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“To be someone else’s influence is the best compliment” – Interview with Esa Holopainen from Amorphis

The Queen of Time tour reached Budapest on the 25th of January and we couldn’t miss it, since we loved the album way too much. Before the gig we had the chance to talk to the main composer and founding member of Amorphis, Esa Holopainen, who was not only really friendly, but eager to share some cool details about the band and the production of their newest record with us. 

[Magyar verzió itt!]

One of the most important symbols on your latest record is the Bee. Did it appear because of the actual coming danger of the bees becoming extinct and causing a global catastrophe?

Esa Holopainen: Yes, the global warming is an issue that matters to every single person in the world and it concerns us as well, of course. But in the lyrics of The Bee it is a different metaphor, not necessarily about the global warming and those problems. It is a part of the story that Pekka, our writer wrote for us. The Bee became the first track we introduced from the album, it has become a quite important element of the release, because after that everyone was asking about the bee-theory!

I heard that Pekka actually writes those stories in Finnish. Do you have to translate them to English then and make it fit a song? 

He usually gives us a topic and writes the lyrics in Finnish. We have a translator, Erkki Virta, we have worked with him for quite a long time now. He is really good with translating Pekka’s lyrics from Finnish to English without losing their meaning. They collaborate very well, and then it is up to Tomi (Joutsen, vocals) and our vocal producer how they arrange the final lyrics for the songs.

How did the collaboration come with Akira Takasaki from Loudness in Honeyflow?

We know him for quite a long time now. He has been on our shows and he is a very good friend of Niklas  (Etelävuori) who used to play bass with us, and his wife, who is Japanese as well. We have met Akira quite often, and when we were in studio, Jens (Bogren, producer) had an idea that we need a guest for this song. We knew at that point that the song was going as a bonus track for Japan, so we decided that we should ask if Akira is available.

How come exactly that one is a bonus song, just like Winter’s Sleep on the previous record, why these two? Some fans were complaining about exactly those really good songs becoming bonus songs “only”?

(laughs) Yeah, because our producer thinks the opposite! Usually it is really hard to decide what songs you’re going to give as bonus tracks, usually it is Jens who gives us the final word about which songs we are putting as a bonus track. It is slightly out of the musical theme that we have on the album, probably that is one of the reasons.

How come you got a jouhikko to have in that song?

We have a friend, Pekko Käppi, who has done some guest appearances with us. We did a show in Helsinki where we had guests, including Pekko. He is really good with the jouhikko, he mixes it with modern music and makes his own music, we are really big fans of it, and this was also something we wanted to try.

On the past two albums of yours we can see a huge change in the music, almost as if you got a new composer, what do you think can cause this? It became even more melodic and somewhat more cheerful. What could be the reason for this?

The last two albums have been produced by Jens, so I think he got a really big part of arranging the songs, even though he didn’t write the music. He gave us a lot of fresh ideas, like using real classical instruments and doing more orchestral arrangements, which we have avoided before.

Several people and bands too mention you as their roots and inspiration, mostly folk metal bands, do you consider yourselves to be a kind of folk metal role model?

It is one of the best compliments you can get as a musician – that your fellow musician is thinking of you as an influential band. Back in the days, in the early nineties, especially 1994, when we released Tales of the Thousand Lakes, it already got a folkish vibe in there. I guess at that time it was one of the first death metal albums that sort of “broke the rules” of music at that time.

In 1997 you had a split with In Flames, both of you got pretty big,  do you have a good relationship up to this day, or who are your best buddies in the metal scene?

We have a lot of friends that we not necessarily keep that much in touch with, but whenever we meet, we talk and we consider each other friends. I send messages quite often with Mike (Michael Poulsen) from Volbeat, he is a good friend and he is always interested in what we are doing, and of course, I am also interested in what they are doing now. There is a lot of musicians from different bands, like In Flames or Paradise Lost, we try to keep in touch.

Is it true that you would often hang out in the Club Wigwam/202 when in Hungary?

Yes, we went there after a show and we actually played there once, too. We haven’t hung there that much, just an aftershow party or something like this.

The song Brother Moon is almost played in Finland almost exclusively, any particular reason for that?

(laughs) Actually, not really, we haven’t thought about it that way. Every time we go on tours, we pick up the songs that we are going to play. On this tour, the main focus is on Queen of Time. We have so many albums, that playing 80 minutes is simply too short. Brother Moon is a song we actually played quite a lot, but now that you mention it, probably only in Finland, I don’t know why. Perhaps for the next tour we’ll add it!

Will House of Sleep ever not be part of the setlist?

I don’t think so. It has become sort of an anthem. When you see people’s reaction for House of Sleep, it would be weird not to have it on the setlist. We usually end the show with this song and you can see the joy on people’s faces and they party so much.

Do fans sometimes walk up to you and say they started their interest in the Kalevala or Finland because of your music? Is there any occasion that stands out?

Sometimes it makes us wonder how passionate people can be, and that people really get into the songs, especially with Finnish language or Kalevala. Some fans moved to Finland, learned Finnish… I think that is as far as you can go with digging something.

The mythological hammer is featured on several of your album covers, isn’t it a problem that sometimes people confuse Finns with Vikings?

The old man’s hammer (ukonvasara) is pretty similar to Thor’s hammer, but it is different. This one comes from Finnish mythology, but they are connected to the old viking mythology. We try to keep the design so that it doesn’t look much like Thor’s hammer. What we use is pretty much the original design that was found in Finland.

The records Am Universum and Far From the Sun seem forgotten and neglected, why is that?

I guess we changed too much for some people with those albums. Especially Far From the Sun is a weird album, because it is the last album with Pasi (Koskinen), our ex singer. There are so many songs that don’t feel good to play. (laughs)

The song Daughter of hate even has a saxophone, is it a kind of lookback to Am Universum?

I think the saxophone came back also thanks to Jens, because he is a big fan of the saxophone. We were like yeah, you know, we used saxophone before, and this is nothing new for us. But if you want us to use saxophone, we can try it.

You said Jens had a huge part in creating the final result of the songs, can he be almost called the 7th member for this album?

Yeah, I really like to work with him. He is the first producer that has worked for us and really works WITH us. We share the same sort of mentality when we work together. His methods are very strict and I know of a lot of musicians that don’t like to work with him, because that is too much pressure. He makes you work really hard. We like to work with him and when you let him work with his methods I think it always yields a great result.

Whose idea was to have Anneke van Giersbergen in a song? She has performed with you already in 2016  so it seems like an old collaboration, or are you friends?

Yes, it is a friendship, she is a really good friend. I was a guest guitar player on her acoustic shows in Finland. When we started to do the vocal arrangements for the new songs, we told Jens that Anneke is a good friend, so if she’s available, we should ask her to do guest vocals. Jens was really into the idea and it worked out well.

Whose idea was to have the Eläkeläiset song for the outro? It is really nice that you don’t let yourselves to be made fun of.

(laughs) Yeah, it is great! As soon as we heard their version of House of Sleep, we decided immediately it would be the outro! (laughs)

In the song Bee you have these oriental melodies, how did the idea appear to also have Tuvan throat singing?

Our drum player’s, Jan‘s (Rechberger) father is a composer, he’s got a good connection with all kinds of weird instruments and voices. He introduced a throat singer to Jan and he told him that this is a really good group and he should work with us.

You have the Amorphis book in Finnish and German, when can we expect it in English?

Hopefully soon! It is up to the writer. He has been negotiating with publishers about the English version.

Are you still able to genuinely enjoy touring? Do you feel the magic in it after decades?

It is a way of life, sort of. Touring is easier nowadays, we don’t party that much anymore. It is also easier in a way that you can download series from Netflix and be isolated.

What are your favourite series?

I’m watching Black Mirror now.

Thank you very much, do you have something to add?

Thank you very much. No, not really, it is great to play here again, and it is a sold out show, so can’t complain! Great to be back in Budapest!

Thank you for Nuclear Blast!

Made by: Vica

Pictures: Dani

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