translated by Norwegian Oceansoul
The similarities between Klaus Hagerups fantastic children-book “Higher than heaven” and Nightwish is remarkable. Hagerup writes about a young one who’s not happy about himself, but through co-oporation with an older person he gets through the struggles of life and finds strength. Tuomas Holopainen, songwriter and visionary keyboard-player of Nightwish has also excperienced times of his life that he’s not happy about, but through his co-operation with the bandmembers and his management, life started to look good again. Tuomas has partly used the same title for the song Higher than hope, and you will hear more about that later. Hagerups writing-style is simple and far from complicated, almost naive. And if Nighwish has ever been accused of something, it’s definately not for inventing the gunpowder nor the matchsticks. (This would make alot more sense in Norwegian :-p)
This kind of critisism I find unfounded and undeserved, since the band never claimed to be inventive, but they have found a formula no one has been able to refine the same way. Besides, when hearing Once everyone and their dogs will be forever out of the game –Tuomas and Nightwish does not choose the easy way ahead whatsoever, but this experiment deserves respect and the fact that the band has released their best product so far is something I have settled with long ago. “This is our 5th studioalbum, and for the first time I can say that I’m really, really pleased – I have a good feeling about it all”, says Tuomas with two-days beard on his chin, after we’ve listened to a raw-mix of the new album Once. “It might sound stupid to say so, but even if we hadn’t sold one single album, I’d still wouldn’t change much of it.”, Tuomas states, knowing that this would never happen. “It’s a difficult album, and I think the fans should be prepared to have to listen to it a couple of times before it sticks, since it is full of information. At the same time we have a couple of songs that are more catchy and simple so people won’t panic”, Tuomas chuckles, he hopes the album will survive the passing of time.As if this has been a dilemma for this guy before? “I think Once has qualities that makes it kinda “timeless”, and I belive that both me and the rest of the band will be proud of it, also in the future.”
The fact that the album contains both heavy compositions and catchy songs at the same time, does that simply mean that a band has to make compromises when you have reached the level Nightwish is on today?
“perhaps, but there’s never been any question for me. I do everything a hundred percent, and I’ve not done many compromises during my career. At the same time, I’ve been really lucky, experiencing that the fans have been satisfied every time we have released a new album, and I don’t see why this would change now. But you are right, some compromises must be made, and Nemo is one of those. To begin with all, of the songs were long and majestic, but I was forced to trim one of them down a bit, in order to use it for a single. "
Is that hard to swallow, or is it just a part of the game you have to deal with?
"Both,really. Nemo was to begin with a totally different song, but in the studio it was suggested that we’d cut certain parts to make it shorter, and more single-friendly.This was aweful to except. After working with a composition for several months, you feel that you have reached a point of near perfection, and it feels bloody unfair to throw away finished work in order to make the music simpler or easier to play on the radio."
Tuomas lights a cigarette and smiles wearily. “There’s propably a bunch of people that would kill me for saying this, but at least I’ve told the truth, haha. The market demands an album with a single, and the whole concept of a single released before the album annoys me alot. Once is one wholeness, and an album that should be listened to all the way through every time – and therefore it’s wrong to take out one song from it. I realize of course that it is this way because of the market, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll go along with it without protesting.”
There’s alot to talk about concerning Once, so we better take this in the right order. First thing is that Marco (Hietala, bass) seems to sing more on the previous album Century Child.
“Actually, it’s about the same amount, or yeah, it might be that he sings less on Once. He’s singing solo’s on three songs, and contributes with backingvocals on five. I think Marco is an excellent singer, and his voice is great for Nightwish, but still, we have to watch out so we don’t use him too much. Less is more, right?”
Marco has a long past as singer for the band Tarot, that was founded in 1985. But even if there’s sevaral opinions of his voice, I must say that the combination Hietala and Turunen is very good!
“For Century Child he contributed with vocals on already finished songs, so it became like “a bit more candy”, without any deeper effect. This time he’s been involved the whole time, and therefore his vocals are beked in where they belong, and his voice is very important for the fact that the songs are what they are.”
Tarja has also developed as a singer. On the three first albums she mostly sang very high, most of the time, while she on Century Child toned it all a bit down. She’s also done that this time, but she also shows a much bigger range than before?
“Absolutely”, Tuomas nods, and calls manager Ewo over, who has already understood his order and brings more White Russian to the table. As for me I’m taking care of a newly operated throat, so I’m not allowed to drink other than warm coke. “The whole point with a singer is that his or hers voice must follow the music that is presented, and since we have lots of symphonial elements this time, we firgured it might be in it’s place with a high vocal again. But this is only a small part of what Tarja masters, and she was very clear on the point that she wanted to experiment this time. A bonustrack from the Nemo-single is called White Night Fantasy, and here she nearly whispers at times. Her voice there reminds me a bit of Björk,and it works excellent. But all in all, I didn’t find the track fit for the rest of the concept, so we agreed on using it as an additional song on the single. She also has some theatrical elements this time, and some use of indian song where she uses her throat to gain special sounds. It sounds pretty weird, but if it’s used correctly it works out great!”
Are you still the one writing the vocal-lines or is this something Tarja does now?
“No, I’m still the one that writes everything, but even if there is one certain melody to be followed, it is of course she who arranges her parts, and she also contributes with ideas that I’m not capable to come up with during the composing of the music. It might sound selfish, but Nightwish is, all in all, the result of one persons visions, and that’s mine.”
But it is obvious that someone had their say, since the guitars are more in the picture than ever?
“Actually I used guitars alot more when I made Once than I’ve done before, so that’s clearly been pushed more into the sound. An by that it is already said that there are alot of details in the sound, and I feel that the entire album is “more of everything” when it comes to what Nightwish has presented ‘till now.”
At the same time as there’s come more of everything, there’s less room left for your keyboards. My impression is that the synth has been reduced to be a little spice here and there. Are you starting to remove yourself more and more from the musical image?
“No, there is no greater plan in this than that I wanted the orchestra to be more in the front of the sound. If we hadn’t had the possibility to use an orchestra on Once, the keyboard would play a huge role. But what the point is in using electronics when you have the real stuff availabe? And having said that, I can tell you that the keyboard is used more than ever on this album, haha. It is, as you said use in a different way, and it’s lying lower in the mix. In short you can say that I play on the same melodies as the orchestra does.”
Tuomas has, thanks to Nightwishs success, been able to build his own home-studio in Kitee. After working at home in a studio for a long time, you’d think it’d be a huge cultural shock to hear your own demos being played by a huge symphony-orchestra in London, but Tuomas doesn’t really agree on that...
“The basics are the same, both melodies and riffs are easy to recognize. The one who did this to a unusual process for me was Pip Williams, who arranged the music for London Session Orchestra. I could have asked for a arrangement for some small part of a song, and all of a sudden he would serve me an entire re-arrangement of the composition. He became very fascinated by Nightwish and Once, and we worked together in a very satisfying way. He understood what I wanted, so we didn’t have to go through these long discussions based on egoes and disagreements. Actually, we spoke on the phone on daily bases for months, and discussed possible solutions for the songs. He came up with his own ideas, that I pretty much accepted, but I also had some demands and suggestion he had to follow.”
I assume that this process must have been a dream coming true for you?
“Definately! You can say.. I have done this before, but the orchestra we’ve used so far are nothing compared to the one we have now, mildly speaking. When you dream about creating something that will really be noticed, you would like to step on the gas at all points, and I wanted the best symphony possible for Once. The London-thing costed us more than the entire making of Century Child, but when I hear the result I know is was money well spent.”,Tuomas tells us, and adds that the band financed the album themselfs this time, and then lisenced it out to their recordlabels. With this you gain more freedom to do what you want, something that’s visible on the price. To many artist this is not an option because of the economical aspects, who of course carries with it a certain risk. Not that Nightwish were risking anything with Once, their album would propably be selling even if they used only a small part of what they did on the production. That’s why it’s pretty cool that the band does this – you can say alot of things about them, but not that the choose the easy way out.
Before they released Century Child two years ago, you told us that it was the most difficult album you’d ever worked with. The same thing goes for Once. So, the next album will be nothing but pain then?
“Hehe, I think we’re talking about two different ways of difficult”, Tuomas chuckles, then muses,”Century Child was a nightmare for several reasons, while Once was more of a physical challenge. We started to work in the studio in October last year, and except from a couple of days of during christmas, I were in there every day throughtout six months. It has been a hell of a job doing it, but even if it was hard physically, the process went very well mentally this time, unlike on Century Child. I’ve had a good feeling all the way, and even if it’s been hard work my selfesteem and mood has stayed intact. So far in Nightwishs’ carreer I’ve been insecure alot, but this time i felt sure all the time. Therefore I will look back at this as a good stuio-memory. Century Child was tough ‘cause I weren’t able to write any new songs at that time. I had some personal problems to struggle with, and I constantly felt the pressure from the outside world.”
Pressure was something you also got when you announced that you were gonna have a small break, since Tarja needed to finish her studies. Well, now you didn’t really have that break after all, since you toured both autumm 2002 and summer 2003, and on top of that you released the dvd End of Innocence. But a riot there was.....
“The only break we had really was that we didn't play live for six months, but for gods sake, do people really expect us to play live every day?! Alot of people from the press made it a huge thing, with the result that many of the fans got anxious for what really went on. Rumours emerged that we were replacing Tarja with Marco, actually, we’re still not rid of those.”
So, how did it go for Tarja, did she get the time to finish her studies, or did it all get very stressfull for her?
“No, actually I think she’s thrilled. We arranged for the concert-dates, so there were some days off here and there, and thanks to that she managed to finish her studies. We’re likely to set up the upcoming tour the same way, since we can’t play every night anyway – her voice needs breaks, and we really don’t want to wear ourselfs out again, as we were after the Wishmaster-tour. This is a topic we’ve discussed quite a lot inside the band, and I’m really glad that Tarja feels more comfortable than ever before in the band.The tour gave her a renewed will to go on upcoming tours.”
Many people has forseen that Tarja one day will recieve a huge offer from some opera, an because of that put Nightwish further down on her priority-list. But so far that hasn’t happened, and Tuomas isn’t lying awake at night because of it any longer...
“No, I think we’ve proved that there’s room for both Nightwish and her classical stuff. She already has a strong name, exspecially in South-America, but nowadays Nightwish is her higher priority for at least two more years. But Nightwish wont last forever, nothing does. Anyway, I’m not freaking out over this, look at Metallica for instance – they spend five or six years to release an album. If Nightwish sometime in the future takes a break for a few years, so Tarja can do some opera, I think both we and the world can handle three years without any new albums. Everything is about what feels right for us. I recieve an e-mail from her the other day saying that Once was the best thing that’d ever happened to her. That really warmed, I tell ya!"
You don’t have to be a genious to understand that Tuomas is really relieved to get such feedback, but at the same time there has to be at least one other good female singer amongst the 3 billion woman on the planet?
“Yeah, propably, but today this is totally out of the question, and I doubt that we’d ever replace Tarja. Nightwish is a result of the induvidials that form the band today, and I wouldn’t replace anyone for the world.”Tuomas states quite driely. As it comes to the concept of Once Tuomas is full of secrets....
“It’s not a concept-album. All the songs stand by themself, but if you read through the lyrics, you’ll see what it is all about. The word once appears in every song, to put it that way. The start of the cd is “Once I had a dream..”, so it will have to be up to you guys to see if you get the meaning of it, if of course, you are interested.
Once is wrapped up by the huge composition Higher than Hope. While listening the song a mans’ voice can be heard, and this is the voice of an american fan of the band. The man is now dead from cancer, but Tuomas is still in touch with his family. They met at the Progpower-festival in Atlanta last year, and at that point the illness was in it’s last stadium. If not saving his life, there’s little doubt that Nightwish meant alot, and the things he say in the song brings a strong dimension into something that is already a powerful and beautiful composition. Also, Once has been musical therapy for Tuomas, and he admits that : “I wouldn’t have existed without those eleven songs. They are the ones that has given me new selfesteem, and even though many people criticise us for both this and that, I’m not doubting for a second that I’ve done the right thing.”
23rd and 24th of July Nightwish will be back in Norway for two new concerts at Rockefeller, and Tuomas promises a great experience :
“We have many good memories from last year. They were amongst the best organised gigs we’ve ever had, and the response from the audience was huge! This time we’ll bring some pyroeffects and stuff too, so I think everyone will be happy!