Nightwish – The end of an era
The cooperation of Nightwish and Tarja Turunen is history. A few hours after the last show of the ‘Once Upon A Tour 2004-2005’ in Helsinki Tuomas Holopainen sacked the image of the band. Rock Hard accompanies the band at their last common weekend and finds out the reason for the split as the first magazine in a moving interview.
The calm before the storm
During the approach to Helsinki Finland shows itself from its most beautiful side. It is a sunny autumn day. The woods and the meadows shine in different tones of brown and green and the white clouds are reflected in the steel-blue lakes. All the passengers at the airplane are pressing their noses against the windowpane to admire the nature. Only a young American pesters a stewardess with an unbelieving expression if she is really sure that Finnland is not a part of the Netherlands.
The drive to the hotel passes by in no time because the radio of the bus driver plays songs by HIM, Children of Bodom, Green Day and Europe. But Nightwish seem to be the true heroes of the Finnish music scene at this weekend. Their show in Hartwall Arena is announced on the radio every few minutes. The Finnish quintet does have the whole town of Helsinki in its grip. Not only on the radio the reports about the last show on the next evening follow hot on each other’s heels - in the daily press, different teeny mags and for the ladies at the hotel’s reception desk Tarja and Co are topic number one as well.
But then the first disillusionment comes up because of a phone call with the band's manager Ewo Rytkönen. The rehearses for the upcoming gig will last until midnight, so there will be no time for the planned interview with Tarja. “Tarja is not available for an interview anyway”, the blond giant adds. No explanation is given why Miss Turunen will not do the interview which was planned for a long time.
The situation gets really strange when we find out that Tarja doesn’t stay in the same hotel as her bandmates.
11.000 fans and an unforgettable gig
In the next afternoon the lobby of the Sokos-Hotel –the place where Tuomas Holopainen, Marco Hietala, Emppu Vuorinen and Jukka Nevalainen settled down- becomes the main meeting point for friends, colleagues and family-members of the band. With his Volvo manager Ewo takes along fan club-representatives from all over Europe, webmasters of the band’s websites, photographers and journalists. In the middle of all you can see John Two-Hawks who came from the USA only for the gig and who tries to find his way through the crowd together with his wife while shaking a lot of hands. Tuomas stands a bit more at the side and doesn’t seem to be in a real talkative mood. But Jukka who is there together with his pregnant wife Satu and his mother runs from small talk to small talk. Finally the whole group heads to Hardwall Areena in a line of taxis. For the band it’s not the first drive of the day to the arena because in the morning they have already been there to rehearse the whole set for the recording of the DVD.
In the backstage-area of the arena where smoking is strictly forbidden the atmosphere is tense. From the dressing-room of Sonata Arctica you can hear someone singing. Tuomas runs through the hallways regularly with a petrified expression in his face. And Marcelo, Tarja’s husband and personal manager, organizes some hot tea because his wife suffers from a cold. The petite woman has a dressing-room of her own in which she vanishes right after her arrival.
At 8 o’clock p.m. Sonata Arctica start their gig with the songs ‘Misplaced’, the opening track of their current record ‘Reckoning Night’, ’Full Moon’ and ‘Blinded No More’. Although a lot of Nightwish-fans are still standing at the bars and snack-points inside the hall there are several thousands of spectators on the stands already. The atmosphere is good. When front man Tony strikes up a birthday-serenade for keyboarder Henrik ‘Henkka’ Klingenberg after ‘Broken’ countless voices roar a happy Finnish ‘Happy Birthday!’ During ‘Last Drop Falls’ the first listeners take out their lighters and wave them in the air. Jukka and Tuomas watch the gig and the reactions of the fans with serious expressions from the side of the stage. After an hour the five Finns end their performance. ‘The Cage’ roars out of the speakers and to the rhythm of the audience which is clapping faster and faster Tony shouts ‘We need some vodka!’ into his microphone.
A quarter of an hour later everybody has to leave the hallway which leads to the dressing-rooms because Nightwish have to prepare for their gig. Somewhere you can hear Marco doing some loud warm-up-exercises for his voice while the first La Ola-waves run through the hall. After twenty minutes Nightwish are finally ready for the last show of their Once-Tour which lasted almost one and a half years and included nearly 150 gigs all over the world. Tuomas wears a hat, takes deep drags from his cigarette and heads to the stage like a cowboy, being the first one. Behind him walk the rest of the guys and finally Tarja and Marcelo follow. When the intro begins the La Olas inside the arena get bigger and the audience on the seats stands up for standing ovations.
Behind a black curtain, invisible for the audience the group awaits their performance for the last time. Tuomas crouches in a corner turned away from the others and lost in thoughts. Marco grins and rehearses some final singing parts once more and Emppu hugs Tarja who is visibly nervous for a few times encouragingly while Marcelo tugs at her dress hectically. When the intro is almost over the five Finns form a circle and stand there arm in arm with their heads together in the middle to encourage each other. John Two-Hawks is next to them; he raises his fist and shouts something to Tuomas. The light inside the hall go out, yelling can be heard and Nightwish enter the stage – in the back of it there is a huge backdrop with the logo of the current record.
When the first notes of ‘Dark Chest Of Wonder’ can be heard loud cheering rises and the pyros blow up into the air. The quintet overruns its fans with bombast that has a class of its own. Blood red light illuminates the stage during ‘Planet Hell’. Fountains of fire shoot up during ‘Ever dream’ and Tuomas raises up his arms in a pose of victory. During ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ thousand of lighters illuminate the dark arena. With a similar atmosphere the show goes on with ‘The Siren’. On five video-screens that are hanging next to each other pictures of the ocean appear and white-blue spotlights create a cold light on the stage. Tarja changed from a yellow dress into a black one. The enraptured atmosphere is only interrupted from the enthusiastic stamping of the crowd and the posing of Emppu and Marco that fall on their knees in front of each other theatrically.
For ‘Sleeping Sun’ Tarja sings on one of the high pedestals that are standing on the left and right side of Jukka. On her opposite side Emppu contorts to the sounds of his guitar at the altitude. When a magical snowy landscape and pictures of a starry sky appear on the screens there is a real goose bumps-atmosphere. In front of the stage you can see an ocean of lights and bright handy-displays moving from side to side into the rhythm of the song. While Marco sings the Pink Floyd-Cover ‘High Hopes’ there is some time for Tarja to get into the next black dress. Countless times the Finn with the great voice runs off the stage and changes her clothes hectically.
In the meantime Tuomas has opened a bottle of red wine which lies in a self-created holder under the keyboard. During ‘Bless The Child’ and the celebrated ‘Wishmaster’ fountains of fire bang into the air again while pictures of dark woods appear on the screen in the back. The ballad ‘Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan’ is sang by Tarja alone. The rest of the band uses the time to have a breather behind the drums. Tuomas takes a few deep drags from his cigarette and exhaustedly watches the screen behind him which shows pictures of the band. At the end of the song thundering applause is heard which changes into hysterical screams when the first notes of the ‘Once’-hit ‘Nemo’ sound through the hall. Tarja smiles brightly and blows kisses to the crowd. During the bombastic ‘Ghost Love Score’ the impressions overrun the listeners as well. The stage is illuminated in blood red light, pyros are banging and out of four ‘cannons’ so much glitter is being whirled into the air that the security almost drowns into the red and white rain of scraps.
The great final starts with John Two-Hawks solo-song ‘Stone People’. The American creeps on the foggy stage dressed in a native-american costume, plays his flute and strikes up a meditative singing. For ‘Creek Mary’s Blood’ the band joins him. Emppu and Marco pose on the pedestals. And Tarja who is dressed in a bright white cocktail dress now strechtes up her arms theatrically. With the Gary Moore-cover ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’ and ‘Wish I Had An Angel’ the gig ends after two hours. Pyros blow up into the air in short intervals, the band bows for the crowd and the fans thank them with standing ovations.
After the performance there is a celebration in the band’s dressing room together with family members, friends and colleagues. Tuomas brought along half of his relatives including their partners. His nephew proudly runs through the party-turmoil with a VIP-sticker, his sister tells about her studies in Germany and mother Holopainen chats with Wilska, the singer of Finntroll. Jukkas wife Satu and the relatives of Marco and Emppu eat snacks and drink some Finnish beer. Tarja doesn’t seem to be able to win something from the throng and leaves the arena shortly after the show. Tuomas doesn’t seem to be in a mood for partying as well and with a tired face he urges the others to leave the place already at one o‘clock. But the night is not over yet. Emppu heads to the city-center with some friends and Jukka takes his friends and colleagues to a bar until three o'clock.
A huge party and a letter with consequences
Saturday is the day that everybody’s looking forward to because on this day there shall be a huge ‘end of the tour’-party at a secret place. Like the day before everybody except Tarja who departed in the morning meets in the lobby of the Sokos-Hotel. The band seems to be relaxed. Marco and Emppu joke with their friends, Jukka helps Ewo to get everyone into the arriving taxis and John Two-Hawks and his wife search the newspapers for articles about the concert.
The party takes place in a comfortable wooden hut about 30 minutes drive from the city centre. In front of the door there is a little tent and inside some paella is prepared. Inside by the fireside the first drinks find their way through the throats of the people. Outside the sun goes down. The atmosphere is cheerful. Everybody brought some friends along. Wilska raises is glass to Henkka, the keyboard- player of Sonata Arctica and a small group of men takes a sixpack of beer and decides to pay a visit to the sauna by the lake.
And finally Tuomas has some time for the interview which was planned for days. “We have to do it right now before I’m too drunk” the creative mind of the band tells with a strangely depressed expression in his face. In the whole hut there is no really calm place so we withdraw into the small, uncomfortable kitchen.
Tuomas, you seem to be really tired.
- The preparations and the show itself were strenuous. I got almost no sleep during the last days. But it was worth it – we did the best gig of our career. It was a perfect ending. And in addition to that it was the biggest DVD-recording of a Finish band ever.
Can you already tell when the DVD will be published?
- Probably it will happen in spring 2006.
Some time ago the German band J.B.O. (a German Fun-Metal band who does parodies of other bands with really strange selfmade German lyrics) was asked if they can imagine doing a parody of Nightwish. Their answer was:’That is impossible because this band already is a parody of itself’.
- Well, this is how we are. We do everything with our hearts and we always like to do one more step. For me this is a lot of fun. Sometimes we really have to laugh about ourselves. Self irony is of high importance when you have a band of your own. I like the Heavy Metal-culture because you don’t have to take yourself completely serious all the time.
You can see that the fun isn’t neglected for you when you look at this self-made bottle-holder under your keyboard in which you always have a bottle of wine.
- This thing was created by a friend of mine. It’s really useful because I love to drink red wine during our shows.
You’ve also been to the USA during the Once-Tour. How big was your success over there?
- For us the venues we played were quite small (capacity of 1.000 - 2.000 people). But it was a great start and I’m sure that you can have a lot more success with this kind of music over there.
Do you think that the comet-like rise of Evanescence opened the door in the USA for you?
- I’m convinced that their success helped us. Evanescence and Nightwish have a lot in common and in addition to that front women in general are quite a big thing at the moment. You mustn’t forget that.
But don’t you think that the competition is bigger because of that?
- I don’t mind it that much because I still see us as the pioneers in this music-genre. We were the first ones who combined Symphonic-Metal with a classical singer. In this business everything is not only about talent or the matter who is the better or the worse singer. In the end the winner is the one who has the best song writing and who creates the most thrilling atmosphere. And you need a lot of luck.
Tuomas shifts on his chair. He takes a deep breath and looks at me seriously.
- There is one thing I need to tell you. Tarja is not a member of the band anymore. You are the first journalist who I tell this. At the moment only a few people know about the decision.
The features of the keyboard player relax. He looks like a big burden falling from his shoulders. Then he takes a letter out of his pocket.
- This letter includes it all. I have to put it to the internet in a moment. My biggest wish is to continue Nightwish with a new singer. At the moment I’m not sure who this is going to be. I’m still shocked and the situation has to calm down first. Then we can go on planning the future. This decision is the biggest tragedy of my life.
How could it get that far?
- Tarja and I didn’t talk to each other for a year. The situation got worse and worse. There were only two ways out for me: either to quit the whole band or to go on with another singer. Of course Tarja is the face of Nightwish but has only been a guest singer right from the beginning. That’s what she said herself. She didn’t write any single song, she didn’t write any vocal parts and she never took part in the arrangement process for the songs. In the recent past she hardly did any interviews or took part in meet and greets. And she didn’t come to our sound checks for a long time already. That is why I think that I have the right to make this decision. For many people Nightwish is Tarja but this is wrong!
Why didn’t you talk about these obvious problems?
- That’s really complicated. We have never been able to get along with Tarja’s Argentinean husband Marcelo who is her personal manager as well. He destroyed everything. She trusts him blindly but in my opinion this guy is a serpent. For him everything’s only about the money. You cannot imagine how much he changed Tarja in only one year. I had no chance to get close to her because Marcelo was always by her side and demanded for more and more money. Tarja is a really nice person but because of Marcelo she changed really drastically. When you are alone with her she is totally different. If there is a person who can claim Nightwish as a band of his own then it has to be me. I wrote all the songs and all the lyrics and I do 90 percent of the interviews. And then this Argentinean guy who doesn’t belong to the band comes along and controls everything. We cancelled our second US-tour because for Marcelo the fees were too low and the halls were too small. For official appearances he demanded for an extra fee for Tarja. I could name you countless examples. For this guy everything is only about money, money, money. That’s just like it was with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
This attitude doesn’t work with the rest of the band. Marco, Emppu, Jukka and I, we love to play music and to express our feelings on stage, to travel the world and to get to know new people. Our idealism has always been the most important thing. Actually I can’t blame Tarja for everything because I believe that she is blind and doesn’t understand what is really going on around her. For her Marcelo is the king. What he says has to be done. In May 2006 we will publish a band-biography which will deal with these problems in detail. In this book you can read the true story of Nightwish – including all the ups and downs.
And there was no possibility to talk to Marcelo?
- That didn’t work. No member of the band was able to cope with him. We are just too different. Besides most of the time both of them arrived at the hall about five minutes before the gig and left directly after the last song. Tarja’s attitude towards Nightwish hurt me the most. She always said that she sacrifices her whole live, her voice and her career as a classical singer for us. She didn’t appreciate the possibilities that the band offered to her. Instead she complained that we play music that she doesn’t want to sing to. She saw herself as the victim. For us guys and especially me Nightwish is everything. This band is my life and that is why I was willing to agree to all their demands. Tarja never had to travel by bus. We paid the tickets for her so she could fly with Marcelo from gig to gig. She only slept in the best hotels. We accepted that she didn’t do any interviews and didn’t come to the sound checks. But although we did everything for her she hardly put any passion and energy into the band, Instead she complained about our consumption of alcohol and about our manager. Actually she was hardly involved in our daily-live but she controlled everything.
Is it true that Marcelo works in the South American music-business?
- He is the owner of an Argentinean record-company.
When did you make the decision to sack Tarja?
- This decision was already made some time ago. Even last year I told in all the interviews that Nightwish couldn’t exist without Tarja. But then something sad happened. She told me on a plane in December 2004: ‘I don’t need this band for my career anymore. Keep in mind that I can leave Nightwish anytime.’ These sentences hit me really hard. They really hurt. I couldn’t really believe it but she really meant what she said. At the beginning of the year us guys had the first serious talks about the option to fire her. We decided to await the end of the tour with the hope that the whole situation would get better. But in the end we realized that there was no other possibility. During the whole year we had to swallow down all the shit. Because all the concerts were booked we couldn’t say anything. We had no choice but to give our best on stage and await the last show.
Do you think that Tarja as a solo-artist can have the same huge success that she had with Nightwish?
- You never know but to be honest I don’t believe that.
When did you tell Tarja that she is not a part of the band anymore?
- I told her yesterday evening directly after the show. To be more precise: I went to her and handed the official letter over to her with the words: ‘Here is a letter for you. Thanks for everything. Please read it tomorrow morning.’ Since then I haven’t heard of her.
How did Marcelo react to the letter?
- He wasn’t there. I wanted to be alone with Tarja.
Do you think that she suspected something?
- She just said:’ Ok, thanks, then I will read it tomorrow’ but I’m sure that she had a suspicion. It was too obvious. We didn’t exchange any personal word for one year, nothing worked and she knew that I didn’t like her husband. It was clear that something had to happen. Who knows what she is thinking at the moment.(sighs)
Were you nervous when you handed the letter over to her or did you stay calm?
- I was far away from being cool. During the last two days I wasn’t able to eat anything and I got no sleep at all because I only had to think about this one moment all the time. During the gig I forgot about the letter but afterwards I was standing totally next to me. I was shivering all over when I went to Tarja’s dressing-room. It was terrible.
What do you think – what will the reaction of the fans be like?
- I’m not scared of the future, the choice of a new singer or my future decisions. My biggest concerns are the fans and the media because you don’t know how they will receive Tarja’s departure. I have a good conscience and I’m sure that I made no mistake but still I fear the descriptions in the media. Many people do not look behind the scenes. For them Nightwish is Tarja’s band. She is the beauty; we are the beasts, drunk punks who act rude with each other. That is the picture people have who don’t deal with it in more detail. Tarja is really popular. It will be easy for her to turn the tables and describe her firing as a lucky chance. She can claim that it’s the best for her not to be a part of Nightwish anymore because we never cared about her in any case and drank too much. I really hope that the media will not show us in a wrong light and that the fans will accept the truth. There are a few really fanatic Tarja fans out there. You never know what they are able to do.
Will you provide yourself for the media in the next weeks or will you dive under until everything has calmed down?
- Actually I thought about disappearing from the scene and going on holiday but that would be the easy way out. I want to defend the band and I want to tell the true story. That’s what I owe us and the fans. When you are on a stage you take responsibility. That has always been our attitude. We never disappointed the fans, not even when we were ill or tired or just in a bad mood. Unfortunately Tarja had a different attitude towards this matter.
So you will have no time to recover from the stress on tour in the next weeks.
- I suppose that I will sit by the phone until Christmas to explain everybody what happened between us and Tarja. I hope that I can at least have some holidays next year.
In an earlier interview you told that you have difficulties to separate your job from your private life. That would mean that you have some hard months in front of you.
- I already suffered the whole year. It can’t get any worse. Actually I’m really happy that I finally talked about all this. At the moment I have a real chaos of feelings inside of me – it’s a mixture of sadness, of hope and of relief. I’m sure that Tarja suffered from this situation as well. It’s not easy for both of us and it won’t be easy for a long time. But in spite of everything that happened I do not hate Tarja. I’m just completely disappointed. Nightwish will go on with a new singer and she will cause a stir with her solo-projects.
Do you already know when you will start with the recording of the new album?
- We’d like to go into the studio in September 2006. I hope that the record will be published at the latest in spring 2007. But I am in good spirits that there is a future for Nightwish.
When you think back: what was the ultimate high and the ultimate low of the previous carreer of Nightwish?
- That may sound crazy but the best experience was the show yesterday. It was great; it was the best show of our whole career. The worst moment came twenty minutes later when I had to give the letter to Tarja.
You told that in your opinion Tarja is blind and doesn’t understand what is really going on around her. Do you believe that this will change one day?
- I really hope for that because originally she is a really good old friend of mine.