Interview with Perttu Kivilaakso

Original text in finnish:

Apocalyptica, already in the age of 10, is releasing Amplified - Decade of Reinventing the Cello, a collection to honor the anniversary. It includes music from all the way from "Plays Metallica by Four Cellos" to "Apocalyptica" studio album. The collection includes the single Repressed, which features an Apo-fan, Max Cavalera. In the beginning of the summer they'll release a live-DVD shot in Germany. The band really got themselves in the tour gear even at the price of their health, throwing 150 gigs last year. This number also includes a successful tour as Rammstein's warm-up band as well as sold out indoor gigs all over Europe as the headliner.

The going in the Apo camp doesn't seem to relent at all, as they have signed a record deal with Sony BMG of USA. It'll means new marketing areas and earlier studio sessions for the new record.

Imperiumi met the youngest Apocalyptica member, Perttu Kivilaakso, a few weeks before they kicked of their tour that took them to Turkey, Lebanon and Balkanian countries, among many others. He told us what it is to play onstage with Rammstein when the bombs burn your back, how the touring effects the band's personal chemistry and also about his old PVC trousers. The conversation that took us more than an hour also reveals a number of other things.

Apocalyptica toured Europe with Rammstein in the beginning of 2005. Although it was a success, it wasn't much talked about in Finland.

- Well, considering how noticeable it turned out to be in Europe and an unique thing for a Finnish band, it's pretty embarrassing that no one here even noticed, but heck. People have always tried to undermine us. The latest record has somehow changed it, and now Apo seems to stir the Finns to see they exist. But earlier in the media and everywhere else we weren't even considered a rock band - we haven't belonged to that class. The Rammstein tour was beneficial for us at least in France. You could see that when we made our own five-gig tour about two months after Rammstein tour, we had halls for 1500-2000 people that were sold out. Nothing ever happened in France before. Therefore the support tour was quite good for us.

Do you blame it on the media or the record company that there hasn't been interest on you in your home country?

- Eh, I don't know. We were away so much that we didn't know what was going on here. But our record sold gold and then there was some buzz in here too. I mean, wouldn't someone notice in a big way that you're supporting a bigger band on a tour. So praising oneself stinks, but if we do something somewhere, someone might say a word or two about it. In Los Angeles the House Of Blues was full up to the rim. It fits a few thousand people, and that's a rather noticeable amount of people. It was our second tour in the States and we had doubled the audience since the first tour. It was quite promising in America. We had 1500 people in New York, and when you break the 1000 people limit, you could say it's worth doing it.

You apparently got to play a few songs with Rammstein onstage?

- It was great with Rammstein. They're such lovely and nice guys. I don't remember if they especially asked us to join themselves, but I know they didn't refuse the tour together. At any rate we already had our version of Seemann and they had liked it a lot. That tour was pretty exciting, because we didn't have to pay for it at all, and generally you have to pay quite a lot to play gigs. We only paid our own expenses which kinda means you were in the losing end. Gut then we got to play stuff like Ohne Dich and Mein Herz Brennt onstage with them. It was their idea, and especially Ohne Dich, as they've got the string section on the record as well. One of the highlights last year, one of the 147 gigs stuck to mind, was Bercy arena in Paris. There were 17 000 people. We cleared Ohne Dich somehow, and on top of what I had the sensational role of playng all the high melodies, and when I got to the highest note and lifted my fist, everybody was cheering. That was cool. And the first five weeks went so well that they asked us to join them at Wuhlheide, Berlin, so there we met again. They liked our band so much so they asked for an Apo version of their song "Benzin". It turned out to some friggin cerosine-mix on a single. For some weird reason they like us. It was a great combination. Rammsteins iron metal, and then us nature boys with bows made of wood and horse's asshair.

Rammstein guys are known for their lousy knowledge for foreign languages, and the interviews had to be carried out with an interpreter if the journalist didn't know German. Did you meet the language barrier?

- Well they can talk something that remembles English, but I learned the coolest line via rock lyrics. It's from "Reise, Reise" of the "Mein Teil" album: "Weiche Teile und auch harte, stehen auf der Speisekarte". That can have a dirty notion: "This dick is hard on the menu". But on the other hand, "Teile" also means "story", so "this raw truth is"... something. Anyway, it refers to that cruel cannibalist murder in Germany. This guy wanted that his gay friend cuts of his dick, fries it and feeds it to him. Rammstein wrote a song about it, and later they made a video that got censored everywhere.

These germans don't spare pyrotechnics onstage. You apparently had bombs onstage when you were there?

- Yeah, yeah, of course. "Mein Herz Brennt" was exciting, because it ends in a huge bang and a jet of fire. We stood next to the drummer up there and the flames are nicely measured, they won't hit the drummer in the head. When we were onstage, we were about half a meter above the drummer, of course. The pyrotechnicians only gave us one hint: When the last cycle comes in the song, put your heads down, and don't look up at any cost. Eicca and I had watered our hair a little bit, and even though I had no shirt I burned my back a bit. But that was fucking cool.

Missing the pig at home

You said you had almost 150 gigs. What did it take to survive it alive? I mean, that number of gigs isn't human anymore.

- The guys and I had a kind of different way. Boys are boys and I'm still the only one from this group that doesn't get wasted. I've been straight for a few years, so now I'm using a tenox pill. It knocks me out for the flight, even if it was just a pitiful three hours. It's the only time I can catch my breath. But it doesn't help the mental side. You slide into this comatose state and you live in some kind of a limbo. We had all too many gigs. Maybe we could've skipped 50 of them. Or, rather, 150 gigs is OK, but they should've been spread over 16 months. We had toured all spring and then there was the gruesome festival season, after which we had a week off. Then we left for South America, Russia, The States, followed by an European tour. The autumn was the worst inferno. If I didn't miss my mom, then some pig at home at any rate.

It probably started to take a physical toll as well.

- That's right, but if you have even a five days break, the second gig is the worst. The first goes somehow, but after that your neck is so stiff the next day, that if you start thrashing the next day, it'll hurt. All you need is a Redbull overdose and a pile of ibuprofein painkillers. Then you won't notice the pain because you're busy swaying and shaking. Of course your arms are a wreck. We had a situation in the middle of the States tour in which I broke three fingers in my left hand one at a time. Just so that I couldn't press with them. Turns out the situation is Mr Kivilaakso can't play anymore, what's gnna happen to the tour. In the end I just taped them and I worked the gigs out and that was the end of it. The tour, not the pain.

Guess Apocalyptica doesn't know what sick leave means.

- Guess not. We're dicks like that, we don't know how to... pain is great, and every time you go in frint of people, they make a nice atmosphere, even if you had been in the gutter right before. We've had some surreal situations in which we've had seven connection flights in one day, no sleep in three days and you can't even begin to describe how bad you feel. And then you get to play onstage. It was like this in Colombia. The travel was a bitch, but when we got to the festival, it was raining and they had no backstage. There we sat on our cello cases on a muddy grass. Then we went onstage and found 200 000 people in the audience. We looked at each other thinking this isn't possible. Then suddenly we felt nice. It was a good gig, and it stick to mind because it was so absurd.

- Buenos Aires also stuck to mind, it's one of the most memorable gigs on my career. The crowd was bouncing, shaking and twirling already at our classical intro. We started to play "Path" in rage and in about 38 seconds the power in the whole damn festival blacked out. Then we got the power back and started over. 48 seconds, we didn't reach even the chorus when everything blacked out again. That's when Eicca had a fit, and left the stage throwing his bow into some hell. We left the stage each at a time and I still didn't know what was going on. Suddenly I realized I was sitting onstage all alone with a cello that no one could hear. We have this clip that we loaded from online, someone taped it with a pocket camera. You can see that I spread my hands like Jesus Christ on the cross, then I play something and shake my head as fast as I can. I went on like that for a bit, raised my fist and left the stage. Fifteen minutes from that they had found some generator and we managed to finish the gig, but something broke down somewhere all the time.

In a tour as long as that you can't stop yourself from getting annoyed by seeing the other faces all the time. Touring in the same buss for month must take its toll.

- Usually that already happens in Helsinki-Vantaa airport when we're only about to start with the tour.

The answer surprises the interview, because the band has very often praised the superiority of their group what comes to personal chemistry. Perttu goes on:

- We had a few months' break this spring, and we didn't have to see each other and now that we've rehearsed for a few weeks, we've had a good time together for now. In a week we'll leave for Turkey and we're presuming that on day two we're on each others' throats already. We were a bit confused about remaining friends even after that huge tour. After the "Cult" album we had a similar year, and it resulted in the band breaking down, and Max left the band. Maybe we have matured a bit from that by now. You just bit your teeth on the tour and tried to think like a private counting the days remaining by snapping the pins from his combs. You know, "Only 67 days left". Sometimes it felt like an eternity.

Sometimes you see gigs where you can tell the band members don't even talk to each other. Do the difficulties you mention reflect to the shows?

- There's no way to avoid the times where you fall apart completely, and there were long periods where everyone was playing all alone. Sometimes it was hard to have genuine fun together. I'm sure we made it in good spirits 94 percent of the time, and you get the power from the audience, that's for sure. When you step upon the stage and realize that there's people who have paid for the ticket - their whole month's salary in the poorest countries - you start to feel responsible. In the end we're there to entertain them, and bringing large feelings and experiences to people. And we get paid for this, so it's work. And even when your work feels like tasteless porridge, you have to do it. If it's our job is to be fresh, strong orchestra that represents an all over tender area of emotions, then that's what we do.

- Compared to the eariler Apo, there was a change last year. As we turn out to be quite an aggressive team, we are able to laugh about it these days. Aggressions are like, someone loses it completely for 20 seconds, and everyone else just go "Hmmmyeah, got ya". Seriousness and the certain youthful cockiness have disappeared. You can tell when you proceed with your career. You don't need to pretend to be tougher than you are. Just be what you are because you can't be anything else. We're just these Finnish weirdoes whose job is to play heavy rock.

New apo member: drummer Mikko Siren

There's been a huge change in the record company front. You moved from Universal to Sony BMG, which is likely to open new possibilities for Apo. Eicca has said: "This is one of the best deals a Finnish band has ever made". How will the new contract effect you in the future?

- It'll surely effect us qutie a lot. Firstly we left the Finnish Universal to go to the Germany one, which was a good step, because we could organize the European market from there. Germany just tends to get trampled over by England and America. It's almost impossible to feed anything across the ocean with an European company. They even laughed Rammstein out of there. "You sing in the wrong language". Then they tried this "You hate me", but they didn't like it either. Anyway, because of that impossibility, it's quite a chance for HIM and us to make deal directly with Sony BMG in America. Hopefully it'll open some doors we haven't seen yet. There was this problem with Germany that, when they tried to get our record somewhere, the local Universal was like: "We'll see if we'll release it". For example, we couldn't release our disk in America, England or Japan. And what do you know, those are the theree largest marketing areas. We had like 30 record companies interested in us, and Sony's offer wasn't even the rudest money-wise. What solved the matter was how this guy, Martin Dodd, was. He's the guy that signed us, and was a damn nice long time professional. There was the comfort aspect, like, who do you want to work with. Sony can guarantee that the record is released everywhere on the same date.

- Amplified is still gonna be released through Universal, it's our farewell present. It feels like they won't lift their asses for it, which is kind of surprising, because it's their ass that'll suffer. DVD will be released by Sony in June (Finnish release - editor's note) and we got a decent gig shot in Dusseldorf on it.

Are you a band that'll clean up or even re-record the playing on the DVD later in the studio, or did you let it be as it is?

- It's is as it is, as rough as it is. I'm a shamed of my birth in a few places cuz my playing is so downgrade. But you're forgiven if you play the next ten moment brilliantly. Again, praising oneself stinks, but we didn't do much else than just mixing.

Have you watched the 2001 Apo liveDVD in a while?

- No... I remember that it was horrible. Oh well, I watched a few parts of it with some friend, and I said: "Damn, that was shitty before..."

What's the sore thumb that stands out in it?

- My fishnet shirt and those horrid PVC-trousers! I had instant flashback about how they smelled. The worst thing about them was that since the legs were so long, I had folded them inwards. You know how the material doesn't let anything through, so every time, and I mean every time I took them off, I'd pour out half a liter of sweat. We had quite a bad sense of style back then, and we still are of course, but especially back then, and it was quite weird in many ways. But this new DVD comes to a very good place, because now people have chance to see how Apocalyptica has developed during these years. Adding the drums brings its own strenght and kick. It also brings a sense of safety, because when the drums take care of the beat, we don't always have to be so rhythmically present with the cello. There's more room for play for ourselves, when we don't have to play everything all the time.

So the Apo line up has changed, even though in the inverview I made a bit more than a year ago the boys swore that there won't be any new members. Despite that they dubbed Mikko Siren officially a member of Apo, after touring and recording with them for years.

- We won't have new members, but sometimes it's good to have prosthesis joints. Mikko has been such a big part of the process after being involved for already three years as a session musician. We thought that it doesn't make sense, and he worked just as much as the rest of us on the last album. Of course Antero is still hanging on. I mean, we're happy to have him with us, because it's always better to have two players on the base riffs. Antero is not even interested in being a member, because he's got a job in Lahti Symphony. They're happy that we always rip him away for a leave of absence. Helsinki Philharmonics were happy with me when I had a job there for eight years, of which I worked there for maybe three years. I was always on a leave, but this fall I left it, because I wanted to concentrate in something else.

Going towards meaner

In the 10 year anniversary release, and on a single, you can find the new song "Repressed", featuring Max Cavalera and Matt Tuck from Bullet For My Valentine in vocals. How did you end up featuring them?

- Martin Dodd signed us and the Bullets for his label at the same time, so it was natural to work with Matt. They're also a geniously good band, I love them. Eicca already had "Repressed", and it turned out much more furious than we thought. Involving Cavalera changed it, and we decided to go with it. We had worked together earlier, "Bittersweets" (With Ville Valo and Lauri Ylonen - editor's note) and other things, but we felt that we were going soft. We meant to kick your face in with "Repressed". When we thought of making another duet with two men, we wanted to start from a whole different squear than with Ville and Lauri, Cavalera was the first thing in mind and he was interested immediately when he heard of it.

How did the recordings get arranged in practice?

- Badly, because no one was on the same side of the globe at the time, so the vocals were recorded on different sides of the world, and even the video was shot so that Matt was in The States, Cavalera somewhere in Europe and we made our part in FInland. Then we gingerly clipped and glued everything together.

I read your forum and "Repressed" seems to have divided the fans. A lot of people said that you can't really hear the cellos in there and they were worried about what was happening to Apocalyptica.

- I worry about a few things too, but not about what we're doing, because we do what we want. Of course you always hear the cello when you listen to it yourself. Many people complained already about "Apocalyptica" and "Reflections" records that our natural crisp disappears, when we learned that we can put a fat distortion on cello. But why not make some great sounding music on cello when you have the chance? "Life Burns" was complained about, the cellos sound like guitars and that it has nothing to do with Apo, though all it has is Lauri's vocals and cello riffs. It has plenty do do with Apo, though, we're playing in there, we play it live and people enjoy it on the gigs.

Perttu admits that this is also the direction when the band starts to write new pieces.

- That's the way it seems to be, although so far everything is all over the place, because we don't have any new songs to jam on, aside from "Repressed". We've been thinking that we should go meaner. There's no point in becoming all too light. Liveshow is the best example of what this band is about. We want to capture it and bring it forward in the next album. So there's a challenge: how do you relay the live-energy from the home stereo? We're worried about the rather busy festival season, because we're supposed to have songs ready in the fall and they'd have to be arranged and rehearsed, because in the end of the year we have to be in studio. The funny part is that, when we were in Novosibirsk or whatever it was, we decided that 2006 is going to be a Sabbath year. Suddenly we have 40 gigs, recordings and writing the music.

The recording sessions were moved to an earlier time, it seems?

- We had considered going to studio in the end of the next spring and release the album in the autumn 2007. Back then we had no idea about this grandious record deal, which forces us to release the album on the following spring. And mostly because, if we want to try the ice with America, we just have to go there and enjoy the atmosphere.

Vacation is cancelled - excellent!

Perttu doesn't seem to be sorry, although the sabbath year and the planned vacation were cancelled. On the contrary.

- I'm not sorry, because I wouldn't know how not to do anything. If you've got an empty moment and don't know what to do, you'll just get depressed. Some things are harder for me than others, for example staying sober, but other have their family issues. They caused a lot of problems last year. On the other hand, Eicca decided at some point to have a very own buss for his family, so you can try to fit things together, but it's a fact that we aren't quite capable to do another year like this with this number of kilometres in our meter.

- July will end our festival gigs and then we'll have a small vacation. We had a tour planned for fall, including ten gigs in England, but we cancelled them, because the new record is more important now. After that you can pack up the passport again and go touring.

"Amplified" features another new recording, Slayer's "Angel of Death", which kept itself waiting for years. Perttu says the song has already been around during "Cult", when they tried to play it the first time.

- It's been an obsession all the time. Now we had a good chance. We didn't want any real covers on the last album, although some releases have Seemann, because we want to have our own songs form a whole. "Angel" was a nice thing to add to the Best Of -release, and we made it in respect of the first album, means we screwed it up a bit, without drums and with a very cello-ish sound.

Quite a description of your first record at the same time.

- It's a respectable work in being ahead of its time and an innovative attempt. Every album has represented the current level of knowhow, and in that sense you can't compare them to find the best one, though of course the last one sounds better than the first one. That's as clear as the day. Our first record can sound like a completely different band, which it is, in its own way.

- Oh, and about "Angel". That kind of wraps the whole collection op, because it's the last song in there, so everything ends in that menace. I must confess that I had to practice a little bit, which was new to me, because usually I don't practice at all. Everything works out a little too easily. Many guitar riffs are noteably difficult to play on cello, because the bowing brings its challenge in it. I could say off the bat that I would've played it more easily on guitar than on cello, although I've played cello for 23 years. "Angel" is surely going to be a great live song. When you play live, you can play so many things you can't play otherwise. "Inquisition Symphony" is a good example of the Apo guys losing their minds. If we try to pull of the live tempo in a rehearsal, we're gonna be a few tens of beats behind. You just can't play it without the stage adrenaline. Sometimes, when you pull of a fast shred, you feel like the time stops and you just watch your fingers - then it's all over in three seconds.

The Apocalyptica members have often said that the symphonic metal is classical music for a poor man. So I ask if you can't say the same thing about cello metal, and the interview is introduced to a long silence. We also try to define the question, so Perttu declares:

- Why would something be classical music for the poor man, because classical music in itself can be poor as well.

I'm about to move to the next question, but Kivilaakso has obviously gotten himself going.

- That's an interesting thing, and we could dig into that, because in the end all the music is the same in a sense, and it's useless to twist things by classifying them. For example, classical music, what is it? It's a billion of things. You've got Mozart and Magnus Lindberg, and what's common to them? In the end, nothing. In the same way, if you think of rock, you shouldn't really categorize it by the basic need for making music. Artist strives to make music that touches someone else. Emotion is the power behind it, and if there's no emotional vision in the piece, then it's not art. Anyway, if we talk about art and compare the darkness of Sostakovich to the darkness of Immortal, then at their worst or at their best they don't differ from each other that much. You can get the same emotion from classical, pop or rock. That's why music is more like information that comes from outside to a human soul. Saying that the soul exists.

We're getting quite a distance away from the original question.

- There's quite a distance to the symphonic metal, but the bottom line is that I wouldn't say symphonic metal is classical music for the poor man, because I don't consider classical music the work of a rich man.

The messengers of the happiness of music

You'll play in an outdoor event of EU in Brussels, in the beginning of July.

- Yeah, I read that from the teletext service,

Perttu laughs and adds:

- That's okay, we'll go there if they ask us to.

Is it just another gig, or does it have a special meaning for you?

- Well it's a great thing when you know it. But sometimes these things are really amusing. I realized that we're going to play Ruisrock when I read it from Iltalehti in Kotipizza. That's the way it is when you aren't all that aware of where you're going and why.

- In retrospect I'd say it's an honor that Finland wants to send us there. I don't understand why, but on the other hand I guess it's because we are so instrumental for the most part, and we don't take sides, you know. A good example is the next tour and we're going all the way to Lebanon, where people are moderately muslim. I'm sure our music won't annoy them because we don't sing: "Give us oil or we'll kill you". We have no other message than the happiness of music. Instrumental music especially gives everybody in the world the same possibility to close their eyes and see things in melodies and riffs. As our music converses with all kinds of people, it's made it possible for us to be popular enough in many countries, that it's worth going there. Last year we played 37 different countries.

Is there going to be changes in the set list for the new tour?

- Yeah. We'll actually renew the setlist quite a lot, and that's why we have rehearsed quite a lot lately. Just from the musician's perspective, you'll get bored of playing the same song a hundred times. We'll take some of our old songs that we haven't played live before, and then there's "Angel of Death", "Repressed" and a Metallica surprise.

You've talked about a solo record in a few occasions. How is that project going?

- It was going quite well and all the ideas and visions have been taken quite far, but Apocalyptica took the front seat again and of course it does, because it's my first job. Nevertheless, the solo record is one way to deal with my own nightmares. I'll do it and I'll do it when I have time. A human can do only so much, and I won't panic with that record. I'm still not going to compromise the three disk package, because I'm dumb and crazy enough to say it must be a three disk package. Two disks will include some horrible croaking and screaming, and the third one will be a suffocating instrumental piece.

Who's going to croak and scream?

- I thought I'd do it all by myself, but I'm sure there will be other people to sing and make more lyric things. If you'd do it live, I'd want it to be an entertaining combination that would be interchangeable. And it's exciting how you try to finish something, and then you're suddenly replacing it with a new song, after which you have to cry over leaving the old one behing because the new one is better. I've got material for six records, which is rather annoying. And there will always be artists, who want songs from the outside, so it's possible to take that road as well. Making music is most interesting at all fronts right now. I've composed many classical pieces and I've strived to make a senseless amount of stuff this spring. Every time something comes to mind, I'm taping it.

I first interviewed you guys three years ago, and you were planning a book for Apo's 10 year anniversary. You already have a writer?

- I don't know, but it'll probably be released by Playboy. Or rather, Playgirl. We haven't talked about a book, because there's nothing interesting to write about is. We're the most boring band in the world. We never pig around... or why not, we could call it "Memories of the sophisticated rockers". On the other hand I hate the word "sophisticated", and on the contrary, yours truly is very... let's say, if I've ever learned something, I've gingerly forgotten it. I can't even remember the presidents of Finland. Even our rock n'roll life isn't quite what people would imagine by the word.

Rock n'roll lifestyle is automatically associated with not just music but drugs and sex.

- The drugs part is out, and sex only happens at home. It's self-explanatory, when you've got family men in the band, the going can't be wild at any point. We try to be nice to everybody, do our job and then go away. The essence of a lifestyle rocker doesn't really fit in this.

Apocalyptica has had a honorable uplifted ten years, and Perttu has been a part of it for seven years. How do you remember these passed years and what do you expect from the future?

- We're have clearly come to crossroads, where ten years have been Star Wars - Episode 1, and now we're going to Episode 2. Our record deal covers five albums, which means that the next ten years will go easily. As long as we can deal with each other... then why not? And as long as we have hair. If I become bald, I can't imagine continue, because this thing relies primarily on hair.

As Perttu explains his hair crisis I wonder out loud that in ten years these gentlemen will be on their forties.

- Good heavens, and Paavo's going to be on his fifties, ouch!

Apo guys are known to be talkative, but our conversation has taken for over an hour, so it's gradually time to wrap it up. To close it up Perttu reminds people of how stupid it is to be narrow-minded

- You don't have to like all music, and you may hate most of it, but you could keep it as a guideline to never judge before you've checked it out. If you haven't listened a single symphony of Mozart, you can't say Mozart is bullshit. And on the contrary. Before a classical musician has heard a single album of Brutal Truth - I don't know if that's the best way to approach rock n'roll - how can he say rock n'roll reeks? Many people area like this, though, and I hate pop for a long time in principal. Then suddenly I bought a Robbie Williams album and I fell in love with Britney Spears' "Toxic". I suddenly realized, god damnit, there can be something good in this thing, if you check it out. Narrow-mindedness is a curse of the humanity, and it rules in everything, not just music.

Thanks Jez for english translation

Perttu Kivilaakso - все интервью

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