June 15, 2015 Interview – Tomi Koivusaari of Amorphis
In the world of Heavy Metal music, there are only a handful of bands who reach the quarter century mark in longevity. One of the most creative collectives ever to accomplish this feat, Amorphis formed in Helsinki, Finland back in 1990. Made up of a quartet of eager young kids with their heads full of the Death Metal and Grindcore that was so big at the time, the journey undertaken from then until now could be said to resemble the word the band’s moniker is based upon: amorphous. But unlike something shapeless and without direction, the evolution of Amorphis has seen them stylistically come full circle. Blending many different patterns and melodies into a sound that borrows equally from Death Metal, Progressive Rock, and even a touch of Folk music, Amorphis is currently putting the finishing touches on their twelfth studio album. As if that is not work enough, the Finnish troupe has been invited to perform one of their seminal releases in its entirety to commemorate the 20th anniversary of its existence. Scheduled to appear at numerous festivals across Europe, there was even one exclusive stop within the borders of the USA at 2015’s Maryland Deathfest, bringing the Finns back to a country they have not toured in about a decade. That album is none other than 1994’s Tales From The Thousand Lakes, which remains a venerable monument to this day. Having launched them out of their homeland, it helped Amorphis to cement their name into the bedrock of Heavy Metal’s very foundations. This masterpiece of Folk tinged melodic Death Metal changed the game, setting the table for future generations to draw influence from its timeless melodies and unique arrangements. Recently, CrypticRock had the great good fortune to sit down with one of the founding members of Amorphis, that being guitarist and former vocalist Tomi Koivusaari. Wherever the good ship Amorphis has sailed since 1990, his has been one of the main hands holding the wheel.
CrypticRock.com – Amorphis has been together for over twenty-five years, in that time releasing eleven studio albums and becoming one of the world’s foremost respected and recognized Heavy Metal bands. Can you tell us a little bit about what that journey has been like for you personally?
Tomi Koivusaari – When we started, I could not imagine we would be going on after twenty-five years. It feels; not like a job, or even a hobby, but more like a way of life. I cannot imagine doing anything else. It is hard to think back because everything has happened in circles. We have not been living a normal life, we have been touring and whatnot all the time. It still feels like the beginning for us.
CrypticRock.com – You have toured Australia and Japan, correct?
Tomi Koivusaari – We did, we have toured Japan a few times, Australia just once, for the album Circle. It was strange to go to a place that far away only for a short time.
CrypticRock.com – It must have felt amazing to know that people that far away wanted to hear your music. There has been a lot of progression in the sound of Amorphis from the early days of 1992’s The Karelian Isthmus all the way up to 2013’s Circle and beyond. Why do you think this happened? Why not just stay a Death Metal band?
Tomi Koivusaari – I think we were so young when we started, and when you are young you are just looking for new stuff all the time. We did at least, and in the Metal scene we were always going on to harder stuff. Our musical tastes were heading from Death Metal to Grindcore, and then at that point, there was not anything heavier for us. We then began to get into music from the ’70s like Pink Floyd. It is quite obvious that when playing what you are used to is no longer fun, you have to move on to new influences. I think nowadays the circle is a little bit coming together because now we can also take some influence from ourselves, from our history. We do not have to try and be different on purpose, like now we are going to suddenly become a Rock band or something.
CrypticRock.com – Many fans look at the 1999 studio album Tuonela as a turning point for Amorphis. Do you have fond memories of the writing process for Tuonela?
Tomi Koivusaari – After Elegy (1996) I was thinking we committed musical suicide, in a way (laughs). After the success of Elegy and Tales From The Thousand Lakes (1994), we knew we wanted to do something totally different, and leave the growling vocals behind. I think it was important to do those things, because writing Tuonela helped us become the band we are today.
CrypticRock.com – You were not the only band who drifted away from their traditional style in the late ’90s. My Dying Bride, Moonspell, Samael, Paradise Lost, and Kreator all experienced a similar departure from what fans expected of them.
Tomi Koivusaari – Yes, and one other reason was that at the time it felt like we could not go to a higher level musically with the growling vocal style. I do not necessarily feel this way anymore, but at the time it was what we thought.
CrypticRock.com – Do you think that most musical fans, who are not musicians, just do not understand the pressure on a band to follow up a hugely successful album with something better? Do you ever feel that added pressure?
Tomi Koivusaari – Yes, maybe. I think there are some bands who can keep making the same album over again, but in our case we would have split up long ago if we kept trying to make the same thing over again. We wanted to continue as a band. At that time, a lot of people were asking us why are we continuing with the Amorphis name, but we kept the name because of course, it is our band. It is our music. Also, there were a lot of things going on around the band at that time. Our keyboard player on Elegy, Kim (Rantala), he disappeared somewhere (laughs); and Olli (Pekka-Laine), the bass player, left the band because he did not like our direction.
CrypticRock.com – That was when you picked up Santeri Kallio (keyboards), who has been a mainstay ever since and written his share of excellent songs. When Tomi Joutsen took over vocal duties for Amorphis in 2004, it appeared to be a seamless transition from a fan standpoint. What is it like working with Tomi?
Tomi Koivusaari – Very easy, he is very much a feet on the ground type of person. He is very highly motivated and puts in 100% effort all the time. He is an excellent singer and frontman on stage. It was very lucky that we met this guy.
CrypticRock.com – He has certainly revitalized and rejuvenated Amorphis. The Kalevala, the Finnish National Epic, is a key element in your lyrics, imagery, and overall inspiration. What exactly caused Amorphis to draw from this literary source so frequently throughout your career?
Tomi Koivusaari – In the beginning it was just an idea because we were starting to listen to a lot of Ethnic and Folk music, as well as some 1970’s bands that were using folkish elements in their music. After our first album, we began to add these elements into our music. In thinking about what the lyrics for each album were going to be, we worried a little, because none of us wanted to write lyrics. So someone in the band, I cannot recall who, decided to use the Kalevala for our lyrics. We did not know of anyone using it before so it was an original idea. Plus, we did not just want to make some lyrics about corpses or blah-blah-blah, which does not mean anything in the end. It was just an idea to do something different. We were not big fans of this book in school or anything, we hated when we had to read it, but it opened up to us through the years in a way.
CrypticRock.com – When you study something on your own terms versus being told to study it in school, it makes a difference, and is more interesting. To expand on the subject of folklore, you have the writing credits for the Moon and Sun EP which came out alongside Tales From The Thousand Lakes in 1994. Are you the guy in Amorphis who is most adept at composing and integrating Folk elements into the music, or perhaps you have the most interest in it?
Tomi Koivusaari – I do not know, I think it is just the way I write music. Esa (Holopainen – guitar, co-founder of Amorphis) has his way, and I have mine. I would not say I am better at it than the other guys, or more interested, it is just the style that I have when I write melodies and compose songs.
CrypticRock.com – It is cool to see the differences in writing styles between both you and Esa Holopainen. Recently you performed the entire Tales From The Thousand Lakes album at Maryland Deathfest XIII. Is it especially exciting to think that there would be such a demand for you to play an album that is over twenty years old? Is this something you would ever have expected to happen?
Tomi Koivusaari – Somebody asked us about five years ago, “Is it possible we would play it in its entirety,” and I said, “No, never.” I just did not think it worked. Now, when it is twenty-five years since the band’s beginning, and twenty years from that album’s release, I think, “Why not?” It feels pretty nice actually. We have been playing most of those songs live through the years, but there are some songs on there we only played once or twice in the very beginning.
CrypticRock.com – Songs like “To Father’s Cabin” and “Magic and Mayhem,” very popular among fans of the album and almost never heard live, should be amazing. Do you think you will tour all of America with Tales From The Thousand Lakes, or keep it to only a few select shows?
Tomi Koivusaari – No, it is only this Summer. We did a small European tour the end of last year and we have a few festivals in Europe and Finland. We have a new album coming out in Autumn, so that will be it for Tales From The Thousand Lakes.
CrypticRock.com – So your appearance at Maryland Deathfest XIII in May of 2015 was a very exclusive treat for American fans?
Tomi Koivusaari – Yes, it was. We played 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise this year, but other than that, just that show at Maryland Deathfest.
CrypticRock.com – That is pretty exciting. Like you said, the new album is to be released in September of 2015. Can you tell us a little bit about what the writing and recording process has been like for this record? What can fans expect this time around?
Tomi Koivusaari – I think it will be different than the past few albums, because production-wise it feels like the first time we have a real producer from the beginning, Jens Bogren. Normally we have only had a producer for vocals. This time he was in our rehearsing place and helping us with song structures. Jens is very strict in how to do things and we have never experienced a guy like that before. We just finished last week, the last recordings. Actually, next week, there is still some backing vocals to finish. We have not heard the songs that much. We have just been sweating, recording, and asking “Can we hear it Jens?” His reply, “No” (deadpans, then laughs). We do not even get to hear it, but of course we know how the songs are sounding and Jens is very good at what he does. There is even going to be some orchestra sections on the new album, which was his idea. I have not heard them yet (laughs), but I think it will be very good.
CrypticRock.com – That is very intriguing. Fans will be salivating to hear it as well. So you won’t be working with Peter Tägtgren (Hypocrisy, Pain, Lock-Up, Abyss Studios) this time around?
Tomi Koivusaari – We did not decide anything, but we wanted to try something different. I think we actually tried to reach out to Peter, but his schedule was too busy. It is great to try different approaches though.
CrypticRock.com – On 2013’s Circle, the writing credits were split between many of the band members. Is that pattern continuing or is one or two of you taking the lead in composing all the songs?
Tomi Koivusaari – Most of the songs are written by Santeri or Esa. I have a couple, but this time, we have twenty-two songs and we had to chop them away until we were left with 13. We still have to chop three songs. I do not know which songs they are, but I think Jens will make that decision (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Are you still using the Kalevala for lyrical inspiration, with the assistance of lyricist Pekka Kekalainen, once more?
Tomi Koivusaari – Yes, its not directly from the Kalevala, but inspired from it. I am not sure which aspect of the book yet he is going to draw from.
CrypticRock.com – The lyrics have been so good, and particularly enjoyable on the last record Circle. No doubt they will once again be a strong point for this new album. CrypticRock covers Horror films as well as music. Are you a fan of Horror films, and if so, can you share with our readers some of your favorites?
Tomi Koivusaari – Yes, but the only problem is nowadays I cannot find any good Horror movies. They are more funny nowadays than actual Horror. I am a big fan of The Omen (1976) and The Shining (1980), but the new ones I just cannot get into.
CrypticRock.com – Do you like a good ghost story? If so, The Conjuring (2013) was very good. Came out a few years ago, it was pretty frightening, and definitely makes you jump in a lot of places.
Tomi Koivusaari – I like that feeling, when you get freaked out by a movie.
CrypticRock.com – How about The Walking Dead ? Do you like that very popular series?
Tomi Koivusaari – Not yet. The other guys have been watching it on tour, but I have not gotten around to that one yet.