Esa Holpainen Interview

Nuclear Blast

Amorphis guitarist Esa Holopainen is releasing his solo project Silver Lake By Esa Holopainen. It includes numerous guest vocalists such as Jonas Renske (Katatonia), Anneke van Giersbergen, Bjorn “Speed” Strid (Soilwork) Einar Solberg (Leprous) and his Amorphis bandmate Tomi Joutsen. I spoke with Holopainen about this project, whether he plans to play live to support it, the status of the next Amorphis album, the impact of the Covid pandemic on the music industry and other topics.

Chad Bowar: You’ve been working on some solo material for a while. What led everything to coalesce to make this the right time to release an album?
Esa Holopainen: I guess it was the pandemic situation that happened, and I think that was the kickstart for me. I realized that I’m not going to be that busy when it comes to touring or doing shows with Amorphis. Another thing was that my friend who was running a studio here, and he’s a producer as well, he gave me a call and asked if I would be interested in working on a solo album. He remembered that we were talking about that already a couple of years ago in a bar, drunk. After a couple of beers, it’s always the same discussion: yeah, it would be nice to work together and do something together, and he remembered that and he gave me a call. And that’s how it started,

I started to check what I have on my computer, and I had a couple of songs that I never used anywhere. They were too different to offer to any Amorphis session and anywhere else. But I liked them and that’s why I kept them aside if something ever happens. So that’s how that got started. I really liked the songs, and the first three songs became “Sentiment, “Promising Sun” and “Ray Of Light.” That’s how the backbone of the album got together.

Who else is involved in the musical side besides yourself?

I played everything on the demos, I did the keyboard arrangements bass arrangements, drum programming myself. I was actually prepared to play the bass lines and keyboards, but the producer said it’s better to use good studio guys. That was a good decision because their input was truly amazing.

How did you decide which vocalists to ask to participate on the album?
I mainly selected vocalists that I truly respect and like myself. I am a big fan of each of these vocalists’ music and bands. Every one of these vocalists have a creative and unique touch. The music on this album is very versatile, and I needed dfferent kinds of singers as well. That’s pretty much how it started. If I take a song like “Ray Of Light,” which almost has a pop approach, the only person I knew and I could imagine tp work with that song was Einar from Leprous. And then I sent him the song and he liked it. The same thing happened with Jonas (Renske) and Bjorn (Strid) and with everyone. There were these little nuances that I knew would fit for these vocalists and that’s how I picked the vocalists. I just didn’t randomly send any song to them, I really took care that there is something that these vocalists can rely on.

There are a couple that you chose that North American fans probably aren’t familiar with.
Håkan Hemlin, who sings “Storm,” the first single, his background is in folk music, and he’s a Swedish singer in a folk duo called Nordman. They were really popular all over Scandinavia during the ’90s, and they had a couple hits here and they played stadiums in Sweden, so they were huge. I don’t know what happened with the band. Håkan got through an addiction problem, and he even wrote a book about it. He’s doing fine now, but he had an alcohol and drug problem. That’s probably one of the reasons why Nordman wasn’t active for quite a while. We got a bit lucky with him. I didn’t know anyone who could do this song when we were working with it. I told my producer that I don’t know anyone who could sing this. I know what kind of voice I would like to have, but I don’t know anyone, and he suggested Håkan. We asked him and he really got into the song and I think it turned out amazing.

Another guy is Vesa-Matti Loiri, he’s the most famous Finnish actor and a singer. He’s 76 years old, but he’s got a huge career behind him. He’s done a lot of movies. His recording career started in the ’60s, and he’s a big celebrity here. The reason I wanted him was that he’s got such a charismatic voice. The dynamics in his voice are just unbelievable. My approach was to have this Orson Welles type of spoken word narrator for the song.

How was “Storm” chosen as the lead single?
We have about four singles coming out from this album, and I think why we picked that as the first single was that we got the great opportunity to shoot the video in the Canary Islands, and that was perfect timing for the video and for the single. I thought it was a good idea because I wanted to introduce Håkan to a little bit wider audience. The video has already got quite a lot of YouTube views and I really didn’t expect that to happen, but it’s got really good response already.

Since you had already been working with Nuclear Blast in Amorphis, I imagine that end of the process was pretty smooth for your solo album.
Yes, it was. Absolutely. It wasn’t clear when I started to work with this project that I would have a record label. To be honest, I was prepared to release this album by myself. I just wanted this process to start and after a couple of songs I got contacted by Nuclear Blast and they wanted to release it. It was a very natural choice for me because we’re there with Amorphis, and Amorphis management is also working closely with Nuclear Blast and they are managing my project as well, so everything just clicked. I got a decent budget for the album, which was a great help.

would you like to be able to go and support this album by playing live?
I like the idea. Even before the first single was released I was contacted by a couple promoters who asked if I thought about the Silver Lake project as live as well. Absolutely. I would love to do at least one or two shows, but it’s really tricky to get all these people for one show or two shows in the same place. Especially when the world opens again for live music, everybody is going to be really busy with their own bands and tours. I know when it comes to Amorphis, we will release our next album early next year, and we’ll start to tour then. I don’t see any time period when I could really focus on doing Silver Lake live. The most realistic would be probably be trying to do it at some festivals.

Just before your album is released, a live Amorphis album came out. Was that timing planned, or just how it happened to work out?
It was really funny how it turned out. We started to work on the Amorphis live album last year. Originally it was going to be released as a bonus vinyl on a huge vinyl box set that Nuclear Blast is releasing. That box includes all Amorphis album from the Nuclear Blast era and the live album. Then we had a second thought that it’s a little bit unfair that people have to pay 300 or 350 Euros to get their hands on this live album. So Nuclear Blast decided to do a proper release as well, because it really turned out that well. And then things just happened. Our release dates were scheduled close to each other, but it’s okay. I get a chance to talk about the Amorphis live album, and I have a chance to talk about the Silver Lake album.

You said that the next Amorphis album is coming out next year. How far along in the process are you?
We’re about halfway. I’m flying to Sweden next month to finish the guitars, and then I fly to Finland with our producer Jens Bogren to work with the vocals. Then it’s keyboards and then we’re pretty much done beside some additional instruments. So I would say we are mixed and done by the end of summer.

You mentioned that the pandemic spurred this album along. On the personal side, how has the pandemic affected you and your family?
Not that bad. I got the chance to spend more time with my family at home, and in that way it’s been really nice. But other than that, it’s pretty horrible what it cost the music industry. The whole ecosystem in the music business lost their work, and there’s no way they can do any work. Musicians, we can create, do albums like this, or try to find some alternative ways. But for technicians and people who have companies that are based on renting equipment and lights, it’s pretty horrible. I’m worried about these people and if they will survive this whole thing until we get back to live music again.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
I hope people will be open minded and get into the Silver Lake album. It shows a slightly different musical side from me and there’s a bunch of great musicians and vocalists in there. Something for everyone, I think.

(interview published May 28, 2021)

Watch Silver Lake By Esa Holopainen – “Storm” Video

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