The maestros of metal create a forlorn and beautiful musical landscape with their latest album
Classical instruments have had their prominent place in metal and rock music for decades. Some of the more the more remarkable examples of this have come out Finland such as Nightwish and of course…. Apocalyptica. Thanks to Apocalyptica’s prolific career music fans can enjoy seven albums of masterful cello-driven metal. Now, their eighth album, Shadowmaker, due for release in April of 2015, is shaping up to be a bold new addition to the band’s discography. During their visit to London, Apocalyptica’s Paavo Lötjönen (cello) and Mikko Sirén (drums) were kind enough to chat with me about the recording of this new album.
Andy (HMA): I’m here at the K West Hotel with Paavo and Mikko from Apocalyptica. Thank you for taking the time to talk with Heavy Music Artwork. Eight studio albums is quite the career. Looking back what are you most proud of and what do you regret most?
Paavo: No regrets.
Mikko: We’re proud to be here now.
Andy (HMA): Good!
[Brief pause. We all start laughing.]
Mikko: It’s gonna be a short interview….
[We laugh for a good bit.]
Andy (HMA): Not letting you off that easy! How do you feel at Eleven Seven Music?
Mikko: Fantastic label! [Points to a man on a laptop sitting in the corner. Lowers his voice conspiratorially.] He’s from the label so we need to be nice. [Laughs.] What I can say is that in the recording of the album we have had full artistic freedom in the good sense and support from the label, so we’re very happy.
Andy (HMA): Let’s move right along then! Next up is your tour with SIXX:AM, right?
Paavo: Actually first we’re going to Paris to do some more promotion for the new album. Then we have a few weeks off and then we go to Soundwave Festival in Australia. From there it’s Mexico to play a show and then we go on tour with SIXX:AM.
Mikko: That’s kind of our album release tour.
Andy (HMA): Are you excited to share a stage with SIXX:AM?
Mikko: It’s great!
Paavo: We’ll be a good combination and I think they will be good shows.
Mikko: We’ve met the guys before, while we were recording in Nashville. Mötley Crüe were performing there, we went to see the show and we had a lot of fun with the guys. Nikki has been really supportive of our band. We’re actually planning to perform a couple of songs together on stage and that was Nikki’s idea.
Andy (HMA): What made you choose Franky Perez as the exclusive singer on ‘Shadowmaker’?
Paavo: It’s been really great working with different singers during all these years. However, when we’ve recorded the songs with different singers in the past we couldn’t provide the same experience during the live shows. We would always have a touring singer with us. This time we wanted to provide the same experience for the fans live as on the album. That’s one reason. Of course, it’s also a big logistic mess to have many singers on the album. But really the main reason was that we wanted a good singer with a voice that was right for Apocalyptica.
Andy (HMA): Do you think Apocalyptica might ever have a permanent vocalist?
Paavo: For now we have planned this as a project. Frankie will be with us for this album, we don’t know about the future.
Mikko: We are very happy now. I think that’s the way we’ve always worked as a band. There’s never been a plan for the future. Things that need to change, they change and things that feel natural stick with us. We’ve only been with Frankie for a short while now, only time will tell how it will be but we are super excited now and as Paavo said, just getting away from that mess of so many singers, managers and lawyers have been amazing.
Andy (HMA): What was the most valuable thing that Franky brought to the album?
Paavo: We were positively surprised by his voice and talent. He’s a fantastic singer.
Mikko: I think that when we went into the rehearsal room for the first time we could work with the singer there and arrange the whole song with all the elements present at the moment. We could find the perfect key, the perfect tempo, even the structures – he made great input, it was amazing. At the same time, he knew when to give the band space to breathe and when to give his input. He’s been around for a long time. I think we learned a lot from each other.
Andy (HMA): You’re famous for incorporating different styles into your music. What were the biggest influences on the sound of ‘Shadowmaker’?
Mikko: I think that sound wise one big thing is that in the rehearsal room, before Nick Raskulinecz even came along, we, as a band, knew what we wanted the album to sound like. We listened to a lot of System Of A Down and a lot of late 90s music, some Slayer, even some Red Hot Chili Peppers, just for the sound. We knew we wanted to bring more cello sound to the front; we really wanted people to hear the cellos. In past albums, I think it was lost in a way among the distortions.
Paavo: There have to be “prisons” in the sound. It has to be massive and it needs to capture you, to get under your skin. It needs to get really close, and then it can touch your soul.
Andy (HMA): Do you think ‘Shadowmaker’ is heavier than your previous albums? To my ear, there are very intense drums, cello-heavy distorted riffs, tempo changes and mood shifts. ‘Reign of Fear’ comes to mind. As musicians how and what made you create that sound?
Paavo: I think with each album we’ve always become heavier and more bombastic. I think this album is one step back actually. We have a lot of distortions on it but at many points, you can hear the cello sound, the real cello sound and we purposefully brought that out on the top.
Mikko: I think overall the tempo changes you mention, that is something Nick Raskulinecz brought to the album. We had the songs really rehearsed but then we went to Nashville to do production rehearsals, two months before we started to record. It was us, Frankie and Nick in the studio. Nick was kind of the one who pushed us by going “Okay, here, it’s not enough; something needs to happen, go crazier!” He felt that we had been suppressing our creativity on the previous albums. I was just thinking about ‘Reign of Fear’ that when I listen to some of our previous albums like ‘7th Symphony’, there are quite a few tracks which to my ear – and of course my angle is twisted because I’m “inside the box” – have a more typical heavy metal approach to them. On this album for ‘Reign of Fear’ is the song for which we wanted to keep that old school trashy metal vibe. In general, I feel that this album breathes a bit more freely.
Andy (HMA): The way I interpret the album an overarching theme seems to be lost or poisoned love. Am I wrong in making this assumption?
Mikko: No, not at all. I think our music has always been dark and serious. To the musical landscape of the album, the theme you mention is natural. ‘Shadowmaker’ was the first song which we finished and we wanted to carry the tone of that song throughout the album. In a way, it’s all one story, so naturally, the lyrics carry the same idea.
Paavo: I think it’s along the lines of “I don’t care if you’re dead or alive but I care”. It’s a kind of bitter love story.
Andy (HMA): ‘House of Chains’ follows right after ‘Hole in My Soul’ on the album. ‘Hole in My Soul’ is a very sad song but ‘House of Chains’ is harder and angrier and they both tackle the same theme.
Mikko: Exactly! It’s like seeing the same story but from different angles. I see this in relationships all the time. When people break up and you ask them “How did it go? What are your feelings?” you always get a fucking different story depending on who you talk to. There’s always at least two ways to approach a story.
Paavo: Also one time you are sad about something but later you are angry about it. Sadness and anger follow each other.
Andy (HMA): What does ‘Shadowmaker’ mean to you? The lyrics go ‘How can somebody so beautiful be so miserable?’ I found that line to be intriguingly mysterious.
Paavo: I wouldn’t dare tell you too much about the lyrics or our point of view because I’m afraid it might ruin it. ‘Shadowmaker’ is a cool title. [Laughs]
Mikko: There are different levels you can see it from. It can be a title about faceless people who make nothing meaningful, just create shadows but it can just be a cool sounding title. [Laughs] It can also be in a relationship too. You can find the most attractive person who might seem like the most amazing thing to have happened to you but they might be the one that pulls you down in the long term. A slow process of them chaining you down that you don’t even realize or see is happening.
Paavo: They might bring shadow instead of light to your life.
Mikko: Those are all interpretations but there is no wrong or right, it’s however whoever listens to the album feels is right. It’s a strong name and it creates a strong image.
Paavo: Everyone should create their own story for the album. So that is why we don’t want to tell you too much.
Andy (HMA): Wow, thank you guys, that was one of the most meaningful and genuine answers I have ever received in an interview. I must say, I know all too well what it means to have a shadow-maker in your life and in a way hearing you share that emotional content brings me closer to the album. Let’s carry on though – which songs are you most excited about performing on stage?
Paavo: We’ve only performed ‘Shadowmaker’ and ‘Cold Blood’. They’re both fun but of course, ‘Shadowmaker’ is like a huge piece and it’s challenging and fun to play. There are just so many layers in the song. It will continue being fun to play for three years at least. [Laughs]
Mikko: I’d say the biggest challenge from a drummer’s perspective will be ‘Riot Lights’ because it has an electro vibe and the arrangement is just so crazy we might have to hire someone to…. Actually, you look really cool, do you wanna come to play us on the tour?
Andy (HMA): If I were religious I’d shout “Oh yes, thank you Lord!”
[We all laugh even the label guy in the back.]
Mikko: Okay, you’re in! I love the song it’s a new kind of sound for Apocalyptica. It’s very groove driven and it just takes you to this certain mood. It’s gonna be a lot of fun to play.
Andy (HMA): ‘Dead Man’s Eyes’ is the final track on the album. Very mournful song and in the last two minutes it ends with the sound of rain. I noticed that the album also begins with the sound of rain. What is the significance of that you?
Mikko: You have an excellent ear! You obviously listened very carefully. Yes, the intro of the album is the same sound as the ending. We wanted the whole album to be a story and as a journey through a landscape and after the ending crescendo, it comes full circle.
Paavo: Originally it was supposed to be an instrumental song with a different structure. We were working a lot with that song. We made many different versions and when Frankie came to practice, he and Perttu had the idea to put a vocal track on it. It ended up being a great piece.
Andy (HMA): ‘I’m not afraid because I’m not alone / She’s waiting there to carry me home’ is how the lyrics go. That was beautiful.
Mikko: It is very nice and it was something the singer could relate to. Again with the rain, we wanted to create a strong melancholic “floating point” for people because the ending of the song is so strong. We wanted people to be left at that point where they could calm down emotionally.
Andy (HMA): I only listened to the digital promo of the album. I’ve seen the cover art but what does it look like on the inside? Can you tell me?
Paavo: Yes, it’s not a secret; I can explain it to you. The album cover is white on white and inside there’s also black pages. Black and white characters with no skin or features that give wonderful contrast and the black ones, they’re really the shadow-makers, they’re scary and strong, and the white ones are quite fragile and sensitive. The whole booklet is kind of like a story. You can follow a story throughout the album both in the songs and the booklet. I think you’ll love it.
Andy (HMA): I’m a very depressed person in general so it sounds right for me.
Mikko: It will get you even more depressed, don’t worry!
Andy (HMA): Just a final question. What is the best thing to do with a broken heart?
Paavo: Definitely listen to our album.
Paavo: So they can feel even worse.
Mikko: I think the music you can relate to also helps you heal a broken heart. People just need to be patient with their hearts.
Andy (HMA): Fantastic. Kiitos for your time. I hope you have a fantastic tour and congratulations on this great new album.
Paavo: Kiitos, my friend!
Mikko: Kiitos! Thank you for the interview!
Interview by Andy Starz – Copyright 2015 © Heavy Music Artwork. All rights reserved.