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Interview conducted June 9 2022
Interview published July 21 2022

"I had the most fabulous childhood."

Metal Covenant was fortunate enough to score an interview with Nightwish's multi-instrumentalist, the lovely
Troy Donockley, before the band's show at Sweden Rock just over a month ago.

Tobbe: I would say that Troy Donockley is easily the fun guy of Nightwish, isn't he?

Troy: [Laughs] Well, first off, I'm really impressed that you pronounced my surname correctly. I get all kinds of nonsense. Doncockley, and Donockely, I've had Donkelberry. Well, you got it in one, so. You'd be surprised of how much fun goes on in Nightwish. It's a big fun kind of band, you know. And we spend a lot of time with each other. We're not the kind of band who travels separately, or has separate dressing rooms. We're a pretty social bunch.

Tobbe: You're a multi-instrumentalist, but still, is there an instrument that you have tried out, but it just wouldn't work and you just gave up after a while?

Troy: Yeah, yeah. Strangely enough it's an instrument that I presumed that I would have no trouble with, and that's the violin. I just couldn't get into it. I am a string player. I play string instruments. But yeah, I tried, for about 3 months, and then it was onto the fire with it.

Everything else, I've been pretty lucky in that I've found an affinity with most of the instruments that I have tackled. Yeah, as you say, I mean, I suppose I'm most famous for playing the uillean pipes, but I do play lots and lots of more instruments.

And we've managed to integrate them into Nightwish now as well, which is nice. You know, back in the day, maybe 15 years ago, then I would just wobble onto the stage and play the pipes on a couple of songs, you know. But now they've drafted me into all kinds of stuff. [Laughs]

Tobbe: With your skills, do you in some way teach other people, and have students and stuff?

Troy: No, I don't. Kai [Hahto], our drummer, does. He does a lot of teaching. But me myself, no I've never done it. I was invited to do a teaching session on the uillean pipes up in the north of England once. And it just didn't agree with me. I just didn't enjoy it at all. And I wasn't a very good teacher, in that what the students wanted me to say, I said the opposite. So it was a disappointment for them and a disappointment for me as well, so. No it didn't work for me, no.

Tobbe: While other young boys were out in the playground, was Troy back in his home, his house, or his parents' house obviously, and trying to find a way in music instead?

Troy: I started playing guitar when I was 11. So, before that, I was still obsessed with music. I was still listening to lots of music. I was lucky in that my family were musical. So, my dad had a band when I was growing up, and my mother was in the band as well. She was the singer in the band. They were semi-professional. They used to do all the clubs up in the North. So I was saturated in music and in all sorts of different genres of music.

So, I suppose, as a consequence of that, I hated sport. So at school I could be found hiding in cupboards, and hiding in places, and I had a really good music teacher who used to hide me from the games teacher. So when they used to come looking for me to play rugby, and other such terrors, horrors, I'd be hiding, you know, learning some Pink Floyd or something else.

Tobbe: So were they good times, or was it hard for you back then?

Troy: No, it was wonderful. I had the most fabulous childhood. Again, because I had parents who understood that I wasn't heading towards the life of an electrician, or working in a factory. They could see that I was born to be a musician, so.

So therefore, I suppose I was indulged in that way, but not monetarily. I didn't have lots of instruments, but was indulged in the musical education that I got by my dad's record collection, which had everything in it, you know.

Tobbe: I think the most important thing for a young kid is having understanding parents.

Troy: Yeah, you're a 100 percent right. Understanding parents kind of bypasses teachers at school that don't understand. You know, because you're at home, they are family, they're your parents, and you can get away with anything. And you can suffer at school because you know that your parents understand, so.

Tobbe: So, more to Nightwish instead of your personal life. You know, it was 5 years between the 2 last records, Endless Forms Most Beautiful [2015] and Human. :??: Nature. [2020], and won't we see another new Nightwish record until 2025?

Troy: No, we're gonna start recording it next year, so in 2023. Apparently there was a bit of a cold going around and the whole world was down 'cause a few people were sneezing. So, the pandemic is over, but we had such a backlog of work, and we had all these postponements. The Human. :??: Nature. tour was postponed. So, we're doing that now, even though it's 2 years.

But no, the new Nightwish album's material is all there. We just need to work on it. So we're gonna do that. We have a summer camp in Finland, where we get together and do all the arrangements of the songs and knock them together.

So we do that next July, and then we move into recording throughout August/ September, and then, October, we start the promotional machine, and then we should have the new album ready in the beginning of 2024.

Tobbe: So, 4 years. From what you just told me, you guys are blessed, by having the opportunity to have a summer camp, to record it in your own way, and the time schedule is decided by yourselves. And comparing to other bands, how fortunate are you guys?

Troy: Massively. I mean, we never forget the privilege of what we do, at all. I mean, we know how difficult it is for bands. Especially new, young bands coming up. It's almost impossible now, you know, to get anywhere, just because of the business climate in music. But hopefully that will improve. I'm optimistic.

But I mean, we're in heaven. You know, we can just do exactly what we want. And we also don't have the record companies or anybody telling us what to do. We can do exactly what we want, which is an enviable position to be in.

Tobbe: Nightwish has become even more bombastic and epic throughout the years. So where will your records end up in the future?

Troy: Probably a couple of acoustic guitars and a piano. [Irony] Yeah, there's not much further we could go with that. All we can do is try to use different colors in our massive wide screen, that picture that we like to paint. Use different types of colors, which we actually started to do on the last album, Human. :II: Nature.

We started to focus on 3-part harmonies and we discovered a sound there that all of us really loved. And it was unusual, as well as unusual in symphonic metal, that really tight 3-part harmonies. You know, 2 guys and Floor [Jansen]. So we wanna explore that more as well, and see what we come up with. But, the sky is the limit, really. We'll just keep trying to stay on top of things.

Tobbe: Floor is the third singer of the band, but I would say that Nightwish has gone pretty unharmed through those singer changes, and is the most important thing that the singer is doing a good job rather than who it is?

Troy: You're absolutely right. And a lot of bands don't survive that, you know. A lot of bands lose something critical when they lose their original singer, but it has been the other way around for Nightwish.

You know, now, with our new singer Floor, we seem to be reaching all the audience again, which is fantastic. Normally, she is, I think, the greatest female rock singer on earth. And I'm a bit biased, but she's also more accessible to a different audience. You know, a lot of people have a much more direct response to Floor than they did to the previous singers.

Tobbe: Because she's quite a character upon stage, compared to the other singers. Which were good in their own way, but she's more a metal singer, I would say.

Troy: She's more of a metal singer, for sure. Which I think suits us perfectly now. But also, as you say, she's quite a character and she's quite a force of nature. And she's lovely. You know, she's lovely to be around. We have great fun together.

Tobbe: About past members. Marco [Hietala, bass] is not in the band anymore, obviously. Does it still feel like a punch in the face that he isn't around anymore? Because he was an important element with his bass playing and he actually did a lot of backup vocals too.

Troy: He did. And I just mentioned that we discovered this fabulous 3-part harmony thing. Well, that's kind of shot out now. We'll try to do something with it, with the same idea. But Marco is irreplaceable. That was the beginning quite for us, just realizing that he is impossible to replace.

So we had to look at how we would do things without him. If we were gonna survive, if we were gonna carry on. And of course we weren't going to implode because one member is gone. We've survived much worse. But Marco is irreplaceable, and of course we miss him, but he had his reasons. So we just have to carry on, you know. Keep flying the flag and try to honor Marco.

I handle a lot of the vocals now, but I would never attempt to sing Marco's lead vocals, because it would be pathetic. It would be a ridiculous thing to do. I'd be like Jon Anderson leaving Yes, and Mick Jagger trying to sing Yes songs. It just wouldn't work.

I sing Marco's harmonies, but I don't sing any of Marco's featured vocals. And I can get away with that, and because I've been in the band now for 15 years, it's kind of acceptable that I go for it. I've been getting a great response from the fans, but I mean, I didn't wanna do it, you know. I didn't wanna do it at all, but I was talked into it. So that's it.

Tobbe: 15 years in the band. It's a crazy ride. 15 years, man.

Troy: Yeah, it's really weird, and hard to believe, because it doesn't feel like that at all. I mean, I met them in 2007, but I felt a real affinity with them there. And we all did, and we realized that we were onto something splendid. I officially joined 10 years ago, but I did tour with them before that, so. I was kind of a session player, you know. But I was still there, and I always felt I was part of it. Yeah, it's quite a… [Just laughs at it.] But it has been wonderful. I mean, that's why I joined.

Tobbe: Do you ever, as a musician, feel that you have reached your absolute high now?

Troy: No, no. Absolutely not. I've got too much to do. There's lots of other things that are going on as well, apart from Nightwish. I've also got a band called Auri and I work with a few friends in the UK still. A few old friends who I'm playing with. And I occasionally do some film stuff and things like that.

No, I don't rest on any laurels. I'm interested in pushing all of my instruments into new directions all the time. It's a real pleasure to do that, and I like to push myself technically as well. And sometimes it worked brilliantly in Nightwish, because some of the parts are really difficult. I mean, technically and physically difficult, which is a really nice challenge. You know, it's nice. I like that.

Tobbe: Yeah, if you don't have any challenges, what is there to pursue?

Troy: Yeah, you become lazy, you know. And also, even though Nightwish is very structured, I like to occasionally improvise as well, which always makes people in the band go, "What's that?", you know. Just because that's my background. You know, I'm used to improvise. In Nightwish there's not much room for improvisation, but I do occasionally blast off and do that, which I like to do.

Tobbe: And telling Tuomas [Holopainen], "I'm actually the boss.".

Troy: Yeah. [Laughs] But, I mean, Tuomas does improvise every now and again as well, you know. He always picks up my ears and I go, "Oh, what was that? That was nice!" and then he goes, "Oh, I didn't know how to… I forgot what I was..." and I go, "Do more of that!". But yeah, he's a very open player, Tuomas. The whole band is, actually.

Tobbe: But still, Nightwish isn't a band of the '70s.

Troy: My background is progressive rock, you know. All my favorite bands were Floyd, Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Camel and Gentle Giant. I grew up listening to that stuff, when I was a kid. So I can't get that out of my system. You know, I love that kind of adventurous stuff. I saw King Crimson recently and it was mind-blowing. 3 drummers, incredible.

Tobbe: Live music is kind of more structured now than it was back in the day. Like, listen to stuff like Deep Purple. So, there were a lot of jams then, like listening and following each other.

Troy: Well, Purple were very into that. They were very into jamming, right from the beginning. And Zeppelin as well. A lot of those hard rock bands. Not so much the progressive rock bands, 'cause they were very, very, very structured, and they played it generally all the same every night. But with a bit of room for improvising.

Tobbe: But it's harder now. There are a lot of backing tracks when people play live nowadays.

Troy: There are. But I think if you use backing tracks as an enhancement, then it's justified. If you use backing tracks to cover up any flaws, or any impurities in your music, then it's bad.

We use backing tracks purely for the orchestral stuff. We kind of have to, otherwise we need 6 other keyboardists on stage as well. So we just use the backing tracks. But everything else is completely live. You know, apart from the orchestra and choir. We sit on top of that, that we proudly play live.

Tobbe: You mentioned Auri before. Is there another record coming out anytime soon from that band? Well, band or project, I don't know.

Troy: There is. Whatever it is. But I think you might be right. I think it deserves to be called a band, really, because not only is it just me, Tuomas and Johanna [Kurkela], but we've got Kai too, the drummer from Nightwish. He played a lot on the new album and he's gonna be playing on all Auri albums. We intend to do a lot more. And we already have a band, because we tend to tour, we tend to do it live.

So yeah, we intend to tour Auri. I've got another 5 pieces for it ready. I think Johanna has got 3. Tuomas has been preoccupied with Nightwish, but he says he has got a couple. So yeah, I think probably we'll start throwing files at each other next year.

Tobbe: Do you think that Auri, strictly recording-wise and songwriting-wise, could be as important as Nightwish to you?

Troy: Yeah, I mean so. Yeah, definitely. We absolutely love Nightwish. There's no doubt. But we love Auri too. Auri, for me, is really important, because I write a lot of the music in Auri.

Tobbe: Hence my question.

Troy: So hence it's bound to be important to me. And it fills me full of excitement to imagine us playing that stuff live. Another one of my instruments is the string quartet. I love writing for strings. So I write all the strings for Auri. So yeah, Auri is really important to me. I was interviewed a while back about this subject, and I was asked if I would do another solo album and I said, "I don't really need to do a solo album, 'cause Auri fills that space for me.".

See also: a review of the gig the same day

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