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Nightwish: Tuomas Holopainen’s dreams


It was a dream; now it’s a reality. Nightwish’s leader Tuomas Holopainen, a cinema and soundtrack enthusiast for years and years now, has now achieved what he had probably always dreamed of, even unconsciously. Imaginaerum, written as part of a project combining a movie and a record, sounds more like a soundtrack than a collection of songs. If Nightwish’s albums have always displayed a certain coherence and openly boasted influences from Hollywood film music composers, like Hans Zimmer, it’s the very first time the result is that close to the original stuff.

There’s more behind every ambitious project than just glamour, money and comfort. On the contrary, the biggest dreams demand the biggest amount of sacrifices, blood, doubts and lack of comfort. Making a movie is just a little more expensive than producing an album – even for a big band like Nightwish. At some point, moved by the overpowering desire to reach a result (“It was that kind of feeling, when you think you cannot look at yourself in the mirror unless you do certain things”) and a naïveté he easily confesses, Tuomas was even close to selling his house.

On a lighter subject, the keyboard player told us a few amusing anecdotes from the set of the movie, confessing his awkwardness as an amateur actor and his inability to cry on command.

Between the genesis of the project and the efforts needed to make it a reality, the music on this special and incredibly varied album (probably the most varied in the band’s career), the movie itself and the shooting, the upcoming tour and, more generally, the band’s future, we weren’t exactly short of questions.

All the answers below.

« I think one of the most obvious things you hear when you listen to Imaginaerum is the vocal work. It’s on a different level. You can really hear her confidence. On Dark Passion Play, she was still a bit uncertain. She told me that all the while she was afraid she would be kicked out of the band if she sang poorly. »

Radio Metal : What is your assessment of your first tour with Anette as a singer? What reactions did you witness and what are your thoughts on them?

Tuomas Holopainen (keyboards) : I would give the whole tour an A-. We really didn’t know what to expect, how the fans would react. All the signs of a major catastrophe were there at some point, because you just don’t know how people will react. But we had a lot of confidence in her, and we had a really strong album with Dark Passion Play. So we had the confidence, but we still didn’t know. The tour was really long, really hard, and at some point people from the band and the crew started dropping like flies, but we still managed to do it and feel really happy and proud about it.

Anette didn’t take part in the writing process for Dark Passion Play. What about Imaginaerum?

No, I did all the songs, except for one, which was made by Marco [Hietala, bass].

You wrote Dark Passion Play without knowing exactly what voice was going to bring it to life. For Imaginaerum, on the other hand, you knew exactly what Anette was capable of. Do you think the album is better for this reason?

I think one of the most obvious things you hear when you listen to Imaginaerum is the vocal work. It’s on a different level. You can really hear her confidence. On Dark Passion Play, she was still a bit uncertain. She told me that all the while she was afraid she would be kicked out of the band if she sang poorly. But she sounds really good and more versatile on this album. There’s also the fact that I was able to write all the songs for her exact vocal range. I knew her strengths, I knew her weaknesses, so it was a bit easier this time.

In many interviews you gave after Anette joined the band, you said she had a storyteller’s voice. Is that one of the reasons you decided to tell the Imaginaerum story now, because you had the perfect singer to tell it?

That’s an interesting point, I’ve never thought of that. But now that you say it, it makes sense! Maybe it’s more of a subconscious thing, but that’s a really good point. Maybe so. The idea of the movie to go along with the album occurred to me in the summer of 2007. I never thought of it before that. Yeah, it makes perfect sense!

« But after Dark Passion Play, I just figured that this was so insanely big and diverse that we could no longer take it to the next level with just the music. […] Then it occurred to me, if we can’t do it with the music alone, let’s add another dimension, a visual dimension, to it. »

The album sounds much more like a soundtrack than a collection of songs. Ultimately, that’s what you always wanted to do in your career, right?

Soundtracks have been a driving force in my songwriting for years and years. I guess on Imaginaerum, it’s taken to the maximum. The most concrete reason for that is that we’re actually doing a movie. All the songs on the album are made for certain scenes in the movie. Before the first note was written, I had the idea of what the story was about: the jazz club, the ghosts, the Arabian death dance… All of those songs were made for these stories. That’s the major reason why the album ended up being so soundtrackish.

Why did you not do it earlier? Did you really need a movie to write movie music, if you see what I mean? Since it’s something you love so much, did you really need the images to go along with the music?

It’s always been about creating the kind of music that the listener would see as much as hear. But before this album, I guess we were always happy with the audio aid. We didn’t need the visuals. But after Dark Passion Play, I just figured that this was so insanely big and diverse that we could no longer take it to the next level with just the music. That’s when I felt it strongly for the first time. Even after the Once album, I thought we could make it even bigger and better, but not after Dark Passion Play. Then it occurred to me, if we can’t do it with the music alone, let’s add another dimension, a visual dimension, to it.

This new album is a firework of different influences and styles, and both Marco and Anette do things that we’ve never heard from them before. Like you said, there’s this very jazzy song, with a “Twin Peaks” vibe to it. Was this melting-pot of different things sparked by this huge project? Was the movie the thing you really needed to start afresh and renew yourself musically?

I’m not sure we needed the movie. It was just a whole new idea to create an album. (long hesitation)

In other words, do you think you would have written a song like this very jazzy track without the movie, for example?

To be honest, I don’t know. That particular song was based on a certain scene that had to be included in the movie. That’s why it’s there; once you see the movie, you’ll understand why this “Twin Peaks” song is in there. But to be honest, I don’t know how to answer the question… But you were also asking about the versatility and the different elements. It’s more varied than ever before. I think it has to do with the fact that this is a thematic album, about the celebration of life, the privilege of life and all the wonderful, beautiful things we have in here. It’s about the versatility of everything we experience. That’s why we wanted to include all the elements that we could possibly put into 75 minutes of music, from the dark, jazzy stuff to the childhood nightmares of “Scare Tale”, to the Arabic influences, to the Celtic, having-fun kind of vibe, to the funeral procession of “Rest Calm”. It’s all the aspects of life.

« I was very naïve in the beginning, thinking that this would be quite an easy task, especially with the money. […] The budget for it was about four million euros. The budget for it was about four million euros. We were able to put just one million of our own money into it. At some point I was about to sell my house to get the money and take all the loans in the world »

How long have you been nurturing the dream to make a movie? When did you realize this project was feasible?

It was in 2007, in the summer, that I originally had this ambitious idea. I was very naïve in the beginning, thinking that this would be quite an easy task, especially with the money. The band didn’t have the financial means to pay for the whole movie. The budget for it was about four million euros. We were able to put just one million of our own money into it. At some point I was about to sell my house to get the money and take all the loans in the world, because I really wanted this to happen, and we couldn’t get the financing. That was by far the most difficult part of the process.

You just said you were ready to sell your house. What would you not sacrifice to make your artistic desires come true?

Human lives! (laughs) It was that kind of feeling, when you think you cannot look at yourself in the mirror unless you do certain things. I just felt so strongly about doing this. I didn’t even care at that point whether the movie was going to be good or not, I wanted to make the movie, end of discussion! Finally, we were able to finance it, and here we are. It makes me feel a bit proud that we all kept our heads on our shoulders in the process.

Was Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” an inspiration for you?

I never saw “The Wall”, actually. None of these bands’ movies have been an inspiration. I heard that Kiss has done a movie, the Beatles have done a movie… Lordi did “Dark Floors”. I haven’t seen these movies. I wouldn’t know how to compare.

What were your influences for the movie? From the few pictures we’ve seen from the set, it looks very Tim Burton-ish…

The actual story for the movie, the screenplay, came from the director, Stobe Harju. It was completely his idea to include this old, dying guy and to go back into his dreams. It was completely him. But since we’re both huge fans of Disney, fairy tales and Tim Burton, it was natural to include them in there somehow.

« Four years ago, I had a dream about a movie, and now it actually will be done. So now it’s time to look for new dreams, and I already have a whole bunch. »

Imaginaerum is the fulfillment of a dream for you – but that’s also what you said about your previous achievements. Is there anything else you want to accomplish in your life in the future?

The moment I would answer “no” to that question, I would be ready to die! (laughs) Life is all about finding your dreams and trying your best to fulfill them. It sounds so corny, but that’s the way it is. Four years ago, I had a dream about a movie, and now it actually will be done. So now it’s time to look for new dreams, and I already have a whole bunch.

What kind of ideas do you have right now?

Some preliminary ideas for the next Nightwish album. I’m sketching some songs and ideas already. Also, outside of Nightwish, I have some dreams that we don’t need to go into right now. But there’s all kind of stuff that I’m looking forward to.

The members of the band have small parts in the movie. What can you tell us about your first experience as actors?

The art of acting is a profession that I really, really respect now. It’s something I don’t think I could do. I had to spend a few hours in front of the cameras, trying to act. Even though I didn’t have any lines, it was still incredibly hard. It was unbelievable. But there was this young kid, Quinn Lord, who is twelve years old; he’s one of the main characters of the movie. He had to do a scene where the director said: “Cry”. And he actually cried. He had thirty seconds to get tears out of his eyes without any chemicals, nothing. He just closed his eyes, and there were the tears. And he did it eight times in a row. I was there, watching him do it eight times in a row, and every time they dried his cheeks and said: “OK, action, go!” And the tears would come. I tried that afterwards in my hotel room: “OK, cry!” You can try, it’s really hard! And the fact that he was doing it in front of cameras, in front of forty people, eight times in a row… That’s acting. That’s a big talent.

So it’s not the same as shooting a music video? You did a very interesting, very beautiful video for “While Your Lips Are Still Red”. For you, that was not the same thing?

That’s kind of like being in your own territory. When you have the music, when you have your instrument, you feel like yourself. This is what you can do. But when the director says “Action”, and you have to do some things like… I had to throw this thing against the wall and look really miserable, or hug this little girl and take her on my lap and play the piano with her. And I was just like: “What the hell do I have to do next? Hold on… Oh yeah, now I have to look miserable!” It was really hard.

« There was this young kid, Quinn Lord, who is twelve years old; he’s one of the main characters of the movie. He had to do a scene where the director said: “Cry”. […] And he did it eight times in a row. […] I tried that afterwards in my hotel room: ‘OK, cry!' »

The tour for Imaginaerum will only last a year. Were two years too demanding for you?

It needed to be done once. There are no regrets, but we realized maybe it was not worth the effort. So we decided to just do a year for now and see how the band feels after that. We’ll see what the future holds, we haven’t decided anything. But last time was a bit too hard, and it took a big toll on some people. We just figured it was not worth it, so we’ll take it a bit easier this time.

Do you already know what you’re going to do on stage for Imaginaerum?

We have some ideas. I was just talking with the technicians a couple of days ago. There will be some similar things on stage: props, pyros, lots of fire… But to be honest, we don’t know exactly what. It’s still in the developing stage.

Are you looking forward to the 70,000 Tons Of Metal cruise?

Whoever came up with this idea is a genius! A Caribbean cruise with forty metal bands, everything included, walking around and seeing the bands, enjoying the sun and sea… It’s perfect!

We actually talked to the guy who created it, and he said he got the idea while drunk!

All the best ideas come like that!

And you get to watch the bands from the pool!

Oh, wow! (laughs) I guess it’s really intimate. You don’t get to do a big show, and the audience is really close. It’s a small stage, nothing fancy about it.

You were talking about intimate shows, but with all the means Nightwish has nowadays, do you think you’re still able to do more intimate shows?

I like to think that the music is still so strong that it can be performed anywhere. We did a lot of small shows in America, for example, after Dark Passion Play, and it still worked. I prefer the intimate feeling above the big arenas, but they both have their good sides.

Your show in Paris is going to take place in Bercy, the biggest venue in town. How did you go from the Zenith to Bercy? It’s such a huge venue!

It was the promoter’s crazy idea! (laughs) It had nothing to do with us. I just heard about it a few days ago, and I was really flabbergasted, like: “What the hell?!” That’s 15,000 people. I have no idea how they’re gonna sell it, but I guess they have faith in us. If it happens, it’s going to be our biggest show so far. The Hartwall Areena in Helsinki only holds 11,500 people.

One last question, about the song “The Heart Asks Pleasure First”. What’s going on with this song? I heard you were allowed to release, then I heard you were not…

I heard about it, too! The latest news is that we are allowed to use it. Mr. Nyman finally agreed. I can’t be 100% sure, because we don’t have a written agreement. We want to get that first. I have actually an e-mail from his publisher that said: “OK, go ahead and release it”. I would say that there’s an 80% chance that we will release it in the beginning of next year, as a bonus track. About time!

Interview conducted bye Saff’ & Metal’O Phil on october 18th in Paris.
Transcription : Saff’

Nightwish’s Website : http://www.nightwish.com/



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