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"We got to the point now where we cannot remember making Auri anymore. It's so pure that I've forgotten and I can listen to it as it should be listened to, directly, which is a rare thing!"

Interview with Tuomas Holopainen, Troy Donockley and Johanna Kurkela (AURI)

It's in a terribly exciting and always friendly atmosphere that this interview took place. Of course, we'd never met Johanna before but we've often had the opportunity to speak with Troy and even more so with Tuomas. In the end, this moment perfectly captured what the British-Finnish trio's new project Auri really is: a waking dream filled with euphoria and metaphysics. And as always, we came with a photo album.

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Interview done by Guillaume, Sabrina and Nicolas in Paris, the 30th of January 2018 and transcribed by Sabrina.

Vous pouvez également lire notre interview en français

Guillaume: As we read one of your favorite quote from Ralph Vaughan Williams "It never seems to occur to people that a man just wants to write a piece of music" and realized that it applies very well to the Auri composition process, we firstly thought that it would be quite difficult to ask you anything about the music of Auri. That's the reason why I was wondering if you're still having a good time promoting this album.

Tuomas, Johanna and Troy promoting Auri in Finlande

(As they see the picture, they burst out laughing)

Johanna: Yes! You can see it by the color of our drinks (laughs)

Guillaume: Is it a good time or is it maybe a little boring?

Troy: Oh it's awful. Actually I'm gonna leave... (he pretends to leave)

(They all laugh)

Troy: No as you can imagine, we're having a fantastic time.

Guillaume: Yesterday you were in London?

Tuomas: Yeah, this is our second day and we're really having a good time. We're not just saying it.

Troy: Yes, it's been the best press tour so far, we're laughing all the time. And we're not saying this because of the wine. (He shows the bottle of red wine and their three glasses) We've only started drinking three interviews ago so it's only one bottle, we're not drunk or anything. (laughs)

Tuomas: Although you already said that during the last interiew so... (laughs)

Nicolas: Troy, at the occasion of an interview with you, in late 2015, you told us that your next project will be "a ballet with [you] and Tuomas dancing around as ballerinas". Is that what Auri finally became?

(They all laugh)

Troy: Well watch out for the new video, everything will be revealed! It's really fascinating you know because our ballet dresses, he (pointing at Tuomas) spilled some red wine on mine and because I was wearing a giant chicken outfit and she (pointing at Johanna) slipped and it was... well anyway you'll see in the video, it'll clear things up. (they all laugh)

Promo pic for Auri near cliffs in Cornwall

Nicolas: More seriously, when did the idea of making something together come to you?

Johanna: Well, ever since Tuomas and I discovered the music of Troy. When we discovered "The Madness of crows" for instance, it was just wow. There's been this sort of fervent urge to do something in the field of music together. And we've been friends for many years now and the fact that we are connected through many mutual loves, it's really rare and astonishing. Also, the fact that we are all musicians and are able to combine our strengths in that way, it's really magical.

Sabrina: Can you tell us how the project progressed from the first song recorded in 2011 to the album composed 6 years later? How did you go from this very positive song about love to an album that's, amongst other things, inspired by Patrick Rothfuss' books?

Troy: The Patrick Rothfuss books influence is obviously there but I actually haven't read those books. It put me in a unique position in this Auri world. To me, the word Auri is a beautiful word, it looks and sounds wonderful. And my interpretation was from the word Aura which means emanation and golden atmospheric, atmosphere. Which is exactly what the music of Auri is. And from this humble beginning, we went down this road. And me and Tuomas loved Johanna's voice so much that we knew that we would all work together someday. And Johanna was thinking the exact same thing. We were doomed to do this project together. (they all laugh) But we went into it open hearted and fully aware of every road that we could take. And so Patrick Rothfuss's influence was from Tuomas and Johanna, so it was only a part of it, a small one or a huge one depending on your perspective. The character of Auri, what she symbolizes is outside of Patrick Rothfuss' books, it's an archetype and it's really old, even in the books it also represents a philosophy as much as character. Auri has three meanings because it's also part of Johanna's name, it's a finnish name. It's brilliant and it gives a lot of possibilities, you can read into it what you like. So you don't have to have read his books to enjoy the album.

Tuomas: It's not a concept album, not in any way.

Tuomas, Johanna, Troy and Tim Oliver in studio for Auri

(they're very happy to see Tim Oliver on this photo)

Sabrina: Who else took part in this project?

Tuomas: (to Troy) Well, you tell them about the guests and I'll show them the ultimate one. (He stands up to get his phone)

Troy: Oh yeah we'll do that. Actually this is an exclusive for you three. (they laugh) Actually the guest that we have are actually minimal, there's only four of them. We did everything else between the three of us, we performed most of the music. The guests were Frank Van Essen who did all the strings, the violin and so on. But the unusual thing about Frank is that he's a sublime expressive violin player and yet he's also a phenomenal rock drummer. (laughs) I mean have you already encountered such a thing?

Sabrina: No it sounds pretty rare.

Troy: It's really rare, I've never seen such a thing. So I think Frank played on every song, either drums or strings or both. He's on every track. One of the other guests is just on one single track, on the song See, and there's Micheal Gill from Edinburgh playing on Them Thar Chanterelles. And then who else do we have?

Tuomas: Well, there's the keyboard soloist on Savant.

Troy: Oh yes, there's the keyboard soloist, tell them.

Tuomas: The album involves a world premiere and you can hear it towards the end of the last section of the song Savant. We had to have an improvised keyboard solo (he hums the part) and we found the right person to do it. We just had to film it because it's so brilliant.

(He shows us the video of a donkey playing on the keyboard with his tongue on his phone)

Troy: This is what is actually on the album. We kept it exactly like that.

(they all laugh)

Sabrina: Can we know his name, it's important he gets credit for his work.

Tuomas: Absolutely, it's Joomba.

Troy: Also on Them Thar Chanterelles, the last track, there's this part and it's nice to know it appears as well because it's the whole point of Auri. Johanna and Tuomas were picking chanterelles and she just started singing this little melody (they all hum it) and then it exploded into this massive universal dance with all the forest and all the leaves singing and Johanna drunk in the forest (laughs) and that's the essence of Them Thar Chanterelles.

Nicolas: And at the end of this track, there's someone saying "I'm singing this song", who is it?

Troy: That was an accident. I think it was the guy in the studio cleaning up or something. Yeah we have no idea how that happened.

(they all laugh)

Tuomas wearing a Patrick Rothfuss is my master now tshirt

Guillaume: In "The Music Of Silence", the novel written by Patrick Rothfuss, Kvothe, the main character, meets Auri, discribed as a wild, mysterious and clairvoyant young woman. We know that Rothfuss is one of your influences. So, can you tell us what Rothfuss' Auri and your band have in common?

Tuomas: I mean the character Auri in these books is a deep mystery. It's not explained where she comes from and what happened to her so she had to leave in this underworld. It's a similar mystery that happened with Auri, the band. We don't know where the music comes from. It's just channeled and filtered through our brains and ends up in this audio mess we need to decipher. So the combining thing is the deep mystery. Nodoby knows and that makes it beautiful.

Guillaume: So the idea that male vocals represent Kvothe's voice and female vocals represent Auri's voice isn't right. It's not as simple as that.

Johanna: No.

Tuomas: Well, you can interpret it whatever you want. I mean if you listen to the album and interpret it like that it's absolutely fine for you to feel it that way but there's not just one way to listen to those songs.

Troy: Absolutely, it's not a concept album at all, not even remotely. Couples of influences here and there from Patrick Rothfuss but that's all.

Sabrina: Yes for instance, in Aphrodite Rising, it feels like it's Aphrodite speaking directly. Or is it again more complicated than that?

Troy: Aphrodite is love coming to Earth, all enveloping, unstoppable. Light fighting darkness, that's what Aphrodite is. The "I'm falling through the constellations", It's a tired state of mankind being hit unstoppably by love.

Nicolas: and Johanna, did you read some books from Rothfuss?

Johanna: Yes I did. I love how he uses his words, it's like poetry and I love how he describes plain music and music in general in his books. That's one of the things. Aww, here she is.

Covert art for Patrick Rothfuss' Music of Silence

Sabrina: We thought that this character actually looked a bit like you back when you had red hair.

Tuomas: Yeah that's great stuff, I haven't seen this cover before.

Troy: It's from where I first met Johanna. She stood there, she couldn't see me but I was "hey!"

Johanna: That's it I remember it.

Troy: Tuomas was over there playing the banjo.

(they all laugh)

Johanna: But really, we are the things we love and emanate the things we love. And this album is like a collection of the things we love. Patrick Rothfuss books being part of the things we love. And I think it's ones of the easiest ones to spot if you've read the books. You read our words and you know that we love the characters you know that we love the books. It's the obvious conclusion and I'd like to put a big emphasis on it but for us it's been just one thing in a plethora of things, in this myriad of inspirational things that we've experienced and soaked up in our lives. No to take any credit away from the book or the fact that we love them but I think it's important to emphasize that.

Troy: Yeah it's difficult not to give too much away on this music but yeah I completely conquer.

Sabrina: With this album, you made me want to read Patrick Rothfuss books. Which one would you recommend we start with to discover his world?

Tuomas: It really has to be The Name Of The Wind first. Then A Wise Man's Fear and then The Slow Regard Of Silent Things. And actually those are actually the only books he's ever written so far. He also wrote children's books but those are actually the only three novels he's written so far.

Troy: Great title The Slow Regard Of Silent Things.

Tuomas: Yeah it really is.

Tuomas with the novel The Slow Regard Of Silent Things from Rothfuss

Sabrina: And actually it's only called that in english because the translators couldn't really understand the title and Patrick Rothfuss himself couldn't explain it so they went for "The Music of silence".

Tuomas: Oh interesting, I didn't know that.

Nicolas: Tuomas, Do you have some personal and specific rules you like to respect when you compose for Nightwish? And are there different rules when you compose for Auri?

Tuomas: No, the process is exactly the same really. Just dwelling in the feeling of doing exactly what you want or feel like doing without any restrictions. Of course, when you are in the middle of the song writing process, you realize that this will end up for Auri or this will end up for Nightwish. So I guess that might make some kind of subconscious difference in the songwriting. But the basic philosophy of what I write when I write music is always the same. So it wasn't really a different thing for me.

Nicolas: You said you had no inspiration left for composing songs after "The Greatest Show on Earth" but focusing on Auri renewed your inspiration for Nightwish.

Listen to Tuomas' answer

Tuomas: Yes, this story sounds like it was romanticized. But it's not, it's actually what happened. For a year and a half, I didn't feel like writing for Nightwish at all. I tried a couple of times but it just wasn't there, I went to the keyboard and started playing and didn't feel it. And then we started working on Auri, got the album finished pretty quickly and it sounded brilliant. At that moment, I said "let's see if there's something for Nightwish left" and then all the floodgates opened. And ever since the beginning of october, I've been just immersed in the next Nightwish album. And it feels really good. I don't think I was ever desperate or had a writer's block. I just didn't feel like writing. But this album just changed it all for reasons I cannot explain. I honestly can't.

Auri's cover art (2018)

Guillaume: The lyrics from "Night 13" seem to be about the different views of life after death in different cultures and religions like christianism and buddhism and there's even the idea of mother nature. It's a very beautiful song but why choose a song about death as the first single for this album?

Troy: Well you actually answered the question with your first line. You said "seem to be". That's the answer, it seems to be about that but that doesn't necessarily mean it is. Night 13 could mean that for you but it could mean something else for someone else. The essence is what you touched on. It's a song about regeneration. There's a piece by Richard Strauss, the composer, called Death and transfiguration and the clue is in that I think. But as a very positively, fluid, moving thing. So Night 13 is more than the sum of its parts, it's the most personally interpretative song.

Tuomas: For me personally, it's a very uplifting song. The message behind it is really full of light.

Troy: Yes, it really is. Even though it doesn't sound like it. When you listen to the final howl into space from Johanna "Now I know", to me it's really uplifting, even though the song behind it is dark and mysterious. She's realizing something and the scream is out of shock, it's the shock of the news. Hopefully this will be expressed in the video that's about to be released. That moment when she screams "I know", there's really something there. Again, even the video doesn't tell the whole story. The miraculous thing about Night 13 is that it objectively caused different directions for the film makers that were making the film. I gave them a synopsis, a storyboard for it. And the director, she was quite a young woman, in her early twenties I think, she was visibly very excited about the whole thing. The thing is, she misheard the opening line "I walk" for "I woke" so she instantly had a different perspective on the whole thing. She was like "I can see some kind of bed there but can't he just be lost between worlds where there's no human being so he doesn't know where he is?" And I said "absolutely" because that's it, he doesn't know where he is, this character or whatever he is. And that attitude really enriches art I think. It's like when a person writes a screenplay from a novel, they interpret it and take the essence of it. They keep the essence and just manipulate it visually. I love that. But the crooks of Night 13 is in the video and you'll see exactly what's going on, depending on how receptive you are to it.

Guillaume: Will we understand the meaning of the title?

Troy: No! (laughs)

Tuomas: There is a meaning though. The number 13 isn't just there randomly, there is a meaning but we're not telling you.

Troy: I mean is it something to do with luck or the number of bottles of wine in my cellar? it could be anything! (laughs)

Promo pic for Auri

Sabrina: The last song, "Them Thar Chanterelles" is a very irish song with a lot of violins and lots of choirs. Can you tell us more about the "featuring Liquor in the Well"? Is it a special guest?

Tuomas: Featuring Liquor in the well is actually the later part of the song.

Troy: Yes because Them Thar Chanterelles is split into two parts. And thematically, it is also split into two parts. The woman is walking in the forest picking up mushrooms and the whole world starts to sing as she finds the liquor in the well if you like and everything starts to swell. And the music itself, it's a universal dance of absolute affirmation of life. That's what liquor in the well is, not any special guest or anything.

Guillaume: By the way, after some research, we figured out that "them thar" is a typical american expression, firstly used during the Gold Rush. Can you tell us something more about it in the context of the song?

Troy: Not really, maybe it was because Johanna, she got a couple of glasses of champagne before she went for mushrooms and she was like "them there chanterelles". (imitating someone being a little drunk) It just sounded like that.

Tuomas: And we thought it was brilliant so we decided to call it that Them Thar instead or Them There Chanterelles. (they all laugh)

Sabrina: The first thing we notice when listening to the album is the strong atmosphere and the world you created. We listened to it for the first time when we were in Norway to see the Northern Lights and it felt like it was just perfect. So would you recommend a specific atmosphere to discover it in the best possible conditions? Like a specific time of day or a specific place?

Troy: Depends on your body clock.

Johanna: For me, I tend to listen to this album whenever I'm travelling. On the train or on a plane when I can look at the sceneries changing, especially when you fly above the clouds and it's just so beautiful. The album is a journey on its own with a scenery attached to it. Just like hunting for the Northern Lights, it's like the essence of it. And so because the album is a bit like a journey, you can attach whichever film, nature, journey to it, wherever you are.

Tuomas: Whatever strikes your fancy really. Whatever the time of the day or the place. Of course it would be recommandable to actually listen to the album. What I mean is don't put it on while you're hoovering the floor. (laughs)

Troy: Unless you really want to (laughs). But yes, give it your full attention, lose yourself in it. That'll give you the best result, it does for us anyway. Because we got to the point now where we cannot remember making it anymore. When I hear it, I cannot hear any of us anymore. I know we created it and build it but it's so pure that I've forgotten and I can listen to it as it should be listened to, directly, which is, again, a rare thing!

Guillaume: Concerning your promotional photos, and after some research, we figured out that the scenes were taking place in Cornwall, Rocky Valley. Can you give us a word about this place and also about Tim Martindale who made this beautiful job?

Amateur photography and promotional photo shoot at Rocky Valley

(we showed them the exact place where the pictures were taken and they're very impressed)

Troy: Wow, you have done your research! (laughs) We were very lucky because Tim Martindale, he used to work on lifeboats so he had access to places in Cornwall where tourists don't go. They're fantastic geological features and strange rock formations that are really magical and quite rare. Or so I've been told, I'm not a geologist. Tim knew all those places and took us there. And not only is he a brilliant and inspired photographer but he is like a hobbit as well (laughs). He's got those marvelously big feet and he climbs over rocks with those feet. Lies down on rocks with a lot of seaweed on it and everything, he's very adventurous. So Tim was really an asset for us and he definitely inspired us to go out on a limb and clamber over rocks.

Tuomas: And we took the photos first before we started recording the album. (laughs) So it kind of forced us to finish the recording.

Nicolas: Do you plan on doing some live shows in the future?

Johanna: We'd love to yeah, at some point. When we have the time to do it properly.

Tuomas: We have some Nightwish duties coming up, she has duties of her own coming up as well. But I would definitely think that once we get another album down in a few years, maybe even sooner rather later, we need to do a tour.

Guillaume: So potentially, we could see you outside of Finland?

Tuomas: Yes sure, absolutely. Actually I had a vision, a strong vision about three hours ago that in 2022, we will do a tour of fifty shows in Europe.

Troy: He's usually good with these kinds of visions. Although I had the same vision with seventy two shows.

Tuomas: We might just meet in the middle, like 61 shows. (laughs)

Troy: We want to spread our wings as it were. We want to spread our wings and explore brave news worlds with this. I mean Nightwish is this glorious big Behemoth, monster of a thing that is there, we can see it somewhere.

Tuomas: I liked your metaphor from before.

Troy: Oh yeah, actually it's a big tanker. (Tuomas imitates the noise of a big tanker) And it's there and it summons us while we're in this yacht drinking champagne.

Tuomas: Sailing from safe heaven to safe heaven, yeah that's Auri.

Troy: And then the tanker call us and we're like "ok we're coming". And we love them both. We love it, there's no oil tanker like Nightwish! (laughs)

Guillaume: Last november, you participated to a special show named Järven Tarina Ja Metsän Tarina for which you joined a 40-person choir as a soloist singer. The whole thing deals with the wild life in the forest and the lake, and the general atmosphere made us think of Auri. Can you tell us more about it?

Poster for Järven Tarina Ja Metsän Tarina concert

Johanna: Well, I love movie soundtracks, that's what I listen to the most, in addition with metal, on my free time. I was really happy when i got the invitation to actually sing on it. Cause they'd done the tale of a forest documentary and about a year later, followed the tale of a lake. And they invited me to be the voice of some sort of water spirit in the movie, which is a lovely collage of Finnish nature.

Troy: It's the life of a lake over a year, right? It's excellent.

Johanna: Yes and so later on, the production team came up with the idea of doing something like those shows Hans Zimmer has done all over the world. And they wanted to do something a bit similar in Finland. It hasn't been done before in Finland. So yes, they kind of combined the images of these two documentaries and made something new out of it with live music. It was such a pleasure to play because we all like film scores and instrumental and this cinematic sort of atmospheric music. And I've been dreaming of doing something like that so when they asked me, obviously I jumped on it.

Tuomas: I was there and I was blown away, it was very beautiful. They should do more of it. And it's kind of a trending thing all over the world. They show you movies with real live orchestras and I think it's great.

Sabrina: And has it been recorded?

Johanna: No I think unfortunately, they just filmed it for promotional use and to be able to create more shows.

Troy: It's a common thing for documentary films, they don't have published music. Things like Blue Planets, they've become classics but you can't buy the music for them, you've got to buy the movie if you want to listen to the music, so it's kind of common.

Guillaume: To finish the interview, Troy, can you tell us a few words about this picture? (they all laugh)

Troy at a Christmas party with Mostly Autumn

Johanna: Yes, tell us everything.

Troy: It was at Big Bryan (Bryan Josh) Christmas party, a friend of mine he's got a band in the UK called Mostly Autumn. I've know him for years and he insisted that I put on a Christmas Santa hat and get up and sing Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. Looking like that. (they all laugh)