Interview with Apocalyptica — “Plugging in the cello can make it go crazy, creating accidental and unique effects.”

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Cello metal outfit APOCALYPTICA are soon to release their new album, “Plays Metallica, Vol. 2,” on June 7th, 2024. We chatted with the trio about the new album, collaborating with METALLICA, and the cello!

Well, thank you guys for taking the time to do this interview.

Perttu: Absolutely.

The new album is coming out pretty soon, so how excited are you about it?

Perttu: We are, like, so excited that we can’t explain. This is probably one of the most exciting periods of our career, for sure. We are so proud of the product that we have now been able to do. We are very thankful that we still have the possibility of doing this after all these years. And, yeah, it’s incredible. We are very hopeful and expecting lots from the future, from all the touring and the album. And I’m sure that our fans and METALLICA fans, they will love this album.

Well, there is one thing that I think I also need to address. I think it’s sort of ironic because the last time we talked, you mentioned the lineup and how there haven’t been any changes in such a long time. Unfortunately, Mikko left the band, so can you elaborate a little bit on his departure? I noticed that he did still record drums for this album.

Perttu: Yeah, we made the whole album together as a band and then various things and reasons. But anyway, we decided after this that because we have known each other since kids, one of the clearest things for us was that we don’t want to add a new member to the group. The way we work, the mindset that we share with these fine gentlemen is so uniting. So this is the reason why we decided to continue only as a cello band, as we started, and whatever instruments. Of course, we will have a drummer in a live show, we will add and ask and invite people to work with us in the future.

Paavo: You know, I have known this guy since he was 10 years old, and this guy was 13 years old when I met him.

How old were you?

Paavo: I was a bit older. I think I had, like, short hair.

Eicca: Yeah. You know, you had long hair.

Paavo: I had long hair, yeah. Now it’s the other way around.

It’s quite interesting because I get, well, not this specific building, but you also studied at this university. Cool to be doing this interview here. Yeah, I guess also, this album is an important part of your history. You mentioned the first time you did the METALLICA album, that you were, I guess, METALLICA fans. And now this album includes two METALLICA members. So how is that for you?

Eicca: Of course, it’s, at the same time, surreal and crazy, but then also taking the perspective that we have become friends with METALLICA over the years, there’s always been this mutual respect towards each other. So in that sense, it makes it natural. But of course, if we take a bigger picture and look at the past, it’s amazing. It was not our intention when we started to do this album to even ask them to do anything. We just let them know that we are working on the place, METALLICA VOL. II album. That was not the starting intention. So it’s cool that all the things started to grow from the actual working process and all the ideas started to just come up from the music as we worked on it.

Paavo: We’ve been asked many, many times over the years, who would be the best, “your dream come true collaborations.” And we have always been saying that, of course, James Hetfield would be really great, but we didn’t dare to ask.

Eicca: It wasn’t that we didn’t dare to ask, but we always thought that we’ve been so grateful that METALLICA has been so supportive of us that if it happens, it’s not in our hands, it’s up to METALLICA if APOCALYPTICA and METALLICA do something together. And even now, we kind of brought up the idea… it was a little bit in our hands. But of course, they had the final decision, if they were excited about the thing. The key thing why all these things happened is that the music we wanted to create was exciting. So exciting that everybody wanted to be involved.

Yeah. I think with the first album, you didn’t stray so far from the original songs, apart from the fact that it’s with cello. But with this album, I noticed that one song sounds very different. “The Four Horsemen” also has a snippet of “The Unforgiven III,” I think. What was it like for you with all this experience of doing metal albums in your backpack now to approach this album with a fresh eye?

Perttu: I think a cool way of describing this progress from the first album to this is the full circle. We were able once again to go back to the same enthusiasm as teenagers and to the origins of why APOCALYPTICA exists is why we love their music. So we were able to capture that same feeling, the original feeling of APOCALYPTICA. But of course, close to 30 years into our own career, we also established a very identical APOCALYPTICA way of handling and treating music. So we were able to have a more mature and experienced approach. This is the result of the original love for METALLICA, but the way how widely we approached the songs in this album is a little bit different. We still have the moments where the cellos are only purely classical, almost like chamber music. Then there is, like you mentioned, “One,” which is the biggest and most bombastic thing we’ve ever done with all the orchestras and special effects, plus half of METALLICA. And then we have more like electrical grooves. There are so many different approaches because we found out during our whole career that APOCALYPTICA is such a versatile band that we can almost do anything we just believe in. The cello is the uniting element, of course, but from our perspective, the spectrum of our music has been very, very large. Also, if you think about all the collaborations we’ve done during our career, it’s pretty amazing. From Till Lindemann to Corey Taylor and all the amazing female guests. It seems that APOCALYPTICA became this kind of group that gets respect from great artists who want to work with us. It makes us feel like we have also done something right, that we found our own spot in the music world that fascinates people, they want to do things with us. We are just so thankful that we still have the opportunity to do this.

Eicca: I think everybody who makes music seriously or has the deeper means to it, does it because it’s something that excites. And obviously what we’ve done and the way we do it excites people. That’s why they do music because they want to get excited about something and be creative.

Is there a lot of people who approach you and tell you that they learned how to play the cello because of you?

Eicca: Oh, yes! [laughs] Very many.

Perttu: There has been. It is one of the most amazing feedbacks that your work in which you put your soul, it encourages other people to start trying. And it doesn’t need to be only cello. If we want to say something, what would be APOCALYPTICA‘s legacy, it’s to try even the crazier things because sometimes those things work. [laughs]

Paavo: I’m even more proud of those who have continued playing cello after three years. It’s easy to start playing cello, but then they realize that this is a horribly difficult instrument to play. But, you know, that depends on the perspective and what you expect of yourself. You can just enjoy simple things as well. You don’t need to play as Perttu all the time.

What do you play?

Eicca: No, as greatly as Perttu. That’s what Paavo means.

Perttu: This is a moment I better shut up and let them just do the praise. Thank you, guys. I love you.

Yeah, well, to me, it’s quite funny, because I played the violin as a kid, but everything that I did wrong there, was something you can do in cello. So for me, it was like an eye-opener. Like, oh, maybe I should have chosen this one instead.

Eicca: Yeah. Sometimes making music the way we do, the mistakes are actually the main ingredients because they usually spark new ideas and stuff. This is not about perfection. It’s about feel.

Perttu: And I feel it’s about liberation. Like getting yourself into the mindset that even if you have an instrument, for example, a cello, just start believing that you can do whatever with it. That opens your mind to try different angles and not follow traditions necessarily. We have had to do that throughout our whole career. We created our own techniques, our own way of expressing the music, and how we feel it. Often it must be that the cello has to be put aside in a way that can’t be restricted by human nature or traditions, but just create something that nobody ever heard. This album is full of those kinds of experimental, cool things. We were working with… [laughs] Sorry, I’m speaking.

All: No, no, no.

Perttu: We were working with Joe Barresi, who must be one of our absolute favorite people. We worked with him already in 2010 on the “7th Symphony” album. But he’s such a freak when it comes to sounds and creating new sounds. He has an almost fetish-like fascination with the cello because it’s very different for him. Joe has worked with some of the greatest bands in the world, and he brings a unique ability to change the mood of music. When Joe concentrates on sound, it might take 8 hours to find a specific effect. He has all the amps in the world—maybe 200 amps in his studio. You start to just try different ones because playing cello through distortions and all the effects is still surprising to us. You never know how it will react, even if you know how a stomp box works with a guitar. Plugging in the cello can make it go crazy, creating accidental and unique effects.

Paavo: Don’t try this at home!

Eicca: I need to take off, I need to pick up my cello because it’s at the luthier’s place, and I need… I need it… We need it…

Perttu: See you later! I think that Joe Barresi was the right person to tackle this album because we took everything we had done with METALLICA but we wanted to do it in a fresh, new way that fits these times. It was a huge laboratory project throughout the whole year, exploring all the possibilities of the equipment he had in his studio in L.A. There were so many moments that I still, after all these years, surprised myself. Like, I didn’t know you could actually play cello this way. There’s still more to discover, creating the weirdest, coolest effects or song endings.

Paavo: When we talk about these things we do with sounds, it’s like adding colors to the music. The colors make the music, the mood, and the emotions in the songs. That’s why it’s so important. You don’t want to see only black and white. Even black and white can be great, but there are different levels of black and white and different kinds of colors as well.

What I also noticed, because this is the first album where I could see the song credits and such, is that somewhere down the line, Simone did a very tiny vocal part. Are there many guests like that involved, whom you don’t really hear super clearly as a listener?

Perttu: Yes, we involved a lot of surprises when it came to the arrangement. For instance, you already mentioned “The Unforgiven III” existing in “The Four Horsemen.” We added many elements and stuff because it was an exploration in so many ways.

Paavo: Perttu is also performing amazing horror vocals…

Perttu: For “One,” I’m actually doing all the additional vocals. I love epic movies like Lord of the Rings that’s my aesthetics… dragons and elves and big movie scores. So for “One,” I felt it was one of the most important songs for me in my whole life. APOCALYPTICA had a version of it already in ’98, but I still felt this was a great opportunity to create something as bombastic as we ever can. And very fascinating fact about the whole movie, the narrator eventually became Hetfield himself. It was an experimental thing to add the movie effects in the sounds. We were working together with the great Finnish sound designer, Jussi Tegelman, who works in LA and has been involved with many Marvel movies and Skywalker Sound. So really one of the coolest sound effects people in the world. I actually composed a two-minute intro for the song to capture the cinematic feeling, to prepare the song, building it up. For me personally, it’s the coolest thing I have ever been able to work on, having so many different elements to play with basically on your hand, to work with the orchestra, working with arranging all those things, and eventually, hearing James there, which made me cry so many times in my home studio while editing his vocals, it felt surreal and unbelievable to hear this beautiful story represented so emotionally. It was a crazy thing. All of a sudden, I’m doing vocal duets with Hetfield because somebody had to do those beast sounds and all kinds of Nazguls… I was describing that there are Nazgul screeching things. It a was crazy, experimental experience, but I’m really proud of “One.” I hope people will feel the same love for the song that I have.

Paavo: As you see, “One” was really kind of Perttu‘s baby, giving a big birth, you had a really strong vision of how it should be, you wanted to bring that to the cinematographic orchestral level and we were thinking is this going too far away from APOCALYPTICA, but we were thinking that we should go there, it’s Perttu‘s strong vision, so he should go there…

Perttu: At times it was a bit of a struggle.

Perttu: The original METALLICA song has a very strong mood and story, and I wanted to add to that. It’s one of the most visual songs I know, with its war intro and throughout everything. When music is really cool and touches your depths, you don’t only hear it—you see it. That’s probably the main reason for this approach.

Paavo: For this song especially, you should close your eyes, put it loud, and see what pictures you get in your mind.

I guess in that sense, it very much succeeds. It was a very impressive song.

Paavo: Sorry to add, we will release this song tomorrow. There’s also a video for it, starting really mellow and easy, giving the perspective for things, and it’s getting more and more intense. Suddenly, it gets ever more intense. That’s amazing.

With the previous Metallica album, you also had a huge tour for its anniversary. What are your touring plans for this album?

Perttu: Our touring plans are going to be intensive. One of the main reasons this album is coming out now is that we planned to play around 20 shows for the 20-year anniversary, but when promoters and fans heard that we are going back to our roots of METALLICA in 2017, we ended up playing almost 200 shows. Everybody wanted to see it.

Paavo: Too many.

Perttu: Then came COVID. Everybody knows those years went by, but we were once again asked if we would be excited to play the METALLICA concept again, and we thought that sure and we thought that we should finally make this album to actually connect all those dots. Now we are going to tour with this album all over the world for the next two years. We are so excited about it. Making an album is just the first part, it doesn’t stop when you release it, it gets a new life when we play it live and see the audience’s reaction, and then we can reflect. I always love it when we see crying people or furious or happy… It’s one of the most beautiful feelings in the world.

Paavo: I have one thing to add to that. Do you remember when COVID came? How many years was that? 3 years?

4 years already.

Paavo: Time flies. When there was no live music, then it really showed what’s the meaning of live music and what’s the difference seeing it from the television, it’s just a small part of emotions, the live shows you can see the full picture, and the mood.

Perttu: There’s nothing that can replace the feeling of playing the solo in front of the catwalk and you can kind of smell the sweat of the audience, and most probably it goes both ways, but anyway, that brutal energy that you get to yourself when seeing the audience getting emotional, reacting to everything we do. I think that’s one of the most beautiful feelings in the world when you feel that no matter where we are, on the other side of the world, these people and we share the exact same reason and passion for the power of music, that unites, that moment everyone feels like equals. It’s fascinating to see that, but still, people react the same, there is the same heat in us, in this case, we will all be there because we just love METALLICA and their legacy, and those songs. It’s wonderful that we can give that amazing music another type of life and perspective.

Paavo: Look there! There’s a school of cello players coming over here. It looks like young students.

They will be nervous when they see you are here!

Perttu: They don’t know who we are.

Anyway, it’s almost time, so thanks so much for this interview! Any final thoughts you would want to share with your fans before we wrap up?

Perttu: Our first concert of this tour will be on June 8th in Helsinki at the Ice Hall, Jäähalli. It’s part of the METALLICA weekend, with METALLICA playing on Friday and Sunday, and we will play on Saturday. People should come there because of what we described that feeling, the love for music, it’s going to be the launch of our new huge tour, the whole APOCALYPTICA new set and production, and also we are so excited to practice all the time to get there. I have to still add that we are having an amazing time with the band and are thinking about the future and what we can do next. We keep our minds open. We want to push forward, not slowing down, but see what’s possible with the cellos.

Paavo: … And staying alive.

Perttu: Yes, for sure!

Interview by Laureline Tilkin