Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen – Rays of Progressive LightSunday, 23rd May 2021
Known as one of the founders of Finnish act Amorphis, Esa Holopainen has been a fixture in heavy metal for over thirty years. But Silver Lake the first time he ventures out on his own for a solo project. Silver Lake has a distinctly different vibe than Amorphis, but still shines with its progressive flair from Holopainen. A release that feels more expansive and uniquely expressive in tone. We chatted up Holopainen himself to get the lowdown on his solo debut and how it was different than writing for Amorphis, the pandemic, as well as a snippet into the next upcoming Amorphis album.
Dead Rhetoric: What makes Silver Lake special to you?
Esa Holopainen: It’s very personal, because it is my solo project. I worked with all of these songs myself. I got some help from my producer, but other than that it was my own thing. I don’t have bandmates that I can listen to [laughs]. It was really fun to do. I had an idea of doing a solo album for years, but this was a good time. My friend, who produced the album, called me last spring and asked if I was interested in working on a solo album as all of his shows and tours got cancelled. So that’s how it all got started. So it’s personal in that it’s all mine, but I have to say I am a bit more nervous about people’s reactions than I would be if I was just releasing an Amorphis album. I have to take all the feedback for myself and stand behind my songs.
Dead Rhetoric: After writing Amorphis music for so long, what was different in writing for Silver Lake?
Holopainen: I think it took about half a year to write all of the music for Silver Lake. With Amorphis, we basically take a few months for writing songs, then we rehearse and play the songs – so it’s a slightly different way of working with Amorphis. In Amorphis, we have a few more songwriters so we share the pressure that comes with songwriting. But I had so much time to write songs to write for Silver Lake. Working at the studio, I didn’t have any rush. I think that was one of the reasons that it turned out so good I think.
Dead Rhetoric: One thing I thought was kind of cool was that you can hear Silver Lake and not really hear Amorphis, so to speak. At this point what do you feel you have to do when you make an Amorphis release? Even though there are so many different aspects to Amorphis over the years.
Holopainen: With Amorphis, in a way, it’s a bit easier. When you write a song for Tomi [Joutsen], I pretty much know his vocal range and how he is going to go with a song. Knowing the key where he is operating, it makes it easier to write. Writing for Silver Lake, I had so many vocalists on this album, I had to take more care about the arrangement and what keys I would write the song in. There were little details I had to take care of when doing this album.
Dead Rhetoric: What was the process like of grabbing people to do vocals for the album? How did you know what would work for a particular vocalist?
Holopainen: I pretty much started to check with friends who I knew that I would to have on me with this album. The first three songs I wrote, they were “Sentiment,” “Promising Sun,” and “Ray of Light.” All very different songs, and I pretty much knew with type of vocalist I wanted. Jonas [Renkse] from Katatonia fit perfectly for a more acoustic and emotional track like “Sentiment.” Bjorn [Strid] from Soilwork, on the other hand, was a better fit for a heavier track. I pretty much went through my phone book [laughs] and looked at who I knew, and who might be interested in doing a part on the album. I was really happy that everyone that I messaged about the album were really interested in singing. That was a really cool thing.
Dead Rhetoric: Was there anyone that you contacted that you wish you could have gotten for the album?
Holopainen: There was only one – Amalie from Myrkur. She was working with her own album at the time, so she didn’t have time. I would have loved to have her on this album as well. But perhaps next time. She was the only one that was fully booked with her own duties at the time.
Dead Rhetoric: Would this project have come about if the pandemic hadn’t occurred?
Holopainen: I don’t think so. I needed so much time, that doing this much of album between touring and shows with Amorphis would have been pretty impossible. It’s a bit brutal to say, but without COVID I wouldn’t have this album. That’s for sure! But yeah, if everything would have gone as planned with touring with Amorphis and writing new songs for them – but it went quite differently, like everyone else who is a musician has experience. But I really enjoyed it, this year was relaxing in a way. Of course, it was horrible and the pandemic was horrible but we finally got this one year break without any plans. I was on medication for high blood pressure and as soon as I got more time and could relax more from touring my blood pressure levels went down and I could quite medication as well. So there have been some good little things as well.
Dead Rhetoric: In talking to a number of people about this over the last year, I think that is the one hidden benefit – having to slow down. Everyone could focus on other things and not be so stressed about whatever was stressing them out.
Holopainen: That’s absolutely true. I don’t think it’s just musicians either. It reflects on the other musicians as well. People work more from their homes and that it is doable. You don’t have to go somewhere to work. You can be very effective from your home.
Dead Rhetoric: Now that you have started it, do you see this as something that you can continue working on alongside Amorphis?
Holopainen: I wish so. Now that I have this done and have gotten some distance from this one, I would definitely like to work with another Silver Lake album at some point. I don’t know when I will have some time, because I know once the next Amorphis releases and things go back to ‘normal’ we will have the touring life again and I don’t know when we will get a long enough break to do another album. But that’s definitely an idea. Perhaps we have to wait for another plague or pandemic to come [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: I’m a science teacher and that’s something I have been thinking about – we are getting through this one finally, but how long will it be until the next problem comes through.
Holopainen: Absolutely. I’m pretty sure that this virus isn’t going anywhere. It will fade away at some point. Now that people are vaccinated, it doesn’t mean that we are all secure. There’s still like half of the world that needs a vaccine, and who knows when the poorer countries will be able to be vaccinated. It’s a whole different story.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you talk about the process of writing lyrics, as it wasn’t something that you’ve had to do much of with Amorphis?
Holopainen: I hadn’t written many lyrics, and in Amorphis we have another person who is writing lyrics, so that’s something I hadn’t really done much. We always know that when Amorphis has songs and our lyricist is working on lyrics it will always be good. This time was different, and with some songs I really had to take care of all the melody lines and the vocal arrangements and lyrics. I had to fine tune them and all that. It wasn’t that difficult as I learned. There are some really catchy lyrics and it was nice to realize that it was different with each vocalist. Jonas and Bjorn are guys who want to do everything themselves and they are super good at what they do. They did all of their lyrics and vocal arrangements and it was just perfect.
Dead Rhetoric: Was there a track or two that you were really happy with how it turned out? Like where you were able to do something that you have wanted to do that you just couldn’t fit into an Amorphis song?
Holopainen: I think there are two songs that are really out of the box when it comes to writing for Amorphis. Those are “Ray of Light” with Einar Solberg singing, and the first single that we released, “Storm” with Håkan Hemlin. Those two songs have so many elements that I know that if I played them for the Amorphis guys it would have been an immediate no. It’s too different. But I’m super happy with how they turned out. There’s a lot of poppy elements. “Storm” is almost a very drum and bass, and vocal-driven song. With Amorphis, we always have two guitars and keyboards, so it’s a totally different thing. Same thing with “Ray of Light.” I am super happy how both of those songs turned out, but with them being so different, I wouldn’t dare to introduce them to an Amorphis album.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you hope your, and Amorphis,’ lasting impact will be if you look back on it?
Holopainen: I don’t know. I have my own way to write and play. It’s more for other people to say, as it’s really hard to judge my own music. I probably think a different way than the listener is going to think. But there is a fingerprint on whatever I do. It’s there – it can be the way I write melodies. They become pretty melancholic and progressive [laughs]. I think it can be heard in whatever I write, even if it’s not metal, I feel it can be heard. That’s what I’m most happy about.
Dead Rhetoric: Looking at how Amorphis has shifted over the years – the move from the early days to more rock-ish albums, and so forth. Do you feel that has been satisfying for yourself in being able to see those changes?
Holopainen: Absolutely. If you look at Amorphis’ catalog, and look at the early albums, and then the in-between ones like Tuonela and Am Universum, or Far from the Sun. When Tomi started the band we started a new era with Eclipse and Silent Waters – there’s a lot of differences in our music. I think what matters is that we had a lot of line-up changes back in the day. There were a lot of musical changes and we got pretty fed up writing a melodic metal album like Elegy was. We were more inspired by doing a gloomier album with a different musical influence. I was happy that we did albums like Tuonela or Am Universum, which are very different from what we did earlier. But there are so many musical elements in what we do these days. In a way, with those albums we progressed as better writers. But the band is always the sum of the members. It is what it is.
When Tomi joined and we started fresh again, we were pretty lost about the musical direction. We didn’t have a singer, and when Tomi joined the band, he sort of told us what was good about Amorphis and what he liked about the band. It gave us a nice boost for the band. We lost a lot of fans after Elegy when we released albums that the fans didn’t expect. Gaining success back is much harder than losing your success. That you can do easily – just be a stupid asshole [laughs] or do a few bad albums and that’s it! But we learned a lot from that period, and how to respect what you have achieved. From the point where we released Eclipse, we decided that we were just going to work harder for the fans and tour again. We just wanted to write good music.
Dead Rhetoric: The album is out in May. Do you have plans personally, or with Amorphis, for the rest of the year?
Holopainen: We are actually recording a new Amorphis album at the moment. The recordings are about halfway already. Everything should be mixed and done for the end of September. The album will be out in February 2022 and hopefully the world is prepared for touring life once again [laughs]. It would be nice to go out and tour again, we all miss live music.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel it is coming along?
Holopainen: It’s turning out great. It’s really strong material, and we are working with Jens Bogren again as producer. He has produced the last few albums. It’s tough to say about how things will end up, as Jens is pretty well known in that he is going to add a lot of little details here and there. So far, we have recorded all drums and bass and rhythm guitars. The lead guitars, vocals, keyboards, and additional instruments are coming in next. That’s where the album direction could turn somewhere that even we don’t know yet [laughs]. But there’s some songs that have very progressive touches in there. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s super hard to describe – it all depends on the additional stuff and how the leads and keys go.