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Interview: Nightwish (Tuomas Holopainen)

Rock Stars...

Tuomas Holopainen

I was one of a lucky group of journalists who were invited along to an exclusive listening session at Phoenix Sound Studios, in the shadows of the cranes that are building the new Wembley Soccer Stadium. The studio is actually a huge hall, big enough to house an entire orchestra and choir, in fact probably big enough to house a basketball court.

A small party, comprising Tuomas Holopainen of Nightwish, Manager Ewo Rytkõnen and recording engineer Mikko Karmila had flown in from Finland on Saturday night to complete a day's recording before returning to Finland on the Monday.

Their objective was to complete the recording of the orchestral and choral parts for 5 of the eleven songs on the album, having already completed 4 of the nine songs on the album that will feature the orchestra. Recording took place throughout the day, with the London Session Orchestra recording their parts during the morning and afternoon, `electric violin' was recorded between 5pm and 7pm and then during the evening session, the choral parts were laid down.

The songs which were worked on included "Nemo" (the song which will feature on the new upcoming Nightwish single and as a video clip), "Wish I Had An Angel", "The Siren", "Higher Than Hope" and "Dark Chest Of Wonders".

Upon arrival at just after 6pm, I was escorted to a room with comfy chairs and a great Hi-Fi. The new Nightwish disk was already playing track 2. I settled down and recorded my thoughts on some of the tracks as follows:

- Planet Hell - Very heavy and surprisingly dark for Nightwish. - Wish I had an Angel: Catchy with a good sing-along chorus, it sounds like a sure-fire second single.

- Ghost Love Score - A fantastic epic (over 10 mins long). It featured the orchestra and choir quite heavily.

- Creek Mary's Blood - Another one which already featured orchestra parts, it was a slow ballad. At times it seemed like Tarja was singing over 'film music'.

- Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan - a nice ballad sung in their native language

- Nemo - A fairly standard Nightwish tune with a chugging guitar riff

- The Siren - Tune which features a lot of eastern, Arabic sounding effects

Bonus tracks 1 of these was a ballad, which was pleasant enough but nothing special, another was a little heavier and a fairly standard Nightwish tune. The third however, entitled `Where were you last night?' sounded like a missing track from a Bon Jovi album in the 1980s.

Once this was complete, Ewo then led us down into the main control room of the studio where we watched producer and arranger Pip Williams and his team record the choir singing a number of parts for various songs, one of whom was `Dark Chest of Wonders'. Mikko and Tuomas were also present with Tuomas signalling his satisfaction or otherwise with the singing, while Pip communicated with the conductor and the leader of the choir as they fine-tuned their performances to Tuomas's satisfaction.


After an hour or so, there was a `tea break' (we are in England after all) and I was guided to the cafeteria where I had the chance to speak to Tuomas for about 15 minutes. I began by asking him about his impressions of the UK dates that the band played last year, at the Bloodstock Festival in Derby and at the Mean Fiddler in London.

TH: They were amazing! In the sense that it was the first time that we came to the Uk and I didn't know that we had any following, so I would have been surprised if there would been like 100 people who came to see us because I don't think that any of our records has been released like officially here.

CF: `Century Child' and the others have now come out

TH: Oh, OK,

CF: ... but it was after Bloodstock.

TH: Right, right ... So it was a HUGE surprise for me. I mean it was very nice, English people are the most polite people in the world - well that's the impression I have right now. Very nice.

(I then explained that after the UK gigs I also saw the band at the Progpower Festival in Atlanta and then in New York).

TH: You did? What's wrong with you? LOL

CF: The reaction in the States was pretty good too.

TH: Yes it was. Pretty much the same as for the UK. I didn't know that we had any sort of following over there either, so it was AMAZING! Something's definitely going on.

CF: The crowd in New York were fantastic.

TH: They were because Century Child hadn't been released there at that time and the people were singing along with the songs and I was like `What?!?' Incredible! Very flattering.

CF: So why did you pick London and this studio to record parts of the new album?

TH: Well the simple reason is that we really wanted to have the best, you know. It sounds kinda corny, but we wanted to have the best no matter the costs, and our record engineer Mikko Karmila, he had some connections with Pip Williams who is doing the arrangements and he recommended him to us. We contacted him and he was very interested in us and then he booked the orchestra for us. To be honest, the whole thing, the orchestra, it costs like twice as much as the whole previous album altogether. But it doesn't matter because the result is so awesome. So I'm very proud to be working with them.

CF: The rough mixes we heard before ... how much is going to be reworked?

TH: There's gonna be 11 songs on the album and the orchestra is playing on 9 of them, so you just heard pretty much nothing.

CF: Well, there were one or two songs that had a lot of orchestra `Creek Mary's Blood'? and `Ghost Love Score' ?

[I tried to make sense of some of the notes that I had taken. We had been given the names of 11 tracks, but the demo CD we had heard contained 14 tracks...we were all thrown out because the title to track number 9 was in Finnish, but it seemed to be number 11 on the CD.]

TH: Yeah, because the tracklisting was all messed up. The first 7 of them were right, because there were like bonus tracks in between them and everything so ...

CF: A-ha! Bonus tracks in between rather than at the end?

TH: Yeah, exactly.

CF: (laughs) Oh well you really confused us - everybody.

TH: Sorry about that.

CF: What was that last track?

TH: `Where were you last night? It's a cover song that we did. From Anki Bagger. It's a Swedish Techno hit from 1989.

CF: (laughs) People were saying, `It must be a Bonus Track - its Jon Bon Jovi-ish'

TH: Yeah - I heard that before. No. It's a Swedish Techno hit - like Disco, Trance something like this. And the whole point in doing that is that we wanted to make a statement `Don't take us so seriously all the time, please'. (Laughs) But it is a bonus track - definitely.

CF: Will it be a Japanese one?

TH: I don't know for sure, but we're gonna postpone it as much as possible. (laughs)

CF: There was one other song which had a slightly more oriental...middle-eastern feel

TH: The Siren

CF: Yeah

TH: Yeah well it also lacked the chorus, orchestra and violin solo. It's a very nice song.

CF: I just wondered what had influenced you to include something like that?

TH: That song in particular? I just wanted to do something Eastern like Egyptian or Arabian. Then I saw the Disney movie `Sinbad' Have you see this movie? (I had to admit that I hadn't)

TH: There's this scene of about 5 minutes where the sirens come and tempt Sinbad and it has AWESEOME music behind it and I said `I wanna make a song about this' ... about Sirens tempting the listener - that's the whole idea of the song.

CF: I just wondered, because you toured with After Forever, and Mark Jansen (Epica, ex-After Forever) is quite interested in oriental sounds which he incorporated in a couple of After Forever songs and I just wondered if there was a link there .. but obviously not.

TH: Not like that ... No.

CF: And also the guitars seem to be more prominent or heavy on quite a few of the songs.

TH: Yeah, I think so too because they are much more to the front in this album. This album is more riff orientated - guitar riff orientated but still there is more orchestra and the choir so its really funny.

CF: Was it hard to write? On `The End of Innocence' you talked about `Century Child' being a really difficult album to write.

TH: It was very difficult and this one was equally difficult, but its been more fun than ever though. I mean its been in a very positive spirit, both for me and for the whole band. The whole process has been really smooth even though it has been really difficult and really long but we're all having the time of our lives here. I think that there is a bit of a positive touch to this album, more than before. Just fun, having fun doing what we're doing.

CF: Did you feel that you had more freedom because you were between record contracts?

TH: I don't think about that kind of things. No, not at all. I just do my thing.

CF: I wondered if there were any particular inspirations behind the album? Anything that motivated a number of the songs?

TH: I wanted to take this album even more to the Film Music direction. I want this to be not a metal album. I wanted this to be a film music album which is covered under the mask of Heavy Metal.

CF: Because there are a number of songs where one thinks `This could be Film Music'

TH: Exactly, and you haven't heard the rest of them yet - you only heard like less than half of the orchestra on the demos so, its gonna be. Like I said, when I listen to the album I just see movies in front of me. That was the whole idea.

CF: and er, did you prepare the music for the orchestra? Or has Pip helped with the arrangement of that?

TH: I had a lot of ideas and we made a demo recording where I played the keyboards, the choirs and everything. I wanted it to be like this, but I talked to Pip and said that you can have a free hand to do whatever you want and he has done an AMAZING job with the arrangements, you know. A lot of new ideas, I don't understand anything about notes, so he has written all the notes and everything. He has a very strong part in this album. He's a great guy.

[Pip had prepared a full score for all of the parts sung by the choir and, I suspect, for the orchestral parts too. This was used by the producer himself and by the musicians and singers.]

CF: I know that most metal musicians can't write music, so I wonder how much he was involved and it sounds like he was a big part of it.

TH: Yeah he is, he really is.

CF: And moving on to touring this year. You mentioned in some interviews that you will be coming back here (to the UK).

TH: Next fall we will. I think like September / October.

CF: After you have been to the States?

TH: Yeah, yeah. That will be the first one. Definitely during this year, we are coming back, in the Astoria this time.

CF: great, perfect, nice big stage.

At this point the singers began to make their way back into the studio and I wondered if it was time for us to conclude the interview. Tuomas told me to continue, but in fact I only had time for one more question.

CF: The other thing that struck me, I didn't hear the first 2 songs, but I heard the rest, was that Marco didn't seem to be as prominent.

TH: Actually, actually he is pretty much the same on all of the songs. There is 3 songs where he is singing lots of solos and I think 6 or 7 songs with background vocals, so I think its pretty much the same as `Century Child'. Too much, takes off his power so you have to be really careful with that.

Nightwish's manager Ewo then appeared and signalled that the interview session was at an end. I thanked Tuomas for his time and we made our way back into the studio control room. Unfortunately I was unable to stay for much longer as I had a ticket to see Soilwork later that evening, so I thanks Tuomas and Ewo and made my way over to The Underworld in Camden.


Interview/Photograph © 2004 Charlie Farrell

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