The ProgPower Interview: Marco Hietala of Finland's Nightwish
Band Photo: Nightwish (?)
At this point in the band's career, Nightwish has become nearly everyone’s first thought when they think about heavy metal from Finland. With astounding budgets for consistently higher-selling albums upon each release, it’s safe to say that Nightwish is doing well. The reason the group has achieved the #2 spot in the US Top Hard Rock Albums charts upon the release of latest, “Imaginaerum,” (reviewed here) was due to successfully cultivating a fan base in the states, which had started with their very first US show at ProgPower 4 in 2003.
After all those years inbetween, Nightwish returned to ProgPower at Center Stage in Atlanta, Georgia for a two-night stint on September 12th and 13th as a prelude to the 2012 festival weekend, ProgPower’s 13th official year. Kicking off their headlining tour with Kamelot, the band brought the house down. I was lucky enough to snag a quick interview with bassist/vocalist Marco Hietala after a short trip to the band’s catering room. As if he doesn’t already have a lot going on with Nightwish, we also discussed various projects of his, such as Northern Kings, Tarot, being producer for Amorphis, and the “Imaginaerum” movie.
Frank Serafine (Progressivity_In_All): First off, Nightwish played ProgPower 4 nearly a decade ago. Nine years ago?
Marco Hietala: Yeah, it was quite a long time ago. I remember vaguely.
Frank: It was two years after you had joined the band, 2003.
Marco: Yeah, that’s true. The first show on US soil.
Frank: So how was last night’s performance?
Marco: Last night’s performance seemed to be a pretty good start of the tour. Like I said, I was pretty jetlagged, so I had to work the voice open a little bit. During soundcheck today, it was already way better, so it would be a nice progressive thing to move on always to a better show. Sometimes it doesn’t happen (laughs) but I think it’ll happen today.
Frank: Do you remember it being different than 2003?
Marco: In 2003, we were playing ProgPower as one of the festival bands, so there’s always a lot more hassle for everything. But it was a good time. Everybody was really interested in how things have been going. Ten years can do much to you, so you tend to get a little more jaded and a little more used to how places change and times change. Maybe there’s not that much of a boyish enthusiasm and there’s a hell of a lot more of routine in a good way, because you tend to be more relaxed and you go out and do your show. You don’t get tense about these things. You just get the good excitement.
Frank: You’re playing another show tonight with a little bit of a different set.
Marco: Yeah, a few songs.
Frank: Could you tell us what’s in store for tonight, what you’re going to change up?
Marco: (laughs) We had the set list on the wall, but I hadn’t really memorized it or anything! I think there’s at least three songs changed from yesterday to today.
Frank: The “Imaginaerum” movie is going to be released in November in Finland. Do you anticipate having a worldwide release?
Marco: We’re working on it. Of course, we don’t have the Hollywood budget for promotion and the machinery behind that whole thing, but the people we know from the business have been talking to the different distributors for theaters and all that. I can’t tell for sure yet where around the world we’re going to be getting into theaters at, but the people are certainly working on it.
So far, we’ve gotten pretty good news from different places, but nothing concrete. We, as a band, saw the whole finished movie last week before leaving here to the states, so now they’re in progress of spreading it around for the right people to see.
Frank: What inspired the thought of both doing an album and a movie?
Marco: As a starter, we had this idea of making an album and then shooting kind of short movies – kind of videos for each song, but more like short movies – and tie them up together. The director came up to us and said, “Guys, if you’re shooting for short movies or music videos, you’re going to need a budget that you could basically shoot a movie with. So why NOT shoot a movie?” When you put it that way, why not?
We had seen some concept pictures and ideas for script. Tuomas (Holopainen, keyboards) and Stobe, who was directing the movie, they got together to swap ideas and put them down and things just progressed. I saw them and thought, “Okay, yeah. We know these people and we could probably get funding from here and there. If we’re not going to do this now, we’re gonna re-create it later. Let’s do it.”
Frank: You co-wrote “The Islander” and “The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove” with Tuomas. Do you see yourself being more involved in the writing process in the future?
Marco: I write music, of course, but it’s always a situation of what you put down when you get together and see what you have. It depends on that, so it’s not written in stone in any way. I write stuff, and if it goes through Tuomas’s filter so that it would fit the concept that the band is building, then it ends up on the album.
Frank: You’ve produced and sang on albums for other bands, as well -- Amorphis and others. Are you working with any right now?
Marco: Not currently, right now. I’ve done the producing for the last four Amorphis albums, but I guess the guys are already in the preproduction for the next one and I’m still touring, so I think there’s gonna be somebody else for the next time there. They asked me if I would have time, but I won’t have it until next year, so it’s going to be too late for the guys to go into production.
It’s been good so far, and I see no problems with it happening again if we just manage to put our timetables together.
Frank: You’ve also started this USA tour right now. New York’s coming up. Is there anything you’re really excited to do in the USA if you get off-days while on tour?
Marco: There are places that I’d like to visit – amusement parks and such – that are big here. In Finland, they tend to be small. Well, everything’s small there except for forests! (laughs) Definitely. Seeing some places now and then is really nice. Again, you have to see where you are and when you have the off-days and all that. I managed to go to the Great Wall in China and Cairo and Mexico City, places like that. I definitely would like to see the Grand Canyon – it’s something I’ve never seen.
Frank: It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.
Marco: How long is the drop?
Frank: You’ll be falling for a good 30 seconds!
Marco: Okay! Time enough to be really thinking about “This is gonna hurt.” (laughs) But it probably doesn’t hurt that much, because you’ll slap really hard and it’ll be over in a nano-second! (laughs)
Frank: There are actually some bad stories about guys that go to the edge of the canyon and take a pee off the side, and the wind knocks them over into it. They get at least a few of those each year, they say.
Marco: Piss of death. Sounds almost like a Dokken song! (laughs)
Frank: (Laughs) It really does! Now, with your other band, Tarot, you released a new recording of “Wings of Darkness” last year. What’s next on the Tarot schedule?
Marco: When we were putting down the first album as a 25th anniversary version, we’d managed to put down something like 5 riffs already that are totally new. The guys have come up with some stuff, and I’ve been writing some stuff. I’d imagined that next year, when the touring winds down, I’ll get together with the Tarot boys and start going over what kind of stuff we have. When we do that, it usually ends up so that we’ll be recording an album.
That’s what I think is 99% likely to happen.
Frank: Do you see more work coming up eventually with the Northern Kings project?
Marco: We’ve been talking about it on and off every time we see the guys, but it’s a hard bunch to get together because everybody’s got so much projects and bands and all that. To get that bunch of people together seems to be hard.
Frank: So yes, if time permits?
Frank: What’s the best part of each show for you?
Marco: It depends a little bit on the set list and what kind of songs we have on it. Tonight, we’re going to be doing "Ghost River" at least – that has a nicely insane vibe to it with what I get to do vocally. Also, the ending of the show, which usually is “Last Ride of the Day,” because it seems to be a nice piece to get the crowd going. These come to mind first.
Frank: Do you like it when you’re out on the microphone or do you like it when you’re back from it and just playing bass?
Marco: Both. I think I’m in a really good position this way, that I get to be there at the front so I can have my time on the limelight. Then I can also step back and put my ass against the bass cabinet and just feel the rumble in my body and that’s very nice as well.
Frank: In regards to your singing, when did you first identify what style of singer you were and started to develop your voice? When did that happen for you?
Marco: That was already when I was a kid. I think I was 11 when I heard Rainbow “Long Live Rock N’ Roll,” and I was blown away with what Dio was doing at the time. I was learning all the songs, just memorizing them without knowing them and singing along. When I was 13, I was already singing in my first school band and all that. I listened to all kinds of different albums and was singing along with them, and this just came to happen.
In a way, I could say that it’s more of a natural thing that happened, but I did take some lessons later on in my life -- breathing techniques and all that. They became useful, but the classical teachers weren’t really into my style that we had in the musical high school where I was at the time. They were thinking, “Yeah, well I heard some rumors from some friends of mine. This Hietala boy walking around without any hat, in his leather jacket open in the winter. The mind is decreasing, smoking those cigarettes, and that style of singing he’s got – that boy’s not going to be singing after three years!” Well, here we are!
Frank: That’s a great note to end on.
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