Spending some time with Nightwish's Marko Hietala
Finnish symphonic metal band, Nightwish, recently released their ninth studio album, Human :II: Nature, which features first single “Noise,” a commentary on the state of the world and criticism of technological addiction.
The double album features 9 tracks on the main cd and one long orchestral track divided into 8 chapters on the second.
Nightwish bassist, male vocalist and secondary composer, Marko Hietala, has also been out promoting his recent debut solo album, Pyre of the Black Heart, which he composed with long-time collaborators Tuomas Wäinölä on guitar, Vili Ollila on keyboards and Anssi Nylanen on drums.
Recently, Rock Life spoke with Hietala, who was in his home studio in Finland and had plenty of time to delve into both albums and what's next for both projects.
Q: How has isolation been going for you?
Marko Hietala: Hmm, how would I say? Well, there is a lot of time to do things like, for instance, fixing the house and doing all kinds of cleaning things. I’ve been doing stuff by myself like taking a saw and cutting down trees from the backyard and that kind of stuff. And it’s kind of nice, but the bummer of all of that is that we should be on the tour!
Q: Yes! How are you doing with all of that?
MH: Man, it’s a serious bummer! I really like doing shows. I mean, that’s my main draw. I love being out in that bubble where you are with your bandmates and all the people who work the shows. That’s one of the main things that I still do best and I still like to be on the road because otherwise it gets boring and tedious.
Then there is too much time to kill and it’s really easy for guys, me included, to dabble too much with the alcohol. I had to stop when it was starting to screw up everything else. A lot of the guys go through the same because it is always a nice past time to have a drink. This spring I’ve been 10 years without alcohol. My anniversary was the 25th of March. I quit while I was on top.
Q: Congrats! And having the new album out has got to be hard too since you want to get out and promote the new music, but have you been happy so far with the reaction to the release?
MH: Yeah, it’s mostly been getting good reviews, but you can’t please everyone. Some people are finding it boring and all that, but I mean everyone is entitled to their own opinion so you just have to do the best you can and hope that most enjoy it. I think that if we on average manage to come up with things and new sounds and new ways to do things then people seem to be liking it. And we do these things because we like to do it and we enjoy it and if other people like it then that’s great. That’s good enough for me. If we lose some people because of that method, then it’s what happens. It’s an evolution into different things and not everyone will like that and I don’t mind, but for the most part, it's been great.
Q: And you’re at the point where trying new things isn’t going to hurt the band as a whole even if it isn’t widely accepted.
MH: Yeah! I think for awhile actually, Nightwish has been slipping over the line into the prog rock in a lot of ways. We can be catchy and straightforward and punishing in a heavy metal way and all of that, but still the structures, which have all the weight from the mainstream recipes, have taken a big step there, over that prog rock line.
Q: It seemed like this album came together a bit quicker than maybe some have in the past. What was the process like for this one? What made it different?
MH: Yeah, it was a pretty compact plan actually. You know, we’ve done this so much before that we pretty much knew okay, we’ll book the place and then it was laid out that we’ll do it these months with our usual thing and do this there, there and here. It was pretty much us working through the PC’s of the plan one-by-one. And the recordings really began to get ahead.
I think the concentration of the vocal harmonies was the main difference because we’ve done it before and knew it was possible, but now we made an effort to do more. We kind of checked off the lead vocals and then had to come up with some kind of personalized harmonies for all three of us, which was on high demand on this album.
We did a lot of personal harmonies for me Floor [Jansen] and Troy [Donockley.] Basically, we put together the personalized sound for the back and I was writing a lot of that stuff and arranging it so that was the main difference for me. It was a good challenge.
Oftentimes, there were days where I was there and Floor was singing some piece and I was walking there in the yard thinking okay, I need to sing that there under that and Troy should be coming that way underneath that and then I would go and say can I try these lines?
Q: Now that Troy has been brought into a larger role on vocals, what do you feel he has brought to the process?
MH: Well, of course, in that way he’s now not only filling the role with the piping, but he’s doing some bazooka stuff and some guitar stuff and things like that, which are moving things forward. Then, of course, the use of all three of us with the vocals was an idea that we figured during the Decades Tour. We liked the idea of a more personalized touch on the vocals and that worked so well on that tour and we said, okay, we have another awesome voice that we haven’t really used to the extent that we could.
Q: And how did the first video for “Noise” come together?
MH: Well, Stobe Harju directed, the guy who also did a very personal one to me, “The Islander.” I loved the visuals in that one and I think he’s really a genius. He did the movie with us too and I think that the movie lost a lot because for taxation reasons he had to cut the movie a lot shorter. A lot of places where the story could have rested and not just moving on to another place so quickly were gone. There were big scenes with beautiful scenery and lots of music pounding away that had to be cut away so there were a lot of great visuals lost.
So yeah, I was happy that Stobe was directing “Noise.” The visuals are great and the idea of the baby with the headset and the flashing cell phones and the crown, the monks, the skirt and all those things just made me say, fuck yeah, he’s come up with some good stuff again!
Q: And the video does make you think and that’s something that in this time of quarantine everyone has a lot of time to do.
MH: Yeah, I mean I’m a huge science freak also and I love technology and these things. I mean, we’re doing this interview via Skype. It’s way easier than it would have been years back. I started back in the eighties when I left home with the Tarot boys and I used to tell my girlfriend I’ll be back in two weeks and if I have money, I will try to find a phone booth. So, I love the technology, but I also love my walks in the woods.
Q: There’s got to be a balance.
MH: Yeah, and as a chronic depressive, it’s been researched that wobbling in the greenery has a positive effect on your mind. Fresh air is good for you!
Q: And before all of this you did manage to get in your European solo tour. How did that go?
MH: Yeah, we managed to get the English version of the album out in January and then head out on the Central European small tour in February. We got back home three weeks later and then everything closed down, so we were lucky!
This process of the solo album started out because I had a couple of my friends/musicians over because I trusted their abilities and open minds and visions to arrange a bunch of songs I wasn’t totally sure about myself. That was the start of the solo project and they really got into it and loved it and did a shit ton of arranging of various pieces of compositions.
So, we were happy to get to do some shows and it went really well and we had a lot of fun together. The whole project really kind of grew out of the band and we’re already talking about doing more since we can’t go anywhere and Nightwish can’t go anywhere. We’re talking about having two-guy meetings and do some workshops together and see what kind of things we can come up with and hopefully start doing a second album. Then hopefully, we’ll return to the road one of these days either with Nightwish or the solo band and on that occasion, I will celebrate with raising some serious fucking hell!
Q: Your solo album has such a great mix of sounds and that occasional flash of the Nightwish sound. Was that something that was aimed towards or something that just came out of the recording sessions?
MH: Well, I’m a pretty varied listener of music. I got into the heavy metal, the old school like Black Sabbath and all that, at the tender year of nine. And I was already listening to my father’s folk albums and Celtic Irish folk albums and Beatles albums and all that. Then, my father and I went to Jethro Tull when I was four and that happened. So, I was always a prog rock friend and then later they came out with the industrial and electric music and mixing machinery and band stuff and then all the orchestra stuff that the metal bands use, so it was a wide mix of influences that I was acquiring and even stuff like Tori Amos and those kind of things.
That’s why the album probably falls pretty much into the progressive rock category if it has to be typed out in some way. There’s a metal base and then a lot of atmospheric stuff and experimental stuff. The only thing which we tried to do was to have songs that would have a lot of melody and relevance. We didn’t really want to cut choruses just to try to go prog in the writing. We wanted the elements that we personally find interesting and put it together in ways that we thought would sound great.
Q: Are there any solid plans for the rest of the year?
MH: I don’t know. We still have some hopes for the Fall because the European tour was designated for November and December, so there’s still some hope, but it’s looking like more and more we’re in need of some pretty good treatment if the world is to go back to the way it was.
I’d say that this wave that started already from the Eastern Europe at the Russian Border from the rise of populism and the driving down of the public and social services and the health services and selling off the kindergartens has not been very smart! I guess you’ve got the brunt of that thing going on right now.
Yeah, this rise of government decisions that threaten populism has basically played on all kinds of fear; religious fear and refugee fear and fear of progress and then the dismantling of things and pulling money away from things worldwide, which could have prevented all of this.
Q: Yes, and things are so divided, particularly here in the U.S., but I think music is one of those things that is so important because it is that one thing that crosses all those religious and social borders and can bring people together. It’s so important that the industry survives this.
MH: Yes, people need entertainment; that’s for sure! I know a lot of bands decided to postpone their albums, but we really didn’t even talk about it that much. I mean, no one even asked me so I just figured the guys decided to go forward and if they had asked me I would have recommended to go ahead and release.
Personally, I’m in this business and doing shows because like I’ve been saying, I like the bubble of good vibes we build between the band mates and the whole bunch of people coming out to the shows and this is about the same thing. It’s about putting out those vibes and that’s something that I too enjoy in these dark and gloomy times. For instance, I’ve been listening to Katatonia’s new album, which also came out a week back or so. And thank you guys!
Q: And you are always working on collaborations it seems. Do you have anything coming up?
MH: Not right now. It doesn’t really make sense for anyone to ask since we can’t really do any flights or anything.
Q: Is there one collaboration you’ve done that sticks out for you?
MH: Whoa, that’s hard! There are a few favorite ones, but I can't really pick one because they all kind of had their own response and era, which were different.
For instance, when I started to become the vocal coach and producer for Amorphis, I ended up also being a co-writer and arranger and singing a lot of background stuff. I love those guys; they are great! Having that chance to do so many things with them, I loved that! And doing those live shows with that bunch was a lot of fun. I was in a bad place personally at the time. I was carrying a lot of boogeymen from my former marriage and all of that and that really made me realize how much happiness you could get out of all of that.
Yeah, and I mean now that things have been so god damn boring, I realize that I find myself working on a lot of acoustic stuff with my bass and whatever.
Q: I asked for some questions from some of the fans and most of the ones I got were regarding the lockdown. So, what is a typical routine day for you while in quarantine?
MH: Springtime has been mostly nice here in Finland, but not too warm yet. It has been sunny though, and even more and more here where I live in the middle part, so I’ve kind of gotten into the habit of a daily hours walk. Then, fiddling around with the guitar and bass and writing a few lyrics and now and then; doing a few interviews. And yeah, watching a lot of tv and playing a lot of video games and reading.
Q: What are you reading now?
MH: I’ve got quite a few. Right now, it's been more of an urban fantasy: Charles Stross’ Laundry series. I just finished The Labyrinth, so I’ve got to look and see what else I have on my Ipad.
Q: And are you listening to anything new?
MH: Well, the newest thing I’ve been listening to is that Katatonia album, City Burials, which was out a couple of weeks ago. Also, it’s May and Steven Wilson was about to release something soon. I can’t remember the date, but I did see the single/video and that was cool!
Q: And what is your choice of drink during quarantine since alcohol is out?
Q: And have you guys talked about doing any livestreaming?
MH: Yeah, we have talked about it and it’s in the works somehow, eventually, but the trouble we have is that we need to time it really well because Troy lives in Great Britain and Floor lives in Sweden, so it’s hard to work out.
Then, with the solo band, we’ve been asked to do it, but we would need to figure out a little bit different of a lineup there too because our drummer is in Spain with his family. So yeah, if we can work it out and it’s Internet capable, we will do it.
Q: Is there something still out there that Nightwish wants to do that you haven’t yet?
MH: Yeah, with Nightwish we’ve often talked about playing in Iceland and even in Greenland and in Alaska and if there would be some African places that we could go. Of course, that can’t happen right now. Any time that we possibly get the word that there is a working treatment that can be spread fast, it means that all the plans that we made with all the guys on the list and crew can begin and we can start rehearsals. We’ll have to start working our asses off to get back out and play! But until then, everything is like in limbo.
Q: And Nightwish is known for the passion of your live sets, but what’s your favorite part of that?
MH: The greatest thing is that the more you personally get from the people, the more you raise hell and then the people get more from you and they start to raise more hell and that’s when you get a really good show going. That emotion makes the show good.
Q: And do you have anything to add?
MH: We hope to get out soon as every band does and I already promised that I’m going to raise hell and that’s not an empty promise!