NIGHTWISH – Decades In The Sun
Nightwish (l-r): Emppu Vuorinen, Troy Donockley, Floor Jansen, Tuomas Holopainen, Kai Hahto and Marco Hietala
On October 1st, 2012, it was revealed that Kitee, Finland-based symphonic metal group Nightwish had parted ways with vocalist Anette Olzon following a five-year tenure which had seen the issue of two studio full-lengths; Dark Passion Play (September 2007) and Imaginaerum (November 2011). That very evening at The Showbox SoDo, Nightwish performed with then temporary singer Floor Jansen, formerly of Dutch outfit After Forever and currently of the also Dutch entity ReVamp, whose permament membership was confirmed on October 9th, 2013.
“I got a call from the band asking if I was available, because they were in need of a singer that day,” Floor chuckles. “They said ‘Can you come to the United States now to join us on tour?’ That’s how I started. I was then asked to join Nightwish together with Troy Donockley during our first summer festival, which we announced a bit later. The certainty of how things work in a group and their possible future is a more gradual process of course, but apparently the guys felt very secure – and so did I – to pop the question already earlier than expected. I said ‘Yes’ straight away. It was a big ‘Yes’ (laughs).”
Albeit immediately responding in the affirmative, the frontwoman nevertheless weighed up her options beforehand in the event of a permanent invitation to Nightwish’s ranks. “Yes I did, but if things really work and it’s such an obvious situation – that things are really good in a group – then you don’t have to think of your options,” she notes. “It’s just a ‘Yes,’ because it feels right.”
Scrutinised against Nightwish, current preoccupation ReVamp and former preoccupation After Forever are arguably different propositions by comparison. “The obvious answer would be yes,” Floor observes. “Nightwish is a different band and a different time, and it’s way bigger than the other two.”
Recorded at the Wacken Open Air in Wacken, Germany on August 3rd, 2013, November 2013 CD / DVD affair Showtime, Storytime marked the first Nightwish release to feature the vocalist assuming microphone duties. “I was very happy with it,” she remembers. “I think it’s a great visualisation of where the band was at that point in time, and a good introduction to me, and the band chemistry as it is. Also, it really caught the fire we were creating going onstage. Yeah, like I said, a very good introduction of who the band is nowadays.”
Thrust towards the vocal position, Floor had little time to rehearse. “The thing is, I had 24 hours to start preparing myself to start singing them,” she explains. “I never really had the time to really work on them, so that kind of meant that I just did them. In a way, I guess that is the best way possible, because you go with your own interpretation immediately because you haven’t been listening to the originals over and over again. With the older songs I had listened to them some more over the years, but definitely with the later stuff less. I hadn’t been singing the songs. Hearing them, yes, but to actually sing them is something else. I don’t wanna sound like any of the previous ladies, but I don’t want to have my own sound way too much either. So yeah, I really had to sort of figure that out while doing it and that was the best way possible, to really give it my own twist.”
As was the case with previous Nightwish full-lengths, the majority of Endless Forms Most Beautiful’s material was penned by keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen, with contributions from bassist Marco Hietala. “That demo was then sent to the rest of the band,” the singer continues. “My vocal lines for instance were played by the piano, and I got lyrics. So with that, I started to give my input, like ‘How can I make that melody come alive vocally?,’ ‘What vocal styles can I use?’, ‘… Dynamics?’, ‘What kind of interpretation should it get?,’ and so on. With that, we sat down in the rehearsal space for six weeks, and immediately started recording from there.
“We did all of that in a Boy Scouts camp in eastern Finland (Eno) really in the middle of nowhere, where we built our own studio and rehearsal space in one of the cabins. It’s a very… Yeah, remote… We were really away from the rest of the world, so we could focus completely on what we were doing and get inspired by the nature around us. We even had the opportunity to invite friends and family. With that, we went to London to record choir, orchestra, and percussion with Pete Williams, and also Richard Dawkins’ voice. With all that, we came back to the studio in Helsinki to finalise the recordings, and then the mixing started. That was done in the beginning of January.”
Floor hopes to author compositions for future Nightwish platters. “If I had a song that seems to fit the band,” she clarifies. “I’ve always been writing. The thing is, Tuomas’ style is so recognisable for Nightwish, and so is Marco’s. Both are such talented songwriters that it’s not really necessary, but if it would fit or indeed there would be a moment where I would come back and say ‘Hey, what if the vocal line could do this or that?,’ or there would be a chorus with question marks where I could fill that in, that would definitely be cool to do.”
Endless Forms Most Beautiful’s lyrical matter was inspired by topics like “evolution and the love for life, such as ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ – the title track – which is also a quote from Charles Darwin,” the musician cites. “It’s not like it’s a concept album, though. There is one song, which is very long. It’s the story of the evolution of our earth (laughs), 4.6 billion years of evolution squeezed into 24 minutes of music. That is ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’, which is also a book by Richard Dawkins.
“There are also lyrics which have themes of their own more though, like ‘Our Decades In The Sun’ for instance. That is an ode to our parents, to thank them for taking care of us so well. ‘The Eyes Of Sharbut Gula’ is dedicated to children who are victims of war and violent situations. With ‘My Walden’, Walden is a place in America apparently where someone created their own place, and wrote a book about it. It’s about finding your own place, and making your own home. So, those are a couple of themes.”
The aforementioned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins guests on opening cut ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’ via a preceding quote. “Tuomas wrote him a handwritten letter, to which he replied by email that he at first didn’t know us but checked us out, and liked it a lot, and was willing to co-operate,” Floor informs.
With respect to the performer’s vocal delivery, the given lyrical passages are important. “I would say very, because otherwise I could just sing vowels,” she figures. “The voice of the singer has the function of connecting the music to the theme of the song. You’re the storyteller and so I find them very important, especially because of the way Tuomas writes them. They’re a very important part of Nightwish’s music.”
Opting whether to sing higher, or softer, or perhaps lower “isn’t really knowing,” Floor submits. “I guess it’s more of a feeling, and it’s part of the creative process. It’s the same as writing. How do you know what to write, or how do you know how to draw a picture? I don’t know. I guess you have to start with something, and give it a shot. Some things immediately sort of scream for a certain approach, and sometimes it turns out otherwise. It’s a creative element in me that makes it come about, led by the music obviously. If the instrumental parts are building up to a certain point, then it makes sense that I do the same with my voice, or build down, and use dynamics like that. I can play around with different vocal types, because that of course is something to make the puzzle with. Yeah, you’re searching, and you try out different things, and you go for what sounds and feels best.”
Lending vocals to a track the musical entertainer hadn’t penned was a new proposition. “For me, it was a challenge to sing something that I didn’t write myself, because it’s the first time I’ve done that on an album by a band that I call my own,” she discerns. “So, I was very happy that we’ve had that long rehearsal time to really sit down and go through this creative process together. That made me ready for the recording, because at first when I got this demo home and heard the piano melodies and lyrics, I was like ‘How do I phrase it?,’ or ‘Do the syllables match with the rhythm?’ Usually I know that, because I wrote it like that, but I had to check back with Tuomas and figure things out.
“That was the first time that I had to do that, so that was a challenge for sure, but it felt very natural. Music does most of the talking, so you feel what you have to do. You try things out, and you better it. I can’t really talk in terms of difficulty, or about problems, and stuff like that – I always think of that as a bit of a negative approach. It’s more of a challenge, and some things are more challenging than others.”
In an official press release, Tuomas stated: ‘The recordings of the more soft, very deep and less operatic song parts were a great challenge for Floor, because she had never sung before on an album in that way.’ “Yeah, that’s true,” she responds. “Well, I did, but not as much as I did on this album. So recording wise, that was indeed a challenge, yes.”
Tuomas sat in the production chair, once again. “He has a very clear view of what he wants to hear, but at the same time, he’s very open to other people’s input,” the frontwoman shares. “The uniqueness of sitting down for six weeks with the whole band – vocalist included – made the producer’s role during recordings much smoother and easier I guess, because we figured out most of the things together already. He was very open to ideas from other band members, and also gave me a free hand to try things out, which I think is important in order for me to get to my best level. So yeah, I found it very smooth.”
Some acts do not treat new members as equals, but it seems as though Nightwish welcomed Floor with open arms and treated her as an equal. “Yeah, definitely,” she agrees. “I think it also has to do with how you are. This is a very experienced band, and I am also an experienced singer. Things need to go naturally. It’s good, because everybody can then indeed be an equal member. That doesn’t mean that I don’t respect them highly for all of the things that they’ve achieved – that is something else – but when we work together, we work as equals.”
Jukka Nevalainen didn’t perform sticksman duties on Endless Forms Most Beautiful. “Our drummer Jukka is still the drummer of Nightwish,” the vocalist stresses. “He suffers from insomnia, and that is a kind of sickness where you have no idea how it’s going to take course. He’s been bothered by this for many years, already. We don’t know when he’ll return, and that’s the frustration. During the summer and during those rehearsals, it got to the level where he was like ‘If this continues again, I already know now that I just can’t do it. I have to face this first.’ We contacted Kai Hahto from Wintersun, who had worked with the band on previous recordings as a drum tech. So, not unfamiliar to the group, and a very good drummer. He didn’t have that much time to prepare himself, but he eventually did the recording for the album.
“He will also be touring with us until Jukka is better. From what I understand, he has also found a temporary replacement for himself in Wintersun. Jukka still works on the financial end of the band, though. Actually, what most other band members get sleepless nights from, that is the stuff that he likes to do (laughs). He’s still a full band member, and also doing our contractual and financial things.”
At the time of writing, Jukka is seemingly in healthy spirits. “He’s doing very well, actually,” Floor discloses. “When he’s not in a touring situation, things are actually pretty good. Some steps are being made to test what happens if he does other things. We’ll have to go from there, but at the moment, it’s great to say that he’s doing better.”
Endless Forms Most Beautiful is “maybe more band oriented than previous works, because of this rehearsal time,” the singer reckons. “The band sound is shining through a little more. It’s searching for more extremes in the vocals. Like I said, very, very soft; I think almost a type of soft unheard from previous singers on previous albums, but also a previously unheard loudness and rawness, with me growling and doing rough vocals and stuff like that. So, I think that there’s a new element, but I’ve heard from many people – and I’ve sort of felt the same – that it has a vibe like the album Once, and also of even older work. It’s definitely a new Nightwish album, but with very recognisable styles and some new touches.”
Endless Forms Most Beautiful aside, Floor’s favourite Nightwish outing happens to be June 2004 opus Once. “I really loved Once,” she recalls. “I think that there are a larger amount of songs on it that I really love – my favourite song ‘Ghost Love Score’ is on it.”
Cover artwork responsibilities for Endless Forms Most Beautiful fell to Janne Pitkänen. “It’s sort of a modern Ark Of Noah, without the whole religious aspect,” the musician describes. “The album is called Endless Forms Most Beautiful and there are endless forms on it, of life on earth that are or were. In the middle is the DNA string, the code that connects us all. It was made by the same guy who made artworks for previous albums. It’s a bit different from the previous works, which was a deliberate choice.”
The tune ‘Élan’ was earmarked as the full-length’s inaugural single. “We chose it because it was so uplifting,” Floor divulges. “It’s about the joy of life, and daring to live it to the fullest. While we were rehearsing it actually, this came up as our first choice because the initial song that was chosen by Tuomas based on the demos was ‘Edema Ruh’. That would’ve also been a great option, but when we were playing ‘Élan’, it just had something more for that moment. A single is supposed to be played on the radio, and that’s the whole point of making it. This is a very radio friendly, a short and catchy song with a lot of ingredients of Nightwish nowadays, but of course not the full thing that we are.
“Since it is impossible to put it into one song, I’ve read a lot of reactions from people who were like ‘Yeah, but it’s not very heavy,’ but singles usually aren’t very heavy. That doesn’t make too much sense – like I said – to make one. We’ve got tons of reactions from people who really like the song, and the vibe of it, and also the video that we made.
“A single and an album are such a different experience. It would be great if you could put everything you have on an album into a single, but in our case that’s simply impossible. For people who are really into having a full-on musical experience though, by all means sit down with a good headset or musical installation, get your favourite glass of wine or whisky or whatever you like, and sit down and enjoy the ride from the beginning until the end. Then you can say whether you like it or not, or try to put it into a category or whatever (laughs). That is the experience that I really wish for people to have. I’m very anxious to hear how it was, because I’m a bit jealous of everyone when it comes to that (laughs), because you can have your first impression. Being the artist and being the musician, you can’t because you’ve been involved in every note. That first impression is priceless.”
To complement ‘Élan’’s single release, a music video was filmed. “It was recorded in abandoned places, and so the story has been brought to new life,” the performer judges. “The older actors that you see are for both you and me pretty unfamiliar, but for the Finnish people, they are very famous. They are guys and ladies that were on television 30 years ago; everybody in Finland knows who they are, so it was very special for the band to have these people saying ‘Yes’ to co-operating with us on this recording. We recorded it in several locations, so every band member had one recording day with one of the actors. Then at the end, we brought it all together, and that was just so much fun (laughs).
“It was really nice to do. I chose to wear a 50s outfit versus a rock outfit to also sort of emphasise the look of the place in the glory days, that this old bar in the 50s maybe was very fancy and nice to be in, and nowadays is just worn out, but then we gave new life. Yeah, there are a lot of metaphors in there. Very cool.”
Clocking in at 24 minutes, ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ would arguably provide the blueprint for a potentially epic music video, although budgetary constraints would prevent such a lengthy music video being filmed. “It would almost be a movie,” Floor jokes. “For sure though, I’m curious to see if there are people… Because you see so many people on YouTube making their own stuff, if somebody’s gonna pick this one up. Yeah, it would definitely be awesome to make a music video of it, but you would need an almost Hollywood-like budget for that (laughs).”
Hollywood type budgets to fund the making of music videos generally don’t exist nowadays. “Well, if people would stop downloading movies and downloading most music for free, then they could do more,” the musical entertainer argues. “They could invest it back in.”
‘The Finnish people’, as referenced by Floor, can now count the frontwoman among their populace. “I moved last July,” she tells. “I like Finland a lot. Yeah, it’s a beautiful country.”
On December 19th, Nightwish perform at London’s Wembley Arena. Marking the conclusion of their 2015 European tour, Arch Enemy and Amorphis lend support. “I think it’s nice that we are bringing something quite different,” the vocalist expresses. “All the bands have a different vibe and bring out a different style, so that people will really hear a musical diversity when they come to the show. With that, we are the first Finnish band to headline Wembley Arena. The talking goes that the sales for this show in particular are going crazily well, which is extremely exciting to see. Plus, we just had a massive article in The Times about our collaboration with Richard Dawkins, so there’s quite a buzz hanging in the UK.”
Whether any special festivities will take place to celebrate the occasion is uncertain. “I don’t actually know yet if we can do anything special,” Floor muses. “I think the show itself and the fact that we are playing there is special on its own, but I think that even if it is the same sort of set-up as the previous show on that tour, it will still be spectacular.”
For Nightwish’s genre of music – which sits under the metal umbrella, for all intents and purposes – headlining Wembley Arena is arguably knocking at the glass ceiling. “Yeah, it is, but what I like about Nightwish… I’m not objective of course, but it is not a typical metal band with its folky influences and its poppy songs, and its theatrical, film-like score stuff,” the singer critiques. “We have a quote from someone that we like a lot which says ‘This band is a vehicle of spirit that defies category,’ because you can’t really push us into the metal corner per se, or into anything else. Of course we fit into a lot and it seems to appeal to a lot of people, and it’s fantastic that we are able to reach those people, being so borderless.
“Also, for you as a journalist and for anybody, what kind of music do you play? What kind of album is it? How is the sound of the band? You want to push it into some kind of category, to be able to describe it. Since we’re kind of crossing lines, that is maybe the most difficult thing about us, but it does seem to reach people. We have been doing extraordinary things like managing to work with someone like Richard Dawkins, who’s been saying ‘No’ to everything. It’s very interesting to see how this is being picked up. We’re all anxiously waiting what’s gonna happen with this album now it’s out, and with the tour and everything. To know that we will do this Wembley Arena, to see that the sales are actually very promising, and that we can do all of these things is just… Yeah, we realise how special that is (laughs).”
At the time of writing, Dutch concern ReVamp is currently on hiatus. “I don’t think it’s fair to do two bands at the same time,” Floor reasons. “Plus, it’s impossible, so I cannot say at all what the future of this band is. We all agreed to look at the situation with ReVamp after the world tour and see where everybody is, because we’re talking years. Maybe everybody has been doing different things at the same time. I can’t expect everybody to wait for me and for my schedule to open, so let’s see.”
Endless Forms Most Beautiful was released on March 27th, 2015 in Europe and subsequently on the 31st in North America, all via Nuclear Blast Records.
Interview published in March 2015. All promotional photographs by Ville Akseli Juurikkala.
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