Famous Firsts: Nightwish

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Nightwish visionary Tuomas Holopainen is the latest star of Metal Hammer’s Famous Firsts series in which we discuss his first exposure to Metallica and why his generous parents basically kickstarted the entire Nightwish train.

**What was the first album that you ever bought? **

“The first album I ever bought was Asylum by Kiss. I studied the classical clarinet and the piano in a music school from the age of six, so it was all classical music to me – I had to know my Beethoven and Bach. But my big brother who’s ten years older than me was always into rock ‘n’ roll. For him it was all Iron Maiden, Kiss and Slade – all that kind of stuff. I kind of wanted to impress him so that’s why I bought Asylum and I remember I didn’t like it at all. Of course these days when I listen to the album it sounds much better and I understand it, but for a kid of nine years old who’d heard nothing but classical music for the last three years, it was quite the shock ha ha!”

**What was the first single that you ever bought? **

“If I remember correctly, my first single would’ve been Enter Sandman by Metallica. This was in 1992 when I was spending some time as an exchange student in Kansas for a year, and my host family took me to a Metallica and Guns N’ Roses concert. The two of them toured together for about a year I think, and I got to see them in Kansas City. There were 80,000 people in the city’s football stadium and it completely blew my mind. I didn’t know about Metallica back then. I was still all about classical, maybe a little bit of Gary Moore and Queen every now and then, but no heavy music at all. I only went because they’d been kind enough to buy me a ticket as a surprise – but when Metallica started playing it changed my life. It sounds romantic but that’s truly what happened. When I got home from that trip I went to the nearest record store and literally bought everything by Metallica that I could find, including the Enter Sandman single. That song is still a perfect metal song to me. Everybody on the planet knows the riff, even if they’re not a metal fan, and I’m still not tired of hearing it.”

What was the first gig you ever went to?

“That was it. I was 15 years old, and it was Metallica and Guns N’ Roses in Kansas City on September 23rd, 1992. It was a mind-blowing experience. I remember vividly the feeling I had when the host family told me about the concert: I was not excited at all. I was really happy playing my clarinet and piano because that’s what I knew, and I liked my Mozart. Heavy music did not appeal to me at all but the atmosphere of the 80,000 people once I got in the stadium, and the pyrotechnics and the fireworks at the end; wow! I became a metalhead over night. Guns N’ Roses didn’t really do the trick for me, as Metallica played first and I was so mentally drunk after seeing them that I couldn’t really focus. The first song Metallica played was The Shortest Straw, and from that moment on the next two hours were pure bliss. At that time James Hetfield had burnt his hand in a pyro accident and they had another guitarist, so he was only singing. But then for the very last encore he took the guitar and they did Enter Sandman. It was an incredible night in my life.”

What was the first gig you ever played?

“The very first Nightwish show happened in my hometown of Kitee – a town of about 10,000 people. It was New Year’s Eve, 1997, about two months after the release of our debut album Angels Fall First. We’d never done a show before and we thought it would just be fun to see how the thing worked live – I still have that whole show on a VHS cassette actually, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. It was almost 20 years ago, and the band was very different from the one you see today. There were about 300 people there, everybody knew each other and it was New Year’s Eve, so it was all our friends and family, and it was great. I could sense that all the people there were proud of a band from their hometown getting a record deal and putting an album out, which even went into the national charts in Finland at Number 37. So there was a healthy feeling of pride throughout that whole concert.

“It was musical innocence at its best. It was just supposed to be a one off thing but when we loosened up we realised how much fun it was playing live, and how much potential there was. There seemed to be a lot of people that were in to the music, so a sort of spark was ignited that night. About two months later I quit my studies – I was studying to be a biologist at the time – and moved back home to live with my mum and dad. I borrowed 8,000 Finnish marks from them to buy a new keyboard, and that was the start of Nightwish. Talk about supportive parents – that’s unconditional love!”

How was the first Nightwish tour?

“The first major tour happened after the release of our second album, Oceanborn, at the end of 1999. We were supporting a German band called Rage and it was about five or six weeks all around Europe. We had absolutely no expectations on us, and that’s the beauty of being a support act because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I think we won a lot of people over with that tour, and everybody instantly enjoyed the nomadic lifestyle. We all felt this was something we wanted to carry on doing, and that sense of adventure still exists in the band today. Few things in life are better than being the first one on the tour bus to wake up in the morning; putting on the coffee, looking through the window and seeing the changing landscapes after playing a good show the night before. It’s one of those rare and beautiful moments you cherish.”

Nightwish’s latest album Endless Forms So Beautiful is out now.