Eén van de belangrijkste metal-platen van dit jaar is ongetwijfeld de nieuwe CD van het Finse Nightwish. Deze 'Dark Passion Play' is de eerste plaat met nieuwe zangeres Anette Olzon en iedereen is dan ook erg nieuwsgierig of zij in staat zal zijn om in de voetsporen te treden van haar voorgangster Tarja Turunen. Gewapend met een kan stevige koffie (het interview vindt 's morgens om negen uur plaats) mag ik van Anette vernemen wat er zoal over haar heen gekomen is sinds haar toetreding tot Nightwish.
Hi Anette, how does it feel to be the leading lady of one of the biggest and most popular metal bands around?
I must say it feels absolutely great, I get a lot of positive responses. It's really an honour for me to be part of this band although it's also a lot of very hard work.
Although you're named Anette Olzon now, I also remember you by another name Anette Blyckert?
Indeed, Anette Blyckert is my married name while Anette Olzon is my birth name. In the band we had some discussion on which name to use. My married name is not really easy to pronounce so we figured that using Anette Olzon would be easier and would be a better stage name.
As Anette Blyckert you became the singer in the great A.O.R. band Alyson Avenue. How did you get involved in this band?
It's a funny story really. I knew a guy who appeared to be the son of Niclas (keyboard player of Alyson Avenue - Sjak) and at the age of seventeen I was asked to do the background vocals for their demo tape, which they were recording at that time. They had a male singer back then and Niclas more or less fell in love with my voice. So soon after that I had the lead vocalist place in the band.
Alyson Avenue made a truly magnificent demo and two mighty fine albums ('Presence Of Mind' from 2000 and 'Omega' from 2004), showcasing great potential. Still this didn't lead to any commercial success. Did this frustrate you?
Well, I always wanted to make my living as a singer and for that you really need to tour. The other guys were not interested in this. They only wanted to make music and put out albums. Without touring it's really hard to get any kind of commercial success.
Did this lack of success cause the demise of Alyson Avenue or were there other factors responsible for this?
The older we got, we grew more apart and wanted to do different things. Since I was trying to earn my living as a singer, I felt that I wasn't getting anywhere with Alyson Avenue. So I started to apply for other jobs with different other bands, not only Nightwish. I knew that when I would join another band that I wouldn't have time for Alyson Avenue anymore. They decided to go on as Sapphire with the male singer from Second Heat. We're still good friends though.
So your plans after this Alyson Avenue adventure was not really to become a full-time housewife?
I tried that for a while after I give birth to my child. I was a housewife for about one and a half year, but found out that that was not for me.
Before joining Nightwish you came into the picture again by performing a duet on Michael Bormann's solo album 'Conspiracy'. How did you get involved in this and what do you think of the actual end result?
I knew Michael already and he's a good friend of mine, but it was actually Niclas who pulled this off. He tried hard to help me with becoming a full-time singer and he knew that Michael was looking for a female voice for a track on his solo album. Although I sang on that song I never met Michael in person though. He just sent me the soundfiles and I did my job and sent it back. The end result of it is really Michael's touch, but I must say that I'm very satisfied with that.
When did you come into the picture for the lead vocalist position in Nightwish and what were the criteria on which you got the job?
I just applied for the open position by send a demo tape to them. They first rejected me because of the fact that I have a kid and that it would be difficult to perform all the responsibilities for Nightwish. I was stubborn though and met them later last autumn. After that we had a second meeting and they were convinced then that I was a good candidate. Although they thought I was the number one candidate from that moment onwards, they looked for a few others first to be really sure and then I got the job. The reason why is first of all of the person that I am. We get along great, we are much alike and we're all very normal people. Next to that I believe that they like my voice quite a lot as well and that I could interpret the songs for the new album very well.
Didn't if make you feel uncomfortable to steps into the footsteps of Tarja, who was very popular by the fanbase and who created a big part of the Nightwish sound?
I really didn't think about that. Now that the album is ready I think a lot more about the comparison between the two of us, which is really ridiculous because we are so different. Now I'm also aware that being the lead vocalist in Nightwish brings a lot of pressure but the guys are really supportive when it comes to that. I try to relax and feel confident, since I know what I capable of.
Furthermore the previous album 'Once' was a big commercial success, which must have put a lot of pressure on you. How did you handle this?
The guys said that they would be happy already if the album did sell 100.000 copies. Of course they don't mean this, but I don't think that it will do anything less than what 'Once' did. The orchestration is bigger and there are a lot of songs on the album, which might attract even more people. I mean, songs like 'Eva' or 'Amaranth' are very easy listening. So there is certainly some pressure, I hope it sells for the guys' sake.
Did you encounter problems changing styles so drastically from A.O.R. material to a more symphonic metal type of music?
It's just that you sing with a different type of voice. Now I have to sing much more varied, while in A.O.R. material you just use your power voice. Lately I've been working quite a lot with a vocal coach to get my techniques a little bit better, so I'm pretty confident that it will work out.
The announcement that you were going to be the new singer was sent out on May 24th, but when did you actually join the band?
I officially joined the band on the 30th of January this year.
You're from Sweden and the rest of the guys are from Finland. Doesn't this give you any logistic challenges and if so, how will you solve them?
At this very moment I'm also in Helsinki and I will need to be there quite a lot. I live in the south of Sweden and it is just a one and a half hour flight to get in Helsinki. Some of the guys in the band need more time driving to Helsinki from where they live. To make things a little bit more convenient, I'm busy looking for an apartment in Helsinki, so that I don't have to live in hotels all the time.
How are you going to do that with your son? Is he accompanying you during your travels?
No, my son will stay at home and his dad will take good care of him. He just started school yesterday and he needs to grow up in a stable environment. The metal business is not really the type of environment suited for a young child.
The material of Nightwish is always written by Tuomas. Was the album already fully written when you joined? Did you change anything to the arrangements or vocal lines or did you leave the material as it was?
Everything was already done when I entered and I just tried to apply my own style to the song material. On a few occasions we changed the vocals lines just a bit.
When did you enter the studio and how long did it take you to get 'Dark Passion Play' recorded and mixed?
We hit the studio on March 1st and remained there for twenty-one days. We took it really easy and did about one song or even just half a song per day. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and the fact that we were living in a cottage in the woods certainly helped creating that environment. In total we recorded fifteen songs including the bonus tracks.
The first single 'Eva' was available on May 25th. Why did you decide to go for this track as a first single? Was it just meant as a first introduction for the general public with the new singer?
I don't know who took the decision for this song. Probably it was because it's the only song where Marco is not singing at all and they wanted to showcase my voice with it. Because the song shows a certain softness, it's probably also suited for a broader audience.
The second single will be 'Amaranth' which will get a release on August 24th. Why did you go for this track as the second single and what kind of commercial expectations do you have from it?
This is a funny story really. At first 'Amaranth' wasn't even going to appear on the album, but it was going to be used as a bonus track. When we recorded it in the demo stadium and added my voice to it, we thought it was a really great song which should be included on the album. It is a real catchy track and it is really suited for a single release. Commercial expectations I don't really have, this is more something for the record company. We'll just wait and see what will happen.
Most remarkable track of the new album 'Dark Passion Play' is the mini-opera and opening track 'The Poet And The Pendulum', in my opinion one of the highlights. Which tracks do you feel are the best on this new album and why?
There are so many great songs, it's really hard to choose. I also like 'The Poet And The Pendulum' quite a lot because of its variety and complexity. Furthermore I really like 'Meadows Of Heaven', since this really suits my voice and I think that the gospel choirs just sound great. 'Sahara' in my opinion is also a very strong track as is the very melodic almost A.O.R. track 'For The Heart I Once Had'.
I know it's hard for you, but what are in your opinion the biggest differences and improvements when you compare this new album with 'Once"?
This is indeed very hard for me to answer, so I'll just give you my opinion as a listener. I think 'Dark Passion Play' is a continuation of 'Once', which at that time was Nightwish's best album to date. 'Dark Passion Play' is more bombastic with bigger orchestration and a lot of special instruments and even a gospel choir. Furthermore I also think that Tuomas has even more matured as a songwriter.
For this kind of material it is very important that the production is top-notch, which with 'Dark Passion Play' luckily is the case. Who was responsible for the crystal-clear sound of the album?
It was Tuomas who produced the album but the sound engineer was Miko Kurmela who really did a marvellous job. He took a lot of time working on the album, 'The Poet And The Pendulum' alone took as much as seven days.
Can you tell me what the lyrical content of the album is all about, is there a generic storyline and if so, what is it?
I don't think that there's a generic storyline. All lyrics treat different subjects, although there might be certain similarities in some songs. It's a lot about emotions in 2005 when the band was going through a hard time and there was a lot of bitterness. Some songs are about certain Celtic things and cultures.
What are your expectations from this new album, both from an artistic as well as a commercial point of view?
There are always some things that you could have done different and maybe even better, but at least I'm very satisfied with my own performance and the variety on the album. I hope that it will sell well and that people will really like it.
At least you give the listener a lot of value for money, because with thirteen songs and over seventy-five minutes of music we can not complain. You already mentioned that you recorded two more songs?
One song that we recorded though will never be used because we didn't get permission from the original composer to release it. It is called 'The Heart Asks Pleasure First' and it's from the movie 'Piano'. The original composer didn't like our version and that's why he didn't give permission to release it. I can't tell you anything about the second song, because it's still secret. This song will be used on the Asian version of the album.
There will be several release party gigs in September, but only in Germany. What the reason for this approach and why only in Germany?
I really have no clue, I'm not even going to be there myself I think. I think that Nuclear Blast arranged this and since they are from Germany it will be limited to that country only.
After that it's straight to the U.S.A. to do a North American tour for more than a month. What are your expectations from that tour and how big is Nightwish in America?
Nightwish sold between 600.000 and 800.000 albums there, so we're not really big there (yet). I hope that this tour enables us to become bigger there, but it certainly is going to be lots of fun, I'm really looking forward to it. We see it more as a rehearsal tour for Scandinavia, where we will play the bigger venues.
When returning you're booked in Scandinavia mostly. When are you going to do the rest of Europe and Asia? Any concrete plans already?
Yes, we've got forty shows booked in Europe already in the February/March time frame and we'll be in Holland in the spring.
You're vocal style is different from Tarja's. How are you going to perform the material from the previous albums when playing live?
I'm certainly not going to try to imitate here, because she was so damn good. Furthermore our voices are very different and I'm my own person so it's really no use to try that. I'm practising the songs at home already and a lot of the old material also suits my voice quite well, it will only sound a bit different because of my own distinct style. I've got more of a rock voice than Tarja.
There will always be fans who will love Tarja's voice better (there's always resistance to change). How are you going to cope with this in a live situation?
We talked about this and I'm sure that things like this will happen during the tour. Actually there's no good solution for coping with this. I'm just gonna keep my head up high and hope that those people will adjust. Other bands have succeeded in replacing their lead vocalist too so why shouldn't Nightwish be capable of doing that?
We've already talked about the recent past and the short-term future of your career. What are your plans for the more long-term future?
I don't really have specific long-term plans. I just enjoy the moment. My goal was to make a living with singing and at least I succeeded in that. I hope that I'm doing a good job and that this record is the first thing of many good years with Nightwish. After my career as a professional singer I might become a teacher for kids, but it's too early to tell now.
Okay Anette, thanks for your time and your willingness to answer my questions. The famous last words are yours?
I hope to see all our fans when we're on stage in the Netherlands!