Nightwish: a new step in their evolution

Nightwish 2015In his fundamental book On The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin described natural selection as “the principle by which each slight variation of a trait, if useful, is preserved”, and went on to explain that a change could become a strength in any species. The principle fits Nightwish like a custom-made glove – because their ambitious new album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, is a concept inspired by life and evolution, but also because the band has wonderfully adapted to drummer Jukka Nevalainen’s insomnia problems, and found new strength in the inclusion of versatile singer Floor Jansen and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley. These two additions to the band have made composer Tuomas Holopainen extremely happy, as he confesses in the following interview, alongside the aforementioned Floor.

A year and a half ago, just a few days after the official announcement, Tuomas explained to us how this new step in Nightwish’s evolution had come about. Eighteen months and a soundtrack to Uncle Scrooge’s adventures later, Nightwish make the news once again with their much-expected eighth album. Every self-respecting fan has been in their starting-blocks for months now, dissecting every piece of music made available, every word that could give them even a hint of the album’s musical direction and of the third singer’s performance.

We talked with Tuomas and Floor about all this, and also about the issue of downloading (following a message that denounced the leak of the first single, “Élan”, a few weeks ago), the “experience of music”, and the role of education in this matter – something they both visibly hold very dear.

Nightwish 2015

« You have to act accordingly to the songs not do things just because you can. »

Radio Metal: Jukka had to pull out of the recording of the album and the upcoming tour. This is the first time in the band’s history that a member has to leave because of health issues. How do you feel about this situation?

Tuomas Holopainen (keyboards): Still terrified and sad because things looked really, really good for Nightwish for quite a long time when she hopped on board at the end of 2012 and did the rest of the tour with us, followed by the live DVD and the songwriting process and the beginning of the rehearsals for the new album. It was all a bliss and then this happened. We never get rid of the turbulence in the band, I guess [chuckles]. But we have to mention that it was a really courageous and unselfish thing on Jukka’s side to do because he realized that he wasn’t capable of functioning one hundred percent anymore because of this disease of which he has suffered for more than ten years now. He did this for the good of the whole group and organization. But I just met him three weeks ago – he came to my place and we had a poker tournament on the internet – and I haven’t seen him that energetic and happy in ages. So he’s doing much better at the moment but Kai will still to do the whole upcoming tour. Let’s give him a long breather.

Will he be able to come back as a fulltime member someday?

Nobody knows, everybody hopes!

Is he still taking care of all the business aspects of Nightwish as he used to in the past?

Yes, he is very much involved. He’s the CEO of the band’s company, so to speak. He takes care of all the merchandise and financial issues and all the paper work in the band. So he’s a super important member of the band, and that’s what he is: he’s still a member of the band.

What are your feelings about his replacement Kai Haito? How does he fit into Nightwish?

Well, considering the circumstances, it couldn’t have been any easier or better. But Kai’s the ultimate professional. We have known him for years and we knew that he would have the skills, the personality and the motivation to do that. We were just a bit concerned whether he had the time to do this. But giving where Swallow The Sun and Wintersun are at the moment, he was able to do this. We’ve got a lucky strike there.

Floor, it’s been two years now that you joined Nightwish and you actually toured with the band prior to making an album. Did that actually help, on one hand, you to fully get into the Nightwish spirit and, on another hand, the band to better know you and your capacities before going into the creative process?

Floor Jansen (vocals): I think on my end yeah, for sure, it’s great to have already seen all aspects of the band’s vibe and be part of that for long enough to really, really get it. And then, of course, during the rehearsal and recording period, you see different aspects of each other. We spend the time differently. We see the creativity differently. But altogether it made it easier.

Tuomas: Agree! Every word! [Laughs]

Nightwish started with an operatic singer then had a more pop-rock sounding singer, and now with Floor it seems that the band gets the best of both worlds since she can do it all and has a wide vocal spectrum. Did her voice and her capacities actually inspire you, Tuomas, for the music you were writing and did Tuomas pushed you, Floor, in using the full spectrum of your voice?

It sure helps to know who’s gonna be singing those songs that you write, that’s for sure. But as a vocalist she’s as versatile as it gets, so I didn’t feel restricted at all. But yes, we wanted to challenge her, especially to sing in a more ethereal and softer way, which we haven’t really heard that much in After Forever and Revamp. That’s something that I was really anxious about and she as well…

Floor: Yep!

Tuomas: It might come as a surprise that she’s not actually using that much of her operatic voice on the album. But that was also a thing that we tried on a few songs in the rehearsal studio and it just didn’t work out. I mean, you have to act accordingly to the songs not do things just because you can.

Nightwish 2015

« I seriously consider myself being the luckiest songwriter on the planet, by having a group like this around me. […] I don’t have to feel restricted at all. »

In 2013 you told us that thanks to his great versatility, Troy Donokey gave you more tools as a songwriter. This is his first album as an official member of the band. What was his input and how has it evolved on this album?

The fact that we made him an official member of the band didn’t really change anything. He was very much a member of the band already because he toured with us for the whole Imaginaerum tour. It just felt wrong to continue the band without him being a band member because we knew that he was always gonna be there, he would always have a part to do, a part to play in the band. I seriously consider myself being the luckiest songwriter on the planet, by having a group like this around me. A female voice and two male voices who can basically do anything, then we have the wonderful musicians, then we have Troy who can play almost anything, which is… [Chuckles] Everything’s open! I don’t have to feel restricted at all. I never ever have to think whether this is doable or not: “Can he play this? Can she sing this?” Nothing. What a freedom that is!

Do you feel restricted by something else, like what are people going to think is Nightwish when you go in an unusual direction? I mean, the last song on this album really goes all over the place, even for Nightwish… So do you feel limited by what people might expect from you?

No. Songwriting and doing an album with a band is really, really a selfish thing. I think it should be a selfish thing. To take it to the extreme, I don’t even think that during the solitary songwriting process you should think about the other band members either. That’s the only way to keep the music and lyrics as honest as possible. Then you work on the songs together with the whole band and try to make it as appealing to everybody as humanly possible but never think if the comments or the criticisms or the reactions from the fans. I mean, that’s really the wrong way to take it.

In 2013 you told us that you thought you might “take a step back”. Not “musically or artistically, but maybe do an album that’s a bit more down-to-earth, a bit more old school. […] Maybe more band-oriented.” Do you think the album is faithful to your original idea or did that change over the creative process?

The last time we talked I had a bunch of the songs already done, so at that time I already had an idea of where we were going. So that’s why I told you about that, going more old school. I do think that we have achieved that with this album. All the trademark Nightwish elements are still there but there’s a strong vibe of the Oceanborn and Once eras that can be heard in this album, for some reason I can’t really explain.

The one thing that’s obvious when I just listened to the album is how present the keyboards and the guitars are compared to Imaginaerum or even the previous album. Because at some point they became, not lost, but kind of hidden behind the orchestra and for the first time in a long time we can hear them not just as a support to the orchestra but as an actual instrument, if you see what I mean…

Yeah, maybe the songs just require that kind of approach. I don’t really know. There’s a reason why the previous album Imaginaerum was so cinematic and orchestra oriented because we did a movie to go along with it, so it needed to be really soundtrackish. It sounds exactly the way we wanted it to sounds, I’m not trying to dismiss it at all. But since we had two new members in the band, it just felt really, really good, in every sense of the word, that maybe we can try to bring that band vibe a little bit back, maybe use a little bit less orchestra, as there is on this album.

Imaginaerum was a very special album for Nightwish as it was written for a movie and had therefore explored new influences you maybe wouldn’t have explored naturally. Had the experience with this album and what you learned from it had an influence, in one way or another, on the composition process for Endless Forms Most Beautiful?

Maybe in the way that with that album we reached the peak of the ultimate orchestral and cinematic side of the band and we realized that ok, let’s take a step back towards the old school style of doing an album. I think that’s the only thing. Another one would be that if you think that music business is a circus, try the movie business… So doing this film was definitely a one off thing.

You said that you mainly composed the songs in late night and in the morning. Why? And do you think this has actually influenced the mood of the album?

Not late night actually, I always write in the mornings and in the afternoons… I’m a morning person and I like to go to bed pretty early. It doesn’t really fit with the band’s name though… [Chuckles] It’s just a personal thing. People work differently, they function differently and like I said, I’m a morning person. That’s when I’m at my best. That’s when my head’s the clearest. In the evening I just like to watch movies or read books or sit by the camp fire and listen to music and drink red wine…

That’s a nice program!

Well, I don’t mind! [Chuckles]

Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful

« Songwriting and doing an album with a band is really, really a selfish thing. […] To take it to the extreme, I don’t even think that during the solitary songwriting process you should think about the other band members either. »

The album ends with a 24 minutes epic song called “The Greatest Show On Earth”. Can you tell us more about this song and how you ended up composing such long epic?

The reason why it ended up being so long was because the story’s so long and so massive. The idea behind that track is to go through the evolution of life on planet earth since the beginning of the formation of the planet, less than five billion years ago, until the distant future. And I found that idea for a story line really, really exciting. It was a lot of fun to do and to try to get all the pieces together in chronological order and create this strip through time until distant future that nobody knows what it’s gonna be like…

You recorded the album in a cabin in the middle of a semi-deserted land of snow and trees. Do you think this special environment has put its mark on the music and the recordings, somehow?

I definitely do, yes. There wasn’t so much snow in there because it was the summer but it was a very secluded place in my home town. It was like this Boy Scout camp. What we were after was the ultimate immersion, that’s the word, to just wake up in the same beautiful peaceful location every morning with your band mates, going into rehearsing and arranging and just living and breathing the album every day without having to go home and come back to the studio and then back home… You were really in the essence of the whole thing for three months straight. Of course, we visited our homes every now and then etc. but still…

It was actually very obvious in the making of videos that you posted on the internet that you were breathing the album 24/7…

Yeah, that’s what it was. And it was very mellow times. We played almost every day when we were there. But in the evenings it was just sauna, swimming, barbecue, occasional films… Lovely time, really, really nice relax time. Not one second it felt like another day at the office. That’s what we were after.

Is this something you already did with your other bands or was this seclusion very new to you Floor?

Floor: Yeah, this was very new. The last After Forever album we did had something more like this. We rented this house in a holiday park nearby the city, which was also in a remote area. We would walk out between the recording sessions, not being in the middle of traffic and the city’s distractions. But we all slept in the same house, and you never really had a moment for yourself, which I find also necessary. You put a lot into your music, so there’s a natural need to spend time together but also having enough space to do something for yourself. If you want to take a swim by yourself by all means or read a book or just sit in your cabin for awhile, the space we had, that was very nice. There was a lot of space. You can really just suck all that in and that was something I never experienced, and to spend that much time on it as well. I really enjoy that too.

This is a concept inspired by Charles Darwin and you actually invited evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins on the album. What is your relationship to Charles Darwin and more generally to evolutionary biology? This must be quite important to you, Tuomas, as you once said that you usually translate something into music when it affects you very deeply…

Tuomas: Yes, absolutely. Truly understanding the core of evolution is a beautiful, spiritual and humbling experience. I mean, we were taught about evolution when we were at school and I understood it and always appreciated it. But I never really understood it in a poetic way, if you know what I mean. Actually reading a lot of Dawkins and watching the Cosmos series by Carl Sagan, and the updated versions featuring Neil DeGrasse Tyson, just opened my eyes on a different level. I just felt so strongly about it that I felt this needs to be put into the music of the next album. The Greatest Show On Earth is actually a book by Dawkins. The title is taken straight away from that. It just felt like the perfect fit if we could get Dawkins on that particular song to do some reading. The book is about evolution on earth and that’s what the song is about as well, so there’s this strong connection.

Could this also be a way to say hello to the young man who wanted to be a marine biologist?

That might be more of a subconscious thing. I didn’t really think about that but yes, we do want to sort of raise consciousness about these issues to people. I mean, the latest study says that forty five percent of Americans don’t believe in evolution. In a western country, that’s quite the figure. Not to preach, not to tell people what to think but to raise awareness.

Nightwish 2015

« The new generation needs to learn what it’s like to experience music for real. »

The album’s title, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, comes from Charles Darwin’s book The Origin Of Species. Why this line in particular? What resonance does it have to you?

It beautifully sums up the whole idea of the album. I mean, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, it’s the diversity of life.

Floor, in the making of video for the album, you said it was very strange for you to sing lyrics you had not written. What does it change for you as a singer? Was it harder for you to get into the lyrics you were singing?

Floor: Yeah, of course. I mean, once you’ve written something yourself, you already know exactly what it is about, what emotions are behind it. So, in order for me to tell the story correctly, I did have to understand them and feel them. I needed that for me to get it out. Even for the previous songs, the ones I sang live, you have to understand them at a very pure level in order to tell the stories but the stories are always seen through different eyes. Tuomas wrote them, I sing them, you listen to them and every time something different happens, so how do you make the right interpretation? And that‘s of course a process that I didn’t do alone, talking about it and asking Tuomas: “How do you think they should come out?” Or we would try things out in the rehearsal room and that facilitated everything to really sink in better and to really make it my own in order to get it out genuinely. So, yeah, it was a new experience but a very positive one. In the end the songs feel much more honest than anything I sang before. And that was a very nice feeling and it was very important to me.

Tuomas, you started off as the sole composer for Nightwish but now Marco and Emppu kind of contributed to the composition as well. Do you see yourself letting Floor write lyrics for a Nightwish album one day?

Tuomas: Well, it’s always been the philosophy in the band that everybody can present their ideas musically and lyrically. It just works out the best when you have one person as a leader in these matters. I mean, a band just cannot simply function as a complete democracy, it just doesn’t work but we are as democratic a band as it gets.

You were quoted saying that the concept of “Elan” is “nothing less than the meaning of life, which can be something different for all of us.” So, million dollar question: what is the meaning of life for you, then?

Floor & Tuomas: [Laughs]

Floor: Well, for me it is to enjoy every second that you have in this brief time where we’re alive, to understand what makes you tick, what makes you happy. For me, I have to have a very healthy balance between my private life and my professional life, to be able to do what I love to do, spend time with people that I love, getting inspired by everything around me… That would be for me my own meaning of life.

Tuomas: To live to the fullest, to be as much adventurous as possible, trying not to hurt anybody while doing it and leave the planet slightly a better place than how you found it, at least try your best to do so.

A few days ago, the new single of the album was leaked. You were naturally very upset by that and wrote a long post on the Facebook page of the band about that. We know how much you love building a mystery around a new Nightwish album. Do you miss the old days, when it was much more difficult to leak a song or an album, when a new album was surrounded by big expectations and some kind of magic?

I do. I very, very much do. I remember the time when Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven was about to be released in 1994 or something like that, I waited for it for weeks. Then when it came to the stores, it was a big event. You actually cycled to the store and bought the album with the money that you had saved, and then you cycled back home and just listened to the album from beginning to the end in peace for a few times. It was a big event. You didn’t even know any song in advance, maybe the single but it was a big mystery. Yeah, I miss those days. I wouldn’t mind bringing a little bit of that mystery back into our music and into the album release and everything involved. [Wanting an album to be a big surprise] is a skill in listening to music that is quite rare these days. I wish there was more people like that.

Nowadays, bands tend to release at least two, three or even more songs of an album before releasing it. I guess that this isn’t something that you’re very fond of, is it? I mean, the album has to be taken as a whole…

Absolutely so and if it was up to me, I wouldn’t release even the first single. I find it unfair towards the actual single song and towards the whole album to put just one song on a pedestal months before the album release.

But you have to keep record companies happy…

Well, it’s a collaboration. I completely see the point why it’s done and I don’t really have a problem with that but from the artistic point of view, it would make a lot of sense not releasing a single. But I don’t mind.

Nightwish 2015

« A band just cannot simply function as a complete democracy, it just doesn’t work but we are as democratic a band as it gets. »

Do you think that your ideal of keeping a mystery around your releases is compatible with how the internet works?

Floor: I think that’s a new challenge. With the internet, the music industry is constantly evolving, growing and changing, and everything usually comes in waves. The free downloads and the streaming thing also have a counter side where people are buying more and more vinyls. There are purists out there who really need that. Their voice will also grow and will probably have an effect again on that super fast free access music kind of thing. I think there’s an educational value there that’s underestimated today. Especially the new generation needs to learn what it’s like to experience music for real. Those kids are on the internet a lot and they will do that in twenty years from now and so on and so forth. So I really hope that the kids today, through parents or school or other friends, will learn how to appreciate music and maybe get that same excitement that Tuomas was just describing, cycling to a store for that long awaited album, back also on the internet. I mean, it is a fantastic platform, accessible to everyone, everywhere. So it can definitely have more benefits than it already has, used well.

Tuomas: Floor made a crucial point: It’s all about education. That’s something we have to remember because the kids of today don’t even realize that there’s something wrong about spreading the single on the internet or downloading it for free, because they don’t know better and you can’t blame them for that. You can blame the lack of education. And that’s why we posted this post that we did. We just didn’t want to leave it be. We wanted to make people aware that this is wrong, it’s stealing, it’s not good for anybody. And we got a lot of heat from doing so because they said that now we made it aware for other people that it has leaked, that it was like shooting ourselves in the foot. But [sighing] we wanted to educate [chuckles].

Floor: Yeah, it stands as an example there. I know there’s a lot of musicians that share our opinion and thoughts, and the purists on the other hand as well. Like for people who get excited for this release, it also gets ruined for those people. It takes extra strength from yourself to not listen to it. You know it’s gonna come and there’s always the temptation to listen to it earlier, people get mad, there’s a negative flow about something that should have been nothing but positive [laughs].

: Yeah and the most common comment was: “It’s the 21st century! Get over it! Grow up! These things happen to every band! These things just happen, so live with it!” It’s the same thing with suicide bombings or anything negative that happens: “Why don’t you just let it be? Because it happens constantly…” On the very contrary…

Emppu was stated saying that « the need to show off has diminished even more. It’s more like you want to do justice to the song and not strut your stuff.” Does that mean you’ve been showing off and strutting at some point in the past, as if you had something to prove, ultimately not totally doing justice to the songs?

[Long thought and chuckles]

Floor: Because when you’re young, you do look at things differently. You have so much more to prove in general. You want to show to yourself what you can do and it’s “cool”! And that goes a bit away when you grow older and you know that you can do it, you know what a good song is a little better. I guess that goes for you guys too…

Tuomas: That was so well put! I have nothing to add but it’s exactly that! You needed to prove something, not necessarily for other people, but to yourself.

About your new album, you declared that this has been a very fun and smooth process. Was it specific to Endless Forms Most Beautiful?

It was! I mean, we had a lot of fun recording Angels Fall First, I remember that, and Once. But then again there were a lot of difficulties with Imaginaerum. I remember that Century Child was a complete hell to record, for reasons that we don’t have to go into now… But yeah, it has changed from album to album and this new one definitely was one of the most fun albums to write, record and mix.

Speaking of Angels Fall First, I think next year will be the 20th anniversary of that album. Are you going to focus exclusively on a tour for Endless Forms Most Beautiful or do you plan to maybe do something for the anniversary?

It’s just gonna be the tour, as far as I know. We really don’t have any plan. I think we’re gonna wait for the 30th anniversary and then come up with something special [chuckles].

French fans of Sabaton were rather surprised to see you Floor appear on stage as a “deluxe” roadie handing a guitar to singer Joakim Brodén… Singing doesn’t pay enough and you have to have, like, a secondary job?

Floor: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s how it happened!

Tuomas: Yeah, we’re ripping her off constantly! She’s not getting any money from this album, so she has to do that… [Laughs]

Floor: Yeah, and show off my guitar skills, so perhaps I can have another band on the side where I can play guitar.

Are your guitar skills as good as Joakim’s? Because he’s not the best guitarist around…

[Laughs] I think he still outplays me. What actually happened was that I had a guitar and Chris, the guitarist with the dark hair, he hid behind the drums and he was playing while I was doing air guitar! We talked about it beforehand, like when he was going to stop, when he was going to do something special… I think a lot of people at that moment anyway didn’t really get it. Then of course I handed it to Joakim. I was a fun end-of-the-tour prank that I found myself involved in! [Laughs]

Well, no chance of seeing you leaving Nightwish to start a career as a guitarist somewhere…

I have been considering it ever since but I didn’t dare to bring it up because it wasn’t the right moment [laughs].

Interview conducted 9th, february 2015 by Tiphaine Lombardelli.
Retranscription, traduction and introduction: Nicolas Gricourt.
Pics: Ville Akseli Juurikkala.

Nightwish official website: nightwish.com.

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