It’s Friday April 22, 2022 at Nokia Arena in Tampere, Finland. Fifteen thousand Nightwish fans await a much-delayed live taste of their heroes’ ninth album, Human. :II: Nature., released as the world shut down in 2020. Anticipation is high. The stage will soon be engulfed in enough fire to obliterate a small village. Aside from a handful of dates in Finland in 2021, this is Nightwish’s first full-scale show in more than three years.
Backstage, Floor Jansen feels like death. In her stage armour she looks fearsome – a tattooed Boudica for the modern age. Such a gig wouldn’t normally faze her. Floor, 41,has been fronting metal bands since she was 16. But just now she’s come down with a virulent stomach flu at the worst possible time, and she’s wondering how the hell she’ll get through the next two hours onstage.
“It was unlike anything I’ve ever done,” she says of the stomach flu that almost derailed that post-Covid comeback. “I mean, you get sick now and then, but this was brutal. I don’t know what kind of virus I picked up, but it was a very violent one. I was up all night, and then I still had to travel from Berlin to Tampere. It was horrible.” She shrugs. “But yeah, what can you do?”
It’s not hard to see why Floor gets called a ‘powerhouse’. Part opera singer, several parts rock star – with the dynamism of both – she exudes indestructibility. If Bruce Dickinson had a daughter with Xena: Warrior Princess, it would have been Floor. But there are other sides to her: different personas that reveal a more complex, interesting picture of a ‘powerhouse’ lead singer.
There’s the animal-loving homebody. The thrillseeker. The proud vegetarian. The whiskey drinker. The metal icon with a solo pop album on the way. The Highly Sensitive Person, whose hyper-stimulated sense of the world shines through her performances. The person who, just three weeks before headlining Wembley Arena with Nightwish, underwent surgery for breast cancer.
“I’m always myself,” she summarises, simply. “So whether I run around in jeans fixing a fence, or ride my horse, or go onstage in warrior outfits… it’s all the same. It’s just a different side, as you can see.”
We meet Floor over Zoom in December, as she wrestles with dodgy wi-fi backstage in Milan. “Is it noisy for you, in the background?” she asks in perturbed Dutch tones. “It’s basically one big open box here…” Dark-eyed and slightly frazzled in a grey hoodie, Floor has a business-like streak that softens as talk turns to things like her solo music, her bandmates and the cigars she enjoys with her husband, Sabaton drummer Hannes Van Dahl.
On another day she might have come in from feeding the horses at her rural property on Sweden’s west coast. You wouldn’t fuck with her, but you’d gladly go for a drink with her. Out on the road with Nightwish, there’s a decent amount of the latter. The band “wobble” around Christmas markets drinking glühwein. They rate vegetarian food in Indian restaurants as part of a longstanding curry club. The shows themselves have been jubilant affairs.
“Last night we were surprised with some bottles of champagne,” she grins, “which we then drank, and became very happy…”
It’s all so far removed from lingering notions of Nightwish as some sort of dictatorship or soap opera, with singers driven away by its founder’s maniacal demands. They seem like friends – as in, actual friends.
“It’s absolute genuine fun,” she nods. “We’ve always had that. And there are always ups and downs; it’s like a big marriage. But we’ve been longing for this tour a lot. Especially after the pandemic, we don’t take it for granted at all.”
For Floor, the isolation of lockdown reinforced her ties to the band, but it also kickstarted her solo work. She’d begun to think of it in 2019, following an appearance on Dutch TV show Beste Zangers (‘Best Singers’), but she was still very much a band person, with a new Nightwish album cycle around the corner. Come March 2020, for the first time in her career, she found herself separated from that group mentality.
She spent time with her husband and daughter, now five. She grew vegetables and looked after her horses, cats and enormous Irish wolfhound. She worked on her online profile, communicating with her fans on a regular, down-to-earth level. At the same time, she began working with collaborators on solo material. An alternative, poppier sound started to brew.
In spring 2022 she appeared on Germany’s Beste Zangers equivalent, Sing Meinen Song, for which she sang in German (one of the four languages she speaks in addition to Dutch, English and Swedish). Gradually, a standalone Floor Jansen was evolving.
“My desire from the get-go was to find a sound that fits with me, not something created around me. But how do you do that? So I used up a large part of the pandemic in a trial-and-error search for this sound.”
It wasn’t easy. Ten years of bringing Tuomas Holopainen’s visions to life had left her with phenomenal vocal skills, but limited songwriting practice. Her first ideas, she says, “weren’t that great”.
“I’ve done it [songwriting], but I haven’t been doing much in the last 10 years,” she admits. “Plus I’m in a band with someone like Tuomas. It makes me feel very small, like, ‘What do I have to add to a world full of music?’ So from that insecurity I had to find my way and accept that I am more limited, and that I have different ideas.”
Teaming up with Dutch producer Gordon Groothedde (Snoop Dogg; Katie Melua; Floor’s previous band, After Forever) was a turning point. The first song they wrote together was Fire. A darkly atmospheric, orchestral swirl of intelligent modern pop, with the grandeur of Florence & The Machine’s cover of 1986 dance hit You’ve Got The Love, it ignited Floor’s confidence as a creator in her own right.
“I have a really hard time with love songs,” she says. “I know the majority of pop music is about love songs, and that’s also why I find it boring to listen to. So I wanted to create something that still has a message.”
Accordingly, her solo album, Paragon, shuns frothy clichés in favour of meatier subjects. Fire is about returning to life after lockdown. One song, Invincible, was written for the injured war veterans at Prince Harry’s Invictus Games – originally planned to take place in 2020 in the Hague until the pandemic got in the way.
“It’s inspired by the idea of being physically or mentally wounded, after you’ve just given everything you have,” she explains, “and something that’s left of you has to pick up life, and recover from something that you never really wanted to recover from. I want to raise awareness of the fact that this happens so incredibly often, but also to empower them. Like, ‘You already went through Hell, now you’re on your way back, you are invincible.’”
It’s hard to hear this story now without thinking of Floor’s recent health issues. Diagnosed in October 2022 at a routine mammogram screening, her breast cancer came as a total shock – two weeks before Nightwish were due to fly to South America.
“They [the doctors] said, ‘We want you to come back.’ And the thing I thought, in my naïve brain, was, ‘Oh, they fucked up something with the pictures.’ Never, ‘Oh, they found something.’” She shakes her head. “Not a single moment. Until I was there.”
Surgery was planned for the day after they came home. Until then, she says, the intense business of touring Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico proved a good distraction. The pace of it all was brutal but helpful, and reading similar stories from her fans made her feel less alone – “But at the same time, it’s an overwhelming awareness of how many people actually got this fucking disease."
“I put my emotions into the music,” she reasons, “and also had really wonderful conversations within the band, crew, management, everyone has really been there for me. It’s very tough to do it all that fast, but at the same time it helped because I didn’t have to walk around with thoughts of it too long. Because as soon as you know you have a tumour in your body, the only thing you can think of is ‘get it out’. The whole mental aspect of a cancer diagnosis is shit.”
Back at home, she had three weeks after her operation before heading out in Europe and the UK. Scarred, bruised and exhausted, she was grateful for the support of her family.
“Jesus, how I underestimated it,” she half-laughs, of the recovery process. “I was jet-lagged, I barely slept for nights after the surgery because my system was completely upside-down, you get morphine… So everyone’s been really having my back in this.”
Just a couple of days before the Wembley gig, she learned that the operation was successful. It was both a relief and a wake-up call. In Sweden, mammogram screenings start for women at the age of 40. In the Netherlands, her birthplace –and in the UK – it’s 50. Now looked up to by many, as a public figure as well as a musician, she’s determined to persuade more women to go for their scans.
“On a purely personal level it’s a bit weird, because I’m just me,” she says, of her role-model status. “But from this position, I have the power to make a difference every now and then. I wanted to make sure it has this function by saying, ‘Go and get your mammogram done.’ If I had stayed in the Netherlands, this entire thing would have gone undetected. It was so small when they took it out, but it was growing, you know? I’m very lucky.”
Cancer casts a pervasive shadow, even when it’s caught quickly. For Floor, who (when we speak to her) still has three weeks of radiation therapy to complete, it’s realigned her priorities. “It’s not like I think ‘I’m gonna die’ all the time,” she explains, “but I realise how life is short. Time is not endless. We have it now.”
To that end, Floor is making the most of 2023. After her radiotherapy is finally over, she’ll join Nightwish for 70000Tons Of Metal in the Bahamas. Festival shows will follow. In the summer the band will head to the Röskö campsite in Kitee, Finland, to record the next Nightwish album (which will be released at some point in 2024).
Part three of a trilogy that began with Endless Forms Most Beautiful and continued through Human. :II: Nature., the new album will return to themes concerning our planet and our mortality. Sonically, Floor suggests, we can expect aheavy palette.
“I would say it’s a pretty heavy album,” she muses, “but once again, it’s the multicolour diversity that is Nightwish. It’s all there. It’s going to once again take you by the hand through beautiful stories – whether they are stories from this Earth or stories about this Earth. They’re beautiful.”
Creatively, Nightwish is still Tuomas’s brainchild, though there’s a sense of collaboration around this record. Armed with his demos, the band have been working up different parts and exchanging ideas on tour – in hotel rooms and dressing rooms across the world. For Floor, this has been a happy arrangement.
“I think Tuomas has a unique view on the world and has a unique way of putting that into words,” she says, “and I think he’s outdone himself on that end once again. And also visually, the ideas that are bubbling are going to be of a next level. So yeah, there’s lots to look forward to.”
Meanwhile, along with the release of Paragon, she has solo gigs planned in Europe. “And of course it would be wonderful to go to the UK,” she adds, “we are working on that as well.”
If all goes to plan, Floor Jansen could be a name that reaches well beyond metal circles – paving the way for a new kind of pop star with a darker heart. Once again the ‘powerhouse’ label feels apt, with all the truths and misconceptions that come with it.
“Power is often connected to, especially women…” she searches for the words, “…it’s like, ‘powerful women are bitches’, you know? Maybe that’s the misconception of the century. But a powerful woman is also a woman who is intouch withher emotions, and one who can have absolute soft sides and embrace them. The idea that high sensitivity would be a weakness? That is actually the absolute misperception.
“And that goes for men, too: for men to be in touch with their feelings and to be able to communicate them… that is a bigger strength than [makes growling, macho noise]. That’s going to bring us a whole lot further.”
Between travels, Floor will recharge at home in the Swedish countryside. On cold evenings, she and Hannes sometimes retreat to their grillhouse, light the fire and relax over single malts and a cigar – things that bonded them when they first met on tour with Iced Earth. Small connections between worlds.
“I can say that my happiest place is home, but that’s not true because after half a year I’ll claw up the walls,” she laughs. “I can say it’s on tour, but after a month I really want to go home. I can say it’s onstage, but then putting my daughter to bed is equally amazing at times. The ultimate thing is to have the luxury of both.”
Floor Jansen's solo debut Paragon is due for release March 24.