Author: Emma Perez
Poet in the Pit
The interminable waiting comes to an end at last. With Dark Passion Play, Nightwish’s answer to the many questions from their numerous fans is released: How does the singer sound? Is the download-ballad Eva representative of the whole album? Much more personal questions are answered by keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen and singer Anette Olzon in a conversation with Zillo.
It was a hard day for Tuomas and Anette: Their record company in Donzdorf reckoned on 500 guests at best coming to the “little” signing session at the company’s own shop. But more than 1,000 fans arrived. One hour was scheduled, but both musicians patiently signed covers, posters, jackets and parts of the body or pose with their fans for photos. Tuomas smokes one cigarette after another and the light liquid in his cup doesn’t really look like water. Anette’s laughing and joking although her head is throbbing: Of all things, it was the edge of the platinum award for the Nightwish live DVD End of an Era (2006) that proved to be the singer’s undoing. But her work day doesn’t end with the signing session. Interviews following until late into the evening.
“I’m exhausted”, Anette sighs as she slowly glides into a black leather chair. With the dimmed lighting and closed eyes the singer can’t stifle a loud yawn. But she’s not in the least bit interested in breaking off the interview. “I’m a highly disciplined woman”, the South Swede tells. “This is my job now and at the same time the fulfilment of the dream that I’ve had since my childhood.” Singing is her passion and the longing for the stage she inherited growing up in a musician’s family. Therefore, she still has fun giving an interview of more than two hours with a minor concussion, while answering many questions from her fans. “I don’t let anybody down”, Anette says. “Tuomas and I didn’t let anybody go home without at least one autograph. Otherwise, we’d have felt bad, because some people had even come from foreign countries. Besides, it was very nice despite my headache.” The singer still finds this phase to be a test period. Being a successor of a genre icon, as her predecessor Tarja Turunen is for many people, she feels like she’s being scrutinized under a microscope. Everyone is looking very closely at her. The press, the friends of Nightwish, even the band itself. “I follow in very large footsteps”, Anette is aware of her hard job, “and I familiarize myself step by step with my new role.” Giving interviews, posing for photos and going on an extended promotion tour belong to her list of challenges now. “Fortunately my band supports me and the press has also been very friendly to me so far”, Anette appears very satisfied. “This is the chance of my life and I’m enjoying it to the full. Nobody knows how long my luck will last. Anything can happen in the music business.” The Swede already got a foretaste of the upcoming media excitement. After the official announcement of her name by the band the Finnish yellow press invaded her hometown Helsingborg. “They searched through my mailbox, then my car; they photographed my cat and my child and to top it off, they pumped my neighbours for details about me and my family.” The negative sides of her freshly gained popularity become apparent fast. Anette is concerned about her family and friends, whom she doesn’t want to be involved in her business with the band. “All of a sudden, I have to think about what I can do in public and what I should avoid”, the front woman confirms. “Up to now, I had complete freedom of movement but I fear to be restricted soon.” The new situation had divided within her family. Naturally, her relatives are pleased about the success. But at the same time, her husband wants to know his privacy is protected, and now her son misses his mother more often - and vice versa. “My son is also very proud of his mom”, Anette smiles. “Sometimes he’s a little bit too proud. Last week he asked me loudly in a shop if he can call me Nightwish-Anette, so that everybody is aware of it. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me, but he’s still just a child.” Her old Toyota Corolla round the corner is beginning to embarrass her a little, too. “It’s a good car, and it starts every morning”, the singer thinks. “But I began to wonder whether a new car wouldn’t look better. Even though I don’t need it because I’m constantly on the road.” In order to enter consciousness of the public means in contrast to be more aware of your own environment. Nevertheless, the fact that Anette is already a very self-confident and mature woman works to her advantage.
One floor below, Tuomas Holopainen is handling the day in his own way. “I may not eat enough, but I drink more. That keeps things in balance”, the keyboardist mischievously smirks from behind his glass while he postpones an offered grilled steak until after the interview. He emits a similar satisfaction but with greater calmness than Anette, which could also be a result of the overwhelming reactions to the new album. “Up to now, I’ve given about 200 interviews about Dark Passion Play”, Tuomas estimates. “And up to now, there hasn’t been a single negative comment. All journalists are probably really good liars. Or maybe they truly do like it.” The Finn plays his doubts up a little bit because he’s quite aware of the strength of his new work. Still, there were real doubts in him and the other band mates with regard to the choice of their new singer. “Wewere honest with Anette from the beginning that we were naturally concerned”, Tuomas confirms her feeling of still being in a test phase. “But we are getting used to that decision a bit more everyday. As Anette had to sing in the first song in the studio, my heart sank into my boots before. After two hours, we were all incredibly relieved. She had mastered Bye Bye Beautiful in only two hours.” The connection between the new singer and her band grows stronger with every completed task. It’s the same with the video shooting for the planned singles Amaranth and Bye Bye Beautiful in Los Angeles. Although, nobody wanted to utter it out loud, everybody had their reservations. “After the first shoot, our manager Ewo came to me and gave me the thumbs up”, Tuomas tells. “That scene speaks volumes: We still have doubts but that’s ok. Up to now, Anette has done brilliantly; now we just have to find out how it works live with her.” On the other hand, the convergence of the parties doesn’t just involve worries but also a very positive effect. “It’s pure fun to watch Anette”, Tuomas laughs. “She’s like a child on Christmas Eve. Everything is new to her: the USA, the visit of Disneyland, our video shooting. Her enthusiasm is highly contagious. Anette is like a fountain of youth for us.” Still, the last obstacle is one of the biggest: “How do the old songs sound without the familiar voice of Tarja?” is one of the questions that Tuomas gets to hear most often from the press and from the fans as well. “We have already rehearsed a lot of the old songs with Anette for the upcoming world tour”, Tuomas reveals. “Naturally, she sounds different from Tarja, but I liked it very much. I had goose bumps several times. She has only some problems with The Siren, but we are working on it.”
Burdens of inheritance
According to her statement, Anette spent many months practising the old songs. While she put a damp towel on her forehead for cooling down, it could also be the reason for showing no big emotion as the topic is about her predecessor once again. “Naturally, I first had to study Tarja’s vocal lines to learn the melodies”, the singer confesses. “But I sing them in my own way with new harmonies. After all, I don’t want to be a copy; instead I go my own way.” Still, she has a lot of respect for the fired front woman. “Tarja has a fantastic voice, and she is a great singer”, Anette adds. “She has her own career now, and I don’t need to prove anything to her.” Following the unwritten laws of the music business, some of the old Nightwish fans will never accept the new singer. Whether AC/DC, Judas Priest or Iron Maiden - particularly in the Metal the list of bands is long where the original singers remain icons forever. But this attitude has nothing to do with the success of a group as in the case of AC/DC, who only celebrated its breakthrough after the death of their legendary front man Bon Scott. However, it’s also not Anette’s style to be raised to an icon or to be provided with the attribute of divinity. “I’ll never be a ‘goddess’, I’m much too normal for that”, the Swede fends off. “I have to reckon with the fact that I’m going to become an idol for some people, but that has to be the limit.” Other things are far more important to the singer. “For example, I commit myself to environmental protection and cancer research as best I can”, Anette tells. “For years, I’ve donated, and I’ll increase the sums if I earn more money.” Wilderness protection is very important for the nature friend. On the other hand, the cancer touches her immediate environment. “There were and are instances of cancer in my family. Even those indirectly affected know how important the fight against this horrible illness is.” As a committed person, Anette informs herself actively through books and magazines, newspapers, the internet or newscasts in TV. “It was strange when we spent a week in Los Angeles”, she adds. “There are so many important things, but there was only the prison story of Paris Hilton on every channel.” Despite the disinformation through the media, she liked the United States very much. “I really want to go there again”, Anette enthuses. “We had a very relaxed time there, and it was exciting to constantly discover something new. Even if many things are just show, it was very nice to be treated so nicely and warmly. In fact, America is crazy, but still it’s a wonderful country.”
Matters of the heart
The reason for the band’s stay in Los Angeles was to shoot the videos for Amaranth and Bye Bye Beautiful. “An incredibly relaxing time”, Tuomas smirks with the next cigarette in the corner of his mouth. “Nine days of vacation and only one working day.” Visits to Disneyland, on the beach or the ice-hockey final of the Stanley Cup provided variety. For the first time in the band history, the perfectionist Holopainen left the design and layout of the videos solely to the director Antti Jokinen who had already shot the clip for Nemo. “I wasn’t truly relaxed when I thought of the videos”, Tuomas confesses. “But the shootings were really fun, and the result surpassed my expectations.” The clip for Amaranth especially pleased the Finn: “It tells a story and for that reason, it’s something very special for me”, Tuomas comments. “In comparison, with Bye Bye Beautiful I’m not that sure. It’s a funny, small clip and very ironical, but maybe the people don’t see the joke, and the song wasn’t meant to be mean either.” It’s obvious, and the composer makes no secret of it, that this piece represents a farewell to Tarja. “It’s not my intention to wash dirty linen in public”, Tuomas stresses. “The song only asks, why it had to come that way, and says that I’m sorry. No side is innocent, and we both made mistakes.” Conciliatory sounds, even though there is no contact between the former band mates anymore.
Although Amaranth will be the first regular single of Dark Passion Play, Tuomas doesn’t set his heart much on this song. “Of course, I love all of my songs, but every musician has its own favourites”, he thinks. “It’s a good choice for the release, especially because it’s the most cheerful song of the whole album, but the text doesn’t represent my idea for it 100 %. In comparison, the fourteen-minute epic The Poet and the Pendulum gives deep insight into Tuomas’ inner life. The song is based on the short story The Pit and the Pendulum from the American master of fantasy, Edgar Allan Poe. It tells the story of a man who sees a guillotine swinging slowly and sinking deeper and deeper into his chest while he’s strapped to a table. With every long swing of the devilish clockwork, the unlucky person is one step closer to his death. “I could identify myself with this man in the last two years”, Tuomas reveals. “It was very therapeutic to kill myself in this song.” The text turns out unusually harsh for Nightwish: Tuomas’ death is pronounced, his friends masturbate on his grave, and even rape is mentioned. “I just had to get it out of me”, he thinks. “Every time the blade finally drops down before the last chapter, it feels like resuscitation. There’s self-hatred in the song and the revulsion against what I’ve become.” With this, Tuomas also alludes to the business side of Nightwish, which he hasn’t gotten to like to this day although it provides financial security for him. He is and remains a full-blooded musician who just likes to play and compose more than anything else. Tuomas doesn’t see an obstacle in the fact that the uncouth lyrics of The Poet and the Pendulum could distress some people with a delicate bent. “I’d turn out to be a whore if I thought about possible consequences of my texts”, he growls. “Self-regulation has nothing to do with art. My music and my texts come from the heart. I do it because I have to do it, not for pleasing someone else.” This attitude is exceptionally egocentric, but it’s exactly what distinguishes him as an outstanding artist from a hobbyist who simply constructs his music.
Tuomas expresses his innermost self in his songs and feels that he has no choice. “One line in the refrain goes: I Can’t Cry ‘Cause the Shoulder Cries More”, the Finn adds. “I don’t like to talk about my feelings and problems with other people. When I tried it, I realized everybody I wanted to talk to had bigger problems than me. That was constantly happening to me, so I gave it up. There’s no shoulder I can lean on. Therefore, I prefer to do songs.” Also, the musician misses being in a serious relationship after the split up with his last girlfriend 3 years ago. Instead, he finds himself constantly confronted with rumours that he’s homosexual. “I don’t really care about those speculations”, Tuomas fends off. “It’s just annoying that some gossip magazine is bothering my mother on the telephone and offering her money to confirm this assertion.” In truth, he’s still looking for a girlfriend. “I’m neither in despair nor sad, but of course I’d like to have a stable, fulfilling relationship”, Tuomas sighs. “I’ve written more songs about love than I know about it. But I strongly believe that my true love is somewhere out there waiting for me. I’m still searching for her.” It may sound mean, but as long as Tuomas is still searching and longing, he’ll probably continue composing such fantastic albums like Dark Passion Play. Who knows what will happen if he finds the love of his life. What should we do, hope for him he finds his happiness or secretly wish that we can trip up his destiny?