INTERVJU: Eicca Toppinen i Apocalyptica

För en tid sedan språkade vi med Eicca om bl a Metallica-bröllop, senaste albumet,  säga till Lars Ulrich att inte spela, vad han tog med sig från Sibelius Academy och hur mycket han älskar Gojira.

“Gojira is my favorite modern metal band. When I go running and such, most often I listen to Gojira. Their music talks to me so strongly. It´s exceptional for a metal band to have such a strong sound of its own. It´s not only about the sound, it´s the atmosphere. If you take any part from any song and put it on, you realize it´s Gojira.”


What is the most valuable experience or lesson you took with you from the Sibelius Academy?

I don´t really know. (laughs)

Were you a good student?

I think I was. At least I was trying to be. (laughs) Actually, the most valuable thing was that my teacher was really cool. He formed this cello ensemble from his class and I was a member of that as well from the very beginning of the 90´s. We played a lot of gigs and we played a little bit of classic music but more evergreens and some tango music. We also made some sound installations for a Formula 1 competition and all that kind of crazy stuff. It was very free and that´s actually maybe the reason why I started thinking “Why not play metal?” We played stuff by Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) with that six cello group. Maybe what I really learned from him was that the most valuable thing was the value of your performance. It´s not about how many people you perform to, the value is how something is transferred to other persons. He said that for him it was equally important to perform in the grand hall of the Sibelius Academy to colleagues, but equally important to play for old people in a retirement home. I never thought about that, but now that you made me think about it, that attitude is maybe the most valuable. It has nothing to do with the Sibelius Academy, it only has to do with this single teacher. I owe him a lot.

Before you studied there and picked up the cello, did you like metal? Did you listen to a lot of metal or was it all kinds of stuff?

I started playing when I was 9, which was fairly late. Usually you start when you´re 5 or 6. I think that in the beginning I just wanted to play an instrument. I started playing the drums at the same time as I was taking lessons for cello. I found metal and classical music at the same age, maybe around 13. It was Metallica´s “Orion” that got me hooked and at the same time it was Dimitri Shostakovich´s (1906-1975) “Symphony No. 7 Leningrad” That was the first classical piece. My father always listened to a lot of classical music but it was mainly piano music and Mozart and I really hated that. It was always terrible to wake up on a Saturday morning and hear this music that I didn´t really like at all. Classical music wasn´t really a thing until I found my own style that really talked to me. I was listening to both metal and classical music. It´s kind of difficult to put classical music in one pot, because there are so many different styles. It´s like putting all the rest of music in the same pot. A lot of classical music doesn´t talk to me at all and a lot of it is the greatest music of all. It´s so dependent of who the composer is and also the songs. It´s like with your favorite band. You don´t necessarily think every song is fucking great. It´s kind of the same with classical music. There are different centuries and different countries and they have different styles. It´s like comparing metal music to progressive rock or progressive rock to electronic music.

I think most people look at classical music as being all the same.

Exactly! It took time for me to find it myself because first I thought classical music was Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi… what people usually listen to, but then I discovered the 20th century fucking Russian composers and they kick ass! They are more metal than metal itself.

Not talking about Metallica covers, but what would you say is a personal favorite cover version of a song? For instance, I find Hendrix´s version of “All along the watchtower” far superior to Dylan´s original version.

I agree. (laughs) I´ve never been so aware. There might be songs that I don´t even know are covers. Marilyn Manson did some great covers, like “Personal Jesus” (Depeche Mode) and “Sweet dreams” (Eurythmics). I think Limp Bizkit´s “Behind blue eyes” (The Who) is a great cover, but the original is also great. When the cover is bringing a completely new angle to the original song, I always appreciate that. Limp Bizkit also did “Mission impossible 2” and that´s great. I think it´s terrible, the Disturbed song, “The sound of silence” (Simon & Garfunkel). I like Disturbed and I can appreciate that they have made their own version, but I still don´t like it because it´s too bombastic for me. It´s a little bit too much. And Bad Wolves “Zombie” (The Cranberries), that one is kind of difficult for me. But to be honest, we´ve done a lot of covers and to be in that process of finding a song to make a cover of, it is difficult. First of all it´s very difficult to find a great song. There are a lot of great songs, but when you take the performance away, the great song necessarily ain´t that great. Sometimes it depends on a certain sound or a certain time or character of the vocals or something. Then when you try to make a version of it, it´s lacking the elements. That happens and it´s very hard to find a song and when you find it you often feel that the original is so good that it´s hard to find a completely new approach. We need to have that. Like with us and Till Lindemann´s (Rammstein) “Helden” (Heroes, David Bowie 1947-2016), it´s something totally different. Not saying it´s better or worse than the original. There needs to be a reason why you´re doing a cover.

You´ve worked with a lot of people throughout the years. I just thought I´d mention three of them and you can comment on them. A guy like Slipknot´s Corey Taylor, what was that like?

Corey is a great guy and everything was very smooth and easy with him. I think the first time we met was in France Hellfest. I was actually doing a cover shoot with Max Cavalera, Corey and Matt Sanders from Avenged Sevenfold for a French metal magazine. He was touring with Stone Sour and I think that was the first time I met him. He really liked our stuff and we talked about doing something together one day. Then after some time I had those two songs I did with Max Martin. I was in London doing some songwriting and they played the Astoria. I met Corey and gave him the cd with the two songs. I told him that if he like any of them we would do it. Everything happened really easily, like the video and promotion. Very smooth. He can deliver. He knows what he does. He´s really one of the best rock singers.

What was it like working with Max Martin (songwriter, producer for Katy Perry, Britney Spears etc) and how did you end up working with him?

That was great! To be honest, that was the first co-write I ever did in my life. I never wrote music with anybody and my first try was with Max Martin. (laughs) At that time we were signed to the label of Max Martin´s manager. I don´t think Max co-wrote before that either really. He had his team and all that, but working from scratch and not on his ideas but mine, was kind of new for him as well. It was amazing. He´s a super cool guy.

Mr Joe Duplantier from Gojira then?

I think it´s the best modern metal band. I´ve been a fan of them for a really long time. I think it was my French publisher… he knew Joe and it came together when we both traveled to Paris and went into a studio for two days and wrote this song together. It was based on my idea and at that time I wasn´t super familiar with their style. I knew of them listened to them, but I really didn´t get it right away, so that´s why the song turned out to be a speed metal or thrash metal kind of thing. It was exciting for Joe and he said “I´ve never actually sung this kind of stuff.” He was really excited. We were recording the “Worlds collide” album at that time and when I brought the song in… Jacob Hellner was the producer and for him, being very focused and balanced, he couldn´t adapt the song to the album. He couldn´t hear it on the record. For him the record was already kind of there, so we didn´t do it. Then three years later when we did “Seven sins” we recorded the song together. But Gojira is my favorite modern metal band. When I go running and such, most often I listen to Gojira. Their music talks to me so strongly. It´s exceptional for a metal band to have such a strong sound of its own. It´s not only about the sound, it´s the atmosphere. If you take any part from any song and put it on, you realize it´s Gojira.

I thought you could comment on two songs from Apocalyptica´s latest album “Cell-O”, “En route to mayhem” and “Catharsis” At the end of “Catharsis” there´s some riffing going on that really makes me think of Metallica.

“En route to mayhem” is a pretty weird song in a way. When I composed it I named it “Eino Matti Erikoinen”, the last word means “specialty” like if you go to a grill and there´s something special listed. That´s what I called it because I thought it was weird. It has something very new for Apoclyptica combined with something very traditional, the trash metal thing. It´s a little bit hedonistic in a way, maybe a bit erotic. Something that leads into mayhem or a positive mayhem, but there´s some kind of conclusion, some kind of orgasm or something. It can be aggressive, but for me it´s not in a negative way.

“Catharsis” then?

That´s much more of a traditional Apocalyptica song in a way, but that´s actually what I think makes it great. On this album a lot of things are very modern. It´s going into the core of Apocalyptica where Apocalyptica is at its best. This big melancholic beauty. It´s a love song, but it´s not sweet. (laughs) As you mentioned Metallica, it´s boring to say typical, but it´s very me. Making music or making any kind of creative thing, is filtering your own experiences through your own personality. That´s why there are those things in there that have been important to me.

You played at Metallica´s 30th anniversary. That has to be one of your greatest moments? Or is it your greatest? It´s a stamp of approval to get to play such a thing.

It felt really great, especially when I understood how they built up the anniversary. They wanted to get bands that had been influential for their career and I think that´s the biggest compliment. It´s not about “We kind of like them.” It´s really like “These guys have fucking changed our career.” and if we have been able to influence Metallica… well yes… (laughs) It was so funny the day of rehearsals. We went to HQ to rehearse the songs and we had agreed on the songs before. At the rehearsals I said “Can we do it this way?” and “Lars you don´t play. Just cellos and James.” Lars looked at me and said “What the fuck? You say I shouldn´t play? I´ll go home then.” (laughs) That was really funny, coming into their HQ and telling them what to do. That´s how I approach things. It´s hard to say what is the highlight. In all fairness there´s been hundreds of cool things. The next step would be to get James to sing with us. That´s going to happen hopefully someday, but it´s not in our hands. A couple of years ago I played at Lars´ wedding. I played all the ceremony music myself and that was really cool. That was a completely different surrounding. We were in Montana skiing for a couple of days with all of Metallica and that was a great honor. It was like “I´m getting married and if would be great if you could play?” and I said “Hell yeah!” We became very good friends. I would love to do a tour with Metallica one day where we play our own shit before them. That would be really cool and maybe join them on stage like we did with Sabaton and Rammstein. We open and then do like two songs together. People say we´ve been so lucky and I say “Fuck you!” We´ve been working our asses off. Luck is very relative. We´ve been able to do so many cool things.


Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Björn Olsson