Rock to the top – a portrait of Olli-Pekka Laine

Why writing, or in your case reading a portrait of Olli-Pekka “Oppu” Laine? Easy answer: He is a bassist of mesmerizing skill. He is playing with the Finnish masters of Barren Earth and Amorphis. And he is a composer of enchanting tunes and a strong affinity to progressive death metal. That’s why!

The songs Olli-Pekka Laine has written for Barren Earth so far are profoundly progressive, abysmally dark and oppressively heavy. It takes time and even a good deal of effort to access them and explore their complexity to the end. Their diversity is a gloomy labyrinth and just like an imaginative world you enter through a magical portal that vanishes the very moment it spills you into the world of his soundscapes. No portal, no way out. But would you want to get out anyway?And then you happen to meet Mr “Down-to-Earth-and-Understatement” and wonder how this goes together? Let’s see!

There are the well-known stages of his music career: Founding member of the Finnish progressive death metal pioneers Amorphis, the band he left in 2000. He started over with Mannhai, a stoner rock band, only to return to his death metal roots with Chaosbreed. From a brutal band called The Camel Gang is hardly more known than being the foundation of the massively progressive and doomy death metal band Barren Earth, founded by Oppu and his friend Marko Tarvonen. Yet hardly anybody has heard of his hardcore punk band Kiljuvelka-70, or the bands he played in as a teenager, Metal Disease or Nuxvomica and Sininen Hevonen. We all, however, noticed his return to Amorphis, standing in immediately when needed.

Olli-Pekka „Oppu“ Laine – There are many interviews with him, reviews on his music and there is even the Amorphis biography giving us rather intimate insights into his life until leaving Amorphis in February 2000. There is an abundance of funny and tragic stories of those days and the book is more than worth the while reading it carefully.

If you meet Oppu off stage, his appearance is simply understating. He is very balanced and even seems to be a bit shy. Speaking with him after a show you will experience a patient and attentive, humorous and honest person. Meeting him for the first time (as a mere fan) I asked why Kasper wasn’t touring with the band and he replied (roughly two months before they stated it officially) that Kasper had left Barren Earth. After another show we spoke again, and he took care of the packing, checked the merch sales balance and signed autographs (each personalized) while in parallel participating in our conversation. It was also him who manages Barren Earth’s social media accounts, provides photo cards and guest list-entries and gives most of the interviews – not only during the tour. And still he appears totally relaxed, although perhaps looking tired. (If I imagine I had to sleep several weeks in a tour bus I’d surely look more than tired.) Anyway, this is a rather challenging and diverse set of tasks to handle more or less at the same time.

But what is the source of Mr “Humble’s” endless creativity? – Diversity seems to be the key in more than one way – starting with bands and genres. Even as a teenager he played already in two bands at a time, until he focused on Amorphis. And when he did, the whole band was on a trip to Proggy Land. Once they left this road, he left the band. Then yet again Mannhai’s atmospheric Stoner Rock world was too small for the free spirit and Chaosbreed had to add a bit of death metal flavour. Back on the road to Proggy Land, he came up with Barren Earth and somehow even back to Amorphis taking a detour, however, through Hard Core Punky Town, though. He is not even shy to explore the extremes such as during a gig with Solacide who play a complex and fast black/death metal mix.

Another dimension of diversity can easily be found in his songs full of flavours of almost every sort. Speaking of Barren Earth’s new keyboarder gives an impression of what Barren Earth expect from their members, but also what can be found in their songs: „… what we liked about Antti is, that he has a metal background. He can draw some stuff from the Black Metal, for example. But he still can pull those proggy things from the 70’s, some mood stuff, like Hammond. So he is a good mixture of Kasper and a metal head keyboard player. Because it is really important to us that, whoever will join, he can do things in progressive music in a way. … But he still listens to modern metal much more than myself, for example. That’s a good thing. It brings something new to the mix.“ He is full of compliments and excitement speaking of the new band member and adding more skills to the list as we speak. Can’t be too many flavours stirring in the pot, it seems.

Diversity is closely related to his free spirit and the freedom to modify, change and adjust as needed or makes sense or is simply fun. A song undergoes a creative evolution, a joint process, from its demo to its final version. The cooperation in this process seems just as important as creating something new: “So it usually really becomes much different than it were meant to be when demoed. When everyone participates doing the arrangements the song usually changes to a different piece of Barren Earth!”

There is diversity in Barren Earth’s line up with several stand-ins for shows and touring. In the end this means some kind of added value, it’s a source of creative energy and experience and not a problem to Oppu. He says, it is fun to play with new faces (well, mostly old friends of his) and have them bring their individual styles in playing and personalities into it, making it all a source of ideas for live arrangements: “Personally, I don’t mind if playing isn’t that perfect if you can bring like more energy to the show. But personally, I am always trying to play or no I am not trying to play songs totally differently like each time. And that also depends on the audience. If the audience is like small in number or not that good with energy I tend to play better or whatever or more correctly but if the feeling is good there is more lively play as well.“

So diversity apparently plays a crucial role in his immense creativity, essential to come up with these complex, deep and often symphonically long songs. “I enjoy writing lyrics and I’m doing demos and, well, composing”, he says to me. As an interviewee I experienced him very attentive and tending to drift away into his thoughts in the same moment. But if you watch him, for example on tour, neatly following structured processes; it seems to contradict his free spirit. Then again you will find him taking an after-show walk or doing his sound check while all the others are out for dinner. This extra of personal freedom is, naturally, part of the structured processes enabling him to cope with workload and hurry on tour. But then that’s exactly it. These structures provide the framework that the restless mind of a highly creative idealist and free spirit needs to cope on a long-term perspective. His sensitivity rests on the reliability of this solid architecture combined the faith in (many very old) friends/family, making it a complex structure like a rock-made spider web. Within this he can free-float in creativity to its ends, without getting lost.

Speaking of friends, they make another apparent red line in his life. There has hardly been a band he played in, that Kasper Mårtenson did not play the keys and a critical role at least for some time. When Mannhai needed urgently a new vocalist, Pasi Koskinen stood in and even stayed for the next album. In Chaosbreed, there were Esa Holopainen, Taneli Jarva and Nalle Östermann he has known from the very early days on. And from there on Marko Tarvonen has been on board. Another old friend, Markus Laakso recommended Viktor Santura as producer for the forthcoming album. Then it is Vesa Ranta who holds responsible for the next Barren Earth video “The Ruby”. And as Kimmo Korhonen stood in with Barren Earth (when “… Sami was supposed to come with us in January. But in the last minute he couldn’t make it.”) Oppu stood in with Solacide, when Kimmo’s band was short of a bassist for a show. Naturally. This list is surely no more than few examples taken from a vast collection which offers a first impression of the tight net of relations and Oppu’s position in the Finnsih metal community. 

Diversity and creativity work best as a team approach: “We all make our things as we see they are best way to be done. Well, I am not that strict on my own point of view because I trust the guys are doing their best and everybody brings good ideas”, Oppu says on the band dynamics and his role as the band’s mastermind. He is the main composer and runs many more of the band tasks; he does what needs to be done. Pragmatically. He is appreciative and easily able to acknowledge the band mates‘ individual qualities, such as Jón Aldará’s ambition in arranging songs or his honesty: “We have like singer point of view when it comes to music and he is ambitious. So we are not taking the easiest path always, and especially him! When I am trying to take short cuts, he is willing to keep doing like better arrangements… if he doesn’t like a song, he is just able to come out with it.“

Olli-Pekka Laine is a very hard-working man. Summary of his schedule 2017: touring with Barren Earth in January. Rehearsing with both bands (Amorphis and Barren Earth), and recording Barren Earth’s album in spring (Sami and Kreator still touring): “Well actually, the album was ready already in June. The songs were mixed. But because we chose one track as first track of the album, we thought, we need to have an intro for that song. But that takes some time to compose and mix and stuff like that and so. And also the artwork is under works still. And videos and everything. So we’ll be busy“, he laughs again, „anyway.“ From mid May until late September, he toured with Amorphis, while pushing Barren Earth’s forthcoming album (intro, videos, artwork, etc). Then he rehearsed with Amorphis their new album, which they just (November) recorded in Örebro/Sweden, throwing in some of his own songs, naturally. And last but not least, he has a day job! When on Earth would he find time to sleep and eat at all? I really asked him. Literally. He just says, that it’s easy as long as he’s at home, meaning he has some spare time at nights. My ironically uttered doubts he comments with that this is naturally only the case if he is not rehearsing with Amorphis. And still it is him, coming up with the majority of the Barren Earth songs. Anyway, there will be songs from Marko, Janne and Sami on the new album, too, he tells me.

The sensitive and dreamy musician, as he describes himself, surely hoped for Barren Earth to become more than only a project band, when he started it more than ten years ago. He is optimistic and even appears idealistic. Oppu admits that there was no time to rehearse Antti’s songs and that he hopes for more intensive engagement of his band mates in the future. Somehow Oppu seems to have come to terms with the situation as it is. “Barren Earth tends to be kind of a project band in the end of the day. It doesn’t make any sense to pretend it’s something else. Come on, there is Kreator, of course. Naturally it’s the source of Sami’s income so there is no other option than going for their gigs.” Some kind of disappointment is still perceivable in his voice but most of all he adjusted and made the best out of it. And pragmatic as he is: Rehearsing with three band members is just as good as with all of them, he explains.

The remarkable metamorphosis of Oppu’s stage outfits from January to August 2017 transcripts how much, and despite all workload, he has lived his dream while there is the chance to do so. A creative mind like his will draw incredible amounts of energy from it and it seems hard to balance creative output with burnout on a long-term perspective. Yet he is sharing the dream again that Esa, Jan, Tomi and he had, when they started Amorphis as teenagers. He said for himself that the new faces are bringing new energy and excitement to Barren Earth. In Amorphis 2017, he is this new face, is naturally filling open niches in the band. He is the bass playing memory of his teenage times. And he is arousing excitement, stirring up passion and lifting the spirits in a very challenging moment as we have all witnessed since May.

I asked him if we are – in general – doomed to fuck up again, if we are able to change or will repeat our mistakes over and over again. His reply was most remarkable and somewhere between nihilism and disillusion: People will not change, but we could and should change our attitude towards individual people. And if we did not, it was our own problem, so was his bottom line. The question was never meant to comment on his decision on remaining with Amorphis or not. Still it fits, of course. Amorphis are recording their 13th studio album just now, including ‚Brother Laine‘ as Esa names him in a Facebook post only lately. In an interview with Soundi, very recently, with Oppu and Esa they speak of their ideas for Amorphis’ 14th studio album, already. The circle has been completed. 

For me, it all began with: “Thank you for the music.” And his reply was, that there is a lot more to come. Lately he said: “You’ll hear.” – And I will. Promised!

Photos: Ms Cesar Little, 2017

Stages of Olli-Pekka Laine’s musical career

 

…  – 1990

Metal Disease
Nuxvomica
Sininen Hevonen
Demo: Allegoric Execution (1990),
1990 – 2000 Amorphis Demo: Disment of Soul (1991); EP: Privilege of Evil (1993);

Albums: The Karelian Isthmus (1992), Tales From The Thousand Lakes (1994), Elegy (1996), Tuonla (1999)

1999 – 2009,

2016 –

 Mannhai Albums: Sons of Yesterday’s Black Grouse (2000), Evil Under The Sun (2002), The Exploder (2004), Hellroad Caravan (2006)
2003 – ? Chaosbreed  EP: Unleashed Carnage (2003). Album: Brutal (2004); Split with Rytmihäiriö (2004)
2008 – Barren Earth EP: Our Twilight (2008).

Albums: The Curse of The Red River (2009), The Devil’s Resolve (2012), On Lonely Towers (2015), NN (2018)

2011 – Kiljuvelka-70 Albums: Ihmis-Saastaa Ja Pohjasakkaa (2010), Näen Ja Kuulen… Mutta Puhe Sammaltaa (2011)
2017 – Amorphis Album: NN (2018)

This list is inclomplete, of course. He participated in numerous more projects and bands in their studio sessions or as composer. He was, of course, touring with Amorphis in 2010, when they got all the former band members back on stage for their anniversary.

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Rock to the top – a portrait of Olli-Pekka Laine

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„It has always been this way!“ – I heard this phrase too often and it became the best reason for me to make it (whatever it is) my own way.

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