Nightwish’s latest album, Human. :||: Nature, has emerged as a global phenomenon, scoring several number ones across the globe, rising to number two on the World Album chart and becoming the sextet’s most successful release in Australia.
The symphonic engrained group from Finland are undoubtedly the world’s biggest metal band, composing an eclectic concoction, enthralling listeners from various musical demographics.
Human. :||: Nature. (pronounced simply as ‘Human Nature’) is a continuation of human evolution from the previous album, elevating listeners through a journey of music, art, technology, nature and humanity.Nightwish
The marriage between metal and the sweet symphonies by the well-oiled machine seems to be the perfect formula by bandleader and mastermind Tuomas Holopainen, leading a cast of hotshots who have smeared their DNA onto the tracks of the double album.
With fast entwining tracks such as Music, Noise, Shoemaker, Pan and Procession, the flow, timing, junctions and heights of the operatic vocals could’ve only been weaved by a handful of vocalists, making this masterpiece as one of the most challenging to produce in recent times. The results are devastatingly transformative.
Sheldon Ang speaks with lead vocalist Floor Jansen – considered as one of the world’s best practitioners in the majestic art of vocal acrobatic. She takes us into their astral plane, transcending the cacophony of metal music and into a whirlwind of beautiful chaos that is unmistakably Nightwish and Floor Jansen – whose vocals at times overshadowing the sonic booms of the symphonic metal outfit. As Floor gives Ang a brief masterclass on the art of taking her vocals to the next level (believe it or not there’s actually a “next level”), he discovers that the journey on the latest release wasn’t all daisies – even for the world’s best.
Sheldon: It is so surreal to speak with one of the best vocalists on the planet. Are you comfortable with that tag?
Floor: (chuckles) I’m not sure if that’s true…but if you feel that way, then I feel that’s a big compliment. Thank you, Sheldon.
Sheldon: Human. :||: Nature is five years in the making and it has been a very successful album with number one’s all over the world…including in Australia. You must be satisfied.
Floor: Yeah, it is beyond expectation. It is mind-blowing to see what’s happening.
Sheldon: I played this album to my seventy-plus year old parents and they love it (Floor: oh wow). My friends who mainly listen to R&B and rap music love the music as well (Floor: that’s so cool). Do you think this album will increase the fan base from other genres?
Floor: I hope so. Labels on music is comfortable when you go into a story and see what direction you want to take, but other than that it’s also limiting and preventing people from getting into it. I can use my own country as an example.
I’m Dutch originally and metal is an underappreciated genre over there. It’s often looked upon as just noise, with uninspired angry men with long hair screaming…a lot of those kinds of thoughts. And when a band like Nightwish comes along with this kind of music that has nothing to do with angry men screaming -that’s the sound of bullshit – they (those angry men) won’t stand a chance because no one is going to listen to them.
When we are able to present this band to a TV program that I was in last year, it massively changed the way people look at it (metal music).
Yes, that’s awesome getting it out of the box and make a very positive change. And yes, I think a lot of people will like it, especially with this record…if only they get in touch with it…that’s the marketing, fortunately (chuckles). I think that’s the way we have been for quite a while…to invite people to a different kind of music.
Sheldon: It is very eclectic as well
Floor: Yes, it is.
Sheldon: The previous album “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” concern nature and fairy tales (Floor: Aha) whereas the new album concerns more about humanity, music, art and technological interaction (Floor: Yes). To me, it feels like the current album is a continuation from the previous album. That’s what I love about Nightwish as the band keeps reinventing themselves and creating new themes, rather than copying and paste from the previous album. Is that the intention of the album?
Floor: I guess it is not intentional, but it is definitely true. It is not intentional because it’s the natural progression to make. And I know Tuomas would not be sitting down with this thing in his mind, ‘it has to be a sequel’. He lets the inspiration comes lyrically and musically that results in something as a natural sequel to “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”.
Sheldon: So has the shift in themes changed your singing style, perhaps the way you expressed yourself vocally?
Floor: I don’t think it has changed, but I vary in natural progression as every album comes with a different approach as needed. But I do have to grow when new songs come out. This album does ask for a different approach, so is not change per se but a different approach was needed.
Sheldon: Sure. It feels as if the band have reinvented themselves, and despite Tuomas is the mastermind, everyone’s repertoire was really showing in this album, and it feels everyone is, dare I say – a hotshot.
Floor: (Chuckles, at the hotshot comment) I agree, yeah and he too agrees (to each member’s contribution), but he’s not out to be the mastermind of the band, as we all have a role in this. And it is great to shine this much by having Tuomas as a songwriter that’s mind-blowing’ly good. From there, it really triggers all of us to be our best, to keep developing and cooperating with each other, and shapes the way we make music and work on the constant change of flow. And it’s stimulated by his type of songwriting, and the way he writes, and the way he brings out the best from us. And that’s a really good place to be (chuckles).
Sheldon: And that’s clearly evident (Floor: Thank you). The “Human” side of the album is every bit Nightwish. The Nature side is over thirty minutes of a beautiful orchestral showcase (Floor: Thank you). Before the double album was released, were there concerns that perhaps this concept may not work among the diehard fans?
Floor: No, and you know something else – you can’t really be liked by everyone to start with. I’m sure the people out there would be saying, ‘What’s this’…and ‘I don’t really know what to do’…fair enough…but I think a lot of our fans are open-minded to music. If it’s beautiful music and it comes from your favourite band, I think a lot of people will be happy. Again, this is not metal, and it never supposed to be. And if you only like metal, you won’t like this. I guess it is as easy as that (chuckles).
Sheldon: Speaking of nature, some people said that this Covid19 is in fact natures’ revenge, like the way we treat animals and the environment. Maybe it seems now that the “Nature” side of the album is more significant than ever. Do you agree with that?
That’d sound almost like God (chuckles) ‘(and said in a deeper voice) you know you humans fucked it up too much and now we’ll destroy you’ – is not like that.
Floor: I don’t agree fully. I agree we could be more careful with our planet. The planet is not taking revenge, rather it’s having a reaction, like every overpopulated biotope would do. It’s not because we are not kind to the animals, that we get some divine punishment. That’d sound almost like God (chuckles) ‘(and said in a deeper voice) you know you humans fucked it up too much and now we’ll destroy you’ – is not like that.
It is nature’s natural reaction to overpopulation. And because many people are affected, it is not any harder than that, it’s not easier either, but it doesn’t make it nice. But that’s what it is. And yes – a better balance in the world that we live in would be very much welcome. It’s fairly outdated. Now is the time (chuckles).
Sheldon: Yes, absolutely. It’s a wakeup call.
Floor: Yeah, for sure.
Sheldon: Let’s talk about my favorite song, Shoemaker because it’s perhaps the most epic song I’ve heard for a long time. It’s a beautiful chaos, as you don’t really know what’s coming next. But what I love about this entire album is the last hundred seconds…is so beautifully haunting with the operatic highs. So even as one of the best singers on the planet, was it a challenge for you to perform this song?
Floor: (Chuckles) Oh yes, Sheldon! Yes! It definitely was a challenge. It needed a lot of energy and strength. But the thing that made it difficult was the flow; it was a very delicate process that I had to redo a couple of times because I couldn’t get it right, and it had nothing to do with the technical aspects of singing; it was more of the musical aspects, so I recorded the vocals and when everything was recorded and completely done, Tuomas and I went through everything that I recorded.
We were happy with everything apart for the end of Shoemaker – like something was still missing, and so we did it again. I think we came to a certain level of satisfaction but it somehow it didn’t feel one hundred percent. And only when the choir was recorded then we realised…what it was (missing), it was hard to describe…and when I sang again but with the vocals of the choir, everything fell into place perfectly…and then it sounded as if it was easy. And now I know what to do (chuckles).
Sheldon: Is Shoemaker possibly the best performance from Floor Jansen?
Floor: Thank you…but I don’t know. But I’m proud of it. For me, the whole album was the best that I have done. There are many good challengers on Shoemaker. There are new things that I managed to do (chuckles). Like the whole album for me is like the next level.
Sheldon: Pan, Music, and Procession are some of the great songs from the new album. They show the prowess of the band and your vocal capabilities. How hard was it get to get the timing of the song?
Floor: Yeah absolutely. Procession, for example, was very tricky to get the flow of the dynamics right and it’s a repetitive song, and it’s very deep in meaning. To get everything out and without losing the tension and the style, it needed to be carefully balanced, as what I’ve found. And the speed of Pan was really challenging and there were some really funny complex melodies in the verses for me (chuckles); lots of junctions, height and it’s really acrobatic (chuckles). Pan is the torture song for an old woman (chuckles), and I told Tuomas that maybe I’m getting too old for this shit (chuckles).
Sheldon: How’s the Heart has a bit of Irish feeling about it…I can imagine Michael Flatley dancing to that song (Floor: chuckles)…and it truly shows the eclectic style of Nightwish…did this track come from Troy’s (Donockley, uilleann pipes, guitar, etc) Celtic folk music influence?
Floor: Oh No, it is all Tuomas (chuckles).
Sheldon: Singing technically is one part of the equation, but telling the story is the other half (Floor: So true), so how do you exude those emotions and tell the story? Must you also be a good actor?
Floor: No! I think it is quite the opposite because you got to really feel it yourself. I don’t think you will need to create a different person to feel the music, and I can sing it from my heart, and feel to what I’m singing. I don’t really need to create an alter ego for that, and I think that’s the exact opposite of acting.
I had been doing cover songs for a TV program where I didn’t feel as deeply as I do as for Nightwish’s songs for instance, and that comes with a bit more acting. But with Nightwish, I don’t have to. The trick is to let what you feel shines out (chuckles)…you know what I mean…and how I transmit of what I feel. And that is something that I’m trying to put my fingers on how that works. If I can teach people how to do it…
…but that is a very personal thing, it is very hard to describe how that works. It is very fundamental, I agree. With this album, because of the complexities, and the amount of complexities, I had to dissect the songs first. First the technical singing – getting it right, and getting it programmed into my body… and when my memory muscle can take over, I can then focus on other things like indeed the storytelling. Yeah, by cutting it in parts and get done… but it can’t be done in a week (chuckles).
Sheldon: Thanks for the tip! I will do that (Floor: chuckles). Speaking of emotions, what does Andrew Lloyd Webber think of your Phantom of the Opera rendition?
Floor: What does he think of it (chuckles)? (Sheldon: Yeah!). I don’t know… I never met the man (chuckles).
Sheldon: Do you still sing Phantom of the Opera live? Because I heard Tuomas does not want to do that anymore.
Floor: Not since I’m in the band. We never did that, and I don’t think they did it with Annette (Olzen, the previous lead vocalist) either…it’s not the song that she would do. And it has been a long time ago (that Nightwish sang The Phantom of the Opera).
Sheldon: Finally, when can we expect Nightwish to come to Perth, Australia?
Floor: Well we have had the first half of world tour all ready, but the second half puzzle was being made when everything got disturbed by Covid, but of course we hit the charts really high in Australia for the first time, so I can imagine that’ll change…it has made the possibility to come over. I really hope, it would be lovely to come back. It has been years (chuckles).
Sheldon: Hey is that your cat?
Floor: Yeah (chuckles), I got two. And they are good friends. And keeping the stables free from mice (chuckles).
Sheldon: (chuckles) I got a cat too, Mathilda (Floor: awww). Floor, it has been a great pleasure talking to you. It feels like I’m talking to an old friend (Floor: same here). You are so humble, and if I do see you, let’s have a beer.
Floor: Yeah definitely! That would be wonderful, and I’m looking forward to sitting somewhere sunny in a terrace and have a beer… it feels like I haven’t done that in ages, which is true (chuckles)…and that’s a very tempting idea.
Sheldon: Thank you so much Floor. I’ll see you soon. Take care. Bye Bye
Floor: Yeah, thank you so much, take care and stay healthy, see you soon and bye-bye for now, Sheldon.
Interviewer: Sheldon B. Ang