Interview with Tuomas Holopainen and Floor Jansen
Menno von Brucken Fock
Deep in the heart of Finland lies a village called Kitee. Situated on one of the thousands of lakes and near the border with Russia. It was on a summer-night in 1996, a camp-fire was burning, that Tuomas Holopainen made a start to realize his dreams. What he had in mind was to set a new standard in rock-music:’gothic- metal’. Together with guitarist ‘Emppu’ Vuorinen and singer Tarja Turunen Nightwish was born. Now, almost twenty years on, Nightwish is an international phenomenon. In their homeland every album is guaranteed platinum and extensive world tours emphasize the success of this band. Although Holopainen is still the mastermind of the band, bassist and vocalist Marco Hietala surely brings his contributions to the table and one of the new band-members, Troy Donockley, has influenced the sound of the band. On the forthcoming album Endless Forms Most Beautiful (EFMB) we still hear Vuorinen on the guitar, but longtime drummer Yukka Nevelainen had to sit out this time due to a severe form of insomnia. He is replaced by Wintersun drummer Kai Hahto. Most interestingly however is the change of vocalist. The new album features one of Holland’s most gifted rock-singers: Floor Jansen (ReVamp, ex-After Forever). When the band and Anette Olzon went separate ways during the lengthy world-tour in September 2012, the management called upon Floor and asked her to step in. Her overwhelming performance, her willpower and her personality made a great impression to both the rest of the band as well as all the fans and a few months ago it was announced Floor is now a member of Nightwish! About the line-up changes, the magnificent solo effort by Holopainen on the life and times of Scrooge and the new album I had the privilege and pleasure to talk to both Tuomas and Floor on February 12, 2015.
Menno: Tuomas, before we talk about the new album (I’ve just heard it for the first time), I’d like to hear a bit about your solo-album. Nightwish stopped touring in 2013. Did you already have ideas for your Scrooge-album as well as for EFMB back then?
Menno: That last tour must have been quite exhausting but did you think ‘all’s well that ends well’?
Tuomas: Well, when we had to change vocalist, it was the absolute energy vampire. I never want to go through something like that again. But, after Floor came into the band, things started to click and form that moment on it was the most fun we’ve ever had! And it still is to this day (laughing)!
Menno: When I interviewed Floor back in 2006, I suggested to her she should file an application to Nightwish, but she told me she wasn’t intending to do that because at the time her reply was: “After Forever is my band!”.
Tuomas: Yes and that’s exactly why we didn’t even ask her. It never crossed our minds to go steel a vocalist from another band. But you know, there’s a time and place for everything….
Menno: When you start composing, do you lock yourself up or do you do it together with others like Marco?
Tuomas: When I start writing songs, I try to lock myself up as good as I possibly can. I really need the peace, quiet and solitude. At that point, at the beginning of the songwriting process I don’t want to work with anybody, it’s the only way I can function. At some point Marco approached me with his ideas, melodies and riffs, recorded on a cd. Together we went over those and I picked up a few like for instance Our decades Into The Sun, which is almost completely Marco’s song, Weak Fantasy is another example. To perfect the songs the best I can, I like to work all by myself. When I have the feeling I have nothing else to ‘give’ to these songs anymore, or I cannot find the ultimate guitar riff, that’s when I present the songs to the other members of the band and we start playing them over and over again. That’s when Empuu might say “hey, I think I’ve got a better riff for this one” or Floor might say “maybe this vocal line shouldn’t go there but go here”. At that point it becomes a band collaboration. Sometimes the songs don’t change much from what I had in mind originally and sometimes… (grinning) they change quite a bit!
Menno: How detailed are your demo’s and when you decide they are finished, how long are the band rehearsing the songs in the studio to have the final versions ready for recording?
Tuomas: For this album we worked for six weeks. I think my demos are quite detailed. Like I said I’m working on the songs until I feel I have nothing to add anymore so everything is recorded through my keyboards, I don’t use computers at all. My demos are pretty much worked out completely: all vocal lines, riffs, drum parts, keyboards of course and even the orchestrations, children’s choirs and choirs are there. I don’t use the computers for any other purpose than emailing and… (laughing) fantasy hockey. I really don’t know how to use ‘GarageBand’ at all!
Menno: About your solo album: when did you conceive this idea? Are you planning on taking The Life And Times Of Scrooge on the road?
Tuomas: Well, I have been dreaming about doing a soundtrack for Scrooge from as early as 1999. It is by far my favorite comic book character of all times. The whole idea to do such an album seemed so absurd that it felt like the right thing to do (grinning). Basically it all comes down to the fact that writing music works best about things that truly inspire you, raise genuine emotions in you. The stories of Scrooge are so fantastic that whenever I read them, I hear music. I hear voices, pipes and piano’s. I just needed the time (and peace and quiet) to channel them into a format of an album. From the theme’s I hear, I compose a song and write lyrics. To pay homage to this character I try to bring the listeners the musical versions of these stories as convincingly as I possibly can. This fellow Scrooge has been so important to me during my childhood and my growing up, my morals and my philosophy, that I think he deserved an album. Of course I knew it would cost a lot of money because of the big orchestra I wanted to use, the choir etcetera and I didn’t have the financial means to do this until now. There was also the time factor that played an important role: I didn’t have the time and mind set to do something like this at an earlier stage. I get asked to perform ‘Scrooge’ live surprisingly often, but I don’t think so. I never intended to do something like that in the first place. On the other hand I get so many requests that I’m starting to doubt myself so I will not exclude playing ‘Scrooge’ live at some point in the future. It surely would be nice to do just a few special shows with an orchestra (smiling).
Menno: Especially on your solo-album as well as on many Nightwish albums there’s a distinguished influence of ‘folk music’. The fact that Troy is a member of the band confirm these folk-roots?
Tuomas: Scrooge comes from Scotland so of course there had to be these Celtic influences and pipes. In his adventures Scrooge travels to the Wild West, so you had to have a banjo. He also goes to Australia so you would like to hear a didgeridoo. I was a lot of fun to play around with those stories and to include all these ethnic instruments. Although we used the kantele (a Finnish folkloristic string-instrument) on Last days Of The Wild, I’m not particularly a musician who knows a great deal about folk music. For The Dark Passion Play I had a few songs in mind where I would like to use the Uilleann pipes. I had never met with Troy Donockley before, but when I did, I realized how wonderful the addition of his instruments was. Furthermore the guy is fantastic. He started doing shows with us, he was there the whole Imaginaerum tour and immediately there was friendship all around and a delightful chemistry. At that point it became clear Troy had to become a member of the band because we couldn’t do this without him anymore. You know, he doesn’t play pipes and whistles only: he’s an excellent singer and he plays the guitar and the bouzouki as well. So he brings a really nice addition to the music of Nightwish. On the EFMB album he does backing vocals on all the songs and some lead vocals for instance in In My Walden.
Menno: When you started composing EFMB, did you write with the current line up in mind? On the trailer for EFMB you stated the composing process had been much easier than for other albums, can you explain why?
Tuomas: Yeah absolutely. When I started writing I already heard Floor’s voice and Troy’s pipes in the back of my head, as well as Marco’s bass etcetera. I wouldn’t say the writing process was that much easier. For example writing Dark Passion Play was very easy but for a different reason (looks puzzled) and then again doing Century Child was really, really difficult…. long story…. (smiling). For this album I felt really inspired all of the time, and the rehearsals and recordings all went really smooth: there was no arguing within the band, no tension whether the album would be good or not and the atmosphere was really amazingly positive, everybody was doing their part with big smiles on their faces all of the time. This has been such a joy to be able to work like this. For us this was really rare and I think you can hear this feeling of optimism throughout the album! The only downside was Yukka’s illness which brought us down for a while. He’s doing much better now and we have Kai in the band so that problem has been solved for the time being.
Menno: Surely parting ways with Yukka must have been very difficult…
Tuomas: Yes it was. We tried to convince him to stay, persuaded him to hang on, that we needed him and so on and so forth. But, at a point he said, look guys I cannot do this anymore, I’m like a walking zombie. We realized he was right because at the time he hadn’t slept for two weeks and he played like a robot and after one of the sessions he said: I have no idea what I’m doing, I’d better seek help and go to a doctor. So that’s what he did and thankfully he’s on the mend but he will need more time off. I surely hope he will return to the band at some point but I think he will need a break of at least two years to recover fully. Kai will stay with us until the end of this tour, so we’re talking about the end of 2016. After the festivals in the summer we will probably go touring in South America and then Europe before Christmas.
Menno: What the origin of the EFMB album? Was your source of inspiration the quote by Charles Darwin “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved” ?
Tuomas: Darwin was surely one of them but I have to say there were other sources as well, like for instance the Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the original series by Carl Sagan as well as the more recent updated one. The books by Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Charles Darwin and Brian Cox were also of influence. I would say this album was heavily inspired by science and biology, the beauty of the natural world.
Menno: I didn’t know that was a favorite topic of yours….
Tuomas: Although I’m not a scientist, I’ve always been interested in science in a populist way. You know I studied biology for six months at the university before I decided upon becoming a musician? Since my childhood I have been interested in nature. When I was 9 years old I was a member of a bird watching club, later on I have been a member of a Finnish astronomy club, I was a member of a science club in high school so that point of interest has always been there. Until now we never realized the full potential of these kinds of subjects in Nightwish, we’ve done albums with an emphasis on fantasy and escapism, but now the time seemed right to use these elements. The album is about the magic of reality. Evolution is a truly great thing and the fact we all share the same DNA -me and the salad I just ate (grinning)- is a really amazing concept.The YouTube ID of RDABi2DqNbYYE#t=0 is invalid.
Menno: Is there a story or a concept lyrically?
Tuomas: EFMB is not a concept album although many of the lyrics deal with the beauty of nature and the natural world. A song like Yours Is The Only Hope however is totally different and Our Decades In The Sun is actually a thank you song written for our parents, a token of appreciation for allowing us to be young and made it possible for us to live & learn.
Menno: How about the atmosphere on the EFMB album varying from ethereal and folky to quite heavy?
Tuomas: I have to agree there are different styles on this album but it all happened naturally because of the excellent vibe in the band. There was no intention to do a heavier album just because we now have Floor in the band, although I must admit Imaginaerum was so cinematic and orchestral the idea was to go a little more ‘old school’ with this one and bring guitars, bass, drums and keyboards a bit more to the fore.
Menno: We both know Floor has a mighty soprano, still you hardly used in on EFMB. Why?
Tuomas: We have tried it several times in more than one song but in the end we all agreed it didn’t work. There a little bit of soprano in the first track and it really worked well in the first chapter of the last track but as I always say: be humble for the songs. Don’t start doing something simple because you can. There are only three solo’s on this album. Floor agreed immediately this should be the right approach and she felt herself the songs needed a different kind of voice.
Menno: With Floor in the band you could be revisiting older stuff as was because she’s able to sing both older and newer stuff. Have you decided upon a set-list for the upcoming tour yet?
Tuomas: No we haven’t. We did some ‘browsing’ but the decision haven’t been made yet, it’s a bit too early. Main emphasis of course will be on the new album but there will be older stuff as well. Personally I would love to play some songs we haven’t done live for many years or at all, but we’ll see. The focus will be on songs we would be enjoying to play, that is the most important thing. We will have about 2 ½ weeks before the first leg of the tour starts so we will have busy day ahead!
Menno: So far you used the soprano, the poppy voice, both female and male vocals, choirs, you have been working with orchestra’s, you even made a movie….. is there a next step?
Tuomas (laughing): There is always something! Right now we are all just enjoying the ‘heat of the moment’ and what comes next, we don’t know yet. I have no idea what the future will bring for Nightwish, but like I said, there is always something!
Menno: Nightwish will soon be celebrating their 20th anniversary. Any special celebrations coming up?
Tuomas: I wouldn’t be as arrogant to say that we will be around but I surely hope so. We will be touring until the end of 2016 and for now we don’t have specific plans yet, maybe we’d have to wait until the 30th anniversary.
Menno: There’s a violin (or rather fiddle) on the album as well… who’s playing this instrument?
Tuomas: An Irish fellow called Dermot Crehan. He’s a member of the orchestra but a special member I might add. It’s the same guy (hums the melody) who’s playing the fiddle in the theme of the Lord Of The Rings movie (looks excited). Yeah, Hans Zimmer definitely is one of my musical heroes!! I think his latest soundtrack for the Interstellar movie is the best score he’s done to date. Challenging but extremely beautiful!
Menno: Did the way you work on an album change through the years or due to the line-up changes?
Tuomas: Basically not: songwriting, rehearsals, studio, to London to work with the orchestra, and then back to Finland for some additional recordings. I did my piano-parts after we went to London and we also recorded some vocal parts after returning to Finland. Than mixing for 2 ½ months and mastering (grinning) we did at least 5 times…. Our approach didn’t need to be changed because we used the same engineers since the first album. It’s a great working formula and working with people you can trust is something we value highly and cherish. At some point we discussed this subject and I posed the question “should we try something else” and I got an immediate ‘no’ from everybody! There’s the loyalty factor as well.
Menno: Can you give an estimate what % is produced live on stage on average? What kind of percentage is coming from a backing track? Can you still improvise during a song?
Tuomas: It’s not easy to give a percentage but I can tell you this: all orchestral sounds, some backing vocals and all choirs come from a backing track. Basses, drums, guitars, keyboards and all lead vocals are live. My estimate would be 85% live. I know it’s restricting to have to play live like this but it’s the only way we can do it. It’s just not possible and for too costly to bring an orchestra and choir to each and every show. Besides if we would choose to play a different arrangement of the songs live, I don’t think the songs would work without the orchestra, because it’s such an essential part of the music. I wouldn’t like to play these songs without hearing the orchestra. In some acoustic parts we have more opportunities to improvise.
Menno: How does it feel to be a rock-star in your own country? Can you move around in Helsinki without being recognized?
Tuomas: I really don’t care a lot about stardom and I try not to think about it much. Publicity is a factor you have to deal with but you have the ability to influence the whole show biz element to a certain extent. I get asked to be part of reality shows and ‘weird’ interviews all the time and I never do them. That’s how you can control this in my opinion. When I’m in Helsinki I can feel the eyes in the back of my head and I know I’m recognized but Finnish people will not hassle me or force themselves upon me.
Menno: The upcoming tour will take you to the end of 2016. Any plans for 2017 yet?
Tuomas: Not really. We know what we will be doing for the next 1 ½ years, then we will take a short break and decide how to proceed and what the future of Nightwish will be. Strict personally I would like to go on a road-trip to America with a couple of friends. A little vacation I have been dreaming about for a long time, so maybe….
Menno: So no more solo stuff and how about working as a producer as you have been doing at a couple of occasions?
Tuomas: I think I’m pretty much done with my solo stuff. I won’t say it will never happen again but at the moment it’s all Nightwish, I prefer the band-work. I’ve tried producing a couple of albums but I have to say it’s not really my thing. I love producing Nightwish and my own stuff but to hop on board with a different band is not really my cup of tea.
Menno: Well Floor, once upon a time in December 2006, in a studio in Mol (Belgium) I asked you if you were considering to apply for the position of vocalist in Nightwish, because I felt you would be the perfect candidate to replace Tarja…. Your replied: oh no, After Forever is MY band!! Back then, things looked bright for After Forever. The album Energized was presented to the press, you performed among others the beautiful song ‘Alone” (a hit by Heart) with Joost van den Broek (Grand piano) but a few years later it was all over for AF…. Have you ever regretted that decision not to apply?
Floor: To be honest no. At the time there was no reason to even consider such an application. One can’t predict the future so what ‘s done is done. No regrets. Fortunately it’s all in the past now. It took six years but it seems what you wanted to happen, did happen in the end!
Menno: Sure, all’s well that ends well…. About your adventure with Nightwish in the US in the fall of 2012. How did this actually come about?
Floor: We’re talking about the end of September 2012. I had just managed to overcome my devastating burn out, caused by several unfortunate events. My future prospects had changed drastically: I had worked hard for years and with After Forever we were an internationally well-known band. Suddenly everything we’ve achieved vaporized as the band fell apart: almost back where I started and of course I wanted to be at that same level as before as soon as I could. So when I started ReVamp I had the urge to do everything myself because I didn’t trust anybody anymore. My workload got bigger and bigger and in combination with some of my characteristics, it led to my burn out. It was a big but important lesson in life. In the fall of 2012 I had picked up teaching students again and I was nicely getting back on my feet. I even wrote some tunes for ReVamp when -due to the time difference- I noticed several voicemail messages and SMS’s from the US. When I called back (I can’t remember whether it was Ewo or Toni) I was asked to step in for the remaining three weeks of the tour in the US and if I would be able to do it, to book a flight a.s.a.p., preferably that same day. Next show was scheduled on October 1.
Menno: WOW! So there was hardly any time to think it over, you had to make a split decision?
Floor: I fell off my chair because I didn’t expect a request like this at all. At that point in time, no one knew about Nightwish and Anette having parted ways, since it was made public on September 29!! I was deeply honored that a band like Nightwish really thought I would be able to do this. So in fact I didn’t hesitate for a second! I booked a flight that same day and I started to learn all the lyrics in the plane. I was familiar with quite a bit of the older material but I didn’t know a single line from the last album Imaginaerum. I came to realize that if you really, really want something, you can achieve far more than you ever imagined possible. I only had a few days but looking back I think I did okay (smiling).
Menno: From what I saw on YouTube the American audiences gave you a warm welcome?
Floor: I think in the three weeks we toured, only two people left the venue, all the others stayed and were amazingly enthusiastic. The interaction with the band was great and all the people seemed to realize the kind of problems we were having on stage. Because it’s not only about having to learn all the lyrics: although most of the lyrics were on stage in front of me, one also has to be familiar with the backing tracks, one has to know exactly when to start and when to stop singing and that did take a few shows before everything fell into place. After that it was so much fun, they are a really great bunch of people.
Menno: When did they ask you to become a band member?
Floor : As early as after the first festival in the summer, so months before it was announced officially. It was an unexpected surprise for me because only one thing had been clear from the beginning: everything was uncertain. After the American leg, they asked me to stay on board for the rest of the tour: firstly to Europe and then to South America, Australia, Japan and again to Europe. Obviously they felt good about having me as their lead singer and I felt really comfortable being on stage with them. I had to adjust the tour schedule for ReVamp, but I agreed to stay on board for the rest of the tour. I didn’t feel like making a decision for myself about what I would like to happen after the tour, so I refrained from touching that subject. Anyway, the Imaginaerum tour had come to an end and it was right after that first summer-festival both Troy and myself were invited to join Nightwish as permanent members: that soooooooo cool (laughing). Of course we both said YES!
Menno: What will happen with ReVamp? Will you be able to continue with that band too?
Floor: I really don’t know yet. For the other members of the band it has been very difficult. Due to my burn out they already had to wait for 1 ½ years, so I tried my best to avoid having to postpone the recording sessions for Wild Card which were already planned. This meant the writing process took place during the tour with Nightwish, and although the recordings were done according to schedule, the release date had to be postponed until after the tour with Nightwish due to circumstances beyond my control. It turned out this was a better choice because I could go on tour with them around the release date in August 2013. We agreed I would be promoting Wild Card the best I could until I would be called upon to work on the new Nightwish album. Fact is, I didn’t have any break from the fall of 2012 until the end of 2013, so I can imagine a decision must be made at some point. I don’t think I’m in the mood to start writing for the next ReVamp album right after this lengthy upcoming Nightwish tour and I can’t ask the ReVamp members to wait any longer because they already have been very patient on my behalf. Again, I cannot predict the future but I’m not ready to make a final decision on ReVamp strictly from my perspective. There’s also another issue. When the upcoming tour will be over I will have to make a decision about having kids. The forties are coming closer and if I’d want to raise a family, surely that would be the time to do so. I just don’t know. When this tour will be over maybe I will travel around the world or I might decide to drink cocktails on the Bahama’s for two years: a possible alternative too … (laughing).
Menno: Well, you have some choices to make in a year or two, that’s for sure! Wasn’t it hard to make the change from being in the drivers’ seat of a band to the role of a passenger?
Floor: Well, you know there’s two sides to this: I have experienced how that position of being the driver can wear you out and makes you lose your energy on a lot of things that aren’t really your cup of tea. While now I do have a say in the sound of the band, the vocal lines etcetera but on this level and this pace I find it strangely comfortable to be able to let someone else doing the driving. Now I can concentrate on what I really like doing and what I think my fortes are: singing and performing on stage. Surely I’m able to write my own tunes but if you have someone as good as Tuomas and you can put your creativity in making the most out interpreting and performing these songs, what else could you wish for?
Menno: How about your mighty soprano? I don’t hear much soprano singing on the new album?
Floor: Believe it or not but it all felt very natural. Even on the last After Forever album I didn’t use my soprano much and with ReVamp even less, so it’s more like a development than a deliberate choice. Funny thing is I now have the skills to sing properly as a soprano (smiling) while I didn’t have that technique in the earlier days, when I used that voice more. In Nightwish I can use all my techniques, even grunts and I am allowed my own interpretation. Tuomas stimulated me to sing lower and with a softer voice which I never tried before. In Our Decades In The Sun I had to sing like that and it was a revelation to me I was able to do this style of singing too quite opposite to using more and more power in ReVamp, almost like screaming. I think there was some aggression that had to come out (grinning). Hearing myself singing like that was so cool!
Menno: The band rehearsed for 6 weeks, were you part of the whole process?
Floor: (smiling) That’s a funny story. In Nightwish it was custom the band always rehearsed without vocals for about half of the time. It so happened that I just got the keys of a house in Finland about an hour’s drive from the studio. I knew they were rehearsing so I said to myself: let’s say hello. So I went up there and found them rehearsing as expected. They were surprised to see me. I watched them rehearse for five minutes and said: hey guys, give me a microphone! From that moment on all the rehearsals were with me in the studio too: I was the first singer to actually work with the band for the whole period! They never had expected this attitude from their former vocalists, so for them it was a pleasant surprise and for me it was completely ‘business as usual’ to be part of the whole process. And it felt great … mutually!
Menno: All the preparation, 6 weeks rehearsing, recording, travelling to London, using an orchestra (while many bands have to use samples), choirs: it must cost a fortune to make an album like this…. Is it still worthwhile moneywise to make an album this way?
Floor: thanks to all the genuine fans, yes. Fortunately we have dedicated fans who will buy the cd or rather one of the special editions. There are many collectors among Nightwish fans. Also the revival of vinyl brings new hope. As far as downloading is concerned: I think people who do that are criminals. There can be no such thing as music for free, movies for free and so on. The new generation has to be taught this properly. Both parents, schools and musicians too have a task to fulfill here. If you are accustomed to hearing music as MP3 on your smartphone and you haven’t had the experience to hear that music on proper hi-tech equipment, you never will appreciate the difference. It’s a bit like only knowing the taste of fast food and never having had the opportunity to enjoy fine dining.
Menno: Do you have favorites already from the new album or from former albums?
Floor: It’s too early to pick favorites from EFMB but from the former albums I have a soft spot for Ghost Love Score (Once), although every song has something different to offer!
Menno: Well, thank you so much for giving me more time than scheduled and I hope to see you on tour, unfortunately not until late this year I believe?
Floor: Yes I’m afraid so…. I will try to have Nightwish on one of the Dutch festivals because I think it would be a shame if Nightwish with a Dutch vocalist wouldn’t perform in The Netherlands this summer, but it’s already a quite tight schedule so maybe it will turn out to be late fall!
Live / documentary:
From Wishes To Eternity 2001
End Of Innocence 2003
End Of An Era 2006
Made In Hong Kong (cd) 2009
Showtime, Storytime 2013