Interview With Paavo Lötjönen Of Apocalyptica
St. Louis Music Press interviewer Angie Knost got a chance to talk with Paavo Lötjönen, one of three cellists in the Finnish symphonic metal band Apocalyptica, during a recent visit to St. Louis. Paavo seemed to enjoy turning the tables and making the interviewer into the interviewee at times.
Paavo: What’s your taste in music?
Angie: I’m kind of all over the board. I like rock , some metal, some sludge, like Cult Of Luna kind of stuff I’ve been getting into lately. Some old punk, post punk, also calypso, funk… big James Brown fan. Just so many different things. Just this and that, you know? No one genre.
Paavo: So you are like me. My musical taste is coming from there to there. It’s really much changing.
Angie: What kind of music did you start liking, when you were young and first got into music?
Paavo: I started listening to music in the early ages. My father, he’s a professional musician, or was. Now he’s retired… But since he was young, since childhood, he was also playing jazz music. So he was listening to all those jazz musicians. Also pop music and rock music. So I have listened a lot of Beatles, Pink Floyd. That kind of stuff. British pop and rock like Pat Benatar, and Suzi Quatro. That kind of stuff. Of course those are the starting point of my musical things. Maybe the biggest things have been in my childhood, have been Beatles and Pink Floyd. That was the starting. And then, later in the 80’s, it became the bands like Toto and Police.
Angie: I’m a big Police fan.
Paavo: Yes, Police, excellent. And then later, U2. And then the metal music as well. But it was more because of the influences of my good friends, like Eicca [other Apocalyptica cellist] and others. They taught me how to like the metal music.
Angie: So that came later?
Paavo: Yeah, that came later. So, yeah. I try to listen to music really varying.
Angie: How old were you when you got interested in the cello? And was that your first choice of instrument?
Paavo: I started it when I was 6. It was really natural. I start because both parents are professional musicians. Maybe I showed some musical talent in early ages? When you go to school at the age of 6 or 7, it’s good time to start some instrument. My choice was cello.
Angie: It’s a great instrument. It’s very emotional, I think,… the cello… you don’t just hear it, you feel it. I guess because it’s kind of the range of the human voice.
Paavo: It’s the range and that the playing is pretty physical.
Angie: Yeah, that’s true. You have to get into it.
Paavo: All the string instruments are pretty difficult to start to learn. You need many, many years to get the proper sound out of the instruments.
Angie: Definitely. The first time you drag that bow, eeehhhrrrrrrrrreeeerrrrrr
Paavo: I’ve been teaching a lot of cello students, small kids.
Angie: Takes patience?
Paavo: Yeah. Takes patience.
Paavo: [laughs] Not earplugs. Patience. Cello sound is pretty nice, comparing to the violin. If you can’t play that, still it’s okay-ish.
Angie: Yeah, it [the violin] just doesn’t seem have as much feelings to it; the violin can be squeaky and choppier. Yeah, cello’s a beautiful instrument.
Angie: You’ve been so many places in the world. What is your favorite place that you like to visit? And where do you feel the audience is the most exciting when you play?
Paavo: [pause while considering answer] There’s many good places. And sometimes it could happen even so that once it was excellent in that city, and when you come again, it wasn’t that okay-ish. And then you’ll come the third time, then it was like, explosive, like super good. It could variate. It depends upon the people, who’s coming there. How strongly they are reacting. How careful they listen. How is the venue. It depends on so many things……..
You are Americans…Maybe I should say Canadians. [laughter] Montreal. Montreal, Quebec. It’s real strange. Really good audience. But then, Mexico… wonderful audience. Many South American places, pretty wild audience. And even if you go to some East European countries, the audience could be really good. Some places, for instance Russia, it’s strange, audience is really good, but somehow how you feel that people know their musical history very well. Especially the classical music history. They have certain civilization and education for listening to music. So they are sometimes really listening more carefully. And they are explosive, the reactions.
So I can’t say that one place for this question.
Angie: That’s okay. Great answer.
Someone said to me once that they thought European audiences more like to sit back and be entertained, and often American audiences want to be the rock star. The audiences have different aspirations, maybe. Do you agree with that? That more Americans seem to want to be rock stars?
Paavo: I think people everywhere want to be entertained. They come to see the shows, enjoy their time. It’s pretty same everywhere. Maybe some places the people want more cultural experience. And some places they want a party going on. I would say the American audience is really open for new things, and open minded. It’s really nice to play shows over here. They are ready for many different kind of things. It’s been really enjoyable to play here. You Americans, you don’t have too much expectations. And you are really open for new things. It’s been nice to play here. This time we are playing, we are trying different kind of things on the show. So we have a beginning of the show, there is a bit harder stuff, some moments. And then there’s some progressive, more playing, concentrated playing, and not too much partying. It’s more like a strange feeling, dark moods. But then we are getting the volume level down. And we have a couple of really more acoustic kind of songs. And beautiful songs, for the contrast of this heavy stuff. So the gentle side for the girls. And then the end of the show is more like a party, joy of playing and joy of music.
Angie: So we get a little bit of everything?
Angie: I’ve been listening to your new CD, The 7th Symphony. That covers a really broad range. You have some heavy stuff, and you have some more moody stuff.
Paavo : What’s your favorite? What’s your favorite song?
Angie: My favorite?… Oh, put me on the spot!
Paavo: Whenever I have possible to have a revenge for the journalist, it’s good!
Angie: Then I have to say, “Hmm, how do I answer this?”
Paavo: It’s not easy, because then you are in the same position that I am in.
Angie: Yeah, not easy!
Paavo: It’s also novel for me. For me it’s more difficult to see, objective, because we are so deep into that. The thing is, we finished the album project in… March. And since that, I have tried not to listen to that too much. And now when the album comes out, and we once again learn the songs, play them live, I’ve been listening to that a lot. Now I have a different perspective for the album. And it’s more objective comparing to those times we were doing them. And it’s actually nice, to have more objective perspective.
Angie: I have mostly listened to it while in the car, so I don’t have the titles so well matched to the songs yet, since it’s so new. I love the song with the female singer. [Lacey Mosely of Flyleaf] That one is very beautiful, and probably my most favorite [“Broken Pieces”]. I love all of the instrumental songs. I like song with the Gojira singer [Joe Duplantier], the guy that sings like cookie monster. I like that, too.
Angie: Yeah. But my taste is all over the board. There was nothing about it [the CD] that I didn’t like, except, oh, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m not a big fan of the Shinedown guy’s voice [Brent Smith]. It’s still a nice song, but for that reason, it’s not a favorite. But that’s just me.
Paavo: You are allowed to say that. You don’t have to like all the songs. It’s so variated, the album, that you’re allowed not to like all the songs. But I hope you will pick up some songs which could be really important for you.
That Gojira song, with Joe Plantier… I like the song, but I can’t stand that kind of singing. [in Cookie Monster-like voice, Paavo sings like Duplantier:] ” I drank tooo much beeeeer. Bllahh Blaahhh. I will never drink anymore. That was my laaaast beeeeeer [finished Cookie Monster voice]. Okay, bad jokes. People like it. But it’s not my thing. The other boys like it. We’re opposites.
Pertu [other cellist in Apocalyptica] is more for that. But the song, I like the song a lot. Actually, it’s pretty classical. Harmonical. It’s strange combination of that classical, harmonical lines and this gggrrrrrrrrrrr [gutteral Cookie Monster vocals] . And rhythmically, it’s really like a blast beat, hard core… pretty speed thrash.
Angie: That’s what I like about it. It’s an unlikely combination.
Paavo: I’ve not heard such a music before. Do you? With that classical harmony lines compared to this kind of singing?
Angie: I haven’t heard that mix done that way before. No.
Paavo: I think that is pretty weird kind of music we have created. But for the Shinedown, Brent Smith, I like his voice. I would say it’s really…a typical American rock ballad. If you really listen his voice…it had to be a like such a voice which has balls. Powerful voice. Brent definitely has a powerful voice. It really needs a powerful voice, otherwise the song is too blah.
Angie: I think maybe my issue with that is that his voice is too familiar, or too typical to me, because I’ve heard too much Shinedown. [laughs]
Paavo: But Shinedown is a typical example of American rock. They are one of the bright stars of American rock, and everyone wants to be like a Shinedown. And that’s why you will hear that kind of music all the time. Poor you.
Angie: [laughter] I’ll be okay.
Paavo: I love to listen to Shinedown, but not those copies.
Angie: Yeah, there are a lot of copies.
Paavo: In “Broken Pieces”, with Lacey from Flyleaf, that song is not really typical Apocalyptica song.
Angie: No it isn’t.
Paavo: I think it’s pretty fresh and new kind of Apocalyptica. Many people would say it’s a really heavy song, but I would say that it’s a pretty popular kind of song, as a song. But definitely it’s not light stuff. I think it’s refreshing… new kind of things in Apocalyptica. That is my favorite singing off of this collaboration of singing.
Angie: Did you all work together, or did they get the music separately, and did she…how does that work when you put all the vocals in?
Paavo: It’s Eicca’s song. Eicca finalized that song with Guy Sigsworth, who is a British guy….He had some ideas for the song, and he went to London to co-write the song with him. He also has a classical background as a good piano player, also plays harps. And he’s like a professional songwriter. He has done lot of stuff with the pop stars, like Alanis Morissette, and modern, big stars… a lot of good songs. And they did this song. Lacey just came later. So we just needed a strong woman’s voice for that song.
Angie: Well, she’s perfect for that song.
Could you describe all the personalities of all the band members, and how you guys interact a little?
Paavo: Okay, who start? This will have to be a diplomatic answer. It will be read on the internet, which knows everything. [Angie laughs]
Eicca, I would say, is the primas mater of Apocalyptica. His musical talent has created Apocalyptica, I would say. Sometimes he seems to be in our ears like a bit lazy to do somethings, but he’s workaholic. Working too much all the time, creating so much stuff. But he’s always maybe too nice for everybody. He’s a good party company. He’s talkative. He’s a really good speaker. We have been joking that he will be a politician one day. He’s an excellent speaker, and he always has something to say to everything. He always has an answer ready. Even he doesn’t know the exact answer, he will start to talk and have good answer for it.
Mikko, our drummer, he’s police of our band. [laughs] He keeps us in shape, that we behave well, that we are early, on time. That we are not late for the places. He is that nagging person, a little. He’s also a workaholic. Really energetic on the stage. A lot of strong personal will. Powerful mind.
Perttu. He’s an artist. I would say he’s the most talented, like naturally talented, guy I know. He’s been super-talented since childhood. He was already superstar at age of 10. In a competition way, he has the best possible victories in international cello competitions. His ears, absolutely strong ear, and really good for …if you sing something, he writes everything down, and suddenly he can play everything. He plays drums, piano, guitars, cello. Sometimes he plays really bad, but sometimes he plays like an angel. In a good day, he’s a really good cello player. Sometimes he’s like, dramatic person. Sometimes he can be really lazy. Internet addict. Looks like he’s not doing anything.
I’m not telling anyone anything about myself. [laughs]
Angie: Okay…so you’re leaving that open?
Paavo: I’m leaving it open.
Angie: What is in the future for Apocalyptica?
Paavo: … Our plan is to stay alive all this tour. Last tour we played 240 shows, or something like that. I guess this tour will contain about 200 shows. So we play shows now, here [USA]. Then we go to Europe, tour. Then we come back before Christmas, to U.S. And then after February will be then second European leg. Then Japan. And maybe one more American tour. And then there’s already festivals. Summer festival season. And then we go to East Europe, Russia, tour, then South America. Then we have already toured one half years already. We try to do some music on the road, but, if we have tight schedules we don’t have time to record anything and many times when we get home it’s … you just need time for recovery….
Angie: Is there anything else you wanted to mention before we run out of time?
Paavo: Yes….We did one edition of the album, where there’s a DVD combined, that’s like acoustic versions of the songs. It’s recorded live in Sebelius Academy in Helsinki. Sibelius is the music university we started in; Apocalyptica basically started in that building. A tiny, small organ hall. You should check it out . It’s like another perspective for those songs. It’s interesting. It’s for mornings, and gentle moments, you know? [winks]
Angie: Is this DVD/CD set out now?
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