Interview with Floor Jansen of Nightwish
April this year saw the release of the ninth album by Nightwish, Human. :||: Nature., successor to the impressive Endless Forms Most Beautiful from 2015. After the release of that album, the band toured the world for about a year, until April 2016, and subsequently took a short break.
In 2018 the band began touring again, with the set concentrated around songs from the compilation album Decades, released in March 2018. The show in Buenos Aires was recorded for the live DVD/CD Decades Live In Buenos Aires.
Mastermind Tuomas Holopainen did not really take a break, because together with his wife Johanna Kurkela (vocals, violin) and bandmate Troy Donockley, he released a beautiful melodic album under the moniker AURI in 2018. Marko Hietela, bassist and male vocalist for Nightwish as well as for Tarot, used the break to finalize his solo album Pyre Of The Black Heart/Mustan Sydämen Rovio at the end of 2019 and even toured in a few countries. On February 17 fans could have seen him and his band live in De Melkweg, Amsterdam.
Dutch singer with Nightwish, Floor Jansen, had received an invitation to participate in the very popular Dutch TV-program Best Singers and her performances throughout 2019 were hugely successful. Probably because of her sudden stardom and exposure to the general Dutch public, she was awarded the Dutch Popprijs 2019 early this year. This prestigious award has been awarded to artists since 1986 for making a considerable contribution to Dutch Pop music.
Right after having listened to the forthcoming double album in its entirety, I was given the opportunity to have a chat with the "grand dame of metal", Floor Jansen.
Hi Floor, we already met in the hotel lobby a few hours ago. Your flight from Götenborg was delayed a bit, all recovered and revived now?
Oh yeah sure! It's never pleasant to have delays when one's running a tight schedule, but I'm quite okay now. How about you, you just listened to the new album didn't you? Did you like it?
Well, my first impression is that part one has got all the characteristics of Nightwish in brilliant form and the two songs especially written for and sung by Marko and Troy respectively were quite a surprise. Even more of a surprise was the second part, sounding more like a soundtrack, primarily instrumental music, classically oriented and played by an orchestra, not the kind of music one would expect from Nightwish.
Well, Nightwish has done more peculiar and extraordinary things in the past but such a classical suite of 23 minutes is a big surprise indeed, even more so because it's not a band piece. Tuomas only plays a bit of keyboards, I sing a little and Troy plays his pipes and flutes. On the other hand, this piece is a pretty logical follow up to the instrumental part of The Greatest Show On Earth from the previous album. It's about the same theme, and the music has that same soothing vibe. Now if Tuomas had been a less gifted songwriter, perhaps the band might have had some comments but if one's capable of writing music like this piece we can only say "Wow, really cool, Tuomas, thank you!".
You see, Human. :||: Nature. is not a concept album, but the subjects of the lyrics are all about man and evolution. The opening track starts with the sound of a stone hitting a rock and is all about the origin of making music. The song Shoemaker is about Eugene Shoemaker who wanted to be an astronaut. Unfortunately for him he had some physical issues making it impossible for him to fulfil his dream. A fatal car-accident ended his life much too soon and, to honour him, his ashes were catapulted to the moon through a satellite: Ad Astra.
The song Harvest, sung by Troy, is about how we try to defeat death. Another song, How's The Heart is about empathy, about simply but genuinely asking "hey , how are you?". Some of the lyrical content is about me, how I met my husband. "We met where the cliffs meet the sea". In the second verse, Tuomas refers to our daughter: "now there's one who came for me, a child of light, another tale". So beautiful, it brought me to tears!
How about the recording process? Has it been comparable to the routine Nightwish used on the previous album?
I think the recording process has been about the same, except for the recording of the drums, which took place in a genuine recording studio, simply because the sound was better in that studio. We all received the demo's made by Tuomas, then we listened to them, "sat on them" for a while and then we got together in Kitee, in the boathouse at the Röskö campsite where we always start our rehearsals. There we worked very intensely, arranging and polishing all the songs for about a month.
I noticed Kai Hahto is now a full time member of Nightwish too. Does it mean we will not see Jukka (Nevelainen) back on stage again? I have the impression you're using your voice in different ways on the new album.
Kai being a full member of the band was a very logical decision. Indeed, we won't play with Jukka anymore unfortunately, but that's the way it is. We consider ourselves lucky to have Kai in the band permanently now! About my singing, yes, that is absolutely true. Tuomas really wanted to challenge me and (sighs) he succeeded very much in doing so!
What's your opinion on Nightwish' new Noise video? Did you enjoy the process of making this video and who came up with the ideas?
Well, it has been a very intense production with a lot of people involved. Considering the subject of the song one can imagine lots of possibilities for visualisations, but I think it's really awesome how the director managed to create a role in this video for every one of us.
At first, Tuomas didn't want a video at all but when I accidentally expressed my disappointment, he came round and gave his consent. It did motivate him to come up with something very special. The original idea for Tuomas was that he didn't want to be a part of the video, but in the end the director managed to persuade him. He had created a role for every member of the band and did a really fantastic job.
We visualise the ordinary man or woman, too busy with nothing, only thinking about themselves and yelling and screaming in their meaningless world, totally hooked on their cell-phones. So in the end it became a clip with Hollywood characteristics like high definition quality, superbly designed costumes and everything!
The Road To Glory
It's been quite a ride these last twenty years. Some highlights and dramas?
That's a tough one. Well, after my family moved to Limburg (province in the south of the Netherlands), I discovered my love for singing. I was 14. I participated in a musical at secondary school. When I was 16 I ended up auditioning for the position of background singer in a band called After Forever. In 1999, After Forever's first EP came out and I had been promoted to lead vocalist.
I started studying at the Rock Academy in Tilburg, the first 'not Conservatory education' in Holland. Many times our teachers didn't know exactly what to do because it was all brand new!
Lowlands Festival and a show with Within Temptation in Mexico were highlights.
After my graduation from the Rock Academy I got genuine singing lessons from Edward Hoepelman, a senior teacher at the Conservatory. He made quite a difference! Sander Gommans (guitar/grunts) and I had a relationship but we broke up and in the end Sander developed a burn-out, paralyzing After Forever, and subsequently leading to disbanding. It was a very difficult period for me because I couldn't accept that After Forever had come to an end.
After a while I decided to form my own band (ReVamp) and do everything myself and at the same time I was teaching music at a pop school. The combination of teaching, taking care of business with ReVamp, and touring turned out to be too much. I developed throat problems and I was diagnosed having a burn-out. Several times I tried to pick up the pieces and start working again but my body kept screamed not to. I had to take a break and began therapy.
I was well on the road to recovery when Nightwish contacted me to replace Anette Olzon. That story is not entirely the way like it has been published. Anette was 2 months pregnant in September 2012 and couldn't have done the second leg of the tour anyway. Truth is I was already preparing to join Nightwish for that second leg, so the only difference compared to the original plan was that I was asked to step in at an earlier stage. After The Wacken Show in June 2013, Troy Donockley and I were asked to join Nightwish as band members. Since that first show with Nightwish my dark days were over.
Meeting Hannes van Dahl, marrying him and the birth of our daughter Freja were also absolute highlights. All good!
Did you have some quality time with your daughter Freja after the last world tour? Your husband Hannes van Dahl plays drums with Sabaton, touring Russia March 2020, and Nightwish planned to tour China in April. With both parents having careers in the music business, is it possibly to have a family life?
The tour in China has been postponed due to the Corona-virus. Possibly these concerts will be scheduled in October but that's not confirmed yet. I've just been informed the promotional tour in Italy has been cancelled too because of the viral outbreak there. So the Corona-related problems are beginning to have an impact on our business too!
With both parents having a career like Hannes and I have, it's getting more difficult to have a family life. We do try to have a social life as well but during recording sessions and especially tours it's getting harder to maintain social contacts. We try hard to have one of us at home while the other is away but things are getting more challenging as time goes by. When I compare our situation to, for example, my sister's, we can't complain. My sister and her husband both have full time day jobs. When they come home they are tired and especially the younger children eat their meal and are off to bed. So how much time do they really spend with their children? We are working but we are usually able to plan our activities in advance. Most of the time we can adjust our schedules. We know everything well in advance. When we are home, we are at home, we don't have any other obligation: we are there for our daughter 24 hours a day. So yes, we have a lot of quality time, in fact I'm pretty sure I spend more time with my daughter than my sister with her two kids!
In The Netherlands children go to school from 4 years of age and possibly even earlier they go to day care. How is the situation in Sweden?
In Sweden, kids go to school from the age of 6. So we still have a few years before Freja really has to go to school every day. We have Freja in a day-care close to where we live most of the time. We own two horses, two cats and a dog ourselves, so animal handling and being surrounded by animals is a natural thing for her. This day-care is part of a little zoo with all kinds of different animals originating from Sweden. In fact this day-care is a small petting zoo so for her.
You're living abroad for a few years now: do you miss Holland?
I've emigrated five and a half years ago. At first I went to Finland and then moved to Sweden four years ago. Since I've been on the road for about twenty years now I'm quite used to being away from home. I can't say I really miss Holland but surely I miss my family. It's just a couple of hours by plane but then there's the distance from where we live to the airport. It's not that easy but doable!
I do miss some of the products like cheese. I know the Swedish try hard but uhmmm... (nods, wink wink). And things like apple syrup. Whenever I'm in Holland, most of the time I take some cheeses back home and other stuff that's hard to come by in Sweden.
The biggest difference between Holland and Sweden is that Holland is a small and compact country: it's easy to travel from north to south or east to west and everything you want is readily available "around the corner". In Sweden, ordinary grocery stores are available in limited amounts, so there's a huge difference in shopping and planning between those two countries.
For the recordings for TV-shows of Beste Zangers (Best Singers) I had to be in Holland quite often, so I got to see my family and friends regularly, that was nice!
National Fame By Winning Best Singers
Talking about that Dutch TV-program, how did you get involved? Do you think your BUMA Rocks! Export Award back in 2018 played a role?
I still don't know exactly and to be honest I really don't care. It could have been that award set things in motion. The speech Frank Helmink did at the ceremony was really touching. It's a big honour to have a newly discovered insect named after you. Perhaps the very popular TV-program De Reünie (The Reunion, a television show centred around former class mates; often there are several celebrities among them) or another TV-show I had been invited to (De Tiende Van Tijl). Another possibility is that last year's contestant Tim Akkerman (ex Di-rect, a rock star in Holland) was involved or that they just wanted to present metal music to a wider audience.
You have been able to show millions of TV-viewers your versatility. You left your mark and made a huge impression on many people, both spectators and organizers! Can you estimate what the consequences of your participation in Best Singers have been both for yourself and for Nightwish?
The impact was huge! Those consequences were truly amazing and very positive! Nightwish played two shows in AFAS Live (venue for up to 6000 people) in 2015. Last year we played for 12.000 people in Ziggo Dome Amsterdam. This year the show was scheduled in the Ziggo Dome again (seating 17.000 people) and it was sold out within a few hours.
For me personally there were a lot of requests to do solo shows with the tracks I had been performing for Best Singers. I said to myself: I have the time to do shows, The Marcel Fisser Band (house band with the TV-program) was eager to go on tour with me. I thought it would be a shame not to use this obvious opportunity. So we planned some shows centred around my i-Tunes hits, supplemented with some songs from Nightwish, Northward, After Forever, and ReVamp. Those shows were sold out within a few hours, so we added three more shows: also sold out within a couple of hours too.
So, what to do next? We agreed to do a bigger show in AFAS Live and personally I thought it was a tricky gamble but luckily this show sold out as well, and that in just five hours! In the meantime, an extra Nightwish show was scheduled Ziggo Dome. That show also sold out in no-time.
So yes, I would say my success in this TV-program has been quite favourable for both Nightwish and for myself!
I made Henk Poort a promise that we would perform Phantom Of The Opera together on stage with Nightwish in November this year, so now I have to persuade the band to rehearse that song again for me. I don't think it will be much of a problem because that Century Child song had been performed live many times before in the past.
Have your band-mates responded one way or another to your solo efforts?
Oh, yeah! They were all thrilled and happy for me. They really grant me this success and above all: they are full of joy because of this! Everybody appreciates what I have been trying to do: make metal music known to a wider audience.
I know Within Temptation are successful abroad but do you hear their music (or ours, or After Forever's) on the radio? Never! People tend to think all metal music is inaccessible, just a load of racket. After my performances I hear people saying: "gosh I love your voice" and "I didn't know metal could be so melodic". So I think I have succeeded to reach my ultimate goal, to bring metal music to a wider audience. That was my biggest motivation to participate in that particular series of TV-shows anyway!
Which of the songs you performed during these series of shows were the most challenging for you? Shallow, Mama, Qué Se Siente, Winner, Vilja Lied, or Phantom Of The Opera?
Without a doubt, Qué Se Siente. At first I picked another song from Rolf (Sanchez) because I was afraid to take on a song so special to him. It had been written especially for him and co-written by Rolf himself. I thought it would be too far-fetched. The Spanish language, all the arrangements and you know, I just can't sing such a song if I'm not able to put a little bit of me in a song. I'm convinced my fans wouldn't accept it if I would go on stage just singing covers, there has to be something of me in it.
Besides I'm much too authentic to perform only covers. At the end, after mailing to and fro with Marcel Fisser quite a lot about how or what, we decided to pick Qué Se Siente after all. By changing the tempo drastically and change a few major chords into minor chords the track got stylistically quite different from the original. While rehearsing, all pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place.
Another track that was pretty difficult for me was the Tim Akkerman song Winner, especially written by him for his handicapped older brother. Thanks to the cooperation and enthusiasm of The Marcel Fisser Band I've been able to master this song in a way I felt comfortable to sing the lyrics.
Are you considering doing more solo-shows after the tour with Nightwish has been completed?
I really don't know! If I would be doing more solo-shows, they will not be as the ones I have done, although it was great fun and it felt great to perform in all those sold-out venues. Besides that, getting the opportunity to perform on the famous Pinkpop Festival is really awesome, so cool!
I'm thinking that if I should go on the road again as a solo artist, I would choose a combination of these Best Singers songs and my own music. Not particularly metal but more of my own music, perhaps a solo-album first and then a series of shows.
Thing is, I know a lot of people from outside of The Netherlands came to see my solo-shows: what would happen do you think if there would be an album of Floor Jansen, available worldwide. It would definitely mean an international affair.
My career is a busy one as it is. I really have to contemplate how much time I have left to spend on something like a solo career and if I would want to be away from home even more. It could be disastrous for my family life. So at this point I just don't know. I have doubts!
Nightwish After Decades
Were there any special events that stood out from the last Decades tour?
Mmmm, not that I can remember. The tour was not too long but it was intense. On this tour, we only played in countries we had been at least once before, no special surprises there. South-America is always very special because of all the audiences going completely crazy, and the chaos you find yourself in. Here in Europe things usually have been prepared and organised to the last detail. If one has a request, the issue is solved right away. In South-America a simple request takes hours to get it done. But because I've been performing there since 2000 I'm beginning to get used to the way things are handled there.
By the way, even in the hotel where I'm staying at the moment, a very respectable hotel in Amsterdam, some of the most elemental things are missing. Try to put on some make-up with only light from behind you, or try to unpack your suitcase with just a tiny light-bulb on the ceiling. Hopeless, really. And this happens in South America all the time. Personally, most hotels and dressing rooms are a real drama.
It's been almost 5 years since the last studio album Endless Forms Most Beautiful, but only months after the release of the impressive live album Decades. In the meantime there has been a solo album by Marko Hietala and you were highly successful in Best Singers. What are the reasons for the somewhat long pause and then these sudden rapids?
Well, after the release of Endless Forms..., there was a huge world tour until well into 2016. We all had a sabbatical of almost one year after that, and we went on tour again with Decades. Marko's solo album, which I think is really cool by the way, and my activities have had nothing to do with the planning around Nightwish. Marko had been working on this very personal solo album for quite a long time and it's simply done when it's done!
In my case, once you agree to participate on such a series of TV-shows, the planning is out of your hands. You cannot bow out just like that. I expected the DVD to have been released earlier but there must have been good reasons why it hasn't.
A while ago, releasing an album was the centre of all things happening in and around a band. It was the foundation on which the income for both record company and artist was based. Currently, live shows and selling merchandise is a far more important part of generating income for artists. What's the role of special edition like ear-books, box sets, special coloured vinyls?
As far as I'm aware these special releases are primarily found in the heavy rock and metal genre. Apart from the fact I didn't receive one cent of royalties from all those special After Forever ear-book releases, I just cannot imagine what kind of people would want such a product. Who is eager to hear some old demos?
However, when a new album is produced, all those fancy different versions are appealing to the genuine fan rather than a way to generate more money for us. Our fans demand something special so that's exactly what we would like to give them: a superb choice of high quality products from which they can choose and buy the format(s) they like the most. So we aim for producing not only a good album but exquisite artwork, high resolution photo's, etcetera.
When I saw our band-photo's got posted on the internet by some guy, implying he took them, I was furious. Does such a person realise how much effort goes into producing photos like that? All the money involved? And without asking permission they're all over the internet. Very, very annoying!
Next year Nightwish may celebrate their 25th anniversary. Have you had brainstorm sessions about how you all would like to commemorate this jubilee?
We just did Decades so I don't think it's likely the band will feel the need to celebrate another anniversary so soon. It might be however that our fan base will be pressing us to do something special, you never know...