Interviews & articles
Interview by Sweet Suffering
4 Aug 2000
Since the release of their second album 'Oceanborn' in 1999, Nightwish are one of the most up-and-coming European Metal bands. With their latest effort 'Wishmaster', they made one more big step towards the big names of Melodic Speed Metal, like Stratovarius and Rhapsody; another thing furthering their appreciation and success was certainly their appearance on the Main Stage of 2000's Wacken Open Air, though that day turned out to be a bit chaotic for them - there was fog in Finland, so Nightwish missed their connection flight and arrived at Hamburg a lot later than planned, so that they had to go on stage almost immediately when they finally arrived at Wacken. That delay killed the first scheduled interview appointment (which would have been before their show), but thanks to the efforts of their promoter Iris, I finally got the opportunity to do this long interview with keyboard player and mainman Tuomas Holopainen (TH) and beautiful singer Tarja Turunen (TT), who turned out to be absolutely nice and pleasant to talk to.
First, congratulations for the great show today....
I think that was your first really big festival appearance....
TH: Actually, it was like the second outside Finland; we have done some big festivals in Finland, and I think this is the biggest so far outside Finland. And the show, it was okay until they came and told us that we have to quit; we would have played like three songs more. We ran out of time because the band before us played too long; that really sucked.
You had some trouble getting here today; you were late....
TH: Yeah, the weather in Finland was so bad that the plane couldn't land, so we missed the connecting flight; but nothing more serious.
You got a new album out, 'Wishmaster', highly acclaimed; what do you expect that to do for Nightwish?
TH: We wanted to make a natural sequel to 'Oceanborn'; we didn't want to change the style too much, just do everything a little better, and we expect just like good reactions from the critics and the audience, and that's it.
....and I think the reactions were really great.
TH: Yeah, they have been so far really good.
'Oceanborn' was a very successful album, especially in Finland; how is 'Wishmaster' doing so far?
TH: It's doing even better than 'Oceanborn', actually. We've sold like over 30.000 in Finland only, so we're doing very good, which is like a surprise to me.
How many sold records does it take to go gold in Finland?
So it's already gone gold there....
TH: Yeah, both of them have.
And how many does it take to go platinum?
So it's possible for 'Wishmaster'....
TH: Well, I guess it's possible, but I don't think so.
Maybe in a couple of years, when more people discover Nightwish and buy the records....
TH: Yeah, that might happen.
Are there any singles out from 'Wishmaster'?
TH: Yeah, we made one for Finland, 'Deep Silent Complete'.
How did that do?
TH: Actually, not so well, because there's only like two songs on it.
It didn't go as high in the charts as expected?
TH: No, it went only number three.
Well, that's still....
TH: That's very good, but you know, all the other singles have gone, like one.
That would still be impossible for a Metal band here.
TH: Yeah, I know, Finland is a crazy country. Children Of Bodom went number one, an extreme Metal band.
Your favorite track on the new album is 'Dead Boy's Poem'; it's pretty sad - is that a true story?
TH: Yeah, it is; most of the lyrics on 'Wishmaster' are based on true stories, that's the difference to 'Oceanborn'. 'Dead Boys Poem' is like.... I wanted to make a song, like my own testimony for the world.
But it's not like a boy really wrote that letter and committed suicide....?
TH: No, no, nothing like that; it's a symbolic thing.
It seems to me that on each Nightwish album, there is one song that really stands out; 'Elvenpath' on the first one, 'Stargazers' on the second one and 'Wishmaster' on the new one.... Because they're different from the rest of the stuff, in my opinion. You don't really think so, I suppose, because you know the whole process of writing, so you'll probably feel different about that; they're probably more equal for you.
TH: Yeah, they are. 'Dead Boy's Poem' is one song that really stands out for me, but all the rest.... And there are some songs that I really don't like.
On the new one as well?
TH: Not on the new one, but on 'Oceanborn', I don't like 'The Riddler', and on the first album there are many songs that I don't like.
I was really happy that you played 'Elvenpath'.
TH: Yeah, I think it's the best song on the first album.
I didn't really expect it; I think hardly anyone really expected you to play that, because the first album is a little different from the other two. Nightwish have undergone a rapid development from 'Angels Fall First' to the current album; what would you say, how many percent of the original 'Angels Fall First' Nightwish concept still remains today?
TH: It's hard to say numbers, but I think the basic idea is still the same; I mean, we make songs about the same things, and I think that the melodies and the song structures remain, but we have gone more into the symphonic and Power Metal style.
So the intention is still the same but you chose other means to express it.
TH: That's right, exactly.
You're doing the biggest part of the song writing; how much is coming from the others?
TH: I do all the lyrics and 95% of the music; our guitar player has done some parts, but that's it.
Who develops the vocal lines?
TH: I do. Most of the time that's the thing I start with.
That's a pretty peculiar thing, I think, to start with the vocal lines; because I know many bands write the songs, then write the lyrics and then think of vocal lines.
TH: Well, I think it's very important for us because we have such a singer, so it's very important to concentrate on the vocals.
I think the vocals are the most significant trade mark of Nightwish.
TH: That's right, that's what makes us kinda different.
In a couple of songs, there's hints at Tolkien - you're a big Tolkien fan - like 'Elvenpath' or 'Wishmaster'; why don't you make a real complete Tolkien song?
TH: That's just the way I like to.... like tease people, use just those little things, because Tolkien is so used already by so many bands, so I don't think it would be meaningful to make it anymore.
To someone who has not heard Nightwish, how would you describe your music?
TH: Melodic Heavy Metal band with operatic female vocals. I leave the categorizing to other people; I have found some so funny descriptions of our music, like Neoclassical Progressive Speed, Melodic Heavy Atmospheric Alternative Metal....
I personally would say Nightwish is something like the 'Northern Angra', because some of the riffing, especially on the last two albums, reminds me of Angra's 'Holy Land', and you're doing similar things; Angra is using the Tribal elements of Brazil, their native music, and some classical elements, and Nightwish is using a lot of classical elements and some northern folklore elements, and both bands have classically trained singers....
TH: I can live with that.
There's really a lot of different ideas and elements in Nightwish's tracks, and the arrangements are pretty complex; how do you think other people who are not as creative as you are and just listen to the music, how do you think they perceive it, what do you think happens within their minds when they listen to Nightwish?
TH: Well, actually I never think about that. It's a corny thing to say, but I make all the songs for myself, just the way that I like them; I never think about other people. In this kind of music it's just natural that many people think 'this is too complicated, this is too weird'.
What I meant was that when I listen to music, I often think "how could they get that idea? I would never have come to that, and I would never have done it that way." Do you think that Nightwish is attracting a lot of people that aren't really into Metal?
TH: I think so, I really do. Because we have had some response from especially older people, adults, who seemed to appreciate our music because of the ballads and because of the vocals.
How is Nightwish's music received in other parts of the world? You're doing very well in Europe, especially in Finland and Germany.
TH: That's right; all of Europe is very good for us, also Southern America is very good.
How are you doing in Japan?
TH: So far it has been a little disappointment; we expected a lot from 'Oceanborn', and it didn't sell, almost nothing. We're selling very well in South Corea - really! 'Oceanborn' has almost sold 10.000 copies in South Corea, that's amazing. And 'Wishmaster' has just been released in Japan, so we're expecting something.
Are Nightwish records available in America?
TH: Actually, no. They have not been licensed there, not released officially.
Have you got any responses from there?
TH: Yeah, we have got some, but according to our label they're so bad that it's no use releasing the records there.
You got a pretty decent Internet website in even three languages - Finnish, English and German - with a lot of information, a lot of pictures and some sound files; how important do you think it is to have a good Internet appearance nowadays?
TH: Actually, I think it's pretty important. When we started the whole thing, I was really suspicious if this is a good idea to make an Internet page, but we went for it, and I think it's a very important thing; fans can talk with each other and talk with us....
Do you have someone doing it?
TH: Yeah, he's a friend of ours, he's like a computer and Internet professional, and he maintains the page. I don't understand anything about computers.
You're going to do your first headlining tour this fall; what can we expect in respect of the show you'll put on?
TH: The support acts will be Sinergy and Eternal Tears Of Sorrow, and I think we're gonna have something special, like maybe an hour and a half show with some effects....
....and a special stage setting....
TH: Maybe something, nothing really massive; we can't simply afford that.
(At that point, everyone bursts into laughter at the sight of Tarja's face after inspecting the portable toilets - see the picture)
I read that right after the tour, you want to enter the studio again and do the next album, is that right?
Oh? I read that.
TH: Really? Where?
I don't know, some interview.
TH: No, we're gonna go into the studio like maybe March or something, to record an EP.
What actually is it that you're gonna do after the tour?
TH: After the tour, we're gonna go to Canada, actually, for three shows, and maybe Japan after that, but after that, we have nothing planned, it's all open; maybe I'll start doing some songs.
Have you thought of doing a Metal opera? Many bands are doing Rock operas, concept albums, but for Nightwish it would be possible to do a real Metal opera with a story throughout, and really mixing opera and Metal?
TH: Yes, I've actually been thinking about it a lot; a concept album is a very realistic thing for the next album, some kind of concept and story, so we'll see.
That would be a good opportunity to even work with an orchestra.
TH: With an orchestra, with a choir.... I think it would fit our concept really well.
What are the Nightwish members doing for a living? Tarja is studying at the Sibelius Academy, and what are the others doing?
TH: We are doing nothing; Jukka is gonna start computer school, but the rest of the guys, we're doing nothing except the music.
You've been in various bands before Nightwish, like Darkwoods My Betrothed and Nattvindens Gråt; in which way is the way you're doing things in Nightwish different?
TH: This is much harder, because I have to maintain the band and do all the songs; in the other bands I'm just playing what the other guys tell me to play.
Are you still in any of those bands?
TH: I play as a session musician in Darkwoods My Betrothed, but Nattvindens Gråt doesn't even exist anymore.
(Tarja finally joins us on the grass)
What do you think is the main difference between singing opera and singing in a Metal band?
TT: There are a lot of differences. Of course my voice differs from the real opera; when I'm singing with Nightwish, my voice is much bigger and more bombastic than when I'm singing opera, and the dramatic sound and the color of my voice, you can only hear that on the opera stage. That's not my real voice while I'm singing with Nightwish. There are a lot of technical differences, like I don't use the whole body of mine while I'm singing with Nightwish, but I have to use it in opera music. There's a lot of differences, breathing and everything.
Are you singing higher in Nightwish than you're normally singing in opera?
TT: No. It's quite the same thing, but my voice differs so much. I'm a soprano in opera music too.
I think it's also different because you don't have to move a lot when you're singing opera.
TT: No, of course; I couldn't do that on the opera stage, because you have to concentrate your whole body all the time.
What did you think of the show today?
TT: It was really.... short. Our plane was late; the whole day has been really fast. I was like "What the hell I'm doing here?" on the stage, looking at the people in the audience - "Ooooohh.... what song, what song, what's next ?" The audience was great, I didn't expect it like this.
Yeah, the response was great. What did you think of your own performance, the band's performance? Was it good for Nightwish's standards?
TT: It was a quite bad show; we had technical problems. It was such a mess that we didn't hear the drums at all, and my voice isn't so perfect because I'm so tired.
You just returned from Mexico.
TT: Yes, and the time difference still makes me very tired; I haven't slept in three days.
So the tour you're gonna do is probably gonna be even better?
TT: Yaa, I think so, yes. Because everything will be more organized; that's the usual way it goes on the big festivals.
You're in Nightwish and singing opera as well and studying....
TT: Just studying, not yet in operas on opera stages.
But you will sing opera later on; if you were forced to concentrate on one career, which one would that be?
TT: Of course I have only one career, and that's the opera career.
So if you were forced to decide to do only one thing, it would be opera?
TT: There is one thing I have to mention, that you never know about tomorrow, because - it's a very corny thing to say, but it's like that - I have lived with Nightwish for four years now, and everything has happened very quickly for us, and the development has been very natural, of course; we haven't thought what to do and anything like that, and we didn't expect this kind of success and anything at all, but for me.... I haven't been studying since two years, I haven't done anything, except I have taken some classical singing lessons, but that's all. But I need to get into my studies again, and some of the guys are going to the university, and we have to do other projects of course. But Nightwish is still alive, and if I'm going to move here to Germany next year, I'm going to stay here and we are going to make concerts with Nightwish, new albums with Nightwish, go on naturally like this; it's not any problem.
I'm asking because someone mentioned to me that while opera singers are honored and revered, all that honor can hardly ever match the passion and the reverence brought forth by Metal fans.
TT: It's very different, it's very different. I think the Metal people - in the beginning I was really prejudiced about all this, how the audience will take me and how the reaction may be; but the reaction was really nice and the audience accepted me, they really appreciate what I'm doing in classical music, and that's great. In opera it's very unique at the time, but it really makes me happy that the people will understand me.
It's some sort of a one way thing - many Metal fans appreciate classical music and even listen to classical music....
TT: ....but classical musicians don't respect Heavy musicians, and that's the deal; I don't understand it.
That's all about the old difference between serious music and entertainment music.
TT: Yeah, that's true.
But then again, classical music has always been an influence to Metal. As we can just see, your outfit on stage and on the promotion pictures has changed a lot since 'Angels Fall First'; is it like the stage Tarja or the Nightwish Tarja is like a character you play?
TT: It's like a role, of course it is. I don't wear clothes like this naturally when I'm at home. Of course, I'm a really lucky girl to have this kind of thing in my life, I'm really lucky, but that's so different to be on the stage; I love to be on the stage, and I love to get the audience and sing for them, but when I'm going home, I really enjoy to be in silence, a really different kind of life. But of course this kind of life is really frustrating; when you are going to have a tour and be the only female all the time, it's a very rough time for me, and it has been. But anyway, when I'm going back home, it's different, and I want to have it like that. I go jogging and everything, I really enjoy to be with the nature and all that.
So it's actually two different sides of the same person.
TT: Yes.... But the personality is real Tarja on he stage.
You're the only woman in the band, and you are Nightwish for many people because you're the singer, and you're always in the foreground, everything concentrates around you because you're the eyecatcher; do you think there's people coming not because of the music but just to see you?
TT: It's really strange that there are so many people that don't believe what is our band when we are playing live; they don't believe that we are working well, that it sounds good, that we really sound like we do. They're very impressed, they're very ambitious to hear us.
So they think that Nightwish is only that successful because they have that beautiful singer?
TT: Maybe they think that I'm an opera singer who wants to move on the stage instead of standing in one place all the time, but there are very nice surprises.
Have you ever met something like Nightwish groupies, people who follow you around and have a passion for someone in the band, just because they're playing in the band?
TT: Yeah, of course, sometimes there has been something like that, but in general our audience is really various kinds of people; we - how can I say that? (she turns to Tuomas and talks to him in Finnish; the only thing I can understand is "perkele"....) - don't have any stereotype kind of fans.
You're turning 23 in two weeks....
TT: Oh God!!!
....and you're married....
TT: No - engaged.
Do you have any plans for children?
TT: Of course I have, but I don't have any time right now.
If you'll ever have any, are they gonna grow up as Metal kids, or will they rather be taught to love classical music?
TT: They have freedom to choose.
A question for both of you: Are there any questions you've learned to hate, you're always being asked?
TH: Always been asked is if the song 'The Carpenter' is about Jesus Christ; I never wanted it to be about that.
A question you probably haven't heard too often before and thus can't hate yet - if Nightwish was an animal, what would that be?
TH: A wolf.
What aspects of a wolf does Nightwish have?
TH: Everything that a wolf is. It's mysterious, a symbol of loneliness; a very majestic animal.... A night animal - Nightwish.
"The howling of Nightwolf...." (a line from 'Elvenpath')
TH: Yeah, that's right.
TT: Ooohhh.... (she turns to Tuomas again and talks to him in Finnish) An eagle. Because our career has been so free as an eagle.
A slow start, and then always soaring higher, and maybe with the upcoming tour heading in for the kill....
TT: I don't know; you never know.
Well then, thanks a lot for your patience with me, a great show and great music, and we'll meet again on the tour!
Thanks to Iris Bernotat from Focusion and to Tarja and Tuomas for making this long interview possible despite the adverse circumstances; also thanks to Rafael Funke for inspiration to some questions.