Famous Firsts: Apocalyptica

We caught up with Apocalyptica cello superstar Eicca Toppinen to talk about discovering rockabilly by accident, touring with Metallica and splitting up back in the ‘90s.

What was the first album that you ever bought?

“The first album I got was a cassette tape in 1982, when I was seven years old. My father was working for this company, and the people who worked there had this special store where they could get food and all this kind of stuff, and I saw this cassette there. On the cover there was only a flag of the southern part of the United States. I thought it was cool because I lived in a suburb of Helsinki and there were all these big, bad guys who had those flags on their jackets, and as I was only seven years old I didn’t know what it meant. I just thought it looked cool so I bought it. The music inside was rockabilly. I can’t remember exactly the feeling that I had when I played it for the first time, but I remember I liked at least two of the tracks and that’s about it. I couldn’t even tell you who or what it was. I was so young, you know. The first CD I got was classical, surprisingly. It was a recording of the 7th Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich and it was some kind of Russian recording – really nice. I still have that CD, I think I actually still have that cassette as well. Maybe I should check and see who it was, so next time I know ha ha. But as it goes, I haven’t seen the tape for over 20 years.”

What was the first single that you ever bought?

“I have never actually bought a single in my life. The only individual songs I’ve ever bought digitally have been our own songs, so I know we’ve sold at least three copies. That’s how I choose to spend my money ha ha. But in the suburb I grew up, we didn’t actually have any place to buy records. Nowhere. So I was lucky I found that rockabilly tape to be honest, otherwise I’d have had nothing. I didn’t go to the downtown of Helsinki by myself at all whilst I was a kid. All the music that I listened to really was records that my parents owned, and also what my older sister was listening to. So when I was a kid I was very much depending on the music of the people around me. And then when I did start buying my own, I would always buy the full albums. But I didn’t have the money to do that until much later in life.”

What was the first gig you ever went to?

“That’s tough because I’ve played the cello since I was nine years old, and my sisters played the violin and piano, so I’ve been attending concerts since then. And my father would take us to classical concerts from a very young age. I had to leave a lot of them during the intermission because I found them so boring as a child – I couldn’t stay awake. But the first rock concert for me was Metallica in the ice hockey hall in Helsinki. 1991 was the year. It was the Black Album tour and they actually started the tour in Helsinki. I saw them twice on that tour, at the first show, and then they ended up three years later back in Helsinki. Both those shows were amazing experiences. I went to the first one with some of my school friends and I think it was only two years later, before the next show, that we started to play Metallica on cello – so it was a big influence on me as a musician. Before that I’d attended and performed at hundreds of classical concerts, but nothing compared to the first time I saw Metallica. It was a great show, the band was in great shape and I felt for the first time that I belonged.”

What was the first gig you ever played?

“I can split the first Apocalyptica performance into three categories. The first time we went to music camp where we were all playing was in the summer of 1993. There was one evening there that was sort of like a party atmosphere, and I thought that was the perfect time to try some sort of rock performance for the first time, so we played Metallica songs by cellos. That was the very first appearance – at band camp ha ha.

“The next performance was at the end of 1995 when we were invited to play at a metal club in Helsinki, which was also one of the very first gigs for HIM as well. They played Type O Negative covers and we played Metallica. There were also two other bands that played Rage Against The Machine and Danzig covers. Things got pretty crazy. We all played 30 minute sets and there were about 1,000 people there, all stage diving and stuff like that. Based on the crowd’s reaction to our set we got a phone call about a week later from a small independent label asking us to make an album. It was a really small scene and a very special time back then, everybody more or less knew everybody and we all supported each other. The underground scene is always all about the community.

“And then the first big show, which was kind of crazy, was our first performance after our debut album release, and we were already opening up for Metallica at the Helsinki Arena. That was November, 1996. That was totally surreal!”

How was the first Apocalyptica tour?

“Our first proper tour was one week through Germany back in 1997. And the first world tour we did was with the album Cult in the year 2000. That was the first time we started to incorporate production and we had our own crew – it was also the first time we had a night liner bus, so we were touring like a real band. I think on that tour we played maybe 200 shows in less than two years. It was pretty hectic. I remember we played 150 shows in 12 months, and we were so burnt out that we split. I left the band because the whole thing was falling apart, we were all going in different directions and finally I said, ‘This is bullshit, I’m going home,’ so I left the band. And Perttu (Kivilaakso) followed. But after some time and a lot of discussions, we decided to come back. And we’re all glad that we did.”

Apocalyptica’s new album is released 20th April through Eleven Seven Music. Read our report of their launch party.

Matt Stocks

DJ, presenter, writer, photographer and podcaster Matt Stocks was a presenter on Kerrang! Radio before a year’s stint on the breakfast show at Team Rock Radio, where he also hosted a punk show and a talk show called Soundtrack Apocalypse. He then moved over to television, presenting on the Sony-owned UK channel Scuzz TV for three years, whilst writing regular features and reviews for Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazine. He also wrote, produced and directed a feature-length documentary on Australian hard rock band Airbourne called It’s All For Rock ‘N’ Roll, and in 2017 launched his own podcast: Life in the Stocks. His first book, also called Life In The Stocks, was published in 2020. A second volume was published in April 2022.