Apocalyptica have been rather busy over the last couple of years by celebrating the 20th anniversary of their 1996 debut album Plays Metallica by Four Cellos. Last Friday (31st), these Finnish Cellist legends have completed their U.S trek as they were on the road since May 6th playing a full evening filled with Metallica instrumental covers. On May 30th, Metal Insider’s contributing photographer Melinda Oswandel was there to capture the magic at Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, NJ. Prior to the show, we caught up with Eicca Toppinen to discuss the tour, their upcoming new album, recalling his first Metallica record, and more.
It’s been four years since Shadowmaker and last I heard, you guys were planning on writing new music during some point last year. Is there anything you can share to us on the progress?
Yes. Actually we have finished the recordings for the new album. And we are just started to mix the album this week. But it’s going to be out sometime in the winter because we want to put the album release in connection to upcoming tours with the new album then. Really, that is not decided yet because we’re still building up the touring options. But the album is almost ready, and it’s going to be very different from Shadowmaker. This time it will be a full instrumental album. It will be all of our music, no featuring artists at all. It’s very epic, instrumental shit and it’s very exciting.
No guest vocalists at all?
No. Because I decided to change the concept because of the modern times. It has always been a big challenge to work on the singles which are related to the album especially when we have had featuring artists, there has been so many moving parts on the release timing and so on. Based on the timings of the other artists or their record companies or whatever. Actually, we have failed on many single releases because of that in the past. I think that our very hardcore fan base has been looking for a long time for an instrumental record. And we thought that okay, we do the album as instrumental Apocalyptica and then we’ll do a collaboration of songs as individual releases, as singles. Going back to the ’60s style, releasing singles song by song.
It doesn’t mean that we are not releasing any vocal tracks in the future, but they are not part of the album we’ve got. The album is an independent piece of art and then singles are independent. And then we can easier work the singles properly. For some albums we have had good singles coming out but when the record company sometimes, the time frame to work them has been too long. With Brent Smith for example, when we did “Not Strong Enough.” We ran into trouble when we decided to do the song, from that moment it took two years before it was time to release the single. And then Shinedown’s album was suddenly still alive. Nobody expected that and they were coming up with their seventh single and then their record label was like, “Okay, but you can’t go out on the radio in America with the song at the same time. We are releasing our own song.”
So we kind of fucked up a great song in a way. Okay, the song is played there but it didn’t do its job it was supposed to do. To avoid that, we decided okay, let’s take always the time to work every song properly. We are setting up collaborations for next year here as well.
How was the process working with so many guest vocalists previously? Has anyone ever said no?
No. I think every collaboration was very different, a different approach. And had different challenges. Some of them happened really easily, some of them were really complicated. And also it was hard to make an album where you have a lot of featuring artists because we always ended up in a situation of we are, say, two months already in the studio and still we are waiting for some collaborations to be confirmed. We are working on the album, we actually don’t know exactly which songs are going to be on the album. That was also really stressful.
And this time I wanted to avoid that as well so that there’s nobody else than us is controlling the album material or the timing for the album whatsoever. That was one of the reasons that this time we produced the album by ourselves. We didn’t want to have any producer, so we didn’t need to explain anybody else what we are really looking for. I think the new album is kind of going back to old, instrumental Apocalyptica but in a modern, new way.
Looking forward to listening to it. Looking back on your career, can you tell me how you guys decided to cover Metallica in the first place?
In the very first place, I was originally and some of us were big metal fans. Even when we were studying cello, classical music, but since I was 13 years old I was listening, beside classical music, I was listening only metal and mainly thrash metal and stuff. I was also forming a group in, I think it was the year ’89 or ’90, we had a group of six cellos. And with that group we were playing everything to Jimi Hendrix. And then I was thinking, okay, but if you can play with cello ensemble we can play Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” we should be able to play “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” I started to figure out how to do an arrangement for the group and then we just started to play for our own fun. Have fun with friends. We never actually planned to make any kind of album or create a career for the band. I think everything happened very smooth.
That’s what a lot of people, it was a big surprise of people too. Like, wow, this is the revolutionary idea, whatsoever. But, no, I think it’s the most natural thing to do, that we just playing music we like, music we love, with the instruments we can play. Really simply in the beginning. But that was the thing. And then after two years we were asked to play for a metal crowd in Helsinki, our home town, in Finland. And based on that one show, we got an offer to make an album. And we said, “Okay. Let’s do it for fun.” And even then, when the album was ready, we were not expecting anything to follow up with. We thought if we sell 1,000 copies of the CD and get three gigs, that’s pretty cool. And then everything changed.
And do you recall the first time you listened to Metallica as a fan? And which album was it?
Yeah. I remember. I remember very clearly. I was at one orchestral camp when I was 13 years old and some of my friends, they had the Master of Puppets album. And especially the song “Orion,” the instrumental song, because I was so used to listening to instrumental music as well. And I just fell completely in love with that song. And then after that, the album. And then I had to suck it all. And I was listening then, the whole time, thrash metal. For me, thrash metal was punk of my generation, in the late ’80s. And I listened to all this Pantera, Sepultura, Anthrax, Slayer, Crowbar, whatever there was. But “Orion” from Master of Puppets, that was my very first real metal song that I really was blown away by. And I went to see Metallica for the first time, I think it was in ’91 in Helsinki. That was my first rock concert I ever attended, like a proper one. In Finland in those times, round about beginning of ’90s, it was not very typical to get big acts come to Finland because we live so fucking far. They usually turned back in Sweden. They played somewhere south Sweden and then they didn’t come to Finland because it was still too expensive to come there. It was very rare that we had big bands coming. But bands like Metallica, they were coming in ’86 or ’82 or ’84. They came within a very, big enough to carry over related to Finland so they were playing Helsinki Ice Hockey Hall. That was my first big rock concert I ever attended. And I think that I was 15 or 16 years old, yeah. And of course the whole journey has been amazing from there. That already in ’96 we were opening for Metallica in Helsinki when they were touring. We got the opening slot for them. And that was the first time we met them. It was maybe our fifth gig after the album, and we were already opening for Metallica. It was kind of ridiculous.
And later on we’d be doing a lot of things together and we were playing on their third anniversary party and I was playing on Lars Ulrich’s wedding, and stuff like that. We became friends in the longer run. It’s been exciting on that end.
In one way or the other, an unplanned dream come true.
Yeah. It’s like that. But then in the other hand, when everything’s based on the work then things become somehow natural. Or you have to think, if you have to work together with people who you’ve been admiring and they have been your idols, when you’ve been kid. But then in some point when you are just making music together and playing together, then it just turns into … The respect doesn’t disappear anywhere but it just change the flavor that it’s collegial work as well. You need to be professional, anyway. So it’s been weird.
I had the weird experience with Max Cavalera from Sepultura (Soulfly), for example. I was big fan of them and then 2005 or ’06 we made a compilation album and we recorded a track with Max Cavalera and Matt Tuck from Bullet for My Valentine. We made a song called “Repressed.” And suddenly I was in Munich somewhere because Soulfly was on tour and I ended up in the studio with Max and I was producing him. He was in the local booth and asking me what to do. I was like, this is fucking bizarre moment that I’m telling him what to do. Because I was 13 years old, I was, “Fuck you, Max Cavalera.” Life is exciting.
When Sabaton premiered a new song, I thought it was brilliant and well played to surprise fans with it being Apocalyptica covering Sabaton’s new song “Fields Of Verdun.” I was curious, how did this come together and would you do something like this again?
We’ve been talking with Sabaton about other collaborations as well. This was kind of the start of our little bit to work with them. And I think the idea was genius. I think it was never heard of before, this kind of thing. That’s okay, you release the new album and first single but you don’t release the album version, you release a cover version. I think when they saw that was the idea, we were like, “Yes, we think this is genius and we want to do it.” I’m actually very happy at how that song came up in the final end. I think the version is interesting and exciting and it’s still the original song but it’s so different than their version. It was really nice thing to do. And we are going to play on Sabaton Open Air, they have a festival in Sweden in the summer, in August. And then there will be some other things going on.
What plans do you guys have for the later half of the year?
We are still doing this kind of never ending tour, Plays Metallica By Four Cellos’. What is kind of funny, my idea originally was okay, when I realized it’s 20 years, maybe we should do some kind of concept to celebrate the album a bit. And we played the first album live and I thought about, let’s do 20 or 30 shows. And now we’ve been doing 190.
Now we’ve been touring for over two years. It’s something different than we planned, obviously, now. But you need to always go with the flow and do what feels right. And though we are still doing this tour, we have a pretty easy summer. We have some festivals, maybe eight festivals, 10 festivals. And then we will bring this Plays Metallica thing to Asia and Australia. Then we have a few gigs in a few eastern European countries we didn’t get to go to yet. We are still touring-wise on the Plays Metallica and in the winter, when the new album comes out then we are going to move forward. It’s going to be a completely different kind of show with a different kind of concept.
I can’t believe you’re almost at 200 shows with the Metallica one. Is there anything else that you want to say or add?
There’s always a lot and at the same time there is nothing very special. Because this is actually interesting time to be on tour and then almost having the album ready. Album is just ready, we are just waiting to get the first mixes in to comment. And it’s an exciting time. But then it’s too long of a time still for the album release to really talk about that in detail, so it doesn’t make sense to talk about that in details yet. When it takes too much time for people to hear it.
We have good plans for our long-term plans, there’s going to be a lot of shows coming up. But of course, then the next tour is going to be more concentrated on original music. We never leave the covers out completely but now we are kind of very fulfilled with just playing Metallica songs. Because when this tour is over, I think it’s going to be 220-something shows of this same show. And what I’m actually most happy about is that we are still super excited to play it, and every show is turning out great and the band has a great attitude and energy to do it. This is not a routine work, but still it’s a lot of the … When you create new music it’s like you get super excited. I want to get to play this stuff live. I can’t wait to get to the next chapter.
*All Metallica covers*
Master of Puppets
Harvester of Sorrow
Sad but True
Wherever I May Roam
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Fade to Black
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Fight Fire With Fire
Until It Sleeps
Seek & Destroy
Nothing Else Matters