For the past 25 years, Apocalyptica has been polarizing opinions with their fusion of classical and metal. From symphonic covers of the likes of Metallica, Sepultura, and Pantera to their own brand of powerful, cello-based original material, the Finnish musicians have been a breath of fresh air in an often stagnant metal community. We caught up with Drummer Mikko Sirén ahead of the band’s forthcoming September tour to discuss set-lists, hip-hop drumming, and Scandinavian summer houses.
Hey Mikko, where am I finding you from now?
I’m in my summer house at the moment, pretty close to Helsinki. It’s beautiful, its the first days of Autumn. The leaves are turning blue, it’s green outside, still warm. Just a great day to be out!
Cool! Do you have a winter house as well?
That’s my normal residence, but this is the kind of place where you could maybe live in winter, but the summer time is really nice. I normally live in the city so its good to have a place where you can get a breath of fresh air and feel the nature. You can go walking in the forest or swimming in the lakes, it’s very nice.
I’ve been looking at the touring schedule that you guys have at the moment and it is so full on- there are dates up until April next year. Do you find it hard to switch off when you’re at home?
Not for me. In all fairness, our schedule is not too crazy. Luckily we have some downtime, even though this Summer we’ve played 20 festivals. But all the weeks have free days, and I like to travel myself so that’s also enjoyable for me. We are very different so when we get back to Finland, everybody goes off to do their own things like enjoying the summer and all. It’s good!
Looking back on the past year of touring ‘Shadowmaker’, you said previously that you couldn’t decide what your favourite songs to play off the album were. Has that changed now?
It still keeps changing all the time, but for a long time, we didn’t play this song called Riot Lights which is a bit of a side track in a way because it has this really strong electronic influence to it. It’s structured more like a trance song- it has a very strong four to the floor beat, and we didn’t play it for half of the summer. However, all of a sudden we have started doing it again and that’s been really fun. It’s a groovy track and we have some nice visual projections for that song, so that’s been a great mixture of some wonderful styles of music.
Do you prefer to play more simple songs as a drummer or more complex songs?
I like both, and with music, in general, I like that it is so variable. I’m not the guy who would enjoy playing just one type of song or style of music, so to able to pay those straightforward tracks where you just nail the groove and keep it steady, and then, on the other hand, have the songs that have complex parts and difficult time measurements. I really like both and to have a good balance of them to keep you alert all the time.
With your background in jazz and with you having done so much other work in the realm of theatre and electronica and hip-hop…would you consider yourself a metal drummer?
I think I would say I’m a rock drummer, but I’ve learnt to play metal along the way. I also have such a strong emotional connection to electronic music, such as to hip-hop and rap music. To have that all together- I’m a bit spoilt to be able to have all of that. For the past 3 years I’ve been playing with a Finnish hip-hop act and it’s been great. It’s a 10 piece orchestra that plays rap music, but for a drummer, it has this afro-American groove approach. It’s wonderful, but in Apocalyptica and outside of Apolcaytica I like to be able to play different styles – that’s how I’ve always been.
Well, what is a style of drumming that you feel really challenged by?
Latin music is something that I have never really got a grip on. When I was studying at uni I obviously worked on it, and I can play Latin basics, but the way they phrase grooves – I haven’t ever absorbed it to the point that I could say that I can do it. I know the basics of it, but I respect those guys that can really play it. Of course, I’m not really a jazz drummer to the extent that I could compare myself with those true Jazz drummers. That’s also another feel – a totally different world, starting with what sounds you play and tones you get. The phrasing and how they make rhythms, that’s the idea with that music. It’s stuff that can make people move. With metal, it’s totally different from what jazz is about.
So, does it get annoying touring with so many other heavy bands?
No, not really! We do get to play a lot of heavy metal festivals and get to travel with heavy acts, and that’s really something amazing. The entire community, even the family of metal musicians and fans, is so accepting. People who don’t know metal fans or musicians, they get the visual concept wrong, and I understand that it’s easy to define as aggressive music or horrible music, but it’s everything but that. The music and the fans are so warm hearted. It’s the safest place to be, honestly. Even when I go to a hip-hop festival there is much more aggression in the audience compared to when you go to a heavy metal festival. There’s never fighting or arguing….it’s such a loving and accepting family. I love to be with those people.
Going back to your live setup, you guys now have a touring singer. Why did it take so long to get a regular singer for the band?
That’s a good question. I think we’ve been so happy to have all these featuring singers. The singer defines so much about the sound of the song, and we like to try all these different styles and vibes which have been wonderful to do with different singers on different songs. We did it about 13 years with fill-in singers. Recently we just thought “Ok, this has been great, but it won’t change no matter who we are working with. Let’s change the ballgame and change the rules, and lock down the one singer and let that be our sound for the Shadowmaker period”. There was this real will in the band to do it, and we found Frank who is such an amazing person and a wonderful singer. He puts his whole heart into this project, and we have grown as musicians so much with him. It’s a different vibe to have that one vocal sound firstly throughout the whole album and now in the shows. We have been able to do those new tracks the same way that they are on the album. Now we can really execute those songs in a live setting that is fully authentic.
Right on! To wrap up Mikko, what has been on your Spotify playlist recently?
The last week has been the Suicide Squad soundtrack. It’s a great movie, and I’m kind of upset that people are being so negative about it. I think Jarrod Leto was great as The Joker. I also really love the Twenty One Pilots track on it. Rick Ross has also got a great song with Skrillex on it, and of course some good old Credence Clearwater Revival. It’s been my good mood Spotify playlist.
Apocalpytica are touring Australia this month in support of ‘Shadowmaker’. Tickets can be purchased here.
Wednesday 21 September – Capitol, Perth WA (18+)
Friday 23 September – The Prince Of Wales Bandroom, St Kilda VIC (18+)
Saturday 24 September – The Metro, Sydney NSW (18+)
Sunday 25 September – Max Watts, 125 Boundary St, West End QLD (18+)