Australia, meet Apocalyptica. These four Finnish metalheads slay with nothing but cellos and drums, and they manage to pull off a sound that’s heavier than a sumo wrestler. Spearheaded by classically trained cellists Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen, and Perttu Kivilaakso, with Mikko Sirén keeping time from the drum kit, Apocalyptica started out playing Metallica covers before venturing out to create intriguing metal with a classical edge. They pretty much remained Finland’s best-kept secret until they released the single “I’m Not Jesus” with Corey Taylor crooning over the top. Since then, they’ve been windmilling with their cellos at all the biggest festivals around the world and collecting guest vocals from some of the biggest singers in the biz. After a decade in the works Apocalyptica will finally be bringing the noise Down Under, and Eicca Toppinen is as surprised about it as we are. Playing a handful of dates on their maiden voyage, Toppinen tells BLUNT that the band plan on taking some time off after this tour, so you best get down to a show near you.
You’re finally coming to Australia; we can’t believe it!
We’re very happy about it because we’ve been looking forward to this tour for almost 10 years. And for some reason, I don’t know why but every time we were touring with the album Australia was on the list and we were like, ‘OK we will try to make it.” If you go to Australia, you need to do Big Day Out or you need to do Soundwave, but it never happened in the right schedule for us, we never got a proper offer for that. This time we were like, ‘OK, we want to go to Australia, we have to find a way. We will go and play club shows or whatever, but we need to find a way to get there.’ We are very, very happy.
Apocalyptica has played all the major festivals around the world, yet Australia is a relatively new market for you guys, how are you feeling about tackling it?
We’ve been touring for 16 years and it’s the most exciting thing when we go to new countries. This year has been very exciting – we toured in South America in 2005, but this time we went to new countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, Uruguay, Paraguay and it’s most exciting to go to new places and that’s why it’s like, ‘Australia, FINALLY’. It’s really exciting. We’ve played in certain European countries for 16 years and every year you kind of know what to expect – not exactly, but you kind of know, and when we come to Australia we have no idea what’s happened, so it’s very exciting.
Are you planning on bringing down a vocalist?
For a couple of years now we’ve had a singer tour with us and his name is Tippe Johnson, and he sings the new singles and that kind of stuff and we use him for Metallica songs – he’s only on the stage for four to five songs. It’s a good combination. We will perfrom songs from all albums we’ve released and from the latest albums, of course we do the biggest singles. In the beginning when we started with the first vocal album, we tried to play those songs like “I’m Not Jesus” or “I Don’t Care” as instrumental versions, but it didn’t feel right and that’s why we had to find a singer to tour with us.
With the introduction of the vocals to the Apocalyptica sound and the success that those songs have garnered for you, has the band changed the way it approaches writing songs?
Yeah it changed because of course we started doing vocal collaborations in 2001, it was always made like an instrumental album and after that we made some vocal versions of some of the songs and then we released special editions of some songs, but then already album to album it was planned to do some vocal tracks for the record and of course this affects the songwriting when you start to think about, ‘OK this is the vocal track.’ When we were recording we were writing songs but not thinking so much, “This is going to be a vocal track; this is going to be instrumental songs.” Then we started to think, ‘OK this could fit with vocals, and this would be good with vocals and without.’ For the last album, for example, for me when I was writing songs, I was focusing on writing vocal tracks so that made a big difference on the whole approach. On the 7th Symphony album, it was the first time we really decided to approach the songwriting in two blocks – there will be vocal tracks and there will be instrumental tracks, and that was the way we were able to make the instrumental tracks more exciting and more diverse and more progressive because on the Worlds Collide album, we wrote songs and we didn’t know which songs were going to be instrumental and which songs are going to be vocal tracks. Many of the instrumental tracks, the structure of the songs remind me of vocal tracks – there’s verse, there’s chorus, there’s another verse, there’s another chorus – and on 7th Symphony we wanted to get rid of that kind of thinking, that’s why we have such songs like “Rage of Poseidon” and “At The Gates Of Manala” on the album, they couldn’t have vocal tracks.
Over the years you’ve had musicians like Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), Corey Taylor (Slipknot/Stone Sour), Gavin Rossdale (Bush), Matt Tuck (Bullet For My Valentine) and Ville Valo (HIM) sing on your albums. When it comes to penning songs that have vocals do you have a vocalist in mind or do these people approach you?
There’s always a different kind of approach to different songs. Sometimes we have a song then we start to think about who could be the possible singer for it for this song. Sometimes we write together with certain singers. Most of the time we have the song first and then we start to think about who’s the right singer for the song.
You guys have expanded your sound to include drums and vocals, have you ever considered adding more instruments like a guitar to the mix or will this be too far away from what the core of Apocalyptica is?
I think we definitely won’t take any guitars. Of course we can have a feature artist on some songs that will be different, but in general for the band we don’t need guitars or bass, we can kind of get the same effect in our own way. If we were to suddenly have a bass or a guitar in the band, I think it would ruin the uniqueness of the band. We also have no need for that – I think drums and vocals are enough.
Your last album, 7th Symphony, was released in 2010, do you have plans in motion for another album?
No actually. We’ve been touring for most of the time since then and after the Australian dates we are planning on having a year off – totally off from the band because we’ve been doing this for 16 years without breaks. We are having great fun at the moment, and we are full of new and inspiring ideas and we thought it was a good time to have some distance from what we’ve done so far to be able to see from the outside, in a way, and decide what we want to do next.