Apocalyptica interview (Perttu Kivilaakso)

"Dave Lombardo is the main reason why we have drums in our band today"

16/12/2013 @ 13:23
It's very interesting to watch artists who experiment and always try to find something new and inspiring for the music, especially while maintaining their artistic integrity. We had a friendly chat with Apocalyptica's Perttu Kivilaakso, about "Wagner Reloaded", the band's future plans, the numerous guests they had on their albums, as well as the problems of the music industry.

ApocalypticaHello Perttu, how are you?
I'm brilliant, totally brilliant! I'm spending some time here in Berlin, actually.

You've just released your new live album, called "Wagner Reloaded". Who's idea was this concept?
The concept comes from this choreography and ballet director Gregor Seyffert. He wanted to create a big, massive dancing thing for Wagner's 200 years, and at the first state, let's say 3 years ago, he asked us to do music for this show, but ever since when we realized that this is going to be a quite fun thing, we wanted also to make it our own project, more than just delivering music, so that's why Apocalyptica started, and ended up performing live. Of course, all the script, all the choreography and also the form of the show, that came from Gregor, so then it was more like composing a soundtrack for his vision, a very interesting and exciting thing to do.

Can you tell us a bit about the show? What was going on the stage while you were playing the music?
First of all, I think it was a very interesting concert to play because, I normally used to be in the center of all the attention and now I was playing like a backing musician for all the crazy things that happened during the show. Of course, there's the story of the ballet, which was about Wagner's life and it was logically following his life, ever since from his birth to his death, and his legacy, what was left afterwards with his music, and I think it was a very modern kind of ballet, with many things being intentionally abstract, but you still got quite a clear picture that "ok now he met the love of his life" and how all this affected the music he composed. I'm also very happy about the musical structure, because we were really able to make let's say 17 or 18 new Apocalyptica songs and combine them to already existing Wagner material and in this sense, I think that even with a couple of hundred years in between us, there are still some similarities in the emotional side, in our modern rock music and Wagner's operas, and that's one of the interesting thing about the music in general, that no matter how many centuries pass, music still conveys the same emotions.

Apocalyptica - Wagner ReloadedYou composed your own music, based on Wagner's music. Did it prove difficult to try to write music over established melodies and arrangements?
Not really, because we have been used to do that. At first, our band was formed to perform Metallica's music, in our own way, and ever since we like to do some cool covers, but of course this was the first time we really dived into classical music, but we wanted to be very free, in our part, we didn't want to repeat it in a way that people would even recognize that this is Wagner, so the songs may have a hint of the melody, but they have that style of Apocalyptica's thrash metal music, this is I think the most exciting thing here, that we took the freedom to transfer Wagner's vision into our own music.

Did you leave any songs out of the set?
For the album, of course, we had to nearly half away, because the whole show was approximately 100 minutes, and we were supposed to do a DVD out of it, but hopefully that happens next summer, we have more shows coming in June and hopefully we get the DVD out of that, but nonetheless we wanted to release the new Apocalyptica as audio to our fans, and that's the reason for this new live CD release now. We felt that we don't need to release those already existing Wagner moments, because of course they have been recorded hundreds of times already, so that's why we picked only those fresh and never heard before Apocalyptica tracks to be in the album.     

Do you think that Wagner would be proud if he was at the show?
I think that Wagner would definitely be proud of the fact that people are still remembering him and that his musical legacy is so strong, but of course he was most likely a very proud man (laughs) and maybe selfish and a very big egoist, so he would be fascinated by the fact that there were thousands of people gathered to celebrate and remember him, I'm not so sure that he would like Apocalyptica's music, but the one thing I'm pretty sure about is that if electricity existed in his time, he would have added distorted guitars and these kind of sounds in his own music, because he is one of the most bombastic, massive and craziest musicians ever, so therefore I think this element lives in Wagner's music as well.

ApocalypticaWell, maybe he would be a metalhead after all!
Yeah, he could be a metalhead, of all the classical composers, if somebody could be a metalhead, that would be Wagner.

Did you have an audience mostly of metal fans, or were there people who liked classical music as well? Did you see any strange reactions from the crowd?
In general, the entire crowd felt like everybody liked it, and I think the best thing in this was that it definitely brought together the heavy metal fans, the typical Apocalyptica fans as well as people who are interested first of all in opera, and then people who are mostly interested in dancing maybe, and even in the dancing, there was so much variety that at the best points it was like a circus, because we had those acrobats, which was something very very exciting, they were all very skillful and talented acrobats. Of course in the production, it should be interesting to people who are nowadays so used in seeing major movies and special effects and all that, so in this day of spectacle, it totally intrigued people so I think it had so many different aspects that nearly everybody would find something to fascinate them.

Was this a one-time thing or can we expect something more? I mean it was a lot of work to compose and arrange all this music just for one performance!
Totally, yeah! We played two shows already, we have agreed to do it again in Leipzig in June, and now there is this idea of making it transferable so we can play in other cities as well, the stage production is so huge that is impossible basically to go anywhere, but we are planning so there is the possibility to perform in other cities in Europe as well.

Apocalyptica - Dave LombardoYou are going on tour on March, with a 25-piece orchestra. What can the fans expect from this tour?
This will be totally different from the Wagner shows, but now we have really felt in love with the possibilities that a symphonic orchestra brings to our music, and that's why we created this little tour with one of the greatest and most famous Finnish classical orchestras, the Avanti! orchestra. It will be interesting, we will perform let's say 25 Apocalyptica originals from the previous albums, but everything of course is now rearranged for the orchestra and us, and we will concentrate also to some cool tracks that we never played in live concerts, and therefore for the very hardcore fans of Apocalyptica it should be a diamond to see, and I hope of course that classical listeners will come there to have the feel of how this kind of union works with the classical orchestra and our rock band. I'm sure it's one of those things that I'm mostly waiting for in the future, I'm very excited to get to play with an orchestra.

Yeah, it sounds very exciting for sure!
Unfortunately we won't be coming to Greece, at least at this point, but hopefully we can also bring the orchestra and the Apocalyptica symphony into other places as well, but now we have booked about three weeks with the orchestra, and you can imagine that it's quite expensive to do that at that time (laughs), but there is the vision and wish to increase the amount of shows and the possibilities to bring it hopefully to Greece.

That would be amazing, otherwise I'll have to start saving money for a trip to not miss these shows! (laughs)
Yeah unfortunately!(laughs)

ApocalypticaDid you think about incorporating an orchestra for the next album?
I've had it personally in my mind, it would make sense to do so, but let's say absolutely not for the whole album.  I think because we have done these side projects, the Wagner thing and the Apocalyptic Symphony,  so our main aim for the next studio album, is to have a clear Apocalyptica sound again, but as an element it would be interesting to do for example an intro for the entire album or something like that.

You had numerous guests on your albums, could you tell us how you decide to ask someone to be a guest for your album? Do you make contact on a personal level or does the management take care of it?
It varies, there are lots of ways. Mostly I think, for many of the guests, we have personally met during the years, for example in festivals, and with most of them we talk directly "we love your band, you love ours, let's do something really cool together in the future", this is very typical. In some points, we may have had a song existing, and then we approached the record company and they contact who we imagine that would be for example the perfect vocalist for that particular song. But mainly, I think the coolest thing is whenever you have a friend or some person that we already know beforehand, and can have a very common feeling about doing this cooperation. For example, what we have been discussing now about the next album, we are bringing in these kind of names that inspire us, there are of course  certain vocalists that everybody likes, everybody is a fan of or something like that and it's a dream to work with them, but this time, we have approached it at least at this moment a little bit differently. We were interested in the option to add maybe more like really cool instrumentalists, and he haven't been talking so much about the vocalists yet. I'm sure there will be vocalists in some tracks, but I think it will be a very interesting aspect to bring these guys, we will have let's say 5-6 very brilliant different instrumentalists from different genres, and we want them to bring their particular sound and colors into our music and I'm quite convinced that they will follow that feeling.

Perttu Kivilaakso (Apocalyptica)That's very interesting, I think it will bring a different dynamic in your music.
Exactly, for us it's very important with every album, that we don't want to repeat everything many times, and therefore, we try to find a different angle to approach each album.

Do you have any wild stories about a guest's involvement?
Wild stories! I don't know, not so many wild stories, but the wonderful memories of all those years. We have been very fortunate to work with amazing persons, of course they are amazing artists but they are amazing persons as well, for example Nina Hagen, it was totally insane to spend several days together doing the track "Seemann", the Rammstein song, years back, she was such a charming woman, talking about aliens and gods, and how we met them all, I just loved it, it was so hilarious and a wonderful time, shooting the videos and stuff like that, so she's one of the strongest personalities and characters I have ever met and spent time with. That's a very wonderful part of this job, we don't have our own vocalist, we can always have the opportunity to invite such inspiring persons in this. Of course Corey Taylor, and Adam Gontier, we had the chance to perform many times together, he (Αdam) likes us a lot, and whenever we were in the States and it was possible from a scheduling perspective, he would join our shows and sing, he's a very lovely guy for sure.

ApocalypticaCould you tell us some artist that you really want to have on an album, but you are afraid they might reject the offer or maybe you think it is impossible?
One of the very interesting vocalists that we have actually already asked and she wasn't not so interested, was Bjork!(laughs) She is so unique, she would be perfect in our opinion, but at that time at least, a couple of years ago, she was like "I've got no time for this"(laughs). But from male vocalists, I would say Serj Tankian or Jonathan Davis would be brilliant people to work with. Something common with every vocalist, is that they are more or less very unique, and because we feel we are quite a strange band, and kind of also a challenging combination and the music is a little bit weird, so the vocalists have to be a little bit weird as well (laughs)

Now that Dave Lombardo is no longer in Slayer,  would you do a show with two drummers? Have you ever thought about that?
Actually, it already happened! In "7th Symphony" there's this track called "2010" which is really a dual with two drummers, our own Mikko and Dave, and they performed it at the studio at the same time, it was very exciting. Dave has been in our four last albums, and it kind of feels that he belongs here, whenever we have something new we have to have Dave around, because actually he is mainly the reason why we have drums nowadays. He approached us back in the days, when we were only cellists, and he said that if we ever liked to play with a drummer, he would be more than pleased to offer his drumming in our band. And for the "Reflections" album, he played most of the songs, and after we realized that it is so freaking cool to have Mr. Dave Lombardo play with us, we wanted to offer that kind of sound to our live performances,  and that is why we then found Mikko to fulfill that place. And of course Mikko has been amazing in that place ever since, he's an incredible drummer, and we always have had Dave play one or two songs in the albums, but the last time we felt that the coolest thing to do is to put our own drummer and Dave to perform in the same song, at the same time, and it's really like a mayhem!(laughs)

Perttu Kivilaakso (Apocalyptica)So would you do it for a live performance?
Absolutely! Dave has played once with us, it was a festival in Netherlands, and Dave played "Mandatory Suicide" and "South Of Heaven" with us, a couple of Slayer tracks, it was very nice.

You had a little break for a while, do you think your fanbase is strong enough to sustain you as a band even with longer breaks?
Of course we cannot know for sure, we hope that's the case, but we thought that after being around for about 16 years and making several albums, we felt that if we want to maintain the same passion in doing it, and most importantly if we want to still create something interesting and exciting for the people, we need to take this little period of time to clear our brains, find out different influences, and find out once again a similar feeling to like what we had all these years, that it's so freaking cool to make new music. This way, having one year off, we wanted to guarantee that Apocalyptica will have a long life ahead.

Any plans on a new album? Do you think the Wagner reloaded project will affect your songwriting?
No, because we are at the moment already writing new material and we are planning to go into the studio in April and May, and we already know that the next album will be out about January of 2015. So we are constantly working already for the next proper studio album.

Do you think you will make longer songs like in "7th symphony"? Do you like working on longer songs as a musician?
Yeah, I think that longer songs can give once again a different freedom into creating music, you don't need to think about how to cut everything into 3 minutes and get enough said in a short amount of time. We are not restricting ourselves now at all I think, everybody is trying to find some interesting new aspects to bring into the music, for example I have been diving a lot into electro and getting a dark ambient feeling in our heavy music. It's always very exciting to create new material, because we cannot basically follow anyone because of the cellos, we have to create our own way, and it's such an amazing playground, to fool around with all kinds of crazy ideas, and I'm quite sure that the album will be very progressive, we can never fit into the typical mainstream form and I think that's also the unique and fascinating part of our band and we definitely have to honor it ourselves. Therefore I'm sure it will be an exciting progressive, modern rock album combining all the different elements existing in our music.

Perttu Kivilaakso (Apocalyptica)You had a crowdfunding campaign for a photo book as well as the Wagner Reloaded release. How do you feel getting financial support directly from the fanbase?
I think it's a pretty cool thing, because especially in the modern world, this business is suffering big time, like almost every business, the music industry is shrinking all the time, and crowdfunding is for many bands a wonderful opportunity to still do things which are for example expensive to fund beforehand and you never know if you release a book for example, if anybody is going to sell it, it's kind of strange to invest hundreds of thousands to do something that you are unsure if even interested in (laughs). But in this type of system you see, there are those people who will buy the product, who are dedicated, and therefore I think it's very nice, even for us, to be able to create more content, like this book for example.

Do you think this marks a shift in the music industry?
Yes, and I'm quite sure it will increase in popularity amongst the bands and other kinds of artists, like book writing and every kind of creative work. It is a good thing to see, and especially in the gaming industry it's amazing, it's very expensive to produce those games, and it's uncertain if anybody is interested in buying them, so this is a very good way to guarantee that people have exciting and challenging productions, even in the music industry, so it gives lots of possibilities to different kinds of artists.  

ApocalypticaWould you consider doing it for a full length album?
I guess so, yeah. For us as well, to do our level of production is very expensive and it's such a risk, that every guy will come up with thousands of Euros and say "ok, let's put this from our own money", it's a risk, and we don't know if music sells anymore, but yeah it's possible that we use crowdfunding in the future.

What happened with the Eurock Marathon that was supposed to happen in Athens in 2011?
Honestly, I don’t know. I just remember that we were supposed to come to Greece, and I felt very bad that it didn't happen, because I have so many cool memories from Greece, from the audience, it was a very very lovable audience, and we definitely have to come there, either with the Wagner thing or at least for our own concerts, we are definitely missing Greece. We'll do our best to finally come over after so many years.

So, thank you for your time, it was a pleasure talking to you!
Thank you very much, I hope to see you in Greece soon!

Nikos Katapidis