As we all know, Nightwish has been on break for the last year, with each of their members focusing on solo projects, such as Ayreon Universe (Marco Hietala & Floor Jansen), Brother Firetribe (Emppu Vuorinen), and in the case of band mastermind Tuomas Holopainen, a new project called Auri. We had a few moments with the band on February 2nd, 2018, to chat about the music and how it came to be.
So before we get going properly, how did this project come to be, in short?
Johanna: I think it’s been in the back of our heads ever since we knew about each other. We found out that there is this person making music and there is that person making music, and the way it touched us eclectically, each other’s input and what we have done musically, it was like finding a little piece of home. And the fact that, when we got better acquainted, we found out that we were born on the same day. [laughter] It’s just effortless being together. It’s such a rare thing to find kindred spirits like this, in addition to all other outlooks as well, because of the fact that we’re all musicians and are able to do music together in these special circumstances, I think is what we are interested in.
Troy: Luckily, in the beginning, there was such mutual… not respect, respect is the wrong word. Both me and Tuomas were serious fans of Johanna’s voice, so it was inevitable. We had to work with that sublime voice that Johanna has. But that was only a part of the story. The crooks of Auri is the way that we approach life itself, life on earth, that’s the crooks of what drives us, to express ourselves in the way that Auri is. The word isn’t “style” either, but the spirit of Auri comes from our mutual view, our mutual vision, and our mutual love of life.
That’s fantastic! Is everything on the album done just by you three, or were there any other guests on single songs, or anything like that?
Troy: Yeah, there are. It’s mainly just us there. The vast, I’d say 80% of it, is just us three, but we did get some guests. We’ve got a guy called Frank Van Essen from Holland, who’s an old friend of mine, who is an incredible player, and an oddity. He’s a freak, because he plays the most sublime, expressive, eloquent violin, and yet he’s a superb animal of a drummer. [laughs] He plays a drum kit like a rock beast, albeit a really prog rock beast. That’s really rare. I’ve never come across anybody who does that, so he was a perfect asset for Auri. So we had him on almost every song.
Tuomas: He was on every song, yeah.
Troy: He was on every song. Then we had a bass player on one song, we had a fiddle player friend of mine from Edinborough on the dance tune at the very end of the album [“Liquor in the Well”], and of course we had Joomba, who is a legendary equestrian master of the keyboards [laughter]. He played a solo. It was difficult for Tuomas to give up that keyboard solo to Joomba.
Tuomas: I had to do it. He was so brilliant. Even his conversational skills are like nothing else.
Troy: Thelonious Monk is a beginner compared to Joomba [laughter]. So that was it! We just took the flavors we needed from the outside world and invited them into Auri for a short time, and we were insulated beautifully from this.
[Ed: to be clear, just so everyone knows, Joomba is indeed a horse]
Is it safe to assume that this project is at least in part named after the character from Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle?
Troy: No, it’s not safe! [laughter] It’s very, very dangerous to presume such a thing, madame!
Tuomas: Have you read the books?
I have. In fact, I did my thesis on them, so I’m a big fan. I had been hoping he would come to Worldcon in Finland last year.
Tuomas: I went to Worldcon, actually. I met Robin Hobb there.
Oh, she’s fantastic.
Troy: She’s brilliant, but no, never met Patrick. But he knows about this project, actually, and I’ve been emailing him about it. But yeah, this is one of the most common questions that we are being asked: where does the name Auri come from? That’s one of the three, Auri, the character in the Rothfuss books. But it’s also Johanna’s second name, and the third one being…
Troy: Aura, which is from the Latin and middle-English for “emanation” or a “golden atmosphere generated from something inanimate or animate.” For me, I haven’t read the Patrick Rothfuss books. [laughs] Yeah, shock and horror! So I wasn’t at all influenced by that, but… the word “aura” has an aura! So when Auri came to me, I presumed it was from that source. But all three definitions really suit our music, so the listener can choose whichever one they want. If they’re Rothfuss fans, they can go, “Oh yeah, that sounds like…” and if they’re not, they can go for the others. But you shouldn’t really need to take a label. Auri, the word perfectly sums up what our attitude really is.
Ever since the “Edema Ruh” song came out on the last Nightwish album, I’ve been curious to know more about your [Tuomas/Johanna] feelings about the Kingkiller Chronicle. How did you discover them and how did they strike a key?
Tuomas: Originally it was Marco [Hietala; Nightwish/Tarot] who said that, “There’s this book called The Name of the Wind, you have to check it out. It’s really good.” So I did and was instantly hooked. I think it’s my all-time favorite piece of fiction ever written. The way he plays with words, his abilities as a storyteller, describing characters, everything, it’s just pure perfection in my opinion. We both are huge fans.
Johanna: It’s like poetry.
Tuomas: It is like poetry, the way he writes. And also the fact that music plays such a big part in his fantasy world. It’s something that we can really relate to. Waiting for the third part… like the whole world.
Like the whole world, undoubtedly. I do understand though – my dream was always to be a fantasy writer and I thought I could do it until I read Patrick Rothfuss and discovered I would never be able to write so eloquently. He’s really an unbelievable writer.
Troy: Plus he has a fantastic beard. [laughter]
Tuomas: He does!
That’s also a very important thing.
Troy: It’s the most important thing.
It’s at least the one thing I’ll never achieve as a writer, sadly. But anyways, what are some of your favorite aspects, or even moments, from the novels?
Johanna: For me, also what sparked the name Auri, is the archetype of her. A bit like Alice in Wonderland – somebody who’s a bit off the world, in it, but a bit on some different level, like Auri is in the Underthing, and she’s kind of living in her own world, glimpsing at the world and wondering about it and wondering why people are the way they are, and she’s never explained, why she is the way she is. I kind of felt a close connection there, in the sense that we feel the same way about life and the way we live. We’re a bit “off”, oftentimes we feel like we’re on this other plane of thinking, just like with making music, this… transcendental place where there are no mundane, trivial things that tie us down the way we are.
Tuomas: If you mean favorite moments from the stories… I think when Kvothe and Auri meet for the first time on the rooftops.
And have you read The Slow Regard of Silent Things? I know Rothfuss was quite nervous about the book, as it was so different from most stories. I personally loved it – how did you enjoy it?
Tuomas: I thought it was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
Troy: My favorite bit in the books is where the Kingkiller finds the Chronicle. [laughter]
Let’s turn back away from the books and toward the music then. I know you’ve been heavily influenced by Pat Rothfuss, Don Rosa, Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton… are there any other books or movies or games or anything really that have stuck in the back of your mind for future projects, or even from this one? That you’re willing to discuss at this point, anyways?
Tuomas: There are. Some of the recent series, for example, which have made a huge impact on all of us, would be Black Mirror, for example. I think that’s my all-time favorite TV series.
Troy: And me.
Tuomas: That’s one. Stranger Things would be another one.
Johanna: Also, the inspiration for the logo comes from the video game, Skyrim. But there are a plethora of things, really, that we love that is emanating from the music, obviously. There must be many things that are subconscious that we couldn’t even put our fingers on.
Troy: There’s no explicit desire to touch on anything. It was always an essence, a spirit of something to capture.
In that sense, I read that you don’t want to give too many specifics on what the songs are about, to allow the listeners to discover their own stories and feelings, but were there any overarching themes or concepts or feelings that you were hoping to express with the album?
Troy: From day 1, the overarching theme was artistic freedom, really. Not just a glib statement of artistic freedom, but to actually go deep into it. Be really unafraid, be fearless in what we do. Not even consider possible criticism from anyone, and plus to know how pointless criticism is in art, how important it is not to be enslaved by other people’s opinions in art. It was the critical cornerstone of art that a lot of people forget, and in forgetting it, they lose the spark and the muse.
So that was the overarching theme. Within the Auri album, you have… but again with that, I don’t want to spoil it, but each particular piece does have a reason and a purpose and a theme, but we really went for this idea of letting people come to their own stories, make their own stories around it. When people ask me, I can give people a simple overview of songs, but I like to keep it really minimal.
The album would theoretically have a concept, but you’re leaving it to the listeners’ imaginations?
Tuomas: There’s no concept actually, no.
Troy: And it isn’t linear, there’s no thematic thread through the whole thing. The only thread is this spirit, that we’re determine to try to conjure into the world. And the incantations we use to conjure it are musical.
Presumably, of course, all of the songs mean something to you and this changes, but at this moment in time, this week or day or hour, is there any particular song for each of you that stands out as your favorite, or is it too hard to pick?
Troy: It is too hard.
Tuomas: Way too hard.
Troy: As we touched on before, we can listen to the music now objectively. We can remove ourselves, we can remove our memory of the making of the album and we can listen to it from a fresh perspective, and that’s an unusual thing as well. So when I hear myself in the music, I can’t hear myself in the music [laughs] in a good old paradox. The same with Tuomas and Johanna. I don’t hear them either, but I hear a complete unit. It’s topsy-turvy and it’s all over the place. It’s really like trying to describe the inexplicable and the indescribable with Auri. That’s why it’s so unique and important to me, personally, to pursue it to its absolute graceful end, whatever that might be.
I like the way you think – must be why I liked the album so much when I listened. Now then, I won’t ask about the songs too much, except the last song, which stands out from the rest of the album a little bit. Can you tell me a little bit about that song?
Troy: Definitely! [laughter]
I feel like I walked in on a bit of an inside joke here.
Troy: [laughter] It’s not, but it was a kind of coda, wasn’t it?
Tuomas: It was a coda. Imagine, in this world of music, where all the songs are about love, sex, and death, and losing your baby. [laughter]
Troy: Baby, baby, baby, you left me this morning, I’m really fed up. [laughter]
Tuomas: So imagine, in this musical world, you’re able and allowed to create a song about a girl who is wandering in the woods picking chanterelles, then she finds a well, which is filled with liquor, then she gets really drunk and starts dancing about with the whole universe. Trees, soil, that’s what the song is about.
Troy: That is what it’s about, and we’re not joking either.
Tuomas: No, we’re not joking. Or it can be about anything. But that’s what it’s basically about.
Troy: But Tuomas is bang-on there. It is the case. I’d say 97% of songs are about sex and self-pity. So to have that girl in the woods picking mushrooms, and then it explodes into a universal cosmic dance and the whole world is singing with her, the leaves on the trees, it’s wonderful and it’s fiery and it’s just perfect for me. And it’s got the most extraordinary vocal expressions in music I’ve ever heard. It blew me and Tuomas’ minds. We did pass out. We fainted. [laughter]
Tuomas: Yeah, we did. Because it’s all her. We gave her no guidance.
Troy: No, nothing!
Tuomas: Just sing whatever you want throughout the end-
Troy: And we weren’t there! This is another part of the Auri mystery of beauty. The recording process was done independent of each other. We’re completely dependent on each other. Auri is full of these mysteries. So Johanna recorded all of her vocals on her own. We had no input, nothing. We had none. So then we would hear the results and it was astounding. In that particular track, in that piece, she does sound like she’s at one with everything and she does sound a bit squiffy and drunk [laughter] and she does sound like she’s just 10 minutes ago been born out of the earth. She does sound like she’s flying. She sounds all of those things, and we were there, along for the ride. We were building this massive bed and she was jumping on it like a trampoline [laughter], surrounded by autumnal leaves. It was perfect! It still gives me the shivers when I think about it. In fact, I’m going to go listen to it now… [laughter] [gets up to leave, laughs, and sits down again]
It’s the kind of song you don’t need drugs to get high off.
Troy: Nicely put! That’s exactly it, yeah. However, drugs might be interesting with that song.
Tuomas: Mushrooms especially. [laughter]
Well that’s more or less it for my questions. To end things, what else is on the horizon for all of you guys in the future now that this is going to be released in a month or so?
Troy: The good ship Nightwish is about to set sail.
Tuomas: It’s all about Nightwish for the next 2-3 years I think, with the upcoming Decades Tour, an album followed by that, a tour followed by that album. [Johanna] has her own things coming up. So we’re going to be pretty busy for the next couple of years. But after that, more Auri.
Troy: Absolutely more Auri.
Tuomas: Auri goes live. Cathedrals and Castles Tour in Europe. That’s gonna happen at some point.
Troy: That too. That’ll be 2022. Already we’ve got that tour booked. [laughter] The tickets go online tomorrow and you can buy the T-shirt and everything tomorrow.
Tuomas: Special hats.
Troy: We might even do an acoustic tour of saunas. [laughter] That would be interesting.
Hey, don’t knock it… it might be a rather liberating/transcendent experience, to get a bunch of people naked and listen to acoustic music in the heat.
Troy: … We do that all the time! [laughter]
Well thank you so much for your time, and best of luck with the album’s release!
All: Thank you.
Auri will be released on March 23rd, 2018, through Nuclear Blast Records. You can listen to the first single, “Night 13”, on YouTube here: