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"I listened to the harmonies, like some acapella harmonies, and I asked myself why haven't we used this for an album before? So that was the starting point for the song writing process. I wanted to really challenge the singers."

Interview with Tuomas Holopainen (NIGHTWISH)

Promoting Nightwish's ninth studio album, Tuomas was in Paris on the last Tuesday of February 2020. On this occasion, we had the chance of hearing HUMAN. :||: NATURE. in its entirety and take the time to talk with its composer about its creation but also all the band's recent news.

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Interview by Guillaume, Nicolas and Sabrina in Paris, the 25th of February 2020, and transcribed by Sabrina.

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Nicolas: In 2015, "The Greatest Show On Earth" was your favorite Nightwish song. What about today?

Tuomas: It's hard to say what's my favorite because I don't really listen to our songs. What is your favorite? What does it even mean? But, you know, if there is a song I would have to say is the most representative of what Nightwish is about then it would be The Greatest Show On Earth. Let's put it that way.

Nicolas: Music seems to be a song describing the evolution of music from the prehistoric times until today. Do you see this song like the "Music" version of "The Greatest Show On Earth" (which was about the evolution of life in general)?

It's very ambiguous. Obviously it starts in the stone age as you can hear the hammer hitting the limestone. And then music starts to descend and something happens. But it's not so much about musical evolution, it's more about why we do music. About why do human species do art. And why do we have these imaginative thoughts. We're the only species in the world who does music and paints and sculpts. So why is that? This song is a bit of a thought experiment about that idea.

Pochette de l'album HUMAN. || NATURE. (2020)

Guillaume: When we look at the title of the songs, most of them are very concise, while in the previous albums, they were longer and then more expressive. Is it a figure of speech you did on purpose?

We didn't do it on purpose, it just happened. And then, at the end of the song writing process, I was looking at the song list and I said "Wow! Only one word song titles." Really, it’s not deliberate, it just happened. So I thought it would be cool if the human side of the album had just one word titles. But I couldn't let go of "How's The Heart?" because it's kind of a catch phrase and I really like how it sounds and looks. So we did a little exception there.

Nicolas: Troy is the lead singer on Harvest and Marco is the lead singer on Endlessness. (Did you try to get them one main song on purpose?) When you are composing, do you have a specific role in mind for each of the three voices you can use with the current line-up? (Tuomas says "tools" to define the three voices)

Yes, for sure. When I was writing Shoemaker, right from the beginning I knew that Troy would be singing the lead in the chorus and Floor would be singing the lead in all the rest. So I do have their voices in my head from the moment I start writing and composing. And this album is definitely made for singers. There's more singing on this album than on any other album we made. We even left off most of the orchestra for the first part of the album to give them more space. Floor really shines. But there are a lot of harmonic vocals and we really put a lot of effort to showcase the human voice.

Nicolas: the second part of Shoemaker, we had a melt down when we heard it, it's incredible!

Yes, talk about versatility! What Floor can do is pretty amazing. On Shoemaker, that's the operatic part but the high and loud, powerful voice is also there. She can also do incredible vocal acrobatics. You can't imagine how difficult the verses of the song Music are to sing. It's there for a purpose and we rehearsed it a lot and she rehearsed it a lot at home too and then, again and again. And she makes it sound so effortless. But singers will be able to tell you that it’s a really hard thing to do.

Sabrina: Yes, sometimes it feels like it's ten people singing the song.

(laughs) Yes, well again it was an album made for the singers. The decision to do this was made during the Decades tour when I heard Floor, Marco and Troy sing the older songs. I listened to the harmonies, like the acapella harmonies on "Come Cover Me" for instance and I asked myself "why haven't we used this for an album before?" So that was the starting point for the song writing process. I wanted to really challenge the singers.

Carnet de croquis botanique de Leonard de Vinci

Sabrina: The words All The Works Of Nature Which Adorn The World are taken from a book of Da Vinci named "An Anthology of Writings", is that right?

That's exactly the part where I took the title from.

Editor's note, here is the complete quote : "Painting is concerned with all the 10 attributes of sight; which are:--Darkness, Light, Solidity and Colour, Form and Position, Distance and Propinquity, Motion and Rest.) This little work of mine will be a tissue [of the studies] of these attributes, reminding the painter of the rules and methods by which he should use his art to imitate all the works of Nature which adorn the world."

Sabrina: Was it how you apprehended the second CD? To use your art to imitate all the works of nature which adorn the world?

Yes. I wanted to paint the beauty of the world with music for people to hear and see. I even used the David Attenborough series, Blue Planet, as reference. I put them on, turned down the volume then played on top of what I saw. And this song is not about climate change. It's pretty astounding when people bring that up, thinking this is our way of addressing climate change. It's actually not. It's about the beauty of nature.

Nicolas: This track consists of a unique song which is a hundred percent instrumental. Was it always supposed to be like this, or did you plan on adding lyrics at the beginning of its creation?

Listen to Tuomas' answer

No, never. It was essential from the beginning that there would be no human voices. It was the dramatic contrast that we wished to create for the album. Nine songs or tales about humanity, sang with the human voice. And then we get to the nature part and man is gone. There are just those vague noises and we had to include the two spoken parts because they really compliment the grandeur of the piece, but nothing else. The last thing you want to bring to "The Blue" for instance, is Floor singing "Watch the beauty of the sea". (singing with a cheesy melody) You don't want mankind messing with nature. (laughs)

Photo d'Eugene Shoemaker ayant inspiré le titre Shoemaker

Sabrina: Can you tell us about the story behind the title of the song "Shoemaker"?

He was a scientist whose biggest dream was to get to the moon. So he applied to be an astronaut but because of health reasons, he was denied. So he became an astronomer and a geologist and did great work in those fields. And then in 1999, he died in a car crash in Australia. At the same time in America, his coworker called Carolyn Porco, was about to send a rocket to the moon. It was going to follow the moon’s orbit for a year or two and then crash land on the moon. So she had this idea of taking Eugene's body, cremate it and put the ashes in the capsule. So to this day, Eugene is the only person to have been buried outside of planet Earth. But most importantly, his wish was granted. And they put a Shakespeare quote on the capsule as well, the one that is recited in the song before the final part. That's from Romeo and Juliet.

Editor's note, here is the complete quote : "When he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun."

Sabrina: Pan is a god of Nature but also is a prefix that marks the notion of totality. Is that the inspiration for this song?

Pan as a word is as ambiguous as it gets. It can mean so many different things. It's about nature, it's everything, it's also Peter Pan, it's everything you want. But the song in itself is a tribute to the power of human imagination.

Sabrina: So more Peter Pan than anything else.

Yes! But that's everything you want it to be. That's the beauty of art. No truth, no fact. Well maybe truths but no facts.

Nicolas: We have a few more questions about the single Noise. For the first time, you didn’t release a physical single, as Noise is only digital. What is the reason for that?

I have no idea. It was the record label's decision.

Nicolas: Do you have any bonus tracks saved up somewhere?

We don't have anything. No demos, no songs, no remix. Everything we did is on that album.

Guillaume: You used to have those on other albums though?

Yes, and every single time I hated doing that. It's a bit silly. You add a bonus track for a certain market so that you get more sales and all that nonsense. I like the idea of having a compact album better. These are the songs and that's it.

Nicolas: We discovered something that was hidden in one of the songs. Was it a voluntary easter-egg?

Editor's Note : Tuomas asked us not to explicitly write what it is.

Wow! You are the first ones to get it. I'm really impressed because nobody from the band except me and the mixing engineer knows about it or noticed.

Artwork de Toxic Angel pour le clip vidéo de Noise

Guillaume: I read that after The Islander music video was released, Stobe Harju promised himself that he would never do music videos anymore. But one night in 2019, you were together in a bar in Helsinki and... can you tell us how you finally convinced him?

At first, it was all about Floor convincing me to do a music video. For a very long time, I didn’t want to do this anymore. I just didn't see the point. But Floor convinced me that it was still good fun and good for the marketing if you make it well. So I said "let's try" but it needed to be done with care and as long as the band doesn't play or sing in the video because that's kind of last season. And well, Noise was a very obvious choice for a video because of the strong subject matter. Immediately you knew that you had all the chances in the world to make a brilliant video. So I called Stobe, saying that I knew he didn’t do music videos anymore but "how about one more?" and he said okay. Then we sat at a hotel bar one night and just talked about the issues. We actually made a list of the most annoying internet phenomenons and modern day smart device phenomenons. And that's how the characters were created. I remember that the first thing that popped into my mind was these catastrophe porn people, so to say. The kind of people you see on the side of a car crash taking photos, which is so unbelievable and appalling. So that's why people are taking photos when Emppu is getting beaten up. And then, when at an art gallery or a concert or watching fireworks, there's always people looking at it through their cell phones. Then there's the beauty pageant mother, that's Floor. Then I'm the environmentalist who has a certain image in the virtual world because he wants to feel virtuous and he has a sign that's pro-nuclear on one side and against on the other. And he has no idea what he’s doing but he’s planting a tree because it's really hip and cool. And then he bathes in oil with a rubber duck. My character is all about hypocrisy. I've seen the video maybe 25 times and I still see new things every time. It’s really filled with details. And also the blond girl (@pezsiii), she was great because she's one of the biggest instagram stars in Finland. Her whole thing is to take selfie pictures of herself half-naked and she agreed to come and do a parody of herself.

Guillaume: Then, you asked Toxic Angel for his help, is that right?

Stobe asked him actually.

Guillaume: What were their respective roles?

I think Toxic made most of the artwork. Stobe was closely involved as well but Toxic made most of that work. And he also created lots of the 3D background for the video. For example the water wall behind the throne with the heart. That was Toxic's doing.

Clip video de Noise (NIGHTWISH)

Guillaume: Did you watch the TV show or read the novel American Gods from Neil Gaiman?

No, I didn't even read the book. It's one of the only Neil Gaiman books I haven't read for some reason.

Sabrina: In the book American God, there's a war between the old gods of Nature and the new "modern" gods of technology and we felt like it could have inspired this song.

This is one of Floor's favorite books and Marco praised it as well. So I have to read it. It's on my list.

Guillaume: Floor reminds us about the goddess Media. She looks like she’s keeping the girl prisoner. Do you think that TV and medias in general divert us from the real important things in life such as freedom and nature?

Not necessarily. It's just a matter of how we use this technology and how much time we spend with entertainment. For example, TV series can be highly inspirational and educational. I mean, the song Noise was born from the TV series Black Mirror, which is my all time favorite TV series. Just the best. So no, I don’t think it does that, it's more a question of balance and how you use it. We've had quite a lot of criticism for the video. "You guys are criticising cellphones and still are using them yourselves?" What this video is criticising is addiction.

Guillaume: Do you have a specific Black Mirror episode you especially like?

White Christmas. Gave me nightmares for life. I mean the ending scene went under my skin and it's never going to leave. I almost wish I had never seen it.

Extrait du film Matrix

Sabrina: In general, there seems to be plenty of references to movies, books and new technologies that question the human nature and men’s actions on the environment. I’m thinking about Matrix and the way people are hooked to the machines, being fed by it and feeding it back at the same time. Was it an inspiration?

I think it might have come from Toxic or Stobe. I've seen only the first Matrix ages ago and I don't remember much of it.

Guillaume: By the way, in december 2015, you told us that you were writing a lot of short stories, "something weird between Stephen King and Neil Gaiman", that you would like being published in a book. Did you manage to dedicate time to this project?

Unfortunately not yet. It's still in the plan but since 2015 I haven't written anything new. But they still exist so maybe at some point.

Nicolas: Let's talk about the tour. The "Imaginaerum Tour" brought full pyro to your shows, on the "Endless Forms Most Beautiful Tour", you added big screens, and finally, for the "Decades Tour", you brought an even larger screen and multiple other screens, with a lot of pyro. So, is next tour’s scenography going to bring something bigger?

Not necessarily bigger, maybe some new ideas that are more interesting. I think there might be even less pyros than before. They'll be there but less so. Screens will definitely be there as well. I was talking with my stage designer yesterday morning so we haven't seen what he's up to yet. The rehearsals start in about four weeks.

Nicolas: So you still think about a concert with an orchestra?

Less and less to be honest. I mean, like ten or five years ago maybe but now I don't know. It's a lot of hassle logistically. It's a nightmare. It's been done by so many bands brilliantly already. If it was to happen, something extra should be added. So it's not something that we're going to be doing on this tour.

Guillaume: You’ll play at Les Arènes De Nîmes on June, 30th. It’s a very special place where bands like Rammstein and Metallica shot a live DVD. Would you consider doing something special for that date?

We're playing there? Wow! (he looks very impressed) That looks absolutely amazing. Well, now you've given us something to think about.

Plan large des arènes de Nîmes avec les effets pyrotechniques de Rammstein

Sabrina: We will be in Oulu next April, to see a cover band named Nevski & The Prospects. Can you tell us more about this band? Will you be there too? (all of us smiling)

I haven't seen them yet. I don't know anything about them, you should ask Ewo (Nightwish’s manager). But I'm going as well to check them out.

Editor's note : Nevski & The Prospects is really Nightwish. The band plays a secret concert at the beginning of every tour using a fake cover band name. Unfortunately, this one has been canceled due to COVID-19.

Nicolas: You told us that composing for Auri unlocked your inspiration for writing new songs for Nightwish. Yesterday, we read in an interview that a new Auri album will be probably released in 2021. Is it saying that Nightwish unlocked your inspiration for some new Auri stuff?

Actually yes, we were just talking about it the other day and I told Troy that we should record it and get it out sometime in 2021. He already has four songs, Johanna has three songs and I have one. So it's almost an album. About unlocking, I don't know if it's really unlocking or just not feeling the same as I did five years ago. Because back then it was "No music, thank you. I'm done for a while". And now it's like "Alright, why not? Let's start doing Auri."

Nicolas: And maybe a little tour with Auri?

Yes, that's in the planning as well.

Guillaume: Outside of Finland?

Yes for sure! It's really hard to estimate where we'll play. I would think that it'd be small clubs, churches maybe.

Nicolas: during an interview with Marco recently, he told us small clubs were nice because of the proximity with the audience.

Yes, I agree. I would enjoy that over playing at big festival a lot more.

Guillaume: Some big bands like The Rolling Stones or Madonna do that sometimes. Rare intimate shows to enjoy something different.

Yes absolutely. We have been toying with the idea that when we know that Nightwish ends, the last show is going to happen in Kitee. The place where we did the very first show. It takes about 300 people.