A Swedish Whirlwind
One of the best kept secrets of the music-industry was revealed ahead of schedule: With Anette Olzon Nightwish chose a Swede as their new singer. Metal Hammer was allowed to get to know the 36 year old woman from up close exclusively during her vocal recordings in the studio.
While the gossip factory is working overtime and the whole world is puzzling over the name of Tarja Turunen’s successor the Metal Hammer-delegate arrives in the snowy Helsinki for a conspirative meeting. Nightwish-Manager Ewo Pohjola doesn’t leave anything to chance and prefers to drive himself. Despite all secret-mongering the blonde giant stays relaxed: “No one can follow us unnoticed because we go out to the countryside”, Ewo allays all fears that the Finnish press could try some drastic methods. After about two hours he arrives at the Petrax-studio on the outskirts of the small town Hollola: A typical northern farmstead with a big wooden house for the musicians in which you can find both the recording-rooms and a kitchen, a tv-room, bedrooms and the compulsory sauna in the cellar.
The first impression
In the kitchen there are some of the usual suspects: Mikko Karmila, the master at the monitoring desk, mascot-mastiff Vivi and Sari, the girlfriend of the producer Tero Kinnunen. You can hear soft music behind the closed door to the control-room next-door. That must be the new album ‘Dark Passion Play’. The tension rises.
Suddenly the door bursts open and composer Tuomas Holopainen rushes out to greet us. Half a minute later a handsome black-haired woman follows. Slender, dressed in a black mini-skirt and black and red hooped gauntlets the unknown woman comes along. A scrutinizing look out of alert, bright eyes which are surrounded by small laughter lines; then her hand reaches out to a noticeably strong handshake. “Ah the press is here. I have been put on my guard”, her introduction follows with a laugh. “I am Anette, the new singer and I’m really anxious to find out what a person not involved thinks about the new songs.” Right after she has finished her welcoming the whirlwind vanishes to the bathroom shortly just to jump back to the studio with a wink right afterwards. A subtle scent of fresh flowers remains in the air. Time to take a breath. “We Finns are a bit more calm”, Ewo dryly comments on Anette’s zestful behaviour. More taciturn would be a better expression because that’s how the singer characterizes her new friends later on. If the first impression is the most important one then this one is brilliant. The Swede appears to be open and happy but also full of energy and determined.
On second sight
On second sight the first impressions intensify. For the sound clip in the broad control room Anette has precautiously reserved the place next to her on the black leather sofa. A good chance to study her more closely: The clear features of her slender face match the straightforward character. A snub nose on ascension impersonate her cheerful humour and you can see flashes in her eyes as soon as she laughs – something she does often and is fond of doing. “There are just these furrows on my forehead which annoy me”, the singer sighs but that’s is something she exaggerates like every woman – those are just laughter lines.
Then the exciting moment has arrived: How does her voice sound like? After all it’s all about following in the footsteps of the most famous diva of Gothic Metal – that’s not a simple task. But Anette copes with the difficult task with flying colours. “Tarja had a style of her own which no one in the whole world could do better than her”, Tuomas tells afterwards. “That is why we were looking for a completely different voice.” Indeed: Anette doesn’t sound like her predecessor at all. Instead of the classical style you can hear a clear, very beautiful and warm voice which is able to flirt cheekily as well as luxuriating in sad melancholy. But especially because her vocal chords swing in a different direction the change from Tarja’s to Anette’s voice works well. There is no copy singing here but an individual new voice of Nightwish. She was picked out of over 2.000 applicants and finally chosen after several tests because she fits the new songs perfectly and is able to cope with the old songs as well.
The long process of choosing the new singer demanded lots of patience and effort from the candidate. In the beginning she didn’t even had the idea to apply for the job but the sound-technician of an Abba-tribute-band for which Anette sang as a stand-in for the role of Agnetha urged her to do it and recorded the song ‘Ever dream’ with her as a demo. At this time the Swede knew the band Nightwish for only two months. The daughter of her sister, a huge fan of the Finns, listened to ‘Once’ non-stop. “I liked this music right form the beginning. But I never envisaged the fact that an e-mail with a positive reaction would arrive only a few days after I sent my application”, Anette tells. “I was really happy with my version but my voice differs a lot from the one of my predecessor.” As a next task she had to record some other Nightwish-classics; something the singer handled immediately. Afterwards she got no other reaction anymore – instead the band started other public calls for applicants.
“I wanted to know what was going on. Thereupon I meet with a harsh refusal”, Anette remembers. “That was my biggest disappointment. I assumed that they had problems because of my family.” Tuomas confirms this thought; in retrospect he is sorry about his first refusal. “I just bothered myself too much because everything should be perfect this time”, the band’s boss confesses. But there was one thing they hadn’t reckoned with – Anette’s pighead. “I can be quite stubborn”, the singer smiles in a suspiciously soft way. “So I asked Tuomas if he wanted to see some live-recordings of me nevertheless. He agreed”. That’s how Anette stows away herself back on the shortlist. An invitation to a rehearsal in together and studio-recordings followed. Both sides converged and although the singer was really nervous according to her own statements everything worked really well right from the beginning. “There are just a few bloody semitones in ethnical style which I had to get used to first”, Anette adds. “It wasn’t really helpful that the whole band was watching me during the demo-recordings. But they were all really nice to me. Finally not only Nightwish have chosen me – I have chosen the band as well.” So it wasn’t only a one-dimensional choice but a mutual one.
But every new rumour about other possible candidates made the Swede unsure. “When Tuomas finally explained to me on the phone that there would be a lot of work to do for me in the future I was still quite naïve. I just understood the dimension of the whole situation with some lag of time”, she sighs. “After some time I realized how big my engagement for Nightwish is going to be like. I was in a state of shock – but I was only allowed to talk to my family about the big secret.”
Silently Anette travelled to Finland to record her first album for the band in the studio. A real challenge since on ‘Dark Passion Play’ the Finns present themselves more varied and darker than ever before. From the epic ‘The Poet and the Pendulum’ over the firecracker ‘Master, Passion, Greed’ and the ballad ‘Eva’ to the fat mega-earworm ‘Amaranth’ the singer integrates elegantly into the instrumental force of her colleagues and discreetly puts a stamp of her own on it with her voice.
The third man
After the listening session Anette draws back to her singing-cabin again. It is separated from the huge recording-room with partition walls so the singer can work concentrated. But the calm doesn’t last long because Tuomas is in a celebration mood. He vanishes to the cellar where an open fireplace in the tv-room asks him to do some cooking. Over the fire he roasts some sausages on a spit. In the meantime the singer tells some things about her career. Her parents have been professional musicians in dance bands so she travelled Europe in a tour-bus as a child already. “My mother is a singer as well. She pushed me quite a lot so I was going to improve my voice”, the Swedish singer tells. At the age of nine she stood on stage in front of a crowd for the first time with her mother’s band. At the age of 13 Anette sang in talent-shows successfully. She joined the first cover-band at the age of 17 – with the older guys she travelled Scandinavia. She improved herself in formal music-stuff constantly as well. After a basic education by her mother she had singing classes by a singer called Marie in Helsingör. Then she attended the academy of music in Copenhagen. At the age of 21 the girl form Skåne took the main role in the rock-opera Gränsland in Helsingborg. Afterwards she attended the ballet-academy in Gothenburg. In 1989 her stepbrother Niklas asked her to join his melodic rock-band Alyson Avenue. To earn some money she took the role in the already mentioned Abba-tribute-band as well. As a background-singer for Helsingborg’s Cloudscape she finally gained her first experiences in the metal genre. “I learned the business from the bottom up”, the rocklady explains. “That helps me for my work with Nightwish. Life on tour cannot shock me anymore.”
So she stays relaxed when Tuoma suddenly has an idea. “We need some grunts. Off we go to the studio!” the band’s boss commands. Anette hurries ahead. The label ‘Rock Rebels’ teeters archly at the back of her mini-skirt. With a grips she plugs in two headphones in the singing-cabin. Tuomas and the metal hammer-author warm their voices up with belling. Then Tero starts the tape with the song. The click of the electronic metronome makes a bugging beeping sound in your ear. Missed entry. Laughters. A new start. Two new starts. Suddenly the notes and the take match. “That was already quite nasty but you are lacking some punk; please do it again”, Anettes voice can be heard through the headphones. The singer has a lot of fun:”And now some more rock. You are too quiet. Can you also do it in time?”, the criticism comes out of the control-room. “Finally I can take revenge for these endless hours where I had to listen to Tero’s advices!” After countless tries the notes suddenly slip out of the throats easily. “Now your voices are open”, Anette applauds. Perhaps it’s just the Finnish beer greasing the throats but because of that remembering the lyrics is not that easy anymore. After about 30 minutes Tero is finally content with the result.
With the merry grunting our visit to the studio comes to its end. In the next morning which is a bit hungover it is time for Anette's guided tour through the studio for the Maximum Metal-DVD - you can see the result on the DVD which is added to this edtion. And even if the dreams of a few hundred girls crashed to pieces now: Nightwish made their choice and the fans can look forward to Anette. Welcome!
Anette Olzon - The fact file
Name: Anette Olzon
Birth: 21st of June 1971
Family status: married, one son
Place of residence: Skåne, Sweden
Former band: Alyson Avenue
Role models: people who stay true to themselves, no matter what others think
Currently reading: Paolo Coelho 'Veronica decides to die'
Currently listening: Sonata Arctica, Amorphis, Tarot, Faith Hill
Musically dislike: opera, hiphop and jazz
favourite movie: costume-movies like Titanic or Braveheart
favourite food: Nepalese, Thai, seafood and Mexican
favourite drink: flavoured mineral water, vanilla vodka, cider
hobbies: yoga, work out, reading, wandering through the nature