Interview with Nightwish 25

Source: Planet Loud

Finnish Symphonic Metal outfit Nightwish grabbed numerous headlines when singer Tarja Turunen was ousted from the band via a hand-written letter from songwriter and band main-man Toumas Holopainen in 2005. Fast-forward to March 2008 and the band return to the UK for a series of dates with freshly acquired Swedish singer Anette Ozlen and with latest album 'Dark Passion Play' garnering rave reviews across the world.

Planet Loud spoke to Tuomas moments before their performance in a sold-out Birmingham Academy to discuss the intense emotions involved whilst writing 'Dark Passion Play', how powerful having the chance to complete his musical vision can be, whilst uncovering the 'real' dreams of Mr. Holopainen..
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Planet Loud – Focusing firstly on the current UK tour, containing three dates at London's Astoria. The last time we saw you here with a full headline tour was 2005, over three years ago. An awful lot has happened in that time and there seems to have been a sense of a waiting 'expectancy' amongst the fans over here. What has it been like for you performing with that kind of feeling, that anticipation?

Tuomas – England has remained the same since I remember it being 3 years ago. It's always nerve- wracking to play in a new country with Anette on this tour. You never know how the people in different countries will react. The worst is definitely playing in Finland, as we have a Swedish singer! It was the same here when we played for the first time in London. We didn't know how English people would take her but it's been fantastic. Especially the second London show.

Planet Loud – For the UK stretch of the tour you've also had Uilleann pipe maestro Troy Donockley of Celtic/progressive rock group Iona and various other projects join you on stage. What has it been like performing with him?

Tuomas - Phenomenal. Glorious times. There is definitely something going on there. He has become a really good friend of mine as well on a personal level. We are in some ways soul mates. There's just something going on. It's fantastic when you have guest musicians of this caliber, it makes the show go to a different level. The same as when we had John Two-Hawks play for us live a few times.

Planet Loud - How did Troy's initial involvement with the band come about?

Tuomas – Through Pip Williams. They're good friends and he did a lot of the orchestral arrangements on the latest album and I asked him for some Celtic pipes, asking if he knew anybody. He said he knew just the guy. He was totally right.

Planet Loud – You're visibly immersed within the music whilst performing live. Is live performance an emotional 'release' for you?

Tuomas – Yes, it is. I consider myself as being quite a calm person, on the shy side. But when you are playing live you can release everything. I often sing the lyrics. I never sing in the band but I find it therapeutic to shout them out and I even curse a lot. Let it all out. Afterwards you feel like you've run a marathon.

Planet Loud - Does that high level of commitment and emotional involvement ever drain you? What keeps you going whilst on the stage?

Tuomas – It just feels so good every night. No matter how shitty the day is you have those 90 minutes on stage. Sometimes you can get a bit pissed if you're ill, or you're really tired. You have a bad hair day..you have a bad playing day, you just can't get it right. Nobody knows where it comes from. 9 out of 10 times though, it's really good.

Planet Loud – To the latest album 'Dark Passion Play'. The symphonic edge has always been a vital part of the Nightwish sound. For this release you worked with the London Session Orchestra and the Metro Voices Choir, as on the previous 'Once'. What is it like to have the opportunity to let free the ambitious ideas you have and work with such highly esteemed musicians?

Tuomas – I feel so blessed and privileged to be able to have this band in such a state that I can do almost anything. Live all of my dreams. If I was to have a classical orchestra with the best players in the world, who these guys really are, I can do it. I feel so happy about that. The band around me, everybody, they are so good at what they do. All the strings are available for me to pull, there are no restrictions. That I cannot fulfill this vision because we don't have the money or whatever..

Planet Loud – 'Dark Passion Play' thrusts the listener into the album with the sprawling, cinematic roller-coaster ride of 'The Poet And The Pendulum'. Lyrically and musically, is this the most intense song-writing experience you've undergone?

Tuomas – By far, yes. Song-writing has never ever been so easy, so fluent, so dramatic in a way. Roller-coaster ride is a good term. The whole album is a roller-coaster ride. A pretty dark one as well but there are more positive highlights too like 'Amaranth' and 'Last Of The Wilds'. Though you really swim in some dark waters, dark thoughts.

Planet Loud – 'The Poet And The Pendulum' itself is seperated into five individual 'chapters'. What sort of ideas and emotions exist within the song? It seems to follow a lot of shifting thoughts and feelings, presenting an ongoing personal battle that reaches a sense of almost mournful sanctuary, a sense of 'relief' at its close..

Tuomas – It's mainly about this alchemist and about the feeling that you have just fought enough, you can't keep things together anymore. Why are you such a bad person? Why are you just such a weak human being? I just felt like my life had come to a certain point in 2005, with all the crap going on with Tarja and stuff. I felt like 'let's kill myself'. Not in a concrete way, but in a song. Then maybe I can 'start over'. And talk about therapy in music.. this song is the perfect example.

Planet Loud – I read a fascinating comment you gave once regarding the whole process of the latest album. In that it gifted you the chance to immerse yourself completely within the music. Removing feelings of 'senselessness', hopelessness. Could you give me some insight into just how must strength you took from the music during that time?

Tuomas – It was like you enter your own little microcosm that you've created. Just this song you are writing. You just don't care about anything else. You don't even care about the other band members. It's a really selfish thing. Not egoistic. I've heard some comments about this song ['The Poet And The Pendulum'] that I'm being egoistic because it actually says Tuomas in the song. But I just want it to be a punch in the face and it's really there.

Planet Loud – Would you say that this album is the most lyrically 'raw' release we've seen from Nightwish?

Tuomas – Yes! There is also 'Bye Bye Beautiful', 'Master Passion Greed' which is pretty dark stuff.

Planet Loud – There's also a blending of a lot of different cultural influences to the music. You have the Irish influence on 'Last Of The Wilds', the middle-eastern drenched 'Sahara'. Is this a vital part of what you wanted to create within the new album?

Tuomas – Yeah... I'm a complicated person. It's also a blessing. That the concept of the band that I am in, from the very beginning we can do almost anything, so the music is really diverse. Somehow it manages to hold the same soul, the same' image'.

Planet Loud – There is this visual imagery to your music, and you have striking artwork that accompanies each album. Has this always been an important area for the band also?

Tuomas – I think it comes from the fact that I really love film music. I love the idea of combining 'visual' art with 'audio' art. We go to a lot of trouble with the cover artwork and everything. For this album I wanted to have a picture for every song.

Planet Loud – Who was responsible for the artwork for this one?

Tuomas – A guy called 'Toxic Angel' from Finland. Most of the songs I had an idea for but he came up with a few. For example '7 Days To The Wolves'. 'Bye Bye Beautiful' was his too. I think he worked with them for about five to six months. He always sent me sketches saying 'That's not 'quite' right'. I remember 'Cadence Of Her Last Breath' with the picture of the girl holding the butterfly, that was hard. I think he really tried everything!

Planet Loud – In terms of lyrics as a 'whole'. Are there any particular lines or passages that are dearest to your heart? Be it for personal reasons, maybe due to them fitting the music you had in mind so perfectly?

Tuomas – 'Beauty comes with dark thoughts'. Let's just say I take a lot of pride in that one..

Planet Loud – I'm striving to avoid some of the usual questions, one obviously involving the decision for former singer Tarja Turnen's departure. But what intrigues is how you felt after the hysteria gathered around her leaving had settled and you were faced with having to find a new voice for your music? Was that a fearful time for you, or one more of excitement, of new possibility?

Tuomas – Believe it or not the pressure was never there. That desperation. We just felt really relieved as a band. At the same time we felt really bad and just a little bit bitter. But the main thing was relief and we knew that the right person was out there somewhere so we were just going to take our time. We were in absolutely no hurry. It took about 14 months and then we decided who she was going to be, so that was never going to be a real problem.

But you know the first month, month and a half, after Tarja's departure was living hell. It really, really was. The biggest mistake that I made and the band made was not to realise the amount of hassle it would cause. We were really childish in that. Okay, maybe 'someone' will write about the singer not being in the band anymore, but God damn! Every single talk show, all the press, the prime minister of Finland was talking about it, everyone was talking for weeks..

Planet Loud – You now of course have new singer Anette fronting the band. With her around is there a different, fresh energy within the band?

Tuomas – Absolutely there is. We are trying to take really good care of her. I hope we have learned something as well from the past. The biggest problem is that she's been here in the business with Nightwish for little over a year now and she comes out of nowhere to be in a situation like this. The other guys in the band, we have had 11 years gradually dealing with this. So now everything comes to her at once. I cannot even imagine what it's like. So there are, as I like to call them, some big 'culture shocks', no matter how we prepared her for this. She said she was ready, she wasn't ready! So we are doing all we can to try and make it work.

Planet Loud – She's settled in now, in a sense, with her first album for the band. With that in mind do you have any insight into how the next Nightwish album may be approached, in terms of sound and lyrical content? Or is it too early to be talking about that?

Tuomas- I have an idea. I have quite a strong vision. I already have one song 'ready' and I believe the year is 2010 that we will go into the studio.

Planet Loud – When you re-listen and take in the albums in hindsight is there anything you wish had been done differently, maybe even within Nightwish as a whole?

Tuomas – I never do that. I believe that everything that you do leads to another thing and you have to make mistakes. So I wouldn't really change anything.

Planet Loud – If you weren't making music, what would you be doing in terms of a career? Or is that too hard a question to handle?

Tuomas – No, it's the easiest thing in the world to answer. I would be a scientist. A marine biologist. Making music is not a dream come true to me. This is not a 'dream' for me at all. From the age of 5 to 19 I always wanted to be a marine biologist. I even went to University to study for sixth months. I've always loved nature, biology. The oceans..

I wanted to be the one who found the new species. Then I went to university to study the sciences and it just wasn't 'there'. It wasn't in my heart. I felt like I was in a prison. At the same time Nightwish was making its breakthrough with the 'Oceanborn' album and I felt like this was the thing I wanted to do. At least now I'm getting to see the world, to see these oceans!

Planet Loud - The third single from 'Dark Passion Play' is released May 21st, entitled 'The Islander'. There's been a video filmed to go with the single, is it all ready to go?

Tuomas – It's filmed and ready. I just saw it for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It was phenomenally good. I think it's one of the best videos we've ever done by far. Marco saw it for the first time. He was hung over, it was early in the morning and there were many tears in his eyes. The video is really beautiful. The premier is going to be the 14th of April.

Planet Loud – So what else is in the pipeline for the future? Is it mainly touring for the moment? You seem to have a fairly intense schedule that takes you into 2009..

Tuomas – That's pretty much everything you want to think about at the moment. Trying to survive this tour and trying to enjoy the tour, whilst taking care of each other. The last show for this tour will be in September 2009 so it's about another year and a few months to go. It's a long haul but I think we'll be fine.

Planet Loud – In closing, a while ago you mentioned the possibility of a one-off special performance with a full live orchestra, in London. Have there been any progress with these plans and is it still something you'd love to do?

Tuomas – Absolutely. That will be the ultimate dream. If you have seen the Metallica S&M documentary you will know the amount of hassle is incredible. The organising. The money. Everything you need. We're just not up for that yet. I think we need another album with Anette behind us before we can do that. But I promise to do everything I can to make it happen. One day!

Planet Loud – Many thanks for your time Tuomas, good luck for the set later.

Tuomas – No problem, enjoy the show!

Interact -
Posted on 2008-04-24
Interviewer Jim Hall

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