A Finnish war of roses
Half a year after has passed since the split of Nightwish and Tarja Turunen. The medial whirlwind that was caused by the separation shortly after the farewell show of the ‘Once Upon A Tour 2004-2005’ has calmed down. Rock Hard met the band’s leader Tuomas Holopainen exclusively in his home country to talk with him about the next singer, a new album and the ‘End Of An Era’-DVD.
Middle of April... While spring slowly rises in Germany, Helsinki still dozes in hibernation with temperatures around zero degrees Celsius. It seems like travelling back to the cold season during the two hours long flight. The coast of south Finland is completely frozen up, the numerous lakes of the country are sparkling with their icy cover in the sunshine and over the brown fir-woods there is a small layer of powdery snow.
During the drive from the airport to the city-centre you pass Hartwall-Arena where Nightwish fired their singer Tarja Turunen after their farewell show of the ‘Once’-Tour on October the 21st last year and the hotel where Tuomas Holopainen spent sleepless nights before he informed his long-standing colleague about the firing.
Our destination is the small management-company King Foo Entertainment that takes care of Nightwish’s business and organization stuff and which offices are located in the heart of Helsinki.
When I ring the door-bell Tuomas Holopainen who is in a good bad opens it. There is not much to notice of last months’ stress in him. He looks relaxed and jokes with the band’s manager Ewo Rytkönen who stands in front of a wall covered with countless Nightwish-tour- and –concert-passes.
The comfortable rooms of the six-person-business are filled and decorated with posters, concert tickets and boxes of merchandise of Amorphis, Finntroll, Sonata Arctica and Timo Rautiainen which business-affairs are controlled from here as well. The clear optical center of the firm is Nightwish. Everywhere there are golden and platinum records, pictures of the band and documents. Trashy awards are on the cupboards and shelves next to framed tour-announcements and credit-cards that show the old fiver still together with Tarja. In the background a tender female voice is belting out Europe’s mushy rock ballad ‘Carrie’.
“This is one of our numerous applicants for the important position behind the microphone. These have all been in our post today”, Ewo grins and points at a pile of 30 demos. “I get records from all over the world. There are applications even from Guatemala and Japan,” Tuomas adds while he searches the pile for useful material. “How would a Japanese girl sound if she sang a song in Finnish? It must be quite strange!”
The next record is put into the player. An unbearable high and at the same time weak woman’s voice chirps Nightwish songs. Ewo and Tuomas make a face. The acoustic audience of the lady is over faster than she would like it to be. Next you can hear a demo of a girl who sent a picture on which she poses with a guitar, her legs crossed, looking at the camera with a melancholic expression. Her vocal performance is more convincing that the whining of her successor but Tuomas is already searching for the next applicant.
“I take a listen to each demo immediately”, the 29 years-old man tells while he unfolds a sheet pulled off a calendar that is added to the record. On it you can see ‘Miss April’ who poses at a rocky beach on all her fours with a seductive look in her eyes and only dressed in a bikini. Tuomas smiles and settles down in a small meeting-room next to Ewo’s office for our interview.
Tuomas, last time we met at the party that was held in honour of Nightwish at the evening after your show at Hartwell-arena where you announced the departure of Tarja. What happened to you since then?
-First of all I answered countless questions of the media regarding our split. And then I started working. That was like a therapy for me. In the time of three months I wrote fifteen new songs. That seems like setting a new record. After the split there was a tremendously emotional time that inspired me a lot. I was happy to flee to my work and my music.
Did you talk about the split with members of other bands? You are really good friend with a few Finnish musicians.
-No, not really. It seems that everybody has an opinion about the whole issue but I don’t want to hear it. My perons to talk to were the guys from the band with whom I talked about what happened. Else I didn’t feel like talking about the split.
A lot of people could understand your reasons for sacking Tarja. The way you did that was criticized though. Both fans and the media had the opinion that you should have talked to Tarja in closed session first.
-Tarja already got the letter two days before I made it public. Moreover the media is creating things very easy for themselves when they complain arrogantly that we should have taken another way. There were a lot of details the public still doesn’t know anything about which led us to this decision. I am still convinced that what we did was the only correct possibility.
Have you ever talked to Tarja after the split?
-Not a single word.
So how do you communicate at the moment? There has to be a lot a business stuff to be settled.
-Our managers handle this.
After the split Tarja got a lot of insulting letters and threads. Did the same happen to you?
-I received many letters during the lasts months from which you can conclude by reading between the lines that would be better not to meet their authors alone in a dark street corner. These are probably fanatic fans of Tarja or extreme feminists. But I expected those kinds of reactions.
And is it easy for you to deal with this?
-No, not at all. Such letters bother me a lot.
What do people complain about most of the time?
-About the way we parted with Tarja. Very often I also get to hear that we cannot exist without her, that she was the heart of the band and that we committed commercial and spiritual suicide.
Really crazy were the reactions of some religious groups. Extreme Christians tried to convert me because alleged I had sinned heavily. They told me to join their church to be freed from my evil spirits. For Christmas they sent me a Jesus-video that should make me find the right path. Even Scientologists came to me and offered me their help. Meanwhile I am able to laugh about it but at the beginning these people rather scared me.
How do you react to Tarja’s husband and manager Marcelo who calls on the fans on Tarja’s web side to send him questions regarding the split?
-I don’t care. He can do whatever he wants.
For a new photo-session you posed with two women. -Are you able to laugh about the whole fuss now?
Sometimes I have the feeling that with the split I created a monster that develops a life of its own at the moment. Parts of the issue are really running out of control.
Some people even talk about a Finnish war of roses.
-That is getting on my nerves as well. The split has grown to be some kind of public soap-opera some time ago. I would prefer people to think of good music and not about ridiculous arguments when hearing the name Nightwish.
Unfortunately your music is overshadowed by arguments at the moment. Marcelo wants to block the release of the ‘End of an era’-DVD on the Finnish market. He won’t let Tarja sign the necessary contract if you do not accept a written agreement which says that you will not mention him and his wife in public anymore. For every offence against the contract he wants you to pay a fine of 250.000 €.
-At the moment there is a huge argument concerning the rights. I cannot tell you more about this because my manager is dealing with the matter.
Tarja told that she had to beg on her knees to watch parts of the DVD. But she never asked for that until today. Of course she was allowed to watch the DVD. I have no clue what this was about again. Perhaps it was a lack of communication once more (bitter laughter).
While watching the last show you can see a doll hanging at your keyboard. What is this?
-It’s Johnny Depp in his role as Jack Sparrow from the movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. A lot of people told me that I look like him on stage. That’s why I bought it.
Did you ever consider the option to continue Nightwish with Marco as the only singer?
-No, never! Nightwish are a band with a front woman. I would never change that.
When did you receive the first demos from applicants for the important position behind the microphone?
-The first demo I got one day after I published the letter on our homepage. Until now I received about 400 applications. Most of them are from Finland, Scandinavia and Germany. I am still surprised about the amount of letters. I never thought that so many women dare to follow in Tarja’s footsteps.
Are there also famous singers who applied for the job?
-There were a few known names but I am not allowed to mention them.
There were rumours that Liv Kristine or Lady Angellyca, the singer of the Spanish Gothic-Metal-Band Forever Slave, are going to take over Tarja’s job.
-The case with Liv Kristine was a plain invention of the media. Shortly after the last gig she was announced as the next singer at the title of Finland’s biggest daily newspaper. I heard something of this Lady Angellyca sometime but I cannot remember.
Did you receive applications with immoral offers as well?
-No. Almost all applications I got were serious.
As serious as the application of ‘Miss April’?
-Well, these girls are proud of what they have to offer. This is okay, isn’t it?
Are you not scared that –no matter how carefully you will make your decision- the fans won’t accept your new singer?
-I know that there are a lot of people outside there who will never accept the new singer – no matter how talented and charismatic she will be. Our new front woman has to have the biggest self-confidence in the world because she will have the hardest job in the world. Everybody will talk at length about her and she will have to take a lot of criticism. Honestly said, I do not care if the next record will sell 50.000 or 1.000.000 times. The most important thing is that we get along with our new singer and that we can lead a normal band’s life again as it used to be.
What kind of mistakes did you make dealing with Tarja which you want to avoid with the next singer?
-It is no secret that we didn’t talk much with Tarja right from the beginning. We should clear up right from the start what is going to await us on tour, who’s the leader of Nightwish and how decision are going to be made; so the rules of the band will be clear right from the beginning...
What will be the first advice you will give the new singer?
-Do your best and be loyal to yourself! Then the band will always be there for you – in good and in bad times.
Tarja would see this promise in a critical way. Already on your first DVD ‘From Wishes To Eternity’ she mentions that she sometimes misses friendly gestures, encouraging words and practical help from the band.
-I don’t know what we could have done better. We relieved her of her work in any case. She had a manager of her own, she didn’t have to do interviews and she could stay away from sound checks.
This DVD was made long before Tarja had Marcelo by her side. Perhaps such a big gap between you would have never formed if you would have paid more attention to her needs right from the start.
-Of course there were problems back then. During the time we understood that Tarja had certain needs and we tried to help her as much as we could. We made a lot of mistakes at the beginning. I do not deny that. But in the end you cannot see this subject only from one side. Each one must make a step towards the other one.
So what kind of mistakes did you make?
-Little things of everyday life. Often we celebrated too loud in the tour-bus while Tarja tried to get some sleep. We should have tried a lot more often to understand her point of view.
Do you follow Tarja’s musical career at the moment?
-Not really. Sometimes I hear something coincidently.
Is there any hope that she will return to Nightwish one day?
-I don’t know. At the moment we are light years away from a reunion.
What about new songs? At the beginning you mentioned that you already wrote fifteen new ones.
-Actually the next Nightwish-album is already finished. I just came from a mate who lives in Helsinki and in his studio we produced a test recording of the new songs. With the help of it the guys of the band shall get an impression of the compositions. We want to record a real demo together in summer. I already had some song-ideas in my head before the concert at Hartwall Arena but after the split I wrote on with all my strength. Between November and March I was at home all the time and composed for ten hours a day. There were weeks where I didn’t see anybody and left the house for 100 metres maximum. Running around in public still is a delicate thing for me because since the split I am one of the most wanted celebrities in Finland. Everybody knows me. Even when I just go to the supermarket to buy some milk people whisper to each other or cast furtive glances at me. Actually I should not care but I’m still making up my mind about it.
Can you already describe the sound of the new songs?
-I think it is much too early to talk about the new songs. The next album is to have the same style and the same concept as the previous Nightwish-releases. The record will for sure include orchestra and choir-elements, bombastic sounds and ballads. Apart from that I plan to add some surprises again.
How do you compose the vocal parts? You do not know the voice of your future singer by now.
-I simply imagine how the vocal part of a song could sound like. And that works.
For this you must have a certain voice in your head already.
-No, not really. This is a new beginning for Nightwish. That’s why the new voice can sound completely different as well. The new singer can come from every possible music genre. The last thing I want is a copy of Tarja.
You told that the happenings of the last months were a big inspiration for the song writing-process. That would mean that the fans can expect a very emotional album.
-Basically Nightwish-songs are always some kind of diary – filled with things that I experience. That’s why you will be able to clearly hear the feelings that the split caused.
Couldn’t you make a concept album out of these experiences?
On no account. The songs are about too many different things to do something like that.
When will you start with the recordings?*
-First of all we will lock ourselves up in a big house in June and July to record a demo. In September we want to go into the studio with the crew that already supported us for ‘Once’. I expect we won’t be able to release the album at the beginning of 2007. First we have to find a new singer and this takes time. In this case I will not compromise...
In the meantime you can pass your time with the band-history book ‘Nightwish’ that is published in Finland in these days; a German version of it is supposed to be in stores by the end of the year.
-A lot of people think that I am the one who publishes the book but that’s wrong. Actually it is written by Mape Ollila, a music-journalist from Finland, who followed our career from the very beginning. I am just one person among the many ones who he interviewed during the years.
Where does the book start and where does it end?
-It starts with our childhood. Mape interviewed my whole family about my youth. Then there is a leap in the content. The history ends with the show at Hartwall-Arena. It is a really emotional book. While reading it I had to laugh and cry by turns. Sometimes I also felt really ashamed. Many people hope that it will be a work with dramatic revelations and shocking facts. But these do not exist. Of course the book deals with last years’ problems but that is only a small part. This book gives an objective impression of whom and how we really are.
That sounds like the public misunderstanding you.
-A lot of people realize astonishedly that I’m quite a nice guy when they get to know me personally for the first time. Apparently I look quite different in public. I am regarded as an arrogant snob because during official events I’m really careful, standing in the corner smoking a cigarette and eyeing the people around me. I do not do that because I feel too good for conversations but because I feel really uncomfortable during such events. I am really shy and so I do not get close to strangers.
Regarding this aspect the party at the evening after your farewell-show must have been complete horror for you.
-That was horrible. I would have loved to flee. At this evening I didn’t feel like putting on a happy face at all. I never act for the people around me. But sometimes I should better do that...
Do you really think it is important to play a role for other people?
-Sometimes I should be a bit more open towards strangers. Then a visit at galas or parties with a lot of celebrities would be a bit easier for me. I really hate events like that.
Then the Emma-Awards in March where you got the awards for the categories ‘Best Finnish artist 2005’ and ‘Most sold record 2005’ must have been horrible for you as well.
-Marco was there to represent the band because I have been on holiday on that date. The award in the category for the best Finnish artist is the most important award that we ever got because the public votes for the winner and this shows that the people still stand behind us after everything that happened. That gave me a lot of hope for the future of Nightwish.
Did you already know?
- For his own compositions Tuomas is often inspired by filmmusic. At the moment he regularly listens to the soundtracks of ‘Narnia’, ‘Brother’s Grimm’ and ‘Corpse Bride’.
- Tony from Sonata Arctica is a good friend of Tuomas. In their free-time the two like to go fishing together or they spend time in Tuomas’ summer-cottage.
- Although Tuomas will celebrate is 30th birthday at the end of the year he still lives together with his parents. Though the days in his old children’s room are counted because until autumn his own house is supposed to be finished which is built in Kitee at the moment. Finland’s most wanted single will live there with his huge Disney-collection for which a whole room will be furnished.
The ‘End Of An Era’-DVD
‘End Of An Era’ is the third DVD-release of Nightwish after ‘From Wishes To Eternity’ (2001) and ‘End Of Innocence’. The heart of the disc is the about two hours long farewell-show of the ‘Once’-Tour which took place on the 21st of October 2005 in front of 11.000 fans at Hartwall-Arena in Helsinki. At the same time this was the last gig with Tarja Turunen who was fired by Tuomas Holopainen a few hours after the show. One more time and with and excellent sound (you can choose between 5.1.-Surround- or 2.0.-Stereo-Sound) the viewer sees how the Finnish fiver performs the most spectacular show of their career between impressive stage sceneries, pyro-explosions, fire jets und colourful showers of glitter-confetti and how Tarja Turunen enchants the fans with her countless different outfits. Not only the setlist is from the finest quality including among others the biggest hits from the almost ten years long career like ‘Nemo’, ‘Bless The Child’, ‘Wish I Had An Angel’, ‘Wishmaster’, ‘Sleeping Sun’, the Cover-versions of Pink Floyd ‘High Hopes’ and Gary Moore’s ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ and ‘Creek Mary’s Blood’ together with John Two-Hawks. The sometimes colourful and kitschy, sometimes dark and foggy video-projections that partly merge with the real pictures to a surreal illusion on the DVD intensify the ‘goose bumps-character’ of the atmospheric performance.
As a bonus-feature there is a photo-gallery of the show and a documentary of 55 minutes parted in chapters which is titled ‘The Day Before Tomorrow’ and which was filmed by Timo Halo who already took part in the production of the last two DVDs of the band. He accompanies Nightwish during the last two weeks of their tour before the last gig; for example he was there when the Platin-stars arrived at the airport in Mexico-City on the 6th of October, when they were celebrated by the South Americans in Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre and returned to Europe ten days later for preparing for their last show between meetings with fans, press conferences and rehearsals with a unique cast.
The DVD will be in stores at the 2nd of June as DVD, 2 CD audio-digi-pak or a special edition with DVD and 2 CD audio-digi-pak.