Amorphis – Keyboardist Santeri Kallio
Interviewed by EvilG
Questions by EvilG & Arto Lehtinen
Transcription by Duke / Live Amorphis Pics by Arto Lehtinen
Amorphis line-up 2006:
Tomi Joutsen – vocals
Esa Holopainen – guitar
Niclas Etelävuori – bass
Santeri Kallio – keyboards
Jan Rechberger – drums
Amorphis has recently been rejuvenated with the addition of new vocalist Tomi Joutsen and their latest album ECLIPSE is their best offering since ELEGY (1996). The dueling clean/death styled vocals are back as are more driving songs. Everything that was wrong about their previous lackluster release (2003′s FAR FROM THE SUN) is easily wiped away by the vitality of ECLIPSE. Recently, I was given the opportunity to interview Amorphis keyboardist Santeri Kallio and we spoke about his background, his time with Amorphis before becoming an actual member, Finnish music, and about the new Amorphis album.
Íd like to start out by going back in time to your early days. I know you were in a band called Kyyria. Can you tell me a bit about the band? I guess this was where you learned studio work and all the ropes in the music business.
Well, the band I grew up in was Kyyria in a way. It was the first band we started from the cellar and got a record deal with. In a way, it was the first real band for us and we built it with some friends from nothing but somehow we split after a few recordings, probably because of the bad blood from musical differences and opinions about the music and stuff like that…to say it politely (laughs). But I met the Amorphis guys at the same time, replacing Kasper who played on TALES FROM THE THOUSAND LAKES for a couple of shows in 1993. That́s how I got into the Amorphis band and started to know the guys. We played two shows in Helsinki just before TALES was released. We discussed me joining the band but I couldńt because I was seeking fame with my friends. But when we split up in 1998 I really had a chance to have a go with the guys and since then Íve been playing with Amorphis.
Besides that band, did you have any other musical background?
Íve been playing piano since I was five years old and electronic organs and synthesizers since I was eleven. When I was eleven I had a band in the school and even in high school we had some sort of band. But Kyyria was the first band I had which did a lot of shows and did albums so that was the first real band.
Since you had done shows with Amorphis as far back as ‘93 I guess it was a pretty easy decision when your band broke up to join Amorphis, was it?
It was pretty easy because we did a couple of shows before I joined the band, then we did the TUONELA album and then my band split up. In a way, it was an easy choice but of course, there were a lot of other options in Finland. It́s a very small country and in the late 90s there were less than ten professional keyboard players that could play real keyboards. So everybody was asking “Can you join our band?” and stuff. Luckily, I had some good memories of Amorphis so in that way it was easy because when we did those shows in ‘93 it was great! It was a really active band that did a lot of shows and had studio time, so yeah, it was really nice.
You were obviously a fan or a follower of the band before you joined. So what were some of your early impressions of the band and what did you like about them musically at that time?
When TALES came out, I really liked the mixture with the keyboards and even clean vocals, it was our band́s singer who did the clean vocals so it́s a small world, a small country. I really liked TALES. When ELEGY came out we were really busy with our band touring in Germany so I didńt have much time to listen. After when I joined the band, I really liked and listened to ELEGY a lot. I loved TALES FROM THE THOUSAND LAKES, it was and still is a classic album.
In terms of keyboards throughout the whole discography, what songs have been more challenging or most enjoyable to be playing on keyboard?
Enjoyable are of course the ELEGY ones since there are so many tracks, even too many to play live but I try my best. On TALES there are only a couple of chords and melodies, it́s really not that challenging but it́s still great to play the old classic tunes. ELEGY is one of my favorites, any track we pick there will be a lot of stuff to play and at the time the band was doing a lot of 70s stuff like Deep Purple and so on so it gives a musician free hands, especially on keyboards. I dońt have to play everything like it is on the album, but Íve done them tons of times and kind of have gotten the feeling of what Kim was trying to get to.
On your new album ECLIPSE, as everybody knows, you have a new singer, Tomi Joutsen. He came to you from the band Sinistra. You guys went after him, I dońt think he submitted a demo to the band.
Were there any other contenders who came close to being asked to join?
Yeah, there were a couple of guys that we asked. Actually, during the auditions, it was a worldwide search for a singer from any country, but since we dońt have a huge pile of money we cańt buy a jet for a singer to come to the rehearsal or rent an apartment for half a year and pay the rent. At least not at the moment, for the future, let́s hope so! Luckily, we found a Finnish guy. During the auditions, we became more and more certain that it would be best for us if we would find a Finnish singer. We tried a couple of the best ones and luckily they were Finnish guys, but while there were a couple of singers who sang really well, they couldńt do the growling vocals. That was the main issue and it gave us the most stress to find a singer who can do the clean vocals and the grunt vocals. Actually we were pretty sweaty because we couldńt find anyone. So we were thinking about what would be the next move because we had already gone through all the singers who wanted to join the band and had sent us a CD without really finding the right one. Maybe it was pure luck what happened, but I think we found a really good guy for the job and the more shows we have done, the more sure we are about that. Hés really the perfect type for this band. He even has Amorphis tattoos!
From before he joined?
So he was a fan obviously.
He used to be a fan at the time of KARELIAN ISTHMUS. But at one time he said “I wasńt even sure if the band still existed!” But it did.
Did you have to do any convincing to get him to join or was he excited?
Actually, his commitment was just what we were looking for after Pasi, because Pasi wasńt motivated at all. He just kept doing his side project and stuff like this. When we asked him about the new vocal melodies and lyrics he was always like “You guys have to wait”. Then we had waited about two years for them and he had done a couple of albums with another band. So we were looking for a front man and singer who really gives the same amount as the rest of us. We have given up day jobs and studying and stuff because of the band. The one thing Tomi said that convinced us after he had sung a couple of songs in the studio and we asked him what he thought was that he wanted to do it 100 percent. He didńt want to join an old band that is lazy and that was what we were looking for, the guy that really wants to work and pushes all the energy out from the stage like nothing else matters, no concentrating on anything else. Of course, we all have side projects and he has too, but we prioritize Amorphis. So we shared that and after he said that, it was easy. We had a five week US tour booked so we decided to do the tour first and then start composing more new songs. We were lucky because we even had the tour to try him on.
It was a proving ground for him I suppose?
Yeah, because he hadńt been doing any tours except for a couple of shows in a row in a small café. It was the perfect opportunity to see if he liked the stuff and for us because it́s very difficult to just grab a guy you dońt know at all and drag him to a band that has been around for 15 years. It might crash the whole thing. But luckily hés the perfect guy for the job and the tour was pretty good because he had a chance to see if he really wanted to do the rock band front man thing.
Former Amorphis vocalist, Pasi.
Speaking of being the front man, I know your former singer Pasi was known for being quite calm on stage, he didńt move around a whole lot. I hear that Tomi is quite the opposite. Does this have much of an impact on the live atmosphere on stage for the rest of you guys?
I think so, yeah. Ím only the keyboard player so I cańt really join the party, but I think that Tomís energy and attitude has made a big difference on what we used to be with Pasi. Pasi used to stand in one spot and sing the set, concentrating on singing. I can understand that, he broke his leg a couple of times and went straight from the show to the hospital, so he couldńt really move. But I think the new singer is putting so much effort to the live performance that I think the front row, the guitarist and the bass player are really getting some kicks out of it. Wéve done a European tour now with only a 45 minute set and I think the performance is growing all the time. It́s becoming really good and we are really excited about it. I think the festival shows will put the final nail in the coffin, you know, because the stage is big, therés a lot of space and we even have some pyrotechnics. It́s going to be a lot of fun!
Pasís final performance with Amorphis on the album FAR FROM THE SUN has been referred to, by both the band and some fans, as being somewhat unmotivated. Why do you think he lost interest with Amorphis? Do you think it was more the music that he lost interest in or was it more of a personal situation?
No, no, we are still really good friends. We share some projects, well, not me personally. Ím doing sound engineering for Niclas and he has a grindcore project that he has with Pasi. And Tomi Koivusaari is playing with Pasi in his kind of solo band Ajattara. I dońt think there was a clique within the band in a friendship way. I think it was probably lack of motivation for this kind of music. He has said some pretty bad things about us like that he had wanted to do growling vocals or that the new songs didńt sound so good, but I think that́s just normal when you run out of stories about why you left. I think the only reason was that he wasńt motivated by this band, he wanted to do his solo project Ajattara more. It́s black metal kind of stuff where he sings in Finnish. Of course he has a family as well, he has two kids and that puts some pressure and takes away some time from the band. If you have a lot of bands, you have to choose. Then you choose the easiest way. Maybe Amorphis was taking too much time for him. Everything went well and we are still good friends. It was the best solution for us and I think it was the best for him too.
With FAR FROM THE SUN, you were on a different label, EMI. When the album came out it seemed to disappear into a void, there wasńt a lot of promotion being done.
Did you ever have any regrets for going to that label?
Of course we had regrets. But I think we knew the risks. Everybody whós been playing in a band that long definitely knows the risks. I think after the Relapse deal with the overseas label which the guys made when they were 17, we wanted a straight deal for Finland with some label. Then we tried to find the right label and the only option was to take a major label, which can get a good recording budget, plus a very small label. The ones in between were options that we wereńt looking for the overseas deal, they want the whole universe. So we went with EMI because we only wanted territorial deals. We knew the risks but had the option that if the local EMI doesńt use the option to release Amorphis, then we can find another one. And we did with Nuclear Blast. We had some good moments with EMI but in a way it was a disaster, Europe was a disaster. We were on tour and nobody even knew that we had an album out. It was horrible! We knew the risks but were hoping for the best and had to see what was happening. Still, EMI did a great job in Finland, but for us Finland has never been a priority. Luckily, we got out of the deal pretty easily and the guys were pretty nice at the label.
So everything worked out for the best?
Yeah, in the end. It́s just sad that all of Europe was a total disaster.
I guess things are totally different now with Nuclear Blast?
Let́s hope so. I dońt know what́s happening over there, but I think that in Europe and Finland it́s really going nicely. They are really trying to book us for the good tours and always try to show us some good touring opportunities. They have a lot of metal bands so at the moment I think it is the best solution for us.
With your new album yoúre back to using more of a contrasting vocal style like was perfectly done on ELEGY. Is this something that you think the band needed to return to at this point? And why do you think that was important?
Afterwards we can speculate if it was the thing we had to do, but in a way on FAR FROM THE SUN we didńt have it and were a bit disappointed by the one-dimensional vocals. It́s something that Tomi was a great fan of on KARELIAN ISTHMUS and death metal in general. He was really excited, going “Let́s put some growling here!” and we said, “Sure, do what you want and let́s listen”. Like we did with Pasi as well, he always had pretty free hands. I dońt know how it turned into a rockier Amorphis, but I still like the album. I think one reason was that we started to play KARELIAN songs in our live set. We did “Graiĺs Mysteries” on the FAR FROM THE SUN tour and now we do “Sign From the North Side”. We found out that we needed the same energy that was in the shows to make the album sound bigger and stronger. I think there are more dramatic vocals because of the KARELIAN influence. It́s obvious that we can use growls because we always play TALES songs and ELEGY songs that have growls. It́s not a bad thing to have on albums and actually it gave us more energy for the music.
Did you have any concern that using more growling vocals on this album would put off some of the fans who got into you after ELEGY when the vocals didńt have that style?
Yeah, of course, but wéve been playing throughout our career songs from the older albums. So in a way we always had that in our live shows and have always said backstage that there must be some people who just heard the last album or saw the video. But in the end, if you like this band and the music we are doing, you have to be open minded. Maybe the girls like more of the cleaner vocals and the boys like the growling, I dońt know, maybe it́s the opposite. But the one thing I know is that there are all kinds of people in the audience and some people dońt like all the stuff. We try to play a best-of thing in the shows because we have a lot of albums and a lot of fans so we always try to spread out and not concentrate on any particular album at all. Of course, now we do more ECLIPSE songs because Tomi has done the vocals and he gets his kicks from the ECLIPSE songs and the response has been really good so – why not?
Pasi used to write almost all the lyrics for Amorphis. When he left, was it difficult for the other members to pick up a pen and start writing?
Yeah, of course it was pretty difficult, but luckily we found these lyrics from a Finnish writer, Paavi Haavikos. I did a couple of lyrics and I haveńt been doing lyrics since I was eleven! So I made a couple of lyrics but they didńt end up on the album. I wonder why. One is there, “Brother Moon”, and Tomi did one, “Under A Soil and Black Stone”. So it is difficult but in a way it́s just the lyrics. Like in everything, you just have to start doing it and see how it goes. Maybe it́s good, maybe it́s shit, you never know. The best situation is when you are forced to do it.
I know Finnish history and folklore has always been an inspiration for Amorphis. Is this something that you personally have an interest in and have read a lot of yourself?
There was a 70s folk movement in Finland that evolved from that stuff, so I think almost everyone who likes 70s stuff in Finland, like people our age, must like some ethnic influences in music. Personally, I got into heavy metal with an ethnic kind of vibe the first time I heard Amorphis with KARELIAN ISTHMUS and TALES FROM THE THOUSAND LAKES. Of course, I could straight away hear the influences.
For ECLIPSE yoúve used the Kalevala for inspiration, this time it́s about Kullervo. Could you tell who he is and the meaning of the lyrics?
Well, Kullervo is a character from Kalevala who when he is born, his whole village is killed. Hés the only survivor and lives with his stepmother and they hate him. They try to get rid of Kullervo and when he leaves home the stepmother bakes a big stone into the bread, stuff like that. Kullervo is like the dark side of the human mind, when everything goes totally opposite to normal life. It’s too much that happens. In a way it́s a pretty interesting story and it fits heavy metal pretty well. Hés not a good guy, that́s the craziest thing about the story. Nobody is saying that he is a good guy, hés just a guy. In the end he kills everybody, even himself. It́s a pretty aggressive story and I think it́s about how cruel you can get, without any kind of love story. Well, there is a kind of a love story but I think they all die. So it́s a very brutal story.
Are all the songs in reference to the story?
Yeah, in a way. I did the one song and Tomi did another but all the rest are from the writings of Paavi Haaviko, hés a great intellectual guy.
He was born in the 30’s and is still around today, right?
Yeah, I think hés around 80, 82 or something.
Did you have to get permission from him to use some of his work?
Yeah, definitely. I think we got the permission from him when we had already done the album. Luckily we got it or we would have had to do it all again. He was really cool and was saying like “Once I thought that my poems could be used for music so this is pretty interesting”. He was pretty excited and our singer even met him for an interview in a big Finnish newspaper.
Do you know if he has heard ECLIPSE?
We sent the CD for him and a thanks-letter. He was nice.
You mentioned that you wrote the lyrics for one song on the new album. Can you also tell me what your role is in the Amorphis songwriting department? Do you help with the arrangements or do you come into it after the guitar parts are done and add your own parts and song textures and things?
Well, at least since I joined the band it has worked that anyone can bring a song or do a riff and then the band starts to arrange the things and decides what is good and what is bad and then we go to the studio. Íve been doing my share, Íve been writing a couple of songs for every album and helping with arrangements like everyone. I think on ECLIPSE there are three songs that I wrote, but therés no strict rule of how it goes. The easiest way is that you have basic riffs ready and then it́s easier for the band to start rehearsing the song and decide whether it́s good or bad. In Amorphis, everyone brings some songs, there is no mastermind.
Are there any plans for an Amorphis live DVD or a DVD with the history of the band?
Yeah, since DVDs came there have been discussions about that. I think Nuclear Blast would like to do a DVD but we haveńt officially talked about things like the budget and when to do it. I think it would need a really good show shot with a lot of cameras and a long set, maybe even two shows. Then we could put all the extra material and stuff like that from the past on it. I think they shot one show in Germany for a promotional video. I would definitely like to get a DVD out because everybody else already has many DVDs and we have a long history with great footage from the years. Nuclear Blast has been asking but we have been so much concentrating on doing the ECLIPSE album that with promotion and the first shows so we haveńt really had the time to talk about it. I think after the summer festivals it would be nice, maybe if we do a US tour or something we could bring a few cameras and shoot a live show.
You and the guitarist Tomi Koivusaari are in a Finnish rock band called Verenpisara.
Oh yeah, Niclas is also there.
Can you tell me a bit about that band? Do you enjoy playing something that is not metal?
Well, there are some pretty metal things there but also something poppier and rockier and even some ethnic folk stuff. In a way it́s my project with a friend who is the singer and who writes poems, not lyrics, but crazy poems. I just asked Tomi and Niclas if they wanted to come and play and we have done three albums so far and done maybe 50 shows so it fills up the time table. When therés nothing to do we can always do an album or a tour. It́s like a hobby that meets work but it́s still like a real band, not just a side project.
But it’s not your main project?
Well, it really cańt be. We have periods when we do the Finnish band and when we do Amorphis but we dońt mix those things or have to cancel any shows. Tomi is even playing in Pasís band so he has three bands. I think that́s the way because you cańt fill up your time table with one band so you can always do a couple of other bands.
What else are you doing when yoúre not occupied with Amorphis or Verenpisara?
I have a studio with our bass player so sometimes if we get lucky we are working there to do some demos or CDs. Jeff Walker, the Carcass singer, did a crazy country solo album in our studio, pretty heavy country songs but it́s a crazy album. I think it́s out now on a US label. But I like to work in the studio.
That’s the CCPC studio, I believe. What does the letters CCPC stand for?
Actually, when I was a kid I was on holiday in the Soviet Union and my father bought the craziest posters there, which we decorated with, so it́s CCCP just like the Soviet Union but we had a PC computer and changed it to CCPC. I think it́s turning into CCMac and then we have to change the name…
So you stay busy with recording in the studio with other bands?
Sometimes. It goes like the seasons. Sometimes you get five bands and have to say you dońt have the time, sometimes you have to wait for two months for someone to call you. It́s not like a commercial studio so we dońt really advertise for ourselves. It́s just for the interest and studying musical technology, especially for our own demos so we dońt have to book a studio, we can just go there.
You recorded most of FAR FROM THE SUN, I believe, in your studio.
Yeah, we recorded overdubs and stuff, but not the vocals. The drums were done in a big room and the vocals were done in another studio.
Did you do anything on ECLIPSE in that studio?
No, we did the whole thing in a new studio that gave us a good time and we wanted to check out the studio. I think it was a really good choice.
As a keyboard player, what other players do you respect that are in the scene at the moment? It seems like most bands in Finland have a keyboard player, like Nightwish, Stratovarius, Children of Bodom, theýre all very prominent with keyboards. Are you into those or do you mostly listen to the classic bands like Deep Purple?
Yeah, I like the old classics. 70s Rainbow and Deep Purple and even Led Zeppelin where John Paul Jones did some weird stuff. I think one of the best players in the scene is the Stratovarius guy, Jens Johansson, but hés not doing his best right now. I used to listen to him when he played with Yngwie Malmsteen, hés really talented, but in Statovariuśs music there is so little to do, it́s based on the beat and the vocal melody. So I haveńt listened that much to Jens since he went to Stratovarius but I remember when he played with Yngwie Malmsteen. Jon Lord of course is an organ god! I like the British band Oziric Tentacles but I cańt remember the name of the guy, but therés great keyboards. It́s more like trance music but they play live, freaky stuff.
Amorphis was one of the first Finnish metal bands I ever heard, along with Sentenced. What do you think about the Finnish metal exports?
Well, there’s these monster guys, Lordi, who just won the Eurovision song contest. I think it́s kid́s stuff, but Finland has been trying to win it for 30 years so I guess that is great. There are some great Finnish metal bands, but Ím not sure about the export thing because at the moment the trend is that they sing in Finnish. Nightwish are huge and Children of Bodom, I heard they are doing a tour with Slayer. They are big already but I think they will be bigger.
Yeah, they play over here now and then, unlike many other Finnish bands. Stratovarius never tour in North America.
Really? Jens must have some trauma from the 80s! There are some other Finnish newcomers, but I dońt know what́s going to happen to them since the biggest ones are doing it in Finnish.
So what do you attribute the explosion of Finnish bands internationally in the last five or ten years to?
I think we came pretty late to the rock music. In Finland there were some bands in the 70s that even gained some enthusiasm in other parts of the world, but I think it́s a generational thing. Ím now 32 and when I was 15 almost everyone was playing guitar. There were bands in every cellar and with the guys younger than us, there are so many bands! Everybody is playing and there are even some schools where they teach them to play. That must be the reason, it́s not rare to have a band. We had ONE band in the 80s, that was Hanoi Rocks! The only one. Everyone was wondering how the hell it was that every country had lots of bands and we had one. I think the generation before us concentrated on drinking and smoking, I dońt know what happened. They played some rhythm and blues but Finland was pretty late with rock. I think it has helped that the old-fashioned heavy metal has come back. It was dead in the 90s but since 2000 there are millions of bands that play 80s music and sell a lot of records.
So what is next for Amorphis that you can tell me about? Anything going on that you want to include?
Actually, in Finland we have a new single. “The Smoke” is released as a single, so let́s hope we get some airplay for that. Wéll do some summer festivals almost every weekend but let́s hope that after summer we can do a tour in the US and Canada. It would be nice, the band will get depressed if we dońt hear about a US tour soon (laughs).
Does Amorphis get played on the radio stations much in Finland?
A little bit, yes. We don’t get all that much airplay but luckily some of the commercial radios that used to play Lynyrd Skynyrd and Eagles and stuff like that changed generations and now they play Dio and Van Halen and AC/DC so those kind of radio stations play our stuff too. They play the music of our generation, so it’s nice. Maybe we have to make poppier songs, airplay is always about the easy structure.
Here we get no Amorphis or hardly no metal on the radio here. We’re lucky to even hear AC/DC. Sadly, that’s about as intense as it usually gets on the radio here.
Here, it’s getting a little bit better. It used to be like that here in the 90s. Now it́s getting better all the time.
OK, that’s everything I had for you so thanks to you for your time!
OK, thank you. We’ll see you hopefully in Canada in the late or early Autumn.