INTERVIEW: NIGHTWISH – Marko & Kai; Finnvox Studios, Helsinki, 28.01.2020

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With the approach of their tenth studio album upon us, it’s time to share the interview we did with Nightwish, regarding their upcoming release, Human. :||: Nature. Taking place after the pre-listening session at Finnvox Studios in January, we had a chat with Marko Hietala (bass, vocals) and Kai Hahto (drums) about what was in store for spring.

Lue suomeksi TÄÄLLÄ!
Check out the pre-listening report HERE!

Marko: Hello!

Kai: Hi!

First, I’d like to thank you both of you for this opportunity. Just so you know, this the first interview I’ve ever conducted, so thanks for being my first interviewees!
Kai: Okay, no worries!

Nightwish is about to release their ninth studio album. How does it make you feel?
Marko: I’m pretty used to it by now [laughs].

Kai: It’s always feels great to put out a new album. You really get the feeling that you’ve accomplished something.

Marko: Depends on who’s releasing the album. Most albums released these days are lackluster. I hope ours isn’t [laughs].

Why do you feel that most new music is not up to bar?
Marko: Let’s just say that most mainstream music tends to follow the same old patterns that we’ve all heard a million times before.

Kai: So we might not be that excited about every new release from other artists, but finally releasing our new album in April does feel great. On the last tour, we only played the older stuff and we picked up some new tricks that we’ve incorporated into the new album.

Marko: It’s pretty interesting how it all happened. Take the vocal harmonies on the new album for example. Those are a crafted by me, Floor, and Troy. On the Decades tour, we played songs from so far back that none of us three were even in the band when those were recorded. We noticed that we were able to bring a lot of new depth to the older songs by utilizing the entire vocal arsenal we have in the band right now. It worked so well that we decided to bring that to the new album as much as possible. When rehearsing for the new album, we often had these extra vocal harmony “workshops” during our evening campfires. We had a lot of good energy and intensity in those sessions!

So playing the older songs with the current lineup influenced the arrangements on the new album?
Marko: I’d say it motivated us for the new album. We wanted to modernize the older songs a bit and that required quite a lot of work on the vocal harmony arrangements. That got us thinking that we should do this for the new material as well. We have done it for previous albums too, but for this one, we took it to the next level.

Kai: It was during some random sound check that Tuomas had this realization that we haven’t taken full advantage of the vocal potential we have in the band. If we have these three amazing vocalists singing together, we can create something truly great. I think that’s when he had the idea that all the choruses on the new album will feature three part vocal harmonies.

Marko: The idea was that with the interplay of each of our own distinct registers, we could create unique harmonies. Not that I’d want to compare us to Queen, but a big part of their appeal was that they all had their distinct vocal roles. Roger Taylor was the high falsetto for example. We tried to bring something like that to our band. Every voice is unique with its timbre and tone so we wanted to make full use of the voices we have in our band.

Kai: The first disc of the new album is really band-driven. The band does all the instrumentation and vocals and there’s no featured guests. Our three vocalists do all the singing you hear.

Marko: Well we do have a small choir doing some parts, but you can easily tell it apart from the singers in the band. The vocals sung by us are way more intimate.

Kai: I just meant that there’s no outside singers featured, per se. The background choir is something we’ve had on our albums for ages. The choir we used was Metro Voices, as we’ve done for several albums now.

Have you gotten used to the cycle of writing new music, releasing an album, and then touring? Is it easier now than 10 years ago?
Marko: You pretty much have to get used to those things or they will burn you out. I’ve toured so much that it takes some work for me to keep it interesting. All the travelling and sitting around gets boring pretty quick. You sort of have to re-learn to be patient each time you go on tour… aaaand I totally forgot where I was going with this [laughter].

Have you developed any tricks to keep the frustration from creeping in when on tour? How do you keep your sanity intact?
Marko: I try to keep my expectations in check. I often find myself hoping that things will work out in a certain way. I consciously try to stop those thoughts before they get too far, since that can only lead to disappointment. Of course, my mental state and events around me also have an effect, but you can learn to better manage your expectations. I have a bunch of books on my iPad and games for Nintendo, those help too.

Kai: Humor also helps. We laugh like hell sometimes.

Marko: We have a couple of grade-A bullshitters in our crew! [laughter]

Kai: We also play dice backstage.

Marko: Yeah, that too.

Kai: It’s a fun game.

Marko: We play for small change! [laughs]

Kai: It’s a good way to keep yourself from going into zombie mode. Sometimes we play dice for hours!

Marko: It’s true, we play poker on dice backstage and use random change in our pockets as bets.

So basically gambling?
Kai: Yeah, for real! But the main thing is to spend time together.

Marko: It’s a simple and fun game.

Kai: Some of our crew has joined our gambling ring. It’s gotten quite big. I love it!

Marko: Sometimes we have up to eight people playing. If everyone bets 1€, the winner walks away with 8€! [laughs]

Kai: In the US, we use dollars. Usually one dollar bills. Euros in Europe and dollars in the US.

Marko: After touring in the US, we have euros and dollars all mixed as bets. It all works, though! [laughs]

No need to check the currency rates?
Marko: We’re not that specific [laughs].

I wanted to delve a bit deeper into the name of album. It’s titled Human. :||: Nature. and the words are separated by these interesting symbols. What can you tell me about that?
Marko: I think it’s a play on words, but I’m not sure. It’s meant to symbolize that these words have a different meaning when they’re separated, as opposed to when they are together. The name also loosely ties all the songs together thematically.

Kai: The first disc, Human, features (human) vocals and the songs are about humanity. The second disc, Nature, is a 30-minute trip into nature, as the title suggests. These two halves form the whole that is Human. :||: Nature.

Marko: Of course these concepts do blend into each other.

How do you pronounce the name of the album? Are you supposed to pronounce the symbols in between the words?
Kai: It’s simply “Human Nature,” the symbols are there just to stylize the title.

Marko. You can just say “Human Nature.” No need to have a pause between the words. That would just be a waste of time anyway [laughs].

Kai: My mouth’s getting dry. I need a drink!

Marko: This is the correct pronunciation of the album title! Human [sips water] Nature. I’m glad we have a definitive answer!

Many past Nightwish albums featured themes of fantasy. However, your previous album Endless Forms Most Beautiful was quite a departure thematically. Is the new album a return to those fantasy concepts, lyrically or thematically?
Marko: Yes and no. I have the lead in a song titled “Endlessness,” where I have to humanize something that is inherently inhuman.

That would be the last track on the first disc, correct?
Marko. Yeah. So there are some of those elements.

Kai: The new album is kind of a sequel to the one before. We still want to cover the same topics, but we just try to look at them from a different perspective. There’s songs like “Pan,” which deals with people’s imagination. So there are those somewhat fantastical elements but perhaps they’re a bit more downplayed when compared to our previous work. On the new album, we are dealing more with humans, humanity, and nature.

Marko: When Tuomas was writing Endless Forms Most Beautiful, I was super interested in seeing how he would convey these ideas and concepts into music and lyrics. He was able to turn real world topics into something fantastical, touching, and entertaining. That holds true for the new album as well. We cover a variety of topics on the new one. As I said before, I had to humanize something very inhuman.

So these concepts can be quite difficult to comprehend?
Kai: Exactly.

Is it fair to say that the previous album started a new era for the band where the focus shifted into more real-life topics like natural sciences?
Marko: I think that’s partially correct. I wouldn’t say were dealing with natural sciences, per se. It’s more that we have taken a more naturalistic viewpoint on topics such as imagination, intelligence, and technology and how to find balance with these things. We also delve into the idea of what nature is. There already exists cases where technology and humans are merged. For example, you can get an artificial titanium joint put in your leg. This type of small-scale merger of the two can actually be beneficial for us. But on a larger scale this can lead into problems like the climate crisis, which is something that our technology definitely accelerates. The climate is getting warmer and Finland is drying up. These are good topics for songs. Tuomas is all about substance in his writing. Sure his songs work just as entertaining stories, but they can also invoke thoughts in the listener. We try to avoid being preachy, though.

Kai: It’s all part of evolving as a band. Just because you have songs about Winnie-the-Pooh on the first album, doesn’t mean you have to keep singing about Winnie-the-Pooh 20 years later. It comes off as fake, especially if you you’ve grown out of those topics.

Marko: I think I would have been way more open to singing about Winnie-the-Pooh in my twenties than I am now at 54.

Kai: Right, that just proves my point.

In the press release, it’s stated that most of the new album was recorded in a very natural setting in Röskö, much like the previous album.
Marko: Yes indeed. We recorded in Eastern Karelia, just by the forest at the lakeside.

Is it located in Kitee?
Marko: Yeah it’s part of the Kitee municipality, but it’s very remote so we’re pretty much just by ourselves in the woods. Sometimes wives and kids come to visit but most of the time it’s just us. That makes the whole process very personal and warm. It’s both intense and relaxed.

Kai: It’s a good balance. We start rehearsing at 10 a.m., rehearse until 4 p.m., and then we chill. We go to the sauna, swim, throw some sausages on the grill and listen to music.

Marko: But not our own music! [laughs]

That’s a good distinction!
Kai: We haven’t made enough music to last us the whole month.

Are the partying days over for the band?
Marko: I don’t think they’ll ever be completely over. We have calmed down quite a bit over the years, though. Back in my younger days, I had this intense drive to raise hell after every gig. That’s not there anymore.

Kai: We have definitely calmed down. We are people that…

Marko: Back in the day, it was rare not to have a wild party after the show. Nowadays the parties have become the exceptions.

But the opportunity to party does still exist?
Kai: For sure.

Marko: If the occasion is right and you have good people to party with, why not! Let’s throw a barbeque party! On the US tours when we’re stopping at warm cities like Phoenix and Scottsdale, we usually throw these all-night BBQ parties on the bus parking lot behind the venue. We form a circle with the our and the opening act’s busses and put up the grill in the middle. We buy a whole lot of meats and vegan stuff to put on there.

Sounds like an American-style tailgate party.

Kai: Yeah, we barbeque sausages, potatoes, and whatever else.

Marko: You have to come up with things like this to keep the touring life interesting.

Given the themes of the new album and the natural recording setting, did you record any nature noises or things like that for the album?
Marko: I don’t know about that. That stuff is handled by the effects guys.

Kai: Tuomas might be able to tell you more about that.

Marko: For the past couple of albums, Tuomas has recruited a guy named Jussi Tegelman from the USA to handle the effects – whale moans and other weird stuff. I’m not sure if he worked on the new album. I’ve got to admit that I’m a bit out of the loop on the small details. I was doing my solo project during the making of it. We would demo the new Nightwish songs during the weeks and on weekends I played shows with my solo band.

Kai: I don’t know about those nature sounds either, but I’m pretty sure no one got so into the nature gimmick that they recorded themselves shouting in Norwegian while squatting in a bush or anything like that.

Marko: Though there were many opportunities to record other people from the bushes like a proper pervert! [laughs]

Kai: You could record people in the sauna.

Marko: I do like to record all kinds of weird stuff. For example, I wondered what it would sound like to pull a violin bow across this metallic shelf in my bathroom. It made this goddamn awful sound and we used it on my solo album! So I do record all kinds of stuff, but I haven’t recorded any nature sounds yet. I haven’t felt the need to go record some birds singing or something. Actually, there was this one thing that I wish I recorded, thinking back on it. It was back when I was living in Vuosaari. The night before was very foggy and the air was very humid. Then the humidity froze on the surfaces of trees. I was walking on the beach, surrounded by the trees. I was surrounded by the jingle coming from the trees when small pieces of ice fell off them. The ambiance was cool as hell!

To wrap up, what are your favorite tracks from the new album so far?
Kai: That’s a hard one. Many of the new songs are so fun to play.

Marko: I’m really pumped about the song called “Harvest.”

Kai: That’s a great one.

Marko: On the other hand, “Shoemaker” gives me this amazing sorrowful feeling.

So it’s hard to pick a favorite right now?
Kai: Very difficult indeed.

Right on! So that’s all the time we have today. I want to thank you again for the interview. Anything you want to add?
Kai: I’ve got nothing else to add except “rock ’n’ roll!”

Marko: To paraphrase Matti Nykänen: “death is death!” [laughs]

And on that note, we’re out!

Trans: Harri Finer