Latest release: 7th Symphony (Jive)

Apocalyptica are getting ready to make their first trip to Australia, after trying for almost six years to bring their unique cellorock to this side of the world. Finally, their wishes have been granted and they will be playing three shows in Australia in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Loud sat down for a chat with drummer Mikko Siren, to discuss how it feels to finally play in Australia, what Australian audiences can expect for an Apocalyptica show and how recording a track naked can make all the difference.

Next month you’re playing Australian shows for the first time, how does it feel to finally play in Australia?
It’s great, it has been a struggle, but it’s great to finally make it. We have been trying to do it for at least six years. Every now and again we have tried to play Soundwave or do our own shows and for whatever reasons, we couldn’t do it. But now we just forced our management to get us some shows over there! And I don’t know why, some arsehole plans our tours so we have no days off when we are over there, but at least we get to spend some days over there and we are really happy.

Do you ever find it hard to connect with some metal audiences, who are used to bands in the traditional sense?
No, not at all! I don’t think it’s a problem because it sounds natural, and many more reasons far beyond my imagination, and you know I guess what we are doing is kind of cool so it’s generally fine.

Is there any country or territory you find that you are popular in, but never expected to be?
I would say it’s all the places where we are popular! I don’t think any of us expected it to be this way! [laughs] There are some countries where we are even, in those terms, immediately popular, like in Mexico it’s always been a really good place for us. The whole Latin America actually has been really good for us. I think this year we have been there for almost four and half months! And we’ve been touring Russia quite a lot, they’ve been really nice to us, and the whole of Eastern Europe is really good. It’s hard to say there will be places where are bad. There are places we haven’t played, like we haven’t played Australia before, so we’ll just have to see how it goes.

How does it feel playing drums in a band that has three cellists and not the usual lead and rhythm guitars and bass?
It’s a great challenge and opportunity at the same time, playing in a band without the traditional line up of a rock band like there is no rhythm guitar player or bass player, so the arrangements are somewhat different. The main thing for me is it that the band is together and we are living with joy – playing with cellos, that’s a secondary issue.

I have heard Apocalyptica be described as nothing but a gimmick. What would you say to people who see the band that way?
I totally understand it, I mean from the starting point I think that’s exactly what it was. This of course my own opinion, but I think the band has grown and you know it’s been like 17 years so there has been great development and changes. Like I said when it started it was exactly like that, but I see it that we’ve gone way beyond that stage and we have dealt with those issues ever since that time. Of course it’s fine if people think that way, but maybe if they come to a show and see it for themselves they’ll change their mind.

What has been your proudest moment with Apocalyptica so far?
My proudest moment…oh my god…I think I’m really proud that the band still exists because I remember when I was a young kid I was always wondering how can it be that a band stays together, and why do bands break up? When I joined the band, I started to wonder how the fuck is it possible that the band would stay together more than the one year! So now being in the band for 10 years, I’m really, really proud that we are together. I’m proud that there is such a strong friendship between us and the creative atmosphere we have with each other I think is really unique and that is what I’m really proud of. Of course we have played gigs that have been massively huge, like in Columbia we played for something like 100,000 people, and those occasions we are really in luck, but honestly the thing I’m most proud of is that we have this band.

Do you have a wild tour story you can share with us?
[Laughs] Oh…what can I say? There are some stories I cannot share with you and other stories that are so dull they would not be much point in telling them. We are an easy band though; we don’t really have any crazy parties or fool around that much. Of course when you tour all the time, things do happen…maybe there will be a book after about it all. [laughs]

That’s fair enough, what happens on tour stays on tour! Let’s talk about 7th Symphony as that’s the album you are touring down here. Was the track ‘Beautiful’ really recorded naked?
Oh…[Laughs] You really are looking for something wild! Ok…basically yes. Joe Barresi [producer] had the idea that he wanted it to be recorded 100% live. You know, normally in the studio first the drums play then the bass. But that song, you know it’s sort of like chamber music and he wanted it recorded liv, but the song was lacking the bass instrument. So the guys said it was a really easy part that I could do. And so I said, well if I’m going to be a bass player, I’m going to be drunk and naked! So I started to drink, and then take my clothes off because that’s how the bass players are! [laughs] Then we did a couple of takes, and Barresi said guys this just isn’t right you all need to be naked. That’s about it. Actually, with guys, I don’t know if you’ve had many encounters with them but, it’s a totally asexual thing to be naked. It’s just like guys being arsehole. But I can see how this would make a good story!

The plus side is it turned out really well, and sounds amazing on the record!
[Laughs] Yeah that’s just behind the sounds. I just imagine how the Led Zeppelin records have been done because they sound so good!

I’ve noticed with the instrumentals on 7th Symphony that they seem to be more progressive than previous work. Why did you decided to go down that road, or did it just happen?
It was something we decided to. With Worlds Collide we went with the direction of the producer and everything was highly arranged and in its strictest form and it was great for that sound. But after doing the tours and playing like 200 gigs after Worlds Collide, we decided we needed to move forward. Because we wrote in the strict sense of verse, chorus, verse chorus, we intentionally tried to get rid of that rule and all constrictions. We gave ourselves the freedom to be progressive, and do whatever.

What is the writing process? Is there a main song writer, or do you all contribute and write together?
There are some songs where we worked as a group. There were some songs where somebody had an idea, then threw it over to another guy who took it further. Then there were some songs people did by themselves. Sometimes we write songs together with help from an outside song writer, like our friend Johnny Andrews who has been basically with us since Worlds Collide where he co-wrote a couple of songs. Every song has its own path and you’ll find when you start to write, you do whatever feels natural. Sometimes you have such a strong idea that one person will take it from the beginning to the end. Sometimes you need help, so you work with someone. So it’s pretty much different for each song.

With the vocal tracks, does the guest vocalist help write the song?
It also depends. Like for this album “Bring Them To Light”, Eicca co-wrote the whole song with Joe Duplantier (Gojira). And for example “End of Me” was 100% done before Gavin Rossdale (Bush) came to sing it.

Do you have a vocalist in mind, and write the track especially for them, or do you have the song then pick the vocalist after?
Mainly it comes the track first and then the vocalist. When the music is ready, we can decide that actually it would sound better if we got this person in. There have been occasions, like as I mentioned that Joe co-wrote the song, so obviously Joe would sing it. But mainly we first write the music then go for a singer. It’s always different though, for example when we did Worlds Collide we did a version of David Bowie’s “Heroes” that we did that intentionally for Till of Rammstein. We arranged the entire song without Till around, so that also happens. Every song will have a different story.

Is there a vocalist you would love to work with, but haven’t had the chance to collaborate with yet?
Are you any good at singing?

No, unfortunately I’m not.
Can you rap to something? Speak poetry on top of our music?

I’m sure I could manage doing some spoken word over an Apocalyptica track.
Perfect! That would be great! [laughs] There is a huge list of artists we’d love to work with, but we haven’t got any plans. We will do the album, we will do the whole touring cycle and then we will have one year break where don’t do anything. We don’t write anything, we don’t record, we don’t do any shows. Because we really need to get some mental fresh air in between after the band has basically been active for 17 years in a row we really need a proper break in between. Even in the break times now we are still writing material. It’s really important for us to get fresh thoughts, because the main thing for us is to be really excited and proud of what we are doing, to be inspired with every number we write and what we record, and we want it to stay that way.

It is important to take time for yourselves, to just relax and be able to go back to writing and recording with a clear mind.
Exactly. All of a sudden now, with the touring cycle coming to an end we have come up with quite a few new tracks, and recording new material  which was not intentional. But I think that’s just due to the state in that we are really enjoying our time together. It’s a really creative mood amongst us and it’s a great atmosphere. I’m really looking forward to what we’ll come up with after the break. The idea is to have the break so that we can come back even more powerful with even greater ideas.

I just have time for one last question. What can the Australian audience expect from an Apolcayptica show?
That’s a cool thing; because I’m guessing when we come over there most people would never have seen our show. They might know about us, but they won’t have any idea of what type of show we put on. The great thing when we go to a new place is, during the first three songs you only see open mouths, because they can’t believe what the guys are doing with the cellos, they can’t believe the amount of energy. Also with our show, there are moments that are more tender, where we’ll go really classical. The show is full of really deep emotions, a dark mood, hopefully it’s got the right atmosphere over there. It’s really a journey of itself. We’re trying a more theatrical show at the moment, and I’m just really excited to do it all for a new audience.

Can we expect any guest vocalists for the show?
If you promise not to tell anyone, I can tell you that we are having a singer touring with us. She has been touring with us for a few years, and she has been doing up to four songs every night. I think it adds a totally new dimension to the show. We do some of the album vocal tracks as instrumentals live because they were originally composed in a way that can be played instrumental without the vocals. But then there are tracks like “Not Strong Enough” or “End of Me”, which to be honest would sound horrible as instrumentals.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us tonight.
Thank you so much! Are you coming to one of the shows?

Definitely! I’ll be at the Sydney show.
Good, I hope to see you there!

You will! Thank you again.
You’re welcome.

Apocalyptica tour dates:
30/8: HiFi Bar, Brisbane QLD
31/8: HiFi Bar, Sydney NSW
1/9: HiFi Bar, Melbourne VIC