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Nightwish Interview

A Conversation With Keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen




Roadrunner Records
Nightwish are hugely successful in Europe, and are making inroads in North America as well. The band’s latest CD is Dark Passion Play, which features new vocalist Anette Olzon. After the public exit of former singer Tarja Turunen, the band embarked on a worldwide search for her replacement. Nightwish is currently on tour in the U.S., and I spoke to founding member, main songwriter and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen about their singer search, how Anette is fitting in, the new album, and their goal of conquering North America.

Chad Bowar: Take us through the process of finding a new singer after Tarja’s exit from the band.
Tuomas Holopainen: Here are some statistics. Over a period of about 14 months we received about 2000 demos from 55 different countries. Out of those 2000, about 50 were promising enough that we contacted them and sent them an instrumental CD so they could sing three songs and we could hear how their voice sounds in a Nightwish song. Out of these 50 we met with about 10 face to face. Then just one by one we ended up choosing Anette.

How was the actual decision made to select Anette?
We took a formal vote, but it was unanimous that she would be the one. It was a matter of heart. We felt she would be the right one, and everybody agreed.

Were you looking for someone with a different vocal style than Tarja, or is that just how it turned out?
We absolutely wanted to have something different. That was our only criteria. We didn’t build a profile of what the new singer should sound like, what she should look like, or where she should be from. We just trusted the right one would be out there. The only thing we knew for sure was we did not want another classically trained operatic singer in the band. We thought it was time to move on and not find a copycat. The hard task was to find someone who had the same power and passion and emotion in her voice, but still sounded different. I personally think we hit the jackpot with Anette because her voice is really strong, but she can also do some wonderful interpretations. She has a lot of variety in her voice. She has a storytellers voice and doesn’t sound like Tarja at all.

You also decided not to announce who the new singer was until after the album was recorded. Was it difficult to keep that under wraps?
Yes, it was like playing CIA. We were always in different planes and hotels and things like that because the media, especially in Finland, was eager to find out who she was. There were paparazzi everywhere. We had to be really careful. It was really juicy stuff for the media. The media said it was a publicity stunt, this hiding thing, but that was never the case. It was just to protect her so we would have some peace and quiet in the recording process. When we revealed her identity to the world we would also have some new Nightwish material to play for the people. If we would have introduced Anette back in January, people would have had five months to judge her only on her appearance and what she had done before. I don’t think that would have been fair.

How has your North American tour been going so far?
We’ve been here for about a week and a half, and it’s a amazing, especially the reaction from the fans. It’s something we never expected. At the same time people have much more faith towards the whole thing. The shows have been really nice.

You’ve already booked another U.S. tour for next spring.
We want to focus a little more on the North American market for this album. Actually there is going to be a third U.S. tour coming later next year.

Did you sign with Roadrunner in the U.S. to try to break through this market and get more exposure?
We hooked up with them for the previous album and they did a really good job. They seem to have what it takes on this continent. It’s looking good. We are not here because we want to become big stars. I take it more as a challenge, because everybody in Europe says the American market is the hardest one in the world, especially for European bands. So if you can actually accomplish something on this continent, you can give yourself a good pat on the back.

Your touring schedule is pretty booked for the foreseeable future.
Yes, until the fall of 2009, so the tour will last about two years altogether. Next year will be incredibly busy, but we’re going to take it a little easier in 2009. It all goes in cycles so we are on tour for 4 or 5 weeks, then we go home for 10 days, et cetera. You have to remember this band has three members with kids, and families always matter more than the band. We make that a priority.

This is Anette’s first U.S. tour with the band. How is she fitting in so far?
Really well. We always told her that she had no idea what she was getting herself into. She told us she had a good idea, but she confessed to me a couple days ago that I was right, she had no idea it would be so much pressure all the time. But she is definitely enjoying it and getting into the whole thing. It takes some time, which is only natural.

Has her voice provided a different spin on your older material?
Yes, it does. She interprets the old stuff in a unique way. I understand it has been a shock for the die hard fans to hear her sing the old songs, but I think she’s pulling them off incredibly well.

I’ve read in a few different places that Dark Passion Play cost over a million dollars to record. Is that accurate?
To record the album cost about 500,000 Euros, which is about $800,000. In addition we did two music videos in Los Angeles that cost 300,000 Euros, which is $500,000. So the cost of the recording and the music videos are well over a million bucks.

Does that increase the pressure in you to sell more albums and concert tickets to recoup all that money?
Not really. We have faith it will be okay. We didn’t want to do any compromises when it came to recording the album. We wanted to use a full choir and orchestra and go to Abbey Road studio in London and spend ten months in the studio no matter what the cost. The band was so on the edge of its career that it was a bad time to do any compromising.

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