Horsemen of the finnish Apocalypse

Interview with Eicca Toppinen

for, 18 January 2006

The idea of a cello trio playing heavy metal may at first provoke sniggers; but of the 14 acts playing at January 22's MUSEX-partnered "Come Hear, Finland" Opening Night party, Apocalyptica are by far the biggest sellers, with two million albums under their studded belts already. The band's Eicca Toppinen explains here why Finnish music is the next big thing…

Why did you agree to play at MIDEM's Opening Night Party?

Eicca Toppinen: We're not interested in playing at events like Popkomm, where so many bands play that it's hard to get attention. MIDEM is the biggest trade fair and this time we'll be centre stage, hopefully grabbing the attention of international press who don't know about us yet.

You shot to fame in 1996 with "Plays Metallica by Four Cellos," in which you covered the band's Black Album; why did you decide to do that, and do you ever wish you hadn't?!

Eicca Toppinen: We used to have a classical cello group, but we would also play stuff like Hendrix. We all loved metal too, so thought "why not?" So we started playing Metallica covers, and after one gig in Helsinki, a guy came up and offered to make an album with him. That album's sold a million copies to date (and Metallica are friends, we meet them every year)! We're still surprised by how branded by that album we've been, but the band evolves constantly by playing live.
Nowadays, we're much more of a rock band. We brought in a drummer three years ago because our new songs called for that, and we found it much more enjoyable. Our third album was almost all original songs, and the fourth and latest one put the cellos in the background, focusing instead on songwriting and making it sound good, whether you can hear that traditional cello sound or not.

Is there such a thing as a "Finnish sound"?

Eicca Toppinen: Definitely. If Finnish music sounds so distinctive, it's because our cultural mentality is so different from the west's. We're next to Russia, isolated from Sweden by the sea, we have a strange language… Today, all these things are getting mixed up with western pop culture to create an original, positive sound. In the past, Finnish music has sounded really depressing for foreigners, and in a way it still does; even Finnish joy is still quite melancholic! Most Finnish music is in the minor key; if people wrote music like that in other countries, they'd be taken for suicide freaks! But Finnish people aren't as depressed as you'd think...

Finnish music's export sales are currently soaring: why do you think that is? Is Finland the new Sweden?

Eicca Toppinen: Sweden is a pop country, Finland is a rock country. I'm always flattered by that comparison, but the fact is in Finland, there's not enough money, so albums get made on low budgets. Nobody's willing to invest much if the band doesn't have an international profile, like The Rasmus, Nightwish or - I hope - us! Still, the fact is that no other country, apart perhaps from the UK and Sweden, has so many other rock bands touring worldwide right now than Finland. We were in Sao Paolo not long ago and came across The 69 Eyes, who were playing at the same festival as us; we couldn't believe it! Today in France for example, we're playing in a 1,200-capacity venue which we sold out two months ago; eight years ago, our venues were four times smaller! We've played 140 shows in 37 different countries this year; I don't think many other bands can claim that…

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