Since emerging in the ’90s, Finnish band Apocalyptica has always stood out among their contemporaries due to their trademark blend of classical instruments and their love of metal. Now, gearing up to release Shadowmaker, the group’s first album in almost five years on new label home Eleven Seven Records, they are about to begin a very exciting chapter in their career. In preparation, drummer Mikko Sirén took a minute to talk to PureGrainAudio about the intricate meaning behind the record’s name, the addition of frontman Franky Perez, and what makes metal fans so special.
So the band recently wrapped up the 7000o Tons of Metal cruise, how did that go?
Sirén: I think it went great. I was kind of afraid of that ship, because I didn’t know how it would handle 4,000 metal fans and musicians and everybody kind of sharing all this stuff and room together—all these musicians all at the same time, and the same place, and the same restaurants. There is no backstage or a restricted area for artists, it was just one big family, and I was kind of skeptic. Even though I know metal fans are always respectful and are beautiful souls, I thought it was going to be too much. But I was blown away by how amazing the entire atmosphere was, and how great the people were. And of course with the line-up of the cruise, all of the absolutely, ridiculously good bands. In the middle of the winter, coming from Finland, getting to spend almost a week in the Caribbean was kind of nice.
Any interesting stories from the cruise? Because as you said, everyone was mixed together.
Sirén: It was a special treat for me. Like I said with metal fans, I see them to be the most honest and the most respectful, amazing people. Like when you go to a festival—I don’t want to bad mouth any other genres, but quite often you’d find fights and people getting drunk, but with metal fans you find that people really respect each other and it’s special for everybody. You don’t need to fit into a formula or a mold; you don’t need to be like everybody else. Everybody is equal and accepted exactly as they are, and it’s truly a unique people.
So I wanted to talk about Shadowmaker, which is out in April. Why choose the name “Shadowmaker”?
Sirén: “Shadowmaker” was first actually a song. It was the first song we had written for the album, and the first song you write usually doesn’t end up on the album. We didn’t have a label back then, so there was no record company, no A&R, nobody to control us. So we locked ourselves inside a room and we were just playing these songs. At the same time we were creating music, we were also thinking of the visual aspect, which has always been very important to us. Maybe there were five or six songs done when we thought, “‘Shadowmaker,’ that is a great theme. That’s what we should follow with everything.” And it’s great, because that name gives a different impulse to people who will start to think, “What does that mean?”
That’s always the most interesting approach, that no one can answer but it makes people think. It’s always interesting to hear when talking with fans what they think and how they feel in their own lives, and that’s just how it should be. It should reflect a situation in your life or where you are at the moment. It was a very, very interesting thought that we decided to play off of. Shadowmaker, when it comes down to the album artwork, we wanted it to be in white, and have the album cover be white with a white background.
There’s a line in the song that goes, “How can someone so beautiful be so miserable?” That’s kind of the thought that even the most beautiful figure, even the figure that appears to be perfect, can actually be the thing that drags you down. It can be on a personal level, or be seen in a political sense or in society where the people who rule the world, most of the time we don’t know who they are. They are faceless, like in our album artwork. These people who have their faces covered, they are the people who control everything and are above everyone. It is all about playing with images.
That’s very interesting, to have a whole other meaning behind it.
Sirén: Yes, and that’s like I said too, to kind of build that image in the very early stage of the album, when we were doing the doing music and rehearsal, we had been developing it for like six months alongside with the music. It is really like one package; one story, I think.
When Apocalyptica goes into the studio, what is the creative process?
Sirén: They’re all different. We always approach the music differently and we don’t quite have a set formula. Life comes in all different forms. One thing which was was pretty different from previous times was that we had a producer (Nick Raskulinecz) who was very involved with the product and was like another band member. A big part of his approach to producing is arranging the songs. We spent a week rehearsing in Nashville in his studio long before we started to record. There was one week we went through all the songs, and in that time we kind of created the final arrangements for the tracks, and they changed a lot.
All of a sudden, an instrumental song turns out to be a vocal song, or a three minute piece that was very mellow turns out to be an aggressive, progressive, multi-layer track that is eight minutes of weirdness. And that was really his input. He made us believe in ourselves. He wanted to strip all of these rules and all these limitations away from us and wanted us to be as creative and expressive as we ever could be. I feel he got us out of being stuck in our ways and how we’ve done previous albums before because he kind of slapped us on our face and said, “There can be so much more here. You can be so much more creative.”
Check out the song “Cold Blood” here.
How did you initially get involved with Nick Raskulinecz as a producer?
Sirén: We had initially rehearsed in Finland during the summertime, so we kind of had a very clear idea of what we wanted this album to sound like, where we arranged the very core of the songs. When we felt that we were ready enough, we just started to go through the kind of the albums that we really love. Our friends knew Nick personally, but we had no idea what we was like. But we had gone through all the albums that he had done, and he’s done so much.We just thought that would be the guy who we trusted; that he must be a person who would understand our aim as we felt that this was a new start for the band. We wanted to find a figure who would take us there. It’s always a wild guess unless you know the person because you cannot know how it’s going to be, but our chemistry was so amazing together. He gave his soul for the album, and the amount of creativity and everything—there were no limits. Our mantra was, “Be brave, and just trust yourself.” And he was just an absolutely great person and we all learned a lot during the process.
How did Franky Perez get involved, and what prompted the shift from using guest vocalists to having one lead singer?
Sirén: That sort of came during the time when we started to make the songs in the spring. It had been thought about before, because the thing that we had now with the guest vocalists… It’s always great and an amazing opportunity to grow as a musician to work with such talent, but also it is very much of a struggle. It’s never smooth. When you bring a musician or the singer in, that’s great, but it comes along with all of these things that restrain yourself. There are record companies that have five other releases coming out and some guest vocalists who release an album at the same time, and then there are lawyers, and it’s all very restricting and very depressing even. It had never been easy, even though in the songs we had really enjoyed what had been done with them. But also the thing that we fear the most is that we would start to repeat ourselves and get stuck on something that we had done before. If we see ourselves like that, we all get scared and we all get chills like, “Oh no, no.” Then we start to think how we can challenge ourselves and develop as a band. I think it was June when we decided the way we want the album to be presented is—because there is going to be this whole story in it and one theme; one kind of journey that it’ll take you through—the best way is to have one voice. Also that is the best way to keep the focus on the band, so it’s not all about who we worked with, but it’s about the music we do. That’s what matters.
So we started to search for a singer. We decided not to go for open auditions because that would be an absolute pain in the butt, to listen to ten thousand or whatever demo tapes, so we went inside of the business to the people who we trust and who know our band and new somebody who would fit perfectly. From that search came about twenty demo tapes which we listened through and we chose five of those twenty that kind of stood out. From those five, we presented a track for them to sing, and they sung it on top of a demo tape, but I think it was sort of everybody doing a replica of Corey Taylor’s performance. No body gave us their personal style and instead they were doing more of Corey’s style. But still we could define three of those five who were the best, and from those three people we gave a song from our new album, “Hole In My Soul,” and asked them to sing in their style. We told them to sing it simple, sing it straight. No effects. No anything. No mixing. Just your voice. And out of those there was one which was absolutely on it’s own level, and that was Franky. He was actually so good that we didn’t call him back at first because we thought that he was so good he actually wouldn’t want to tour with us, because we knew who he had been working with before that, and we felt that we weren’t even close to his standards. But we liked his performance so much that we gave him a call. He’s a great musician and great vocalist and an absolutely fantastic person.
That’s awesome how everything came together! That’s really cool.
Sirén: Yeah, and it’s kind of surprising because we didn’t know him as a human being, so it was just based on his voice, how we chose him. It could have been a total tragedy if he was a person with an amazing voice was a total nutcase or, I don’t know, whatever (laughs). Franky is so smart. He’s been around for so long so he knows how this business is run, and he has been in several bands in his life so he knows kind of how things go in this band business and how everyone needs to find their own space. It was also for us, immediately when he came along we wanted to give him room. It wasn’t like we would take in a singer and kind of tame him and wouldn’t get all the focus, but it was really the opposite, we wanted him to be all he could be. He was in an absolutely in a new situation, and his singing on the album is priceless. I always thought that the albums had a guest voice, which is cello, but with him being the only singer on this album and also considering the fact that his voice is also kind of a storyteller’s voice through all of Shadowmaker, and it’s a fantastic story which is just in the beginning. We have no idea how it’ll be after we tour for two years, maybe we are annoyed with each other after one year (laughs), but only time will tell.
That’s very true. So the band is going to head out on a tour with Sixx:A.M. in a couple months, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
Sirén: The first thing is Soundwave in Australia, which is a really huge touring festival over there, so we’ll be there for a few weeks. Then we go to Mexico where there is a festival which we are headlining in one of the best stadiums over there, which will be a really big show. After that we are going to tour Europe doing several TV performances, then we start the Sixx:A.M. tour for a few weeks where we are the support for Nikki Sixx’s band. We come back in the middle of May to do our own headlining tour for three or four weeks, and then we are going to do some festivals in Europe, like Download in England and stuff like that, and some festivals in Finland and Sweden. In the markets over there, we won’t do much during the summer as the album is just out, so we are going to take a bit of a rest during the summertime. Then during the fall we are going to do a big, big tour in Europe and another tour in the U.S, and then it’s already Christmastime. But next year we are going to tour the whole world I think, the “Shadowmaker” tour will have like 50 countries or more in it, so there’s a lot to do.
Sounds like you have a busy year ahead of you, looking forward to it?
Sirén: It will be fun, I’m sure!