AMORPHIS’ Esa Holopainen Talks 30-Plus Years Of Band History - “My Mom Said ‘Music Is A Good Hobby, But You Should Get A Real Job’”

April 7, 2023, 10 months ago

By “Metal” Tim Henderson

feature heavy metal amorphis esa holopainen

AMORPHIS’ Esa Holopainen Talks 30-Plus Years Of Band History - “My Mom Said ‘Music Is A Good Hobby, But You Should Get A Real Job’”

For nearly 35 years, Finnish heavy metal legends Amorphis have been steadily building their unique brand of progressive folk metal with the odd nod to the gurgling death metal scene. It was 1994’s epic Tales From The Thousand Lakes that made the music world stand at attention and there’s been no looking back. Their latest album Halo, released last year, hit #1 on the Finnish charts and they recently tied a bow on their incredible career by releasing the English version of their mighty tome, Amorphis: The Official Story Of Finland's Greatest Metal Band. BraveWords caught up with longtime friend and main composer Esa Holopainen for a career-encompassing chat recently.  

BraveWords: So, after 30-plus years, what do you think is the glue that holds Amorphis together? What's the bond?

Holopainen: "I guess it's friendship, and the music. We've been friends for ages, for some of the guys we have known each other since we were kids. So I guess that bonds us. That bonds us and it's work, it's a job for every one of us. I guess that is pretty much something that connects us. And, we still have a love of doing what we do, to meet people, and travel, and play shows. We've been together now over 30 years. And we are still a solid band. We do tours and release new albums. Our career has been very stable and we have gotten further little by little. The years have brought more appreciation from the industry."

BraveWords: So, a slow, steady build. Baby steps, not Bigfoot steps.

Holopainen: "Yes, that's how it has been. And, I'm really happy, and I respect every day of our lives what we can do with Amorphis. This is not a very easy industry either. When COVID started and everything that happened with that, it really started to separate the bands. There were still bands that managed to do the tours and make a living from music, but then there was a major category of bands who realized otherwise, and especially because of the inflation of it, the war in Ukraine affected everything. Everything is super expensive now. There's bands who can't book tour buses anymore because it's too expensive. They can't do tours." 

BraveWords: And now there are so many tours that you can't even find a venue or a bus, because everyone's on the road.

Holopainen: "Yeah, that's the thing. And if you've put a lot of money into your tour, you still can't guarantee that you will pull the people. It's really tricky at the moment. 

BraveWords: Tell me about the book. How does it feel to have your life’s work laid out in such a manner. 

Holopainen: "The Finnish version came out a couple of years ago, and it took a lot of time to get it translated. A year later it got translated into Dutch, then a German version. Now, Decibel decided to get it translated into English. It's a very honest story about Amorphis and every one of us tells about - there's a lot of interviews, the author interviewed our parents and all the people connected to Amorphis in some way. Old members, label people, some label people they couldn't get connected to. It's a really honest book, really honest about how we felt about the old record deals and our relationships with different people and the relationships inside the band. 

BraveWords: Do you remember your first conversations with your family about choosing music as a career? Was it like, "No, you're not!”

Holopainen: "Yeah, that was pretty much it. ‘Yeah, music is a good hobby, but you should get a real job.’ Get yourself educated. For my mom it was a tough thing when I left school and I didn't want to continue school or go to high school or get any real education. But I already knew at that time that I just wanted to dedicate my life to music with my band members and to play together. It was that strong a feeling already, which was stupid, but without that feeling I don't think that I would be, or we would be, here."

BraveWords: Everyone has their stories about their first trip to North America. Do you remember the first US show? 

Holopainen: "Yeah, I remember. We were on Relapse Records, they were based in Pennsylvania at the time. We started the tour with Entombed, they had just released the Wolverine Blues album, and our Tales From The Thousand Lakes came out. So, we did a tour with them, and before that we did a promotion, four days in the Relapse office. And you know the land lines, you call out to different people and radio stations..." 

BraveWords: Like BraveWords?

Holopainen: "Yeah, BraveWords as well. And it was such a different time in that time. I only have positive feelings. The first shows, I don't know, it wasn't what you expected from the US because you thought that everything was huge and different, but you realize that they have the same shitty little venues that you have in Europe. In that way, it really wasn't much different. But we had a great time. During the tour we bought great albums that were released at that time, like the Danzig 4 album. We played that album and a lot of great music was released in that time, 1994. What else do I remember from that tour? You know, when you're young and you don't really have any reference to anything bigger, like tour buses, we were travelling with a van. And we were five guys in the band at that time, a sound guy from Finland, and another guy who helped us, so we were seven guys in the van. It was insane. We toured with that across the US. Some nights we booked a motel room and two guys went in and the other guys sneaked in after."  

BraveWords: That tour, let's back up, that was a big record for Entombed. They had a deal with Marvel Comics. It was this big major label (Columbia) priority, so there must have been a spotlight for you guys to open up that tour.

Holopainen: "It was, it was great. But afterwards we'd been touring the US and all the venues we remembered that were very big and fascinating, we thought that those looked like really crappy places. It wasn't that fancy, but it was, definitely Entombed has this bubbling under thing going on there. And we played in New York, I think that was the last show we played in the Limelight, the old church. There was a great club in there, and they had all these, I think they were Columbia Records, or the record label people there, and you really realized that they were pushing for Entombed, really trying to take them up to the next level." 

BraveWords: Were you close to LG?

Holopainen: "Yes. Yes."

BraveWords: The first four Entombed records get a helluva lot of play at BraveWords. 

Holopainen: "They are great records. For me, they are the Entombed records. Left Hand Path, Clandestine was alright, but Wolverine Blues, and... 

BraveWords: To Ride, Shoot Straight And Speak The Truth.

Holopainen: "Yeah, exactly. 

BraveWords: Absolutely excellent. What do you think about that Sunlight Studio sound? That grinding, chainsaw sound? 

Holopainen: "Yeah, you know we recorded our first three albums there as well. And we became good friends with Tomas Skogsberg who owned the studio. And when we got the opportunity to record there, because at that time, during the ‘90s, I think there were only two really fascinating studios where people wanted to record their death metal albums. One was in Florida, Morrisound, and the other one was in Stockholm, Sunlight. So they both had this own trademark sound and we really wanted to travel over to Stockholm and record our albums there, and luckily Relapse, our label, wanted to push for us and they hired Tomas to work with us. We ended up doing three albums, The Karelian Isthmus, Tales From The Thousand Lakes, and Elegy in Sunlight Studio. But Tomas was a punker, and he was totally different from what we expected in the studio. Like, in the basement, a really crappy little home studio, where he made his trademark sound. And he had electric drums that bands used and stuff that you really couldn't really believe that this guy was making his trademark sound from those."

BraveWords: What you you think about Bloodbath bringing that Florida death metal sound to Sweden? 

Holopainen: "I think it's great. Those guys are great musicians and you can't go wrong with that."

BraveWords: Why isn't Katatonia one of the biggest bands on the planet?

Holopainen: "Katatonia? That's a good question. For me, I think Jonas Renske is one of the greatest vocalists around here. His voice is amazing. I don't know why. I love Katatonia. It's an amazing band. That's a good question. If you ask me, they definitely should be somewhere else than where they are at the moment."

BraveWords: Meanwhile Bloodbath is paying the bills. 

Holopainen: "Haha, right."

(Live photos by Mark Gromen)

Latest Reviews