Interview with Nightwish 110

Source: Kerrang!

EASTERN PROMISE
- Nightwish continue their quest for world domination by becoming the first Finnish band ever to tour China…

At over 4000 miles in length, The Great Wall Of China stands at the longest man-made structure in the world. Rising and falling over rugged, Asian mountain terrain like a stone snake lying across the landscape, the sheer scale of the thing is staggering.
Braced against the cruel winter chill that’s covered the surrounding mountains in an icing-sugar layer of snow, Anette Olzon’s face extends into a beaming smile of amazement from behind the scarf pulled up over her face.
“I honestly can’t believe I am here,” she says in disbelief, as she and her bandmates pose for photos at one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The rest of Nightwish nod in agreement, basking in the strange opportunities being in a touring rock band can afford you as they negotiate their way carefully over The Wall’s treacherously icy surface. But for Olzon, it’s more than simply a perk of her new job. China may be a long way from Finland, but it’s even further away from the singer’s life little more than a year ago.
In December 2006—just over a year after Tarja Turunen was sacked from Nightwish by an open letter from her long-time bandmates – keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen, bassist Marco Heitala, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen and drummer Jukka Nevalainen—Olzon received the news that she had been picked to be the new vocalist for the Finnish opera-metallers, and her whole life changed.
“It’s very strange to think that a year ago nobody even knew I was the singer in Nightwish because it was kept so secret,” she says. “And now, here I am, in China, doing this, my job.”
She turns and takes in a final view from the Wall over the mountain, before adding, “It almost doesn’t seem real somehow.”

But real it is. Still, Olzon is allowed to feel bewildered. Last year’s Dark Passion Play album—Nightwish’s sixth offering—has sold over 100,000 copies in Finland alone since its release last September. And it’s not jogging too far behind in other countries either, racking up a whopping 50,000 sales in the UK. In the last 12 months, not only has the Swedish-born 36-year-old gone from a life of a wife, mother and stage actress, to fronting Finland’s biggest metal band, but she’s also gone from never having been in a rock band before to singing to thousands of fans in arenas, all across the globe. Before spring is over, she’ll have stamps from Japan, Australia, and the UK in her passport. And all that’s got to take some getting used to.
“This last year has brought me so many new things,” she admits. “Touring, doing videos, recording…Every day, something new happens that I’ve never done before. There’s been a lot of strange new experiences, but this is unbelievable!”
As Nightwish make their way across Tiananmen Square—overbearingly grey, the size of three football pitches—what hits you hardest about China is the unforgiving cold that blows across the imposing square’s expanse.
“I actually prefer the cold temperature to hot,” remarks Tuomas Holopainen, despite the fact that anyone not wearing gloves feels like they’re about to lose their fingers. “I am a Viking, I like the cold.”
As Holopainen, tall, with Johnny Depp-shaggy hair and beard, and his mob pose for K!’s photos in front of the entrance to the Forbidden City, people gather round. Some take pictures of their own, others simply gawp at what’s going on. It’s a touch creepy, something that’s not lost on Olzon.
“In Japan, they would stand all day just watching you like you’re some kind of icon or something,” she recalls from a recent trip there. “It was really weird, like, ‘Don’t you have anything else to do?’. They’d just stand there, looking and following you around, and they’ll do it for hours. I don’t get it. I have never been a fanatic like that. If I had been maybe I would understand.”
“I’m used to people staring, asking for autographs, pictures, but this is different,” adds Holopainen. “Probably none of these people have even heard of Nightwish before.”
Maybe not, but they’re aware enough to notice that the five Scandinavians that have come to town are someones.

Indeed, it’s tricky to figure out just now many people in China actually know who Nightwish are. China is new territory for Nightwish. In fact, it’s new territory for Finnish rock music full stop. Not even global stars HIM have made the trek here yet, and consequently nobody’s sure what to expect. Official sales figures are respectable enough—4,500 copies of Dark Passion Play shifted so far—but there’s no telling how many bootlegs have changed hands.
“I don’t know anything about Chinese music, but it’s a big country,” muses Nevalainen. “There’s over a billion people here, so even as an underground thing, there could be a lot of people [who are potential fans]. But we’ll find out.”
In days gone by, China may have been restrictive when it came to the freedoms it afforded arts like music, but now the Chinese government have started to take a more relaxed stance. The metal scene here may still be in its infancy, but it’s undeniably growing, as confirmed by the sheer number of journalists present at a press conference held for the band in a hotel bar. Surprisingly specific, detailed questions about the music are directed to Holopainen, but it’s Olzon’s addition to the band the media want to know about, even in China. It’s the same questions every European and American magazines have been asking since she came on board (How do you feel filling Turunen’s shoes? Has it been difficult joining a band as big as Nightwish?), but there’s something about them coming from a Chinese journalist, through a translator, that rams home just how big Nightwish have become.
In front of this audience of Chinese press, Olzon is quiet and composed, but in one-to-one conversation she’s open with a friendly demeanor. And onstage, she fits fronting a rock band more naturally than her predecessor Turunen, whose classical training and openness about her lack of interest in rock music was somewhat at odds with her role in the band.
“I have never done so much traveling as this, I’m still adjusting to life on the road,” she confesses. “And sometimes I say something is hard or whatever and the guys go ‘Pff!’ I’m like ‘Hey, I haven’t done this for 10 years like you!’. For them it’s nothing, because they’re used to it, for me it’s all new, and it’s all coming at once.”
As anyone who’s ever spent time on the road will tell you, days are long when you’re killing tie—traveling all day to get to a show and waiting for your stage time to come.
“The first shock for me was how alone you can sometimes feel,” Olzon reveals. “Even on tour with a band of five people and a touring crew, you spend a lot of time alone. That has been the hardest adjustment. The rest of the band are used to switching off on a plane or in the bus. When we check in the hotel, sometimes everyone goes straight to their room. And I am very social, so I’ve had to adjust to how people fine their own time on tour.”
The other big adjustment for Olzon has been the fame that being in Nightwish has catapulted her into. In Finland, her joining the band wasn’t just the preserve of the music press, it was the fodder for celebrity magazines. Before she was officially announced as Turunen’s replacement, there were almost MI5 levels of secrecy surrounding her appointment and now, she’s become an A-list celebrity.
“I don’t like the famous side of this,” she admits. “I am not a person that wants attention. I am quite a normal person, and I find it quite hard sometimes when the people recognize me. I like being the singer, but there are some things that go with it that are just very hard to deal with. At home they ring on my door and want an autograph, or at my kid’s school the other parents want an autograph. That’s okay, but now I have had to install an alarm system in my house because of the people who come in the evening, checking me out I don’t like that side much.”
How has this affected your family?
“My personal life is something I am very private about, and I will never talk about it,” she says with a snap. “And of course my family are very proud, and they may want to say things because they are so proud, but they know not to talk.
“Newspapers call my family, but they know not to say anything,” Olzon adds. “Of course, my son would like to be in all the magazines, he wants to be famous, but I have told him that if he wants that he needs to become a rock star himself first!”
She pauses for some thought, perhaps conscious that she’s starting to sounds a little negative about her experiences in the band so far.
“Being onstage is the best thing on tour. The only thing that we live for,” she smiles. “That hour and a half is just the best. It doesn’t matter if we have had a fight, it doesn’t matter if our plane was late, everything goes away for that one and a half hours. When you get the rush from the audience and each other, it makes everything seem alright.”
The last time Kerrang! Put Nightwish on the cover (K!1076) in 2005, the article noticed a relationship between Turunen and the rest of the band that wasn’t so much strained as non-existent. Arriving for the photo shoot, Turunen didn’t get so much as a hello from her bandmates, and through the backlash at the time from fans on the internet was furious for suggesting something was amiss, a few short months later, Turunen got that letter.
With Olzon, however, things are different. There’s a camaraderie, a friendship, between the band and their new singer that’s clearly visible. At the Great Wall, Holopainen purchases a purple hat that looks like it’d be much better keeping your teapot warm than making you look cool.
“I like it,” chuckles Olzon. “It’s nice to see a man showing his feminine side!
Half mock-horrified, Holopainen defends his new purple headgear with a laugh.
“I think it looks cool,” he smirks.
“Oh yeah, and when you’re done with it, you can give it to your mother,” comes Olzon’s reply. And the pair collapse in a fit of giggles.

As lunchtime descends, we head to a restaurant for an enormous feast laid on by the gig promoter. Forget egg-fried rice and beef in black been sauce, this is the sort of cuisine you’d more expect to see on Fear Factor than a restaurant menu. Pig’s tongues, cow stomach… It’s all here, the real taste of China.
“What is that?” someone asks, poking gingerly at the contents of a bowl full of squishy stuff. At some point during this mean every member of Nightwish will utter those words, as plate after plate is placed on the table.
As dare follows dare, band and crew nibble at increasingly more exotic and frankly, horrible-looking bits of animal. One crew member jokes that this is the sort of thing European butchers throw away. Another bowl appears and it met with puzzled stares.
“It lives in the sea,” offers the band’s translator, Larry, unhelpfully. Whatever it is, it’s clearly not a fish, and though Heitala and Holopainen give it a try, Olzon is happy to keep this mystery of the deep exactly that.
“I cannot eat those things,” she says, dismissing this course with a raise of her hand. “I get a really bad stomach every time we travel. When we were in Scandinavia, even, I got ill. So somewhere like this is really not the right place for me!”
“I like to try new things, and one of the best things of being in a band is you can gather experiences,” Holoapainen says. “But China really tests you. It’s so different to anywhere else I’ve ever been. It’s like being on the moon!”

The venue for Nightwish’s show in Beijing—the Haidian Exibition Theatre—certainly doesn’t feel like home either.
Imagine the production values of the music tent at a real ale festival put in side a freezing cold warehouse and you wouldn’t be far off. The stage is quite obviously a temporary feature of this cavernous room, and it’s clear that the only reason this is a venue is because it’s a building big enough to fit a stage and an audience into. There’s not even a bar, just a table selling cans of Coke and bottled water. There are however, policemen everywhere: on the door, in the toilets, wandering through the crowd… As if someone’s expecting the 1,300 people here to see Nightwish to start a riot at any second. Hardly.
Wander upstairs, and you’ll find that the dressing room facilities aren’t much more glamorous or comfortable either. In various chairs around the room, roadies nap in the uncomfortable looking yogic positions that come naturally to hardened travelers used to catching 40 winks on the go. Everyone else sits in near silence, tapping away on Blackberries and laptops, or simply staring into space. And everyone, except Olzon, is smoking, filling the room with a thick, pungent smog.
“One Euro!” proclaims Vuorinen, clutching a packet of Marlboro bought that afternoon in delight. He’s happier with his purchase than with the toilet, a porcelain hole at ground level, which he eyes suspiciously before deciding that the challenge of excreting into such a thing is not one that he’s up to.
But nobody complains about the venue, or the conditions, not aloud anyway.
“Lots of things here don’t work, things maybe don’t work as smoothly as we’re used to,” muses Holopainen, reclining into a sofa, “but everyone is working really hard to make things happen. You appreciate how much work goes into putting on a show like this. The people here have worked really hard to make something from nothing, and you realize that that’s what’s important here.”
Coming to China isn’t just an exciting break for the usual stops of touring for Holopainen. During the writing of Dark Passion Play, he faced incredible uncertainty about the future of the band, about whether they’d well and truly scuppered themselves by firing Turunen.
“Everyone had more faith in us than I did,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if people would still care, or if people would turn our backs on us because they liked Tarja. It was a very strange time, there was a lot of pressure. We got booked for shows in arenas in Finland before the album had even come out, which was scary, because I really didn’t know if we would fail or not. I almost felt like we were setting ourselves up to fail.
“But when the album was finally released, I felt like a boulder had been lifted off my shoulders,” Holopainen adds. “All the uncertainty and pressure just vanished.”
As the lights go down, there’s uncertainty in the air again. But this time it’s uncertainty—and excitement—of doing something new. And as Nightwish roll out their operatic metal splendor for the first time ever in China, Beijing submits.
And although there’s no moshing, and it’s with hesitation that the crowd follow the frontwoman’s lead to pump their fists in the air, there isn’t a single person here not completely caught up in the feeling of occasion.
“For me, one of the main things about going on tour is gathering experiences, both onstage and offstage,” Holopainen adds after the show on the bus back to the hotel. “And this is what this is. This trip had nothing to do with money, believe me. But we are the first Finnish band to play in China, and that’s worth coming for on it’s own.”

Надписи на фотографиях:
A LONG WAY FROM HOME
-Nightwish reveal some of their China trip highlights…

THERE”S NO PLACE LIKE STARBUCKS…
Anette: “I love Starbucks! When you’re traveling like this, you get our of routine, so when you know you can go somewhere and get something that’s the same wherever you are, it’s fantastic! I went to Starbucks by the Great Wall for a sandwich!”

PICTURE PERFECT
Anette: “I take millions of pictures on tour. In China, I’ve just been taking pictures of everything. Not just things like the Tiananmen Square, but everyday things that are unusual to me. There was a road sign with a trumpet with a line through it, which I thought was funny. It’s nice to come home with a lot of pictures and memories.”

STARVING FOR SUSHI
Tuomas: “Sushi is my favorite food. I love it. Japan is great to tour because of the food. We did some secret shows last year as Sushi Patrol, that’s our code-name!”

Ревью концерта:
Finnish metal gods Nightwish are headed our way – time to warm up those vocal chords!

Are you looking forward to getting over here for some shows?
ANETTE OLZON (vocals): “I don’t get place expectation on any place in particular but I’m happy playing everywhere. If I’m frank, I don’t like London that much, I was there for my honeymoon and I don’t think it’s the perfect town for that! (laughs) But it will be great, we have three shows in London and we’ll have some guest musicians with us to liven those shows up too.”

Scandinavians are well known for their capacity for alcohol – can you compete with the guys in your band?
ANETTE: “I am a very responsible person, so I’ve only been very drunk once with them. I’m not made to drink alcohol, it always ends up with me throwing up and passing out for a day! We have a very, very hectic schedule, and there’s not time for rest so if I drink one night, my throat will be bad for three, so I kind of have to be sober, it’s the singer’s dilemma. (laughs) The guys are nice to be around when they’re drunk anyway. They don’t talk so much when they’re sober so in fact most of our communication is when they’re drunk. The only problem is that they don’t remember what they’ve said!” (laughs)

Do you ever get tempted to stage-dive?
ANETTE: “Yeah, I do! If we have a good show and I feel I can trust the people in there, at the end of the show I’ll jump down behind the barrier and take as many people’s hands as I can. But I think if I were to actually jump in there, I’d end up totally naked, because they really try to steal everything off me! (laughs) Every time, someone tries to get the rings off my fingers, my bracelets, anything. I’m pretty sure I’d end up completely stripped if I tried to actually go in there, and that’s not a good thing for anyone!” (laughs)

Have you ever tried to hit a note high enough to shatter a wine glass?
ANETTE: I don’t know about that, but when I was younger and we were recording a musical I was in, I had to be standing in a different room because I sang so fucking loud. I have a big scream, and I may not be able to shatter glasses with it but I could definitely make some people pretty miserable!” (laughs)

Who would win an arm wrestling contest between you and WT’s Sharon den Adel?
ANETTE: “When I started this band I exercised a lot and had pretty big biceps – but since then they have just disappeared! (laughs) I don’t know what shape she’s in, but I guess we’re kinda the same age – but I’m not competitive, so I’d let her win, she’s a marvelous person.”

What’s the most rock ‘n’ roll thing you’ve done recently?
ANETTE: “Getting up on stage and developing myself into being this rock bitch up there is probably the biggest thing. But I actually wanted to trash a TV in Greece, I was so angry – no band should play in Greece, we got so fucked over- and the guys were like, ‘Throw the TV in the pool, you’ve not done that before!’ But then I remembered I’m a civilized person and a mum, and I shouldn’t really do things like that.” (laughs)

So what would be your Night wish?
ANETTE: “To survive this tour!” (laughs)


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