Interview with Mikko of Apocalyptica

Apocalyptica skull chair

It has been three years since Apocalyptica was last in Australia, and in that time they have recorded their first live album, Wagner Reloaded, finished up with their upcoming studio release, Shadowmaker, and created the theme song for everyone’s favourite time waster, Angry Birds. In a month’s time they will be here once again, this time for the world renowned festival, Soundwave, and drummer Mikko was at the ready to discuss the new album and its solo vocalist, playing Soundwave, what it was like recording a theme song for Angry Birds and why it is important to do random, fun things every so often, the fact that bands need to change, grow and evolve – except AC/DC – and that he is looking forward to the warmth of an Australian summer.

You’re coming back to Australia next month for Soundwave. How did you enjoy your time here last Australian tour, and are you excited to be coming back?

We had a great time, but unfortunately we only got to be there for one week and I think we played three shows. For years and years it’s been our passion to go to Australia, but as it is far, far away and it’s not always easy to go there and play shows, when we were given the chance to play Soundwave we were more than thrilled. It’s an amazing moment for us as well because they are the first shows we are going to do with the new album, so we are excited and it’s going to be quite  a lot warmer than it is here! [laughs]

[laughs] It will definitely be warmer! So, Australia gets to be among the first to hear songs off the new album live?

Yeah, Soundwave will be the point where we get to play our new single live for the first time and the album will be out early April, so the actual album tour starts afterwards. But Soundwave will be the launch of a new era so to speak.

That’s awesome! In an interview I recently did with Butcher Babies, they said that many bands talk about Soundwave as being one of the best festivals in the world, have you heard that too?

Yes, a lot! Lots of my friends have played there with different bands and people always say “you should go there! you should go there!” It’s not just the festival, just not the moment you get to play there or just the day, but everything around it.  As we’ve been to Australia, we know the people are lovely and the country is beautiful so it’s that whole package. Everything in the shows, and everything around the shows is just amazing. And the line up is pretty amazing, so very excited to be part of that!

Do you find it hard playing festivals like this being among more traditional metal bands, or does it make no difference?

We’ve played so many different types of festivals so I think we found our confidence. Whether we play these small cultural events where they are small groups from Bulgaria, or the craziest death metal festivals, so it doesn’t matter to us. Adversary is great, but all we aim to do is just give people a moment of fun and deliver our stuff the best we can, and make a connection with the audience. That’s all matters. And I think we are lucky in that sense, as we get to play in so many different kinds of places, for all different kinds of people. It’s going to be fun.

Earlier you said you were only in Australia for a week last time, so do you have much time for sightseeing this time around?

In all fairness I have no idea about the schedule [laughs]. I know when I am going to land, and I know when the shows are, but I have no idea. I hope we do. Last time it was either a show day or a travel day, so we didn’t get to see that much. We at least saw a little but, hopefully we get more time. 

You released your very first live album Wagner Reloaded. What was it like recording a live album? What was the decision behind releasing a live record?

We have been kind of fighting against a live album for the longest time. We did a couple of live DVDs, but nowadays with YouTube being more than full of live performances all the time, we thought it wouldn’t make any sense to make a live album if we were to play just our regular, normal songs. Wagner Reloaded was a project where all the music was original and composed for that situation, and besides that it was music that wasn’t typical Apocalyptica, it was done by request and is closer to classical and had elements we don’t do in our own live performance. It had a full scale symphony orchestra and it had a big choir and was more like a Cirque du Soleil event, than a normal rock show. So we thought it was really special to release that kind of thing live, rather than just one of our regular shows. And because that music was all new Apocalyptica music anyway, we wanted that to be out there for fans as well. So it was a good combination.

It’s been five years since your last studio record, what can fans expect from Shadowmaker?

When we were making 7th Symphony it was kind of a point that when we made the album we thought we need to have a break. We had been doing I think 10 years in a row without any proper break and when we finished 7th Symphony we thought we were going to tour and then take our hands of Apocalyptica for a little while, so we can see it with fresh eyes and hear it with fresh ears. We didn’t want to be stuck in a formula without a way out of it, where bands so easily go when they just do album after album. We were able to cut that off and have the time to think what could we do to make ourselves more excited and how we could make our fans more excited. I feel one of Apocalyptica’s strengths is that we are always doing things that are new for us, and questioning ourselves with: “ok we’ve been doing this, should we change something?” and that’s how it’s been since the very beginning. The first album was just doing Metallica covers with four cellos and gradually changing to do original songs, and taking in vocalists and taking in things like drums. And we would have a million featuring artists with us, so we thought this album we want to change things again. We found ourselves a singer, Franky Perez, he’s not part of the band, but he will be the one vocalist on the whole album. There won’t be different voices, so we have a more consistent sound through the album, and we feel that the album is telling more of a whole story now than ever before, just because there is just one singer featuring from the beginning to the end. There are also instrumental tracks in between, but that is the easiest change to hear compared to previous albums. Of course we feel that we have taken giant steps musically as well being more progressive, we feel the songs are more developed and better than before, but those are maybe more detailed changes. The biggest change is that Franky Perez is now playing with us for the whole album, and he is also touring with us for the whole of this album cycle.

Does that mean he will be with you at Soundwave?

Yes, he will be there. Every show we do from now, he will be with us. 

Did these changes lead to a change in the song writing process for this record?

I don’t think it has changed, it kind of varies on every track and on every album. On the previous two album I had been writing quite a few songs, but on this album I didn’t write anything, I was just arranging the songs with Eicca and he did most of the writing. But we don’t have any rules or any kind of a method for how we do it. It can be that Eicca comes to rehearsal with a very nice song with full arrangement, or he calls me with a couple of riffs and I go to jam and take them further. Or he turns some crappy synthesizer pop thing into something amazing. So there is everything. 

After listening to the album sampler it felt like you’ve done a lot to really use the cello to create a dark, eerie atmosphere across all the tracks. Does this tie in with what you were talking about earlier with feeling that the album now tells a whole story?

Of course the songs were made over a long period of time and by different people, so it’s not like other albums that could be considered one piece of music. Wagner Reloaded was more like that. It’s not one story in that sense, but the arrangements and the sounds, the tempos and the keys, all of that and even the stories within the songs, at least in our heads, they create this one line, even though the arrangements, and atmospheres and emotions are huge, at least that’s how we think it connects. It’s kind of kept this one line through the whole album. Though the sampler CD is unfortunately missing all the instrumental tracks, or there is just one, and there is a lot more to come, it was just a bad schedule with the sampler CD. Yesterday actually I was mastering and the vinyl is ready to be pressed, so we’re getting there.  

You released the title track from the new record and a few comments I saw online were that people were concerned that the “pure” cello sound has gone. How do you feel when you see comments like that?

I don’t see comments like that, because I don’t follow social media at all [laughs]. But we always talk a lot with our fans when we get to see them, and I think it’s great that people have a passion for Apocalyptica, and they see Apocalyptica to be something so strongly that they have a feeling it should be like this and they get emotionally involved, and I think it’s an amazing thing that we are so important to people. It’s always hard to say how people hear the cello to be, and it’s a constant conversation with people on whether we should have vocals or not, should it be just cellos playing Metallica, should there be drums? And of course our fans are why we can exist so we don’t overlook those emotions and thoughts, but for us, ever since the beginning, we wanted to do something different. We wanted to change things. If you have a passion in your heart to change things, you can’t just change for the first five years and then you freeze in a moment and you don’t do anything new any more. AC/DC can’t do that, or I will kill someone [laughs]. But as a band you need renew yourselves, you need to come up with new ideas, that makes yourself excited and brings that passion back. I understand how people feel though, and I am flattered that people have such strong feelings for us.

I think people need to remember that bands do need to grow, and evolve and change. Though I have been guilty of getting upset when certain bands change some things. 

Exactly, and if you have a passion in you, you need to question and rebel against the rules, you don’t just change some stuff and think “oh we’re fine”, it’s a never ending thing. When you start to feel too comfortable and you start to feel that you’re not quite going forward, but rather that you’re stuck in some moment five years ago, that would be a scary feeling. 

Stepping away from the new album for a minute, Apocalyptica did the theme song for Angry Birds. How did that opportunity come about? What was it like writing a song for a game like Angry Birds?

It was great fun! Rovio, the company who make Angry Birds, is a Finnish company and their office is actually maybe three blocks away from where I live. Finland is such a small country and we are very proud of everything we produce, and Angry Birds is kind of a national pride of Finland. When they did a celebration edition of Angry Birds they wanted to underline the Finnish culture and we were so flattered that in their world they heard of Apocalyptica and they thought that this was the best way to present the Finnish landscape and state of mind. We were actually doing it in the middle of the album, so it was kind of like having a holiday from being in the studio with Shadowmaker when we went to the studio with Angry Birds. It was really, really fun, and it’s good to do things that aren’t so serious at times. We did it with full force and we really gave our all for that track, but it definitely was a lot of fun. 

I was shocked when I first heard that you were doing the theme song, but I think it’s awesome that you did it.

We can’t be serious all the time, or we would be artists who would be very depressed, and not wanting to do anything fun. It would be quite boring. 

So I can’t let this slide, a couple of years ago I spoke to you before your last Australian tour and you were going to have me sing with you guys, but it just never happened! [laughs]

You need to just jump on stage! You need to definitely come to make this happen. Just jump on stage, tell me who you are and I’ll hand you the microphone. 

I think many people in the audience would get angry if they heard me sing.

Oh that’s fine. You always get some people angry, I’m not afraid of that.

I guess I’ll have to do it then! Now that’s cleared up, one final question. You’ve been together for 20 plus years, and it feels like it’s only in recent years that you are really gaining traction around the world and here in Australia. Why do you think it’s now that more people are taking notice?

It’s definitely a good sign because we are proud of our music and we are happy when we can get it out there, and when people get more interested in it. There are people who have been interested in us from the beginning, but I really don’t know why more people are taking notice now. I think that the songs are maybe just more accessible now to a wider range of people. And the people who have have been following us for a long time have always been very interested and supportive, and we have been kind of amazed that people feel strongly for us, and now we’re getting more people interested. But, I don’t really know, I just play drums. [laughs]

Well I’m just happy you get to come to Australia and I get to see you live.

Yes, and we are very happy for those kind of possibilities that couldn’t have existed without people being interested in us. 

Is there anything final you would like to add?

Just that we are so excited to get to go to Australia and play Soundwave that we have heard nothing but amazing things about. To be part of that is an honour and to get to be in your beautiful country where it’s warm! And come to the shows to sing!

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