by Michele Klau & Rejscheck

The idea was as simple as successful: to play heavy metal music on classical instruments - cellos. Today Apocalyptica is much more than a Metallica cover band. They have their own style and play their own songs. The people at the concerts don�t come to hear Metallica songs, they come to hear Apocalyptica. The four ex-Sibelius Academy students Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen, Max Lilja and Perttu Kivilaakso (replaced Antero Manninen who left the band in �99) have released three albums, worked in numreous cooperations with other musicians and have been touring through Europe almost nonstop for the last few years.

We made this interview with Max Lilja and Paavo Lötjönen from Apocalyptica before the concert in Jena/Germany on August 17, 2001. Thanks to Jennifer Moser for providing the pictures.

MK: Would you like to get more respect from the world of classical music?

Paavo: Well, I guess we actually do get respect. I don't know how it is in the other countries but in Finland we do. We have gotten quite a good response and have a good reputation with the Finnish classical scene. Yeah, I guess that's it. They think we are doing this with a professionalism and we are doing it quite honestly and seriously, and so there are not so many things to criticize. Of course there are a lot of classical musicians who don't understand this kind of music, so they can't understand our music. They don't understand the main point in the music, you know, Heavy Metal. Or the more heavier stuff.
Max: There was actually a review of 'Cult' in the biggest daily newspaper in Finland made by a classical journalist. It was really positive. Of course there were some things he complained about, like sometimes it's a bit too rough and too rock but, well, he's a classical journalist so who really cares?

MK: Do you think it's different with 'Cult' than with the other two albums?

Max: Yeah, definitely it's a different - really different one. It's music is composed directly for our band. I mean that's the biggest difference. But also sound-wise, the steps which were done from the 'Inquisition Symphony' were so huge and the sound is so much bigger. On the other hand it's much more beautiful but also much rougher and...
Paavo: Bigger contrast...
Max: ...Bigger contrast, exactly. Musically compared songs like 'Struggle' and 'Coma' for example show a huge difference.
Paavo: That's the problem with normal Heavy Metal bands, for example 'Slipknot' or whatever, the harder ones, you know, all the songs are too heavy. Take 'Sepultura,' it's too hard all the time, they don't have those beautiful moods. Because if you have strong aggression all the time, it's not any more very strong, as you don't have anything to compare to. In music, I guess we have learned that in classical music, to get some real strong feelings you got to have something to compare to. So, beautiful and the harder is even harder. If it's just hard it's not that hard.

MK: Do you still have contact to your former teachers? What do they think about your career?

Max: Well, we just had a show in Turku this Tuesday and just heard that my professor Arto Noras was there watching the show. But I didn't see him afterwards. And he hasn't called me so I don't know about his opinion.
Paavo: He's very classical...I guess old-fashioned.
Max: Well, he's really conservative.
Paavo: Conservative...well, he doesn't understand. The music...he just came to this concert just to find out what this is.

MK: Has he ever heard you before?

Max: Yes, from TV but not live. No, no! I don't know if even from albums, I don't think so. It's hard to imagine him at home listening to our music.
Paavo: I guess the problem is...in our case it's a different thing than if you listen to the albums. You've got to see the live shows to get the right point.

MK: Can you imagine how life would be without Apocalyptica?

Paavo: More calm...not that stressful!
Max: I mean, of course our life has changed. If you think of the time before Apocalyptica we've just concentrated on studying music and going to lessons and so on and so on, playing in orchestras and now we've just been touring, touring, touring. And a couple of recordings in between. And now it's a good time to try how it feels not to tour for some time.
Paavo: And it is a great opportunity to see how the life as a rock star is. I really don't like that...the rock star life but it's pretty to see this kind of life also. To see many places around the world and playing good concerts. It's nice. And especially for classical musicians it's great to feel the audience and really see the reactions. Immediate reactions from the audience. You see, if you're a classical player you never find out...how to get the 'grip' from the audience...how to make them react.
Max: Of course sometimes you can feel, even in classical concerts, when you're on stage if the audience is there really excited if they are really concentrating on the music but it's still so totally different to be on stage and in front of 10,000-25,000 people. It's a totally different situation.
Paavo: ...And teaching. I guess that every classical musician should see that. It's not that terrible.

MK: Do you think you have a great influence on the younger generation of cellists?

Paavo: I hope so, that we have done something. One of my students said that before Apocalyptica she was a little bit ashamed. It was a shame all the time when she was carrying the cello to the lessons. She didn't want her friends to see her with the cello, as it's a little bit of a nerd thing. But she said that now she's very proud that she has a cello. That felt quite good for me as it's a cool thing to play the cello. And if we have done even a small change for that feeling it's good. It's got to be a nice thing, a cool thing to play an instrument.

MK: Yeah and it's nice to play your music on the cello and not just the 'normal' stuff...

Paavo: Look, we have shown to the people that you can do whatever you want with the instruments. If you just want, if you're open-minded and let yourself do it.
Max: It's never been a real reason for us that everybody would start playing cello. First it's always nice especially with small kids. Not among the classical small kids but among the rock teens out there. If they were a bit more positive about classical music and classical instruments then we had done something.

MK: Is there a chance that you will ever do a real classical recording? As Apocalyptica?

Paavo: Yes actually, what shall we play then?
Max: Are there classical pieces for cello quartets?
Paavo: Maybe some contemporary music, but Apocalyptica is more for rock-music. If we want to do modern music we can do that as individual persons not as Apocalyptica...if you can tell me some contemporary music that is so good that it's worth playing.
Paavo: We have played Jimi Hendrix and evergreens and tangos and whatever. By six cellos...
Max: and of course Villa-Lobos...
Paavo: Bachianas Brasilieras...Did you play that?

MK: No...

Paavo: You should! Do you know the work of Hector Villa-Lobos? Bachianas Brasilieras?
There's one with a singer and four...
Max: Eight...
Paavo: Eight cellos...beautiful.
Max: Or Arvo Pärt's 'Fratres.'

MK : Yeah that was one of the pieces a cello quartet played that I heard.

Paavo: A cello quartet? I thought it's at least six cellos.
Max: There are so many versions of Fratres. One is played with an accordion, for instance. And there's a version for two accordions.
Paavo: You know Pärt?

MK: Not very well, I just heard a few pieces.

Paavo: Pärts music was one inspiration for Eicca when he composed 'Kaamos'.
Max: 'Kaamos'? 'Coma'!
Paavo: 'Coma', yeah. From the 'Cult' album, you know. It's like Pärts music...somehow.
Max: Minimalistic...also from quietness in ending...quietness.
Paavo: He's a monk.
Max: Yeah, Pärt is a monk...an Estonian monk.

MK: Will you include more classical transcript in your new album?

Paavo: We'll see. We'll find some good themes that we can steal. The story for the 'Mountain king' was: we have always said in interviews that we will never touch the classical music. it's so...
Max: so saintly...
Paavo: so saintly all the classical music. So it was a good time to break all the promises. You will see.
Max: We'll see but we're really quite positive that we will never ever steal any Bach songs. Heavy Bach tunes or anything. He really is saint. But Grieg...who cares?
Paavo: Norwegian...

MK: Would you like to play with an orchestra? I think you mentioned that some time ago.

Paavo: There have been quite many requests the last few years. For instance here in..no...
Max: That was from Dresden.
Paavo: From Dresden but also here in Jena. Somebody asked that. It would be quite nice if we could cooperate with an orchestra. But it has always been a question of time. Time and how much you have of it to do those things. Because it would be a huge effort to compose a wholly new song or make an arrangement. It would take about a year to do that. So we have had no time for that...yet. But it would be nice to have a work for a symphony orchestra and four cellists, for example.

SR: What kind of collaborations would you like to do? What could you imagine to do?

Max: Some interesting artist, musicians that occur from some other music scenes than rock.
Paavo: We have done that. With singers, Sandra Nasic and Mathias Sayer from Farmer Boys. It was interesting but it wasn't really cooperation, because we just provided our material and they worked with it. They created the singing line on top of our music. So it was not really creating together.

SR: Yeah, that's what it sounds like...you've actually never really done that?

Max: We've actually done it. With one Turkish female artist. It was released in Turkey.
Paavo: Has it been released already?
Max: Well, I haven't received the album yet. For that song I made an arrangement, a relative rough arrangement and then we just went to the studio together in Helsinki and made that recording.
Paavo: Sednem...Sednem Ferah.
Max: Sednem Ferah, yeah.
Paavo: You can find that on the Turkish website. I guess for Turkish people it sounds more European rock song but for our ears it sounds Turkish, oriental feeling. She's a very good singer.
Max: Not too bad...

SR: When did you have the idea to compose own songs and not just do covers?

Paavo: Harmageddon was made actually...
Max: Harmageddon was composed '96...'97.
Paavo: But it started with the Christmas single...
Max: "Little Drummer Boy."
Paavo: Eicca did the arrangement for "Little Drummer Boy" but it's just like a certain theme taken out and the song is created around the theme. So I would say it's more like Eicca's composition than an arrangement.
Max: It's quite similar to that Grieg song. So it's the theme and then the death metal, speed metal, black metal whatever metal song is composed.
Paavo: ...and high speed metal!
Max: ...and ultra speed metal!
Paavo: Giga!
Max: Giga! Gigahertz metal! I mean musically for our band it's been a quite normal development. Somehow we've always felt to move towards more original material.
Paavo: To create more interesting music.
Max: I mean we could go on for years playing cover songs but it wouldn't be interesting for us and definitely not interesting for the audience. And as a musician I think it's always good to create something new. As a classical musician it sometimes really hard, because you always play cover songs...as long some contemporary composer doesn't compose something especially for you!

MK: Maybe another composer than Eicca will write a composition for you? Is it possible?

Max: Maybe.
Paavo: Maybe.
Max: Well, I will definitely try to compose and we have actually always talked about if some classical composer could compose something for us but ...when we recorded 'Cult' we received songs from other composers but with those we always felt that they really didn't get the point of this band. They tried to offer like string orchestra pieces for us to play. Minor songs...a little bit rock but classical string orchestra material not material we would want to do!

MK: Could you imagine composing or playing a soundtrack for a movie?

Max: Definitely!
Paavo: We have done that!
Max: Not exactly composed a soundtrack to a movie. Those songs were from the first album and went to one American movie and now 'Hope vol.2' is the title for one French movie. The movie will be released in France.
Paavo: Vi...
Max: Vidocq...Yeah, starring Depardieu and some others. I don't know if it will be released in Germany...or even in Finland.
Paavo: French action movie. Special effects. 40% of the video material for ŎHope vol.2' is from that movie. It's pretty cool.

MK: Maybe I can get it on DVD when it's released.

Paavo: I hope so, yeah. You should go the internet site and vote for that!

MK: You mentioned in an interview a couple of years ago that you had to change your playing technique in order to play heavy metal for 1.5 hours. So, what's the difference in your new playing technique?

Example 1 -- The normal bow hold....

Example 2 -- ... and the alternative bow hold....

Paavo: I guess it's only a right hand change. In this music you've got to play very fast sometimes. But then you also got to play very hard and very strong. And you see that we use black hairs. It's normal on double-bass bows and we use the double-bass rosin. It makes a huge grip on the string and maybe that's why we're breaking the strings so often. If you try to play the beautiful solo lines with that kind of bow...it's killing, it's terrible. But for all the bottom riffs and the base metal parts, we've really got to have that. Because otherwise you can't get the articulation, that you need. With the normal cello hair, white hair, and cello rosin you can't do certain articulations.

If you take the bow like this (see Example 1) you can't use that much force. If you put it like this (See Example 2) you have more weight and more power in your hand.

Max: Same thing for instance what Rostropovich does when he plays Shostakovich concerts.
Paavo: So somebody who doesn't really know our cello playing would wonder how could we play and how we could keep our bows in our hands. They could think� 34;Oh those boys, they can't play at all." They don't know how to hold the bow. But we're doing it like this and there is a really good reason. We can do this (Example 1) and we use that for the solos and all the technique you should use the fingers. There is a reason for that we do that. And the speed, very fast things sometimes you leave the last two fingers away from the frog and use the wrist for those speed metal parts. And it's shaking somewhere up here, totally cramped.
Regarding the left hand technique, you see that we use lot of fifths, so we take two strings together. In normal classical music you don't play fifths all the time. So our fingers are like this (shows) all the time...turned. In the beginning it hurt.
Max: It was really hard...
Paavo: ...hard and it was hurting all the time. And when you do that long time (shows) you get some new muscles.

SR: Do you ever touch the cello when you're not on tour?

Max: Occasionally...when we move it from the one corner to the other corner. Well, honestly we haven't been practicing that much during the last couple of years. Sometimes when we have a longer break of course then we practice. If we have a break for just one or two weeks then it's mostly our hobbies and we just leave our cellos in their cases.

SR: What kind of cellos do you use on tour?

Paavo: Chinese cellos... You got a Paesold?
Max: I have a Paesold. It's a cheap cello.
Paavo: Cheap German cello.
Max: Cheap German cello, the worst kind they have. But the rest got Chinese cellos. New Chinese cellos.
Paavo: You know about those Chinese cellos? They are just four years old. It's an American company, that is building the cellos in China, where the work is quite cheap and they got good wood for the cellos and so. One cello, the cheaper one, must have cost only 5000 DM. So it's a really cheap one.

SR: Do you still have your old cello?

Max: Ja, yeah of course.
Paavo: Yeah.
Max: Safely packed home.
Paavo: We started to play with those old instruments, but you know how we treat the cellos. There's no sense in using those expensive and valuable instruments on the stage because there is no practical difference to that new ones because we have the pickup and other stuff. It's more important you have a good setup. The strings are not too high or not too low and the pressure of the string is good. Sound-wise we have the distortion and the pickup.

MK: What kind of pickup do you use?

Max: It's a Barcus-Barry, American.

MK: Have you tried any other?

Max: Yeah, well, in the beginning we've tried many many many, but none actually worked. But this one is pretty okay. Of course the sound isn't perfect for recordings, I think, but for our use it's quite okay. We don't have any feedback problems like we've had with some others.
Paavo: There are other pickups which would have even a better sound but the problem is feedback...it goes wooooohhh. But with this one you have small...
Max: Screws...
Paavo: Screws very tightly to the bridge.
Max: Of course we tried others. Two years ago we tried these new Finnish film microphones. But those were actually too good for our use. That's a really good system; the sound was really, really okay. But all the excess noise that comes with our playing...it's so clearly. So it wasn't really good choice.

MK: Was that a microphone or a pickup then?

Max: No, we used microphones. It can be also used as a loudspeaker. It's just put under the feets of the bridge.

MK: Did you ever consider using an e-cello?

Paavo: We tried the Yamaha Silent cello. But it was not good enough because it was made for marketing, making money. And the cello is built quite inexpensively. For example the microphone is under the bridge but just under one foot of the bridge, not on both sides and it's on the A side. So the A string sound was quite good but the C and G was weak, there was no power anymore.
Max: Anyway it's much more cool to play with normal classical instruments and to get the real contrast of the huge sound to those classical cellos...those old instruments.
Paavo: With a normal cello it's resonating, when you play that, you can feel that. With an electric cello you can't, it's not resonating. Just like a dead body.

MK: Just like a broomstick with strings on it...

Paavo: Yes

MK: Speaking of e-cellos...what do you think about bands like BOND?

Paavo: BOND...beautiful actually...that's all.
Max: I haven't heard anything from BOND.
Paavo: I have. I saw them in a beauty contest, Miss Universum contest maybe. It's just that classical covers...elevator music.

MK: They said in an interview that the band was just formed for commercial reasons. They didn't even know each other before the band was started.

Paavo: Plastic...

MK: Okay, just one more question...is Antero perfectly happy with his orchestra job or is there a chance to get a 'Plays Metallica by five cellos' album?

Max: I think he's perfectly happy. He's going to run a marathon once again.
Paavo: He just played with Finnish radio orchestra in Schleswig-Holstein Festival and in London.
Max: Yeah, I think he's perfectly happy.

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