Interview with Nightwish 63

Source: Mindspring

In LotFP #2 I ran a short feature on NIGHTWISH. Usually that would be enough. Well, one year after first hearing their sophomore effort Oceanborn (on Spinefarm Records) and having it still be a frequent resident in my CD player, I have decided that the one piddly feature was not enough. NIGHTWISH just isn't catching on, and that's WRONG. Heavy metal the Finnish way, with lead keyboards, a GODDESS on vocals, and songs so strong they don't leave you. I had to present the definitive NIGHTWISH feature, so I sent keyboard player/mastermind Tuomas Holopainen an 80 question interview. He wasn't exactly as in depth as I would have liked all the time, but nobody has put together as complete an article with as much NIGHTWISH information as what you're about to read. If bands such as AMORPHIS, STRATOVARIUS, THE GATHERING, or ANYTHING heavy, melodic, and uplifting causes you any excitement at all, you need to hear NIGHTWISH. Period, end of story. This is one of the better bands out there now, so read why that is...

'allo again! All I can think of to say to begin with is congratulations and thank you for the Oceanborn album. A lot of albums that are great at first fades. Very few actually stick with the listener over the course of a year and get played a lot the whole time! What have been your favorite albums this year, metal or otherwise?

Of my favorite albums this year I could mention LUCA TURILLI's King of the Nordic Twilight, FREEDOM CALL's Stairway to Fairyland, AMORPHIS' Tuonela and the soundtrack of Mulan.

The first order of business has to be your situation within the US. Have you gained a licensing deal for the US yet? If not, is any in the works?

No we haven't, yet. Ther has been lots of interested labels, though, and Oceanborn will be officially released in the States in the beginning of 2000.

How much of a response have you gotten from the US? Lots of fan mail?

Very little, actually. I've received a couple of letters and there have been some comments on our internet homepage but that's about it.

Do you find that in dealing with the press that different countries have different lines of questioning? If so, how?

Well, Americans tend to make long interviews... Seriously, not that much, it depends more of the one who is questioning rather than which country is he or she from.

What is the single most frequent and/or annoying question you get asked?

I guess it's our biography, which is a natural question, of course, but has such a long answer it's annoying to go it over and over again. I did something like 150 interviews this spring and almost all of them wanted our biography... Also, I'm sick and tired of answering whether or not the song The Carpenter is about Jesus Christ!

And what is the answer to that question?

Yes. Everyone happy now?

I notice a trend in magazines, and even fanzines, to feature bands from the same country as the magazine more frequently, more in depth, and more favorably. You've certainly had your space in Suomi Finland Perkele (even the English edition!). Would you think this is a more conscious decision to try to strengthen the 'home town' bands, or a more unconscious 'we're better than everyone else' type of thing?

It also depends, naturally, but I think most of this has to do with the fact that magazines want to give their best support for the bands of their home country. I think it's their right, even duty. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Do you personally tend to get more excited over Finnish bands than others? (Hell, *I* get more excited over Finnish bands than others...)

Pretty much so! I honestly think that the Finnish metal scene is top class and we have some awesome bands like AMORPHIS, STRATOVARIUS, CHILDREN OF BODOM and SONATA ARCTICA, just to mention a few. All this might have just a tad of patriotic sense in it but still, we have a scene to definitely get excited about!

Your music and especially the lyrics are definitely not the norm for the scene, so I'm going to assume there's something a lot more personal in the material. So here are some personal questions! Let's go back to the beginning. No, I mean the VERY beginning! When and where were you born?

I was born on Christmas day in 1976 in a small town, where I still live.

Did you grow up in a more urban or rural area?

I grew up in the rural area, on an old farm actually, even though we didn't have any cattle. I felt like living in the middle of nowhere in the woods, but this fit me just fine. I'm still living in the country and I love it. I never could imagine myself living in a big city.

I know musical education opportunities are more plentiful in most Europian countries than in the US. Is that the case in Finland as well?

I suppose we have good chances of musical education. Every city has its own music schools and there are many conservatories all aroun Finland. Only one university level, though, Sibelius Academy.

How early did you become involved in music? What was your first instrument?

My first instrument was the piano, which I started playing at the age of seven. A year after that I joined the music school and the clarinet became my main instrument. I also attended theory classes, went to a classical orchestra, a jazz band and kept piano as my 2nd instrument.

What was the first album you bought? First metal album? What was the first band you REALLY became a fan of and why?

The first album I bought was an lp of a Finnish rock band. First metal album, I think was KISS Asylum. However, it was METALLICA in 1992 who changed my life to metal. I was a big fan of them. I went to their concert in Kansas City while I was there as an exchange student and after that I was completely hooked.

When did you decide you really wanted to start making music?

After have been playing two years in a metal band I decided I wanted to do something on my own. I realized that songwriting was the thing for me.

A lot of musicians in the US have really interesting stories about how their families reacted to their musical ambitions. They're mostly interesting HORROR stories, but... how was your family as far as being supportive about music? What do they think of NIGHTWISH now that it has become 'famous'?

Our parents have been very supportive all this time. No horror stories here, sorry.

By your lyrics you're definitely something of a romantic and just a big ol' softie at heart. (How un-metal of you, Tuomas! I bet you even crack a smile now and again during rehearsals, ha ha!) So let's see if I can get away with asking these questions... how old were you when you had your first crush?

What the hell...? Ok, but you can`t be serious... not old enough.

What was it about the person that attracted you?


How old you were you when you had your first date?


How did it go?

Pretty good.

What one word would you use to describe your first kiss?


Was your first romp in the sack the utter disaster it was for me and just about everyone I know?

Can't remember...

Who would you say your keyboard inspirations are? Hell, the only notable names that stand out on their own that I can think of in this music are Jens Johansson and Vitalij Kuprij (sorry Adina, ha ha!).

Jens Johansson is a great one, Vangelis (because of his original sounds, he`s a genius!), and Kitaro (because of the feeling).

What do you think of solo keyboard players like Mortiis and Varg (cough cough moron cough cough) Vikernes who rely more on ‘emotion' and 'atmosphere' rather than real playing ability?

I think all music should be based on emotions and atmosphere, that`s what music`s about. I'm not really into these solo key players but I have respect for them.

Any thoughts of dressing up in bat wings and fake ears and nose and releasing solo albums?

If it's something that feels right to do, just do it. I don't mind.

Tell us what was going on in your life around the time you started up NIGHTWISH.

I had just quit in the obligatory military and I was still playing in two other metal bands. Nothing worth mentioning was going on.

I understand NIGHTWISH was originally an acoustic project? How does a synth fit in such a concept?

Just great. What we did was ‘mood music' and synth fit into those moods perfectly. Why not?

I understand you have no intention of releasing anything from the acoustic period of the band. Obviously you must not think they're any good, but don't you think that would be an irresponsible decision when you have a growing fanbase that is interested in all aspects of the band?

Well, all that's left of that period are three (nostalgic, I must admit) songs. And I have no idea where the original tapes are so let the songs RIP.

When did Tarja become involved? Early on in this acoustic stage or was it later on after you'd become a metal band? How did the idea come about for the more operatic vocal style? It doesn't sound at all like you just put an ad in the music paper and it just so happens this kind of singer answered it... let's face it, this kind of actual quality singing is VERY rare and somewhat over-the-top in this music.

Tarja joined the band for she wanted to try something different to what she had done before (pop, soul, spiritual music...) She was a member already in the acoustic period. She will be an opera singer one day, for at the moment she's studying classical singing in Sibelius Academy, which is a university-level music school in Finland. She will specialize in opera from the beginning of the next semester. She's very professional as far as her use of voice is concerned. Before a live concert she takes two hours to ‘open the voice.' It's always fun to listen to her singing these funny chords and lalalalaaas in a hotel room! The same goes for studiowork.

Before I ask about you becoming a melodic metal band, I'd like some perspective of the scene at the time. Popular myth is that when HAMMERFALL's first album was released, more traditional metal was stone cold dead, and they awakened everything. When you first decided to go with the electric guitars and everything, when was that in relation to the release of HAMMERFALL? How alive or dead was melodic metal in Finland at that time?

We had never even heard of HAMMERFALL when we turned to metal. It wasn't such a concious decision that ‘let's do melodic metal!' We merely started writing new songs and this is what was born. As simple as that.

When did you first release Angels Fall First? Is it true there were songs on there that are not on the Spinefarm version of the album? Why were those left off? Will we ever get to hear them?

It was released in November `97. The demo version of it contains two songs that are not on the actual Angels Fall First album. (500 copies limited edition) Again, RIP...

When you first recorded AFF, was it intended to be a demo to attract label interest, or as a self release to be sold in its own right?

It was supposed to be a (long) demo that we did just for the fun of it and maybe attract some labels. However, it turned out to be something we had never expected.

How did you get such a strong production recording those songs yourself?

Our friend recorded it in his studio and this guy is a wizard and a pefectionist so that`s why.

When did Spinefarm get in touch with you about a record deal? Was there any other label interest?

It was right after the recording, during the tour of my other band, NATTVINDENS GRÅT. We didn`t even send that demo to anyone else, Spinefarm giving us such a nice deal.

So why is Ewo known as 'The Man'?

Because he is.

How did you find out that your first album had hit the charts? What were you doing? What was your reaction?

I was in my room when this guy from the radio called me and said if he could do an interview because our album had hit the charts. I was shocked, and veeeeery excited about this. It felt great!

In my opinion the songs recorded after your signing are noticeably better, as a group, than the ones recorded before. Were you really advancing as a composer so quickly that 4 months made that much difference, or was it a matter of hearing the first batch recorded and learning quickly what needs to be concentrated on in your music?

I guess I`m a fast learner... I hated the mistakes we had done and I didn't want to repeat them. Also, our ambition had grown a great deal so we a kind of wanted to ‘show off.'

The cover on Angels Fall First... How does it relate to the title or the material?

A beautiful photograph, calm but strong as the music on AFF.

As is usual for your genre, your opening track Elvenpath is a speedy one, and delivers everything the band is really about in four and a half minutes. However, it is the lyrics that evoke the greatest response out of me perhaps of everything you've ever done, so I have a bunch of questions inspired by this one alone. First, the theme mirrors that of BLIND GUARDIAN's song Imaginations From The Other Side, yet really innocent in scope. How long have you been into fantasy?

All my life, and even longer, I think. Fantasy in all of its forms is such a huge part of my everyday life.

You make a LOT of references throughout both albums to people and places in the lyrics. From mentioning Carter in Tutankhamen to Shangri-La in the title song, and plenty more. I find it odd just because it's something nobody else seems to do that at all. What's the thinking behind that?

Weird thing, because I never thought it that way. No special thinking behind that, it`s just a natural thing for me. Using references have the ability to make the lyrics more interesting and bring up questions rather than answers.

I first read Lord of the Rings when I was 8 years old, and it changed my life. Middle-Earth sometimes seems so much more real, more interesting, then the world going on around me. Are there any fictional worlds which make you feel this way?

Oh yes. Middle-Earth is my home, too. I relate strongly into all the fantasy I read but Tolkien is my all-time big favourite!

Do you think the appeal of these fictional fantasy worlds is not so much the exotic and, well, fantastic occurrences, but the fact that in the end everything is resolved with a more or less 'happily ever after' ending?

For me the appeal is in the possibilities. I can do and create whatever I desire and nobody can take this away from me. I don't want to think this issue through thoroughly, fantasy does not need analyzing.

What do you think of darker fantasy authors such as Michael Moorcock (Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon, Von Bek) or Terry Goodkind (Sword of Truth series)?

Well, I truly enjoy more the more ‘fairytale-like' fantasy, where the prince and the girl live happily ever after. The moment there is supposed to be some kind of message behind fantasy, I'm through with it.

Willow gets a mention... what fantasy based movies do you think are well made? I personally think there are very few good ones. Conan the Barbarian, Beastmaster I, Willow, The Princess Bride, and that's it I think.

Willow is my very favourite! A kind of Tolkien rip-off, but who cares. I also liked Princess Bride, the Conan movies and the Star Wars movies, even though they are more into the sci-fi scene.

What in the world is a Home Gnome? I have no clue and to be honest the idea is a tad goofy... if you had the song to write all over again, would our little gnomish pal still get a mention?

You bet it would! I don't mind people laughing at my lyrics. I laugh at them often myself. Still, they are written honestly, about things I want to write about and never do I think whether this fits into the listeners big metal heads or not. I write what I feel like writing. A home gnome is a home gnome, what's so hard in that?! This gnomish pal of mine is a mythological little creature, a miniature Santa Claus, I would say. A very charming little thing. My dear friend. I'm sure you two would get along just fine!!

And a few other ones I don't recognize... who are Tapio, Mielikki, and Sparhawk?

Tapio and Mielikki are the King and Queen of forests in Finnish mythology. Sparhawk is a character from the book series of one of my favourite fantasy authors, David Eddings.

Where did you take the voice sample from?

From the Lord of the Rings cartoon.

The title track is a slow song. What was the thought behind making this also the name of the album?

Nothing special, it sounded cool. Actually we had trouble coming up withe the name for the album so we had to take a name of one the songs.

On both albums you have a preoccupation with Egyptians. What about the sand and pyramids interests you?

The greatest mystery of mankind and the fascinating culture and mythology. That's it.

What was the inspiration behind Nymphomaniac Fantasia? Because let me tell you, castration is definitely the LAST thing I want to think about when listening to Tarja sing...

Spare me... I hate this song. You dig and I'll bury the song, ok?

There's only one thing I can think of that would make a man write a song like ...Nightingale... So who was she, and does she know she inspired a song? Or do I have it all wrong and you just have a happier imagination than I?

This song would make a great competition or something, I think, because no one has by this day understood what this song is about!

The Lappi epic... is the first part indicative of what the acoustic NIGHTWISH period sounded like? What do Eramaajarvi and Etianen mean?

Erämaajärvi means ‘The Wilderness Lake' and yes, it is an indicative from the acoustic period of NIGHTWISH. Etiäinen is a wandering ghost in Lapland (Finnish mythology)

OK, now on to the Oceanborn album. First, the cover. It was pointed out to me that if you put your thumb on the woman's face then the rest of her looks like a crocodile. Any other almost funny or mildly interesting comments you've heard about it? What's the message that the owl's carrying?

Not really, the comments have been very positive about the cover, which is based on the Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean song. Read the lyrics and be much wiser...

Second, what is that outfit Tarja's got on? Not that I'm complaining (and not that I'm meaning to sound like a total horndog, hehe), but she's the only one that has had her presentation fancied up since the first CD.

I'm not sure. Some kind of dress, I've heard comments that she looks like she`s on her way to go milk a cow! Haha!

Actually playing the music shows a strong development. Stargazers hits me as sounding kind of GAMMA RAY, but with the Finnish feeling somehow, and with the sense of high drama that seems to be running rampant throughout the Italian scene at the moment. What do you think of your development from album to album?

Oceanborn is heavier, faster and more technical than its predecessor but still very atmospheric and bombastic. I think we have grown more mature on that album in every way. The songs, the musicianship and sound quality are all better and now I think we`ve found our true style. Angels Fall First is a good album as a debut album and it has a strong feeling of honesty in it but there are some things on it that I really don`t like such as the male vocals, some lyrics, etc.

With this album you've also taken the step to being a true, out in front, lead keyboardist. I think you've got tons more leads than the guitars... obviously you don't think too much of the 'keyboards don't belong in metal' factions out there eh?

Categorizing stuff is like politics, a necessary evil. Some people categorize keys outside metal but I think they fit the music just great. And while I compose all the stuff with my keyboards, our music tends to have a lot of them but we still have a perfect balance between the instruments.

Even with much 'busier' music, Oceanborn has been a much bigger commercial success than Angels Fall First. What is your secret to success? Why Sacrament of Wilderness as the first single?

This might sound corny but I believe our success has a lot to do with honesty. We really do just what we want ourselves, musically, lyrically and imagewise. Sacrament of Wilderness became the first single because it needed to be a rather short one and it is a song that shows both atmospherical and heavier sides of NIGHTWISH.

With the title Stargazers, I have to ask, are you by any chance a fan of RAINBOW?

I had never heard that RAINBOW has a song called Stargazer before the CD was out! Honestly! I'm not a big fan of them, just a nice coincidence.

You've got a song called Gethsemane, in the thankyous you've got 'The Haunting Beauty of Gethsemane garden, this one's for you.' Once again, please, spill the beans, what's up?

A very personal song, personal subject. Need I say more?

Do you sometimes have difficulty with the lyrics seeing as how you're a male writing at times romantic lyrics when a woman's going to be the one singing them?

Never really. Tarja relates beautifully to my lyrics and it has never been a problem. Of course I need to be careful that she will not be singing ‘please be my wife' etc.

Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean is the most controversial song you've done, mainly because of some uneducated goofballs. The complaints I've heard about this one have been people who wouldn't know Deicide from a running lawnmower saying that there are 'death vocals' here. Obviously that's not the case but I was wondering why the choice was made to use that deep vocal style in there? I personally think it works as it creates a little extra spice in the two songs it's in. Then again, I don't mind death vocals so this is certainly nothing to get bent out of shape about...

Shit, this really annoys me. I`ve heard a lot of complaints that we use ‘death vocals' and due to that we are satanic and blablablah. If they just bother to read the lyrics they would realize that it's the devil and the pharaoh that are speaking there as an EFFECT. The plots required a deep male voice so we used one to create atmosphere in two songs. That's it. End of story.

Moondance... WOW! But again, some people have to ruin the fun, I've seen this called 'great bar mitzvah music' in at least two different negative reviews... (don't worry, the zines were real low-grade, CANNIBAL CORPSE worshipping stuff anyway, nothing to worry about, hehe) It sounded somewhat Russian to me, but I'll have to admit I'm pretty much an all-metal guy so 'traditional' music is nothing more than a guess to me. Could you explain the influences that went into this piece?

‘Great Bar Mitzvah music...!!!' hahaha! When I read this description I fell from my chair. A very good one! I don't think I was inspired by anything special as far as Moondance is concerned. It was fun to make and fun to record.

When you write the music to the songs, are you putting lyrics to it as you write? And with Moondance, for example, at what point was it decided it would be an instrumental?

I always have the idea for the song and what it's about before composing it. It`s not until final arrangements that I finish with the lyrics. Moondance never required lyrics, it's supposed to be a ‘dance.'

What's the story behind Walking on Air?

The Snowman is a 30-minute cartoon which is shown every Christmas Eve here in Finland for the last 15 years. It's a beautiful tale about a little boy and a snowman, who comes alive after midnight. This cartoon has always been the highlight of Christmas Eve for me so it is full of childhood memories. And the theme song, Walking in the Air, is probably the most beautiful song I've ever heard. H. Blake is an English composer who wrote the music just for that cartoon.

And a few more band-related questions... you're credited with the vast majority of the music and lyrics, but the band is credited as arranging. How often is it that something you've come up with is vetoed by the rest of the band? How different would you say the songs are from when you first come up with them to where they end up?

We have our fair share of disagreements but usually we work them out. We all respect each others ‘privacy in his instrument,' if you know what I mean. The songs may differ a lot after arranging process but the soul in them always remains. We had a fight whether or not Moondance should be a part of the album or not...

OK, now about Tarja. Every interview I've seen, you've handled it, but every review (including mine) seem to focus more on her as a focal point in the band. Obviously having somebody so talented and distinctive in the band is a big plus for getting attention and pushing NIGHTWISH towards the top of the heap, but do you ever worry that she'll lose interest or at some time have other commitments to where it is impossible for her to continue in the band?

Yes, we have that fear. But NIGHTWISH is very important to her and the situation is very solid at the moment.

I don't know opera from a cat in heat. It's obvious Tarja is a quite gifted vocalist, but that's coming from a metal/rock perspective. Her thing is opera and I have no idea how she compares with people in that genre. Could you clue us in as to how she's judged in that arena? With continued practice and study, how much improvement can we expect out of her and how will you take advantage of that in NIGHTWISH?

She's very young, 22 years old, and still in the early stage of her vocal developement so we haven't heard it all yet. She is recognized as a talent in the professional opera genre, as well.

I understand you were recently in the States... was it your first time visiting this cultureless hellhole? What were you doing here? What places did you visit?

How in the world do you know this?! Well, it doesn't matter. I visited the family I lived with during my exchange year in 1992-1993. This was near Wichita, Kansas. I also went to Walt Disney World in Florida. I'm a Disney fan and a collector so despite the commercialism, I loved it there!

What would you say are the most striking differences between the US and Finland?

US: Warm, big, diverse cultures, pollution, warm-hearted people, junk food, junk metal. Finland: Cold, small, one culture, rather clean nature, close-minded people, good metal.

I don't know if I have this viewpoint because of my interests or what, but it seems that the European peoples have a more profound sense of history and their own cultural roots. America seems to not have any sense of anything beyond the latest pop culture sensation. How do you see it?

That's very true! During my stay in the States people asked me questions about Finland. ‘Isn't it somewhere near India? Is the polar bear your national food?' I mean, no offence, but you guys don't know much about the world beyond the ocean...

What does it mean to chart in Finland? Are you on the radio? Are you often recognized on the street? What is it like to be hanging out with friends and one of YOUR SONGS is suddenly played on the radio? Has your music been used in any car commercials yet?

Chart entry means publicity, which is a good thing. We are not that famous, actually. Very few people recognize us on the streets and the radio playing sucks. No metal whatsoever on the radio, even if we hold the top position in the charts. It's really weird. I heard Sacrament of Wilderness was played something like 5 times in the national radio during all this time.

Are you living off of the music? If not, what do you do for a living? Any problems getting time off for shows or to tour?

I'm barely living by music. But I hope we will get to the point that we wouldn't have to do anything besides music. Taking the time off is never a problem for anyone except Tarja due to her intense studies at the Academy.

How many copies of each of your albums have you sold? Charted anywhere other than Finland?

Don`t know about Angels Fall First but Oceanborn has sold over 60000 copies and is still selling very good. It was also charted in Germany, somewhere around 70 at its best I think.

I saw some pictures in Terrorizer of one of your shows. Are the lights and effects a standard part of the NIGHTWISH live experience?

Depends of the place we're playing in. We think the visual aid to our shows is very important so we always try to make the lights as good as possible.

Has the band been to Japan yet? Any word of how they've received you?

Nope, maybe next year.

You'll be on tour in Europe with Rage about the time this interview hits in the US. Will this be your first extended series of shows?

In a way, yes. We did scattered touring in Finland all year, about 60 gigs, though.

I don't know the extent of Tarja's activities within the opera (or your gigging for that matter!). Has she ever been in the position where she had to perform night after night to this extent? Any ideas how she'll cope with the smoky clubs for a month?

Tarja's voice is a huge concern to us. Our biggest fear on the tour is how her voice stands up. We did 5 gigs in three days at the Midsummer's Festival in June and she was practically dying after that. I Hope everything goes all right.

When can we expect another NIGHTWISH album? Any new material in the works? How is the music progressing?

We're rehearsing our 3rd album all the time. We have 7 new songs so far and we enter the studio in January. The release should be in May 2000.

To follow-up on a question I asked last time... I suppose Tarja is still unable to marry me, eh?

I asked her about it and she almost agreed but then her boyfriend made a firm statement. Sorry, pal.

Well, we've (finally!!) come to the end of the line. With any luck I didn't bore you/tire you/piss you off too much with the length. Anything else you'd like to say to the US fans?

These kind of interviews make any man an alcoholic. Still, thanks for the interest and support! Keep in touch and please send me the issue where this inteview is! Thanks a lot.


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