Talking from a small island he owns off the coast of Finland, Paavo Lötjönen, bass cellist of Finnish classical musicians turned metalheads, Apocalyptica, is watching the pier where his fishing boat bobs on gentle waters.
The sun is shining, there’s a strong wind, and he’s enjoying a nice summer, he says. For a man who declares he doesn’t really like interviews, who is shy by nature and quietly reserved, a retreat like the one Lötjönen describes is arguably necessary when you’re a member of a rambunctious band who’ve played more than 2000 shows and released eight studio albums in their 26-year tenure.
“I’m a person who loves quietness and nature,” Lötjönen says gently. In several of his video interviews, Lötjönen is laid back, and not necessarily as boisterous as when Apocalyptica take to the stage in a fury of amped up strings and crashing lights. “I hate talking,” Lötjönen says through nervous giggles. “To get a good balance I need quiet in my own time, to be at peace. I love people but somehow I want to be alone, as well.”
For many people to hear that it might seem a striking statement, given that Lötjönen performs in a band who play extremely loud, emotive, and ambitious heavy metal – it’s a dichotomy, but one Lötjönen is comfortable with. “As a person, I have a lot of fire in myself, even though I’m really calm,” he says. “As a performer, there is a lot of fire and energy inside us.
“And if we’re talking about [our] music, nothing is strong if there is no contrast. There needs to be contrast, some sensitive and quiet, to bring up energy on the other side. Nothing is heavy if there is no contrast – balance and dynamics brings the energy up.”
Lötjönen adamantly says he loves performing, however. It’s on stage with his band mates, Eicca Toppinen, Perttu Kivilaakso, and Mikko Sirén, the fire rises. “We love it, and we’re quite experienced at live performing.
“In Apocalyptica, we bring these things up, that there should be sensitive and emotional moments, then really energetic. That’s how we reach people.”
There were other ways Apocalyptica reached people in the beginning. The ingenuity of their 1996 debut album, Plays Metallica by Four Cellos, cello covers of some of Metallica’s greatest songs, changed what it meant to be a classical musician, and what it meant to be a contemporary musician. What inspired the band to take their knowledge as classically trained cellists and start playing heavy metal?
“We were fans of rock and metal music, and wanted to play together for fun – it worked out!
“In the classical music tradition, it’s changing all the time, so there’s a wall between the audiences and perform. It’s really rare for interaction between audience and performer – maybe the magic in Apocalyptica is we broke the barrier between.”
If you see Apocalyptica live, Lötjönen says, they need the audience to help them create the show together. “We can’t do it alone. Interactivity, we can give energy for the people and they will give us energy back, then we make it bigger. That’s our aim. Maybe that’s changed things in the classical world.”
With changes on both sides of the coin comes too, a collision of worlds. Apocalyptica will soon bring their unique symphonic metal to some of our most prestigious classical halls, performing their seminal Plays Metallica album in full at Melbourne Hamer Hall, Brisbane’s Fortitude music Hall, and the iconic Sydney Opera House. Coveted and world-renowned venues, the delivery of Apocalyptica’s music adapts for the combining of the classical locale and the heavy metal demographic. “Acoustics can be challenging,” says Lötjönen, “First half of the show we’ll play Four Cellos, a contemporary act with a lower volume. 45 minutes of instrumental music is challenging for the people but it helps when they know the songs.
“There are ten-year-olds, young kids, then 60-year-olds, so the audience is a real heterogenetic, big range of different people.
“There will be classical people and metalheads and all the audience, everyone will be standing by the end and singing with us! It’s a big family in the end, I can’t wait for that.”
Catch Apocalyptica in concert this September – tickets available online via MJR Presents.