Interview Nightwish: Tuomas Holopainen

Artiest: Nightwish

Geïnterviewde: Tuomas Holopainen

Interview afgenomen in: Hampshire - The Manor hotel, Amsterdam

Label: Nuclear Blast

Begin februari werden we uitgenodigd op de luistersessie van Nightwish in het fancy Hampshire - The Manor hotel in hartje Amsterdam. Daar kregen we het nieuwe album 'Endless Forms Most Beautiful' te horen (lees de eerste indrukken hier) en maakten componist/toetsenist Tuomas Holopainen, bassist Marco Hietala en zangeres Floor Jansen zich klaar voor een reeks interviews. Ik nam plaats in de zithoek bij Tuomas voor een interview over diverse onderwerpen.

How are you doing, busy times already with these promo tours?

Good! Yes, these are always the busiest moments.

‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ is what the new album is called. The thematic is about evolution, the universe and its life. Where did this title come from?

It comes from Charles Darwin, it’s the last paragraph of his book ‘The origin of species’. From so simple in the beginning, endless forms most beautiful are being evolved. That’s the first indication of diversity of life on this planet.

The role of Darwin on this album, where does it actually fit? Was it a starting point or did it come while creating the music?

I’ve always been very fascinated about science, especially biology, I even studied that for 6 months at university. The interest has always been there. Then a few years ago, I really got heavily immersed in that stuff again, by Charles Darwin, Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, … It just inspired me a lot. I figured that Nightwish has always been about fantasy and escapism, really personal stuff, so maybe we should explore the other end of the spectrum for once and do an album about the magic of reality and science. That’s the underlying theme of the whole album.

And what about the coverart? It was created again by the same artist as Imaginaerum, did she come up with the idea or did you have a say in that?

Well, I like to collaborate as much as I can with the cover artwork, it’s important to me. So I gave an idea that I had about a floating Noah’s Arc in space and put the DNA double helix in the center and as many life forms as we can possibly put around it. This is what she came up with and when I saw it for the first time, my jaw dropped, wow!

nightwish endless forms most beautiful cover

How would you compare ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ with previous albums, both recent and old ones?

I can just speak on a personal level but I think it’s not that different from the stuff we’ve done in the past. From the first moment on, we immediately recognized the band in it. It has all the trademark elements in it of Nightwish. But if you want to search for some differences compared to the previous one, Imaginaerum, this is much more a band album. The guitar is pretty strong, the keyboard much more upfront this time. There is this organic band-wide coverage that wasn’t really present on the previous album. So it’s a bit of a time travel to the Oceanborn – Once era in my opinion. I don’t know how other people think about it.

nightwish elan coverÉlan will be the first single coming out tomorrow. Why did you pick this song as first single?

Well, you always have to pick one and it’s always a very ungrateful job to pick just one, because it never represents the album. I mean, we just wanted to pick out a song that could be played on radios, that’s simple enough, that’s easy enough so that radios would actually play it. For a long time, my personal choice would have been Edemah Ruh but then after about 2 weeks of rehearsals, it was Troy and Marco who came to me and said to me “are you sure about that, we think Élan is a much better song for that”. And I said “ok, I don’t really mind, whatever you want”. So then we changed that.

If I’m correct there will also be a videoclip launched (click here), can you tell something about it?

Yes. We wanted to go a bit old school with the music video and actually put a lot of effort into it and do a lot of location filming instead of doing it in the studio. So we have been scripting and doing it for almost a year. It was filmed in 8 different locations around Finland. The original idea for the video came from a website which had these abandoned places all around the world, like abandoned theme parks, lighthouses, theaters, all really cool stuff, really inspiring beautiful things! You get this feeling that they have amazing stories to tell, what’s been going on in these places the past decades. Then I got the idea that we somehow had to transfer this idea into the video. So what the Élan video is about, every band member was visiting an abandoned place and bringing it alive for a few seconds. Originally we wanted to film all around the world. I wanted to go to Siberia to film this really eerie, spooky lighthouse, there was an abandoned railway station in Massachusetts that we wanted to go to, but we just didn’t have the money to do all that, so everything was done in Finland. We found some awesome locations there as well.

Things that you did not know about yet?

That’s right, there was an abandoned swimming hall, probably abandoned since mid ’70, a really eerie place. Places like that.

Do you have any insight on next singles?

Yeah, the second single has been decided, but I’ve had to swear not to talk about it. But there will be at least one more, yes.

So on Élan we have the extra track Sagan. Will we have on the next single also an extra bonus track?

Well, I guess we will have to come up with something. Bonus tracks are always a bit tricky since we never do that many extra songs, Sagan was the only one we had. But maybe we can do an alternative mix or whatever.

Now let’s talk about something different. What are you expecting of your very first cruise of 2 days? Why 2 days?

I guess there was demand for another day, that’s why they booked another one. It seems like a fun thing to do. Like you say, we’ve never done that before and it’s always a lot of fun to do things for the first time. It seems to be really nice for the fans as well. I could imagine my favorite band doing such a cruise, I would be happy to go see them.

Do you think you will be able to walk around on the ship with all those fans all around?

I could, but it might be a bit tricky (laughs). Let’s see what happens.

You already announced one European show, at the Wembley Arena in the UK, a very big venue. Was it simply the next step for Nightwish to play there?

I just heard about that less than a week ago myself and I was totally baffled. Really, Wembley Arena, unbelievable. The whole word Wembley has such a mystical aura surrounding it. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard about it. It’s really cool and I guess they want to upgrade the status a little bit as well. It’s a really cool thing, let’s see how it sells.

So really only one UK show?

Yeah, all the eggs in the same basket.

What about the rest of Europe, when can we expect a full European tour?

They are planning it as we speak. I would imagine it wouldn’t take too long to announce the rest of the dates, but there will be an extensive European leg coming before Christmas. [Tourdates are published in the meantime here]

So probably the UK show will be the last show in the tour schedule?

I think so, yes. [Confirmed]

For that show, support acts are both Arch Enemy and Amorphis. Any idea if that will be for that show only or for the rest or part of the tour?

Well, we know the support acts for every show this year already, but again I was told not to talk about it, so unfortunately I can’t say. (smirks) [Arch Enemy and Amorphis both confirmed for the European concerts]

Soon you are going to the USA, what are your expectation of that?

When we start it’s going to be more than a year that we have played together, maybe a year and a half, so the start is going to be a bit tricky as it always is. But you learn ding shows by doing shows, not by rehearsing in a studio. Since it’s been so long, everybody is super anxious to get on the road again.

You mention it, one year and a half, that actually isn’t so much time since the previous album. The new album was made rather quick.

Yeah it was. It surprised me as well how fast it was made. But the positive energy and the conviction for the songs really worked like never before. Everybody was super happy with the whole process. The only downside was what happened to Jukka the drummer. It’s a terrible thing but besides that everything went smoother than ever.

So, the USA and a show in Canada is already booked, then some festivals and a European tour and Canada again, any further plans already?

The idea is to tour until the end of 2016, so there will be a lot of stuff happening. I’m sure South America, Japan, Australia maybe another US leg will be there somewhere, but nothing is fixed yet.

This time the recording process was again a bit different, with new people also. How did Floor and Troy fit into the recording process this time?

Floor and Troy are fantastic. The motivational level of Floor for example is something else. She knew already all the songs and the lyrics before she even came to the rehearsal room, so she had done her homework. As a vocalist she’s as versatile as it gets, so we had never any fear that there would be something that she could not do, same goes with the other guys in the band. Troy brings beautiful chemistry to the band, he’s such a wonderful guy, a funny guy. He can play almost anything, not only the Celtic stuff but he’s a really good singer, plays the acoustic guitar that you can hear in the album as well… It’s lovely.

Something I noticed when just listening to the album, on the 6th track, My Walden, was it Troy who started the intro?

Yes. It’s old Welsh that he’s singing.

For the rest, the last track The Greatest Show on Earth, was it a conscious choice to make it so large?

Well the theme of the song is so vast, because the idea was to do a song that would cover the entire evolution of life on planet Earth. This song actually covers more than 5 billion years of time, so you need some time to tell that story. Originally it was even longer, I think it was about 35 minutes, but then we condensed a little bit to make it more approachable and listenable. But that’s what it takes to tell the story. It’s not long because of the shot effect or long to bore people, it’s long because that’s what it takes to tell the story.

In that track we hear Dawkins. How was it to work with him and how did you approach him?

I wrote him a letter about a year ago, telling him who we are and that we were going to record a song which was influenced by one of his books, called ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. Then about 3 weeks later, I received an e-mail from him saying “thank you for the letter, I’ve never heard of Nightwish before but now I have, I enjoyed what I heard and I’m looking forward to the collaboration so please book the studio and see you in October!” The recording process took about one hour, he did his stuff beautifully, he’s a really nice guy. Two days ago I met him again in London and played him the song. He seemed to like it, so a very lovely collaboration. It really brings an extra edge to the song to have him actually be there and recite those beautiful words.

The previous album also had some storytelling from multiple people. Is this a new trend maybe for Nightwish? Will the new album also perhaps have a narrator?

If the song requires it. That is the most important thing. Listen to the song, what do you need to become alive, what are the tools that we need to use for you to wake up. Do you need an operatic vocal? No. Do you need a softer singing? Ok we’ll go with that. Do you need a solo this time? Yes let’s put in a solo. Do you need Dawkins? Yes that would be nice, let’s use Dawkins. So just be humble for the song and don’t do things just because you can or to show off, that’s mainly the thing.

Very unfortunate is like you mentioned that Jukka had to take a step aside. Did you yourself already know Kai Hahto?

We’ve known each other for years. But especially Jukka, they go back a long time. It were really sad times when this happened. Because we already rehearsed this album about a month with Jukka before he stepped down, saying “I can’t do this anymore, I feel like a zombie, I haven’t slept in 2 weeks, I need to go to a doctor”. The only one we could think of who could do a replacement on such short notice was Kai because his drum skills are ‘out of this planet’. Luckily for us, he had the time and the motivation to come and save this album basically.

Is it clear yet who will join on tour?

Kai will do the whole tour, yes. But Jukka is still a member of the band, the drummer of the band so in 2 years we will know more.

Will Jukka come along on the tour?

I sure hope so! It would be lovely to see Jukka here and there, maybe play a little now and then. Maybe, even likely!

Maybe another unfortunate thing. There was the unfortunate event of the leaking of Élan. Something like that is indeed terrible as multiple people have already expressed. We are however in a time where the internet has become unimaginable in our world, new services like Spotify and Youtube are big business… What do you think about all that?

I think internet is lovely. I’m all pro technology and progress. And yes it is a fact that leaks happen all the time, not only for us but basically for every single band. But I also think strongly that we should raise this issue into the daylight and try to do something to prevent it from happening in the future. Because it’s a really big thing not only for the band, but also for the music business. Not financially, but it really kills the mystery of the whole thing. When you anxiously await for a new album or song and then somebody leaks it with real bad quality… I don’t care about the money personally but for me it kills the mystery, that’s what really upsets me big time. We got a lot of criticism about mentioning this. People were saying “you are so immature, stop complaining, it’s the 21th century, this happens, get over it”. But if you think the same thing about many things that are wrong, like terrorism, it’s the 21th century and it’s happening, get over it…

Nobody is justifying that.

Indeed, nobody is justifying that. Another important thing is that there are many kids, especially younger kids, that don’t realize that they are doing something wrong. It’s not because they are behaving badly or out of mischief, it’s just that they don’t know any better. Some education is also needed on that.

That’s why many of you brought out a statement for that?

Absolutely, yeah.

A question for the ladies perhaps. Your image and appearance, for example promo pictures with the high hat, is it something that you use to differentiate yourself from other artists?

The hat is there just because (starts laughing) it became kind of a thing, he’s the guy always with the hat, take the hat off already (laughs). I would say ok, if that’s your reaction, oh well. I love hats, I love my top hat, it means a lot to me and in some promo pictures I use it and in some I don’t. It’s not really a big deal.

We’re 2015 now, that’s a long history of Nightwish already. How do you look back on the growth of Nightwish?

Well, it fits to the theme of this album perfectly. There’s a very clear evolution to be seen of the band throughout the 18,5 years that we’ve been together. It starting off as something really innocent and acoustic, even gothic. Then came the power metal era, then we found film music, started adding orchestra, … It’s been a growing, evolving thing all the time. I’m happy to say that we’ve always been able to find new angles for all the albums so that they don’t sound alike, any of them. But still, on every album you hear from the first song that it is Nightwish. And that’s a really lovely balance that we’ve been able to keep.