Nightwish are late to the livestream game, but with their upcoming debut online show they’ve gone all in. An Evening With Nightwish In A Virtual World promises to be as grand as everything they put their name too – a gig in a fictional tavern, The Islander Arms, digitally created especially for the occasion.
The show is significant in that it will be the first time the Finnish symphonic metal band get to play song from last year’s Human. || Nature. album live. But it will be a bittersweet occasion too – it marks their first show without longtime bassist and co-vocalist Marko Hietala, who announced his surprise departure from the band last December.
Even without that unexpected upheaval, the last year has been surprisingly eventful for Nightwish keyboard player Tuomas Holopainen. As well as working on the livestream, he found time to record a new album with Auri, the band he’s in with his wife, singer and violinist Johanna Kurkela, and Nightwish multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley, and reconvene Darkwoods My Bethrothed, the 1990s black metal band he was a member of. And then there’s the small of matter of finding time to pull together ideas for new Nightwish material.
“You need to keep your mind busy during these weird times, or you might go insane,” says Tuomas, as we catch up with him via Zoom to talk about the upcoming livestream and what the future may hold.
So many other bands have done livestreams over the last year, but you resisted. What changed your mind?
All of last year people were approaching us and saying, ‘You need to do a virtual show’. I was vehemently against it because I hadn’t seen a really good one – I still haven’t to this day.
All the band members agreed that this wasn’t really a thing for Nightwish to do, but then last November or December, this company from Finland called Zone approached us and said, “How about if we create a virtual tavern for you to play in? Here's our budget, here's some visuals we had in mind, would you be willing to do that?” And that actually convinced us that it might be a cool thing for us to do, if we can make it special – not just like we are in a rehearsal room. Let’s do it for the fans – make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience, if we do it really well.
I haven’t met a single musician or fan who is genuinely hyped about virtual shows in general. I’ve never heard anybody say, “This was the best show ever”, or “This is so cool, I just want to do virtual shows from now on.” It’s a relief for me because it means people are still wanting to see bands live. When all this bizarreness ends people are going to go rushing to festivals to see bands live.
You’re playing in a virtual tavern, The Islander Arms. Can you describe it to me? Is it based on a real-life pub or bar?
No, it's just a figment of our imagination. That was the key thing that made us decided we want to do this - that we’re actually going to be able to play inside this fantastical tavern, and almost play to each other rather than to the cameras. That’s why we called it “An Evening With Nightwish In A Virtual World” – we invited people to come and watch us play, instead of us playing to the world.
They’ve been working on the details of the tavern for months now, It’s going to be full of Easter eggs for the hardcore Nightwish fans. The background will change according to the song we are playing and the weather outside the tavern will change - little details here and there that you can actually investigate while we are doing the show. I'd like to think that it's a world-first when it comes to virtual shows by metal bands.
It sounds interesting. And it also sounds expensive, in a typical Nightwish, no-expense-spare fashion…
It is ridiculously expensive, but it had to be done because I think we would regret it in years to come if we didn't give this a chance.
What are you going to do with the set-list? Will it lean towards the last album, or will it be more of a greatest hits set?
There will be songs from the new album, which will be a world premiere because they’ve never been performed before. But then it will also feature songs from all the albums – ‘best of’ or ‘greatest hits’ or whatever you want to call them. I’ve never been a fan of playing a certain album from beginning to end; it just doesn’t have the drama for me. And naturally, because Marko has now left the band, there are some prolific songs that we were intending to perform that we cannot perform now: The Islander, While Your Lips Are Still Red, and Endlessness from the new album. But just have to adapt.
Is it going to be weird playing without Marko?
He was with us for 20 years, so it's gonna be really weird. And when he announced his thing – this was last December when he sent us a group email – I have to be honest, I was completely devastated for a few days. I was almost completely sure that this was the end of the band.
I remember calling out guitar player, Emppu, and saying, “Should we call it quits? This is too much, it just keeps happening and happening to us.” He said, “Yeah, let's do it, there's no future. But then after a few days passed, we had a little meeting with the band and the management, and I realised the music is still there and that's the most essential part of this whole thing.
I want to write songs, the band wants to perform them, there's still so much to give to the world that we should give it one more chance. And another point was that it's been 24 years and quite the ride. This is not the way to end it.
Are you getting someone in to play bass?
There is a new bass player, yes, and their name will be announced a few hours before the first virtual show. It's part of the big drama.
Will they be Nightwish’s new full-time bassist?
The bass player will be for the duration of the Human. :II: Nature tour. After that we'll make some decisions.
You mentioned it already, but do you think livestreams will still be an important part of what bands do when the world returns to normal? If nothing else, they take the hassle out of touring…
Yeah, they do would, but I have my serious doubts that it's ever gonna happen because we have seen that many bands have done these live streams now and they haven’t been very successful. Like I said, I haven’t heard a single person say, “Did you see the livestream? It was awesome.” At best they say, “Yeah, it was fun for two hours.” We still want to have the live experience – we want to feel it physically and see the band there and be in the presence of the band. I don’t think that's going to change in the near future.
The last year has obviously been awful for so many reasons. But has it had any upsides for you?
Loads. We got a lot of things done that we wouldn’t have got done otherwise. We ended up doing another Auri album. The original plan was to enter the studio at the end of 2021, but when the lockdown happened we immediately decided to use this year to make another album.
What can we expect from the Auri album?
It sails in the same waters as the first one, but there are some surprising new elements again. It's just a thing of its own, really. It's really hard to describe or categorise.
Then there was also Darkwoods My Betrothed. We did three albums in the mid-90s, and now after 23 years, we decided to do a comeback album. That would never have happened if it wasn't for the lockdown – we had the time and means to do it
Who suggested Darkwoods My Bethrothed back get back together?
I think it was me who did the initiative. I was like, “Guys, we have been talking about this for 10 years, then immediately after the talks we forget it, so now let's do it, it's gonna be a lot of fun.” And it has, and it's coming out later this year.
Darkwoods My Bethrothed must be different to Nightwish for you because you’re not the focal point – it’s not your band. Do you get to take a back seat and let someone else deal with the pressure?
That’s it. I'm just a member of the band. Back in the 90s I was just a session player – I wasn’t in the photographs. I’m a full-time member now, I'm included in the band shots and the arrangement process, but I’m still not doing any songs or lyrics.
That must be like a holiday for you…
I love the dynamics of this band just for that reason. You can just lay back and enjoy the ride and do your parts the best you can. It's been wonderful. The album turned out to be really great in my opinion; just wait until you hear it.
Have you been working on new Nightwish material as well?
For the past month or two, yes. Like I said, last December and January sucked big time, and I wasn’t sure about the future of the band. But then when Spring came, and the sun came out, we had a good meeting with the band, and something happened, and I started to feel really inspired and excited about the future of the band. And then the ideas started to pour in.
For the past few weeks, I've been immersed in gathering up some ideas for the new Nightwish album. We even booked a studio for it, which is going to happen in the summer of 2023.
Wow. That’s a long way off…
Yeah, but because of Covid, a lot of the shows from last year and this year will be postponed until 2022. So there's nothing we can do studio-wise next year, which is why it will be 2023.
Do you feel under pressure to make every Nightwish album bigger or more grand and ambitious than the last one?
We don’t feel that we need to top anything. We don't ever think, 'Okay, this needs to be bigger, or have longer songs or whatever.’ You just start to do the songs and see what happens. It really is as simple as that. The same thing with this upcoming album, I mean, it could be 10 songs, all of them five minutes long, but I just don't have a clue yet where the path is gonna take me.
Do you ever feel like doing something completely different? Like an acoustic album?
An acoustic album is going to happen at some point, I’m pretty sure. The romantic in me is excited by the idea that when we know Nightwish is ending, the last album we do will be acoustic. We started out acoustic, and we’re gonna finish acoustic. The circle will close.
Have you put an expiration date on Nightwish?
No, the idea makes me really sad. But if, for some reason in the future, we are absolutely sure about that, then doing the acoustic album makes perfect sense. [Laughs] If we ever announce an acoustic album, the world will know it’s the end of Nightwish.
An Evening With Nightwish In A Virtual World takes place on May 28 and 29. Tickets are onsale now.