Nightwish: Tuomas Holopainen takes stock on the new era

Nightwish is one of those bands whose every move is scrutinized and interpreted more or less accurately, and who will always make people talk. In this respect, the choices they made after getting rid of Tarja Turunen and the scathing, scornful reception Anette Olzon has received have deeply shaken the combo. Hard times for the band. And just when their new voice was finally getting accepted, they decided to part ways with her… Although it was only supposed to be temporary, they didn’t waste any time in finding her replacement: Floor Jansen (ReVamp, ex-After Forever). But in time, it became obvious that Jansen would be much more than a simple temp. The fans themselves seemed convinced and gave the new frontwoman a warm welcome, contrary to her predecessor. So why keep silent any longer about what everyone suspected – especially since the band had made their decision months ago? Yes, Nightwish are entering a new era. A few days ago, shortly after Floor Jansen and Troy Donockley were officially established as the new members of the band, we had a little chat with Nightwish’s leader, Tuomas Holopainen. A fantastic opportunity to take stock on the burning news and his own certainties.

Nightwish are once again faced with a piece of blank paper, where anything can be drawn or written. The band have no intention of upsetting their schedule, but there are already many questions regarding the next album, announced for 2015. Although Nightwish have shown part of their new face with Floor, there are obviously many unknowns still, but the possibilities are endless and all doors remain open. That’s what the band’s composer will tell you himself.

« I started writing the credits for the DVD – the thank you list, and all that. Then came: ‘Nightwish are…’ How do I put Floor and Troy here? ‘Guest vocals by Floor Jansen’? That sounds ridiculous! That’s when I realized: ‘Why should we stay silent about this?’ So we talked with the band about releasing the information now. »

Radio Metal: About the Showtime, Storytime DVD, the setlist for the show is a bit unexpected: out of 15 songs, only five are from Imaginaerum. This show looks more like a compilation of hits. Is it because it was the end of the tour and you felt Imaginaerum didn’t really need to be promoted anymore, or did you want to use Floor’s capabilities to interpret the older stuff in their original form, with a lyrical voice?

Tuomas Holopainen (keyboards): Since Floor joined the band, we didn’t have the time to rehearse anything new, so we had to stick to the songs that we had. Also, since it’s recorded on a festival… On festivals, you want to play those so-called “hit songs”, even if I don’t like the term. When you’re playing a heavy metal festival in the evening, you don’t want to do ballads. It just doesn’t work. That’s why the set-list is what it is. But not matter what you do, if we play more songs from the Imaginaerum CD, people come to us and ask us to play more old songs. And now, when we play more of the old songs, they say we should play more Imaginaerum songs, because it’s the Imaginaerum tour. It’s hard to please everybody!

In the end, there will be no extensive live recordings of Nightwish with Anette, to the possible exception of the Made in Hong Kong documentary. Why did you choose not to immortalize that period and instead record a concert with Floor who was, at the time, just a temporary replacement?

The original idea for the DVD was just to release the documentary. It was never supposed to be a live DVD. But then, last June, only four months ago, we got a message from Nuclear Blast, telling us: “You have to do a live show, because this DVD makes no sense otherwise”. I disagree a little bit, because we wanted to release something different: a real, thorough tour documentary, with a lot of insight – and that’s it. But they insisted, we had to include a live show. I was pretty strongly against it, but then I agreed, because I think it makes a nice package, as long as it’s not called a live DVD. That’s why it’s called “Showtime, Storytime”.

Are there any specific reasons for filming the DVD at the Wacken Festival, and not during one of the regular shows of the tour?

Well, yeah, because the idea came at the end of June, and we only had festival shows left. That was the only option we had. And Wacken Open Air already had the shooting equipment there, so it was easiest to organize there. That was basically the only reason.

The new DVD is the perfect introduction to the new Nighwish line-up that was officially announced yesterday. When you decided to release a DVD with Floor, did you already have in mind to make her place in the band official? Or, at least, did seeing the live footage convince you she was the right choice?

We were actually quite convinced already in the beginning of summer. We made the agreement in June. We asked her if she wanted to be part of the band last June, and we also asked Troy. They both agreed. Then we decided to keep silent until next year, just to calm things down. And then, a few weeks ago, I started writing the credits for the DVD – the thank you list, and all that. Then came: “Nightwish are…” How do I put Floor and Troy here? “Guest vocals by Floor Jansen”? That sounds ridiculous! That’s when I realized: “Why should we stay silent about this?” So we talked with the band about releasing the information now. It’s also good promotion for the DVD, that Floor and Troy are official members.

(About Anette Olzon) « When I listen to Dark Passion Play and Imaginaerum, I don’t think there is another person who could have sung those songs better than her. »

Did you ever consider not asking Floor to stay and looking for another singer?

We just kept all the doors open for the first part of this year. We were just having a really good time on tour. She was a replacement, we didn’t think that she was definitely going to be one. But week after week, we grow into the idea that this was really good. Why should we look anywhere else? As long as she agreed, of course. We didn’t take it for granted that she wanted to be in the band. In the beginning of June, we asked her: “How do you feel about this? Do you wanna continue?” And here we are now!

Was the decision easy for her to make? Floor went through a serious burn-out in 2011, after ReVamp’s first album was released. Wasn’t she afraid it could happen again with a busy band like Nightwish?

Yeah, we talked about this. We don’t want her to quit ReVamp either, everybody has side projects. We really asked her: “Are you sure you want to do this?”, and she was 100% sure. I think it’s gonna work out fine. We have a really good management and record label, so she doesn’t need to worry about that stuff the way she has to do with ReVamp. It’s gonna be much easier.

How do you explain that the fans were not as scandalized, or at least as skeptical, by Floor’s arrival in the band as they were by Anette’s? Is it because she was already known in the metal world, or maybe because they’ve realized that what really matters in Nighwish is the music, and not the identity of the lead singer?

I wish I could answer that! I think maybe a little bit of both. But the fact that she was already quite well-known and respected in the metal genre… She has been doing this for 14 years, so people knew her. She didn’t come out of nowhere. That really helped the transition to be smoother.

To the best of my knowledge, Floor is one of the only metal singers out there who is as good with her chest voice as she is with her head voice. In other words, she can sing both the older stuff and the songs from the last two albums exactly the way they were intended. Did that play a part in your decision to ask her to replace Anette?

Not really, actually. When things came to the point that something needed to be done, about a year ago in September, we thought we had two options: cancel the tour or find somebody else. We immediately figured out that Floor was the only one who might be able to do this. Because she was an old friend, we knew she knew the back catalogue of the band. She hadn’t heard the Imaginaerum songs, but she had two days to rehearse those. So we just gave her a call: “What do you think? Could you pull this off?” And she said: “Yeah, I’ll give it a try”. And here we are.

Hence the title of the documentary: “Please learn the setlist in 48 hours”…

Yeah, that came from the director. It’s a kind of naïve title, but it’s not exaggerated at all! That’s what really happened.

Retrospectively, considering the fact that she had no lyrical singing capabilities, do you still think Anette was the right choice for Nightwish at the time?

Yes, I do. I’ve said this many times. When I listen to Dark Passion Play and Imaginaerum, I don’t think there is another person who could have sung those songs better than her. I really, honestly think so, and the rest of the band does, as well. That was not the issue.

« We have a really versatile female singer, and we have Troy bringing his stuff in, so all the doors are open. »

The other big news is the fact that Troy Donockley is now officially the sixth member of the band. Do you think that could change or impact the band’s musical direction?

A little bit, for sure. Now we have a very versatile player – and a singer as well! He’s a really good singer, who has a totally different voice than Marco’s. So it gives me more tools as a songwriter to write stuff. Also, he can play whistles, pipes, bouzouki, acoustic guitar, and all that, so it brings more depth to the live action as well.

Very often, when “unusual” instruments are used in a metal band, they’re played as samples on stage. Does the fact that Troy joined the band permanently mean that you think uillean pipes and other Celtic instruments are as important as drums or guitars in the band, and therefore deserve a full-time musician? Do you see these instruments becoming a strong identity for the band?

That’s a good point, actually… I’m pretty sure that Troy will not be included in all the songs on the next album. I think he will have a similar role to what he had on Imaginaerum. And he will not be on stage for the whole show for the next tour, either. It’s gonna be like six or seven songs, or something like this. So in that sense, it’s not gonna be as big as the other instruments. It just brings a really nice addition, but you won’t hear uillean pipes on every single song on the next album.

So there’s no chance of seeing Nightwish becoming the new Eluveitie?

No, I don’t think so. It would take the strength out of the whole thing if you heard them all the time. To have them on a couple of songs, as a surprise factor, is a nice extra spice. It just enhances the whole thing. It’s the same reason I don’t want to use Marco in all the songs, even though he’s such a brilliant singer. Less is more!

You made your decision about the new voice of Nightwish earlier than expected, so could this also mean that you’ll start making a new record sooner than what was originally planned?

Well, I still have to do all the songs! So we’ll stick to the original schedule, which means that we’ll enter the rehearsal room next July. The album should be ready by the end of next year, meaning a spring 2015 release.

Now that Floor is officially part of the band, does that give you a more precise idea on how the next album will or might sound like?

Not really! (laughs) It’s really a bit too early to talk about it. I have three songs finished now, but it’s just too early to say anything. But we have a really versatile female singer, and we have Troy bringing his stuff in, so all the doors are open. I’m really thrilled.

Two years ago you released an album that came with a movie. After such a huge project, do you feel comfortable going back to smaller-scale albums, or do you plan to go even further?

I think we might take a step back. I don’t mean musically or artistically, but maybe do an album that’s a bit more down-to-earth, a bit more old school. There will not be a movie to go along with the next album, for sure! Maybe something more band-oriented. I don’t want to get rid of the orchestra or the choir, but maybe putting back more of that early Nightwish-band thing into it would be welcome.

« Do an album that’s a bit more down-to-earth, a bit more old school. […] Putting back more of that early Nightwish-band thing into it would be welcome. »

We’re seeing more and more bands projecting their concerts in movie theaters. The Big 4 did that, Dream Theater did that, Metallica is taking it one step further with their movie Through The Never, and of course you did a movie for Imaginaerum. Do you think that cinema could become a means to expand the metal genre in the future?

I haven’t really given that any thought, to be honest. I wouldn’t know. Possibly. It’s an intriguing idea. But I wouldn’t know, I need to think about it!

By the way, how does it feel seeing yourself on a big screen?

Weird – really weird! Thank Heavens I didn’t have to say anything in the film! (laughs) But it was OK, it was a good cameo role.

Do you feel like all these actors who say they think they’re awful when they see themselves on screen?

Well, I have a better self-esteem than I had ten years ago, so I wouldn’t go that far. But I still feel quite uncomfortable on every single photo session.

Can you give us an update on your musical project, “The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck”?

(over-excited) Yes!

Is the recording over?

It is over, yeah. We recorded the last bits about five days ago. Now it’s just mixing and mastering. It should be ready in about three weeks. The release is early April next year.

Do you actually plan to have it performed for an audience, or will it only be released as a CD?

Just a CD. I kinda want to go on and concentrate on the next Nightwish album. The Scrooge thing is just a side-project, and that’s it.

Therion is currently working on an actual metal opera. Is that something you’ve considered doing, or could consider doing?

There are quite a few bands doing stuff like that already. I think they should do it. I’m not a big fan of opera, so… Let Therion do it!

Interview conducted face to face on October, 10th 2013 by Saff’
Questions: Saff’ & Spaceman
Transcription: Saff’
Introduction: Alastor

Nightwish’s official website: www.nightwish.com/

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