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If you have not spent the last few months on a lonely island, you must have heard of the changes that happened to Finnish Melodic Metallers NIGHTWISH. Right before the official release of “Dark Passion Play”, STALKER met band-mastermind Tuomas Holopainen in Helsinki to talk about the new Swedish singer Anette Olzon, the new CD and why from his viewpoint a new era has already started even two albums before... Moreover, you have soon the chance to see Nightwish live, check the STALKER tourdates!
It´s difficult to come up with questions you have no been asked before, but how about this one: If the band members were in Lord Of The Rings, who would be playing which character?
Hmmmm... Marco would be Gandalf, for sure, Anette would be Arwen, of course... Emppu would be Pippin or Merry, the comic relief of the band (laughs), Jukka would be maybe Boromir or Faramir, I think... and I have to put myself as either Frodo or Gollum (laughs) - I go for Frodo!
The new album “Dark Passion Play” – what is from your perspective the most important song?
Well, it has to be the first, “The Poet And The Pendulum”, it kind of defines what the whole album is about. It is kind of THE song for the album, with the pendulum on the cover and everything.
What was the inspiration for this song
It´s like the soundtrack of my life, from the year 2005, what was going on. It´s a really therapeutic thing to kill yourself in a song, like I do in this one: the blade slashes me in half at the end of the song. I love life, I think the world is a beautiful place and I would never even think about doing something like that, but sometimes you just feel so incredibly bad and hurt, that when you can do a song like this, it really helps you to move on.
So there´s a little bit of Edgar Allan Poe in it?
That´s where the whole idea was born. I like Poe´s work a lot and this is my favourite novel. It just clicked “the pit and the pendulum”, OK, “the poet and the pendulum”! There is a strong sense of symbolism here, and I am pretty proud of the word-play here, it really works. I felt like the guy under the blade which was descending and descending...
Wouldn´t it be difficult to perform that song live?
Well, the orchestra and all the choirs will be coming from the backing tracks, and we have been rehearsing it a lot, last night, and we are going to do it live, at least just give it a shot. It is a lot of fun to play, 14 minutes. I hope the audience will have the patience...
The orchestra, was it the same as on “Once”?
Very much the same, it was a bit bigger. Last time it was 50 persons, now we had 66, then choir 33, Gospel choir 12, plus the Celtic instrument player and the boy soprano, there were about 120 guest musicians on the album (laughs). On the booklet I think there are four pages for them (laughs).
You cannot help to associate some song titles on the new album with your past, as a comment, like “Bye Bye Beautiful”...
Yeah, it´s no secret, this is like a farewell-song to Tarja, and it´s made in a good spirit; even though the song sounds a bit aggressive, there is no bad feelings, like hatred or anything like that. It is more about “why did this have to happen”, and in this situation where nobody in the end was innocent, and “it´s a sad thing that happened, so bye bye beautiful”. It could be “bye bye ugly one”, that would be hurtful (laughter), but that´s why I´m a songwriter, and that´s why we all play in a band, so we can emphasize those feelings we go through. So of course all things that happened, they affect you, and you want to let the demons out and make songs about them. So, I mean, there cannot be any person thinking that these things are NOT involved on this album. Bye Bye Beautiful is a concrete example of that. I hope nobody gets offended, because it´s not meant to be like that.
Well, another song on the album, the single “Amaranth”, I wondered if there´s indeed Finnish Folklore in it...
Yeah, the melody and the chorus is really Folkish, and I was really laughing when I was composing it, “this is going to be something”... But what bothers me a little bit about the single release, it does not represent the album as a whole at all. I mean, it´s really a positive song, a little bit Pop-y, and the album as a whole for me is the darkest and the heaviest one that we have done so far. It does not really represent the album, but it makes a good single choice, being so short and annoyingly catchy (laughs)
Yes indeed, if you heard it once it´s difficult to get it off your mind... The video referring to the famous Finnish painting “The Wounded Angel” (by Hugo Simberg, the ed.), was that your idea?
It was the director´s idea (Antti Jokinen, the ed.), the whole video is made by him, we didn´t have to say anything about it, and did not want to, because we thought the idea was so cool, what happened to the angel before and after the painting – it also pays homage to Finland as well.
Considering the whole album, how much of “Finnish-ness” is present there?
I think it is more a subconscious thing, you never think it consciously about Finnish influences, or “Let´s bring Finland into this”, it just comes naturally, the melancholy of Scandinavia in the music, but you think about it in advance in any way.
So how does it work with Anette, with rehearsals, is it more difficult as she doesn´t live in Finland?
It doesn´t matter, it´s only 1,5 hours flight from where she lives. And also back in the beginning of 2000 Tarja lived in Germany for three years, and we were still able to do everything, so it is no problem, it just takes a little bit of organising, but the world is a small place and all about organising. Actually we start rehearsing with her TODAY, we have been rehearsing with the guys for a week now, so that she doesn´t feel ashamed when she comes to the rehearsal place (laughs). Let´s see how it goes, we never played with her yet, so it´s kind of exciting, let´s see how it´s going to work.
What do you expect or hope from the future, at concerts, for example, from the audience?
I hope we´re going to have a good time, and I hope for some courtesy from the audience. The comparison is always inevitable, but I still hope that people will have the courtesy of welcoming Anette and, you know... she never did anything wrong. It was an open audition, she applied for the job, she got the job. All that she has ever done was doing her best. So if you´re throwing tomatoes on stage, aim at US, not HER, because we were the ones who chose her!
How were the reactions of fans so far?
Very divided, which was to be expected, too, I mean, there´s a lot of people who really like her, like “this was the perfect choice, she is not trying to copy Tarja at all, but she still has the emotion and the power in the voice, it´s a good direction”, and then there are the other people who think that Tarja was the only thing ever for Nightwish and they are never going to listen to it again. Well, let them have their way, I have no problem with that. This is the way it´s going to be, and especially when we´re going to play the old songs live with her new voice, it´s going to be a shocker for many people.
But I had a look at the band-website guestbook, and actually I noticed that the majority was pretty positive...
Yeah, I´m kind of surprised, I was expecting much worse, so at least they are going to give her a chance, give US a chance. And there are surprisingly many people out there who have always enjoyed the music of the band, but never really liked Tarja´s voice, because it was so high and loud and operatic. And they are like “finally I can listen to this, because the singing is a bit easier to the ear”. So there are a lot of those people as well. So for the fans we gonna lose, perhaps we gonna have new ones.
Did you have to re-arrange the old songs to fit better with the new voice?
We have not re-arranged anything. She is going to change the vocal lines a little bit, to fit her voice, and she is going to sing them in her own Rock voice, so the Opera is totally gone, I´m afraid. But this is the only way to do it. The only song that we´re never going to do again for sure is “The Phantom Of The Opera”, because it was so focused on Tarja and the classical style. Pretty much all the other songs we could do...(long pause)... I think. I´ll be much wiser tomorrow after tonight´s rehearsals (laughs).
Well, I have the impression that you still have Opera in your music, the dramatic style, and especially this “Poet and the Pendulum” track is like a tiny Opera, or a short film...
Yeah, in the music it´s still there, and “Poet” is a bit soundtrack-ish, that´s right... The music hasn´t changed that much, I think. I hear all those comments saying that this is a complete new start, that the album is something completely different, and I really disagree. The soul of the music, the orchestra and choir, heavy guitars, ballads – the same elements are still there, it´s just the voice that has changed. And even though it´s a completely different voice, I also think that we left out the Opera two albums ago! Even Tarja wasn´t singing with that style on “Century Child” and “Once” any more, so is that change really that radical and dramatic – I don´t think so, actually.
Apropos soundtrack, film music – you recently did a piece for the Finnish movie “Lieksa”, “While Your Lips Are Still Red”, and I was so surprised to hear Marco singing like that...
Me, too (laughs)
...so fucking AWESOME, so emotional, therefore I was a bit disappointed not to find anything like that on the album...
Mmm... “The Islander” is a bit like that...“While Your Lips Are Still Red” turned out to be really good, I´m kind of proud of that. It was a project thing, we didn´t put so much effort in it, only a song about the main character in the movie: “I just do a song, Marco comes and sings, that´s it”. And now when I listen to it, I´m really happy with the song. There are a lot of emotions involved.
Yeah – I just hope you do some more like that in the future, or perform that song live with Nightwish...
Yeah, it´s always a possibility. That song is also a bonus track on the “Amaranth” single, although it´s not really a Nightwish song, but I think we can still include it.
So how about the other projects of Nightwish band members, is everything put on hold now?
Well, Tarot just did it´s last show this weekend, they are not playing live for a while. Emppu is doing another Brother Firetribe album, as we speak, he is in the studio right now, it´s going to be released before Christmas. But the fact is that it´s going to be a real busy time with Nightwish, we are not going to have time for anything else really. The tour starts in October...
A lot of stress...
But it´s a good kind of stress, a lot of expectations, anxiety...
By the way, did you hear anything of Tarja´s solo album “My Winter Storm” that should be out this year? Rumour has it that it should sound like Nightwish...
No, just rumours, and what is in the papers, I don´t really know anything. Never believe in rumours, they suck.
Back to your own album - was there any song that felt like really difficult, like “cursed”?
In a way this album was the easiest of them all to make, because it was so smooth, even though it was a lot of hard work and a lot of time; but still, there were never any big problems with the songs, with the arrangements or in the studio. But Amaranth was maybe the hardest one, originally it was supposed to be a bonus track, I didn´t really like the song, but when we heard Anette sing it - that´s when everything turned around, like “wow this is good”. Then we thought it´s good enough to be put on the album, then when we listened to it again, we thought OK that´s going to be a single, and I was always disagreeing, because it´s not my favourite song on the album, really, but everybody around me kept saying that “this is a perfect song for a single, go for it”. But for me, the choice for a single would be something to represent the album, and this one is totally different, it might give people a wrong impression – but this is not necessarily a bad thing either!
Last question - you did so many interviews, so what is the most annoying question you cannot hear any more?
“Why did you fire Tarja?” People are still asking that, with a straight face, and I always say “have you been living under a rock or something?”, because I´m not talking about those things any more, it´s ancient history. But people still ask this question – it´s a bit annoying, it really is...
No more annoying questions from me - thank you for the interview!