While I had somewhat fallen out of love with Apocalyptica in recent times, their back to basics, instrumental and all original latest album, “Cell-O” really connected with me. So, when my editor in chief suggested an interview with Eicca Toppinen, I jumped on the chance, and he proved to be one of the more direct, straight shooting, no BS people, I can remember… being honest about things and not trying to avoid or sugarcoat topics. With a great album to discuss too, other than taking a trip down memory lane. Enjoy….
Apocalyptica band pic
Hi Eicca. How did you come up with the name Apocalyptica initially?
E: Well, when we started out, we didn’t think we’ll last long, we thought we’d do a couple of gigs, maybe sell a thousand albums and quietly go away, so we didn’t really have a name. It was the record label guy that suggested it, after we said, we wanted something like Metallica – ICA… that sounded like big and bold. Apocalypse seemed like a good idea.
You mentioned you didn’t expect to do much, has the longevity of the band surprised you? Also how did you transition into doing original material?
E: Absolutely. When we started out, we were doing covers from bands that we liked and also bands that we thought we could do stuff with the musical elements of their compositions, even when the vocal melodies were stripped out or really scaled back (because sometimes they translate in weird ways on cello.) That’s what made bands like Sepultura or Metallica, versus other popular bands, a prime candidate, their more percussive nature and rich arrangements on several tracks, lent those to what we wanted to do. After a while, we felt we could be writing our own compositions and that didn’t turn out half as bad. The whole sense of not knowing exactly what happens next is adventurous and what keeps it fresh for us, not being boring. So we just don’t really make long term plans… and that’s why I think we’re still around. To see what happens next.
How did you decide to release a fully instrumental album after all these years? Does that indicate that you prefer the “instrumental era” of the band in a way? Or doess it depend on the inspiration and the timing of each album?
E: We never plan far ahead, because we want to be able to focus a lot on what’s important at the time, so as to plan the next step. You might lay out the best plan, but then something happens and it throws it all into disarray, so we don’t do that. We’re good with making plans when we have to. In this case, we just did the previous album and then the 20th anniversary concerts came around and by the time they were over, we were in a different head space and the circumstances were different, behind the scenes so we just decided to go ahead with that.
See… “Cult” was probably the first, conscientiously “original” album we did, where we were ourselves… so we prefer to play it by feel. What does the music need? When we did “Reflections” for instance we thought a drummer would enhance the music and we did that. We do what we feel is best at the time.
It’s been almost 5 years since “Shadowmaker”. What happened in the meantime and why did it take you so long to come up with a new studio album?
E: We kept busy… Initially we thought we’d do something like eighteen anniversary gigs…
And it turned out to be eighty?
E: Try two hundred and thirty… (hehe), so that was spread over some two years with brief spells of downtime. Once we knew what we wanted to do and had the songs and some time off (which was last April) we just tracked the album and mixed it and went back on tour, once everything was figured out.
How did you come up with a stylized titles such as “Cell-0” is the zero meant to imply a back to the basics approach?
E: In a way, yes. We think of it like that and that everything is traced back to one particle, the zero point, the start of everything, so with us regressing to the past in a way, we thought it was a fitting title. We’re concerned about what’s going on and in a way this idea of focusing on what’s more important and pure, is a catalyst for what we did on this album
You & Paavo are the two constants people in the band… what drove the other original members to leave and how do you choose replacements.
E: As any band that has existed and toured for so long we had our ups and downs, but we always tried to keep things moving. Antero, who was the first guy to depart, wanted to concentrate on his classical stuff and maybe he was getting a little bored of the covers. He has since been back when he could, but because he’s busy with classical/orchestra roles, he came back as a touring, non-permanent member. When he left last because he couldn’t commit to some of the ever increasing “Anniversary” concerts, we had to get someone and we got Lauri Kankkunen, the first cellist of the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra, to join us in his place.
In the case of Max it wasn’t musical differences, but personal stuff that got him out of the band, you need to be able to coexist in the band. We sort of know a lot of Cellists from around here, if not everyone and we know what they can and cannot do.
Perttu came in after that and he’s been with us for a long time now, since he was a good fit. Having done the Met4Cello gigs, we’re now again down to 3 Cellos on stage plus drums and we’ll have a guest vocalist for each different territory, with details to be announced.
Legend has it that the original members all met while you were attending the Sibelius Music Academy, that’s known for being notoriously hard and you soon after begun your career. Were you able to finish your studies, or did you just say, to hell with it after becoming successful?
E: Well I did continue to get private tuition, but I didn’t finish it mainly because I was the guy that had to handle a lot within the band (composing, performing, day to day operations at first), so at some point I just run out of time. Some of the other guys did. I mean it wasn’t until after “Cult” that we knew that the band was going to work out as a long term plan. I wouldn’t have minded finishing my studies, but four million albums and twenty years later, I don’t think it matters that much anymore.
You also score music for films? How is that different to Apocalyptica?
E: Well, somehow I know when I come up with something if it will end up on an Apocalyptica album or not. I just know. But I am not the person who writes music randomly, I usually will sit down and try to write, when I have to do an album. With films, it the same, I will watch the film, if possible, to get in the right mood, to get the essence of it and they I will try to write something that fits. So, I’m not the guy that has a drawer full of lyrics and part and goes, let’s see if this thing I wrote five years ago fits here. It just how I’ve always worked. At least up to now. Works for me.
You did a song with fellow Finns Lost Society, who are a bit more aggressive and you’re credited along with them. Who’s song is it and how did that come about.
E: Yeah, you heard that one too, eh?! Well, I think it’s a song their drummer came up with, who is no longer with them (hehe) perhaps on account of it being too different – and him wanting to do something else. They approached me with this song and well, I liked their ideas, went on and wrote my parts, completing it, recorded it and you can hear the results on their album. I think it’s a pretty good song. Certainly different to their normal stuff.
How did the cooperation with Silver Lining occur?
E: We weren’t happy with our previous collaboration, as they didn’t pick some options in the contract, they didn’t seem too happy with the sales in some territories and so they sort of dropped the ball on us a little. When we asked them about recording the next album (the one that would end up being “Cell-0”) they weren’t even too keen on providing funding on time, so when our contract expired, we recorded “Cell-0” ourselves and shopped it around. We got interest from all the multinational companies and some smaller ones and Silver Lining seemed to come up with the most convincing argument/deal, so we chose to go with them. We wanted to have the best sound possible and to do things our own way and to not be tied down for too long. They provided that.
But you must understand that since a lot of the bigger companies are in the stock market, if they under-perform any given quarter, they need to scale down… but that’s not a way to run a company with rock artists that need some time to build a career. That might be sustainable with a non-ending stream of hit singles. Just might. We need that sort of flexibility and mentality in our partners.
What are your expectations from “Cell-0” and what do you wish to achieve with
Apocalyptica over the next years?
E: Really? For it to do well, basically. But as I said, we don’t make long term plans. We’ll tour most of this year as well as most of the next and then we’ll see where we’re at.
It’s only a few weeks since you came back from your Winter 2020 European tour and you have already announced a co-headlining Euro Tour with Epica in the autum, what are your plans like…?
E: We’ll be touring heavily, we got a Finnish tour coming up soon, then two US tours, one with Lacuna Coil and one that’s not been announced yet and then the Epica concerts… but after some time off, we’ll be doing more place in 2021, including Southern Europe and other places that we’ll not be reaching this year, so it’s likely that we’d be playing in Greece sometime next year, as the crowds there have always been appreciative.
Do you fancy being on the road more than on the studio?
E: I can only talk about myself here, and I’ll say that I enjoy both. Being on the road is a more social activity, you get to meet fans and perform and it can be fan, before you get a little tired of doing the same thing over and being in a tour bus with the same ten people, but usually it’s fun. Going from that to the more intimate setting of a studio and creating something new, is also rewarding and it evens the keel somehow, as you’re more focused and peaceful in that environment.
You became, famous for doing Metallica covers. Have you ever fantasized that Metallica would cover your songs some day (S+M style)?
E: Haha, not really, but it would be very cool I guess… and they could sort of do it with the orchestra. They’ve been very cool to us and it would be the ultimate compliment, plus it would really guarantee the retirement fund. But it’s not something I’ve thought.
Many bands use strings and/or add orchestras nowadays, Who do you think has done it best…
E: I think a lot of people do it. Maybe too many if I am being honest. And 80% of it is boring… as most people don’t write with those additional orchestrations in mind. The basically have a shitty track that sounds like it’s missing something, so they stick some additional strings and then it ends up sounding very busy and grandiose, but in its crux it’s still crappy. Just with strings on top.
Bands that did it sparingly like Rage and Therion or who really incorporated that element in the compositions like Dimmu Borgir and Nightwish that wrote with an orchestra in mind, I think have achieved some of the best results and they were innovative at the time as well.
It’s time for our “Weirs Questisons”!!! If you had the chance to travel in time… where would you choose to go? To the past or the future and why?
E: Hmm. The future?! I have lived the past and it’s good so far and I can always revisit it in my memories. The future is mysterious and exciting and if it sucked I suppose I could always make it back here and try to change it right?!
If I were a god for a week what would you do?
E: I’d eliminate greediness from the world. Some people have almost “everything” and they want even more… it’s not healthy.
Speaking of which… which of the seven deadly sins describes you?
E: Hmm, which ones are there (one google search later)… a bit of everything I guess… I am not a saint, but I try to sin with moderation.
If you were approached, by another famous band to do an orchestral piece, would you do it? For instance Bruce Dickinson famously said, hed like to do “Empire of the Clouds” with a different orchestration.
E: I’d love to do it; I mean it would help if whatever track we had to do had sufficient musical elements for us to “translate” to the cellos, but we’d absolutely love anything that would be a challenge to do and would be far reaching.
And finally the very hypothetical scenario where your wife/gf (he’s married with children ladies) sells your cello, record collection to get herself an expensive ring or some other such luxury, how would you react?
E: I am a practical man, I’d ask for my money from the sale and go and buy a new cello. Easy!
Send your regards to the Grande Rock readers. Thx for doing this interview.
E: I hope you enjoy “Cell-0” – hope to see you all on tour and Greece, we should be there next year some time! Take care of yourselves!