Nightwish. Real monument in the symphonic world, the band is about to release its ninth studio album, « Human :||: Nature ». It is probably one of the most awaited album of the year. For the occasion, we had the great opportunity to meet the mastermind himself, Tuomas Holopainen (keys) and the multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley to discuss this release. The men remained quite discreet about their secrets, but they gave us some clues for a better understanding of their vision of the band and how they lead this entity to what it is today.

You took five years to release this new album. Five years while you toured the world, released personal projects, released a best-of, re-toured the world… What a journey ! Was it difficult to go back into a writing process?

Tuomas: No, it was wonderful, actually ! After finishing the previous album, « Endless Forms Most Beautiful », I felt satisfied and I knew already, at that point, that we needed to take a little breather to keep the whole thing interesting. I talked about it with the other members of the band and everybody agreed : « Let’s take a year off ! » Because we have never taken a break in twenty years so it was the time. So, we took that year off and all the band members did their own little side projects. Then, we did this special nostalgia tour, « Decades », playing the older stuff. It was all good fun ! But at some point during that tour, we got all really excited about the future again and I started doing songs and I enjoyed the process again. Sometimes, you need to give these things time, because the last thing you want to do is to force yourself to create and nothing good comes out this way.

In general, how do you work on new songs ? Is there a secret way to create a new Nightwish album?

Tuomas: A secret way ? No… (laughs) You just need to feel something. You need to be inspired, you need to have good stories to tell and, like I just said, you don’t want to create if you don’t feel like creating. So, that’s the very big thing and also, just do it for yourself, never ever follow the trends, don’t think about what people could think about that or the other band members. That’s the only way to keep the art, the music that you create, authentic and real. That’s the basic principle of my songwriting and also, just enjoy the process.

Did you write this album like last year or did you collect the ideas during the past five years?

Tuomas : I started collecting the ideas in the beginning of 2018, during the « Nostalgia » tour. It took about a year, then I started to discuss the themes with the other members, I showed some lyrics, and everybody got excetid. It was no actual songwriting, it was more like gathering ideas. Then, last year, from January to May, I actually wrote all the songs. So, overall, it took about a year and a half.

You are the main composer, but for the lyrics, did you share the work with someone else in the band?

Tuomas: Well, for this album I made all the music and lyrics.

« Human :||: Nature ». It definitely sounds like a concept, so what can you tell me about that?

Tuomas: I wouldn’t call it a concept album, because all the songs are individual, but it’s a thematic album as there’s a running theme that goes through all the songs… Actually, I don’t like using the word « concept album ». We talked about this yesterday, it’s more a thematic album, because the songs are not connected to each other in a way that tells one big story.

Maybe it’s more the case with the second part of the album? I read that it’s a love letter to the Earth, is that right?

Tuomas: That’s a nice way of putting it. I think it’s Nightwish’s love letter to planet Earth. And I consider it as one song, not eight songs. We just put the indexes in between if people want to skip to their favorite part, it makes it a bit easier, but it should really be considered as one song.

Nightwish : There's too much noise on the Internet!

So what brought you to write this? What inspired you?

Troy: We are very interested in the world, mankind, science and everything in a holistic way. We are very engaged in it. And we love to talk about it when we’re out together. It is also a kind of extension of « The Greatest Show On Earth », which was the final piece on our last album (« Endless Forms Most Beautiful »,2015). And it beautifully segways into « Human :||: Nature » as well. But these things just evolved. I’m going to do this as it’s going to be right now, and it’s not going to change. Everything’s in a state of flux, right? A musical flux.

Tuomas: It keeps surprising me actually, how often people think that we calculate this stuff really carefully. Like before starting to do an album we thought it in advance : let’s do a heavier album, let’s take this direction, let’s do this or that… It’s never like that, it’s a flow of mind. You just pick up on something that sparks your interest and you go from it.

Troy: That’s right ! And then something magical does happen. Hence with this album we’ve explored new sounds. There’s a lot areas that we have never been in before. And again, it wasn’t a conscious decision as we didn’t pick what we were going to do, like the three-part harmonies on every single song. It just kind of told us what we had to do. The direction was given to us through the music, through the songs.

Tuomas: That’s a good way of putting it. You have to listen to the songs, what they actually tell you and how do you want them to be presented. They have an essence of their own.

Troy: They do have a life of their own. Once the song starts, which is the foundation of the whole thing, it’s like foliage, flowers and plants that start to grow around, from its source and all the flowers and plants are all the arrangements and the colors we bring. But they kind of grow themselves out of the song, out of the music. And that’s one of the really exciting things for us in Nightwish, it’s that we don’t see ourselves limited. With this, there are no limits for us. I mean, the second disc is a counterpoint to the first one. But some people might think it is really bizarre to follow eight songs with a massive orchestral suite but between us it was the absolute natural thing to do and the only thing to do. And it had to be done as I see it, as a long time coming thing. It was inevitable. It would be a long suite and especially about such a lofty subject as nature and the world.

My next question was about « Noise ». According to what you just said, it seems to be completely a chance that this song really sounds like Nightwish?

Tuomas: It’s not calculated.

So, it has nothing to do with the fact of reassuring the fans?

Tuomas: No, we don’t think about that kind of stuff at all. But when there is one main songwriter in the band, he has his mannerisms, so to say. It’s the same with every artist in the world.

Troy: It really is and it’s identifiable. It’s intrinsic to Nightwish that Tuomas writes the songs and it would be insane to try to take away your core, your essence by trying to be something else. That’s another thing that we strongly believe, this is freedom in art, the freedom to do exactly what we want without the consideration of criticism or of the fawning of compliments all the time. It’s of no interest. We really just need to make the music that we love to be ourselves and hope that the people get the same feelings that we do.

Tuomas: A band is never imprisoned into a gendra which must sound like this or that. There’s no such thing. A band is a group of people doing exactly what they want to do.

Yeah but I do think there are bands that are not like that, who do what their fans want to hear.

Tuomas: Yes, but I just have to disagree politely with them. I don’t think any artistic group needs to be bound to a certain gendra or a certain way of doing things.

Troy: We certainly aren’t. And I think that’s what makes, even objectively, Nightwish a really interesting thing, an entity. I don’t even think of it as a band anymore. It’s a it is a vehicle for freedom in art and music.

So, you released « Noise » at the beginning of this month and you already hit almost 2 million views on YouTube. Is it a surprise?

Tuomas: I didn’t think about it in advance, so I don’t know. It’s a big number, so… It gave me the « waow ! » effect. I was not expecting anything, so it just made my eyebrows raise.

In general, aren’t you sensitive to the statistics on the web or the comments or the reactions of the fans?

Troy: Oh, no. I think you get yourself into a mess if you start to get too involved in that and believe in the hype, believe in the Internet… It’s a monster! I’ve looked at comments and things like that on the web, and it’s the same old stuff: this one says it’s brilliant, this one says it’s shit. This one says it’s fabulous, this one says it’s rubbish. You’ve got to be outside looking in and don’t let it affect what you do. Otherwise, you’d go mad.

Tuomas: One thing that I did when doing the lyrics for the song « Noise », and it is something I’ve never, ever done before, and I did it deliberately: I spent about a week in the discussion forums and YouTube commentary sections on the Internet just to dwell in the darkness, to be able to write those lyrics as they came.

Troy: Really?

Tuomas: I did. I went to the Nightwish discussion forums, read everything that was on our Facebook page. Being there for an hour, I felt like taking a shower and washing my brain, but it was necessary to go there and see that world to be able to create a song.

Troy: Brilliant! I didn’t know you did that. Really, that’s the perfect way to do it.

People on the Internet are always talking, giving their opinions,…

Tuomas: It’s a part of it, not only that, but the constant flow of information there, from everywhere.

Troy: It comes from all sides, and finding only a grain of truth in things on the Internet… There’s so much noise to find the truth within all the noise is a really difficult thing to do. It’s a skill, actually, you’ve got to learn. And the irony is you can’t learn the skill of getting through the noise within the noise. You can’t do it on the Internet, you’ve got to do it outside of the Internet.

Tuomas: For some people, the Internet is a public pillow to scream into. And like you said, it’s really hard to find the truth between all that noise. And false news travels so much faster than real news.

Troy: Yeah, bad and false news are thos which got the most power.

I think we could do an entire interview about the video you released. Did the idea, the story, come from the band, from you?

Troy: Yeah, it did. And again, we talk a lot about this stuff, we’re really interested in and we love it. We love to talk about these these things. So, yeah it all grew out of a huge interest here.

Tuomas: And then, the director of the video, Stobe Harju, arjHarHHSDJFDLFJIalso put a lot of his own ideas in it, visual things, into the video as well.

And can you tell me who are your characters? Did you choose them?

Tuomas: Actually, they were written by the director. I mean, it’s up to your own interpretation. If we go too much into details here, it would take something off from the experience of watching the video.

Troy: It will cause more noise ! (laughs)

Even if the subject is quite dark here, I guess you had fun during the filming.

Troy: Well, Tuomas had a really bad chest. He had a bad cold. So he sat in the bath, covered in oil, feeling really shitty with a gas mask on. And I was leaving, I was going to get my flight home, and I looked at him and he was like… (Troy made a funny face, both laughs)

Tuomas: I was a headbanging, yeah, with all this oil… At the end of the video, you can actually see a glimpse of me without the gas mask pinning my rubber duck into the air. So that’s the revelation that we can see.

And you have two new members in the band, now?

Tuomas: Who ?!

Troy: She means the little girl and the big girl… They are actresses who were brought in by the director.

I thought the little girl was Floor’s daughter.

Tuomas: Oh no, she would never do that! But actually the blonde girl, she’s probably the most famous Finnish Instagram star, Jessica Edström. She actually agreed to come and parody herself in the video.

On another hand, you worked with « our » Tim Tronckoe for the album’s pictures…

Tuomas: Yeah, the good old Tim! He’s a true artist!

How did you choose him?

Tuomas: We worked with him before for a couple of photoshoots and we just liked his personality and the way he takes pictures.

Troy: And he’s fast, it’s truly amazing! Because we’ve been through photographers that have took hours and hours and too many shots to have to look through after. Tim just goes and that’s it!  It’s really refreshing to see.

Tuomas: And he is always really well prepared. Everything was set up when we go there and it took like maybe 15 minutes.

Troy: We did shots at different locations but for the Natural History Museum where we did the shots with Tim, he went in there early  when it was full of the public, it was packed full of tourists. And he he checked out angles and sat the lights… He’s just brilliant and he’s really nice guy as well.

Nightwish : There's too much noise on the Internet!

Now this is a question that most of the artist hates, but I’ll ask it anyway : do you already have a favorite song out of this new album?

Tuomas: No.

Troy: No, not a chance. We have favorite moments, but not favorite songs, it’s not possible. Besides, it would upset the other songs. (both laugh)

A singer told me once that her songs were like her child, so she couldn’t prefer one of her children.

Troy: Oh yeah, that’s a common thing with songwriters, they always say that.

Tuomas: They also say that about their albumsIs, that they are their kids. I kind of understand the metaphor but it’s a bit cheesy I think.

So, I can’t ask you if you have a favorite song from all the Nightwish’s history?

Tuomas: Those things change by time. I mean, you could ask which song I’d bring with me to a desert island, maybe I could answer. But one favorite, that is not possible to choose.

Do you know which one you would like to take to a desert island, then?

Tuomas: I think it would be « The Greatest Show On Earth ».

Troy: Same.

Vous jouez souvent en Belgique, y a-t-il des choses particulières que vous aimez ici ?

Tuomas: I like Tim!

Troy: I like him too. And I liked that whole food shop around the corner, really good. (I think he’s speaking about the Carrefour Market near the hotel, actually)

Tuomas: I also really like Hercule Poirot, he’s a Belgian and it’s probably my favorite Belgian thing. But forget about his new version, David Suchet was the best.

So I had the chance to listen to your new album just before, which was a bit challenging. But a song caught my hear in particular : « Harvest ». It sounds completely different and almost made me think about a Disney song, in a positive way. What inspired you this song?

Tuomas: That’s interesting you see you see it that way. This is a wonderful thing about interviews, it’s we get lots of different approaches, lots of different responses to the songs.

Troy: For us, personally, I don’t see that at all. I see something more anthemic and classic with « Harvest ». The nature of the song for me is a classic folk song, that’s the essence of it. It’s the kind of thing where you’re looking forward to the chorus because communitywise, people want to have a chorus they can sing together and « Harvest » is one of them. I can imagine it will become a live favorite and it will be interesting to hear the audience singing it. At the same time, « Harvest » is full of incredible musical moves. It is splendid and it’s tricky and it’s weird and difficult and really easy at the same time. It’s kind of everything is in there, right?

Tuomas: And once you get the lyrics and listen to the song, it might change your perspective on what’s going on. You’ll definitely be more clarified. Actually, it’s really not fair for everybody to listen to the album once and make up your mind about it.

I did not recognize Marco’s voice on the album…

Tuomas: He sings on every single song of the album, except for « Procession » and he does the backing vocals. He also sings the last song, « Endlessness ». That’s kind of like his solo show on the album.

Troy: Well, he sings it quite hard when you listen to it again, he sings it with quite a bit of venom in his voice, actually. But the choruses are beautiful and there’s a wonderful contrast between the chorus and the verses. When you hear it again, you’ll notice.

Thank you. So I have a last question for you which has nothing to do with Nightwish, but do you plan a new release with Auri in the future?

Tuomas: Yes!

Troy: Definitely yes, we have new music for Auri. When the Nightwish ship docks, we get off the ship and we’ll do more Auri.

Tuomas: I think a 2021 release is possible.

Do you sometimes take a real vacation, without music?

Troy: We had a year off five years ago, but we have adventures outside of music… Well, music is always there but we do have adventures.

Photos: Tim Tronckoe

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