"The whole Heavy Metal thing is very big in Finland. Maybe because of the darkness and the mentality of the people. Metallica for example. It touched a part of me", says Eicca Toppinen, loud, but charismatic, blond leader of the cello-quartet Apocalyptica. For seven years he, Perttu Kivilaakso, Paavo Lotjonen and Max Lilja make the most exciting, most thrilling and musically most interesting impulse for rock'n'roll. From Finland. With not more than four Cellos. Eicca and Perttu in defiance about sense and nonsense of rock-symphony-projects, the surprise of success, their relation to the classic establishment and the fact that even in the year 2000 long hair at men is still a problem for some people.
You are classically educated cellists, but avoid classic as a theme to play wherever it appears. Why?
Eicca: If we wanna play classic we can do that in a lot of chamber-music-ensembles. But as Apocalyptica it simply makes no sense. A least at the moment. Maybe this attitude changes if we play more longer and need a change. A little start is already "Hall of Mountain King" from Grieg. So to speak our momentary, common denominator in classical music. A very well-known piece - and we wanted to refresh it. We've found for us a new, own access to this piece. That's why we recorded this music. Although we originally said that we as Apocalyptica don't wanna play classical pieces. And now, as we have it in our repertoire, we have much fun with it.
Does Edvard Grieg as the composer means something special to you, or did the choice fell cause of the music on that piece?
Perttu: It was just this one theme. Grieg is not sacred. More less than Bach or any other big composer.
Eicca: Actually we would rather play Bach for example. Grieg is a good composer, but we doesn't appreciate him much. That's why it was really no problem to do the version.
What else is on the list for a classical theme on that Apocalyptica could work on?
Eicca: We think about very well-known composers. That's the most effective way to do a classic-cover-version. It makes no sense to cover a piece that hardly no one knows.
On "Cult" there are mainly own compositions, two Metallica-cover and the version of a classical composition. What is more difficult: the composition of an own piece or transpose the ideas from other people in your own style?
Eicca: Hard to say, what from all of this is more difficult. Above all these possibilities it's the idea that you have of something. At Grieg I thought many weeks about it until I knew how it has to work like. Then the essential arrangements were written in two days. If I write an own piece it can happen that I have several pieces of work lying around for a long time. For example there were these Pizzicato-Lines for "Harmony" already one year. And I didn't start anything with it. Until I thought one day either I finally make something out of it or the whole thing goes down river [sorry, I didn't know how to translate that; I mean that he could forget the whole thing if he doesn't make something with his lines - Evelyn]. Sometimes it's very hard to find for a good riff a melody that fits into it. The better the riff, the more difficult it is to have a melody. If the riff is too simple the melody can't be too much. Sometimes the composing work is extreme straining. If you are in the middle of a piece knowing exactly that it is very far in progress, but something is missing. You are tired, but the unrest of the search after the missing part steals your sleep, it's simply impossible to sleep.
Is Apocalyptica a band consisting of heavy metal fans who learned playing cello, or are you cello player that discovered metal some day as the true music?
Eicca: We are cellists. Everyone of us started playing cello when we were quite young. Perttu began when he was five years old, I began with nine. To that time there was neither Metallica nor Sepultura (laughs), metal was in general no such big thing. We got in our teenager-time metal-fans.
Does a teenager with knowledge in classical-music inspire more things in metal than the general being-a-fan and the exiting rebellion-thought?
Eicca: There is nothing for me to say about it. I think, the whole Heavy Metal thing is very big in Finland. Maybe because of the darkness and the mentality of the people. Circumstances, that brings people to music that in general counts to minority preferences. Like very dark, heavy music. For example Metallica. Their music, the feeling that's transported with it, was something that I needed. Then and also in later times. It touched a part of me. But of course there was also always many fun to play the roll of the black metal son in the classic scene. For obvious there were in the conservative, traditional camp the typical arguments about clothes, jewelry and so on.
Were there also contact-fear during your education at the music conservatory?
Eicca: The hair of Perttu and me was a problem for the teachers. Cause of the length they fell in front of our faces during the play. But the teacher didn't just wanted to hear us, they also wanted to see our faces.... Nerving stuff, which isn't so important. For me personally there is at the conservatories one big problem above all: I get on well with just very few teachers. Because most of them just don't go along well with me. Most of them don't understand what I want, how I am, how to take me. Many don't know how to appreciate me.
Have every four of you finished your education?
Eicca: Yes, almost...
Perttu: I've made my diploma this spring. Between the recordings for "Cult".
What an experience is that: on the one hand rock'n'roll, on the other academic work?
Perttu: Hard, very hard (laughs). Then there was still the work for the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra to it.
How do you get along with the contrasts?
Perttu: I think the contrast isn't that big. Because the playing is almost the same. Alike what you play. The contact to the instrument, the feeling for the cello is always the same.
Eicca: Perttu has always been a very , very hard cello-player. We all four were even before the times of Apocalyptica very hard and powerful playing cellists. With this kind of performance it is really a lot of fun to go into the ring of the academic circus ... (laughs)
Perttu: (says with very deep voice): "I heard rumours, there was the apocalypse. And now they are all here!" (laughter)
Your first steps were connected very much with Metallica and their work. Your name sounds similar, you play mainly songs from them. Is Metallica your favourite band above all or was that accidentally?
Eicca: When Apocalyptica was founded, Metallica was definite favourite band from all of us. But we also realized that the Metallica songs from all metal songs fit very well to a cello-adaptation. When we recorded the first album we didn't even think in our dreams that we could develop with that to what we are today. That's why did choose a name that so obviously reminds at Metallica. We just wanted to record an album. Above all for ourselves. As a project, as an experience. Nobody thought of tours or similar. We thought if we get a couple of shows in Finland it's fine. If we sell one thousand copies of the album it's fine. And now we sold 600 000 copies of the first album ... (laughs) And played maybe 300 or 400 shows.
Eicca: Yeah, extra fine. Super. But that what I just told is the reason why the name reminds so much at Metallica. We don't mind that today. Metallica belongs to our history, they were and are definitely important for us. Without them we wouldn't be here. We respect our history (laughs). That's why there are again two Metallica covers on "Cult".
So at the beginning you never meant Apocalyptica as a continued employment?
Eicca: No, really never. The first time we thought about this idea and the Metallica songs at all was in 1993. The first album came two and a half years later, in 1996. A guy from the record-company suggested it. But even he couldn't run that over his firm. We recorded than in the house-studio of the academy. Always in the evening, for that was cheaper. One of the sound-techs that I knew very well produced us. This way there wasn't so much money spent. It was very much fun then. And it was a very safe time. Everything was so clear. We finish our studies, then... - but different things happened.
What was the first reaction that you got from Metallica cause of your work?
Eicca: The very first was the okay from the management: "You can go on with the project." Weave played then in 1996 some times for Metallica as support band. There they saw us live for the first time. And even on the second evening the whole band saw our total performance. They liked it very much. We were told that our records were a big impulse to make the "S&M"-project, to get it on at all. Michael Kamen already had the idea a long, long time. But Metallica never wanted it. Only when they've seen some of our shows and listened to some of our records they started to like the idea, got into it. That's why I think that they really like our music.
Did you meet Metallica in the meantime personally?
Eicca: Yes, very often. They also invited us to the "S&M" recordings to San Francisco. Which lead to a heavy action for we had exactly to that time very much to do again. We've played in Europe one concert, flown in almost 24 hours to San Francisco, were there guests for one day during the recordings, and then back to Helsinki to play there another concert.
What do you think about the "S&M" album?
Eicca: I think it's a good Metallica-Live-album. But as a Metallica-Symphony-Orchestra it's just a torso. The Orchestra is something I don't like that way. It's all in a very horrible style. And than there is the problem that there is already everything in an original-Metallica-song what an original-Metallica-song needs. So actually you have to take something away to add something. But that didn't happen. Metallica just played their songs and bet one hundred people to play something more to this. But I like to listen to this album though. But I always think that Michael Kamen missed a chance to make something really big. They've just copied what many bands did before. There are often problems like that in these cooperations. Both sides go just half of the way. But this way you can't create something new. The best cooperation between a band and an orchestra is for me the "Death Metal Symphony" from Waltari. That's very cool stuff. There the band and the orchestra really play together Death Metal. There it isn't the band playing metal and the orchestra playing symphony-music. All participants scorched very unignorable into a totally new, different music world. For me it's the best work of this kind. I think that's the big difference between Apocalyptica and other string-ensembles that plays rock. We really play Heavy Metal. We are really going into it. We are not trying to play Heavy Metal Music as classical players, in a classical way. The Kronos-Quartet was nearest to our style. But they've always been too much string-quartet. And people like Balanescu just play rock-music, but don't feel it.
If you got that deep into metal and classic – which music can you listen to for relaxing?
Perttu: I listen to operas. Verdi, Wagner, Puccini. The voices are wonderful to relax.
Eicca: I listen every now and then to metal. And one band that I like sometimes very much: Rammstein. Their music is very relaxing if the mood is fitting.
But that's also a band that has a very opulent show-style.
Eicca: You think so? For me they sound very German above all. They are very manic. The same riff in almost every song. And it still works. That's fascinating. I like that. And I like to listen to finish folk music. But in a customary sense. That's no schlager like you know it in Germany. A mixture of schlager and folk music. Then I have to think nothing. That's sometimes very relaxing. And it is something that reminds me of being a Finn.
The rock'n'roll media have always been interested in you. What's the interest from the world of classical music like?
Perttu: Weak, to non-existent. We invested a lot of time and money in "Inquisition Symphony" to get a resonance from the classical press. But nothing happened. For these people we are no classical musicians and that's it for them.
Does that annoy you?
Eicca: Yes, of course. But above all I'm disappointed from their way of thinking. I've expected some more interest. At least from some journalists. But there was nothing. There is one time of the year a big cello-festival. With workshops, symposiums, concerts. I think we will soon give a concert there. Maybe we get any further in these circles.
Which dreams do you have that shall come true?
Eicca: Hard to say... To reach still more people with our music. More concerts. Continue to sell many records. But all of that not just from commercial thoughts. But just to make progress with our music. If you get this far like we did without ever calculating this, then you have no big dreams. Just because you already got so much in live like you've never expected it.
Where do you see the future of Apocalyptica? I mean, as long as Metallica write songs you have a basis to work with. But what are your ideas of the future of the band?
Eicca: To work with a symphony orchestra is very interesting for us of course.
Perttu: We always wanted to do something like that. What is logical for we are with classical music educated classic players.
Eicca: But for that there hasn't been a good opportunity. We still wait for it. For the future also own songs are very attractive, of course. Another thing are cooperations with other artists. Shirley Manson would be very interesting for me. At the moment we work for Sepultura. And there are still a very lot of ideas that we like to do.
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