Esa Holopainen: “’I was super lucky that I got the chance to start working on this Silver Lake project, because that really took half a year from my life last year. After I finished Silver Lake, I started to write and work on the next Amorphis album, which we are actually recording now.”
De Finse muzikant Esa Holopainen geniet al jaren wereldwijde roem als gitarist en componist in Amorphis, maar nu kunnen we zijn eerste soloavontuur verwelkomen en dat wordt geïntroduceerd als Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen. Dit fantastisch, verfijnd muzikaal avontuur kwam tot stand tijdens de periode waarin zijn hoofdband Amorphis niet kon touren wegens de coronaperikelen. Hij nodigde een indrukwekkende reeks vrienden uit om het geheel vocaal in te kleuren en maakte zijn droom waar. We hadden een aangenaam gesprek met de hartelijke Fin over zijn intenties en werkwijze.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 7 juni 2021
You always had a busy life with Amorphis, but now we can welcome your first solo effort under the moniker Silver Lake. How did this idea come into being?
Making a solo album has been a little dream of mine for many, many years. When ever I had the time, it would be great to work on a solo album. Now it really escalated last year, when covid-19 hit us. All the tour plans and shows of Amorphis were cancelled. So that is when I really started to work with these ideas. I got a call from my friend Nino Laurenne, who is actually running Sonic Pump Studios, here in Helsinki and he is a guy I preferred to work with when doing this solo album. He gave me a call and asked me if I would be interested in starting to do this, this solo album. Now that I obviously had time, and I think I needed that little kick. So I started to work out my earlier ideas. In the beginning I was not sure where it would lead me, but I did not want to do an instrumental guitar oriented album. I really wanted to have vocalists on it. It all started to clear a bit more for me when I started asking people to join the project and knew who were actually going to sing some of the songs. First ones were Björn ‘Speed’ Strid (Soilwork, The Night Flight Orchestra) and Einar Solberg from Leprous. When they liked the songs I sent for them, it gave me more self-confidence and vision in which direction I was going to lead this project.
When talking about the writing process of the songs, can we find really old ideas on this solo album or is it all written in a pretty short amount of time recently?
The first three songs are older. I think the first one I wrote a couple of years ago. Usually when I write music, it is obvious that I write for Amorphis sessions. Sometimes I write music just for fun, but it is too different for Amorphis. Those songs are just ideas I like a lot, and I kept them for in case something pops up, without any pressure to use them. And that was a good thing to do, because all the three songs I had, which became ‘Sentiment’, ‘Ray Of Light’ and ‘Promising Sun’, they were very different from each other, very diverse music-wise. That’s when the idea of using different vocalists came up to me. Like ‘Ray Of Light’ is almost like a pop song, there are pop elements in there and I was immediately thinking of Einar. It would be a perfect song for his vocals and his vocal range. ‘Sentiment’ on the other hand is very acoustic, almost a folk-ish Pink Floyd song, and it made sense to invite Jonas Renkse (Katatonia). I did not want to make an instrumental album, because I don’t like to listen to instrumental albums made by guitar players myself (laughs). I wanted songs that I would like to listen to myself and other than that, I wanted to do at least one instrumental song on the album, because I wanted to be the leading instrument – if not the vocalist – in one of the songs and that became the opening track for the album.
After so many years of touring, I guess it was not too difficult to invite people from your circle of friends, in despite of social distancing times…
No, indeed. And that was one of the things I wanted. It should be people I worked with before or who I met before, who I really admire and respect. That was the main point for me to ask someone as singer. Everybody was in the same situation last year – and this year as well – all musicians where in wait, unemployed when it comes to touring. At the same time all the musicians were super creative I think. Every artist you hear on this album, was working on his own album or own project as well. That is something which happened last year: a lot of musicians got super creative.
Did you have any other hobbies except music, in isolation era?
Yes, I started to play a little bit tennis. I bought a pizza oven. So I practise making proper pizzas (chuckles). That’s mainly what I have been doing. Try to spend a lot of time outdoors as well. It has been a bit tricky, because of the lockdown you cannot go to bars and restaurants. So you have to find something else that motivates you. I was super lucky that I got the chance to start working on this Silver Lake project, because that really took half a year from my life last year. After I finished Silver Lake, I started to write and work on the next Amorphis album, which we are actually now recording.
That’s amazing news! The first encounter with your solo work happened to be the video clip for ‘Storm’, with Håkan Hemlin. What can you tell about him?
I think he is the most famous folk singer in Scandinavia. He is a Swedish singer. He is known from this folk duo Nordman. They had huge hits during the nineties and they were super popular in Finland, Sweden and Norway. But somehow they faded away during the years. I actually don’t know if they are still active. We have one common friend, a film director called Owe Lingvall – who did the ‘Storm’ video – and he is a friend of mine and Nino. So we asked Owe to ask Hakan if he would be interested to guest on one song on this kind of an album and Hakan quickly decided because he likes hard rock in general. That’s how we got in contact with him and I am so happy to realize that his voice is still perfect and in great shape. That song turned out great and Owe opened the possibility to film on Canary Islands to shoot that video. I am really happy about the video as well, because it became very uplifting, without having that too happy mood.
It reminded me a bit of the atmosphere of Fish…
Yes, now that you mention it, that is true. They have pretty similar sound work. That is true.
You never write lyrics for Amorphis, so this album is the first challenge for you on the lyrical side. How did you consider this?
Yeah that was something like jumping into the unknown. I wrote some lyrics on some of the first Amorphis albums, but that was not worth mentioning (laughs), but it was a great thing to learn something from yourself too, because writing lyrics and arranging lyrics – in harmony with the vocal melodies and finding synonyms for certain lyrics – that was the most tricky thing and I started to respect more and more vocalists and lyricists and singers who write their own lyrics and arrange them. It is not such an easy part as you think and I got a lot of help on the arranging side from Nino, the producer, because he is used to arranging lyrics and doing vocal lines. So with that section I was working pretty hard and closer with him together to get a great result. I am super happy with it. I think ‘Storm’ is a great example that we succeeded pretty well in that.
You also touch pretty serious matters like mental health in your lyrics…
Yes, it is one of those subjects I really wanted to write about, because I think it is more common. I have seen people struggling with mental issues and especially amongst musicians it is pretty common these days. I struggled myself when I was younger, when I was 18-19 years old. I got panic attacks, these were horrible. That was in the nineties, it was not even diagnosed then. Today you see more and more people having mental symptoms. I think it is always good to tell about them. Talking about these issues is already one way to help these people. I was actually really surprised by all the feedback from people, being surprised and happy that I touch these topics. I think it is always good to remind those people that there is another day. People who are struggling with mental issues, they know that when you are in the deepest state of mind, you really believe that there is no way out. People want to be more open about these things today and I think that is a good thing. It is very therapeutic to talk about those things and understand that there are other people suffering from the same symptoms as well. It is horrible, but I think the times in which we are living and the environment that surrounds us, they feed more mental illness in my point of view. How people feel and how they try to look like, people are just looking at their mobile phones and try to get the perfect images from there. In a way it is wrong, it is not real life, it is something that is going to twist people’s minds into something unreal. Especially kids, when their best friend is their mobile phone.
The lyrics are sometimes inspired by nature. Are you living in Helsinki itself or on the countryside?
I am living in Helsinki, but outside of downtown. I am actually living quite next to the National Park. It is closed to a forest, when I want to be isolated, I only have to walk 50 metres and I am in the middle of forests. It is roughly ten kilometres from downtown and then you get into nature.
How did you ever meet Jonas Renkse?
I met Jonas at some festivals. We actually never toured with Katatonia, but we played a lot of same festivals and we met each other occasionally. He is also in Bloodbath, so we played on many festivals together. We started to talk from time to time. He really enjoys Amorphis and I am a big fan of his music as well, so that’s basically it. He is a great guy with a beautiful voice, really one of the most charismatic guys of this business.
What can you tell about the narrative addition of actor Vesa-Matti Loiri?
He is someone of whom I am pretty sure that no one else outside of Finland knows him, but he is the most famous actor and a singer. He has been recording artists and albums since late sixties and he is a really respected artist in Finland. I was super happy to have him to do this spoken word song ‘Alkusointu’ and he is very charismatic. He is a living legend, something like the Johnny Cash of Finland (chuckles).
What is the story about?
It is an old poem, written in 1870. It is basically a world creation’s story, according to Finnish mythology. It tells about how the world was created from little islands and so. We recorded the text of Vesa-Matti at the Sonic Pump Studios. It was a great day to have him, telling stories about his background and things like that. It was one of those magical moments in the studio.
Also in May, Amorphis will release the live registration ‘Amorphis Live At Helsinki Ice Hall’. What can you tell about this?
That was one of the last shows we played on the ‘Queen Of Time’ tour late 2019, recorded here in Helsinki. It was in an arena, an old ice hall. That was the place where I saw my first bands when I was a kid. Big bands like Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Kiss, AC/DC… So it was a kick to play there with Amorphis so many years later.
Is it coming out on DVD?
No, we have some clips, but not the full show, because we never had a plan to release it on a live album. The live recording turned out to be that good that we decided to bring out as live album. It is a bit of a shame, that we did not film it as well, because that would have been great.