud» (2015, Nuclear Blast) challenging this time around? Was anything different with the creation of «Under The Red Cloud» compared to all the others? How did the recording process for «Under The Red Cloud» begin?
Santeri: First we did the songs like we always do. There were a lot of songs maybe plus 20. But when we started to rehearse this songs.. well everybody we can agree or we have a common feeling that we have to put a lot of effort in this album because now we have a producer. And last time we used a producer also and it gave us a little perspective to that side because before that we made 4 albums in a row without a producer just by ourselves, you know. But since last album, and now we knew that we have Jens Borgren and we really like his sound and he is really professional, bands like OPETH, KREATOR, AMON AMARTH. So we were really like OK he’s going to be really strict. We didn’t know how demanding but we rehearse the songs pretty well. And we want before Jens arrive, we want it to put more details on the songs, more musicianship and stuff like that. We always try to do it, but normally we don’t have the time and nobody is kicking us enough. So we basically want it to make an album with, of course a lot of killer tracks, but still with a lot of small things here and there, a lot of arrangements and stuff. Finally when we met Jens he came to the pre-production. I think the day before or something he sent us like a 8 page Word document where he was commenting all the songs with one page each. And we were like ohhh finally we have a producer who is really listening, he was really listening the songs. Then he came to the rehearsing place and then it was great to realize that he really have been listening the songs, he really knew what is was going on, he heard the melodies with guitars, at least the melodies we were aiming to get. I would say that this album was, we did a lot of more work than for previous albums.
Yeah, the songs we heard in the listening session were more heavy, but a the same time it was like kind of complex. And you can hear things, like parts with the flute and the percussion. It was really nice sound and the keyboards.
Santeri: It felt like we have a seven member on the mixing, like behind the mixing table. It was like he knew the songs and what’s happening. Maybe better than we.
Yeah, really clean sound but at the same time really heavy. How was the experience of working for the first time with legendary producer Jens Bogren (OPETH, ENSLAVED, IHSAHN, KREATOR) at the Fascination Street Studios in Stockholm?
Tomi: It was great. I think he is an perfectionist. I think that is good to have him producing something. He’s like focus 100% in what he’s doing, or even more. When you know is that kind of guy on lead you know that you don’t need to worry that much by yourself because you know you have everything. Normally we have been stressing about if there is everything we were planning about that song and blah blah blah. But this time we got space to breath.
Santeri: He pretty knew the arrangements from the first demo and in the pre-production he was really strict. When me and Esa, we do a lot keyboards nowadays and a little guitar melodies together sometimes, he said don’t play that. You didn’t play that in the first demo. And we were like ahhhhh! Nobody really knows what I play in the first demo you know. So he really have been listening the arrangements. So when we started to make the album, in pre-production it was a nice feeling that you can rely on the recording engineer, in this case the producer whatever he says. He have some sort of basis why he’s saying things like this. You know we did a lot of drumming, we did a lot of small pieces and 5 hours for one song. Over and over again small pieces, but when you know that he knew how the songs go, he know what everybody play. It was like OK let’s do this. With the normal recording engineer he’s going to say fuck it, it was good come on! It doesn’t make any sense. Jens really knew what was going on there and he really puts an effort, so there was kind of a trust.
I think he did his homework with you guys!
Santeri: He did his homework for sure!
Martin Lopez of SOEN made a guest appearance in the new album, any other guest in the new record?
Santeri: There was Chrigel Glanzmann from ELUVEITIE playing the flute. And Aleah Standbridge from TREES OF ETERNITY singing.
On the previous album «Circle» (2013, Nuclear Blast) the music was really melodic but at the same time heavy and atmospheric (and even a few songs had a black metal feel –«Nightbird’s Song» & «Enchanted by the Moon»-). Musically and sound-wise, how much does the new album differ from the previous release?
Tomi: I think there is even more black metal singing. I think on «Circle» Peter Tägtgren (HYPOCRISY, LINDEMANN) kind of forced Tomi to try this singing because Tomi wanted Peter to do this kind of singing. So I think Tomi had courage after that to do it more like by himself in this album.
Yeah, in this album there are a lot of harsh vocals.
Santeri: I think the experimentation of the vocal style started already on the album «Circle» but it was just the first try. But now with Jens, and Jens specially likes grunt and brutal vocals so he was really pushing Tomi to do more and to try more. Because I think in the pre-production we kind of skipped a couple of clean melodies to take it away. Instead of that to put grunts, so OK that makes the song a little different. But yeah Tomi likes to try different styles and probably after «Circle» he had more confidence without worry that is going to ruin the song.
The lyrics were written again by AMORPHIS spiritual mentor Pekka Kainulainen and the artwork was done by Valnoir Mortasonge (PARADISE LOST, WATAIN, BEHEMOTH). Do you think this cover and artwork describe the essence of the lyrical concept and the music of the album as well?
Tomi: Yeah I think so. Esa was mainly working with Valnoir, but he gave him some ideas about the concept. On the cover there is this drawing of two snakes and you cannot know if they are friends or enemies -that kind of things-. And it represents the story perfectly and also the music.
Santeri: There is a lot of elements. If we go very low to the ground there is the ethnic elements of the four wise men and there are this elements the circle of the moon or the circle of the seasons. And there is this two snakes going together which basically kind of means that may they turn to each other under the red cloud.
Yeah, is really conceptual, folky and progressive at the same time.
Santeri: Is hard to say how is represent the music because whenever you mix music with art kind of like a covert art you instantly tie this things together. Is very hard to imagine something else than that. Because Valnoir delivered pretty much material at the same time when we were working. So we had pretty strong influences, is not just a cover he sent after the album was ready. We were working all the time with the cover material and the music.
Tomi: We were checking the emails all the time. I don’t know if he heard any of the music.
Santeri: Probably not the music but I think he got some lyrics.
Do you have any plans on making a video for any of the future singles?
Tomi: Yeah, one of the songs «Death of A King» will be our first single, I think will be a lyrical video.
Santeri: Yeah I think that one is going to be a video song and the other one will be «Sacrifice».
Yeah, «Death of A King» is my favorite song, it has this kind of oriental feeling.
Tomi and Santeri: Yeah, that’s Martin López!
Tomi: But first the official video will be, when the album is coming out, from «Sacrifice» and the other one after that song. That one is more radio friendly, it might get play at the radio as well (laughs).
Here in Finland they are going to play it. I’m coming from Dominican Republic and over there in Latin America is more like tropical music.
Tomi: Reggae style!
Don’t tell me about that. Salsa music and that kind of things.
Last year was the 20th anniversary of the great and groundbreaking (clean vocals, keywords) album «Tales From The Thousand Lakes» (1994, Relapse). How do you feel playing this album in front of a live audience two decades later?
Tomi: Well most of the songs or half of the songs we have been playing live anyway . But when we decided to do this tour which is like the album from the beginning to end. Well I don’t know if we were excited because in a way is very different to put, to build a setlist to a live gig or to an album. So it doesn’t have the same plot in a way. But I think it fells quite good, we have been playing this in one European tour and in a few festivals so far and we still have fuel to go. It’s different, is not something like come on from the beginning!
Santeri: I would say is something for the fans. Even that if we are after the show like Ok it when well and everybody is happy. But when we met fans and they are like oh my God it reminded me when I was young. That’s the best prize. Of course is for the fans, not much for us.
Any memories about the experience of recording this album at Sunlight Studios with producer Tomas Skogsberg?
Tomi: Well we recorded it in Stockholm, we were quite young so I think we were recording 1 week to have everything and 3 days to mix. So I think we just play in one take and in the evening we were staying in some hostel, drinking this Melone like plenty of them because it was so light.
And the singing part for how long?
Tomi: Ahhh you mean the growling probably one day.
Did you miss nowadays that way of singing?
Tomi: Hehehe, yeah it’s different. That time I remember I was picking the lyrics the day before in the evening, like this could be this song and this could be that song. It was like that.
Is a nice album and after two decades I think still sound really good. Is a groundbreaking album and I cannot imagine that album at that moment what was going on music -I was 10 years old-.
Tomi: Yeah, still when you hear the first 5 seconds you know which album is. Is a unique sound.
And at that time they weren’t many bands doing the clean and brutal vocals with the keyboards, right?
Tomi: No bands I think, I didn’t know any bands at that time working this way. The guy who was singing the clean parts they used to have a band called K YYRIA. It was Santeri, Niclas and this guy Ville. We just ask him to come on to Sweden so he took the ferry and he will sing in the first three songs.
So you know Santeri from that time?
Tomi: Yeah, we know each other from those times. Helsinki was pretty small and we asked Santeri to join us as well. They weren’t too many guys playing keyboards in metal music at that time.
Yeah, I can image the scene here in Helsinki in the 90’s.
Tomi: It was different. Nowadays there’s a lot of people.
Yeah, I don’t know. I like to live in Helsinki. I was living before in Madrid. So Helsinki is like big and at the same time you can relax. Madrid was more stressful city.
Tomi: I like summer time here in Helsinki and in Finland.
The best time of the year! (laughs) For me the winter and the darkness is something new. But I have been living here for only two years. I know that I’m going to get tired of that but is really nice that a 15:00 is already dark. But for you guys…
Santeri: The more snow we get better the winter. Nowadays it’s not so much snow but it will come again.
Looking back at the very beginning when you first started the band in 1990 did you ever envision that you’d still be making music today having accomplished what you have and how far you’ve all come as a band?
Tomi: No (laughs). We didn’t! I remember at that time we were talking about some bands like BOLT THROWER. We were reading some fanzine and saying oh my God they are 23 years old, what!!!!! We were 17 years old. So that felt old already so we couldn’t imagine that we are still going on. Of course you’re changing and all that. Of course we wanted to live by the music but at the same time we didn’t think is possible with this kind of music at that time. We didn’t even try to get any Finnish labels to get interested because we knew that they are just going to laugh at us. That’s why we were sending our demos all over the world because we knew that there is a lot of underground things going on. I’m happy that it worked this way. But I couldn’t imagine.
And at that time you were in high school or in the university?
Tomi: Yeah, in high school, university or something like that
At the same time you were playing your music, you had a normal job?
Tomi: Some of us had some kind of jobs, but there was this great depression. So it was not easy to get a job, so we were having this kind of unemployment payment from the government. But it was not too much money, so we were during the 90’s totally broke.
Santeri: And in the other hand I think nobody want it to go to work. I remember the atmosphere all the musicians were doing it as a profession but we didn’t get any money, kind of as a hobby. But you wanna be a musician. But in the other hand you could have some cleaning job or some really dirty job but with the very minimum salary. But in the other hand you couldn’t do it because if you have to work on Saturday 7:00, but on Friday you have some sort a gig in a youth house is specially impossible because you got wasted during the night and them next day you can not go to work.
Tomi: Or if you have a job interview and you say «yeah I’ll like to have this job, by the way in two weeks I’ll have to take five weeks off».
Santeri: Yo basically have to say no to work because in the first place you didn’t want it! (laughs). Because all you wanna do is play music.
AMORPHIS is scheduled to tour Finland and all over Europe in the autumn. Are there any future plans to tour Latin America, United States, Asia or Australia?
Santeri: It would be nice because we have been there couple of times around. And I heard rumors which probably will not happen because are rumors. But I think in autumn we are going to do the Finnish tour of course! Them we do the NIGHTWISH support in Europe and hopefully in winter when is dark and snowing here and really cold we are trying to get the South America tour or US and South America. But every winter I have been in a band and we always have rumors. But sometimes it happens.
If you guys go there please take me with you. Don’t leave me here!
Santeri: Hopefully in the beginning of the year we can do either South America, US or Japan or maybe Australia. But I think in March or at the latest in April we are going to do our own headlining tour in Europe. Maybe there are some Russian dates coming also, but I’m not sure time wise where?
Are you planning to go to Spain?
Tomi: Sure, maybe!
You have a really big fanbase over there.
Santeri: Yeah, we were in Spain in the last tour. I think last time we did like 5 shows in Spain, and 2 shows in Portugal. And the tour before that one also. So we have been around Spain a lot lately. Nobody knows.
Yeah, I think you can go to South America because the people over there are really crazy about metal music.
Santeri: Yeah, we have been there like three times. It would be nice to come back!
Tricky question, what do you think about the music business nowadays and how does it affect you as you are an Finnish band in a heavy metal major label like Nuclear Blast?
Tomi: Well, it had been changed a lot of course. That’s for sure. At first this illegal download in the music and now Spotify. Is a tricky question if Spotify is good or not? You don’t get paid on Spotify really, but if you’re not in Spotify you are not maybe going to get notice anymore. The good thing is that you can tour in some places where your album have sold like 5 copies and them you are going there and there is like thousand people, everybody know the songs and you’re like ahhh OK. But I don’t know.
Santeri: It was like that already before Spotify. You know there were countries where basically where we sold 100 CD or cassettes. But them when we were in that country there were like thousand people that knew the songs. But maybe the problem with the modern industries is that is very hard to get enough money to from the record sales to live between the touring because is very difficult to tour all the time. Because you’ll over tour easily you know. So basically I don’t how it will turn out? But at the moment we are still struggling you know. Of course we like to do shows, I love touring and I love doing shows specially when the album comes. I like to think that is not our problem anymore, is the record companies problem you know. They should deal with it eventually because actually they own all our songs.
Tomi: So eventually is going to eat the budget of how you are doing your record. In our case still haven’t but I think there are some smaller bands which of course if you get less money you have to… Like this album we tried to do everything very high fidelity not like using any like tape thing. So in the end it have to affect how the music will sound as well.
Because of the record industry, nowadays people are recording in their houses or something like that. And this recordings they are not going to be like high fidelity sound.
Santeri: Is very difficult when the money goes only to the big artist or to the record company. Is very difficult to the newcomer bands to get any record budget. Basically you have to do it at your garage and give it to the record company for free and in the worst case scenario you have to even pay for it that the will add it to the catalog!
Tomi: And the quality is going this far from the big selling thing!
Santeri: On the other hand I have to say that in the 90’s in Finland and some other countries when there was not real export of record business it was pretty much the same. As you said before when you did the «Tales From The Thousand Lakes» album or before that when you were young it was totally impossible to imagine that I’m going to make a living out of this. It was impossible, that was after the glam rock. Pretty much around the 90’s there was just glam rock huge bands that die away because of this. And them there was nothing you know and after they gave you 3% out of record sales basically.
And now every year there is a new streaming application or program. Like Apple is going to have one and there is this Tidal. But as you said sometimes you go to a country and you only have sold like 5 records and them there are many people waiting for you at the concert. Not many people buy the records nowadays, they prefer to listen it on Spotify.
Tomi: I think the CD format die. The younger people they don’t even get the CD’s from like normal stores anymore.
Santeri: In modern cars there is no CD player!
Nowadays the vinyl and the cassette is quite trendy. Yeah, every year there is even a Cassette Store Day. You know there is a Record Store Day and now there is a Cassette Store Day!
Tomi: So after 20 years the CD is coming back (laughs) Or the mini disc!
Santeri: I think is still going the whole thing but the hardest will hit probably the new bands. They have to make slave deals to give everything away: the merchandise, the publishing, the record sales for ten albums. And basically they sell all the art for 15 euros just to a piece.
Any new music or new bands that you guys are listening at the moment? Old bands?
Tomi: I like the new GHOST and the video as well.
Santeri: I think there is also a… I used to grow up with the 70’s hard rock and progressive rock like LED ZEPPELIN and stuff like that but at the moment there is like a second coming of the stoner rock. Now there are lot of good bands, for example GHOST is one and they sound good, BLUES PILLS and GRAVEYARD. Very interesting. And there also great progressive 70’s style bands in Finland. They sing in Finnish but they are good.
I like SEREMONIA!
Santeri: I haven’t listened SEREMONIA but SAMAL is really good!
Tomi: I try to find new music all the time. I need to have a new album in my iPod or phone.
What kind of music are you interested right now?
Tomi: The scale is quite wide from Finnish rock like PARIISIN KEVÄT to I don’t know. I don’t care that much.
For example in the US there is a new wave of black metal. That is quite interesting, like DEAFHEAVEN, LITURGY. Maybe you can listen to those bands because they have many critics because they play black metal but they use synthesizers and midi parts.
Tomi: What was the name of the band?
LITURGY and the new album is called «The Ark Work» and is like electronic music mixed with black metal.
Tuska Festival is this weekend. Are there any bands that you’re looking forward to check out?
Santeri: I would like to see OPETH, but we have our gig on Saturday so I probably will get totally wasted and I’m not going on Sunday so…
Tomi: I saw ALICE in the «Poison tour».
Santeri: After I saw ALICE saying that he cannot do half of his songs because he is so christian nowadays I’m not that interested anymore: «I’m not going to do this, that… because I now only play this christian songs». But ALICE COOPER is great, I saw him in the «Poison tour» in the 80’s, it was 88 or 89? It was good!
Thank you guys so much for your time.