In the vast, and complicated backstage compound of Ireland’s 3Arena, we find Nightwish mastermind, Tuomas Holopainen in relaxed spirits as he prepares for the bands first Irish performance in over twelve years.
Nestled in a warm dressing room, the keyboardist greets us with a smile, and begins chatting excitedly about returning to Ireland, and in general, just being back on the road again after years of turmoil that saw bassist, Marko Hietala depart the band, the repeated cancellation of their ‘Human II Nature’, EU/UK tour dates, and the devastating news of Floor’s breast cancer diagnosis in late October.
Despite the stress, and worry that comes with all of the above, Tuomas tells us that he has learned to cope with the worry, and strife that has been bestowed upon the band over the last few years…
OD – This was one of the tours that was badly affected by the pandemic lockdown with changes for dates, and support bands. It must have been a huge relief to finally get out on the road, and start promoting the new album…
TUOMAS – Yes, beyond any words that I can express. I can’t even begin to understand the stress levels for the booking agents who have had to change things around so many times now. It’s been a nightmare.
Tickets for this tour went on sale three and a half years ago. That’s insane!! This is the fourth show on this leg, and we’ve got nineteen more to go. Once we get to the end of the year I’ve got three weeks off to just read and relax.
OD – Of course, the recent news of Floor’s health had a lot of people worried about her, it’s great to finally know that she is now Cancer free. I can only imagine how emotional it must be to be doing what you’re doing each night, knowing that just a few months ago, things were in a very serious place…
TUOMAS – The first show of this leg in Antwerp was just so emotional for all of us, but especially for Floor. It all came out during the song, ‘Sleeping Sun‘, she couldn’t sing the song towards the end, and she just broke down. It was a positive break down, if you know what I mean. It was just a huge release of so much anxiety, and pressure that had been building up inside her.
It was a culmination of beating Cancer, finally do this tour, and that her voice was good enough to do what she loves to do. All of that came out at the same time, and it’s been wonderful ever since.
OD – Let’s talk about ‘An Evening with in a virtual World’… for a moment. Who came up with that idea and how long was it in the ‘creative’ process before all decisions were finalised?
TUOMAS – I believe it was our management that first proposed it, and I was completely against it.
OD – Why?
TUOMAS – Because all of the virtual performances that I’d seen online were just not really my taste. I thought they were a bit dull and boring. Then, when they showed me the overall concept of the virtual world that could be created, then I started to look at it from a different angle. I brought it to the rest of the band, and we really started to talk about the possibilities of doing this, and what it could potentially look like. Then we made the decision to do it, however, do it really well. To the level that had never been done before…at least in Finland.
We then stared to see some visuals of what it was going to look like, and it was just so different to anything that we had done before. We also thought that it would create a very different kind of atmosphere, and experience for our music, which is something that we’re always interested in exploring.
OD – I understand that there was approximately 30 people involved in the creation of the virtual environment. Already, that seems like a potential nightmare in getting so many people, who are located from all over the world to work on a specific project…to a specific deadline. Did it prove to be a challenge, or did it go surprisingly well?
TUOMAS – Yes, we had a variety of people from all over the world working on this project. The pre-production was created by all of these wonderful people, and then the band got involved on the last eight days of the project. We were rehearsing in a green cube with just two camera men, and that was basically it.
It was really strange to just be in this room with nothing around is but green walls, but the imagination of the creators brought the fantasy element to life, and we could see the results pretty quickly, which was really exciting. We had to Covid test everybody everyday, and make sure that we all tested negative, because if there was one threat of the virus to any of the band or crew, the whole project would have ground to halt, and we had made a huge financial commitment at this point in time. So, as you can imagine, the stress levels were somewhat high. [Laughing]
OD – Of that experience, do you see Nightwish doing something like that again, or was it just to bridge the downtime unit you could properly tour again?
TUOMAS – I’ve learned never to say never again. [Laughing] I find it highly doubtful, because for us, we are all about the live show, and experiencing the energy from the crowd. However, I do see the appeal of this, and it might be a thing for the future if it’s done really well.
OD – Of course the new album ‘Human. :II: Nature’ was released over two years ago now, as far as new music, you mentioned that the new album would be an extension of ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ and ‘Human…’, is that still the case?
TUOMAS – I can’t believe that it was released that long ago! It’s crazy to think, because of what’s happened.Regarding new music, we have twelve songs in demo form at the moment, which all of the band has been listening to on this tour. It’s such a privilege to be able to be ahead of time on this, because we have a year before we enter the studio. We get to let our imagination loose, and build on these ideas. It’s going to be a long, but lovely process that makes the music so exciting. It’s really my favourite part of being a musician.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the studio experience, the live shows, touring etc, but that first meeting with new music, and the effect that it has on me personally, that’s a beautiful moment for me, and one of the most magical things in the world.
OD – When the music is finally ready for release, do you feel that the relationship between you and the music has changed.
TUOMAS – It’s a lovely feeling but also melancholic. The joy of creating something from passion, something that is so personal, and precious. Then the moment comes when you have to let go of it, and put it out into the world. Some people will not feel the same way about it and others will, but overall, it’s a sort of bitter-sweet feeling.
OD – Can you also confirm that studio time has been booked for 2023 and the target is to release a new album in 2024?
TUOMAS – Yes, the studio is booked, and the album is expected to be released in Spring/Summer/Autumn of 2024.
OD – This album shows a more intimate and emotional album, but also has that huge sound that Nightwish are so well known for. Was this album a sort of new chapter for the band in terms of creativity?
TUOMAS – I’ve always emphasised that I don’t know where the music comes from. I can’t explain the beauty and magic of music. I always get surprised about the process of how the music comes to be, and I was, once again, taken aback by the response to ‘Human…‘
I have developed an ability to listen to our music without the feeling that I was involved. I never used to be able to do that, but recently, I can totally step outside the creative involvement of the music, and listen with a different set of ears.
OD – The band has endured so many bumps over the 26 years, yet you have a remarkable way of surviving and surging forward. You have said in the past that, “the legacy of the band has now become a catalyst for continuing, and there is a sort of magic that keeps things going“. Do you still stand by that, or do you have a different take on things in light of the last few months?
TUOMAS – When it comes to music, not at all! I’m still as passionate about writing, and creating music as I was when I was a young man. But yes, there has been so many different challenges that we’ve had to endure over the course of our career that, to be honest, has taken its toll on me, and the other band members.
I don’t ever see us doing the long tours that we used to do in the past, where we are on the road for ten weeks, then take one week off, and then back out again for another ten. But that’s one thing that I’ve taken pride in, we’ve managed to survive through all of the issues over the decades. We have the scars to show, however we still surge forward.
OD – You’re very fortunate to have made a career doing something that you love. Over the decades of writing, scoring and performing music, do you have any other goals that you would like to achieve that you may be able to do now?
TUOMAS – It’s been an ongoing project for the last ten years. I’ve been writing fictional stories, and at the moment, I’ve got about fifteen. There is a publisher in Finland that is very interested in taking them on, but I feel that I need a few more stories before I will consider publishing them.
Every single New Years Day, my wife and I create a treasure map that has Islands that need to be conquered. For example, the idea of publishing a book, that’s been an unconquered Island for the last ten years.
Many of the Islands have been conquered and some have been changed. We have been doing this since 2010, and it’s so interesting to look back, and see what we were striving for, and how much our goals have changed, as well as the goals that we have conquered, and the effects of that happening. My wife wrote; “Maybe if one day I owned a horse“, and now we have one. I wrote, “I want to make an album about Scrooge McDuck“, and four years later, that happened. A road trip across Australia – that happened. We do it every New Year’s Day, and it helps us focus on the positive, and get the best out of our time in life.
OD – The cost of touring has escalated to heights that have never been seen before, does this concern you and the band as you look to the future?
TUOMAS – It’s a massive problem. For example, tickets for this tour were sold in 2019 for this European leg, and now we’re paying 2022 costs. Our catering costs have risen by three times, the price of fuel. So, regardless that we’ve sold more tickets than every before, the costs of running the tour cancels out the profit margins. My wife is a singer, and has been for fifteen years, and the Pandemic took it all away.
Now she has started a new company doing fantasy knit ware called Auriwear [click here]. I’m so proud of her, because she came to me and said; “I can’t do music anymore! But I have to come up with something else”, and throughout the whole lockdown period, she was just knitting so many things, and setting up this new venture.
OD – Have you ever considered putting on your own festival like In Flames, Slipknot do?
Seeing as we’re almost at the end of 2022, what has been your most favourite album of the year?
TUOMAS – I would not rule it out. But for now, I’m not sure. I’ll leave it up to the big boys to figure that one out. [Laughing]
Human II Nature is out now via Nuclear Blast Records. Order your copy via this link, or ask your local record store to order it.
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