October 22, 2013 Interview – Tarja Turunen
Over the past 15 years a male dominated metal scene has seen a wave of powerful female fronted bands reshape people’s perception of metal. One such band which was at the forefront of the new wave of female fronted metal bands were Finland’s Nightwish. Vocalist Tarja Turunen took the world by storm with her powerful operatic singing voice. Tarja left the band in 2005 after almost a decade of being a key element which made Nightwish one of the biggest metal bands in the world.
A true artists never rests on their laurels and Tarja is no different with a successful solo career and most triumphant solo album to date Colours In The Dark. Recently we sat down with Tarja for a personal look at her time with Nightwish, her growth as an artist, and balancing music and family.
Crypticrock.com – You have been involved in the rock and metal scene for almost 2 decades now. Your style of singing is of an operatic nature. When you first started your career this style of singing was not very common in metal. What was it like for you when you first started out with Nightwish being on the cutting edge of this new style of metal?
Tarja Turunen – It was really tough in the beginning because of the fact my voice changed radically in a few months of time. More or less the same time I joined the band, which was a shock for the guys at the time. We all knew each other, but they didn’t know I changed and was learning opera. My voice had changed so much since they heard me the last time. When we went into the studio and they heard my voice, it was completely different than what they had in mind.
It was very difficult for me those first steps and years in the band because of not having that flexibility in my voice yet, because of being in the beginning of the lyrical singing studies. I kept taking singing lessons which I’m still doing today, because that made me realize if I was getting better in that field I was also getting better with singing in Nightwish. Obviously I didn’t want to lose that. That had always been my passion to learn more about my instrument, my voice. It was tough though, around 2002 I started to feel more confident on stage. There wasn’t anybody to teach me how to sing songs with Nightwish, so I found a way on my own in a sense.
Crypticrock.com – You obviously have dedicated yourself to singing in that style and you can tell in the music. Your music rose to popularity over a decade long span with Nightwish. Many fans were sadden and surprised to see your time in Nightwish end but nothing is forever and things change in life. Looking back 8 years after your departure from the band how would you describe the experience of being part of Nightwish and achieving the success you did?
Tarja Turunen – To be seriously honest with you, without those amazing experiences in a band as the lead vocalist I would not have had a chance to see the world, to meet lovely people, and to get to know more about myself as well. Without having that chance it’s very hypothetical to say now where would I be, where could I be, if I wouldn’t have joined the band or if I didn’t take the challenge that was right in front of me at the time. I don’t know where the hell I would be (laughs).
Now looking back all those years there were problems in the band, personal problems with the members for many years, but the music was amazing. That was the whole situation that kept us together for such a long time. I love singing some of the Nightwish songs and I don’t have any problems with that. The thing is surely it gave me the chance to be the artist I am today. At that time I was just a singer, now I can say I am an artist and that is a huge change in my life. Without having that experience I wouldn’t be here talking to you of course.
Crypticrock.com – Since parting ways with Nightwish you have grown as an artist and released 4 solo records. The first record was a compilation of Christmas songs. Sometimes it’s difficult to try something new after getting used to a certain way of doing things. What was it like going into the recording of My Winter Storm (2007)?
Tarja Turunen – Back at that time, I had a producer working with me. I never worked with a producer before. I had a new record label, which I knew some people on Universal music, but not everybody. I needed to find the musicians to record with me, they came from my preferences or the labels preferences. Everything was new to me in that sense, except for the music itself. I needed to trust my instincts of this is what I want, this is what I love, this is what is what lays in my heart and I need to push hard to make it happen.
It was not easy, I needed to take those baby steps. It was hard to take that control on my own because there were so many people telling me what to do. I didn’t agree with them and it was really tough. Already the 2nd album What Lies Beneath (2010) was way different. I produced it on my own, I had the musicians working with me for a few years already, everything started to become easier. It had been an enormous learning experience for me.
Crypticrock.com – Yes and you mentioned What Lies Beneath (2010) which sound appeared to have matured musically and lyrically. I imagine you took a lot from your first experience with My Winter Storm (2007).
Tarja Turunen – My Winter Storm was a situation for me where I wanted to create something rather unique having my symphonic background. I didn’t want to mix it with the heavy guitars and the sound of the band. It was such a challenge to make the people around me understand what I wanted to reach with that. I wanted the band to sound heavy but I also wanted the band to have a sound of a pure beautiful symphony orchestra. I wanted that sound to really be present on the album, but on the production it was like oh my god how do we do that. Obviously on the 2nd record I said I know the symphonic side well enough, and I just needed to count on the people that I had with me to make the rock sound really rock and heavy as possible. It was a good beginning because of course I love the songs on My Winter Storm still. What was lacking for me was the production. That’s the whole thing though, you learn from your mistakes and grow from that.
CrypticRock.com – Of course as an artist you learn from your mistakes, grow, and move on. Now your newest record Colours In The Dark was released in August and it’s very epic sounding as well as heavy. What was the writing and recording process like for this new record?
Tarja Turunen – It really took a long time but it was fantastic. I was having a really good time writing this album. I was writing a lot on my own, but then again I sat down with song writers I wrote with on my first two records. Everything is getting easier. I have more confidence in that sense. Many things have happened in my career and private life. I have become a mother. With this album the writing actually took me 2 1/2 years all together because I was touring so much with my previous record. Every time I was home I was writing songs or every time I was in a quiet place I was writing with someone else. It was nice but in some sense you’d think the songs would be very disconnected from each other but they are not. I always had the same ideas for the songs. I wanted to follow the dream sequence of my life. I am really a dreamer still and writing about that and those kinds of things, very personal issues on the album. It was a really lovely time, I got to write too many songs actually. Many of them are going for a future record, I had to leave them out on this one.
Crypticrock.com – That is great that you had enough material for another record. You can tell the songs are very personal on the album. It’s always interesting to see the track list for an album and see when an artist has a cover track within it. On this album you choose to do a cover of Peter Gabriel’s song “Darkness”. It’s a great rendition. Tell me what made you decide to record this track?
Tarja Turunen – I love the song and Peter Gabriel. I am a big fan of his I have all his records and have been following his career since his time in Genesis. This song kind of stood out from his albums because of the lyrics. I fell in love with the song, I fell in love with the mood of the song. I started feeling like oh wow if I could ever touch any of his songs it would be this song to do a cover of it my own way. The thing was the lyrics, they are talking about our fears, that we shouldn’t let them own us.
I’ve tried to be like that, I have been really fighting not to be afraid of who I am and what I do. Not even when I write songs do I think of my audience or how I write, I write for myself. I am coming out of that box of insecurity when it comes to writing and showing my work. I am very shy in presenting my work. That is my fear and I’m overcoming that. The cover of “Darkness” has a lot to do with that. I wanted to have that song there because of that.
CrypticRock.com – It was a great choice. You will be touring Europe in support of the new record in October well into 2014. Can North America expect to see a tour announced in support of the record?
Tarja Turunen – That is what we are really working for at the moment. We are really looking forward to have some shows there, because it’s been a really long time since I was there. I know that the support and the fans are there. They really have been so patient with me, but I have to be honest with you, it’s been so difficult to find a promoter that would be interested in bringing me over there. We are fighting hard to make that happen. Nothing concrete has been scheduled but we are on it every day. The situation is now I start touring in October and keep on touring to 2015 so there is time for the USA plan of course. Hopefully that will happen for sure.
Crypticrock.com – That is something to look forward to. You said you are touring well into 2015. That is over a year of touring. With the style of singing you perform how do you keep your voice in shape with all those live performances?
Tarja Turunen – It’s tough. When I am home I work hard daily practicing my lyrical singing. I meet my singing teacher time to time too so I get on track. At the moment I’m training really hard to condition myself for the tour so I can make it. It’s a lot of traveling, a lot of concerts, and one day after another. Also with my family, with a baby girl who is 1 year old, traveling with me so that is a challenge as well as new responsibility. I am training, I am really training physically and keeping my voice in shape. I’ve been doing that ever since I was 15, I’m very used to doing that. It’s this influence that I am carrying along with me, I can’t get rid of it even if I would like to someday (laughs). That’s my life, it’s a way of life.
Crypticrock.com – Of course that is your passion and love. What are some of your musical influences?
Tarja Turunen – Movie soundtracks are very important to me. Actually, I am listening to more and more American metal bands than European metal bands. It’s the kind of groove that I’ve grown into. The American flavor in the metal makes me fly and gives me the energy. The really hard sounding guitars and grooviness. I have an excellent guitar player which really deliveries me that. Bands like Avenged Sevenfold, Alice In Chains, Disturbed, and those kind of bands are really influential to me. Also the symphony sound comes from classical music and movie soundtracks. There are more 70’s and 80’s bands that I am still into.
CrypticRock.com – It’s good to be diverse in your musical tastes. My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
Tarja Turunen – Saw (2004) actually, that is something that I love. The Saw movies are crazy. It’s so awful, so awful to watch that you have to cover your eyes (laughs).