Tarja Turunen on Nightwish, celebrity fans and overcoming health issues: “My stroke was caused by stress”

Tarja Turunen against a grey background
(Image credit: Tim Tronckoe)

You’ve said before that Nightwish’s music was meant to be downbeat and acoustic, but your voice pushed them into a more metal direction. Would you have been miserable if they had remained a folk band?

“That’s difficult because, at that time, I really wanted to be an operatic singer and that was the only voice I had. I wasn’t able to do much with it beyond full-on power, so it didn’t fit nicely with the acoustic music we started with.”

You were one of the first female lead singers in that more symphonic end of power metal. Who’s the most famous person that’s come up to you and called you an influence?

Simone Simons [lead singer of Epica]. She was just like, [starts bowing]. Ha ha ha! It’s funny, I’ve just come home from a tour and one of the girls in one of the support bands was singing backstage. My musicians turned to me and said, ‘This is completely your fault, Tarja.’ Ha ha!”

This year marks 25 years since the first Nightwish album, Angels Fall First. What do you think of that album now?

“I am looking at the gold record hanging on the wall right now. It was kind of a second demo for us. When we were making it, we had no idea that it would become a complete album or bring us a record deal. It was very exciting. We were so young that, when I listen to myself, it’s unbearable. Ha ha ha! But, hey, everybody needs to start somewhere.”

Nightwish fired you using an open letter that was publicly shared. What’s your relationship with them 17 years later?

“The only guy that I had contact with was Marko [Hietala, bass], but he’s no longer in the band. I even sang with him some years ago. The rest, it’s been emailing. Everything is fine but we’re not in touch. That all died a long time ago. I wrote Tuomas [Holopainen, Nightwish band leader] a message when his father passed, so we’re fine.”

Do you want more of a relationship with them, or are you happy with how things are?

“I’m happy. I don’t have any regrets. I hope they’re happy.”

You’re releasing a new retrospective of your solo career called Living The Dream. Why is now the time for a best-of album?

“It took catastrophically long to come up with this record because we had the Covid pandemic; I’m still doing those tours that have been postponed since 2020. I feel like this is a good time because In The Raw, my last album, was my most personal. It came from the shock of my stroke [in 2018] and the struggles with my health. Now, I can release this and start again. It can be the platform for a new album and new start.”

How are you feeling nowadays?

“I’m very good, thank you. Probably in a better condition than ever, physically. The stroke was caused by stress. I’m an artist, not the boss, so when my husband [who’s also Tarja’s manager] stayed home [and I went on tour], I needed to handle things I was not ready to face. When there was a problem, people came to me.”

Why did he stay home?

“Our daughter had been touring with me since she was a baby and, when she turned four, we wanted her to go to school. I had to leave [to go on tour] and closing that door was a bitch. That was the hardest thing to do.”

How did you recover?

“I got a mentor. I had talks with a very old Argentinian man that were a sort of therapy. He just made me realise that I need positive people around me, so that my artistic wings can spread wide open and I can be happy.”

What can you tell us about that new album you mentioned?

“I’m currently writing songs for it, but I can already say to you that it’s pretty heavy. It’s because of my live band. They are absolutely amazing musicians and, when they play, it’s a massive support for me and my big voice. They lift me up with their energy, so this is going to be really powerful, with metal guitars and grooving bass and drums.” 

Best Of: Living The Dream is out now via Ear Music

Matt Mills

Louder’s resident Cult Of Luna obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.