Santeri Kallio (Keyboards) from Amorphis
AMORPHIS are a Metal band from Finland who celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2020 with a set of three live shows, each covering songs from one decade. Their 2018 album ‘Queen of Time’ reached gold status in Finland and made it to high chart positions in several countries. In 2021 the band hit the studio and teamed up with producer Jens Bogren, the result named ‘Halo’ will be released on February 11th 2022. One Thursday evening I reached keyboarder Santeri Kallio at home in Finland via WhatsApp.
RoD: Thank you for finding time for an interview. I guess, you are quite busy at the moment?
Santeri: We’re kind of busy, but we are six guys in the band, but we are not that busy at the moment, to be honest. Next week it will get busier and the week after, when the album release is getting closer.
RoD: Tomorrow ‘On The Dark Waters’ will be released as a single with a new video. Who selected the songs that will be released as singles?
Santeri: To be honest, I don’t really know, but we let the label choose the videos. Obviously, if it feels like it’s going the totally wrong direction, we’re going to intervene with the decision, but this time we were quite happy. There are so many ways to promote this album, so I think it’s better that somebody decides. I see the videos as promotion q quick hint at the album for the fans. Maybe it’s better to let somebody do this, who is a little bit more objective than the band. I think the band can concentrate on playing and do, what they can do best and the marketing people can decide which are the best songs to present to the fans and the media. There are lots of points of view on “Who decides what”, we had our time when we decided very strongly, were taking part in the conversation about singles and videos, when we produced our albums ourselves like ‘Eclipse’, ‘Silent Waters’ or ‘Skyforger’. But I think nowadays, there are so many songs that can be singles or videos, so we tried to stay in the background with the band. And also, as a 30 years old band and this is our 14th album, we don’t have to put the most obvious song out as a single on the first rotation. We can take it easy and see, how it goes and maybe there will be time to present more singles and videos and stuff.
RoD: The lyrics for the new album ‘Halo’ were written by Pekka Kainulainen. What do AMORPHIS write first, the lyrics or the music?
Santeri: This time, I think the lyrics came way before we had the music ready. Basically, when we started talking like “Soon, it will be time that we start composing and writing new songs…”, we asked Pekka “Can you deliver sort of a context, like a collection of lyrics?” and I think we had it before we started composing, at least in Finnish. Then we started writing the songs and way, way, way later, Tomi started to attach the translated lyrics to the songs in the studio.
RoD: Do you have a favourite song on the new album?
Santeri: Probably. My favourites change all the time, but let me think. It might be ‘The Moon’, tough it’s kind of an old song already and probably at the moment ‘Windmane’, which is Track No. 4 on the album. In ‘Windmane’ there is kind of everything, kind of Prog vibes, the 70s style of vocals and a guitar solo and a keyboard solo, we’re playing one after each other. It’s a very multidimensional song and it’s not the most “traditional” AMORPHIS song, that you might expect. So that is probably my favourite song this week (laughs).
RoD: ‘Windmane’ also sounds kind of psychedelic.
RoD: Was there any challenging moment, when you recorded the album?
Santeri: Well, we are quite professional and used to challenging situations. But the most obvious challenge was, that the producer wasn’t around. We wrote ‘Under The Red Cloud’ very strictly together and he was the first time in the “wheel” as an additional, you know what I mean. He already made it very clear back then that he is very specific and wants to be present at every stage of the recording process and that he wants to have all his ideas presented totally right and that he want’s thing to be done his way in every step. This also applied to the ‘Queen Of Time” process. But with ‘Halo’ we had a tiny, tiny problem called “Corona Virus” (laughs)! I actually do have Corona right now.
RoD: Oh No. Get well soon!
Santeri: I heard about it yesterday, when I took the test, but so far, all good. So, our biggest problem was, that Jens wasn’t present physically and we had some discussion to make the pre-production with Zoom, with his face in the monitor nagging and crackling. But I think Jens tried it with some other band just before our production was about to start and he said something like “I’m not gonna do something like that. It’s the most horrible experience I ever had in my life.” And so we kind of sticked with 70s style, he wrote us e-mails, kind of a letter with instructions (laughs): “Do this. Do this. Do this.” So, he wasn’t present, not even with Zoom or iPhone or whatever, he just sent directions and we did our share. That was the challenge for some of the guys probably. I’ve been recording my keyboards since (sighs) “Oh my god!” since ‘Eclipse’, so for me it was the similar process ever since. But for the guys it must have meant more freedom to play, because Jens wasn’t there and guarding every note and I think there weren’t so many re-recordings, so Jens must have been quite happy with the results.
For me maybe, the challenging thing was that normally when you make an album in this kind of production, it’s pretty tight. Like let’s say, we started recording things and after six or seven weeks everything is done. “Bye Bye!” Then we mix the album or Jens some adding or orchestration, then he mixes it and we get the final product. But this time, I think in February, we recorded the drums, a few weeks later Tomi and Olli recorded the rhythm parts. Then there was a kind of two months break and Esa went to Sweden for one week and recorded his guitars. Then, I recorded something and then the vocalist started like more than half a year after the drums were recorded, so the process was very open. Sometime it felt like “You are not even making a record!” for me, there were like four months after the drums were recorded until I started. I think I started with the church organs and then I played some pianos and then later again. It was summertime and there was no real deadline, so there was another two months break and then I recorded the keyboards, so it felt more like a holiday (laughs). All of the festivals in Europe were cancelled, so you had plenty of time. We had some festivals in Finland, which were super nice and interesting, too. Being back on stage again and remember what kind of life this is like. Mostly I was enjoying the summer and the sun and warmth. Finland is becoming the new Spain.
RoD: Yes, I had this kind of experience, too. When I came to Finland in June it was a bit rainy one day but when I came to Finland in August, it was super warm. You had all the sun in Finland and we had all the rain in Germany last summer.
Santeri: Yeah, the weather in Finland is getting better all the time. The summers are hot as hell and the winters are cold as hell. I kind of like that, it’s kind of Finnish state of mind.
RoD: You played three anniversary shows at Tavastia, each spanning one decade of AMORPHIS work. Do you plan to play this kind of anniversary shows outside Finland?
Santeri: Probably, when we turn 40 (laughs). I don’t know. For the 30 years anniversary, we had 100 shows booked. They were all cancelled because of the Corona virus, except the ones at Tavastia. We planned to have one show each night, but then we had to play two, because of the restrictions and we dead the stream. But now, the anniversary thing is on hold, because we have the new album. For us as a band the albums are the main thing. The anniversary things are more of a bonus for us as a band and the fans, to go back in time. But the main thing is to put out new music and present the new music, see how the people react to it, that the band gets in to the music and develop it as a band.
It would be nice to get back to it at some point, maybe the 35th anniversary or so. Because we had built very nice setlists for the anniversary shows. We actually had to cut them down, because we had to play two shows every night for three consecutive nights, so in favour of Tomi’s voice, we had to cut them down, so he could perform both shows in full. But the restriction also affected this, because ethe venue had to be able to throw the people out after the show, so that they could clean up and disinfect all the tables and stuff like that. But the setlists were super, super interesting and I think it was the first time in AMORPHIS’ history, that we actually voted. All the guys voted for the songs anonymously, everybody put down 15 songs for every decade and Tomi our singer counted them out. Which never before happened, we usually fight about some songs and those that “must” be played and put them on the setlist. It was really interesting stuff on them, but unfortunately, we had to cut out 3 or 4 songs from each. Maybe we will do it, when we are still around as a 35 years old band or something like this.
RoD: You’ve got two great solo parts on the new album; how long did it take to write and arrange them?
Santeri: You never know, how long the solos will be. I’m not the kind of guy who composes the solo and delivers it. For me there are two options on how the solos turn out. One is, that they are already on the demo tapes on which I do an adequate run and some funny stuff and then I listen to the demo many, many times and feel like “Holy sh***, this improvised solo is so good!.” and put it on the album. That is one option and it doesn’t take too long. But on ‘Halo’ for example for the ‘Northwards’ solo, I was prepared for a synthesizer solo, because Esa’s demo had a synthesizer solo, or he told me to do one. But I always try my limits a little bit. In the studio, we were recording Hammond and I told the recording engineer “Let’s spend some time on the ‘Northwards’ solo. I know that there’s gonna be a Synthesizer solo, but I’m going to try something out, with the Hammond.”, because I love the Hammond and it’s always nice to have a Hammond solo, somewhere.
Then I tried a few things and then we decided, that it’s not gonna be a synthesizer solo. It always takes a while with the solo, for its kind of a vocal line. You have to be really sure, that it cans last for a long time, that it’s not like a moment and the next month you start feeling like “Holy sh***! Why did I do that?”. Solos are basically forever, so I think it takes one or one and a half hour to finish something you improvise. But after that, it takes lots of time to listen to the demo many times, also outside the studio and you have to be sure that you want it to be like this for the rest of your life. Some solos like ‘The Moon’ might go with one take, but sometimes, if I improvise a keyboard solo, I play it like 200 times, just to get it absolutely right and try out all the nuances. You never know. So, let’s say, it takes from 30 seconds to 30 hours (laughs).
RoD: AMORPHIS recently made a video for ‘On The Dark Waters’. Is January a good month for shooting videos outdoors in Finland?
Santeri: It’s kind of a “bad word”, always. If you read a video-script and you see the line says “outdoor shooting” you are like “F***! Why did we end up doing this? With all the digital technology and stuff?!”, because there might be rain, or snow or wind or whatever, especially in the winter, it’s scary. You probably know the video for the song ‘Divinity’ from the album ‘Tuonela’, where the guys play on the frozen sea outside Helsinki. It was like -20 degree Celsius, they almost died there. They played for many, many hours and then in the videos, there is only a couple of seconds from this shooting. But of course, we knew Pekka Hara, who is the director of ‘On the Dark Waters’ is such a professional guy and that there will be a warm trailer or something like that, where we can warm up and we had some special costumes in the video, so that you don’t have to play in a short sleeve.
Well, this would have worked either in the snow like “Who the F*** are they? Playing in the snow without a shirt!”. But it’s always a bad idea, to shoot and outdoor video in Finland in the winter, but this one was quite OK. My toes almost froze completely and my fingers were fucked up and it even started to snow. It wasn’t snowing, when we started to shoot, but in the middle of the shooting it started to snow (laughs). So, in the video there might be parts where it’s snowing and part’s where this is not the case. Welcome to Finnish winter (laughs). It was quite complicated, but it was a high-quality production, it could have been much, much worse. All the musicians in Finland, who have been around since the 1990s have done so many horrible outdoor-shootings, when they were young and tried “Zero-Money-Productions”. Everybody has done it so many times, so mostly, if somebody suggests an outdoor shooting, the band is like “F*** that!”. But Pekka Hara, who also did ‘Amongst Stars’ is a friend of ours, so it’s gonna be that bad then it looks in the e-mail (laughs).
RoD: I saw AMORPHIS live on stage at John Smith Rock Frozen festival in December and it was obviously that the band enjoyed playing for the fans. Do you have a favourite song on the live setlists?
Santeri: I like to play songs, where I have some space to improvisation and lots of things to play, like an intro or a solo. I really love songs from ‘Tales From A Thousand Lakes’ or ‘Karelian Isthmus’, but sometimes only half of the songs have keyboards, so that is obviously not my favourite songs to play. But still, I like to have them on the setlist. Nowadays, ‘The Bee’ has been super fun to play, because ethe intro is so massive and then you are hitting the stage and the audience really seems to like ethe song. For me, there are lots of challenges like to play the song through but still, there is some space for improvisation and it’s also very moody. I like ‘The Bee’ and I like the fact, the we are having a new album out, so we can probably kick out ‘The Bee’ from the “first songs slot”, it has been there since ‘Queen of Time’ was released, because it has this great intro, so we couldn’t place it anywhere else, but now we can. We have a new album to present and don’t have to play ‘The Bee’ as our first song anymore (laughs).
RoD: The new album ‘Halo’ summarized in three words?
Santeri: Proggy – Heavy – Diverse
RoD: Thank you for the interview and get well soon! Fingers crossed for the upcoming tours! See you live on stage in Finland or Germany.