interview for DPRP by Charlie Farrell
Finland's Symphonic Metal heroes spare no expense in adding real choral
and orchestral elements to their latest album to meld film soundtrack music
Second Interview with Tuomas Holopainen
My first interview with Tuomas took place at the end of February, but given the meagre showing by the UK press that evening, I was rather surprised to receive a further invitation to meet with keyboard player Tuomas Holopainen and drummer Jukka Nevalainen as part of their European press tour for Once. Unfortunately, postage delays meant that the promo disk itself did not reach me until the day after the interview, so I had to rely largely on my notes and memories of the listening session six weeks earlier, but fortunately Tuomas was extremly talkative.
Once - Track by Track
Having invited Tuomas to talk about the new songs he was very forthcoming in describing the contents of the album and the inspirations behind each of the tunes, as follows:
Dark Chest Of Wonders
"The first song, Dark Chest Of Wonders is one of our favourites on the album. It's really weird because the mood changes, like every 20 seconds in the song but it goes pretty much close to all the styles in metal. It starts with the hardest riff that we've ever done, then the orchestra comes in with a really funny melody, almost like a 'folkish' melody, then comes the choir and the chorus is real traditional Power Metal. Then comes the 'sea' part with a real Pantera patch in it. So it's a weird combination of everything, but it still holds together amazingly good and it works
really well, as an introduction for the whole album.
Yeah this song turned out really well. Its one of those songs where you can hear the real fun of playing in a band. It doesn't make any sense
as a song, but it still sounds good as an artist ... the joy of playing."
Wish I Had An Angel
"Then Wish I Had An Angel is going to be our next single. It's something that we haven't really done before, with all the machines and a real 'industrial' touch. It's a song that's there for a purpose, it was also an experiment because we haven't done anything like that before. It was just and experiment, because the name of the song, the danceable beat kind of fits into the song really well and its definitely going to divide opinions among the fans."
"So the third one is Nemo, which is the first single track and a very obvious choice to be one, with a very simple structure, catchy chorus, its short enough for radio play ... and so its the easiest choice we ever made. Its not among the very best tracks on the album in my opinion, but it still makes a perfect single track. 'Nemo' is the Latin word for 'nobody', so the song has nothing to do with a fish."
This was Tuomas's way of once again denying any connection with the Disney Film 'Finding Nemo' - a subject which has produced some animated exchanges on the band's internet message board.
"Then the fourth one will be Planet Hell. It's one of those real straight rockers on the album.
My personal opinion is that it's a little bit boring to my taste, but it has a real great intro and an outro and it's just like real rocking, hard punching, in between. Yeah, definite live hit, One of the best lyrics actually that is on this album. I'm really satisfied with the lyrics and all that but the song is a good one."
Since the song appeared to be about the state of the world today, I asked if the song was to do with the state of the environment. Tuomas said "Oh, its about everything that's going on in the world today" "9/11?", I suggested. "Not just that, pretty much everything", he replied.
Creek Mary’s Blood
"The fifth one is Creek Mary’s Blood. It's like this epic half ballad about this American Indian, their culture and especially the genocide of the Indians in the 19th century. Highly inspired by a book called "Creek Mary's Blood". So the title is a total rip-off of this Book. The author is Dee Brown. The same guy who wrote Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee". Also there is this Native American Indian
(Mr John Two-Hawks) performing some cedar flutes, Native American chanting, oration in the Lakota language. Exotic song and my personal favourite on the album."
"Its got a lot of the orchestra on it", I pointed out.
"Yeah, its throughout the whole song. If you take the drums and guitar and the keyboards out of that song, it fits to the soundtrack of "Dances With Wolves". That was what I wanted it to sound like and I'm very, very satisfied with the result."
"Sixth one is called The Siren. Introduces an electric violin solo that we haven't heard before. The whole orchestra and especially the choir parts in this song is really, really good. You really hear the Sirens calling for you and tempting you when the choir does their part. I mean, its really awesome, it's one of the artistic songs on the album. Its not the 'straight rocker' as you call it so you really have to get into it. It really paints some nice sceneries before your eyes when you listen to this song."
"The next one is Dead Gardens. This is one of the two songs on the album that doesn't include the orchestra or the choir. This was the first song that I wrote for the whole album actually and the song is about the pain of creation, like artists block, which I sometimes have. Your wanna create something, create music but nothing comes up and you feel extremely pissed and frustrated. I think that we really got that feeling into that song, especially the last minute of that song its exactly what goes through in your head. Very hard riffing and a 'straight rocker'."
"Number eight is Romanticide, which is the other song of the album which doesn't involve any orchestra or choirs. So these are the two songs. This introduces something like Thrash metal riffs of the late 80s or something, so its one of the hardest song on the album as well. "
Ghost Love Score
"Ninth one is Ghost Love Score and as you can tell from the title of the song it's very much like a soundtrack to a movie. Its 10 minutes long and the most ambitious piece of work that we have ever done. The orchestra plays throughout the whole song, there is a lot of choirs and er, yeah its just something that I don't think that we will ever be able to play live without the orchestra."
Tuomas's answer appeared to be hinting that playing live with an orchestra might be something he would like to do, so I had to enquire if this indeed was the case. "Yeah, maybe" was his reply, so I guess that is something to possibly look forward to, in the future.
Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan
"Number ten is Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan, the Finish song and the 'ballad' of the album with just the orchestra and choir and vocals.
It gives a nice little, exotic touch to the album to have one song in Finnish. Its one of the most... one of the best ballads, actually we ever did."
Up to this point Tuomas had been speaking most of the time, while drummer Jukka had remained silent. However he interrupted at this point
to back up Tuomas's point "Yeah, Definitely", he concurred.
"We had lots of doubts about it in the beginning when it was just a demo made about that. It was almost going to be included as the B-side of a single at one point but when we heard the vocal performance we thought, "yeah", it's really cool."
Higher Than Hope
"The last one is called Higher Than Hope which is a song, mainly done by Marco, the bass player. Definite ending for the album,
so it was the only place to put this on the album. Like a half-ballad, witha real hard and light touch to it ... and a lot of meaning behind the
lyrics to it."
The Recording of Once
There were a number of questions about the recording of the album which I wanted to ask Tuomas. I knew that the songs which featured the orchestra and choir were recorded over two visits to Phoenix Sound Studios in Wembley, so I began by asking Tuomas how the recording of these was broken down.
TH [Tuomos Holopainen]: "The first time were made Creek Mary's Blood, Ghost Love Score, the Finnish song Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan and Planet Hell. Those four."
CF: "Right. Did they split up logically? Was it a matter of time?. You could only squeeze so much in?"
TH: "It was a decision of Pip Williams. He wanted to do it like that. Before, the first time, they were to him, the hardest ones. He wanted to get them out of the way and to leave the easier ones for the next time. It was the way he works I guess."
CF: "Did he do all the scores in advance? or did you work with him on the scores first?"
TH: "Well the first time I came to London was at the end of November, with like a demo tape, where I had played all the orchestral parts with the keyboards - what I had in mind - We worked through the songs, the two of us and I explained that I wanna have a choir here and an orchestra there - and gave him a free hand to do what he wants according to those directions. Then he worked on them for a couple of months. He did all the score writing and all that. None of us can do that."
CF: "So all the recording of the other musicians was done back in Finland?"
TH: "All the rest, yeah. In the same studios as before."
I was a little intregued by the fact that some of the lyrical subject matter related to the sea and when I had heard the orchestral parts on
songs like Ghost Love Score, that too had evoked images in my mind, of the sea. I wondered if this was just an associated that I had
made or whether it was something Tuomas had in mind himself when he composed the music.
TH: "I have this ocean thing all the time in my mind. It's some sort of fixation that I have. That's a very big complement because what we are trying to do it to create images, not only of earth but also of the sea and if you see the oceans when listening to the album, that's just the biggest complement. So thank you."
I was also interested in the way in which the band had chosen to use the voice of Marco Hietala. His voice as well as his bass playing had
made a real impact on Century Child but I suggested that they had used his voice even more aggressively on
TH: "Yeah, that's right."
JN [Jukka Nevalainen]: "In a way, yeah. You know we kind of wanted to create this contrast between Tarja's enchanting kind of vocals and Marco's like very raw, very, like aggressive vocals and its like a duet, very nice contrast."
TH: "Yes, yes. Wish I had an Angel is a very good example. Tarja is singing the way she sings and back comes Marco in the chorus - warggghhhh."
JN: "It has something to do with the lyrics as well I guess."
TH: "Yeah it does. The lyrics require it. Same thing with Planet Hell. With that kind of lyrics you cannot sing quietly."
End of Innocence
I then asked the guys about their touring plans as one or two dates had been posted on the web. Tuomas admitted that he was a bit in the
dark about the plans but stressed that fans should not beleive anything that wasn't posted on the official website.
TH: "Definitely, we will be back here (i.e. The UK) again for sure, because the last shows were sold out. It was great."
CF: "Do you think that you will be playing more than 1 gig?"
TH: "Hopefully yeah, but we really don't know."
The success of Nightwish in the charts in Finland had meant that they have also produced one or two videos for each of their albums. It has been no different for Once, with the band having already produced a very lavish video to accompany the first single release from the new album, namely Nemo. I then asked the two band members if they thought that the band would be producing more expensive videos in future and whether they saw them as the tools that would enable the band to reach a wider audience.
JN: "Definitely. We have always done a proper video, but as a metal band it is hard to get your video shown in the mainstream market, but definately it will do the trick to build it bigger."
TH: "Yes, but they have the weirdest policies in the music channels."
The guys then went on to explain that certain MTV stations refused to broadcast the Nemo video, since it featured the band playing
against a snowy landscape. Apparently such a video is only appropriate for broadcast during the Winter time. Having clearly put a lot of
money and effort into the video, the band were clearly frustrated with the difficulties they were encountering in getting it shown on music TV.
I then moved on to ask the guys about their experience in producing the DVD
End of Innocence, as Tuomas and Jukka were the two characters who featured the most frequently.
TH: "The DVD was never supposed to be that way. It was supposed to be the two of us talking to the guy who was doing the book about us. And then he brought this guy with him who filmed the whole thing and when we saw the video, we thought 'oh this would make a cool documentary' to show all the history, all of the skeletons in the closet."
CF: "It was very honest."
TH: "It was actually, yeah."
JN: "That's the magic behind it, I guess."
TH: "Yes it is, I mean I would think that someone who is not into the band or who doesn't know the band would find it extremely boring, but for the fans, it's something very special. If I was a future fan of some band and saw this kind of documentary it would be a totally cool."
CF: "I found that it explained a lot of things and made a lot of sense but as you say, if you are not a fan of the band I think it would be boring."
TH: "It's also good for the band. Its a souvenir for us to watch after 30 years."
JN: "Yeah, to go through the times and all the problems and everything like that."
Rather than bring up the band's earlier problems again, I decided to move on by reminding Tuomas that in the earlier interview he had told
me that for the recording of Once, the band had become much more united once again.
TH: "Yeah. It hasn't been like that since we made the first album, I think. So it was really good. I mean the confidence was there all the time, in the studio. Nobody lost their nerve and all that, so for the first time in a long time, it was a lot of fun to make... and you can definitely hear that in the album."
JN: "The suicidal aspect of Century Child is not there anymore."
CF: (laughs) "Century Child seemed to be an album that really splits the fans. "
TH: "Yeah I know."
Then to close I suggested to Tuomas that, from the samples that I had heard, the music of Once appeared to follow on naturally from that of Century Child and that the initial reaction of the fans seemed to have been generally very positive.
TH: "In a way it's like a sequel to that one, but I think that we also bring some of the other elements back into the music with this
one and also a lot of totally new things. You have to evolve all the time."
Well Once certainly has been another step forward for the band in terms of the complexity of their compositions, while already the sales
figures suggest that it may be the band's most successful release to date. It would appear that, for the moment at least, the musical evolution for this band is going hand in hand with the evolution of their fanbase.
The Official Nightwish Website
John Two-Hawks Official Website
Read Part 1 of the interview with Tuomas Holopainen
Read our Round Table Review of Once
Promo photos © 2004 Spinefarm Records