Finnish symphonic power metal band Nightwish has stepped into the band’s “new era” in 2007, introducing a new vocalist, Annette Olzon. Their professional relationship with the ex-vocalist, Tarja Turunen, who has gone on to a solo project nowadays, ended on October 21, 2005, when they handed her an open letter after the sold-out Helsinki show at Hartwall Arena. When choosing a new vocalist, the band aimed to bringing a change into the music, so Nightwish needed a voice that was quite different from Tarja’s operatic vocals. For better or for worse, 37-year-old singer from Swedish pop band Alyson Avenue, Anette Olzon, was chosen for the task. Nightwish released their first album with Olzon, Dark Passion Play, in October 2007 and have been touring nearly nonstop since then.
The charismatic Nigthwish bass player Marco Hietala met us in Helsinki to speak about the new era of Nightwish and his own musical career.
How did the Dark Passion Play tour go?
The last tour has been quite rewarding. We had a new start and a totally new singer with Nightwish. We were pretty confident about the album and the songs, but of course we had to find out if people would like this stuff, if they would come to the shows. And they did, which was really a relief and a nice thing. Of course, touring is mainly that you do the shows and you enjoy that basically every night. But also the timetable was a little more hectic and the touring was more extensive than what we’ve done before. In that way it was also pretty stressful and hard at times. Basically, everybody should know what it is. We’ve been getting little sleep, long travel hours, and lots of time when you do nothing. And then all you do is wait for an hour and a half, hour and forty minutes for every evening to do the show, and you basically try to reserve all your energy for that. You have a lot of time to get bored, a lot of time to think that you could be somewhere doing something else instead of just waiting and waiting and waiting and traveling and traveling and traveling. So that is the one side of the business that sucks.
You actually had to cancel some of the gigs during this tour, so were you a bit happier because you could take a break for a while?
No. It was in the USA that we had to cancel four shows because Anette got sick and there was nothing much we could do. But then again I would have rather done the shows, because that’s why we were there. And we basically had just 5 days off, not doing anything except for having too much to drink and got to meet some people and sign some autographs. Basically we end up saying we were sorry for the evening, but we would really like to do the shows.
We’ve noticed that since Anette joined the band, you started singing much more than you did before, or at least during the live shows it’s quite obvious that you are much more involved with the vocals.
Yeah, it was quite easy because there were a lot of parts that I could do, so it was easy to integrate that stuff into a live set. We wanted it to be easier for Anette to come in. I don’t know how things will work in future when she has some more albums behind her. When there is more material things might change into another direction as well.
Comparing Tarja and Anette, what is the difference in feeling when you are on stage with either of them?
Well, with Tarja, the thing was that she had a stage persona which required more distance. Anette is more of a walker, more down to earth. She goes around and talks to people and tries to get them going. So those are definite differences. And I don’t want to complain about either – Tarja did what was suitable for her. It fitted her style, it fitted her persona. Anette does what she knows how to do and what she is confident with. And for me, those things work.
This is a new era for Nightwish. Are you comfortable with the changes musically as well?
Yeah, we rehearsed and wrote the new album already before we had a vocalist for the band. We were already pretty confident about a bunch of songs that we had at that time; “Yeah, it’s gonna be a kicker of an album!” One thing was that we had to find the singer and of course it would have been quite easy to try out something quite similar to Tarja, because we tons of demo CDs from girls with operatic voices. Some of them were pretty good, but we thought that it would be a bold and good move to go on with something totally different. We wanted to try it out and then we thought that Anette would probably be the best for that, and it seems so far this stuff has been working well.
What is your favorite Nightwish song at the moment?
I think it is “The Poet and the Pendulum.” I like the challenge of this song: it has got all the atmosphere changes, all the moods, key changes, tempo changes, and then you still have to keep the whole massive piece together, to have a red line going through the song from the start to the finish. So it’s a challenging piece and I really like that. And then the other one of course, that has a special place in my heart, is “The Islander.” I wrote the music for the song, and then again it’s something totally different from the rest of the live set. You have very few elements there; the main thing is the acoustic guitar and then the vocal line, and all the rest is basically just the background. You’ve got to create the tension and captivate people with the acoustic and with the vocal line. And those are the essentials that you’ve got to make it work.
I have noticed that in general you are quite keen on participating in quite different kinds of projects – you have Nightwish, Northern Kings, Tarot, and more.
I think it’s part of my lifestyle. It’s the way I feed my head with everything and unload my stuff into different directions. With Nightwish I get a certain role and the music style has its own atmosphere, its own kind of world. And with Northern Kings the whole thing started like a tongue-in-cheek kind of thing, it was nothing serious at first, but then we got the record company involved and they started selling the album. The first one sold gold, so it got serious in a business kind of way, even though it is not serious yet either in here. You take the old songs, put them down, and take everything into pieces. Then you collect and put them back together in a totally different way.
Like a puzzle.
Yeah, something like that, so that’s the fun idea of that thing. I feel like home here, because the guys have been my friends for many years and we had fun doing the past stuff.
So you weren’t looking for particular singers for Northern Kings?
Well the whole thing started when we were doing Raskasta Joulua (Heavy Christmas) and Erkka, the guitar player, was there and a few of the vocalists have been involved with the Christmas project. During that we were traveling from one place to another in the bus, having a few beers, and Erkka once said, “Hey it would be fun to do something like 80’s pop songs and put them into symphonic metal, guys singing it in El Divo style. So what do you say, guys? If we try that, would you be interested?” Of course we thought it was a great idea. And that’s how it got started.
Do you think it will be a long-lasting project?
I don’t know. So far it has been fun and we really didn’t have that much chance to do it live, but it would be nice to have at least one tour.
Do you have enough time for your own band, Tarot?
The guys would probably like me to play with them a little bit more, but everybody understands that I am basically the only one who is just doing music and is living off it. So they would understand that my involvement with Nightwish is pretty much a lasting thing. And the Nightwish guys, they’ve become really good friends of mine, so I don’t want to set priorities to either of the bands. I want to work with both of them and Nightwish is the one that really keeps me alive, keeps the food on the table, and the roof over the heads of my kids. So I’ll definitely be doing that and I’ll definitely be doing this for as long as I’ve got the time and the energy.
On your Tarot site, you stated that you have equal respect to all kinds of music. So can you say that you equally like, for example Finnish rap, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, etc.?
There have to be certain reservations there. For instance, with rap music, there are elements which get boring after a while – the social issues, the gangsta stuff, and the black macho stuff. It is something that you really get fed up with after a while, but I really like the way those guys do the sound, the samples, and the atmosphere that you can create by getting these pieces and putting them together. That’s pretty ambitious stuff at times and that is something that I like. There are things to learn from that over-produced mainstream stuff like Britney Spears – what kind of a recipe there is, how the song is done, what kind of things you put in the layers, what is there at the bottom, what kind of vocal harmonies there are, and stuff like that. It can give you ideas of how to do certain things yourself. So I have a kind of respect for all the stuff that I hear, because I basically end up soaking it all up; I am like a sponge with things that I hear. And then I throw out the crap and end up using the rest of it in some way. I get the ideas, then I twist them around and put them into something else. Hopefully nobody will be able to recognize them, but if you twist them much enough, nobody would.
All new recipes are just long-forgotten old ones, aren’t they?
Yeah, but like I said, I like challenges, so no obvious recipes are interesting for me. I like to add pepper to ice-cream.
You were also studying to be a sound-engineer, so did you ever take that role during the studio recordings with Nightwish or with Tarot?
Yeah, because I know everything about that stuff, of course I end up having a lot of suggestions, even if someone else is recording or producing. If it is my bass or vocals, I end up having ideas and suggestions of how I want things to be done. And usually that’s a good thing, because I do know quite well which kind of things work for me in playing or singing, and what kind of harmonies I like to do. For instance, the last two Tarot albums are pretty much really self-produced. And I have been hired to produce the vocals for the three last Amorphis albums.
You were having classical vocal lessons – did this kind of education help you a lot? We all know that when you’re singing in a metal band you sometimes have to re-learn what you learned during classical vocal lessons.
Yeah, that’s the thing. I took some of the stuff that they have taught me, for instance, some breathing techniques, some basic relaxation, and how to recognize the way your body works with your voice, but I concentrated on the looseness. And then I concentrated on using the voice the way it just comes out and forgetting about whatever they’ve tried to teach me. I didn’t get really good grades from those lessons, which probably explains why I never got to study further, but then again I haven’t really needed to study further, because it is pretty obvious that I am at least doing ok.
Do you feel yourself more like a singing bass player or a singer with a bass guitar?
I think I am both a singer and a bass player. And it depends on the song, how much involvement I put to one side or the other. Also it probably depends on the band as well. With Tarot, for instance, I have to be a lot more at the front, so the responsibility vocal-wise is greater than what it is in Nightwish. There, I get more time to just step back and play the bass. Well yeah, I get more responsibility vocal-wise in Tarot and that’s something that is one of the heaviest duties in a heavy metal band – to be a vocalist. A lot of people get really stressed out from that. I used to do that myself, but these days I just don’t give a fuck. I mean, after all it is my stage, my song.
You like participating in different musical projects and you have been doing a lot of musical technical stuff, but if you had a chance to be a judge in a show like Finnish Idols would you go for that?
I don’t know. I find this thing to be dishonest. If you think about the money that the TV companies get from the advertisers for buying the advertising time at those prime hours when the programs come out… they get a hell lot of money. Plus the percentage from the phone companies that they get from the people who call to vote or send an SMS to vote. And the people who own the concept and the formula of the program, they get tons of money, because everywhere in the world they’ve got Idols. So if they really added up the competition so that these people that are actually competing there, who get the most of the votes will get a percentage of the points for the SMS and the phone calls, that would be fair. But these people there, they are young, they are ignorant about most of the shitty things that this business has, and they are happy to get their faces shown on the TV, to get a chance to be a part of the machine or to get a chance to get a record deal, get out there so that people would know them. Of course they are happy, I wanted the same thing myself when I was 17. But I think the whole thing is just so fucking unfair. Those people who are competing there, they’re the best, so they should get a percentage out of the whole fucking pile of money that is going somewhere. No, I don’t think I would go, because I think it’s goddamn unfair.
Text: Victoria Maksimovich | Photos: Jana Blomvist | Ed: Amy Wiseman