Exley asks Nightwish bass player Marco Hietala just how dangerous it really is
to write a rock ‘opera’?
you were a fledgling band trying to make your way in the music business today,
coming from Finland might be only one of your problems. That you should then go
and release one of the most daring albums of its generation though would surely
be seen as suicidal? But, then Nightwish are no fledglings. Since debuting in
1997 with the album ‘Angels Fall First’, this band has released four daring
albums that have tried to move the debate further forward each time, and as
current opus ‘Once’ steams up the metal charts worldwide even going Platinum
in Germany (that’s 200,000 sales!), it’s either likely to break all records
or become the millstone by which all other Nightwish activity in the future is
judged? And that’s why I’m sitting here with the ever-smiling Marco Hietala
(the band’s bassist since the end of 2001). ‘Once’ is a great album, in
fact a milestone for a band that has never shirked ‘courageous music’. It
builds beautifully on the format already set by ‘Wishmaster’ (Spinefarm
2000) and ‘Century Child’ (2002), but when people heard of the idea of using
The London Session Orchestra and Director Pip Williams to create the ultimate
‘operatic’ musical experience – alongside the driving, melodic and hugely
enjoyable metal Nightwish themselves create so naturally - I feel that many
simply didn’t expect it to work.
‘And, neither did we, really! I think we actually all got more out of this
record than we’d expected! All I can say about it, and you know of course,
that I’ve not only recorded material with Nightwish (Marco was in Sinergy
before he joined this lot)? Is that, when I listen to it, I never skip a song
even now, and it’s been with me for quite a long time! I think it’s all
about extremes. There’s a definite Nightwish element – the classic metal
band at the bottom, the classical vocal style, the hard, driving sound that
we’ve used on all our albums, but everything is just taken forward. The whole
package stands up as one piece of music.’
I like the heavier direction of the music, too? When Tuomas (Holopainen –
keyboards) had first suggested ideas for the record, last year, he gave us some
of the orchestral arrangements he wanted, plus some of the basic riffs. And, not
believing that the orchestral side would be as good as it eventually turned out,
I instinctively went for the power of the riffs and tried to exploit those.
Then, when that side of the record was done, Tuomas told us he was going to
England to use this orchestra and choir and suddenly, the album goes up a
further notch. It just exploded. The effect on our music was tremendous.’
you highlight any personal moments that illustrate that?
‘There’s the song, ‘The Siren’. I really like the atmosphere; the mix of
the vocal work Tarja (Turunen) and I do, how the whole song hangs together.
Then, there is ‘Higher Than Hope’ which I wrote a lot of, the acoustic
guitar part is mine. And, ‘Romanticide’ where I brought some of the heavier
riffing stuff to the song.’
often see Nightwish as Tuomas’ band. Clearly, this proves that it’s more of
a team effort?
‘Of course, but because Tuomas writes all the lyrics and much of the basic
ideas, I understand why people think that. It’s a very good formula though so
I really don’t see it changing too much. The success of the band right now,
depends on it.’
quote from the song ‘Dead Gardens’ then – “…. my song is little worth
anymore, time to lay this weary pen aside…”
Is there material left over from the ‘Once’ sessions, or is the cupboard
‘For Tuomas, probably it’s empty, but for me, there’s a few bits floating
about, yes. Two of my original ideas were used; two, I think remain, but we’re
certainly not going to push that side of it at the moment because everything is
still about pushing the album.’
especially on the DVD – ‘End Of Innocence’ (2003) – admits freely how
difficult he finds it to write. Can you all relate to that, or is it just a very
personal demon he has to battle?
‘No, we can all relate to it because I write lyrics too and I understand the
need for the perfectionism he talks about. You need to have a finite idea of
your style so that you say what you mean without bullshit getting in the way.
It’s very hard, especially when deadlines get involved. Tuomas, of course,
puts pressure on himself, as do we all to get the perfection, but, this time, it
was really brought home by the strength of the orchestra and the choristers –
those people can come in on any note with near perfection and that takes a great
deal of dedication!’
makes me more proud, more importantly, is that we’re already starting to see
real ‘profit’ from this album. We paid for the recording ourselves and
seeing the success it has generated really makes you proud that you took such a
band who, of course, took the same risk of using orchestra and got very positive
feedback from it, was Metallica with ‘S&M’? Do you feel it opened the
doors for you in any way?
‘No, not really, because the albums are very different. Metallica’s music
was already written, ours was not and, in the rehearsal studio, we were having
to adapt ideas to the orchestra, write ideas for ourselves and blend the two.
Pip Williams was a big help too of course. Many of his ideas made it into the
final mix as well. Songs like ‘Dark Chest Of Wonders’ for example, set the
whole tone for how the orchestra ended up functioning in the album. Everyone in
the band knew that, almost like a preview, that song would grow as soon as the
orchestra touched it – and it did, magnificently.’
there a fear though, that by being so daring with the orchestral side, you risk
painting yourself into a corner and becoming stuck with this ‘operatic’ tag?
‘Yeah! Of course, it’s a possibility but then again I don’t think we’ve
really thought about it too much. Each song has its own requirements and its own
feeling and really, we haven’t tried to analyse it too much yet. One guy asked
me last week, if it worried me that we
had a single – ‘Wish I Had An Angel’ – that has like, this techno,
Rammstein beat and that that might paint us into the corner of having to use
more machinery next time? Well, there you are, everyone has his or her own ideas
I suppose? When we write again, and that certainly won’t be for a while,
we’ll consider this. Not now!’
was certainly a heavy song for a single. It certainly challenges the belief that
a single should necessarily be the most commercial track on the album?
‘I think, with ‘Nemo’ we possibly did go for the most commercial song, and
it was, of course, the first single, but ‘Wish…’ has a great structure and
it’s a very catchy song, so I think it works. The record company agreed with
our views on that, which is unusual in itself, so I hope people like it.’
move on to some of the ideas for the songs. ‘Creek Mary’s Blood’ is a
brave song to record for Finnish people particularly. The song is about the
Native American Indian and features the tones of John Two-Hawks in an almost
prophetic Dances With Wolves like manner…
‘Tuomas is a big book freak and that’s where that comes from. It has a
tragic side to it, of course…’
not like ‘Run To The Hills’?
‘Ah, no! That’s certainly not the way Tuomas would write. You obviously run
the risk of being accused of ‘cashing in’, of exploiting the situation, when
you write about such things, but it was very important for us to make a very
genuine, moving statement in the song. John said that he got involved because he
saw that the mood was right and that his ancestors would respect how the song
was written. That was a very moving moment for us.’
no politics going on there, at all?
‘No, that’s not Tuomas’ style either. I feel that there is a statement
there, but that the atmosphere and the mysticism that the song creates is much
more important. Nightwish is about making songs talk, bringing atmosphere to the
material and giving it a life of its own. For example, we’re currently
discussing how to move the live side of this album forward. On recent dates
we’ve used a four-track mini disc player with the stereo recordings of the
orchestra, all kept in time to the drums. But Nighwish now is a much harder band
than it used to be, so the contrast between the album and the live environment
is getting really interesting. Watch this space!’
do you react to the fact that your now ‘chart celebrities’. ‘Once’
chartered in something like six countries almost immediately?
‘It’s unusual for us, but very flattering. Of course, in the rock charts,
there were three
Finnish artists all there at the same time; Him, the Rasmus and
ourselves. That’s a really good situation for any country and for different
styles of music. It’s never been easy for Tuomas and the other members of this
band to embrace that kind of success, it still feels strange even when you get
the big audiences all shouting for you, but we’re all rockers so we just go
out and try to enjoy it. The band has several very different sides to it and
although the album is daring and a risk for us, it only shows one side of the
band. The real rock and roll side is possibly kept in reserve.’
you release the DVD we mentioned in 2003? You talk about the different
personalities being held back; that seemed to strip away a lot of the mysticism
and reveal a great deal about Tuomas’ possible insecurities etc?
‘Yes, that’s true and some people complained about it because they felt it
brought them too close to the band. But, really, it was just something we wanted
to do because Nightwish is not on a pedestal for anyone. I’m just the same as
the next man – so is Tuomas. I do agree that it was a brave project because it
does reveal a lot but I feel that most people’s respect for Tuomas actually
grew after seeing that DVD because he didn’t edit too much out.’
particularly seem to have developed your vocal style more acutely on this album.
Who pushed you to do this?
‘Well, I can’t really say that I’ve developed that much, but it’s nice
to be able to do a bit, especially when you write lyrics for the band as well.
Obviously, everybody recognises that Tarja is the lead singer and that her vocal
style is what defines Nightwish – it’s silly to believe that I should aim to
do more and more, for example - but I really enjoy the vocal side to my job,
especially live where we do the songs like ‘Over The Hills….’ and the
yes, the famous Nightwish cover set. Aled Jones – ‘The Snowman-Walking In
The Air’. WHY??
‘That was before me, but, you know, I think it kinda works?? Ha! Ha! We still
play that and I love to watch the crowd because their reaction is just so much
fun. ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’ (Gary Moore) is much more successful for
us though. It really has opened many doors and like all the songs we do live,
the idea was just to not take everything so seriously and have fun with the song
initially. Then we
got asked to record it, so it had to be done with the same
perfection we use for our own songs.’
the last question, I wanted to pick up on some of the promotional material the
band has to date. Bottle openers, your own beer, DVD and video, condoms,
singles, merchandise; your own beer?
‘Ha! Ha! Yes, the stuff that we come up with, eh?? I don’t know, but the
simple T-shirt is often a
little boring right? The DVD’s have often been the
work of the band, the management and the record company working together and we
talked about the ‘End Of Innocence’ earlier. There was also ‘From Wishes
To Eternity’ which was a live recording, but the beer – that’s just
something which came about a year or so ago. There’s this brewery at home,
which has done this for a few bands before, and they asked if we would like to
have a beer named after us. We’ve had it, quite a lot of it actually, and
it’s nice! I don’t take a stance on this. If people want to collect loads of
stuff and you’re not ripping anyone off, then why not? I guess its just part
of the business. The better known you become the more companies want to put
their spoon in the soup.’
And there we leave Marco as Nightwish continue on their campaign to take ‘Once’ even further around the world right through into 2005. Touring at first was a bit of a curse, but now the band seem to be willing to go everywhere to make this work, whilst still remembering that you can never count your chickens. And that’s why I like the band so much – they’re very down to earth and genuinely surprised by the success they’re having. They certainly deserve it. ‘Once’ is a great piece of hard work, personified.
Editor would like to thank Mike Exley (My Metal Bro), the band and Karl @ Nuclear Blast UK, cheers guys!!
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