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Frantik Interview: Amorphis

Finnish doom institution Amorphis have been pumping out tunes ranging from “sonic noise terror” in their early days, trending towards their inimitable brand of The Doors influenced progressive death way before Opeth made it cool and trendy. They’ve been plugging away at the international scene, winning acclaim for their groundbreaking death metal record Tales from the Thousand Lakes in 1994 and more recently with their progressive, psychedelic (but still hella metal) albums Eclipse and Silent Waters which gave them the rare honor of achieving Gold status in their native Finland. We talked to Tomi Koivusaari, founding guitarist of the band about his successes, plans and for some reason his rather personal relationship with Mr. Lordi.

Hey Tomi! How’s it going?

I’m chilling at home.

What, really? How come?

Just taking a break before we start on all the summer festivals.

Which Festivals will Amorphis rock this summer?

We’re mainly doing the bigger Finnish festivals and some shows in Germany. Then after that we’re going to start the European tour, South America and Australia as well.

Well, let’s talk about your new record, Skyforger. It sounds much more psychedelic and spaced out than your previous records in recent years. How did you make it sound so, well, out there?

Well, I’ll have to have a think about it. I guess it’s because of the mixing and the mastering. It doesn’t sound as compressed. So there’s more dynamics and space. You can just hear those small things a little better.

And there might just be a bit more delay guitar maybe. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just delay guitar. The sounds are just more, like, dynamic. Spacey in a way. We didn’t do any more psychedelic stuff on purpose though.

It sounds damn heavy as well alongside all the lighter progressive touches, what made you guys decide to follow that route?

Well, we’ve been doing gigs at the same time as writing albums ever since Tomi (Joutsen), our singer joined the band. I think doing so many gigs and festivals have affected our way to play on stage and in the studio as well. All the progress we’ve had has been natural; we never decided to use more growling or heavier guitars or that sort of thing. I’m glad to hear that you think its heavy, because most other people have said that this album is kind of lighter, which is something I don’t agree with.

Hey, the heavier metal, the better, right? Anyway, you guys can’t seem to break yourself away from writing lyrics about the (Epic Finnish Folk Tale) Kalevala. Why did you turn to it yet again in your lyrics; do you guys fashion yourselves as the modern storytellers of Kalevala?

I think they’re interesting stories and philosophies, but they aren’t the thing we use to write our music with. I think they fit with our music very well because they’re timeless and there’s a lot of emotional stuff [behind it]. But I wouldn’t say that [Amorphis] are the ‘storytellers.’ It’s a very old tale but it gives you a good perspective on today’s life [and culture.]

Writing for so long on the same subject, how has the band fared over these 20 years? Surely you’ve had all sorts of insane rock n’ roll experiences.

We’ve had a pretty good time over our years, but we have had our bad moments. Especially when our former Pasi [Koskinen], our singer lost his motivation. It was a very depressing time for us. We were so relieved when he left and found a new singer because we thought we might have to go and record an instrumental album or something. But this band has stayed together because its fun and we enjoy making music.

That’s why we can say it’s been easy and that we still enjoy it all the time.

Are you excited to see the reaction to Skyforger once it’s released in June?

I feel very anxious waiting for it to come out. There are a few things we can do before hand like the artwork and promotion but that’s about it really. I wouldn’t say I feel nervous because we are very satisfied with the album. I listened to it about a hundred times during the mastering but I haven’t listened to it since because to your own ear, it might sound like shit. Once you get a bit of distance from the recording session you can almost listen to it like an outsider.

“We’ve had a pretty good time over our years, but we have had our bad moments. Especially when our former Pasi [Koskinen], our singer lost his motivation. It was a very depressing time for us. We were so relieved when he left and found a new singer because we thought we might have to go and record an instrumental album or something. But this band has stayed together because its fun and we enjoy making music.”
Something that’s almost unheard of in most markets is a metal band going Gold not only once, but twice in a row over two successive albums. You must have been partying extra hard once you found that out.

Well, it’s good; and we can respect that happening in a different way than from say, when we were twenty years old. It feels good, but it wasn’t our goal or anything like that. It’s funny because ten years ago things were a little bit different with us in Finland.

How do you figure?

Well, after [our current singer,] Tomi [Joutsen] joined the band it’s given us so much more energy and [a bigger] audience in Finland as well.

I almost hate to say it, but was it because Lordi won Eurovision and put metal over the top, making headbanging almost a “patriotic” duty?

No, it’s always been like that. Its unbelievable how big metal is in Finland. Lordi went to Eurovision because metal was already big in Finland. But them [winning] has nothing to do with our success, actually. But as for bands like Nightwish, their sales have been amazing. They sold something like 100,000 albums which is in the top 5 biggest selling albums in Finland. People were ashamed that Lordi were in Eurovision.

Ashamed? Really? What’s there to be ashamed of when the poster boy for your country is a huge monster that parties hard and rocks out?

It was like that to begin with. But people were afraid that they were going to embarrass Finland, like they were making fun of the Finnish people. But after they won [Eurovision] everyone was like ‘Yeah, Lordi!’ Grandmothers like it and little kids have Lordi T-shirts. Although now the hype is gone, nobody listens to Lordi any more.

Well, that’s their fault. They really did drop the ball on “Deadache.”

Well, I haven’t heard it that much. But I respect them because I know Mr. Lordi.

You do?

Yeah! I’ve done some projects with him. Without his Lordi mask of course. He’s been doing this a very, very long time, for about fifteen years or more. But it’s his vision and passion, this whole Lordi thing. It’s not a record companies’ idea or anything like that, so I respect him a lot for that.

You have to. I think you need dedication wearing all that latex shit.

It takes him about four hours to put it all on.

Four hours? Holy shit! Well, let’s move back to Amorphis now and you specifically. Tomi Koivusaari – think back to when you were a pimply teenager. Who made you pick the guitar up in the first place?

Well, the reason I started to play guitar was…well, I was at my grandparents’ place and I was watching TV and I saw the WASP “I Wanna Be Somebody” video came on. I had no idea what they were singing about but it just looked so cool. I found that my grandparents had a mandolin so I used to practice on that.

You learned how to rock out on a mandolin?

Well, to start out. After a few weeks my grandparents gave me money for my first guitar. After a half year, I was in my first band with Jan Rechberger, our current drummer. After that came Metallica and they blew me away. Then after that came death metal; Morbid Angel, Carcass, Sepultura, those kinds of bands. But when you’re young you might listen to something for a year or half a year and then think to yourself, ‘well, this isn’t cool any more.’ But ever since his first album came out I thought that David Gilmour was the best guitarist in the world and Pink Floyd was the best band. I guess I started out liking the “extreme noise terror” and then moved on to the 70s prog, Pink Floydish stuff. But I still think Slayer is always great and so is Mastodon. I’m attracted to different kinds of music.

Talking about the mandolin, have you ever considered putting one in your next album? Or any other kinds of instruments like orchestras much like your Finnish compatriots have been doing?

No, not orchestras. That’s more Nightwish’s style. We aren’t a classical band like them, we’re more like a 70s jam band when we rehearse. We want to keep it at a certain level. If we have a great melody you can find it, but we don’t want to blow it up like we were writing the music for [the movie] Titanic. But sometimes it’s interesting to use some strange instruments like accordion. Well, it’s not that strange. But strange for a metal band.

Well, Finntroll can pull it off, why can’t you guys? But one quick one before we wrap up; your name’s Tomi. Your singer’s name’s also Tomi. Who gets the naming rights in the band? I’d like to think you do since you were there from the start.

We’re calling him Tonto. That’s his nickname. Or we call him Jor-hausen. That’s how Germans are spelling his last name. Sometimes it gets confusing, but it’s good for me because if I’m doing something stupid, I can say it wasn’t me, but the other Tomi. It’s handy.

It’s been a great pleasure talking to you Tomi, good luck on your tour and keep rocking out!

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