Overdrive caught up with Troy Donockley (Pipes, flutes & whistles) to get the lowdown on the new album as well as their much-deserved break since 2015’s ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful‘ release.
OD – Let’s firstly talk about the new album title ‘HUMAN. :II: NATURE’, as I know that it comes mostly from the lyrical content being closely associated with these topics, was there something deeper behind it?
TD – Well the last album as you will know, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” was based on our love of science, evolution and the natural world and we felt like we weren’t finished with the subject.
In fact, we felt it started to gather momentum after the last tour. We thought; “we’ve got to expand on this and do more with the subject matter”. From the end of the last tour, it became clear as to the direction that we were heading in, and was going to be more human-based.
We split this album into two discs: the first disc is basically humanity and the second disc is nature, but the idea is that the pair of them are basically one and the same. They are fused, and what’s happening is that there is no separation. The theme of the whole thing is the natural world and our place in it really.
OD – It’s been 5 years since “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” (2015). This was really the first time that the band has taken a well-deserved break. Do you feel that during that time, the band has experienced some changes with the sound of this new album?
TD – You’re absolutely spot-on in every regard there. I would go even further as to say that the sabbatical saved us because we were really burnt out. We had been doing a lot of touring relentlessly. The “Imaginarium” tour was 2 years long! “Endless Forms” was two years long!
We had some pretty terrible personal problems with our previous singer, and that was almost cataclysmic for us in America. But we survived that with the arrival of our latest singer Floor (Jansen). So it made perfect sense to take some serious time out to try to get a grip on where the future of the band lay, which is what we did.
It regenerated the band and filled us all with enthusiasm for going out again, and that’s the way we are at the moment. We’re getting ready to go out on tour now, getting ready for the new album to be released. We’re really looking forward to it because we’re absolutely over the moon with how the album came out. So that sabbatical was absolutely needed, and also it creatively helped in that me and Tuomas (Holopainen) have another project called Auri with Tuomas’ wife (Johanna Kurkela).
It’s well-known in Nightwish circles that that really fired Tuomas’ creative juices to make a new Nightwish album, so he wrote a whole pile of songs reasonably quickly after the last Auri album. He was certainly bunged up. He wasn’t in the mood for any Nightwish stuff. But the Auri thing I think cleared his tubes. Strangely, it did the opposite to me. I threw so much of myself into Auri that I came out completely exhausted and he came out completely regenerated.
OD – The track-listing of the album is somewhat strange as it’s a double LP with the first disc containing 9 tracks and the second disc, [essentially one piece of music] “All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World” however, divided into 8 chapters. Was there any trepidation in doing this and was this purely the brainchild of Tuomas (Holopainen) or a collective decision?
TD – Well some people could see that as folly. It’s a triumph for us. We feel that it’s so much a part of Nightwish’s makeup, the orchestra, that it was only a matter of time before there was pure orchestral music in the form of a symphonic suite which is what this is.
We could see that. That was on the horizon. We always knew that was going to come. Some people might feel that it was a risky thing to do, but I seriously believe that Nightwish fans are eclectic in their tastes. I know a lot of Nightwish fans like the gentle side of Nightwish as much as the bombastic and powerful side. So I think that thematically, it really works.
If you listen to both discs back-to-back, it makes a kind of indescribable sense. It’s hard to describe how closely related they are, and how it makes the whole picture complete, the whole human nature idea. You’ve just gotta dive in there with headphones on in a darkened room to get it.
OD – To date, all we have heard it ‘Noise’, are you happy with the reception that it’s received so far and do you guys actually keep an eye on fans reactions when you release singles etc?
TD – Some of us look online and see what’s being said. I’ve had a look at that kind of stuff. it’s like a howling echo chamber of nonsense out there. One minute you got; “Nightwish are fucking brilliant” and the next minute you’ve got; “Nightwish are the shittest band on Earth, then you got “Nightwish are brilliant” then you’ve got “Nightwish are the worst band I’ve ever seen”.
So you will drive yourself into a ditch looking at that stuff. However the overall response has been amazing from journalists, and we had an installation artist talking to us about the other day and it’s really hit home. But the overall message of the single ‘Noise‘ has kind of gotten through because everybody knows what it’s about. It’s pretty explicit but at the same time, I’ve got people saying to me “Oh you fuckin’ hypocrite – you’ve all got mobile phones”, but it’s not about mobile phones, it’s about people’s behaviour.
It’s not about mobile phones. Mobile phones are glorious things. Technology is beautiful. It’s the best, but people are going ” no, it’s not it’s about behaviour and addiction” and they can see it in themselves. I got two hours in the morning and my Dad calls it a ‘flaptop‘, [Laughing] and if I go over two-hours I get a frying pan over the back of the head if I go over that. I got to shut it down, and it’s good to do that. I get out of the house more.
OD – You’ve been working with the London Orchestra since 2003 and I can only speculate that there is a great relationship between both camps. I believe that the first disc contains just the strings, but the whole orchestra is present on “All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World”. Tuomas has commented on this saying that is was a “relatively easy process“, and I wanted to get your opinion on that aspect?
TD – The sound of this album is a qualitative leap: it’s hard to define. It sounds so good. Objectively, I’ve reached the point where I can take myself out of it and listen to the album objectively, all of the intensity and preparation of the thing are gone and I sat and listened to it with a couple of bottles of wine with my wife the other night, and it was mind-blowing, you know? It’s really something.
So I’m really delighted with the way it’s come out, much more than the last couple of albums, even though the last couple of albums were wonderful to me. This is something else because it’s so different. It’s quintessentially Nightwish but it’s got new flavours and colours.
We’re evolving, and I don’t believe in playing it safe. People can go “fucking hell mate you got a full gig’s worth of orchestral music in the world of metal”. There are no rules in music. Musical art is a personal expression and there are no rules. If you tie to other people’s opinions then you are finished as an artist. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
OD – Will there be any particular special shows where you will have the full live orchestra for this new touring schedule?
TD – Oh absolutely. It is our intent at some point, but again we could see that it was going to be a complete album or at least half an album that would be purely orchestral.
We could see it coming. Well, that has happened now, in just the same way that we can see ourselves doing a special show with a full orchestra. That’s going to happen. But at the moment which is a surprise to everyone, we’re too expensive to do it. But definitely it’s going to happen. For a big showcase or events, we will do it. Eventually, at some point, we’d love to.
OD – With Nightwish being an Arena/Festival Headlining band do you feel especially proud when you consider how unpredictable today’s music environment is?
TD – Completely 100%. To me, it’s a miraculous thing. It’s a miraculous example of triumph over adversity. You can stick to your vision outside of the mainstream music scene and still have a massive, massive following of people all over the world who love what you do, and it doesn’t get any better than that for a musician.
I know how difficult it is for kids to get a band together and there’s no support and that really needs to be addressed. I want to get more active in that. I’m also a child of the 70s and I know what it’s like.
My apprenticeship was brilliant… I played in sweaty pubs for nothing. It was really great – I deserved it. You need the hard graft and the struggle. A lot of kids nowadays look at X-Factor and The voice and all this nonsense… That you’re just turned out of the machine as a complete product.
Then you have the opposite end of the spectrum with Nightwish. Just look at where we are and what we are up to… Christ… we just put out a 30-minute disc of orchestral music. It’s great and we are kind of like, not oblivious to it, but we just kind of get on with what we’ve got to do. But at the same time, we are awake to it. Look at what’s going on with it- it’s quite marvellous.
OD – What would you consider to be the most cherished album in your collection?
TD – My most cherished record… that’s a really hard one because I’ve got tonnes. It would probably be an original of the Johnny Cash Sun Sessions… apparently it’s worth a fortune. It’s an original and it’s mono and it’s great, I’m not some early originals an original pressing of early Floyd stuff as well – I just love it all. I have nowhere near as much vinyl as you though.
OD – Next year will see the 25th anniversary of the band, will you do anything to celebrate it or do you not care for such things?
TD – Well we’ve just done our 20th anniversary so it might be a bit cheeky to do it 25th. But never say never… you never know.
Nightwish ‘Human. :II: Nature‘ will be available via Nuclear Blast from Friday, April 9th. Order your copy here.
Interview – Oran O’Beirne
Transcription – Shaun Martin