Interview with Esa Holopainen of Amorphis

The guitar player talks about his new project Silver Lake, incredibly talented singers and a Finnish Legend

Artist: Silver Lake By Esa Holopainen

Origin: Finland, international

Genre: Progressive Rock, Progressive Metal

Label: Nuclear Blast Records

Link: https://www.facebook.com/SilverLakeEH

Band members:

Guitars – Esa Holopainen

Guest musicians:

Vocals – Jonas Renkse, Håkan Hemlin, Einar Solberg, Vesa-Matti Loiri, Tomi Joutsen, Björn ‚Speed‘ Strid, Anneke Van Giersbergen
Background vocals – Ronny Hemlin, Netta Laurenne, Nino Laurenne
Bass – Pasi Heikkilä
Keyboards – Vili Itäpelto
Drums – Sampo Haapaniemi, Gas Lipstick
Flute and Saxophone – Janne Huttunen
Kantele – Anu Itäpelto

HIER geht’s zur deutschen Übersetzung des Interviews.

Esa Holopainen, guitarist and co-founder of Amorphis, is an institution in the metal scene. In the course of his first solo album in over 30 years in the music business, we were able to talk to the charismatic Finn. Silver Lake contains not only Esa’s songs, but also a whole army of talented singers. But just read for yourself what the veteran has to say.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
Hi Esa, first of all thanks for your time. Nice to talk to you. The first question is always the same these days: I don’t wanna talk about Covid too much, but I still want to ask if you and your family are healthy? How is the current situation in your hometown?

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
Thank you. We‘ve been in good health. No issues with the Coronavirus in our family. I guess it’s the same thing as everywhere. People were optimistic at the beginning of summer about the cases. There were not that many. Unfortunately, we have the delta variant going on here in Finland with spreads much more than the source. But we‘ve still been able to do a couple of festivals and it looks like everything is opening up little by little. The government is not checking the Covid cases anymore. They look more at the hospital cases and the deaths which haven’t increased at the moment because the population who are getting the virus are young people between 20 and 30. The vaccine program is proceeding pretty well. Half of the population got the two shots already. I’m optimistic but a bit unsure about the future.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
Let’s talk about something happier: Congratulations on your first solo album in over 30 years in the business. Silver Lake is out for over two months now. How satisfied are you with the result and the reactions so far?

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
I’m really happy with the result. I was very happy when the album was done and I heard what we’ve created here. It was clear to me for quite a long time how the album is going to feel like, the direction music-wise and how is it going to sound like. It’s always great when you finish an album, finally, get it out and get the reactions from the people. It’s been really positive feedback. You never know how people would react. I’m a guitar player from a Metal band so I don’t know if people expected a more „metalish“ touch in it. I try to approach more to the music from my musical influences and how I like these singers to be heard. The result is a very emotional album. I’m really happy with the reactions of the people.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
You’ve already mentioned that many solo records especially from guitar players sound exactly like their main band or at least like self-congratulation. Are you tired of those albums, cause you made Silver Lake much more song orientated?

Esa Holopainen

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
This was the approach and my idea about doing a solo project. I always kept myself as a songwriter. I’m a guitar player in Amorphis but as well I write lots of music. I always enjoy the process of writing music. I enjoy writing solid songs with a good structure and keep them interesting in another way than just with guitars. This sounds stupid but I really enjoyed making this album. If I felt like some parts didn’t need many guitar tracks or guitars at all then I just didn’t play or play quite less. Those were the moments making this album. I just let the music speak and I didn’t have to record tons of guitar tracks for nothing.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
Sounds like the right attitude.

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
[laughs] Yeah! I enjoy listening to songs that you can remember later. You can rely on nice songs, you wanna listen to them again. If you listen to technical stuff from a guitar player you don’t enjoy it that much even if you’re a guitar player yourself. You don’t remember anything about the song after you heard it. That wasn’t something I wanted to do.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
I think it’s the right way. I’m a Prog Metal guy and when I listen to solo records from guitar players of this genre it’s always like self-congratulation. Your record is more like a „grower“. When I wrote the review I listened to it three or four times and then I had to write something. Now two months have passed and I listened more and more to it and most of the songs are real „growers“.

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
Thank you! I’m really happy how it turned out. One of the greatest things about this album is that there are so many talented vocalists on it. The way I wanted to approach the songs is how I wanted these singers to be heard – like Jonas from Katatonia. When you listen to Katatonias acoustic live recordings with a more acoustic approach I think Jonas‘ voice is perfect there. That is something I wanted to do for the Silver Lake project. His voice works so well with acoustic songs.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
You led the right way to my next question: In my review, I stated that it seems a bit unfair in terms of vocal talent on the record. Jonas Renkse, Einar Solberg and the enchanting Anneke Van Giersbergen just to name a few. All have those voices that could also sing the ingredients of toast or whatever, and I would burst into tears of joy. All of them are from the Nordic or Scandinavian area. Is there something in the water, or what is the secret behind all these talents?

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
[laughs] I don’t know. There’s a bunch of great vocalists like everywhere – that’s life. 😀 I’m happy to have the good ones here. Almost every vocalist on the album has somehow touched me through the years. We toured together or met another way. Most of the people on this album are considered to be friends of mine. That was also one of the angles to have a synergy like that to come up with good things. The only person I haven’t met before was Håkan Hemlin, the Swedish actor and singer (Nordman). When you know that there’s a great connection and synergy it’s also pretty natural that you come up with good results.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
Almost like a child in a candy shop: You pick up this one and this one and also that one.

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
[laughs] That’s a good way to describe it. Some of the vocalists like Björn and Einar – they always surprise. They’ve been in the business for a long time but every time you hear them they always go a little bit further and surprise you in a good way. Those are the times when you listen to these guys and it’s just amazing how good they are.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
Good thing that you mentioned Einar and Björn cause I think they developed a lot over the last few years. Björn with The Night Flight Orchestra, especially when you know him from Soilwork. I’m a Leprous fan for years now and Einars voice is simply amazing.

Björn ‚Speed‘ Strid

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
He (Einar) is one of a kind. A vocalist like Einar rarely comes up. He truly is a talent. A funny thing was when I send the song Promising Sun to Björn. He replied that he likes the song and wants to work with it. He was one of the singers who wanted to do all the vocal arrangements by himself. I was keying on what he was going to do. I was awaiting a Soilwork type of his voice. More growling or aggressive vocals for verse lines and a clean chorus. Pretty much what we do with Amorphis. But when he sends the vocal tracks is was more or less like what he does with The Night Flight Orchestra. It was a positive surprise, that he came up with that. [laughs] He gave the song a new perspective.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
Is there any singer you wanted to have on the record, but at least it wasn’t possible?

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
Yes, we asked Amalie Bruun from Myrkur. I would have loved to do a song for her but unfortunately, she was doing her own stuff at this moment and was too busy with that. Perhaps with the next album. She’s one of the artists that I really like and admire. I would love to work with her and it looks like I’m going to do another album (AN: Sounds good).

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
Are you planning to bring a few of the singers on stage for a Silver Lake live performance, or is it just a studio thing?

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
I would love to do that. I’m pretty realistic when the Covid situation is gone it would be a bit easier. But when the world is open again for touring most of the singers are going to be really busy with their own projects. I was contacted by promoters who would like to do shows for this project. Logistically it’s going to be a slight nightmare [laughs]. But I definitely would like to do this and give it some time at some point. Let’s see if there is a time to have at least most of the singers available. I could imagine doing this at some festivals. But this is not going to happen this or next year.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
There are lyrics from your guests on Silver Lake, and there are also your own words, is it right?

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
Yes, that’s correct. The lyrics were written pretty much half and half. We have one poem which was written in 1885 or something like that. This is the song Alkusointu performed by Vesa-Matti Loiri. An old Finnish poem about a world creation story. Jonas wanted to work with his own lyrics. Most of the other lyrics were written by me.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
Which song contains the most personal lyrics?

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
The most personal lyrics are Ray Of Light which contains feelings about mental issues. When I was younger in the early 90s when we were active with Amorphis I suffered from panic attacks. It was a wild period of my life. At that time I wasn’t diagnosed in any way. I had to suffer and force myself to go out from the door to the market or doing shows with Amorphis. But I struggled out of it. Why I wanted to write about mental issues is more because of the younger generation. They’re having more and more depression and different sorts of mental issues. It was a topic to deal with and talk about even if it’s only for one song. It’s a good reminder that we should take care of each other, especially the younger generation (AN: Word!).

Other than that there are some fairytales from Kalevala [laughs] (AN: Finnish book of mythology). The song I did for Tomi called In Her Solitude is very inspired by the world of Kalevala and the mythical topics that we’ve done with Amorphis as well. But Ray Of Light is the most personal lyrical theme.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
This answer gave me a shiver down my spine cause I also struggled with depression for many years. It’s one of the main topics in the last interviews and our podcast as well. Especially in terms of Covid and the lockdowns, being alone etc.

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
Usually, for people who haven’t struggled with any sort of mental issues, it’s hard to understand how hard it affects your life. When you get the feeling that there is no tomorrow. But I think there is always help and somebody you can rely on. Even if it’s a podcast or a YouTube channel where people can share their symptoms. I remember the days back in the 90s and the world is different today. I was suffering from symptoms that weren’t diagnosed and you could only take care of yourself.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
You already mentioned it. One of my favourites and the most surprising songs on the album is Alkusointu with the spoken word performance of Vesa-Matti Loiri. How did it come to this? Is he your childhood hero?

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
He’s probably the most famous Finnish actor. His singing career as well as his acting career started already in the late 60s. He hasn’t been that active in the last couple of years. He’s now 76 years old. The connection is an old friend from childhood with whom I started the first bands back in the days – Pete Eklund. These days he is a film producer and also a manager for several Finnish actors. He’s managing Vesa-Matti Loiri. This idea came up in the studio. Nino, my producer also knows his manager Pete – we are mutual friends. We contacted him with our crazy idea to have a voice actor for the song doing a spoken word thing. He talked to Vesa-Matti and we send him the song and lyrical concept. To our great surprise, he liked everything that we’ve done there. That was one of the greatest moments doing this album. Meeting your childhood hero, an old man telling great stories. The even bigger surprise for me was that my friend Pete also wanted to do a music video. The way we got that arranged was pretty amazing. It‘s one of the most important and personal things I achieved in my career. I always will be proud of this song. It’s really special, even more for Finnish people. It’s got unbelievable feedback here cause this guy is a living legend.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
I feel the special chemistry between your songs and the voice of Jonas. Is it possible to get an Esa/Jonas record in the future, or do you even have Silver Lake part two in your mind?

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
I have part two in my mind, the only thing I need is time. It would be great to collaborate and do a whole album with Jonas. I’m such a big fan of this guy and his voice. He’s one of the most talented guys that I ever met, sich an unbelievable vocalist. I was so stunned by the vocal tracks I received from Jonas. I already thought about doing a whole album with him someday. But he’s very active with Katatonia as well as I am with Amorphis so doing an album would take time. Definitely, something I would love to do.

Another Silver Lake Album I’m absolutely going to do as soon I have some time.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
The only positive way you can talk about Covid is the many records and collaborations that have been done. Maybe they would never have been done because of the time problems.

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
That’s true. The artists I worked with on the Silver Lake album had lots of things going on at the same time. I’m pretty sure we are going to see some more Covid albums. That shows how the people are. When the most important thing is taken from you, to be able to do your profession. When you can’t tour and do shows then you have to turn the coin, trying to be creative and write music.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
You’ve been touring together with many of the guys from Silver Lake, some of them are your friends. The funniest answer I got in the last couple of interviews was: „Yes, we did a record with these guys but I never met them cause we are spread all over the nations.“

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
That’s true and that has happened. I’ve been asked for some of these Youtube projects. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to do it. Usually, you have those collaborations with artists from the USA and play cover songs on YouTube. This is the most common way people worked during the Covid time. A good way to be creative.

Esa with Olli-Pekka Laine

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
To change the course a bit: Two years ago, you contributed some guitars to a song from the Finnish band Hevisaurus. A Band based on them also exists in Germany (Heavysaurus). What do you think about this way, bringing the Metal closer to the kids?

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
I think it’s great. I don’t know if you knew that my producer Nino is the guy behind Hevisaurus (AN: Nope). He writes the songs for Hevisaurus and plays the bass – also for the Silver Lake album. Nino is the reason why I did a guest appearance for them. He is an old friend of mine and I knew that they had this Hevisaurus thing going on. Of course, I wanted to put my five cents on it. This project works for many years now (AN: since 2009). Even my kids were really into Hevisaurus when they were younger. A big hit here in Finland. A funny way to get kids into Heavy Metal.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
Three years after Queen Of Time the fans of Amorphis waiting for new music. Can you give a little insight into the latest phase of songwriting?

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
We’re almost finished with the recordings. There are a couple of additional instruments and vocal lines to finish. We’re working again with Jens Bogren. We’re travelling a little between Finland and Sweden. When we started recordings we had to do it in Finland because of the Covid situation. Last May I had the chance to fly over to Sweden to record my guitars in Jens‘ studio. It’s a remotely produced album but it’s coming up together really well. It took more time than we expected. Usually, we spend a couple of months. We started in February and we are finishing in August. It’s been quite a long project. It should be mixed in September and it’s coming out in February 2022. I’m really happy with the song material. I can’t wait for the final result. When you work with Jens Bogren you get some nice surprises.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
Lately, we made a column about the „best albums of all time“, I would be interested in your top three all-time favourites. Your three albums for a desert island, if you want.

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
Okay [long pause] it’s Deep Purple with Perfect Strangers. Then I had to say Pink FloydThe Wall. There are so many great albums. Let’s go with Powerslave by Iron Maiden.

Time For Metal / Florian W.:
All goods things come to an end. Esa, it was a pleasure to talk to you, thanks for your time. After Roine Stolt the second „guitar hero“ from the Nordic area [Esa laughs], I could talk to. I hope you enjoyed it, too? The last words belong to you.

Silver Lake / Esa Holopainen:
Thanks for the interview, really nice talking. I wish that the world will open soon and we can tour again and do another European tour with Amorphis maybe next year. And of course, get the Silver Lake album. I’m pretty sure that Amorphis fans and fans who are not into Amorphis both like the album.

Go to the review of Silver Lake:

Silver Lake By Esa Holopainen – Silver Lake By Esa Holopainen

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