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27th November 2011
METAL DISCOVERY: The new album, ‘The Beginning of Times’, hit the top spot in the Finnish album charts and you got your highest ever position in Germany at number sixteen. Even though you’ve been going for twenty years, is there still a sense that you’re still trying to raise your profile with each new album and trying to make it bigger in different countries?
ESA: We don’t think about it that way. I think we’re happy if we can keep this whole thing on a level as it is now. And the charts, we know that in Finland it always does well; we’ve sort of got a reputation there that it always does well. But everything else, I think, is just extra and it was a big surprise for us what happened in Germany. But we don’t look that much to that charts. As long as we keep the wheels running and tour, and people go to shows, I think that’s what matters.
(Esa Holopainen on lineup stability)
"...the reason our sound changed a lot in the past is because of the members changing in the band... Nowadays, it’s easier for us to write music because everybody knows what other people are doing."
Tomi and Esa on their tour bus, London, UK, 27th November 2011
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2011 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
MD: And chart-wise, I guess a higher position now equates to less CD sales than ten years ago anyway.
ESA: Yeah, and who knows what will happen in the future. Bands start selling less and less albums and I think the record companies are in trouble when they start to think about what will happen in the future.
MD: Nuclear Blast seem to be a very sorted label. Maybe just some labels are in trouble or worried about the future.
ESA: Yeah, and I think all the major labels, they have to start to think about the extra jobs they used to have for people that they can’t properly afford to do that anymore.
MD: The labels are the middle-man effectively – you’re making the music, and they’re getting it to the people so in twenty years’ time, maybe there’ll be no labels or the need for them.
ESA: Yeah, and we’ve been thinking about this, that it must be really hard for new bands to try to convince the record label if they’re willing to invest in the band.
TOMI: And, of course, I think record labels, nowadays, want merchandise and everything from the band.
ESA: I don’t know if it’s here but, in Finland, big labels like Sony BMG, they have booking agents and a merchandise company… everything all together. And when they get new artists, they demand them to sign everything over. Then you’re fucked!
MD: That’s good encouragement for new bands that, isn’t it… “you’re fucked”!
ESA: [laughs]
MD: I know what you mean though.
ESA: On the other hand, bands can pretty much do things by themselves nowadays, what was impossible before.
MD: Definitely. You’re obviously always progressing your sound, even if it’s just a little, but do you ever worry how established fans will take to new material ahead of a new release? Is there any anxiety there or do you always know you’ve done your best so don’t worry at all?
ESA: We do take notice of people’s reactions and how the fans react to an album but I think, at the end of the day, we just write the music and do the best we can at that point and start from somewhere, do something, and hope that people like it.
MD: Do you worry about reviews ahead of the release of a new album?
TOMI: Yes and no. If it’s a good critic, even if it’s bad, I think it’s interesting to read but I’m not losing a night’s sleep over it!
ESA: It’s the old wisdom – opinion is like an asshole, everyone’s got one!
MD: I gather you spent more time for this one on the arrangements for the songs in pre-production before hitting the studio…
ESA: Yeah.
MD: Why did you decide to spend more time… was there more time available for this album?
ESA: There were more songs than before. We just had time and we thought about the different ideas with what was working and what was not. But I think the biggest thing was there were so many songs we rehearsed. I think we recorded all the tracks we had…
TOMI: Seventeen.
ESA: Yeah, about seventeen so there were a third more tracks than we used on the album.
MD: Are those waiting for another album or will they be used as bonus tracks on other releases, or maybe an EP?
ESA: I don’t know. It really depends on Tomi and his vocals because usually we record an album and then give all the tracks to Tomi, and Marco [Hietala] this time, then they went to Marco’s house to start to deal with vocal arrangements. Usually, they come up with the songs that are best with the vocals and then you obviously, like this time, they ran out of time and there were some left over. That’s usually what happens.
MD: There’s a female voice on the album again, and you’d previously used female vocals on ‘Eclipse’ and ‘Silent Waters’. Is that something which will feature on future Amorphis albums or will that depend on the nature of the material you write?
TOMI: Yeah, we didn’t plan it at all, it was just an idea one day before mixing starts, to bring a little bit of freshness to the sound.
ESA: Yeah, and in the studio we started to talk with the studio manager because he’s a friend of ours, and we started to talk about it would be nice to have female vocals that would fit there and there but there’s probably not any good vocalists available for such a short period of time. So he said that he’s got a new girlfriend who is a very good singer and we were like, “yeah, of course she’s a good singer”… [laughs]. But we gave her a try and she’s really good.
MD: So that was Netta Dahlberg, yeah?
TOMI: Yeah.
MD: Is she somebody you’ll use again?
TOMI: I think she’s made a couple of albums but it’s more like R&B or, I don’t know, that sort of thing. But, yeah, she has a very wide range of singing.
MD: You’ve had the same lineup now for four albums which is the most you’ve ever recorded with the same lineup. Would it be fair to say that lineup stability has enhanced creativity?
ESA: Errrr….
MD: Or at least productivity?!
ESA: Well, we always try to come up with some new ideas but the reason our sound changed a lot in the past is because of the members changing in the band. Everybody always brings something new. Nowadays, it’s easier for us to write music because everybody knows what other people are doing. We hope to bring some freshness and new ideas into our music as we don’t want to be stuck with a particular formula. Even though we’ve used a lot of the same people producing the album and the same studio, we always try to come up with some fresh ideas and some new elements that really fits the whole concept.
TOMI: We already started to talk about what’s happening in the future that something has to be changed, like maybe it’s the studio or the way we are doing the album. Four albums the same, I think this is the last album with this formula.
ESA: Yeah, yeah, a little radical change! [laughs]
MD: Little radical?! That’s almost a paradox!
MD: Radical, but maybe not that much!