About Me

Interview with Apocalyptica

Four friends and four cellos started covering Metallica, their major inspiration. Years later, a drummer was added to the line-up. Mikko Sirén (drummer) talked about his inspirations, the importance of being Finnish, the collaboration with Sabaton, the meaning of the latest album and many more. Let’s stand up and give a big round of applause for this nice guy and “Seek & Destroy” this interview.

M.I. - Hi there and good morning. I’m so thrilled to be doing this interview with you. How are you?

I’m doing great, thank you. We’re now just rehearsing for our next year’s tour. We´re building the live set up, after recording the latest “Cell-0” album. Now we need to run a place to social life, which is a bit of a bugger, but we will get there.

M.I. - Yes, indeed you will. 1993 was the year that started it all and it still keeps on going. What are your thoughts about it?

I think it’s unbelievable (laughs). I remember when I was a kid, I was always thinking that: “Why do bands break up?” I couldn’t understand it. I was just like: “That makes no sense, that you get to do the most amazing thing in the world and you have fans all around the world, then you decide to break up”. I couldn’t understand it. Nowadays, I think that it’s amazing that any band can be together more than one year. So, I think it’s amazing and a wonderful thing that we are still together, after all these years and we really enjoy making music. And now, with the latest creation we have done, “Cell-0”, we are super proud of the creator process and creation thing we have done and we are super eager to get to play to our fans.

M.I. - Yes, yes. Fans love the idea that you improve with all your records. That’s so good.

That’s good to hear (laughs).

M.I. - In 1996 you released the debut album called “Plays Metallica by Four Cellos” and it was the beginning for a band that has a lot to show us. How important are Metallica for you, musically speaking?

Oh, of course! That’s the essence of everything, that’s how everything got started. So, that’s super important. Apocalyptica’s always been about the need to go forward. We cannot stay still and we cannot just reproduce what we have been doing. So, in the beginning, as the guys started making that cover album of Metallica and to do the second album of the same stuff, already then, they thought: “We cannot keep on doing the same thing. We need to go forward!” So, they started to write their own music, then they started adding vocalists, a new instrumental crew, which some people thought was an absolute craziness. They brought in drums into the band, which was supposed to be just cellos, so the band is developing and going forward all the time. And now, that’s the only thing that keeps us alive and inspired, that we feel that we are doing something new and something remarkable. And now, in 2019, we did this anniversary tour for “Plays Metallica” and when we went back to our roots, we saw the reactions of the fans now in 2018 and 2019, and we realized how much our fans appreciate that we do that kind of stuff. And that brought us thinking that: “Maybe our next step forward, is actually taking steps backwards to where everything began”. So, we went back to the roots, to go forward now, but still that’s the same line, we’ve always had the need to go somewhere, we cannot stand still. We cannot repeat what we have been doing.

M.I. - Yes. That’s why people thought it was incredible that Antero (Manninen, also known as Mr. Cool) came back for the 20th anniversary of the album. That was incredible!!!

Yes, it was really nice of him to come back. He really wanted to do it then. I think that the tour would have not been possible without him being part of it.

M.I. - Yes, indeed. Back to cello… many people don’t think that cello could imitate the sound of a guitar and I know some people still can’t believe it. Is the idea still new for new fans or do people tend to think: “Oh yeah, cello can imitate several sounds”! What do you think?

Our goal is not to imitate a guitar. I think there are several kinds of effects, but we try to expand cello expressionism as an instrument. We tried the manic sound of the cello, the most classic, the most traditional possible, and then we gradually moved from there to the most extreme type, where we think no one has yet taken the sound of the cello. There are similarities to guitar sounds because we use guitar amplifiers and it has the same kind of effects that the guitar would use, but we use them all the time. Our goal is to maintain the originality of the cello, even when the sound is really distorted, so that there is something to focus on. If we think about what the instruments of the past did, as well as the organs, we see that in the late 60's, when the rock bands of the time started using them in their albums, they provided a development of that instrument. That is what we try to do.

M.I. - You have your self-titled album (“Apocalyptica”), that had two important guests: Ville Vallo (ex H.I.M) and Lauri Ylönen (The Rasmus) and they sang “Bittersweet”. Many people associate you this song and it still is one of the most expected songs in concerts. Do you agree?

Yeah, I agree. I think that a lot of people, who even didn’t know our band, found that song that I think has got a lot of emotional characters, and people relate to it.

M.I. - When I was at your show in Porto, people next to me only said that they were there for “Bittersweet”. I think that this is the most well-known song. In my perspective as a viewer, not as a journalist, you have greater songs than that.

Yeah, it’s a really respected and loud song and we enjoy to play it live, whenever we can and we’ve done lots of versions of it. We’ve done instrumental versions, we’ve done versions with one singer and two singers and whenever there’s a chance to play it live, we do it.

M.I. - During all your entire career, you had special guests from bands and solo artists, who sang in English and in more languages, such as Portuguese, German and French. Is it important to reach fans all over the world, singing in their native language?

I think it is and, when singing in different languages, there’s a different emotional attachment to a song. That happens in “Helden”, which we did together with Till Lindemann (Rammstein). When people hear the German language or Nina Hagen sings “Seemann”, there’s a totally different emotional aspect. For instance, when a person sings in Spanish, Portuguese or French, all these different languages we have used, and that’s also one gigantic dimension, the same as in classical vocal music. If a song is sung in Italian, English, or German, there’s absolutely a different vibe to the song immediately and that’s also one thing, that we want to include in our music that… even though a song, which would be sung in Portuguese, probably wouldn’t be exposed to as many people as a song that is sung in English, it still has got artistic qualities that couldn’t be achieved otherwise.

M.I. - Yes, especially because Portuguese isn’t an easy language for people to understand and sing. But you had a great guest Max Cavalera (ex Sepultura, Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy), that was a great help for you.

Absolutely. He’s an amazing guy and there was always a mutual respect, like how much we adore Sepultura and how Max is so supportive of us and he’s always been so encouraging and whenever he sees us, he wants to tour with us and it’s always great to see him.

M.I. - Yes, indeed. Mikko, where do you take your inspiration from (musically and lyrically speaking)?

My musical inspiration comes from a wide variety of things. I’m a big music lover and I love tons of different styles and I think in general, even subconsciously, you take inspiration all the time wherever you go. For the “Cell-0” album, my biggest musical inspiration, actually came from an older music synthesizer. I really fell in love with old synths last year and all that’s 80’s pop bands, which use synthesizers and I just really felt in love for those particular arrangements. For the past few years, maybe 5, I’ve been listening to a lot of Afro American Hip Hop and stuff like that. So, those are maybe the one of the key influences for me.

M.I. - On 17th of April 2015, “Shadowmaker” was released with American musician, Frankie Perez. How did you reach for him?

We were then actually having a kind of closed auditions. We wanted to see how it’d be to collaborate with one person and do all the songs for one album, and the same guy could tour with us. And that was the initial need… how to find an old singer and then we had a closed audition, where we just asked from people, who knew people, to send tapes and Frankie’s very first tape was unique and particular. I like his qualities in his songs and he loves tons of different styles of music, from Cuban, traditional folk music, to different Spanish music that he loves and to Metal music to progressive rock music too. He was the clear choice for the all band.

M.I. - Yes. I follow his Instagram and, indeed, he’s a very talented guy. He can sing many genres of music. Very good choice for the album. I went to a show of that tour and it was magnificent, magnificent.

Thanks so much. It’s great to hear that.

M.I. - Finland, in 2017, celebrated its centenary celebration and you composed a song from the Finnish people’s DNA sequences, in co-operation with Visit Finland. Are DNA and History important for Finnish people?

Finnish people are quite… proudest maybe, not the right word. We appreciate our unique position in the world. We are not related to too many other nations and our language is different from all the others around us. So, that has always given us a certain a mystic mark. We are proud of it. We are reserved, calm, low key and we appreciate our heritage and background and also the DNA part of it. But I’m also proud that the Finnish nation is not too conservative. We, the Finnish nation, like to go forward. We don’t want to be stuck in the past. I think we’ll be more united as a mankind and move ahead.

M.I. - Yes. Finnish people are known for being reserved, calm and don’t talk to strangers a lot.

Yes. I think you can say that.

M.I. - That’s the idea I have but you, being Finnish, are amazing. You are so friendly. You reach your fans, you speak to them. That’s incredible for a Finnish. I thought from the first time, in 1996, that you were Swedish. That was my idea.

(laughs). We’re nicer than Swedish people. I agree. But I think quite a few people, who travel around the world, change their perspective a little bit and have just more possibilities to see more similarities and more things too. Of course, it’s a privilege to travel. That’s the thing that makes you to be more open and social to people and what’s around us. That’s why, most of our band members are outgoing.

M.I. - So, Mikko, let’s talk a bit about the present and the future. But first, the present. You joined Sabaton, in late November, for a collaboration. “Angels Calling” is the name of the song. Could you explain the idea and concept for it, please?

The whole Sabaton thing, I think it to be like one thing. The thing that we go on tour with him, the things we make music together. We made the cover from their single of the last album and things that are still to come, alongside Sabaton, and we’re grateful for them. They said that they wanted to do a tour, like it was an era of a time. It’s just not a tour, but friendship.

M.I. - What is the meaning behind the title of this record (Cell-0)?

We’ve tried to focus on the environmental problems that surround us and try to tell people that our planet is in danger. Our main goal is to beware of it and try to preserve it for our future generations. So, the name of the album is an attention span and it will be released on the 10th January 2020.

M.I. - “Ashes Of The Modern World” was released on the 3rd November of this year. What does this title refer to?

It’s kind of a protest about what’s happening around us, environmentally speaking.

M.I. - What was the thought behind not including guest vocals or a primary vocalist in this record?

The idea was to go back to our past days and see if it still worked. We wanted to play hard, instrumental Metal music, like in the old days and see if the fans would still like it. 

M.I. - Will you come to Portugal (Porto and Lisbon)?

I hope so, because we have a huge connection with the Portuguese people and the fans. You are incredible. That doesn’t depend on us, but the managers. I really want to go back to your country again.

M.I. - Thank you so much. Would you like to leave a message for our readers and Portuguese fans?

Thanks so much for the love and support. You’re amazing and can’t wait to be back again. Cheers.

For Portuguese version, click here

Interview by Raquel Miranda