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Words Paul Watson

With eight million record sales, five number one albums, and thirteen number one singles under their belts, I think it's fair to say that Nightwish are Finland's most successful ever musical export. Headliner catches up with synth player and composer, Tuomas Holopainen, and bassist and vocalist, Marco Hietala, during the recording of the band's new album...

Your symphonic rock is obviously catching on... You’ve been going since the ‘90s, and you’re still going strong...
TH: [laughs] Yeah, it’s probably because there is such an abundance of elements in our music! We made our first demo in December 1996, so we’ve been going 17.5 years so far, which isn’t bad, I guess! It was just supposed to be a side project at the beginning, and no-one in the band expected it to take off in the way that it did. We all had different ambitions: I wanted to be a biologist; the drummer wanted to be a computer engineer; and it was just a hobby that grew much, much bigger than we expected.

MH: I should point out that I joined the band in 2001, when it was all going quite well, so I knew exactly what I was jumping into! I’ve had musical ambitions since I was a kid, but as Tuomas hinted, we do all come from different musical backgrounds.

Is that important, do you think?
MH: I do, yeah, or the music risks becoming inbred. We have classical influences, rock influences, and we like certain pop songs too, so there’s a lot of open-mindedness in how to approach our music here.

What’s your take on digital technology?
TH: When everything went digital, we had to do everything cheaper, as suddenly we weren’t getting as much from the labels! But what digital does do, is provide immediacy; it brings everything to your home. I’ve been buying albums from iTunes, and haven’t thought of going to a record store, but what I’d really like to see is the quality of digital recordings to improve, and to see more digital albums where you get a digital picture and get to see the lyrics, too. These are the things that I’m really missing from digital downloads, so they should be made easier to get hold of. Also, something should be done about Spotify and other streaming services; we need more competition in that sector, a company that carries out this service, and actually pays the artists correctly!

You’re busy making a new album at the moment; how has your approach to production evolved?
MH: Actually, we have always produced the albums ourselves as a band, and we have had the same engineers since we started out for mixing, mastering, and recording. It’s never really been our thing to go to LA with a high class producer and try and find a new sound. I think over the years there is a big confidence in the band that we can do this ourselves and take hold of the ropes, keep it together ourselves and preserve our integrity. First, we have to like the record, and then it’s great that the people have continued to like the songs, too.

TH: It’s also super cool that we have never had any pressure from the record labels. They have never suggested that we should use a specific producer or studio.

You’re all Genelec users. Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with the brand?
MH: Well, here’s the thing. At the end of the ‘80s, I went to train in a recording studio, and at the time, I really fell in love with the Genelec stuff. Also, the guy who mixes our albums is a sworn Genelec user, as is our mastering engineer, as is our recording engineer! [laughs] I had the luck of living in a town in the middle of Finland, just 90 kilometres from Genelec’s HQ, and some of the Genelec workforce were actually my neighbours, so we got to talking about the equipment, and ended up doing a kind of collaboration. It’s one of those deals that is really welcome, as Genelec is a brand that is respected for an actual reason. You hear the sounds perfectly out of any Genelec speaker, and the clarity when you’re mixing with Genelecs is just unparalleled. There is no better word for a Genelec sound than honest; it tells you what is there, if there is something missing, or equally if there’s too much stuff going on. I find it very important, but I am an audio freak anyway, so... [smiles]

Which models do you use?
MH: We have an 8040 DSP set as our nearfields, and then the Genelec guys brought us some 1037s, and they are HUGE babies! Sometimes,when the evening goes long enough, it’s very nice to hear stuff out of those speakers, as you can feel the huge sound pressure that comes out of them.

What needs to change in today’s industry?
TH: For me, the biggest downside of the music industry today is that people don’t listen to albums anymore. I mean, the kids out there are not buying them and listening through; they’re not reading the lyrics out of the booklet, because there often is no booklet; and this reflects that people perhaps are not making albums either, anymore. They’re concentrating on single songs, and filling the album with crap. So this is a very concerning trend for me both as a musician and as a songwriter.