May 11, 2017 Interview – Santeri Kallio of Amorphis
Eight years is a long time to go without seeing a beloved band, especially when that said band released one critically acclaimed album after another during that long and lonely span. That in mind, it was with great pleasure that North American fans welcomed Finnish melodic titans Amorphis back to these shores in the early spring of 2017. A tour which would find Amorphis traveling the highways and byways of North America alongside countrymates Swallow the Sun for two months, a lot of interesting things happened in that time. Sure there are the jokes, the drinks, and most importantly the music, but what happened along the way was a reconnection with dedicated fans.
On the eve of the final show of the tour, we caught up with Santeri Kallio, long-time keyboard extraordinaire and integral member of the Helsinki-based troupe, for a discussion about 2015’s Under the Red Cloud album, the long overdue North American tour, along with some insight into how time is passed on such treks, musical direction, and of course, what Horror film kept Mr. Kallio awake and terrified as a child.
CrypticRock.com – Amorphis has forged quite a tale in their time. From the early days until the present, the band has continuously put out fantastic music. On the final night of the band’s anticipated North American tour, how do you feel?
Santeri Kallio – I’m great! Little bit exhausted about the long tour – 42nd show starts today, and we have been here a total of 50 days. It’s a pretty long run for us. We’re still going strong though, and for the last show, there is always a little something special in the air.
CrypticRock.com – That is good. It has been a long time since United States fans got to experience Amorphis on a proper tour. In fact, Amorphis last toured The States for their 2007 Silent Waters album. What, if anything, has changed about touring The States over that time span for Amorphis?
Santeri Kallio – The crowds have been bigger than we expected cause we haven’t been here in so long. We were expecting audiences of 150-200 but it’s been better and, in Canada especially, its been a great success. In the US as well. Its really nice to see the fans know the songs and the lyrics and they buy a hell of a lot of merchandise because they wanna support the band. They know it’s really expensive to come here with the crew and the bus and it’s a long way from home. They are really supporting the band so we are very positively surprised, and we will definitely be back again . . . sooner than 10 years (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Fans will be breathing a huge sigh of relief to hear you say that, for sure. This current lineup of Amorphis has been together longer at this point than any other iteration of the band. What makes this group of guys so cohesive and harmonious?
Santeri Kallio – I think the band thing is always about finding the right people. I’m not saying we were deliberately looking for the right people, but it just happened. When I came to the band there was still Olli-Pekka (Laine, bass guitar) and he left because he didn’t like the musical direction. We didn’t have any fights, any bad blood, he is still a great friend and he has always been, but he felt it just wasn’t his passion anymore. Then Niclas (Etelävuori) came, who I used to play with in an old band. I knew he was a nice guy, an old friend, and funny, and everybody else knew him too, but I knew he was not gonna cause any troubles in the band.
Then Pekka (Kasari – drums) left, you know, again with no bad blood. He had twins. He was also much older than us at that time. He got the twins and then said he had to stop touring, he’s too old (laughs). We were still touring AM Universum. He got a real job, which was going good. But there was no bad blood. Then we got Jan (Rechberger drums) back, and we knew he’s a great guy.
Only time we worried was when the singer left (Pasi Koskinen 1995-2003) because singers, sometimes, not to say anything bad about them, but sometimes singers can be the most complex guy in the band. But after we met Tomi Joutsen, we did the US tour after Far From The Sun to test him, and he wanted to test himself. Is he available to be touring like hell? It was the first tour ever for him. Everything went pretty well. He’s a nice guy, he’s still down to earth, even after the success we’ve had in his era, so it’s pretty much pure luck how to find the right lineup. But you never know what happens in the future. We get older, your life situation changes, you have a family. Something changes with your work ambitions and passion. I am totally sure this is not going to be our last lineup. Of course not. But it’s been really nice, and we really don’t have any fights. We are really good friends. If we have a fight we just shout it out drunk, and then it’s over. There’s no big grudges. Personally, it’s like, you peak and then you come down and it’s done. ‘Sorry, guys.’ Its all about communication and being friends.
CrypticRock.com – The cohesion in this lineup most assuredly contributed to the long run of successful albums Amorphis has produced. Doing that album in and album out is not easy. How does Amorphis maintain such high quality in its music? Is this difficult?
Santeri Kallio – It’s difficult to keep the fans happy. I know so many fans who say, “Oh, I used to listen to them years ago but not now.” Well we had that time with Tuonela/AM Universum/FFTS era, when a lot of fans were saying, “Oh Jesus, what happened.” We were also thinking ‘what happened,’ but the truth is you have to go on. You can’t live your past again and again and again. Well nowadays we can, because we have had such a long career, we can play older albums in their entirety. That makes more sense than to make another album we already made exactly the same.
CrypticRock.com – Those kinds of tours are always a special treat for long-time fans. When Amorphis is on tour for a long stretch, is it all business, or do you get new musical ideas in the middle of it all? Or is there simply no time for creativity?
Santeri Kallio – There would be time, but I am not that kind of person. I don’t think Esa (Holopainen – guitars) is and anybody else is. Touring is pretty heavy stuff. You are tired, and the biggest problem is that all the time, people are around you.
CrypticRock.com – Like people trying to interview you? (laughs)
Santeri Kallio – (laughs) No, no, people in the band on the bus. I might say, oh man nobody’s in the bus, I’m gonna try to organize my underwear drawer and suddenly there’s five guys going through. Think about if you’re trying to make music, and concentrate on the music. No, its not gonna work. To be honest, I think touring and composing don’t fit together. Personally, when I start composing and I get new ideas, I prefer to take influences from the touring, how the touring developed the band, how the shows gave us some different aspects of what way the music can go. But, always, we are touring all the time so every time we have to compose and then do shows and back and forth. In the summer, we do mostly festivals, so on the weekend we go out play the show, and then Monday to Friday we can build our ideas. But not on a tour, holy hell. There’s no acoustic jams in the back lounge (laughs). Guys singing second harmonies, trust me. It’s the image from Glam Rock bands with the videos of the guy playing acoustic guitar and the other guys singing harmonies in the background. But not us.
CrypticRock.com – Well, your music is a bit more complex than that. America is such a vast country, with so much to experience. What region do you like the most?
Santeri Kallio – It’s very hard to say because I like all the parts, especially after this tour. We have had good audiences all around. I love the East Coast, of course, there are roots for Hard Rock and Heavy Metal here. It’s kind of like European places. People are pretty straightforward. I also like Canada. There’s a big scene there. I like the Chicago, Detroit, Great Lakes area. Back in our Relapse Records days and right after, I have good memories of us there, great people, and we sold the most records out there. Vancouver, Seattle, who doesn’t like Seattle, come on! Then there’s California. Who doesn’t love California? Also, Texas, a lot of people say bad things about Texas, but that is one of the greatest places in the whole country. Unbelievable. Also Florida, which was a nice surprise. I would say I don’t really see any bad here at all. Of course, if you’re in a bad neighborhood, and they say don’t go out, they’ll kill you and there’s some poor people taking drugs, but that is just a bad location. The venue is where it is. Well that goes on everywhere in the world, and I pretty much love everywhere we have been here in America.
CrypticRock.com – That is good because American fans like having you here. People out here were very pleasantly surprised by Amorphis releasing An Evening With Friends at Huvila, the live album with traditional instruments, saxophone, and female vocals by Anneke Van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering, Agua De Annique, Devin Townsend Band). Has that experience motivated you to include such types of performances on future studio albums? How was it working with Anneke Van Giersbergen?
Santeri Kallio – Well, Anneke is an old friend. We played some festivals with her and met her many times over the years. We were big fans of The Gathering in the ’90s. We didn’t actually rehearse with Anneke, as she is so busy. She came straight to the soundcheck, but she is so professional it worked great. About the studio albums, let’s put it this way, our singer is not that excited about the acoustic dimension that maybe the other guys are. He is willing to do it in pieces, but he thinks our music should be more what it is and not to play around with it, but he is still open minded and that’s why we’ve done those experiments. I think he might greenlight such a thing at some point for an acoustic album, especially now because we did a semi-acoustic concert tour in Finland, and once in Germany. Now we did Huvila. So let’s keep our fingers crossed that he sees the same potential in that dimension as the other guys. On the other hand we are pretty busy, up to 200 shows for Under the Red Cloud already, for example. Maybe when we can make the time in the future, if we have a year with some time to ourselves, we may try.
CrypticRock.com – Tomi Joutsen’s voice is certainly very suited for such acoustic songs as well as the heavy stuff. Fans have been singing along, enjoying your North American tour in great numbers. Have you found that fans are embracing the latest album Under the Red Cloud with as much enthusiasm as the older, more classic material?
Santeri Kallio – Yeah, absolutely. I think with Under the Red Cloud, we’ve seen and heard very good feedback from the US audience. Everyone knows the songs, they want to talk about the songs, they want to ask us what our favorite songs on it are (laughs). They really know the album, and it is a strong album, so I can understand that. It’s just a shame cause it’s the last one. We aren’t getting the feedback from Circle (2013), Skyforger (2010), which is our own fault because we haven’t been here.
CrypticRock.com – Well fans have a lot to discuss with you guys after the long absence. Since Tomi Joutsen became the singer, it feels like the albums have had a continuity to one another, until Circle, which seemed heavier, louder, and darker than past albums, partly due to the production of Peter Tägtgren. Would you say Under the Red Cloud is a connection to Circle or a continuation of the path being laid out before it?
Santeri Kallio – I would say it’s a continuation from Circle. For The Beginning of Times (2011), we were thinking that the songs were . . . I don’t know, Skyforger was such a big album for us and for the audience, I mean, we toured our asses off for Skyforger. I think we went, from my point of view, we went too poppy, or too mellow and mid-tempo in sound with The Beginning of Times. When we performed live, the songs were not aggressive enough. So I would say it was not Peter’s production, but the songs we ourselves were making for Circle were heavier and faster.
With Under the Red Cloud, we were going even heavier. Jens Bogren came in, and he sped up some of the songs, like in “Bad Blood.” He suggested instead of a vocal melody, how about this grunt type vocal. That’s what the great producers do, they extend what the band wants. I think Jens heard in our demos that we were going heavier. He helped us achieve that. We were already going that way, you know, because after The Beginning of Times we couldn’t possibly go any mellower or we would be only a Hard Rock band.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly has been an interesting progression for fans to witness, and a delightful one. Speaking of touring, the road gets stressful. Who lightens the mood and what is the biggest jokester group activity to ease the stress?
Santeri Kallio – Oh there’s so many jokesters. Maybe Niklas is the craziest, he makes jokes all the time. Well, some guys go to the gym. I used to do that, but not on this tour. Sometimes at the gym you get a free shower. There’s no showers in the US when we’re on tour. Sometimes we put on a song and we judge the song and you get points if the other guys vote for your song. Everyone picks a genre and we take turns.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like you guys know how to keep spirits high during the long trek away from home. Our last question before you going is pertaining to films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorites?
Santeri Kallio – There’s so many from the ’80s I love, one is The Shining (1980). Then there are John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), Prince of Darkness (1987), and The Thing (1982). Also The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), and Army of Darkness (1992), which was more of a Comedy. I saw the first The Evil Dead when I was 7 or 8, my big sister put it on in the dark and just left. I fucking didn’t sleep for two months!
As for John Carpenter’s The Prince of Darkness, I just love the message from the future, how the priest figures it out. When he realizes it, and it’s a message from the destroyed world! Also, the music of John Carpenter, I actually just saw him perform in Helsinki. He has the visuals up and he plays the music. It began with Escape From New York (1981) with all the visuals and I was like, Yes! One of the best, most entertaining concerts I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, there’s not many good Horror movies anymore. What’s with all the happy endings!