Tarja Turunen interview – June 2016

I spoke to Tarja while she was in London having performed at a one-day festival and then at a special intimate show that was being filmed. We talked about her new album “The Brightest void” and the album due out soon, “The shadow self” as well as touring and other plans.

Most bands or singers release one album at a time, but you’ve chosen to release two albums in the space of two months.  Why did you choose to do it as two albums rather than one double album?

I really didn’t want to do a double album because I think that as I’m challenging my audience with my music being so diverse, so I felt it would be too much – too many tracks.  But I ended up writing songs, so many songs that in the end when I had all those songs in front of me I said “Now what?”. I didn’t want to keep them for bonuses, for B-sides, anything like that because I’ve had that experience before – they get kind of lost, and they’re part of you, they’re your creations, you feel personal to them and there is a connection, so I really didn’t want to have that going on.  So I discussed with the label people in Germany and said shouldn’t we could do an EP or something like that, something special – I want to have a real product to have, because these songs were written for one album, but I became productive one way or another, so what to do? They said, let’s make two albums, and call it a prequel, which of course is a nicer way to tell it, and it’s kind of a connection to my love of film music and films in general, but it gives you the sound of the album that is still to come, and it also as the themes on the albums are handling more or less opposites of the things we have in life, so “The Brightest Void” for me is presenting the lighter side of the shadow.

I’d noticed with the titles you have “The brightest void” and The shadow self” so there’s that light and dark connection, and I’d wondered if the albums would actually be themed that way too.

Very much so.  I’ve gone through some kind of self discovery in recent years.  I’m still on that journey and as an artist I think that kind of self discovery will never change because you meet new people and the more you travel the less you know.  I think it was John Lennon who said something like that many years ago.  It really is very true that the more you do the less you know.  I try to keep myself very open minded in that sense.  It’s opposites – love/hate, negative/positive, shadows/light – in shadow there is always a certain amount of light, and vice versa, and in myself I have felt there is a certain darkness in me but I have never really understood what is this darkness in me because I consider myself being a very positive person and I love talking with people, socialising, I’m a happy camper, I’m not a sad person, but when it comes to music, it comes out with melancholic melodies. It comes out as dark mystic things, mysterious things, and I love that.  

When I was writing songs for this album I read an interview of Annie Lennox where she was saying the shadow self is within us as artists, as the creative force, making us create art, and it really hit me, that is the shadow…my own shadow.  I feel very positive but it makes me create dark things, so I really discovered a lot about myself through that interview – it hit me hard, so I’m grateful that she made it really clear to me.

You sound as though you’re really challenging yourself vocally on the albums.  I’d imagine the rock stuff is very different to do than the classical music you trained on.

It is a challenge but I love the challenge.  When I write songs I usually write too difficult melodies, but again there’s a challenge. It comes in song writing, it comes in a way where I don’t want to go where the level is lowest, I’m a workaholic in that sense, and nowadays having an international career it’s a huge puzzle I need to keep organised otherwise it would be a mess, but I’ve been able to do that passionately able to do that because I work so goddamn hard, and being a vocalist it’s so vital for me still to go on with that practice and training and I hope that will never ever change because when I go back it to an opera aria for example, I sing an aria without problems it’s a huge satisfaction it gives me.

While with a guitarist if they can play something then that is unlikely to change unless they have an injury, with a vocalist I’d imagine that’s not the same as your voice does change.

It is evolving, it is changing.  If you listen to my albums one after another, you can hear easily the change in my voice. That is because of just never stopping the changing, and I mean the lyrical training. That’s my core, it keeps me sane.

Normally on your albums you include a cover version and it’s usually an 80s song, but this time you’ve gone way back to 1964 with “Goldfinger”. I really enjoy it – Shirley Bassey has such a powerful voice, so it’s not an easy one to do I’d imagine.

I needed to sing this song – it was selected for me many years ago for a TV production and I felt it was so difficult to sing at the time, but it kept ringing in my head and I knew I had to come back to this song one day when I’m ready for it.  Last year in November, together with my band, we played it in South America, we tested it out for the audience and we made this heavy arrangement for it.  It felt really good when I was singing it live, I was really pushing it hard, and I wanted to have it on the album.  Now when I had the album, The Brightest Void, it gave me the possibility to include these fun songs in it, presenting the light.

Gold and light go well together.  It was a nice touch when you were performing on Sunday night, when you sang Goldfinger, all the lights changed to a nice golden colour and it just worked perfectly to complement the song.

I’m glad to hear that – I didn’t know that.  I have the best lighting engineer/designer ever.  He’s a Finnish man, he’s super intelligent when he creates.  Lights are very important to me, because I don’t like to add to much of this, that and everything.  In future shows there will be screens, and the production for the album shows will be bigger than before, but it’s still classy.  It needs to look classy, not everything together confusing things. Beautifully classy, and when it comes to lights he is the person I want to use because he really gets the music.

You had the concert on Sunday night, then last night was a showcase of songs from The Brightest Void and The Shadow Self, which was being filmed.  What was it being filmed for?

It was being filmed for “Act 2”, my next live album. That is going to be filmed somewhere in Europe during the next tour – I haven’t made my mind up yet about the location, but as my first live album “Act 1” was recorded in Argentina, I want to do it in Europe this time.  We will be filming lots of material at shows and festivals, but this show is again like the opposites on the album – this very intimate show and then a big concert.

It must have been quite different for you performing in such an intimate setting.

It was very interesting, super interesting actually.  A very tense feeling at the beginning as I entered the room and there was no air – everyone sucked the air out of the room, it was very humid and hot, but to see the emotions of the fans, the hardcore fans in front of me…wow. I have only once had that experience where people are HERE, right next to me whhile I perform and that was one of the Christmas concerts, classical concerts that I did in a church in Finland. The place was so packed they had people sitting on the floow, so I could say like “Hello” to their heads, but that was the only time.  Now, such a small amount of people, all eyes on you, plus the media, plus the label people, I felt like “Kill me”. But it was an amazing experience.  We really enjoyed ourselves. Playing the new songs in public for the first time was tense.

And to add extra pressure, it’s not just the first time you were playing the songs in public, but it was being filmed too.

I didn’t even care about the cameras. Now that I go back and think about it, why didn’t I care about the cameras? I wasn’t thinking about them filming it at all, I was more nervous about you all being there in this beautiful historic studio, and I was more nervous about really bringing a great performance, but not about the recording.  It could be something to do with my experience filming “The voice” in Finland, something like that.  I was used to having cameras right there next to me because it’s a reality show – they are there, you just don’t care about them any more.

I suppose a camera is just a box in front of you that you get no feedback from, whereas with the audience you can see their reactions to whatever you do.

Yes totally.  There were tears in their eyes, super glittery and gleaming.

You do look very happy and confident on stage these days

You live and you learn. You go through so much. Nowadays as I have found a certain confidence in writing songs and producing songs, being in the whole creative part, taking control and taking the responsibility, carrying the responsibility and being happy about it, it’s a beautiful freedom.

You’ve got Hellfest next weekend then you go to China for a tour. Have you played in China before?

Never, in the far east, only in Japan, but this time there’s also China, Hong Kong, Taiwan – new places. I’m so excited, like a little girl.  It’s nice to go to new places, it’s realy nice to experience.

Hopefully you’ll get some time to se these places rather than just going from the airport to hotel, to venue, to hotel, to airport.

I really hope that too. I think there won’t be too much. At least I stay in Tokyo for a few extra days with my family.  I really want to show my daughter that way of life, that culture. Show her there are places with so many people – if London is crowded, wow Tokyo is VERY crowded. My daughter loves sushi, it’s her favourite food, so she’ll be in seventh heaven.

Later in the year you’ve got a European tour including Metal Female Voices festival.  It must be the fourth or fifth time you’ve played there.

Something like that yes. It’s been a few years since my last performance there, and I love going back, there’s always a special atmosphere.

I think the last time you played was when you had Floor Jansen join you on stage for the final song.

Thank goodness she said Yes when I asked her to do it.

I think a lot of the time on the internet people invent these rivalries between singers and something like the two of you performing together shows that rivalry doesn’t exist.  The same goes for the duet you did with Sharon den Adel on the Within Temptation album.

Totally.  Actually Sharon was telling me she’s heard a lot of these kind of things, and I said I’d never heard of these sort of things but then I’m not very into it, reading online, but I’d never have even thought there’d ben anything like that between us, but it’s incredible.  Why on earth would people say this?  Music is music and we’re all doing our thing trying to get the best out of it.

I think some people have nothing better to to.

A lot of time on their hands.

Last year you released a classical album, Ave Maria.  Are there any plans to do any more of those?

I would love to record a second classical album. That would probably be something like German leads or European songs in general within Chamber music, because that’s my thing within classical music. I wouldn’t see myself recording arias because I’m not an opera singer, but chamber music is my field in classical music, where I feel comfortable and where I have the most knowledge. So, why not.  It’s a project that requires a lot of time.  Training-wise, concentration-wise, it’s really a lot of time.  This Ave Maria album I actually recorded two years earlier than it was released. It was like all the craziness that was going on at the time – I was writing for The Shadow Self and touring so much. So many things going on in paralell that sometimes it’s hard to find the time for things, but I would love to have the time to record another one because it was such a beautiful experience.

Thank you very much for your time

You’re welcome.

About Ant May

I spend half my life at gigs or festivals and the other half writing the reviews and editing photos, and somehow find time for a full time job too. Who needs sleep - I've got coffee.
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