To say it’s been a big year for Nightwish would be an understatement. Fresh from a 100+ show world tour, releasing a new album, a matching film and losing a frontwoman, we sat down with keyboard player and mastermind Tuomas Holopainen to chat expanding the band’s line up, documenting life on the road and the future of Finnish Heavy metal.
By Emma Dean
You’ve recently announced that you’ll officially be keeping Floor [Jansen] and Troy [Donockley] on as permanent members of the band – what was the final thought before deciding to keep them on?
Well when Floor first joined the tour- that would be about a year ago in October- we just didn’t think about it too much as the band was basically a survival machine for the first few weeks.
Sometime during last spring we started to talk about it, just between the guys at first, “Do you think we might have a chance to continue with her in the future as well?”, and everybody was really happy about the idea and then, I think it was June, after this one festival in Finland we encouraged ourselves and went to her and asked “Well how would you feel about continuing with the band after the tour?” and she gave us an immediate yes with a really happy face. So it was settled back then. And during that same night we also asked Troy if he wanted to become an official member of the band.
It was some sort of match made in heaven, it was really, really good. We don’t take anything for granted, not for a single day, but there was something special going on from day one when Floor hopped on board. And it’s been like that ever since.
How did you know Floor, were you familiar with her work before?
Yeah we had toured together in Europe in 2003, she was singing in a band called After Forever at that time, and we had the European tour after the Century Child album and they were supporting us for 5-6 weeks and that’s when we got to know her.
What about Troy, what do you think he’ll bring to future albums?
He already played on the past two albums, and he has become a very integral part of the band. Not only because of his musicianship, but because of his personality as well. He always lights up the room when he comes in, he’s a really powerful spirit. So it was an obvious to make him a full member of the band officially. What he brings to the band is, well, he’s a multi-instrumentalist so he can play pretty much anything, but his main instrument is naturally the uillean pipes and the whistles, so we’ll be hearing a lot of those in the future albums as well. Not all the time though, because they’re such a powerful sound.
You don’t want to overdo it..
Exactly. You just use it here and there, not all the time that would take the power off. But what many people don’t realise is that he’s also a good singer, so in a way you can think that we have three singers in the band now and that gives me a lot of options as a songwriter.
The Imaginaerum Tour finished up a couple of months ago, what have you been doing in the break since then?
Same old story, immediately when the tour ends you get to be busier than ever! I haven’t been at home for eight weeks now and it’s been really hectic. Mainly to do with my solo project, this comic book soundtrack album music inspired by the life and times of Scrooge, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of months – just recording the orchestras, choirs, keyboards, pianos, guitars, everything. And then there’s the DVD, right now I’m on a promotional tour in Europe. When I get back home next week I will go straight to the studio and do the mixing for the Scrooge album, but it should calm down by the beginning of November.
Here I was thinking you were on a holiday!
Not quite, but then when November comes my plan is just to stay at home for seven months doing nothing but songs for the next Nightwish album and chill out… Well I do have a little vacation in New Zealand in March, but besides that it’s all about staying home.
What can you tell us about your new DVD that’s coming out?
They’re going to come out early Nov/Dec depending on the country, and it’s called Showtime, Storytime because it’s like a fifty-fifty split – there’s the tour documentary and the live show.
It was originally supposed to be just [the documentary] for the DVD, but then a few months ago we decided to add a live concert to go with the DVD as well to make it a more full package. So then we shot the concert at Wacken Open Air in Germany and we filmed it, mixed it and put it on the DVD. It’s a really good package; you get to see the whole world tour, what happened there behind the scenes and all that. And you get to enjoy the show. It’s also a really good introduction for Floor and Troy.
Was there any reason in particular you chose Wacken in particular to film, as opposed to a more intimate gig?
The thing is when I heard about this idea to film the live show I was very strongly against it. I said “No way, it’s just a documentary”, because we only had about eight festival shows left and I personally thought that if we were going to shoot a live DVD it should be an intimate venue, not a festival, and [since] we wouldn’t have a chance to do that anymore it would have to be a festival because the idea came so late. But then we were convinced that it should be done anyway. Out of the festivals that were left Wacken Open Air was the biggest one, it had all the filming equipment already there, so because of these reasons it was the most practical to shoot it there.
One thing I love about you guys is the attention to detail you put into the visual side of your live shows – how much input did you have for the Wacken show, and just generally of how things look?
Well I try to have quite a bit of input; I love the visual aid of live shows. And I worked with the screen material with the guy who did the screens a lot and I had some detailed visions of how it should look. Also we work really closely with the pyrotechnics – where to put the fire and where to put all the fireworks – so it’s pretty carefully planned the whole thing.
The film counterpart to ‘Imaginaerum’ came out last year, how have you found people’s reactions to it?
We have had some really nice feedback from the fans, from the Nightwish fans. They really got what the movie’s all about, they love the visuals, they love the story – so the response has been very positive from that side.
But then a lot of critics, film critics, have [laughs] they basically hate it, the whole thing. There was one guy in Finland who said it was the biggest movie flop in Finnish cinematic history. 1 out of 5’s and all that. So the critics were not really fond of it, but we have some good reviews from them as well, especially outside Finland. But that was to be expected, and when I look back at the whole thing I just feel really proud and happy about the whole thing.
Would you do it again?
I believe not with the next album, it wasn’t a traumatising experience or anything, but it was much more hassle than we could have ever expected, so I think we’ll take a little breather for making a movie for now. Maybe in ten years or something. Not in the near future.
Your music has a lot of prominent influences – horror and fantasy just to name a few – but when it comes to actually writing songs what’s your process of putting them together?
It’s always the idea of what the song is about, that always comes first. Like “I want to do a song about this” or “I want to do a song about that” and after that the music comes – “What’s the best way of telling this particular story? Is this a metal song or a ballad? Ok it’s a ballad, should I use the piano or the acoustic guitar?” All that. So it’s part of trying to find the perfect channel to bring that story alive, and after the music is finished it’s then that I write the final lyrics. This is the way it goes about 90% of the time.
And do the songs change much once the rest of the band has given their input?
Sometimes they change quite a bit and sometimes they don’t change at all. The way I work is I stay at home and try to do the song as perfect and as finished as I possibly can by myself – putting in all the drums and guitars and bass and you know giving my everything until I can’t do anything more, so this is the best I can do. Then I introduce the song to the other members of the band and we start working it all over again. And sometimes they come up with some brilliant ideas and the song changes a lot. It happened, for example, with the song Nemo – it was completely different in the very beginning. And then again we have songs like The Poet and the Pendulum for example, and I Wish I had an Angel, which stayed exactly as they were when I introduced the song to them.
You mentioned you listened to a lot of film scores personally – if you could name one film composer, one writer and one band that has continuously inspired you throughout your career, who would you choose and why?
Well out of film music composers there are so many! Oh dear… At the moment my favourite one would be James Newton Howard. Yeah but Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, there are dozens, but if I had to mention just one today that would be James Newton Howard.
And of the bands, again there’s so many. At the moment I’m listening to Battle Beast which I consider might be the future of Finnish heavy metal. And then again I always turn to my old favourites like Metallica, Pantera, stuff like that.
And how about writers?
Stephen King, well Tolkien of course. I also read a lot of non-fiction, at the moment I’m reading Richard Dawkins, just that kind of stuff.
I was watching one of your documentaries the other day and you mentioned you had a lot of trouble in the early days of the band – in your time as Nightwish what would you say has been the most important thing that you’ve learnt?
Hmm… [Pauses, thinking]
It’s a tricky business being in a band because it is like a marriage of a whole bunch of people, and you know how difficult a relationship between two people can be. They’ve all had breakdowns, girlfriends and boyfriends, all that, so you know how hard it can be. To do that with five persons plus a crew can be really tricky, but maybe something that we have learnt is to really take care of each other on a mental level more, you know? Really ask “How are you doing?” and to care a bit more.
Because when we started the band it was all about the excitement – we’ve got a record deal, we’ve got a tour outside of Finland and things started. You get the publicity and it’s like you’re living in some kind of dream and you just drown in the high for a while and I think that’s something that happened to us as well.
And finally, are you working on anything new at the moment – album wise? Any ideas on what it will involve/sound like?
Well I’ve been playing around with some ideas for a few weeks actually, and I have about three or four songs ready so far, but it’s really too early to say anything on how the next album is going to sound yet. I’m just going to let it go know and let the mind flow.
Many thanks to Tuomas for taking the time to chat to us. You can check out the upcoming DVD at: http://nightwish.com/en/