Interview – Marko Hietala of Nightwish

Like any band, Nightwish has a story to tell. Full of ups, downs, frustrations, and triumphs, in reality, few can tell a tale quite like these Fins. Coming at a crossroad at the peak of their success, they made a bold decision, yet landed on their feet. Then a few years later they were faced with yet another difficult choice, and still righted the ship. A testament to comradery between the key members of the band, one of the steadying forces through it all has been Marko Hietala. 

Joining up just prior to their 2002 Century Child album, Hietala has become a cornerstone in Nightwish not only on the bass, but also as a leading voice. A signature part of the band’s success over the last two decades, Hietala recently sat down to chat about his time with Nightwish, weathering the storm of challenging times, his other projects, plus a whole lot more. 

Cryptic Rock – You have been an intricate part of the Nightwish family for nearly two decades now. Before going any further, tell us, what has your time in Nightwish been like?

Marko Hietala – Woah man! It will actually be two decades next year. It’s probably been the biggest, lasting part of my life that there has been. Of course, there is my older band, Tarot, which we started in the late ’80s and still did things in the 2000s. That was a long lasting thing, but as life goes, Nightwish has made my living. There has been ups and downs as well as joys and sorrows. 

Cryptic Rock – You have certainly accomplished a lot with Nightwish. When you came on, you became a very big part of the band right off the bat, particularly with your voice. That addition of your voice added a new dynamic to Nightwish’s music. What was it like initially working with the band and utilizing your voice to the music’s advantage? 

Marko Hietala – We started from a pretty good common background; the guys are Karelian and I’m Savonian. There was already that kind of country boy attitude with us. Then when we started, rehearsing and swapping ideas for Century Child (2002), it became really comfortable really fast. We just got along.

Of course, when you have humans, you get drama occasionally, and of course we’ve had those times. In the end we have been pretty honest about troubles and being understanding, and if need be, forgiving. We have a great personal chemistry with this bunch.

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Cryptic Rock – It shows. The band has faced adversity and overcome it. Let’s look back for a moment. In 2004, Nightwish released the Once album, which launched the band into a new stratosphere of success. However, shortly after that release, the band parted ways with Tarja Turunen. Looking back 15 years after, was that a stressful time?

Marko Hietala – Yes, it was. Everyone was anxious, restless, and troubled all the time already. We had no connection and we decided, just as the band started to get bigger, we needed to take back our voice in the band. That’s why it happened. It was scary, but it was a thing where we were already eating so much of our own spine; in order to survive we had to amputate. We were already feeling bad about so many things, it was something that had to be done.

We survived until the next few years of troubles, and we still got through it. I said this already in the documentary, but I think we showed an exceptional persistence and group spirit through a lot of times. God damn, I cherish it! 

Cryptic Rock – That unity is evident. It all just adds more to the story of Nightwish. The band has settled in nicely in recent years with Floor Jansen. A fantastic addition, what has it been like working with her?

Marko Hietala – She’s brilliant! She’s a powerhouse vocalist who wants to perform, sing, and loves doing shows. I’m pleased with how things are now. Of course some people have been complaining that I’m hanging a little bit more in the shadows now that she is there, but I’m not. I’m doing a shitload of vocals and background harmonies; there are just a good bunch of songs and we do them the best way they will sound. 

Cryptic Rock – Understandable. It is about what the music calls for. If the music calls for you to be more upfront and center, then you will be.

Marko Hietala – Indeed. It’s not like I don’t have things to do. I have bass playing, which on some nights with hot lighting, is compared to shoveling in its calorie consummation. (Laughs)  

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Nuclear Blast Records

Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Well you have done a great job. Speaking of new music, Nightwish recently released the epic new album Human. :II: Nature. What was it like putting this record together?

Marko Hietala – There are certain ways we have gotten used to doing things. We had a month and a half of summer camp rehearsal sessions and then started recording. Kai (Hahto) went to a different studio to record the drum bottom tracks because our summer camp didn’t have the space with the proper ambiances for that to be recorded. We then put up the amps/vocal mics and we laid down all the other stuff for the album pretty fast and comfortably.

Of course there was this thing that we started to do, which is apparent on the album, where we had some pretty nice harmony vocal sessions. I have spoke about this a few times, but when we did the Decades Tour, we wanted to do something different for the oldies – so we figured with Troy, me, and Floor that we could do a bunch of live harmonies to beef them up. It sounded so nice that we figured that we could do them more on the album. Tuomas (Holopainen) wrote stuff so we could do those harmonies, and we ended up doing quite a lot of them.

A lot of our barbecue sessions at our summer camp there would be an acoustic guitar or battery-operated keyboard; we would try some lines out, figure out ideas and swap them. I would say Troy and I were writing that stuff mostly, but Tuomas and Floor were also always around so we could test things and see how they went. It was nice. 

Cryptic Rock – The end result is quite good. It is a very well-balanced collection of heavier and more somber tracks. What can you tell us about the concept behind the album?

Marko Hietala – I guess if you take human nature, and either two words, separate or combined, the theme is a bit loose. All the songs on the album connect to those things – human or nature, or human nature. 

Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. Then there is the second disc, which is predominately all instrumental. Were you apart of the second half of the album at all?

 Marko Hietala – I didn’t really work on it. When Tuomas was writing it, he did ask the rest of the band if it was okay to have a classical orchestra for the second half of the album. Basically, the only people who worked there was (Troy Donockley) with some piping and Floor with some vocals.

Cryptic Rock – It is a great addition to the first half of Human. :II: Nature. You also released your solo album, Pyre of the Black Heart, earlier this year. What was the process behind that album?

Marko Hietala – It was a long time dream for a guy like me who writes a lot. When Nightwish had a sabbatical, I called a couple of friends of mine to work on the album; there was Tuomas Wäinölä on guitar and Vili Oillila on keyboards, who I have known 10-15 years. I had this idea this album was not going to drop into a straight Heavy Metal box, but that it was going to be more Prog Rock or Hard Rock with Metal in between. They helped me finalize the arrangements.

Tuomas Wäinölä also ended up recording and producing most of the album. It turned out to be an inside project with me and those guys. Then we ended up hiring a drummer who we also knew, Anssi Nykänen. As a result of the making of the album it started to grow into a band. We actually had a little tour in February before everything closed out. It was really great, a lot of people liked it and we had a lot of wide grins in the audience. 

We also did a Finnish version of the album. About half and half of the songs were written in Finish or English. I just had to crisscross translating them to get both albums out. 

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Cryptic Rock – Very cool! It really turned out well. You have offered your talents to many other bands through the years. To name a few, you have worked with Eternal Tears of Sorrow, To/Die/For, Charon, etc. Do you enjoy collaborating with others? 

Marko Hietala – Yea. When I was in my twenties I got to be an apprentice recording engineer. That is why I was sitting in the studio and helping people out. I was also doing a lot of studio vocal work; both coaching, arranging, and singing harmonies. It had been an interest of mine, but I do have to say lately I have been putting the brakes down. (Laughs) At some point in time I was doing so much work it started to lose its point. These days, I try to very basically keep it to projects who I am friends with and whose music interests me. 

Cryptic Rock – Understandable, you do not want to spread yourself too thin.

Marko Hietala – Yes, but also, interesting things are interesting. A couple of years back, for the first time, I did a Modern Classical thing with Ayreon. There were a lot of words, melodies, keys, tempo, and time signature that was changing all the time. I have to say before the premier I was crapping my pants, but I pulled myself together and it went well.

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Nuclear Blast Records

Cryptic Rock – It sounds like that was an exciting new challenge. Obviously we are in the midst of this worldwide pandemic. It is hard to tell what tomorrow will bring, but is Nightwish going to resume touring when they can?

Marko Hietala – We have had cancellations for the summer festival. We were also supposed to go to China in April. We are trying to move some things to 2021. The Central European tour, it should be sometime next fall, it’s still open. With the summer festivals, it seems like we are watching dominoes fall. 

Cryptic Rock – It is unfortunate. Hopefully we can return to some sense of normalcy soon.

Marko Hietala – I agree, but what can you do? It’s a god damn virus, you cannot reason with it. This is the situation. Although, we have the album out and hopefully people are getting to listen to it. Hopefully we get to see each other some time in the future. I love doing shows and I’m really bummed out that we have no shows. It would have been really great to go out there and start doing it together. After all, there are vibes involved when you build up that bubble for people, yourself, and your bandmates. When you do it together, it’s a vibe that you are hooked to… at least I am. 

Cryptic Rock – Yes, a lot of people are hooked to those vibes. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorites?

Marko Hietala – In Science Fiction, a film that went kind of under the radar was Predestination (2014). It has a brilliant time travel story. Of course everyone knows Interstellar (2014), which was big and great. Europa Report (2013) was also great as well. 

Horror is more problematic for me, because I can’t be scared anymore. Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House was pretty good. 

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