» Tuomas Holopainen - Nightwish
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Interview conducted February 28 2020
Interview published April 6 2020

About the album title logo: "You want to keep some mystery in music.".

The new Nightwish album Hvman. :||: Natvre. is out on April 10th and Metal Covenant was given some time to talk about it with keyboardist, songwriter and main man Tuomas Holopainen.

Tobbe: So let's talk about your new album, that will be out on April 10th.

Tuomas: It happens to be Easter Friday. I don't really know why the label chose that date.

Tobbe: Well, a lot of people will probably just stream it anyway.

Tuomas: Oh yeah, that's true.

Tobbe: I only got to hear the record once before we're talking now, downstairs in the lounge, so I'm not really familiar with it yet.

Tuomas: Yeah, that's the curse of internet. Back in the days you'd be able to send a promo and some people would have the time to go through it at their own peace. But that's the way it has to be done now. The only thing you could expect is people to get, like, a first impression. Maybe get them interested enough so that they might want to listen to it again.

Tobbe: So, begin where you want to and speak freely about the album.

Tuomas: It's been 5 years since the previous one [Endless Forms Most Beautiful]. Some people think that's a long time, but I don't. 5 years is a normal cycle for releasing albums and besides that we released two live CDs and DVDs in between. [Vehicle Of Spirit, 2016 and Decades: Live In Buenos Aires, 2019.] But the songwriting process began in early 2018, if I remember correctly. It took about a year and a half to get the songs finished. So we're talking about last May now.

Then I made a demo of the songs, sent it to the bandmembers, waited for their feedback, was terrified for a couple of days about what they'd think about it. Happily everyone agreed that this can be good. Then off to the so called Nightwish summer camp, that we have done already on the two previous albums [Imaginaerum, 2011 and Endless Forms Most Beautiful, 2015]. So we rent this boy scout campsite [Röskö] for 3 months in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Finland. We just built a studio there and went there, the whole bunch, for 3 months.

Then rehearse, arrange and record the album there, and then go to London and record all the orchestras and choirs at Angel Studios. That took about a week. Then back to Helsinki for about two and a half months to mix the album. Then the mastering process in mid-January, and voilà: the album is great. In between we would shoot the music video in Helsinki.

We took the promotional shots for the album in London, on two different locations, including the National History Museum, which was wonderful beyond words. Then all that is followed by a promotional trip and we're at the last day of that one at the moment.

Tobbe: And working this close together for a long time, like you said, for 3 months in Eastern Finland: Don't you get on each other's nerves when being so close together?

Tuomas: Luckily the campsite has, I think, 13 different cabins, so we all got our fair share of peace and quiet, if we wanted to. But the fact is that this band is getting along really well. We've been together for 24 years now, some lineup changes of course, but we are in a really happy place at the moment. The passion of actually being together creating new music was better than I think it's ever been before. I mean, the motivation that everybody showed is something that I find very rewarding and flattering and touching.

Also people outside the band, like the mixing engineer did much more than he actually had to do. Same thing with the recording engineer. The guy who did the cover artwork worked with the album booklet for more than a year. And the video crew, who did the Noise video, worked two months extra from the original plan. So there was this overall sensation of really wanting to make the best possible effort from all sides and that was truly touching.

Tobbe: Since you're writing the material, to what extent might the other guys influence the songs other than just laying down their stuff on the album?

Tuomas: They do influence. Absolutely. They kind of inspire me, because when I write the songs I write it for this band. I know that it's gonna be Emppu [Vuorinen] on the guitar and Troy [Donockley] on the pipes and I hear Floor's [Jansen] voice, etc., etc.. So it's kind of tailor-made for this band and I deliberately try to leave room for everybody to bring in their own personality, so to speak, so that it's not calculated to the very end.

Tobbe: You've been working a long time together with a couple of the guys, and even some of the new guys, like Troy and Floor, have been in the band for 7 years now. So I guess you get an even tighter group as time goes by.

Tuomas: Yeah, exactly. It's like a marriage. You learn from each other, and you learn when to open your mouth and when to shut up, and when to give space and when to go and ask "How's the heart?", you know. It's a tightrope walk between 6 people, who all happen to be artists. So it's not easy, but as long as it gives you more than it takes, then I'll have it.

Tobbe: When you first started the songwriting for this album, were you searching for something in particular to come out with?

Tuomas: Not really. I didn't know that it would end up being a thematic album. It's just I had a few ideas for the songs, and a few stories, like a story of Eugene Shoemaker, and a story about the procession, and just started to toy around with ideas, melodies, chord patterns, and then it started to form itself.

At some point I realized that "I think this is a thematic album." and at some point the term Human Nature came, like "Okay. 9 songs about humans, about human kind, a lot of lyrics, a lot of human voices. Yeah, makes sense. And then we have this whole different type of approach, by having a 30-minute orchestral symphony praising the natural side of the world. So how about Human Nature? Yeah!".

Tobbe: When you're writing your songs, or demoing and stuff, at what point do you realize that a good song is a good song and nothing for the trash bin?

Tuomas: Well, I don't know. Gut feeling, or something like that. I never have extra songs, or even extra riffs or anything. So the quality control is high all the time. It just feels good and I have this habit of everything that I do that, you know, gets on the second round, like "This has potential."… I record that on a really shitty dictaphone and then in the evening when I go outside and have a smoke or something, I listen to that with a really crappy sound quality, and if it still sounds good, if it sounds good on the next day, then I know that there's something there.

Tobbe: About the logo for the title. The way you have written it is kind of strange. You know, "Hvman. :||: Natvre".

Tuomas: Yeah, it's there for a reason.

Tobbe: Yeah, tell me about that reason.

Tuomas: I can't really. It's such a lovely little detail. You want to keep some mystery in music. So, the album is pronounced Human Nature. Just like that. It's Hvman. :||: Natvre for a reason. I've heard many interpretations: Human To Nature, Human vs. Nature, Human Without Nature, whatever.

Tobbe: About the instrumental track [All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World]: It's almost half an hour long and why did you make it so extended?

Tuomas: First of all, it's not quite instrumental, because there's a few parts of singing and spoken words. So it's an orchestral piece more than an instrumental. I mean, if you want to do a love song to planet Earth you can't do it in 3 minutes. You have to do something grandiose, and diverse, and go through all those beautiful sceneries that this planet has to offer us.

And early on it occurred to us that this song can not have any lyrics. That would definitely break the magic of the voyage that the listener has. Just imagine, after 15 minutes of that, Floor comes in and says "Oh, the beautiful mountains and the seas…". Ahhh.

Tobbe: It's a bit different than the rest of the album. Not quite as bombastic, I think.

Tuomas: Well, it is different. It's just the orchestra, so a bit of piano and uilleann pipes. But that's the way it needs to be. And also dramatically, if you listen to the album from the beginning to the end, it gives a lovely contrast after all of that human racket for 9 songs, to go into the nature and relax.

Tobbe: This is Floor's second studio album with you guys and tell me about her performance. Was it easier for her to record this time than on the first album?

Tuomas: Yes and no. What I mean by that is that there was another 5 years of being in the band, so in that sense I'm sure she felt much more comfortable, knowing us as persons. We have been playing hundreds of shows together so it was easier to come in and sing. On the other hand, the vocal lines are insanely difficult on this album. There's a lot of vocal acrobatics, a lot of challenges and different ways of singing. So in that sense it was a much bigger challenge than the previous album.

Tobbe: Nightwish has gone through singer changes quite unharmed, I think. You have survived the 2 singer changes very well.

Tuomas: It just goes to show you that Nightwish is not about one person. It's some kind of weird vehicle of spirit, as we all call it, that has to move on. It's more than the vocalist, or any player, or than me. It's just a thing that needs to go on. And also, I guess the main point is that, despite all these dramatic changes, if you are able to keep up with the quality, and authenticity, and show that you still want to do this, people hear that and can appreciate that.

Tobbe: There are male vocals on the album as well.

Tuomas: Marco [Hietala, bass] is singing, Troy is singing, and all of them are singing harmonies throughout the whole album. There's so much vocals, it's ridiculous. [Laughs] I always have their voices in my head when I write the songs.

Marco has this pretty incredible capability of coming up with harmonies. He immediately hears, like, "Okay, Floor, you'll do that. Troy, you'll do that. And I'll do this." and then they build it and it becomes the thing it is. And that's true talent, and experience as well, because he's been doing that for, I don't know, 40 years. [Laughs]

Tobbe: Hypothetically. If you would make an album for a male singer instead of what you're doing now, what would be different in your approach?

Tuomas: I would just need to know who the male singer is and hear his voice in my head when writing the songs. If the male voice is inspiring enough, no problem. I just find it really rewarding to have 3 good vocalists, because there's no limitations. If the text needs a male voice I have two, if it needs a female voice I have one, and all of them are brilliant, so.

Tobbe: I would say that over the years Nightwish has become maybe more bombastic, fuller and kind of more complicated, so where will you end up in the end with your records? Any idea? It's hard to predict of course.

Tuomas: I don't know. We don't think in advance. We never calculate. We just do the thing and the album kind of writes itself, if you know what I mean. I don't know if it's bigger or more bombastic. What does that even mean, you know? It is the longest album that we have done; that's for sure. But what does it mean to be big?

Thematically, we sing about big issues, compared to the first few albums where there were more, like, personal stuff. Out of my own personal diary, and about Tolkien and Disney and that kind of stuff. So if that makes it bigger, okay. I don't really know what it means.

Tobbe: Nature is obviously important to you and I guess it always has been.

Tuomas: Yeah, it really has and I think that has to do with the fact that I've been living in the countryside all my life, surrounded by woods and lakes. So it's in my DNA. And most of my hobbies throughout my life have had something to do with nature: Boy scouts, birdwatching club in high school, hiking, kayaking, mushroom picking. So I do love the nature and I get anxiety if I don't go there every now and then. I've been on this promo tour now for 11 days and I start to feel weird. [Laughs]

Tobbe: And by singing about nature, or making an album about the human nature, is this an album that actually could have a part 2 someday?

Tuomas: In a way it's already part 2 of the previous album, and somebody pointed out to me, you know, "Maybe a trilogy?". I have no idea, but it sounds like an appealing thought. But the next album could be something completely different. But this one is definitely the big brother of Endless Forms Most Beautiful.

Tobbe: It's a very long album, 79 minutes, and a lot of people stream their music and how will they have the patience to listen to such a long album?

Tuomas: That's a good question, and that's an important question, and that's what the song Noise and its music video is about. I'm a bit worried about people's attention spam these days, including my own. I mean, I just started to watch a new Netflix series, which seemed very interesting, and I stopped after about 15 minutes. And then afterwards I felt really guilty. I didn't give this series a chance even for one episode. It just goes to tell you that people's attention spam really has diminished and they are not really listening to albums anymore, but more to, like, individual songs.

Tobbe: But I think also in heavier music people still listen to albums.

Tuomas: I was just about to say that in this genre, rock and metal, people still appreciate the album, the physical vinyl. You know, taking your time to go through it. Maybe look at the artwork, read through the lyrics and all that.

Tobbe: So how much do you use social media?

Tuomas: Zero. Absolute zero. I don't have Instagram, Facebook, nothing, and I've never done a single post in the internet and I just don't spend any time there. That doesn't mean that I don't think the idea behind social media is good. I actually do. The band has its own Instagram page, which is wonderful for spreading information, new pictures, telling what's going on, where the next show is and all that.

So as an idea it's wonderful. I love the idea of everybody suddenly having a voice in the form of a tweet. That's democracy in a way. But the way we use it, and how much we use it, that's the dangerous part.

Tobbe: Yes, there are always these constant updates and if you don't follow a site or whatever for one day, you can miss a lot of stuff.

Tuomas: Yeah, it's the FOMO effect, fear of missing out, and, you know, the kids, like, "I haven't been there for the last 30 minutes. Maybe I'm missing out. I need to go there.". I stopped to go to the cinema a while back, because even though people might not speak through their phones, you can see the lights coming out everywhere, constantly. People are checking something and it just drives me crazy. I can't do it anymore. "Just concentrate on this film for two hours, please.". It's not so hard.

Tobbe: My final question: Will we see another Auri record someday?

Tuomas: Most likely next year. There are already a lot of songs being made by Johanna [Kurkela] and Troy. So maybe 2021, in the fall, could be possible.

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