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Amorphis- interview met Esa Holopainen (guitars)

Esa Holopainen: “I think once you get influenced and inspired by some artists, it never goes away. That’s what I felt. Usually when you are around your twenties, and you get a lot of inspiration, then you form the influences that you will have for the rest of your life. That is what happened in my case.

Wanneer we dit schrijven is het binnen enkele dagen op de kop af dertig jaar geleden dat het Amorphis album ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’ uitgebracht werd en Finland zowel als Amorphis voorgoed op de metal map gezet werden. Sindsdien zijn songs als ‘Into Hiding’ en ‘Black Winter Day’ trouwens nog steeds in de setlist te vinden tijdens concerten. Om drie decennia ‘Tales’ te vieren heeft Amorphis in hun favoriete Finse club heel het album in chronologische volgorde gespeeld plus enkele extra’s. Die opnamen komen nu uit op blu-ray, CD en vinyl met als titel ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes – Live At Tavastia’. Dat is het geknipte moment om met gitarist/componist Esa Holopainen even terug te blikken op die tijd en ons alvast enkele hints te geven naar toekomstige plannen.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 11 juli 2024

The album ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’ will be featured in our conversation today, because it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. There is also a live registration coming out of a gig which focused on that album. Congratulations!
Thank you very much.

Let us go back in time immediately. How was your life when you wrote this album? What can we say about the then 22 years old Esa Holopainen?
Oh… about the times when we wrote it in 1994? These were very different times. We did not have any computers to help us with writing music, so everything was just written when meeting up at the rehearsal place, trying different riffs and things. That is pretty much how ‘Tales…’ got together. We spent a lot of time in our rehearsing flat, trying different things and building up the album. I don’t think we could do such an album anymore these days, because people are too much relying on their own method of writing music and anyway, it’s different times these days, but it was great and it was great fun to rerecord it. It really got the atmosphere of Tales live and playing the whole album in its entirety. So it was a great feeling, especially at the Tavastia club where we recorded the album. It has a very important meaning for us, because it is our home town club which is usually the place where all the bands like Amorphis will start and play their first shows.

Indeed, even the previous Amorphis live album was recorded over there, but then during the pandemic…
Yes exactly. ‘Tales Live’ and ‘Queen Of Time Live’ were recorded at the same sessions, but we booked Tavastia club for four or five days. So we recorded both live albums during that period: ‘Queen Of Time’ and ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’.

How do you look back at that evening? Were you extra nervous, because maybe family was coming or special friends?
Yeah, but you know it was corona time, so we only had a handful of friends there watching the show, because we were not allowed to take any people in, because of the covid-19. I don’t think we were that nervous. I think it was the opposite way. We were a little bit frustrated because there was only camera crew there. It would have been great to play before an apt audience, but due to those circumstances we had to do it without the usual crowd. It was recorded in 2021.

‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’ was for me – and for many people – the first album which was focussing on Finnish mythology, more precisely the Kalevala. What did that mean for you?
I remember, when we recorded our first album ‘Karelian Isthmus’, after that we got an idea that we wanted to take the themes out of Finnish mythology. It was just an idea. It is a Finnish epos about the old myths and traditions as people know. So we had an idea that for the next album, which became ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’, we were going to take some stories out from there and do songs based on those. We decided to try out if it worked and well… the rest is history (chuckles). After that we had to explain everybody what the Kalevala is about.

And so many bands started to use it. You were really trendsetters.

And the funny thing is that at the moment you have that idea, you do not realize that it will become so popular…
Indeed, we didn’t know before ‘Tales’ was released, that people were going to like it or not and even our producer, Tomas Skogsberg, he told us ‘do you really know what you are doing, because it is completely different from what you did before?’ But then we started to have great reviews in Europe.

At that time, the album was recorded at the Sunlight Studios in Stockholm. So you went to Stockholm to record it. What about the circumstances over there?
Since the first album, we always thought: ‘okay, we want to record in Sunlight Studios in Stockholm instead of doing it in Finland, but at that time there were only a handful of Finnish bands and they all used Finnish studios, but we wanted to go to Sweden. It was a weird choice, because at that time, all the Swedish bands like Entombed, Dismember and Grave, all these Swedish death metal bands, they did their albums in Sunlight and our music was slightly different. We had like more harmonies and things going on there, so it really turned out like a weird mix of Sunlight sound and Amorphis music, but we did like it. So we used Sunlight Studios for three albums, ‘Karelian Isthmus’, ‘Tales…’ and ‘Elegy’.

I am glad that you played a long version of ‘My Kantele’ to close the concert. That is also a masterpiece and timeless. A special song in a long version…
Yeah thank you. I don’t know if it is a masterpiece, but if you say, it is.

At that time we had the success of video clips coming up. Another premiere. Wasn’t ‘Black Winter Day’ the first video of Amorphis?
Yes, we did actually two videos. Nuclear Blast, our record label, called us that they wanted two videos. They had a video director called Matt V and he did two videos in Germany: ‘Black Winter Day’ and ‘Into Hiding’. ‘Into Hiding’ was never released, because it was so bad. It was horrible. It was filmed in a school and it did not have anything to do with our lyrical concept or with our band. So Nuclear Blast decided to never ever release the video. At the same session we did the video for ‘Black Winter Day’ as well and it turned out great. It shows this weird situation when Finnish mythology meets German video directors. So the result is that we are playing in a Middle-Age castle (laughs). But still it is okay.

I saw it so many times at MTV’s  Headbangers Ball at that time…
Yes, it had great airplay at that show and we were really excited, because that was a huge thing in Finland. ‘Oh my God, there is a Finnish band on MTV at the Headbangers Ball show.’ It helped us here in Finland as well to get more name.

And an explosion of bands as well…
Yeah it started, but at that time, there were not that many bands. It was Sentenced, Amorphis and Stratovarius. I guess these were the only Finnish bands that came up at that time. Then it took some more years with another wave for Nightwish and HIM and so on.

And another good thing is that three people of the line-up on ‘Tales’ are still in Amorphis these days: you, Jan and Olli-Pekka…
Yes it is great. I am super happy that Oppu (Olli-Pekka – bass – Vera) returned in 2017 after such a long time. During the ‘Under The Red Cloud’ touring, before ‘Queen Of Time’, Olli-Pekka joined the band again. It was a great feeling to start playing with him again, there was no gap in between. It felt very natural to play with Olli-Pekka again.

And now they all have own bands, like Octoploid…
Yeah Octoploid is Olli-Pekka’s project band. It is a great album. It is good stuff, it is really like the mighty melodic death metal thing.

What happened to the other guys who were in the band at the time of ‘Tales’?
Our singer was Pasi Koskinen. I don’t know what he is doing nowadays. I haven’t heard from him for a long time. He had got his band called Ajattara which was more like black metal and our drummer, Pekka Kasari, I don’t think he plays that much anymore. He’s got a real job or something else. Niclas is still in music, our bass player who left the band. He is now playing with Jan (Rechberger – Vera). They have this Australian band called The Eternal which is also on RPM.

The second song which wasn’t on ‘Tales’ album, just like ‘My Kantele’, but you have played that on the DVD concert of ‘Tales’ is one with ‘Vulgar Necrolatry’ as title. Why did you choose that one?
It is actually a song from Tomi Koivusaari from a band called Abhorrence. They split up just before Amorphis was formed (although they have done some reunion shows again). ‘Vulgar Necrolatry’ was one of their favourite songs. When we recorded ‘Karelian Isthmus’, our first album, our record label wanted us to do one Abhorrence song, because they were huge fans of Abhorrence’s music. So we kind of rerecorded ‘Vulgar Necrolatry’ with Amorphis. So we did it up there. I did not remember that we did rerecord it on that session, but now that you reminded me, yes we actually did (chuckles). It is very energetic and old school death metal, so really fun to play.

I couldn’t place it firstly…
It is from the ‘Karelian Isthmus’ album.

What is for you the favourite song from ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’?
(think) I don’t know… that’s a good question… I pretty like ‘The Castaway’. It represents well all the influences that we had in that song. It has changed during the years. I really like ‘Into Hiding’ itself, because it is a classic song. If I had to choose one song, I think it would be ‘Castaway’.

In the beginning you were influenced by guitar players like Ritchie Blackmore and David Gilmour. All from bands in my record collection…
I still do like them. I think once you get influenced and inspired by some artists, it never goes away. That’s what I felt. Usually when you are around your twenties, and you get a lot of inspiration, then you form the influences that you will have for the rest of your life. That is what happened in my case. I absolutely still admire Ritchie Blackmore, David Gilmour and Jeff Beck. These are classic players. I guess if you ask to some metal dude in his thirties, you will get totally different answers, but that’s what I like. I usually like the players who have a unique sound. You can spot immediately who is playing.

I grew up with those as well. Maybe that’s why I like Amorphis so much as well, those influences…
We definitely have our own style I dare to say. Whether it is good or not, I think that is up to the listeners.

Wasn’t it difficult to make ‘Elegy’ after that huge success of ‘Tales…’? Any pressure?
I would not say it was hard. We never took any pressure from the previous albums, at least at that time, because we were just boosting about the new music and new material. We were keen to go forward and not really look back what we did with the previous album. So I don’t think there was pressure, but there was a lot of playing. Kim Rantala (keyboards – also in Octoploid now – Vera) joined the band and he is a super musical guy and he started to come up with songs as well and these songs were way more musical, way more filled with guitar harmonies and melodies than we had before. So it encouraged us to play more and at one point I just realized, because I already had to play quite a lot on ‘Tales’, with all the melodies and solos. When we did ‘Elegy’, I think it was at least twice as much playing than it was with ‘Tales’. So there was a lot of practising and playing. The playing was great, because at that time I think everybody in the band really developed a lot as musicians.

What are the current plans for Amorphis? Are you working on a new album and what about concerts?
Yes, we started to work. It is the song-writing process going on, so we do have quite a bunch of festival shows with Amorphis this Summer and then we do a North American tour early September and October. And then I guess we start to fully focus on the next Amorphis album.

The next one after ‘Halo’…
Yes! Absolutely. We will see how it comes out. We really have positive vibes with the new production plans, so we will see what’s going to happen.

I wish you a lot of luck and inspiration and pleasure…
Thank you very much.

Photo credit: Jaakko Manninen