As some of you probably know Tuomas Holopainen, the leader of Nightwish, visited Poland in April. We spent with him over 24 hours which is quite enough to get to know each other well and find a common lanaguage. Thus the text you're about to read is not a record of the typical interview done in strictly determined time, in stress and hurry. It's not the artist-journalist confrontation in which both sides know the strict game rules. The text is actually fragmentary record of a long, casual conversation that we had with a glass of cold beer in a silent bar of Warsaw's Hotel 'Reytan'. This is also why in this particular interview you'll find information that you would look for in vain in other publications about Nightwish. You'll get to know, among others, that Tuomas was friends with Donald Duck, who was baptized by his grandpa and what the new name of Tuomas in Lakota languge is.
The new album's title is 'Once' which brings to mind the 'Once Upon a Time' phrase. And also there's this fallen angel drawn on the cover. Does it all mean that the 'going by' is the leading thought of the album?
You're on a good trail, but I won't say anything more. I never consent to interprating my lyrics and I never explain what the titles symbolize nor what the covers mean. Everything has its meaning but if I disclosed it just like that, I'd deprive Nightwish of all the mystery, which - in our case - has substantial importance. The wealth of the art lies in the fact, that everyone can interprate it in their own way. So, please, don't ask me such questions because I will not answer them that way or another.
Ok, I won't do this again. Instead of asking, I'll make the statement - 'Once' is about past times. Although there are some exceptions from this rule, as for example 'Planet Hell' which is surprisingly actual comment about what is happening around the world nowadays.
I write only about the things that are important to me, only about what really interests me - and that was also the case with 'Planet Hell'. I have never intended, though, to smuggle any political or ecological statements in my songs. I don't want to preach at anybody, I don't mean to tell how people should live. But still I can have my own opinions on everything and this time I wrote exactly what I think about the world around. And this planet of ours is 'planet hell' - there's so other way to call this place.
Everyone knows now that you invited John the Two Hawks- an Indian of the Lakota tribe - for the recording of the epic ballad, 'Creek Mary's Blood'. Not everyone, though, realises that you found him not in the reservation but in the... Internet.
Oh, I could talk about this for hours! 'Creek Mary's Blood' is my favourite Nightwish song... From the very beginning did I want to engage a 'flesh and blood' Indian for the collaboration on this piece. Very few bands - not only of the metal scene - had done something like this before. At first I called the Finnish Embassy in the US and they advised me to rummage in the Internet. And that's what I did. I opened the browser, wrote down the entry: 'native american musicians' and the first site I found was the one of John the Two Hawks. I wrote an e-mail to him and after and hour or so I got the answer. He agreed! Usually I blame the Internet for everything possible but I have to admitt that it also has some good sides.
Had you had the whole piece ready before you met John or did you let him add some changes?
I'd had the general outline of the composition including the parts I asked John to play. However, in the studio John started to improvise and there are some things on the record which weren't included in the original version; for example the John's singing in the middle of the song. John is a great musiscian and he's a great person, too. He spent some time in Finland so we had an opportunity to have some long conversations. I found out that we have many things in common...
Really? An Indian born and raised in the US and a metal-musician from the Finnish forrests - what can they have in common?
The way we perceive the world and the meaning of the spiritual values in our lives. John communicates with his ancestors all the time. Some time before his journey to Finland the spirit of one of his forefathers came to him in his dreams and said it was worth agreeing on our offer, that it was worth recording with us. You know that John even gave me the Indian name? He said all the ceremony including smoking the magical herbs, singing and all the stuff... Now my name is Sunkmanitutanka Nagi which means The Wolf of the Shadow.
You say that Nightwish's music is your metal interpretation of film music masterpieces. What is so fascinating about movie scores to you?
I can't really explain it. But this genre of music inspires me most, this is what I love to listen to when I'm resting home. As a composer I also try to follow this path. I find more emotions in film scores than in classical music...
That's interesting. You value more the witty craftsmen on the Hollywood services than the real men of genius from the past like Bach or Beethoven?
Indeed, that's the way it is. Maybe the reason for this is that during the 12 years of piano playing study I was being forced to play only the classical compositions and I simply got sick of it. But it's not everything. Good movie music has many dimentions - keyboards have an ideal setting to demontrate their sound, just as various vocals and percussions have. And than this breathtaking combination of the sound and the image! My ambition is to compose such songs for Nightwish that can not only be heard but also seen...
Maybe you should - just like others bands have - record an album only with some covers? Only that Nightwish would cover the most interesting - to you - movie themes or songs. You've already made the first step creating the cover of 'Walking in the Air'...
You know I have never thought about it?! And it's such a great idea! All the more that we've been thinking for some time now about recording an album, or at least a mini-album, with covers. Some people truly hate it but I love playing other's compositions, creating my own versions of well-known pieces. Or, should I say per-versions...=) That way or another I truly need to think about what you said. Maybe something will come up?
Who's your favourite film composer? Some Nightwish melodies could be easily ascribed to Ennio Morricone. Is that a good trail?
I like him very much, he's really great but my favourite is, for years now, Hans Zimmer - the composer of soundtracks for movies like Gladiator, The Lion King Hannibal... and the list goes on.
The song promoting the new album is 'Nemo'. Why this particular piece was chosen for the first single?
I guess it was the easiest desicion in Nightwish's career although I have to confess I hate singles. I compose each album as a whole and I just can't stand being forced to pull one song out of the context but I know it's the necessary evil. 'Once' consists most of long, complex, sophisticated songs and the single piece has to be short, simple and it has to have the ear-catching chorus. So the choice of the single song got actually narrowed down to two works. First of them was 'Nemo' and the other was 'Wish I Had an Angel' which - by the way, will be our next single.
I'm wondering about the meaning of the title - 'Nemo'. It doesn't have to do anything with the Disney's movie, does it?
People keep asking me if the song is about the movie fish or about the submarine captain. Neither the first one nor the second! The score and the lyrics of this piece were ready before I even heard about the 'Finding Nemo' movie. What's more we knew it back then that it's going to be our single song! 'Nemo' is simply 'no-one' in latin language. I was fascinated by the sound of this word and that why the title is what it is. When I finally realised that 'Finding Nemo' was such a success I was pretty shocked and started wondering what I should do about it. But I stated that I have the same rights to use this word as anybody else and that I don't have to change anything only because of this funny coincidence. However, there's this part of the song saying: 'nemo sailing home/ nemo letting go'. In the original version it went like this: 'nemo sailing home/ nemo finding home' but thas would make people think of the movie to much. I had to change it.
One more movie association about 'Nemo' - the cover is pretty similar to 'The Fellowship of the Ring' movie poster...
I wanted for the cover to look like a movie poster, that's true. But I didn't mean this particular movie. I just wanted us to look like five movie-stars. Unfortunately not everyone liked that joke. People write e-mails to us saying: 'Hey what's wrong with you guys? It looks like a movie poster!' (laugh) I can't explain to everyone that that's what it was supposed to look like.
Ocean, water, the motif of sailing - all this appear very often in your lyrics, on the albums covers. What fascinates you so much in the sea?
I have no idea, but you're right, the sea fascinates me very much. When I look at the ocean, at the whirling waves, I experience the most intense contact with the Nature that I can imagine. All the earth's life forms - including us - have come from the ocean and that's where we will return one day. It's truly an amazing feeling, very inspiring. I also adore this symbolic meaning of the ocean - the one that you can compare with human's feelings. The ocean can be very calm and silent or angry and extrememly dangerous.
Do you sail?
No, I've never have. Neither have my parents nor grandparents. I come from Carelia - the land of forests, there's a long way to the sea from there... But I dive as often as my schedule lets me.
You're popular among the Finnish fans of metal for years now. But few months ago, thanks to Tarja's beauty, you joined the 'higher class'. Can you tell us about it?
On December the 6th we have the Finnish National Day. On this occasion a great bal takes place in the presidential palace every year. All those politicians, buissnessmen, sportsmen, artists who'd brought some credit to Finland are invited there. It's the greates social event in Finland, which is always commented on very widely by the media. In last December Tarja was also invited as a representative of Nightwish. She went there and... she was chosen the queen of the bal! The band took advantage of this, too because the media got more interested in Tarja and what follows in the whole band.
Why does she represents the band on such events? After all you're the leader of Nightwish.
Tarja is not only the voice but also the showcase of Nightwish. I've never treated those things ambitionally. I can understand that the fans prefer to look at Tarja than at me (laughs). The true fans know what's my job in Nightwish and I don't need push my way to the front.
Strictly hypothetical situation - if Tarja left the band would you search for other vocalist for Nightwish?
No. I'd terminate the band and not record anything with Nightwish name on it. Luckily the odds are that nothing like this will happen. Tarja has never been as convinced of singing with Nightwish as she is today.
But about two years ago it was whispered that she'd either leave the band or take a long break. How true were those words?
They were a bit true, yes. Tarja in fact had a break but only for couple of months... She was studying the classical singing in Germany so we simply made it possible for her to finish her studies and obtain a diploma. Yet, from the very beginning we planned to come back on stage and the termination of the band was out of question.
Isn't Tarja afraid that performing in the metal band she ruins her possible career as an opera singer? To gain something in there one has to start early and struggle pretty hard. And she wastes her time for some noises...
Everything in due time. It wouldn't be very wise of her to give up Nightwish now. And she's not going to do such thing, because she likes our music very much, she likes being on the road and sing those songs. She told me all that during a very sincere conversation we had. Indeed, she mentioned that one day she'd like to try her hand at singing in the opera but for now Nightwish is the only thing that counts. You know, we had a serious crisis about three years ago. To save the band we all simply started to bluntly talk to each other and... it worked out.
What was the reason of this crisis?
Me. I left the band and was no member of it for three weeks or so... A classic matter - too many concerts, too little talking. The first years of Nightwish existence, the first success created some distance between us. We had to put a lot of effort to regain the mutual trust and the enthusiasm towards music. Yet now the atmosphere in the band is truly great. I know it won't sund very revealing but the key to the success is simply a sincere talk. Without it we wouldn't have gotten stock in that crisis.
Haven't you ever tried to drown your stress in the alcohol or deaden it with drugs?
Alcohol or drug addiction cannot be justified by stress. Everything is set in your head and you need to conrtol it...No one has to make use of every opportunity to drink alcohol, you don't need to be on every party you're invited to. The most important thing is to stay in touch with you faimly, keep the balance between the proffesional and private life. The Wishmaster tour was definately too long and that's why we once made the condition which is not to be negotiated - we can be on the road for maximum four weeks and than we have minnimum of 10 days break.
Doesn't the travelling with a woman, especially as attractive as tarja, cause any difficulties? You know what I'm talking about...
(laugh) Come on! Ask what you want!
Asking point-black, I'd like to know whether any of you guys has ever tried to seduce Tarja?
No, it's impossible in this band. When I met Tarja we were 12. We share a great friendship but I treat her like a sister, I couldn't possibly see the woman in her. Of course, when we travel together on one bus we have to control ourselves and not act too loud. We also try not to tell some jokes when she's around (laugh).
You realise, that when it turned out that you're left with no contract, the record labels almost had a fight for you?
I guess I heard something but I didn't get deeper into the matter. Ask Ewo, out manager, he knows lot more about it. And he's not telling me everything because I don't want to hear about it (laugh).
When you found Nightwish, did you expect that you would achieve such a success?
Are you kiddin' me? We recorded the first demos only for fun and we truly didn't expect that someone would treat it seriously. In any case, I had two bands back then - Darkwoods My Betrothed and Nattvindens Grat - in which I didn't pin my plans, too. I had just gotten admitted for the University, so had Tarja and Sami. We were just about to split up and take up some 'serious matters' when it all began.
We know when, now tell us how...
We went with Nattvindens Grat on a Europe tour with Babylon Whores. After one of the gigs I was introduced to Ewo Rytkönen who was working for the Spinefarm Records back then. I was very excited but I found some courage to give him Nightwish's demo tape which included three songs. Ewo bought some beer, went to the bus and listened to the tape. He went out after some time and said: ok, we're signing the contract.
Ewo is an important figure inNightwish biography, isn't he?
In 2001, when the band had that serious crisis I told you about, we manage to solve our problems because of two things. The first was Sami's leaving and the other was Ewo taking our buisness in his hands. Earlier I had to take care of everything myself and I started getting sick of it. Now it's Ewo who struggle with all this management shit and I can focus on music. And apart from that Ewo is a very original and interesting individual, there's no other like him in the world. He's not only our manager but also one of the best friends.
You mentioned the bands you were taking your first steps in - Darkwoods My Betrothed and Nattvindens Grat. When was the last time you listened to their albums?
The truth is it was about few years ago. I don't even have my own cds of those groups. But I think that for these times, they were pretty good. I was 16 when I recorded my first album with Darkwoods My Betrothed. I was very excited when I saw my picture in the inlay. I called my mum at once to brag about it! (laugh)
I heard you're not very comfortable with all the media stinck about Nightwish. On the road you're said to most hate the fact that you're forced to be with people. You're a loner type aren't you?
Yes. Maybe it has something to do with my childhood. I was raised alone actually, amidst the forests and my only friends were the figments of my imagination, you know, elves, trolls... And Donald Duck (laugh). I've changed a lot since those times but still I'm not a life and soul of the party and I value my privacy above all.
You met a very nice lady from the Finnish Embassy in Warsaw. I heard it turned out hat you both come from the same town in Finland?
Yes, from Kitee. It's a small town in Carelia, very close to the Russian border. You know what also turned out? My granpa who was a pastor baptized this woman! The world is so small...
Carelia is not only the cradle of Finnish culture that was described in 'Kalevala'; it's also the battlefield of the Winter War, war in which the small country of Finland fought off the Red Army's attack. You know anyone who took part in the battles?
Of course! My grandpa, this pastor, was a chaplain in the front line (laugh). He said the camp masses, the funerals and some other stuff. Unfortunately, hepassed away so I can't ask him any detailed questions. Luckily he wrote his memories from Winter War down and published in the form of a book, which, by the way, is very popular with Finns. It's full of interesting and funny at the same time stories... As for example, one day, just before Christmas, my grandpa's unit found an old, deserted sauna in the middle of the forest. As real Finns they couldn't have kicked themselves for not taking a Christmas bath so they took their clothes off, lit the fire and went inside. Suddenly a soviet plane arrived and started to shell them. The bullets smashed the sauna up and my grandpa and his mates hid under the benches. They didn't run away, they simply couldn't stop such an important thing as sauna bath! (laugh)
Because the memory of this War many Finns still hate Russians...
That's true. And especially in our region. And anyways, the Russians do very little to change that negative image. I live about 12km from the Russian border and I see them almost every day when I'm home. They pester us all the time trying to sell some illegal vodka and cigarettes. I won't even mention the prostitutes from Russia. But you - Poles - know very well what I'm talking about. Living in a country placed between Russia and Germany, that's the history...
by Jaroslaw Szybrycht and Michal Wardzala (Mystic Art)