About Me

Interview with Bjørkø (Tomi Koivusaari - Amorphis)

Amorphis guitarist Tomi Koivusaari steps into his own spotlight with Bjørkø, his long-awaited solo project and debut album "Heartrot", will be released this December through Svart Records. The album features an all-star lineup of vocalists in multiple languages. The talent of Waltteri Väyrynen (Opeth, ex-Paradise Lost), Lauri Porra (Stratovarius), and Janne Lounatvuori (Hidria Spacefolk) adds a rock-solid foundation to Koivusaari's artistry.
Metal Imperium caught up with Tomi to find out all the details behind this interesting solo project. 

M.I. - Hello! It is a pleasure talking to you! How are you doing?

I'm fine, just preparing to leave for an European tour tomorrow morning. We will play in Switzerland and so I’m packing today.

M.I. - I’ve been a fan for many years... in fact, the first time I saw Amorphis live here in Portugal, you played with Kyyria and you were the vocalist! Do you remember that gig?

Yeah, I remember those days! I remember those gigs!

M.I. - But we’re here to talk about your solo project! How did the idea of naming the band BJØRKØ come up? It is actually somehow related to your own surname Koivusaari, right?

Yeah, I was thinking about it for a while and it felt a bit stupid to use my name Tomi Koivusaari, so I came up with the idea of turning my last name into Swedish which is like Birch Island. So, at first, it felt good but still sounded a little bit jerk and you know the Icelandic artist... and so I decided to put it in Norwegian and that's how it came up. It sounded good, so it was a good decision.

M.I. - Why did you feel the need to create this project? When did the idea come to your mind?

Well, the first time it came to my mind was almost 15 years ago, because I had so many songs, some unfinished ideas which I couldn't use in with Amorphis because they sounded so different that I had no idea how to use those. Sometimes I was searching in my hard drive and I was thinking “Okay, I should do something about this someday!” but I couldn't decide what it could be. So, then, I had a feeling that maybe I should put out something like a solo album just for fun but we've been so busy with the Amorphis for the last 15 years, and I couldn't find any time for it and I couldn't decide what direction or what kind of music it should be. When Covid hit, Amorphis had already recorded the “Halo” album and the pandemic was still going on so I just started to check out the old stuff and decided to make 8/10 songs and put them out... without thinking musically how it should be! I was just testing it song by song and I started to search the singers for the songs, so it started to roll like a snowball! Yeah, but I don't know if I ever would have had the time to do this without the pandemic.

M.I. - So, covid was a “good” thing for you, right?

In a way, for this project! I needed to have something to do.

M.I. - You wanted to release this album when you turned 40 but However, you’ll be releasing it this year, which is the year you turned 50.

Yeah but I didn't have the songs ready then. Originally, 15 years ago, I was thinking that it would be cool to release something when I turned 40 but it never happened and the songs weren't ready yet. It was just an idea on the first time that I was thinking about that!

M.I. - If you had in fact released this album when you turned 40, ten years ago, do you think the final result would be similar to the actual result or completely different?

Yeah, I'm sure, because at that time I was thinking more in the direction it should be, that it should have some kind of genre, but this time I didn't even want to think about it, I'm just getting the songs ready and putting them out.

M.I. - Supposedly you didn’t want a traditional approach to limit your artistic expression. In your opinion, has this goal been achieved? The two singles out are completely different... the first one no, but the second one is completely different from what one might expect from a metal head.

Right! I know! Well the latest one is easily the softest song of the album! I think all the songs are very different comparing to each other but still they're more or less a heavier kind of music. But this one just turned out softer because it was supposed to be an instrumental at first. It was a 10-minute long instrumental with several parts and then I asked Mariska to sing in it and then we had to do very radical changes to the song, make it simpler and shorter and make it more like a song. So that's how it came out but, yeah, my goal wasn't to do very different kinds of songs. I was thinking one song at the time and I was thinking who could be a great singer for it and things like this. When I had 8/10 songs ready, then I just stopped and listened to all of that together and started to think what could be the song order and it was very difficult, of course, because it's full of different kinds of songs and three different languages like Icelandic, Finnish and English, so it wasn't an easy job to do! That was my goal: to do it without thinking too much and going with the intuition!

M.I. - Does the album reflect your personality? Do you think it shows the listener the true essence of Tomi?

Yeah, of course, I think so! It's not a happy album or joyful music, it's quite melancholic like I guess I am as well. I never think about it that way, but yeah of course, all music comes from me, so it tells something about me at least!

M.I. - It’s your first album as a solo artist but you are very well-accompanied by many guest vocals and collaborations, namely Jeff Walker (Carcass), Waltteri Väyrynen (OPETH, ex-PARADISE LOST), Lauri Porra (STRATOVARIUS), and Janne Lounatvuori (HIDRIA SPACEFOLK). Were these guests always on your mind or did they come up as time went by? How did they react to your invitation? Did they say “yes” straight away?

Well, at the time I was doing this, I was mostly in the countryside, in my cabin, in the middle of winter. I was working with one song at a time and I started to almost hear what kind of voice it should have, what kind of language it should be in and what kind of singing. I just thought “Okay, this could be perfect for this singer or this singer”. Some of the singers I knew before and some I didn't, so I messaged them via Instagram “Hey, I have this kind of project! Are you interested?” and everyone said yes. It was very fast as well, because when I sang the demo version of the song, it a few days or maybe a few weeks after, they sent it back with full vocal parts. I didn't give too many directions or anything like that but I gave them free hands to do what they wanted. For some vocalists, I was sending lyrics and ready arrangements but some of the singers were doing it by themselves and it was funny, because it sounded very much like what I was imagining. I was very happy to get everyone in this project!

M.I. - Do you sing any of the songs?

Yeah, I do half with Tomi Joutsen in one song.

M.I. - But was it never an option for you to sing all the songs? I mean, you used to be Amorphis’ main vocalist.

Yeah, at some point I was playing with that kind of thinking but very soon I realized there's maybe two, three songs with a growling voice... and I cannot sing, like real sing, so I didn't think about that because it's too much for me, even to sing in the shower to myself I never tried it! But I did one song with Tomi Joutsen, Amorphis’ singer. He was like “We're going to do this as a duet!” and I said “Okay, let's do it!”.

M.I. - Just want to say that “Tales from the thousand lakes” is one of my favorite albums and you sing in it, so you actually can sing, well you growl more, but it's great, so if you growled in songs in this album it would be awesome! Jeff Walker of CARCASS seems to be the fitting choice for one of the heaviest tracks on the record “The Heartroot rots”. Did he (and the other guests) leave his personal mark on the track or did you tell him how you wanted the track to sound? Did Jeff write this song or were you the one who wrote it?

Half of the songs are made by the singers themselves and half of the songs are written by me and my childhood friend Jussi who plays with me in Abhorrence as well. While doing the lyrics we were discussing about what kind of lyrics I wanted, so those songs, that song particular, he knew already that Jeff was going to sing it so made the lyrics a little bit to fits to Jeff's mouth and it’s a little bit like Carcass.

M.I. - And the video is a bit like that as well!

About that song I still remember it very well because Jeff was sending me a message “I'm going to be in the studio in 1 hour! Can you send me a guide track like how I should sing?” and I was at home and my 12-year old son was eating breakfast next to me and I was growling the demo vocals at the kitchen table and he was looking at me like “Okay, daddy’s working!”.

M.I. - If half of the lyrics were written by you and your friend Jussi “Juice” Ahlroth and some of the singers (Mariska, Ismo Alanko, Jessi Frey, and Addi Tryggvason) wrote their own lyrics, how did you turn all these tracks into Tomi’s tracks? How can you consider this to be your solo album if you didn’t do it entirely?

Yeah, the music itself and the arrangement of each track, how it is in the album, is very much how it was in my own demos as well. But that's true in that sense, it's not fully my solo album because some of the singers were doing the vocal lines, arrangements, lyrics and also some melodies by themselves, but I wanted to have it that way as well, because even this if this is a solo album, I like to think of BJØRKØ as a band, because I like playing in bands and I've been playing for...

M.I. - ...forever…

Forever! I like it when outsiders have their way of how to play things and how it changes, it's more richer and fuller than if you just have one mind. But yeah, it's very much true that it's not completely my own songs when somebody else is doing the lyrics and vocal lines, but they're part of it!

M.I. - I know this album deals with emotions, probably sad emotions only! The second single is so sad... I don't understand a word, but it makes me cry, I don't even know why! What kind of feelings do you want the listener to feel when listening to the tracks?

It doesn't mean that I'm always sad but it's true that when it comes to music I like more sad, melancholic stuff than I like happy, joyful songs, I hate it frankly! If I listen to sad songs that makes me happy! It's not like I'm going to be sad because of a sad song but that's what I'm searching from the music. When I start to write music or start to test some things, I think what attracts me in music and if it sounds too happy or too... I don't know even the word... then I just abandon it. Those songs were composed in the middle of the night, in middle of a forest, in the middle of winter and it's not like you're jumping and dancing at the same time, it's more like going to a deeper place inside your head and to deeper emotions at the same time.

M.I. - What’s your personal favourite track of the album? Why?

Humm, that's not easy! I didn't even want to pick up the single songs because it was too difficult for me because I like them all! They all have their place but there are a couple very important! Well, every song is important and every singer is important to me, but especially the song “Värinvaihtaja”, which is in Finnish, and it's sung by Ismo Alanko. I've been listening to his music and respecting his ways to do music since I was 12 years old, as he's been doing many different things with different kinds of bands and with his solo career. I didn't have any idea if he was going to do this, because he's not normally doing “guest” things that much. When he said “Okay, I’lI do it”, I was very pleased, so that's the song that comes to my mind first now.

M.I. - Talking about exposure... tell us about the artwork... whose idea was it of having you featured in there covered in dying flowers? I mean, you come across as someone shy, and seeing a cover like this is very interesting because you are “kinda naked” as if you were actually exposing yourself and your true essence, metaphorically and literally speaking!

Yeah! I think I know what you mean! I had the idea not to make a traditional metal album cover in grey and black. So I was thinking it should be like an “out-of-the-box” kind of thing. There's one Finnish photographer, I saw his art, he's been photographing dead flowers with very strange light and it looks so spooky. So I asked him about making the cover but it never happened! He did some art for this album as well but not the actual cover. Then we went to take these pics of me with Sam Jansen and, by accident, his wife had these dead flowers that she was using for some project and Sam was asking me if we should take some pics with the flowers and I was like “Bling! That's the original idea!” and he didn't know about it! Just for fun he said “Take your shirt off!” and the pictures turned out so funny and totally something I didn't expect, so we decided to use one as a cover. Some can see it as a very happy cover, because there are flowers and I’m just chilling, but at same time they’re dead flowers and you don't actually know if the guy in the front cover is dead or alive. It has several meanings! If you see that album in a record store, in the heavy section, I'm sure you're going to notice it straight away because it's so colourful! 

M.I. - The title “Heartrot”... why did you choose it? Is it because your heart is rotting from the inside?

It came from the song “The Heartrot roots”. That was probably the most difficult part to think of: the album name! I was going swimming three days in a week for three months and, every time I was swimming, I was just focusing on a name/title for the album and I couldn't... I was thinking about very strange long names and nothing felt good, as it always was too artistic or too simple or whatever. So it just came from that song. At the same time, my last name is Birch Island, and there is the Birch tree and heartrot is also the name of the disease which starts to rot the tree from the inside. So it came from that... it doesn’t have a deeper meaning... I'm not roting... I don’t think so!

M.I. - If you had to categorize it according to genre, how would you define it? Soundwise, it will appeal to fans of which bands?

I think every band I've ever listened to, so I don't know! I think every music that I like has somehow “affected” these songs, so I cannot say! A couple of songs are old school death metal obviously from the late 80’s, very primitive old school death metal and some are very melodic and there are also a lot of influences from the 70’s rock music I guess, and some Finnish bands as well as mentioned before... so, I don't know! That's difficult but to me it’s also richer to have different kinds of styles! Okay, if this would be like a normal band, it could be too odd I think, but it is not, it's just some songs which maybe you could imagine as the soundtrack of my life and I put different kinds of songs under one name: BJØRKØ!

M.I. - So is this a one-album project or do you plan on making more?

Well, it was so fun, so I wish that someday I have the time and energy to do it again but I don't know when. I don't actually have any plans because now I'm just concentrating on Amorphis and Amorphis’ next album and touring but, yeah, if there will be another pandemic, then I'm definitely going to do the second one! Or without a pandemic, I don't know! I still have a lot of songs which I have never finished, so maybe, but I don't know if I’ll find some time!

M.I. - The album was produced by your longtime friend Nino Laurenne. Why have you opted for him? How much were you involved in the production? Were you present and pitching in your ideas at all times or did you leave it up to him?

No, we both produced it. I was the oneproducing all the songs and arrangements and when I asked him to join me, he was more like engineering and recording stuff and his ideas as well and mixing. So I would say we both produced it but he wasn't taking that much part in the actual song writing because sometimes we didn't agree on some decisions. Then I was like “Whose solo album is it?” and he would say “It's yours!”, so I was deciding everything. It was fun to work with Nino because we have known each other for so long and he's a great guy and it was very easy. If I am ever going to put out a second album from BJØRKØ, I am definitely going to ask Nino to join me.

M.I. - Apart from “The Heartroot rots” and “Magenta” will another single be revealed before the album’s release on December 1st?

Oh, I guess there will be one song on the same day the album comes out. That will be the one with Marco Hietala. And one month or a couple of weeks after the actual album will be released, one single more with Addi Tryggvason, that's the last one of the Finnish songs.

M.I. - Considering all the musicians involved in BJØRKØ are in other bands as well, is there any chance of you doing a tour to promote “Heartrot”?

Well, it's almost impossible to fix some gigs! Of course it could be possible because it's very band oriented stuff but when you have so many guys/girls from different bands, it's impossible to get everybody on the same day, on the same place to do a gig or anything else. It could be fun though but I don't know! Actually all I can do is do the interviews and, of course, it's the records’ company problem how to promote it!

M.I. - But you could do a release show at least!

It's impossible to have everyone on the same place! It's too difficult! Everybody is a professional musician who is traveling here and there all the time.

M.I. - Svart Records seems to be quite an ecclectic label and is kinda specialised in vinyl. Am I wrong?

No, you're right! They're making a lot of important things culturally as well, because they are releasing some of the smaller artists as well as putting out vinyls and taking out new editions. I know the Svart guys and they're based in Finland... some of the guys I've been known since I was 15 years old, when I was playing in Abhorrence, so it's easy to work with them. I'm happy Svart is doing it and I definitely wanted to have a vinyl, especially nowadays I think it feels more important than a CD.

M.I. - But I guess a musician like yourself probably had offers from many labels, and you chose Svart. Why? Is it because your band Abhorrence is also signed to them? Is it because they support Finnish bands?

No, because other companies were asking quite a lot of questions, saying that they didn't know how to promote this, they didn't know how to label this musically and saying it was too difficult. Svart said “Okay, we got it!” so I think that was one of the most important things to me.

M.I. - The green vinyl of the album includes a small bag of dried birch leaves (to be used to bring the scent of a fresh Finnish midsummer morning into any sauna near you). Who had this idea? Do you think it will actually sell more because of this? Sauna is quite important in Finland!

Well, I was in my cabin actually. I got this email from Svart and they said “We're going to put out some promotion tomorrow, we should fix some things. Normally we have bundles with a t-shirt or whatever with the album. Do you have anything special in mind?” and I was like “okay”. I saw in front of me a tree very similar to the birch tree and, when it's winter, there are no leaves in the trees and you can put them in water and when you are in the sauna it gives you this nice summery fresh smell, so that was the story of it. I was suggesting “Should we do it like this and put the logo there?” and that's all what came to my mind, as it was more original than just a normal t-shirt. But I don't know how easy it will be in customs when we send over the album with that kind of pack of green leaves! It can be very suspicious! 

M.I. - Tomorrow you'll be leaving for a tour with Amorphis and I won't take more of your time. I just want to say thank you for taking the time to answer my message, which I never expected, because sometimes “small” artists don't answer me and then seeing you replied I was like “wow!”

That's how I am handling things with this album, so I’m just sending Instagram messages and it works so…

M.I. -  I want to say thank you so much for all the music and for everything you've done for the underground, for being such a great musician! I hope to talk to you again someday! Have a great tour and I wish this album is a great success! Can you leave a message for the portuguese fans and our readers?

Thank you so much! Hope to see you in Portugal! 
Hello to our portuguese fans! It would be nice to have a gig there again as we always have a great time there and we’d love to see our friends from Moonspell as well. So I hope to see you soon, maybe at festivals next year or something.

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Sónia Fonseca