Nightwish are the pioneers of the female fronted metal scene, they've been through numerous lineup changes, but they still manage to stay on top of their game, selling out shows and making good music enjoyed all over the world. We had the pleasure to talk with Marco Hietala about all the things Nightwish, the new DVD coming soon, the transition to the new lineup, their plans for a new album, Tarot news, Marco's guest appearances and much more!
Hello Marco, how are you?
I'm doing good, just basically lying here at home on the couch.
That's good, are you in Finland?
Yeah I'm in Finland, overcoming (?) freezing times...
We're still waiting for the winter to come here, it's pretty hot still...
Well, you're in Greece, here it's cold already!
I guess it's even warmer than what we expected for November.
Sounds good to me! Can I come over? (laughs)
Of course, anytime you want just tell me when to expect you! I guess you won't be at home for too long, you are very busy as a musician and you travel a lot.
That's true, but I've been having quite a good time off from traveling and all that, I mean, I have some recordings and all that but, that doesn't really take me too far away from home because I do most of that in my home, at my workshop.
So it's kind of a relaxing and resting period for you, right?
Um, it has been but of course, now that you're mentioning it I'm actually leaving on Friday to do some of these heavy Christmas shows that we've been doing with some people already almost ten years here in Finland, so I'm going to be away from home for about a week.
So what are these Christmas songs you talked about? Are you playing Christmas songs?
Yeah, that's true! There's a band, actually the guy who started it who is playing in the band, he is a guitar player Mr. Erkka Korhonen who is also playing guitar in Northern Kings, so yeah, it's traditional Christmas songs ranging to symphonic epic heavy metal, and we're doing that and I'm one of the vocalists and there's gonna be four vocalists at least every night and in some places even more. I guess in the Helsinki shows we're having six or seven vocalists.
Nice, I'm aware of Northern Kings and I suppose I can get the style that you are making these covers, it should be interesting.
Yeah, that's a fun project, but we haven't been able to do anything for a while with it, as everyone has been having busy times with their bands and their projects, so it's a hard bunch to get together.
Ok, let's get to the actual questions of this interview. You are about to release your new live DVD, called “Showtime, Storytime” with Nightwish, can you tell us how the idea for the DVD came up, and why did you choose the Wacken Open Air show for a live release?
Well, the live show came actually pretty late for the release of this whole thing. At first, we were thinking about releasing a documentary that we already had in the works for some while, I mean we started shooting from the beginning of the "Imaginaerum" tour, so it was pretty far in the works already, but then at spring, I think it was at the end of May- start of June that the Nuclear Blast guys, the record company guys, they asked us "Hey it would be really good if we could have a live show to go with the documentary". And we were like "Oh, there only a bunch of shows to go, so it's going to be a pain in the ass to arrange everything at that time" but in the end we figured out that ok, it would be nice to have something with this lineup because we haven't released anything, so let's start and make it happen. We actually figured out it should be Wacken, it's going to be the second to last show, and it's going to give us two months of time to arrange, and of course at Wacken you have plenty of metal people as an audience, and it was big already with thousands of people, and you're going to have good lights and screens and everything, so let's try and make it happen for that. In the end we did it, and now that you look back it was a really great thing to do, because now we've got a really good live show, where we have the new lineup and you see the back catalog of the band and how the new lineup does those songs, and then next summer we're going to be heading off to do new things, so the timing actually clicked.
There is a documentary included in the DVD, with the title “Please learn the setlist in 48 hours”. Did Floor really have to learn the setlist in 48 hours?
Pretty much, yeah! (laughs)
Amazing, isn't it?
Yeah, it sounds impossible of course, and in a way it was. She knew some of the songs from before, because she's been listening to us and we've toured in some places and doing shows together in different places , but mainly it was like when we called her "Ok, we've got a situation, you've got to jump on a plane as fast as you can, what do you think, can you handle these things? And here's the setlist". Α little bit shortened of course, so she gets on the first plane possible, starts to fly over to the States, listening to the songs from her iPod, reading lyrics and trying to learn them, then she comes over and we gave her a chance to kind of do the songs over at soundcheck, and then it was showtime. Of course, she couldn't learn all the lyrics at the time, so for the first few shows we had quite a lot of lyric sheets taped around the stage in different places, but gradually, within some shows, those sheets started to disappear, I mean she did this thing really fast and with such a professionalism and such determination that I couldn't believe it was possible. But she did it.
You have two new members in the band, Floor and Troy. Did you decide on keeping them as full time members after touring with them, or was it a consideration even before the tour?
Well, this was the thing, when Floor jumped on the tour bus with us, we tried to stay away from deciding anything, we were just like determined to try to do the rest of the shows, the rest of the tour, and do that as well as we can, and not think about the future at all. But already in the Spring it kind of started to become clear that we had something really good going on with the band, with the personal chemistries and everything, so already at the start of the Summer, we ended up asking her if she would like to stay. And we figured that Troy has been a really nice guy as well, he's been around for the whole tour , and he's good company, he fits into the personal chemistry within the band, so we figured that we should ask him as well. And then, we just took ourselves to this little silent corner after the show in Tampere to ask "Would you guys like to make this permanent?" and they were all like "Yes!", so the next thing to figure out was that we promised we won't make any decision until 2014, so let's do the summer shows and then figure when we're going to be publishing this. The time came of course, now that we have the release of the DVD and all the promo and everything, it doesn't really make sense to try to circle around the issue anymore, it's better that we can talk about it now that we are already doing promotion for the live release and the documentary.
Did the acceptance of the fans for the new members and especially Floor have an influence on your decision? Did you feel a lot of pressure for having to present new members to your fans, after all the controversy that followed Tarja’s replacement?
Didn't really think about that. The only thing that made us conscious was that there are plenty of people with different opinions, and also, we didn't want to give any kind of "food" to the media who are very likely to abuse the information that you give to them. So that's why we kind of basically kept silent about all the hassle that went down.
Do you personally keep in touch with Tarja and Annette?
No, not really, I mean, not that way. I met Tarja just by luck for instance in an airport in Helsinki and we had a few minutes to talk, she was asking how are my boys and I was asking how was the tour going, and blablabla, it was fun, but we are not actively in touch.
In retrospect, do you think the difference between Tarja’s and Annette’s style was a bit too much for all your fans to accept?
I don't know, because we lost some but we gained some, there are plenty of people who actually like the band more with a little bit more down to earth vocals, some like the classical style, and I think personally I enjoy both eras, because at least we aimed to do the music as well as we could, which I think has been always the most important thing about Nightwish, that the music and the personality of the band comes across as a whole.
You have announced that you are going into writing mode for the next album in 2014. Are there any songs that have been already written? On the band’s website it says that the new album will contain the longest song in the history of the band. Can you tell us a little more about it?
Well, I don’t know about the song itself, because two of us are writing stuff, but if he (Tuomas) says something like that it appears that he's been writing, I've been writing myself some stuff and I think we are going to be swapping some demos soon. I'm going to send him some stuff, he is going to send his stuff to me, and Emppu has been doing that also in the past so let's see if he's got anything, but I imagine that at the moment he's in a moving home somewhere in Europe, drinking beer (laughs), so I haven't heard from him for a while, but anyway, it's true, we've got some writing in the process and let's see what's going to happen, by the next Summer we should have already made songs and should start rehearsing, arranging and recording.
"Imaginaerum" was quite a departure from Nightwish traditional sound and I’d really like to see you experimenting and exploring new musical territories. Is this possible or do you think you’ll revisit your older style now with Floor?
I have no idea! With this band, it's always been a question of doing things the way they feel the best at the time you're doing them, so when we start to hear what kind of songwriting ideas we have, and we start to arrange and rehearse, that's possibly the main thing that will decide what kind of album is in the making. At first, we always try to please ourselves, that we are doing something that sounds good and we don’t think about anything, about what kind of structures or what the mainstream demands would be, and it has worked before, because people seem to like the music when you do it that way, and that's a nice bonus.
You are probably the most 'metalhead' member of the band. How come you mostly write the ballads for Nightwish and not some more aggressive songs?
(Laughs) I don't think that mainly I'm just a metalhead! I mean I listen to a lot of music, a lot of different things, of course my first love was probably Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and bands like that so, I'm always going to be loving the heavy stuff, but I do listen to a lot of modern metal, and everything in between those old legends, lots of different things like Jethro Tull, and Irish folk songs, which you can probably hear from the ballads you mentioned.
Nightwish have gone way beyond the average metal band and have become kind of a benchmark for female fronted metal bands. I know you’ll claim that you don’t think in terms like that, but the business side of a band is very influenced, so how do you try to deal with it?
Success is good in the way that yeah, you sell albums and you do shows which are worth the money and are worth to show yourself to people, and seems to be also worthwhile for the people to come and see the band and everything, but of course success and how you deal with it is something that you unconsciously remind yourself about, that you've got to sit on a porcelain seat every morning like everybody else. It's just that I guess we're a bunch of people, who aim to do what we can, as well as we possibly can. So the music that we write and play matters to us and it's been a really great thing to see that it actually matters to way more people than just us.
Nuclear Blast is a big label, but how come Nightwish are not on the roster of a big multinational label. I guess you’ve been approached, so is it that the market has changed or is it that Nightwish prefer to be to a metal oriented label?
I think that so far Nuclear Blast has done a hell of a good job for us, in matters of promotion and publishing and all that, releasing the albums and arranging these interviews, and I think that the band and the record company are both at a size that fit to each other. If we would go to the big multinational labels, we would always have to deal with this, like I said the band doesn't want to cater to the mainstream or write music with a recipe, then we would have to deal with that, because when you go to the big companies, they always want that.
You’ve had a bad experience while playing in Greece in the past, due to organizational mistakes, is there any chance you’ll play here again? You have a big fanbase in Greece that would love to see you perform live...
Yeah, for sure, that was totally like some people were shooting their mouths! I had no problem playing in Greece, I had a good time, of course, at the last time, there were some issues, and there was a money issue with the promoter, but it still doesn't mean that there wouldn't be fans and people that we would like to play for, if there's a chance and if there's a good opportunity we'll be back.
There is a problem with bands like Nightwish that continue to become bigger and have a more expensive show, while Greece stills goes through a financial crisis. Do you think the gap is hard to overcome?
Hmm, to be honest, I don’t know. I mean sure, if you take your average rock &roll festival promoter, they're probably having a hard time in Greece, that much that they don't have funds to book bands that they would want to, but still, like in any place, in Europe or in any place or any country, there's bound to be people that are hoarding and are being successful in hoarding money, we should get those people to promote the festivals.
Moving from Nightwish for a bit, I would like to ask what is the status of Tarot? Any plans for a new album?
Yeah, actually there are, not like a real timetable but we have already started the writing process and demoed some stuff, so I'd imagine we'll do some serious recording already sometime in the winter.
Are you going to tour when the album comes out?
Yeah, probably, I think so, we're going to be touring when the album comes out, because we don't have a real timetable for that, like I said, I have a little workspace, a small studio, and Janne, the keyboard player also has one as well, so we've been recording the latest Tarot albums all by ourselves, and that's why we don't really have a timetable or schedule, because we use our own equipment so that we don't have to book studios.
You also participated on Arjen Lucassen's "The Theory Of Everything", contributing with vocals. How was that experience for you? In a recent interview we did with him, he spoke highly of you...
That's nice to hear, because I think highly of him as well! I've got the previous albums and I really liked the quality of the work, they were definitely something that doesn't cater to the mainstream, it really is as prog as you can get these days, so I admired his work and the backbone that he has when doing those concept things and everything. We've been doing some email correspondence during the last few years now and then, and now he just sent me an email that he's got an album in the works and that he's got a role for me, asking if I would be interested. I said yes immediately, just told him to send me some demos and lyrical parts, and let's get ourselves a timetable when I can get around and do it, and that's what happened.
He said that when he needed a bad guy, he immediately thought of you!
(Laughs) I guess I sound a little bit nasty now and then! (laughs)
(Laughs) Well, you fit the role like a glove, and you did an amazing job!
Oh, thank you!
You were also supposed to be the singer on his Guilt Machine project. Why didn’t that happen?
Oh man! I don't know! Was I supposed to do that? I guess when he's around ask him! (laughs)
Are you a fan of progressive rock and metal music?
Yeah, I am, because I've been listening to a lot of music like old Jethro Tull, and Yes and Genesis and these bands as well, alongside with the old metal bands and all that. Albums of the acoustic time of Jethro Tull have been affecting my writing as well.
Thanks for your time! Do you have any message for your Greek fans?
Thank you for your time!