Blending folk and metal together into a cohesive unit is a challenging task for anyone, let alone the bass player left to keep it all together. We caught up with Niclas Etelävuori from Amorphis and talked about the new album, his process of creating his bass lines, and more.
Can you tell us a bit about the new album, Circle, getting ready for release?
The album will be out April 19th; it’s our 11th studio album. We recorded 14 songs, nine of them are on the actual album and the rest will be released as bonus tracks on different editions. We also filmed a making of documentary which comes out with the digipack version. Almost all the old albums have been based on the Finnish folklore Kalevala. Circle has an original story written by Pekka Kainulainen.
Was there anything different in approaching this album, compared to ones in the past?
We were looking for a slightly different sound/mood for this than on the couple of previous ones, which were all pretty much done in the same way with the same people; we wanted to change all that. We hired Peter Tägtgren (Hypocrisy, Pain) to produce the record. On the previous four albums we only had Marco Hietala (Nightwish) producing only the vocals. Peter was there from the beginning to the end which was great, he kept us on track all the time. We used different studios for everything than before too, so almost everything except the band changed. I think the album still sounds like Amorphis, but after so many albums there’s something fresh about it.
What is your process for coming up with basslines for the songs?
Usually I just jam along until things get settled; only when the drums are tracked do I know what to play. I try to make bass and drums one unit, so until I know how the drummer plays his stuff I don’t really know what I’m doing. The guitar and keys give me the note but almost all the rhythms I get from the drums, except if we are all doing a riff or melody together. We have two guitars and keyboards; there might be a lot going on at the same time, so to keep it rocking I usually just lock in with the drums. When we rehearsed the songs and tracked the drums I was playing a 4 string tuned one whole step down. When it was time to record the bass Peter asked if I could try a 5-string, so I did and now I think it’s on every new song. It’s also tuned a whole step down so my B string is an A. It took some time to get used to, but I think it was the right decision. Going lower with the bass gave more room for the other instruments and the overall sound on the album got airy in my opinion.
Name some of your big influences. Any artists that your fans may not immediately think of or are obscure?
I think without Steve Harris and Cliff Burton I would never have picked up the bass. I like the solid playing of Cliff Williams as much as I love the tricks of Billy Sheehan and Stuart Hamm. One of the most unique bass players I think was Mark Sandman from Morphine. When everyone else got more strings he got less, and it’s true what he said all the notes can be found on one string. Two string bass with a slide just sounds so wicked. James Jamerson and many more…
You have a really thick and deep bass tone, what gear do you use to get that?
My basses are custom made ESP P-basses with Quarter Pound SPB-3 pickups and a soapbar, all passive. I mainly use only the Quarter Pound SPB-3 pickup. It gives me all the tone I need depending which position I play with my right hand. Live I have an Ampeg SVT Classic, a T-REX bass juice and a SansAmp Bass DI for the basic sound, and a Micro POG and Dunlop Wah for freaking out for a few seconds during every show. In the studio this time I just ran my bass into a API 512c preamp direct and my pedalboard through another and that was it. I got some distortion from a plug-in but it was the simplest setup I ever had. There was only a gain knob on the preamp. That’s when you know you have a good bass and pickups if you can run it like that.
Age old question: What’s your favorite, pick or fingers and why?
I started playing with my fingers but at some point many producers were like, “Better play with a pick,” so I practiced that too. Nowadays with Amorphis I mostly play with a pick but there’s a couple of finger songs too. I like both, for metal and hard rock I usually choose a pick because of the attack but softer things I usually play with my fingers. If I just happen to pick up a bass somewhere I usually play with my fingers because they are always with me; I always drop my picks somewhere.