May 8, 2015 Interview – Eicca Toppinen of Apocalyptica
Heavy Metal and Classic music has always shared many common qualities. From epic instrumental textures, to the sea of emotions that both styles create. Defying the stereotype that Heavy Metal music must be played with electric guitars, four trained Finnish cellist by the names of Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen, Max Lilja, and Antero Manninen united to prove the world wrong and formed what is known as Apocalyptica. Initially releasing an album covering Metallica tunes in 1996, the musicians soon realized that they yearned to write original music and thus began a storied career. A success throughout European countries, the sounds of the band soon spread to North America, sky-rocketing them to stardom with 2008’s Worlds Collide. Now established as the premiere, unique Metal act to experience live, Apocalpytica return in 2015 with more touring, a new vocalist in Franky Perez, and a new album titled Shadowmaker, which could be their most cohesive to date. Recently we sat down with master musician Toppinen for an insightful look into the journey of Apocalpytica, the work behind their new album, performing live, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Apocalyptica came together over two decades ago now, and in that time the band has grown from initially performing Metallica songs on cellos to becoming an internationally known original Metal band. Was it always your intent to make Apocalytptica more than a cover band from the start?
Eicca Toppinen – When we started Apocalyptica, we actually did not think we were forming a band; we just thought we were playing Heavy Metal for fun. We are classically trained cellist, but we shared a passion for Heavy Metal. We never had any plans to make any albums, and we would play at parties for friends. In 1995, we got a gig for a Metal show. That was our very first gig for a Metal audience, and we got a call from an independent label who asked if we would like to make an album from it. We thought we would do it just for experience. We did not think of a next album, so it was really not planned. When we did the first album, we started to get more into it and started to realize we could sound totally different than we did on the first album, so we then said we would make another one. I think then, we started to feel like a band, and we started to find our personal musical identity. That was the turning point when we started to write our own songs. There was never really a plan for a long-term for the band, it was about focusing on the moment and trying to make music at that time.
CrypticRock.com – That makes sense. What is quite interesting is all your music is performed on cellos along with drums and bass. While the cello has been used as a Rock instrument in the past, no one has ever really configured their band around cellos. What were people’s reaction when you initially thought of this concept for the band?
Eicca Toppinen – We were really surprised that people thought it was so revolutionary, exciting, and interesting, because for us, it was the most natural thing in the world to do. I think the reaction of the audience with stage diving and such had the record company thinking it would be cool to make an album out of it. I think, overall, the reaction was really positive everywhere, but we also faced a lot of skepticism from people who said it was fun once, but it cannot last. It is cool to look back twenty years later and say, “Hey, we still exist and are kicking ass!”
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, it has worked tremendously well. Around 2005, you began to start to feature many accomplished Rock/Metal vocalists on your records. What inspired the band to decide to start featuring guest vocalists?
Eicca Toppinen – At first, we were asked to play on records, and we were on tons of records as featuring artists. Then, when we started to write our own songs in 1999 for Cult (2000), we thought, “Hey, we are now writing our own songs, why don’t we do it the other way around.” The first song we did was “Path” with Sandra Nasić of Guano Apes. We really liked the experimental feeling of what happened with the whole vibe of the songs when someone sang it. That is mainly why we did collaborations for years and years after that.
CrypticRock.com – In that time, you have worked with some really great vocalists. It has been five years since the band’s last studio record, and now have released your eighth overall studio album, Shadowmaker. What was the writing and recording process like for this record?
Eicca Toppinen – It was very cool. The writing process was not so much different than the previous albums. We had a year break after touring for 7th Symphony (2010), and we did not write any music during that break for this record. In 2013 we did Wagner Reloaded- Live in Leipzig, and because of that, we did not write any new songs. When we came back from that break, we started from scratch and talked about what album we would like to make and what sound we would like it to have. We started from there and, pretty quickly, we found a clear vision of how we wanted the album to sound and who we wanted to produce and to mix the album. When we co-write, we like to do it with vocal tracks of other people. When we had most of the songs together, we realized we had a few that had vocal tracks, so we had to make our mind up of what we wanted to do with them.
It was really clear a featuring album was not the interesting option. We were also without a record deal, so we were completely free of anything outside of the band. We wanted to keep that comfort, and the only way to do that was to find a singer to sing the full album and also to tour with the band. We released a quiet notice, and through that notice we found Franky. That actually changed a lot of the way we work. It was the first time we had a singer with us during pre-production and rehearsing. That had a lot of effect on how things turned out. We were able to work with Franky in the rehearsal room and we were able to hear all songs live with the five of us playing. It was really cool and intense to make a record that was not depending on anything outside the band. That was actually the first album since Cult that has happened. Since then, there has always been featured singers. It is cool to feature artists, but on the other hand, you are depending on so many moving parts outside the band. It made the process so much different. For the two previous albums, we were always in studio and did not know which songs were going to happen. We were still waiting for confirmation from labels and managements about timing. It was very stressful making a record and not know what record you were making (laughs). This time, we really knew exactly what kind of album we were going to do. We literally locked ourselves in the studio and the album was done. I really enjoyed it. For me, the actually recording was the easiest album production I had done in my entire life (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like a much more relaxing experience. As you mentioned, you have added Franky as the primary vocalist on the record. It seems as if this has been a steady progression; first becoming a band, now having a set vocalist for the band. Do you think one voice for Apocalyptica helps solidify the band more?
Eicca Toppinen – Yes, I think the whole identity of the band comes together much better now. I have heard so much feedback that people say they get it now, and now it feels like a real band. For the last seven years, we had a singer touring with us, and it was different singers on the albums. Now, it feels really good with Franky during the live shows. Franky’s sound is a very organic part of the Apocalyptica sound. It helps us combine the instrumental and vocal Apocalyptica much better than in the past.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed, the record is very solid. It has a nice flow from beginning to end.
Eicca Toppinen – Yes, I think it is the most solid work we have done. We really wanted to make a full album. We really wanted to take advantage that we had one singer and we did not need to jump around. Even if we have different style songs, whether it be Pop or Thrash Metal, I think the general overall sound on the album really connects all of those together. Also sound wise, sonically, I think this album is more cohesive than the previous albums. That is something we have been searching for ages for.
CrypticRock.com – There is certainly a cohesive sense of the entire record from start to finish. The band just completed a North American tour with SIXX:A.M. at the end of April. How did the tour go, and most of all, how did it feel to be back touring the USA again?
Eicca Toppinen – It went well. It is exciting to play with them because there were many people who did not know about us or had never seen us before. We love to surprise people, and that is what we did (laughs). It felt really good to be back in America. We love touring in America and it was great to see our fans here again. We are so pumped up with excitement and motivated now that we are touring with Franky and have new songs. Before this tour, we played overseas with Franky for around ten to fifteen shows in Australia and festivals, but not a proper run. This tour really felt so good and I am super excited to see what happens and where we start to gel during a daily routine of playing a show almost every night. When we get that going on, things get very positive musically. I think we are tight, but I think we can get tighter, if possible (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Well the band does sound extremely tight. Any Apocalyptica fan would agree in order to understand the band, you have to see them live. Seeing the band live is an amazing experience and much different than the record. The band has a lot of energy on stage. With that said, do you still see a lot of shocked faces in the audience when they see you live?
Eicca Toppinen – Yes! Some people watch with their mouth wide open and smiling like little kids. It is really so much fun. When people see us for the first time, they are really blown away. I agree, you really need to see Apocalyptica live, because people think, “Well the music is played by cellos, and not guitars.” That does not really mean anything though before you see the magic actually happens. We have to go everywhere and show everyone how it goes.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly. The band is absolutely one that needs to be seen live to get it. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Eicca Toppinen – I am not the biggest fan of Horror movies to be honest. I just watched The Shining (1980) last week, after not seeing it for maybe twenty-five years. That is a brilliant Horror movie. It is always fresh and will last forever.
CrypticRock.com – That film is timeless and frightening. Horror films are not for everyone. Do you have a particular type of film you like to watch?
Eicca Toppinen – I am not sure if there is a particular category I enjoy. I watch a lot of movies when I am travelling and flying. That is when it is easy to watch Action films, and that is what I like, it is entertaining. I also like movies that challenge me mentality, such as Dancer in the Dark (2000). I also like Interstellar (2014). Essentially, I just like movies that make you think a lot.