What is the voice of AMORPHIS?
Interview by Christopher J. Kelter - May 3, 2000
I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to see the great Finnish
band Amorphis on their first U.S. tour in nearly six years. Right before their first gig on their new tour, I sat down with very jet-lagged,
but obviously happy Amorphis bandmates Pasi Koskinen (lead vocalist) and Esa Holopainen (lead
guitarist) to discuss the band's progress and future. Pasi and Esa were very generous with their
time and thoughts.
Rough Edge: The band's journey from death metal to a more diverse sound really fits the band's name; was this a natural evolution or was it sort of thought through or forced?
Esa: The band's name is sort of an accident. (everyone laughs) Amorphis was a name that we thought was all right. For us, the transition has been quite natural from album to album. It keeps us alive and it keeps the interest on the music a little bit more. Now that Pasi has been with us for two albums it's more of a straight sound. Line-up changes will always affect a band's sound - we have a new bass player now.
Rough Edge: Some bands welcome changes. Even the original Rolling Stones didn't stay together as a five man unit. I'd have to take it from your response and the evolution of the music that the changes have been okay with the band.
Esa: Yes, very much so.
Rough Edge: How has the change in band members and the line-ups affected the band's music and overall approach?
Pasi: Each new person brings new flavors to the songs. There have never been limits to anyone's influences - everyone in the band can express their ideas.
Rough Edge: A lot of bands put out new material every year or so and generally the music will sound the same from year to year. However, at the other end of the spectrum a band like Moonspell puts out four records in five years, yet each one sounds different. Amorphis seems to be somewhere in the middle - a new album every two or three years with everything sounding different. Does the length of time between albums have a factor in the Amorphis sound?
Esa: Sometimes a band can come up with songs and sometimes it can't. It all depends on the band's creativity. We are very different than Moonspell. For us, if something doesn't sound good we throw it away. Sometimes it takes months before there are any good songs. But I think we'll always be involved in the creative process. There will always be things stimulating the creative process, coming up with new ideas, and new songs.
Pasi: Deadlines! (everyone laughs)
Esa: Deadlines are always good motivation for creativity. Between "Elegy" and "Tuonela" there were three years; that's a lot of time between albums, but we did tour a lot for "Elegy." The touring took a lot of motivation away. Writing new songs after tours isn't easy. A lot of bands feel pressure from their labels to constantly write new material - some bands end up writing a lot of bad material and that's not good.
Rough Edge: A lot of bands are smart enough to realize that they can't force the writing process. Most people respect that. I'd rather wait longer for better material - I'd rather hear three good albums spread out over ten years than have ten albums in ten years with only one of them being really good.
Pasi: But what is a good album? Is it six good songs over ten albums or
something else? Is it when everyone agrees that the album is good? Sometimes good albums are just albums that everyone
can say that has their favorite songs on it.
Rough Edge: What does the band consider it's main and current influences?
Pasi: We're always listening to a lot of different stuff.
Esa: Everyone in the band is always listening to different styles of
Pasi: Everyday events inspire us in every way that we write the music.
Rough Edge: Very few bands take history very seriously in their lyrics; obviously Amorphis does. Have Finnish folklore and traditional music become such an important and integral part of Amorphis?
Esa: Pasi should answer this because he does all the lyrics these days.
Pasi: I'm quite serious about the lyrics - I want to stand behind what I sing because it's my face attached to the words. I don't want to sing about "I love you" or even "I kill you" - lyrics can be so much more. There should be a serious side to all lyrics.
Esa: Lyrics have always played a big role in Amorphis.
Pasi: The lyrics end up being connected to the music as well. It extends the feelings in the music.
Rough Edge: How does success in America fit into the band's plans? I was quite surprised to learn that Amorphis hadn't toured America since 1994.
Esa: America is one of our markets where we sell records. Of course, we want to promote Amorphis in America. We are sorry we haven't been here since 1994, but for European bands it's not that easy - it takes a lot of money and touring has to be done with other bands. In Europe we play venues twice as big as the Trocadero. Everything is very expensive - busses cost a lot and bands have to travel twice as much. Despite all that, it is still possible to tour in America. We certainly want to tour more so that more people can hear Amorphis - I think we are the only Finnish band touring America. It's especially nice when we meet new people. In Europe we are very used to seeing American movies and other cultural things - when we are in America it's not really that much different.
Rough Edge: What milestones are Amorphis hoping to conquer? Records sold? Concert dates in a year? Other achievements?
Esa: From my point of view we have achieved what we wanted - we can still play our music, we can tour, we can make records, and do what we want to do.
Rough Edge: The music is a reward in and of itself.
Esa: Yes; I don't know what the next goal will be.
Pasi: Making the next album is the next goal. (much laughter)
Esa: When we realize that we have released several albums and we are still alive - that's what we respect most. The dreams we had when we started the band - the dreams are coming true, but we're also more realistic.
Rough Edge: Success can be measured by the fans' anticipation for a new record or a new tour. If we really took a look around, we'd find that there are quite a few people who care enough to know that Amorphis are touring and are really excited about it. People's view of bands are often defined by the press they receive. I, too, was influenced by the press that Amorphis was receiving for "Tuonela" - I had to hear for myself if "Tuonela" was as good as others said it was. Is "Tuonela" the true voice of Amorphis? Or is the band's voice an endless search?
Esa: That's a tough question.
Pasi: Of course... (long pause)
Esa: Each new album is the voice of the band at that moment. There are a lot of people who think the voice of Amorphis is "Tales From The Thousand Lakes" or "Elegy" or even "Tuonela." From our point of view it is always the new release because we are so close to it. Every album is a unique challenge and we enjoy our time in the studio. In fact, we are very excited for the new album - soon that new album will be the voice of Amorphis.
Rough Edge: Have you been recording? Is there a new CD in the works?
Pasi: We have a few songs already. We go into the studio in August
Rough Edge: Clearly the new record isn't done.
Esa: Everything should be done in August - that's our deadline! (everyone laughs)
Rough Edge: Well, I ask only because people see a lot of 'news' on the Internet and it's not always true.
Esa: In Germany, there was some press in January 2000 that our new album was going to be ready in March 2000! I don't know where the rumors are coming from.
Rough Edge: Will the band be back in America to tour once the new CD comes out - if yes, will that be late 2000 or early 2001?
Esa: If this tour goes well then there is no reason why we can't come back. Any tour would be after the new album is released.
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Revised: 29 Aug 2005 11:04:32 -0500.