Q&A: Tomi Koivusaari (Amorphis) Sweats The Small Stuff


Amorphis. Arguably, Finland’s most important export. Make no mistake, without Amorphis’ break-out album Tales from the Thousand Lakes (inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010), the door out (and into) Finland may’ve taken longer to open. That’s right, without Amorphis’ success, major Finnish players like Nightwish, Children of Bodom, and Apocalyptica probably wouldn’t be as prominent as they are today. Now, 24 years later the Finns are on their 13th full-length, Queen of Time, and they’ve never sounded better. OK, 14th if debut The Karelian Isthmus is counted.

For a group that has, on average, released a full-length every two years since 1992, the fact that Queen of Time not only holds up to classics like Elegy and Tuonela but also continues the exceptionalism of modern-day achievements in Skyforger and Under the Red Cloud is no mean feat. Songs like “The Bee,” “Amongst Stars,” “Wrong Direction,” and “Message in the Amber” set Amorphis on a journey that’s spirited, clever, and unforgettable. The inclusion of orchestra, choirs, and guest vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen (VUUR) highlight guitarists Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari’s folk-driven melodies and Tomi Joutsen’s caveman/songbird vocals. Really, Queen of Time is Amorphis’ best work in a long while.

Decibel sat down with Koivusaari to learn more bees (metaphorically) and why it’s the small things that matter.

At what point did the scope of Queen of Time come into full view? The pre-production demo or earlier?
Tomi Koivusaari: I think it always happens when we hear the first mixes. This time as well. Before that you are so in the process of arranging and thinking of different ideas, so it’s very difficult to get the whole picture. Also, this time it was the first mixes when we first heard all the great choirs and orchestral arrangements.

The band sounds fired up. The old-school melodies and folk melodies are there, the atmosphere is electric, and the songs are really good. What’s happening inside Amorphis?
Tomi Koivusaari: We have played so long time together, of course. Plus, when Olli-Pekka (bass) came back it gave us all new inspiration; and his way of playing affects as well. Also, we had only one day off after the last gig of the tour, so we were quite tight as a band. The overall mood inside the band is relaxed and very good. Jens Bogren did a great job again to whip the best out of us.

Oppu [aka Olli-Pekka] returned. What’s it like to have Oppu back in the band?
Tomi Koivusaari: It feels surprisingly natural. It took like five minutes during the first rehearsals to get use to his style of playing. It felt nostalgic and fresh same time. Also, personally it felt like we didn’t have 17 years off between. We still share the same sense of humor and so on. I think it was great that he joined to tour just before the recording. Our playing together got better and better as the tour went on.

He’s a songwriter, too. What songs did he contribute to or bring to the table?
Tomi Koivusaari: “As Mountains Crumble,” the bonus track. He had few. I think overall when we started to check out the new songs we had over 20 of them, so always we have to drop songs. I’m quite sure that he will contribute more songs next time, as he is very creative and now he is more melded into Amorphis.

How would you compare Amorphis as songwriters now to Amorphis as songwriters on, say, Am Universum?
Tomi Koivusaari: I’d say the songs are ready [earlier] when bringing them to the rehearsal place. Because it is easier to make home demos now compared to the early 2000s, as everyone has some kind of home studio. So, it was more like jamming things, especially with Am Universum. That was probably our most unfinished record when went into the studio.

Lots of different instruments come to life. What was the idea behind going above and beyond the usual rock band stuff on Queen of Time?
Tomi Koivusaari: I think the idea came from Jens. He wanted to replace some of the keyboard stuff/melodies with ‘real’ instruments and human voices. This also brought something “louder” to Amorphis. That makes the whole album more organic, in my opinion; and massive too. There is indeed a lot of layers and dimensions inside the songs, but nothing we couldn’t do live.

What did the orchestra and choir add to the music? Where did you record the orchestra?
Tomi Koivusaari: It adds deepness and an organic feeling. Cinematic mood and heaviness. Those elements were recorded in several places: Italy, Israel, and Turkey, if I’m right. The band itself wasn’t involved with that. Jens organized everything.

Were you careful to not overuse the orchestra? I notice a lot of bands hide behind it.
Tomi Koivusaari: That was really important thing to us. That those elements cannot get too dominant. Also, as said earlier all those melody lines were already there in our songs before orchestral arrangements were done. In this case we trusted to Jens’ judgment. In our case, they are more like spices, deepening the songs.

How did Anneke van Giersbergen agree to come aboard as a guest vocalist?
Tomi Koivusaari: We have known Anneke for years. Since the ’90s, when she toured with The Gathering, I believe. Two years ago we had a special gig in Helsinki where she was our guest, singing few songs with us. At that time, we started to talk about it, that it would be awesome if she would sing on our next album. So, I’m glad it worked out! She’s great singer and personality as well.

You returned to produce the album with Jens Bogren. What does he get that other producers don’t?
Tomi Koivusaari: I think we signed him for this album right after the Under the Red Cloud session was over. That was really the first time we worked with real producer. Well, we worked with Peter Tägtren before with Circle, but we didn’t have the pre-production part back then. When working with the way Jens works, it’s not easy to work next time. That would feel like not making things in the proper order, if you know what I mean. Working with him is, of course, hard, with long days. Everything has to be almost perfect, but in a good way. Also, we don’t need to stress about anything. We can lay everything on Jens’ shoulders. So, we can just concentrate on plying our thing when recording. Not to mention he is great guy! Musically, we share same opinions, so he just pushes the best out from us. Being an outside ear sometimes has helped us decide on things we can’t decide for ourselves, too. To us, Jens is like a seventh member.

How much input did Jens have to the soundscape? Can you detail some of the things he did to make Queen of Time sound bigger, deeper?
Tomi Koivusaari: There is lot of going on, always in band’s playing inside the songs, so the sound has to be really good, deep, warm, sometimes raw and at the same time separative. Jens was involved with all, for example, guitar sounds we used, starting from guitar pickups in each song and so on. He was the guy who was mixing it as well, so he knew best how we should record it as well. Jens’ idea was to use choirs and orchestra.

The cover art is killer. Metastazis did a killer job on this. Did you give him direct or was it all composed out of a vacuum?
Tomi Koivusaari: Esa [Holopainen] and Tomi [Joutsen] were mostly involved with Valnoir about the cover. The ideas came from lyrics, us and Valnoir. Like with last album all the things you can see in cover are from the lyrics. Valnoir did a great job again. The cover has a lot of dimensions. It’s almost 3D. I guess, it took like 1000 e-mails to organize. [Laughs]

It’s tied into the bee concept. What role is the bee playing here? I gather it’s Kalevala-related and Lemminki is involved…
Tomi Koivusaari: One of the lyrical inspirations is the bee, metaphorically. The tiniest thing can sometimes be the most important thing. A bee can bring life or if we destroy all the bees, life will stop. Also, in some mythologies bees are described that they are not original from this planet at all. You’re right though, story is quite similar with Lemminki’s story in the Kalevala.

What stories from the Kalevala are left to tell?
Tomi Koivusaari: Actually, the lyrics for this album and–on Under… and Circle–are not from the Kalevala, but rather Pekka Kainulainen’s own stories. Although, they have a lot of similarities and are in the same ‘world,’ so to say.

Fans are claiming this in the best Amorphis album since Elegy. What does that say to you? That you’re as good in your 40s as you were in your 20s?
Tomi Koivusaari: [Laughs] It’s great to hear, if that is a compliment, meaning if someone is thinking Elegy was our best. I agree that Elegy is a very important album to us, but we are still trying to make our best album every time we are in the studio. That is one reason we are still feeling like are in our 20s. Not looking though. [Laughs] So, if someone thinks that this time we made it, then great.

OK, what’s next for Amorphis? Hitting the road again, I suppose.
Tomi Koivusaari: Yes, we have had eight months break from touring, so were are anxious to have some shows. We’ll start with summer festivals in Europe. We’ll also visit Japan for couple of shows. In the fall, we will come to North America for five weeks Dark Tranquility, Moonspell, and Omnium Gatherum. A great package. I’m sure it’s gonna be great. Then, we’ll tour Finland, Europe, Russia, South America. So, we’ll need to plan what to do in our free time over the next couple of years again. The next album, I suppose.

** Amorphis’ fantastic new album, Queen of Time, is out now on Nuclear Blast. Order it on CD and Vinyl (HERE).