AMORPHIS are the Finnish band that opened this interviewer’s eyes to the Scandinavian metal scene in the 90s with that legendary album ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’. While the band’s initial recordings were steeped in death / doom their music has never stopped evolving and over the years has come to embrace atmospheric, progressive and even folk rock genres. On the 2013 album ‘Circle’ they’ve done it again by throwing elements of black metal into the mix. Frontman Tomi Joutsen is here to tell us more about the new recording…
NZRock: It wasn’t long ago that I interviewed Esa for ‘The Beginning Of Times’ and already you have a new album ‘Circle’. You guys are a busy band!
Tomi: Yeah that’s what we’re doing now for a living so we’re trying to be really busy in a way and we don’t want to have any extra holidays. We just want to continue with AMORPHIS. Of course we also need some spare time to do something completely different but still we’re really motivated at the moment and everyone is willing to do this so why not. I think one reason why we can release new albums so often is that there’s not only one person in the band who can compose music, there are four or five of the guys who can compose material so we don’t have any problems with material, we have lots of ideas every time we go to the studio and maybe that’s one reason why we can be so active. I like it that way because you know, there are so many places you can play and we want to go everywhere and if we have some good offers it doesn’t matter where we go, it’s always fun to go to new places. Of course Europe and Finland are closer places for us but it’s really fun to go to Japan or South America and places like that. It’s great to travel with great guys.
NZRock: I’m a big AMORPHIS fan, have been listening to the band since the 90s and this new album, it’s just awesome. Everything is there, the melody, the atmosphere. There is some really epic stuff as well like ‘Hopeless Days’ and ‘Nightbird’s Song’. How proud are you of what you’ve released here?
Tomi: Yeah it was fun to record this one. If you listen to this album you can hear we have those death metal roots on this album also. There’s some really brutal stuff like black metal things almost. I really like this album, it’s really solid – it’s only 9 songs – and we wanted to keep it that way, no filler on the album. Of course we recorded 14 songs so we have lots of songs we can release after this and I think we’re going to release all of them as bonus tracks for vinyl or the digipak version. It was fun to record this album and I think it’s maybe a little bit heavier than the previous one but when you start to listen you can almost say this is AMORPHIS again because we have those familiar elements in every album.
NZRock: When you mentioned before about the black metal roots I definitely hear that in ‘Enchanted By The Moon’ and ‘Nightbirds’. Did you push yourself to try something new vocals-wise on ‘Circle’?
Tomi: Yeah and I think we have to thank Peter Tägtgren for that. As I remember it was Peter’s idea to try this kind of black metal-ish singing on there. When we started to do it at the studio I was a little bit like OK, what’s going to happen now? But when we started to do it, it really felt quite natural and I was quite surprised that it came out so easily you know. I’ve been doing this maybe 10 years ago with some other band but this was the first time with AMORPHIS that I was doing the black metal screams. Yeah it was fun and I think it was a great idea because now I have one extra thing that I can use on stage also and as a singer it’s great to have more tools. I tried to be really open minded when we recorded with Peter because I knew that he has his own history, he’s a really extreme guy in a way, he’s been making HYPOCRISY for over 20 years so he has a long extreme metal history and he had some great opinions and ideas for the singing so it was great to work with him.
NZRock: What about with the guitar tones, did he influence those as well or is that more the other guys in the band?
Tomi: I think the sound came out because Tomi Koivusaari he bought a new amplifier so maybe the sound is a little bit rougher on this album and also when Peter was mixing the album he wanted to put all the pedals on top and I think it gives a beautiful strong distored sound. Also the keyboards are a little bit lower so I think it only makes ‘Circle’ sound a little bit heavier. But if you listen to the vocals it’s only three songs that I’m using growls so vocal-wise it’s not that heavy. But I think the sound over-all, it’s our sound on top. Actually the bass player Niclas [Etelävuori] played for the first time, five string bass in the studio and I think you can also hear that tone on the album. There are nice low notes there.
NZRock: There’s quite a bit of diversity between albums between albums like ‘Eclipse’ and ‘Silent Waters’. Does that keep things interesting for you.
Tomi: Oh yeah and when we started to work with the new album we don’t have any major plans before we start working. We just compose material then we gather all the ideas and then we start to rehearse. Everyone is composing material at home with computer then we are sending emails and trying to listen to the ideas at home. Then we start to rehearse and try to find some good arrangements for the songs. It’s like a teamwork and that’s great I think and always when we are working everyone can say their own opinions and ideas. I think we have a good democracy in the band and that’s what I really enjoy.
NZRock: So Pekka Kainulainen writes the lyrics for the albums and then you sing them. How do you interpret where you’re going to put the growls and the clean vocals?
Tomi: When we’re rehearsing it’s always the music first and when we’re rehearsing I don’t have any lyrics with me. I just try to follow my emotions and the songs and try to figure out what kind of vocals should I put here and there and of course if there’s a really heavy metal riff it’s quite obvious that I growl there and if it’s melodic or sentimental it’s really easy to put some melodies there. When I’m thinking about melodies I’m just trying to follow the emotions and I really like it that way because I don’t have to think about the lyrics so I can just be really honest about my emotions you know. When we start to record the vocals then I have to arrange those lyrics and music and that’s sometimes really hard because the original text is in Finnish and I have translate it to English and then arrange it. It’s really frustrating sometimes because sometimes you have to spend many hours just to get one line but it’s worth trying you know haha! When I’m listening to the album now I think it sounds great to my ears but when we were recording I wasn’t sure if this was like completely shit or is this a good one it was so hard haha! But you know I could just trust myself and of course Peter was a big help. You just have to concentrate on what you’re doing and trust that something really beautiful comes out.
NZRock: Do you want to write lyrics yourself on future releases or is it not a big deal?
Tomi: Yeah man it would be really great to write some beautiful lyrics but I just can’t do it haha! I have to admit, I’m not that guy who can do lyrics. I tried when I was younger, I tried to write down some words but they sucked you know haha! So that’s the reason why we have a person outside of the band who is writing the lyrics for us. This guy Pekka who also writes lyrics for this album is really into old beliefs here in Finland and is a bit older than we are. So that’s also quite an interesting theme because he’s not a heavy metal dude at all. He’s like 50 years old and he’s a painter and I think he doesn’t know anything about heavy metal. I think it’s interesting to put together these two different things you know, heavy metal and this old guy who is not into heavy metal at all but still it works I think. Pekka is a really nice guy and he’s doing numerous different kinds of art, he’s a teacher at art school and also a painter, and he’s really into the Kalevala and old beliefs and it’s great that we’ve found this guy and he wants to go on with it in the future too and we also want to go on with it too.
NZRock: The mystic person on the cover of ‘Circle’ is said to represent a spiritual guide. There has always been that kind of ethereal or mystical element to the AMORPHIS music. Does that theme resonate with you personally?
Tomi: I think I’m not that much of a spiritual guy and I’m not a religious guy. I just try to concentrate on my own life and my family and try to live the moment. But of course it’s great to have some mystical things in your music and you know, you just imagine things when there’s some mystic in the air and when you’re listening to our music I think it also has the same kind of mystic atmosphere. For me it’s really easy to dream listening to our music I think. For me sometimes some songs are like a soundtrack or some moment and that’s a good thing in music in general. But I’m not that mystic guy, I’m just trying to take it easy and live my own life.
NZRock: In the AMORPHIS Studio Report Part III there’s a fast song which I couldn’t hear on the album…
Tomi: Yeah I think it’s going to be on a digipak as song number 10, that’s almost like thrash metal. I really hope that we’re going to play it live sometime because I think people will love this song. It’s made to play on stage and we don’t have so many fast songs so I think it’s definitely going to work on stage, lets see.
NZRock: Even though there’s no shortage of musical ideas coming from the band members, so you still hope to have a bit of a break between albums this time?
Tomi: I think this album will keep us busy for 1-2 years, that’s what I hope. But I think there’s going to be a new album after a couple of years. I think with this album we’ve created something new, it’s not a new start for us but I think that this is something different and I’m really looking forward to the next album because we did some things differently with this album and I think it was a good choice to do it because we’ve been working at the same studios for many years and now we’ve changed the studio, we changed the producer, and we also changed the cover artist. So we tried to do things differently and we tried to challenge the band again and I think that’s also going to happen with the next album.
NZRock: You’re releasing ‘Circle’ as a double album on double LP. Do you collect vinyl records yourself?
Tomi: No actually I dont have a vinyl player. I have only 10 vinyls I think. But I think it’s really great that we are releasing LPs because the artwork is really beautiful and there are lots of people who collect vinyls, it’s a beautiful thing. Of course I think all the kids are just listening to music from the Internet and that’s OK but for really hardcore fans it’s great to have something special.
NZRock: I saw a photo of you signing 400 copies of circle, how long did that take you?
Tomi: Oh yeah haha, that took a long time to sign all those CDs but it was fun you know and it was something special for the fans and I think we should do more things like that you know. It’s great when you know that someone will get this one and it’s going to make him or her happy. It was nice.
NZRock: It looks like you guys have had some fun being creative with the studio updates for ‘Circle’, and when you released ‘The Beginning Of Times’ I remember you did a Facebook post on April fools day showing a hilarious alternative cover for the album. Is it cool being able to do that stuff as well as creating music?
Tomi: It would be great to do more things like that because sometimes when artists are taking themselves too serious it gets really boring you know. It’s good to put something out for the fans so they can see that we are just normal people from Finland with stupid ideas and stupid humor haha! When we’re travelling we are having fun and trying to take it easy, we don’t have any big fights or arguments in the band. We’re trying to be really open and we are talking a lot and when someone is getting mad we know that ok, lets give some space for this guy. It’s really important to have a good atmosphere when you’re doing a lot. Nowadays it’s really easy to release all kinds of stuff because we have mobile phones and internet everywhere so it’s really easy to put up videos and stuff. But as I said we are tool lazy for that haha! And I think we’ll try and do it better in future.
NZRock: A couple of years ago you did the ‘Magic & Mayhem – Tales from the Early Years’ (2010) album with re-recordings of your old songs. What was it like stepping into the old-school AMORPHIS shoes and doing that?
Tomi: It was rather fun. It was really easy of course because I’ve played those songs many times on stage and we didn’t have to practice at all. We just went to the studio and I think I did all the vocals in one day. It was a really relaxed atmosphere compared with the real studio album atmosphere haha! It was actually Nuclear Blast’s idea to do it. It was like a celebration CD because it was the 20th anniversary for us and we wanted to do something special and I think it was a good way. For the younger fans it’s great that they can hear that we have a long history behind us and we have great songs that are not from my era. It was fun, of course it’s impossible to get the same atmosphere that it was in the early 90s. The time is different now days and when the guys recorded the original songs they were a lot younger. But as I said, it was fun, really easy and I’m happy that we did it. It’s a good option because lots of bands are just recording compilation CDs and we didn’t want to do that so we just re-recorded them and it’s a little bit cooler that way.
NZRock: After Pasi Koskinen left AMORPHIS I really wondered what would happen to the band. I mean ‘Far From The Sun’ was a good album but not the best AMORPHIS album. You’ve really breathed new life into this band. Did you feel a responsibility to do that when you joined?
Tomi: When I joined the band I was just trying to do my best you know. This was the first really big band for me, I’d been playing only in local small bands in my city. Before AMORPHIS I was a youth worker and also had kids and stuff so I kind of had a life before AMORPHIS. So I didn’t want to take too big a pressure from AMORPHIS because I knew if I was going to fuck it up I had my life already you know haha! So I just tried to do my best. I also knew that they were a little bit missing the motivation at that moment because ‘Far From The Sun’ wasn’t a great success and I also saw some really tired shows because I was a fan of AMORPHIS before I joined the band. I just wanted to some power or energy to the stage and that’s what I’ll try to do in the future too.
NZRock: What did the guys in NEVERGREEN say when they found out that you were leaving?
Tomi: They were pretty cool because our guitar player was a good friend of Tomi Koivusaari from AMORPHIS and actually a friend of mine called Tomi and said maybe you could check out our singer so that’s that story. So I didn’t have any plans to send any demos to AMORPHIS. Everything just happened you know and all of a sudden Tomi called me and asked if I wanted to join and I was like Oooo…K haha! And here we are.