Paavo Lotjonen (cello) of Apocalyptica
Reinventing Classical Metal: An interview with Paavo of APOCALYPTICA about their new album, ‘7th Symphony’. APOCALYPTICA has been a unique band from the start ever since they began covering METALLICA songs from their debut album. Since then they’ve slowly stepped away from covers and found new ways to create ‘heavy metal’ sounds with their cellos while adding other elements such as guest vocals and drums. Now, it’s 2010 and the band’s latest album, ‘7th Symphony’, is their most progressive and eclectic to date. While it follows in the footsteps of their last album, ‘Worlds Collide’, the sound is a bit more diverse, cleaner, and of course with a whole new line-up of vocalists to add even more dynamics to the music. After flying in from a show in Germany at 2 in the morning, I was woken around midnight from a phone call from Paavo, one of the main cellists from the band, and we had a deep discussion about the latest album and the process behind its creation…
Reflections of Darkness (RoD): Hey Paavo, you awake enough to do this?
Paavo Lotjonen (Paavo): Hello, Colin. Yes, I’m pretty tired, but I’m awake. Can I say the same for you though? It is nine o’clock here right now and midnight over where you are… (laughs)
RoD: I’m all right… thanks for asking. First off congrats on the new album. It sounds spectacular and in the same vein as ‘Worlds Collide’. It seems that you’ve found your staple sound.
Paavo: Thank you. Yes the album was quite enjoyable to record, though APOCALYPTICA will always be evolving so I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “staple sound”. We just flew in from a show in and from the looks of things the new CD was received well there… the fans here in Europe are very excited about it.
RoD: Looking all the way back to the days of when you did ‘Four Cellos…’ there is a huge change as APOCALYPTICA has gone fusion more than classical. It’s also heavier with a thicker, more “metal” sound. Care to discuss why the band has decided to stick with that direction?
Paavo: ‘7th Symphony’ is a more diverse album. There are lots of classical moments along with plenty of progress for the sound. We prefer to have real drums and an analogue versus samples as it feels more real that way. But there is a lot of distortion so that is probably why it is heavy and sounds more “metal”.
RoD: Do you find now for the past several years that writing your own material is more rewarding than doing covers?
Paavo: Since we started in 1996, the first two albums have been covered. By the third album we started doing our own music. We were forced by the record company at the time to do another cover album, but we were, by then, more than ready to find our own path. We wouldn’t exist anymore if we didn’t do our own original music. We still do covers at our live shows though. ‘Inquisition Symphony’ has always been personal favourite. Always fun to play the classic icons such as METALLICA.
RoD: May talk about the writing process… how was this different from ‘Worlds Collide’? Or was it very similar?
Paavo: We did a lot of the writing of the music together. It has been a lot more refreshing to work on the material together, but we’ve had outside help. Eicca (another cellist in the band) wrote ‘Broken Pieces’ with Guy Siggsworth, a modern composer from the U.K; he’s a pretty influential writer in our work for ‘7th Symphony’.
RoD: A lot of the music seems electrified but in your videos and onstage you always seem to have full acoustic instruments. Is this mostly due to studio magic or do you really use electric cellos for the guitar effects?
Paavo: Yes we do electric cello; we’ve developed a way to mix the acoustic sound of the classical cello with distortion and amps. That partially how we came up with the compilation album, ‘Amplified: A Decade of Reinventing the Cello’. But, we still prefer a classical feel when we can afford it. Some of the instruments we used in the studio were 200 years old. During the live shows, though APOCALYPTICA uses Jay Haide or more modern styled cellos. Due to travel on airplanes and such something always gets broken, so we don’t bring the antiques (laughs).
RoD: How about the guest vocalists? How do you usually contact them or ask them to sing on your records or do they come to you?
Paavo: We usually ask them to perform on our albums. It always helps to know the individuals beforehand. We’ve known Brent from SHINEDOWN, along with Gavin from BUSH, for almost 5 years; we met them at a festival in Europe. Lacey… we didn’t know her very well. But, the record company introduced us to FLYLEAF who isn’t known very well in Europe and we were amazed by her voice. She’s got such a voice for such a small girl so we had to get her! Joe Duplantier from GOJIRA we also know pretty well and we’ve worked on some thrash metal classics with Eicca Toppinen. Every song has its own story behind it.
RoD: Care to share one of those stories? What was it like working in the studio with each?
Paavo: We recorded most of the album in L.A. Joe Duplantier went to Helsinki, Finland and met up with us to record his song. It was very inspiring to work with him because he likes to do a lot of sound research and there were a lot of analogue and distortion experiments going on in creating the proper sound for the track on ‘7th Symphony’. There was a lot of freedom to arrange the songs and we were very happy with how it turned out.
RoD: Joe is a special case since he’s the lucky one to perform death metal vocals on one of your albums. Do you think the vocalists will get more and more brutal as time passes for experiment’s sake?
Paavo: I don’t know about that. I’m not the biggest fan of “shout” singing so I personally would prefer hell no! (laughs) But the other guys really love it. It’s unique, but a bit much. For this album though, it was done very melodically, but still, you don’t get much radio play from a song like that. Compared to a song like ‘I’m Not Jesus’ with Corey Taylor from our last album, which got plenty of radio play, I don’t see this one being played on the local radios at all. We were number one on the charts for a while thanks to ‘I’m Not Jesus’, and it felt pretty good. I hope that ‘End of Me’ with Gavin Rossdale will grant us the same chance again.
RoD: How’d the video shoot go with Gavin Rossdale? What inspired the whole “corridor” atmosphere with the fading in and out of the band members? Where was it shot?
Paavo: We had to shoot a video for ‘End of Me’ because it was our first single, so it is like shooting a sequence for a story. When we get them all done it will be like watching one big story, just like how we did the sequence for the videos for ‘Worlds Collide’. We shot the video in LA, and it was neat to use the video effects. It was very cool to take the album art and put it together with the music; the model on the front is in the video.
RoD: Musically, what inspired ‘7th Symphony’? Obviously from the title it is studio album number seven, but the music on it features a bit of electronic / ambient soundscapes such as on ‘Rooftops with Quasimodo’. Care to share some influences on what you or some of your other band brothers have been listening to over the past few years?
Paavo: Yes the beginning it is a very stable song and then near the end it gets very progressive. Sadly I can’t name any particular influences… we all listen to different stuff and bring it to the writing process when we record in the studio.
RoD: From what I hear you teach cello. Would you say that APOCALYPTICA’s style rubs off on your students? Do you have them cover your music or would you prefer for them to find their own path?
Paavo: I have a master’s degree in cello… sadly I have little time for now considering my time spent in APOCALYPTICA. When I did teach though, and I haven’t taught in four years, I taught my students to play some classical stuff as that is the basics, but one can create any kind of sound with the cello. I learned that and that’s why I wanted to play it since day one. I’m hoping others will follow such a dream. One day I may teach again… it has been an enjoyable journey.
RoD: Do you think the fans will receive ‘7th Symphony’ well here in the States? We have to wait two more weeks while Germany already has their hands on it…
Paavo: Oh yes, they should. It is very modern and unique, just like each album we’ve done… except maybe the cover ones. (laughs)
RoD: Have any advice to aspiring musicians out there?
Paavo: Take any instrument you want and play it the way you want to.
RoD: I think that’s about it… thanks for your time. I look forward to getting the new album when it comes out here in the States.
Paavo: Yes, thank you for listening. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and will enjoy it again.