"Imaginaerum" the new album by NIGHTWISH will be published on 2nd Decmber 2011. Already in 2007 Tuomas Holopainen started thinking about this project which encompasses the music and a movie. Originally he thought about doing a video for each song, but when he talked to director Stobe Harju, who already did the video for "The Islander", Stobe suggested to do a full length movie instead. Now, in November 2011 the album is ready to be released and the movie is scheduled for April 2012. In late October 2011 we had the opportunity to take part in the pre-listening of "Imaginaerum" in Berlin and spoke to Marco Hietala about this project.
You can find the German translation in the interview category. In unserer Interview-Rubrik könnt Ihr die deutsche Übersetzung des Interviews finden.
How do you feel now that the first part of this huge project "Imaginaerum" is ready to be released?
Marco: It feels really good! We were starting the rehearsals in 2010, demoing in summer, after that recording in different places during the whole winter. We had some master versions since the start of last summer, so I'm really eager to get the album out to the people and to the public to hear it, because in all honest we are really satisfied with the album, we all think that we managed to do an impressive work there. There's a hell of a lot of musical information, a lot of different atmospheres and Anettes vocal work - the confidence that she's got during the years that we did touring and everything is really shining through there. I just want it out to the people and I want to get back on the road and do some live shows! Of course we still have to wait for the movie to come out in a little bit, but anyway, at least now we are getting somewhere, my hands are really itching to do something.
I guess, you will have to rearrange the songs for the live shows?
Marco: We always do some rearrangements, with the amount of the orchestral elements and all that we really have to use the modern technology and do some backing tracks for those things. But it's basically those elements and then we have a click track going to Jukkas ears - Jukka the drummer - and then we do all the bass, guitar, lead vocals, and everything.
Will the movie be included somehow into the show as well?
Marco: The thing is that all the scenes have been shot but there is still editing and cutting and other work to be done. But the movie is still in schedule, which is strange, I've never heard of a movie which stays in schedule! But anyway this one has so far been doing that and we have a deadline somewhere around the middle of April when the movie should be out. We start touring before April, but we do have some clips and some stuff ready which we could incorporate into the show for the screens or something like that, but I don't know how much. We've got people in Finland already planning the live show whom we are in contact with even during this promo-tour, sending them our ideas, so they can build certain things and plan the lighting, pyro and everything else. So that's in process and when we get back home after this promo-tour we'll have a few weeks off, just to stay at home and then we start rehearsing for the whole show.
For the demo of "Imaginaerum" you've been at the summer camp again, are you doing something similar for the tour rehearsals?
Marco: We don't really book that kind of place for the rehearsing. I guess for rehearsing we need a warehouse and some equipment. Of course we got to have also some PA system in order to get the backing tracks, so we can play with them and find out if some time is missed somewhere and if necessary put it back to the engineers like 'you gotta fix this guys'.
How was the summer camp that you've been at for the demo? I read through your website and it sounds like you had a happy band-family-summer.
Marco: To be honest, you got the right impression there. This place is actually kind of a summer camp which belongs to boyscouts and they rented it us for two months. You've got small cabins there with bunks and everybody of the band members got their own, so if your family comes along - kids, wives, husbands whatever - they can stay there as well. And then you got a bigger place where you can cook food and you got the campfire places and all that. There's also a sauna at the lake side and the summer was really warm, like 30 degrees all the time, the weather was great, the lake was warm, and we were swimming like hell. So yes, it really was a relaxed time! At the same time we did rehearse like almost every day, went through the songs and figured out arrangements for particular pieces, cut out some parts and put in something else. We also put in some recording equipment and started doing the demo. So it kind of set a vibe to the whole thing, that we could start with a really positive attitude - like we were doing some real business first and then fries, sausages and chicken on the open fire by the evening. That was really nice.
I guess your work in the studio afterwards was a lot more focused?
Marco: Yes, that's where you concentrate on really getting the best out of the people on - well it's not on tape anymore, so to the hard disk, let's say it like that. Of course sometimes you need to be careful with that in order not to loose the spontaneity of a certain moment, but usually you get there anyway. When you are in studios you find things there which come totally spontaneously. We had a really well made plan during rehearsals at the summer camp and the demo, so we pretty much knew what we were looking for at the studio. So even though it took almost all the winter to make the album it was painless. And of course we had times off from the studio as well in order to just stay at home and be ourselves, but the studio sessions they were really painless.
You've mentioned the development of Anette before. Prior to the release of "Dark Passion Play" it was emphasized, that the character of the new singer is very important and when the album was released, everybody seemed happy about the choice. Now you had a tour and the work on this huge project, does it still feel like she was the right choice?
Marco: Yes! Anette was green when she came along, and she was afraid that she's got these boots to fill in and everything, I told her 'yeah, some people will talk about it, it will pass in time.' I know all about that because I joined the band in 2001 and there was a lot of talks like 'who is this hairy ape from Finland who dares to sing beside the queen!' So I said, 'it will pass.' Then we did the two year tour, the album was successful, and it's all well. So basically she didn't have to worry about it this time and that is something that you can really hear on the album - the relaxed confidence of a woman who can really concentrate on using her voice. It comes so natural, it's on a totally different level compared to Dark Passion Play, even though it was good at that time, but I think she shines here!
Yes, I was very impressed by the many facets of her voice that seem to fit all the different music styles of the album. Is the wide range of styles due to the fact that the music is part of a movie, that those are different scenes, or was it supposed to be such a diverse album?
Marco: Well the thing is that at first it wasn't supposed to be a full length movie, it was about to be like a kind of CD accompanied by 12 or 13 music videos, like mini movies that would come up as a DVD. So all the songs are pieces by themselves, there's not really a story from No.1 to No.13. There are elements, and there is a theme going through the album, which is pretty much what the title already says: "Imaginaerum". It's about how far you can go with just your mind, all the dark, light, and the striving for the light from the darkness. All that what is in the human heart and mind, it tries to encompass that. That is the theme. But like I said, the songs are pieces by themselves, it wasn't really thought about to be a movie at first, so to have all the diversity there, different atmospheres and elements is pretty much a way of seeing how well you can incorporate personal musical tastes into the work you do yourself. To have the courage to not stay in the box.
Did you enjoy your singing part? Some parts really sound like you are singing a character.
Marco: Yes, I did and that's basically what singing is. You got to check out what you are singing, the lyrics and everything and if there's a story or emotion, than you build on that. And I think, again, this was a pretty relaxing album to do, for me as well as a singer. At one point of time I had a slight block doing the basses, I wasn't satisfied with anything I was doing, but that was just because I was getting into it to much, so I took a couple of weeks break and then went back to play the basses, and then there was nothing wrong. Vocals were easy because the music is all ready, stuff that you can really visualize and get into, that also helps when you got the lyrics and the lines and melodies, it also helps you to kind of focus on what it should feel and sound like at the same time.
In "Song Of Myself" there is a lot of spoken text in the end. First, I thought it's you, but then there are more...
Marco. It wasn't me.
None of the characters?
Marco: None of the characters is me. I mean none of us, the band, are there at the end, in that long recitation. But the idea that was there is, that, well there are some people involved in the making of the album, Troy is speaking, Pip is speaking, and then there are people that we know, friends, family members and all that. I for instance chose, that since I already had a big part on making of the album they gonna here my voice maybe even to much, so I thought, what if we have like three generations of Hietala guys there, so I asked my sons to do a couple of lines together, and my father. [Troy Donockley is playing pipes and bodhran, and Pip Williams has been doing the orchestral arrangements. Editors note.]
What are those voices telling?
Marco: How to compress this thing? It starts with kind of different sceneries, short pieces of things happening there, another thing happening here, and another one happening there, it's kind of trying to encompass again that darkness and light theme, how to go into the light in love out of the darkness. It sounds almost corny at times, now you heard the thing, but I think the best thing would be to see the text and the lyrics with it, that is something that will definitely open you up to that thing.
The band members did play in the movie as well, how was that experience? I think that it must be a bit different than doing a music video.
Marco: No, the thing is that we don't really have like roles and dialogues, even though some things come close, but it's more like you are in a character, you got the costume, the hair or the make-up they thought was good for this particular scene where we are part of the things that are happening, but we are not really acting there, just maybe a little bit overdo things a little bit more over-flamboyant in order for it to look good on screen, but that's it. And we are basically doing what we know to do, we perform. There is definitely a connection between the things that are happening and the music and everything, so we are performing, that's mainly it.
With your instruments? Or like characters?
Marco: Yeah, this is like a slight characterization there in order to fit the scene. But mostly the movie, I mean it's a story that has actors and dialogue and everything and there is a story behind the whole thing, so we are not the main thing there. The music is one of the main things, but then the story and what happens to people with the story is the main thing.
Is the music in the movie with lyrics or is it instrumental?
Marco: There's both. Some of the songs are pretty much like they are on the album and the music is going to be at the front, but there are also places where some of the songs are heavily edited. There's a guy in Finland who's actually writing a score and doing the score at the same time on the basis of the songs which will be used also in the film. So it's a kind of a mix up of these things. The thing that connects the band and the movie is that there are ideas that have come from the band and the music is from the band.
But isn't it a bit weird to have your songs edited by someone else?
Marco: Yeah, but we are actually musicians, we know how to make songs, rehearse and play them and put them on an album. That's what we've done with "Imaginaerum", if we talk about the album it is a work that is meant to be listened at, it is music. The movie is something that, of course, we all went through like 'well, we have the chance to do this thing, let's for fucks sake do it!', but still in that business you really have to trust the people who have a vision and the abilities to make it work. In this case it was Stobe Harju, the director, who also did "The Islander" video from "Dark Passion Play", he was thinking how to use these pieces of music here, he also knew the guy who is doing the score on the basis of the songs and he brought him in and we were discussing these things. So basically we do have our hands and fingers in a lot of places but we still let these guys do their thing because they know how to put the music and the scenery together.
You've been working with the orchestra and choire in London again, and this time also with a children choire. How was that? Is it very different from what you knew already?
Marco: We already knew about these musicians in London that they can deliver. They are really good, and they've done so much movie business that working with strict timing, click tracks and everything is their usual, well, it's their cup of tea. That makes it easier for the whole orchestra and quire things to be fit with the Rock'N'Roll band. And we can make the whole time work and we got the groove and everything still there with all the flamboyant things going on. The children choire was a first one and with the songs there's certainly a motive in the lyrics to use them. And it's also funny to see how, well you know kids, how chaotic they can be. I definitely know, I've got two! So I wondered all the time how they can keep this whole thing together, but actually the lady who was leading the children choire knew how to be strict.
In one song they have a role, that really sounds like "A Nightmare Before Christmas". I think it was "Scaretale".
Marco: Actually a lot of people have come to me and said now that they've heard this thing it somehow reminds them of Tim Burton, and I'm like 'that's what we were thinking when we were rehearsing and demoing this thing, that if Tim Burton would make a Heavy Metal movie this would actually be a pretty good soundtrack for him.' So, it's not then too far fetched.
Do you know how this part was for the children choire? It must have been fun for the kids, it sounds so much like Halloween, or are they to professional already?
Marco: To me it seems like the kids were also having fun with it. And I mean even though there are like really dark and hard hidden things there and scary things. I don't know, well the movie is going to be age rated for sure, but with the album and this kind of stuff you also do the whole serious thing with a little tongue and a cheek sometimes. And the scary tale and the middle parts are definitely tongue and a cheek, with all the seriousness of a musician of course, but still it's our job to deliver emotions to the people via sound and for me it suits my ambition to do all kinds of emotions.
You are definitely good at that, emotions are expressed very very well in your music! Where do you and Tuomas get your inspiration for your music, other music or completely different stuff?
Marco: At least from my part I can tell, that I pick my inspiration almost anywhere. I can see a totally crappy movie but I hear something that sounds really great, or while my boys are playing some video game that somebody has put a really nice theme into, and then I read books, I watch movies. I hear and see things and all kinds of little happenings can actually spark with something and then you go and put it down, or you hum it to your iPhone and put it down later. So that's the way. I think, the best way is to be open for the inspiration whenever it comes, I don't go actively searching for it, but whenever it comes I try to have something to memorize it. Of course these nice smartphone things and all that are really handy for that kind of thing.
How about you and the other band members, where you all included in the songwriting?
Marco: Yes, I got one song on the album, every other song is from Tuomas. He also writes all the lyrics, but when we get to rehearsing the songs and demoing, for instance like at the summer camp, it is a very democratic process. We were sitting in this big swing together, me with an acoustic guitar Tuomas with the lyrics, and we went through all the album before demoing, basically arranging the music with the band is a very democratic process, and we've been playing for some years together now so there usually isn't any kind of fighting like 'I want to have my own ideas' or anything, we sit down, we play the songs, we discuss about parts and try several ideas.
May I ask anyway which song has been written by you?
Marco: It' the one with the birds, "The Crow, The Owl And The Dove". The music is written by me, the lyrics again by Tuomas.
On you website Markus Selin is cited that you 'really emptied the bag of your tricks'. Would you agree to that, and wouldn't that mean that there is no way to top "Imaginaerum"?
Marco: I don't know about that because we've always managed to come up with something different, we've always found out ways of putting things together in ways that surprise, putting in new elements, instruments, whatever. And music by itself is full of possibilities! Any note, any sound can actually make an impression if it's in it's right place. So, possibilities are really endless and I know that we did a hell of a lot of work for this and there is still a lot going on with the movie, so we can't possibly top the abundance of things that are happening right now. We still will be making music and if we just stay open minded for whatever comes to mind, with people, time will change day by day, so the music that we do will change also by the time we get to do something else again. So I'm not gonna give up, and I don't think anybody else does.
The name of the album has been slightly changed from "Imaginarium" to "Imaginaerum" during the pre-production, was that due to the 2009 movie "The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus?
Marco: No, not really, that was probably one part of it, but there are other things, there's a Spanish toy store or something like that, which have used the name. And it became quite obvious that these days it's always possible, if you use something that somebody has used before, that somebody will try to sue you and ask for money. So we googled this kind of writing it, and since there was nothing in the Google search we took it. The change is very very slight and "Imaginaerum" looks and sounds good to us.
Can you say something about the cover as well? The artwork looks very impressive.
Marco: We tried to put this thing into a certain frame, also a frame of mind. When you look at the picture you already visually enter into the emotions that the whole thing is going to deliver. In that way it is a whole sale package for you, it's something to be looked at and at the same time listen to it. At least I'm that much of an old school guy, that I really like nice artworks, colors and everything. I don't just want to download the album or - yeah I could download it, if they would put all the lyrics and all the artwork there, which is something that I wonder why for instance iTunes haven't done.
Probably they think people don't mind about that.
Marco: I do! And I think there are quite a lot of people who actually mind about reading lyrics, seeing pictures of the people who play or sing. Compared to the room of digital space that the music is taking, a few pictures - they don't take that much.
No, they don't. So you're collecting music yourself?
Marco: Yeah, well some pieces. I used to be hell of a collector of certain albums and bands when I was younger, but these days I tend to just make kind of smart weapon choices with certain things, like 'ok I heard this now a few times and I really fucking like it, I'm going to buy it.' That's what happened for instance with the latest of DANKO JONES, because I really like that kind of a straight forward raise hell Rock'N'Roll. It's just funny because I'm known to be a player in this kind of symphony, kind of sophisticated Heavy Metal Band, but I still like things which will really rock your ass.
What other bands do you like?
Marco: Well, we need to go back some years, I like Old School, like for instance old RAINBOW AND DIO, DEEP PURPLE, SABBATH, THIN LIZZY, like that, and some things after that. In the 90s PANTERA was a really big thing for me, I really liked the attitude that they had, that was serious raise hell attitude.
Thank you very much for the interview.