Nightwish – Nature’s LandscapeSunday, 10th May 2020
Easily one of the biggest names in metal here in 2020, Nightwish reigns as one of the most recognizable acts within the symphonic metal scene as well. They also don’t rush an album. In fact, it’s been five years since Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Recently released Human :||: Nature sees the band again commanding their symphonic elements in, and continuing to expand their reach. A double-album release, the second of which is a classical suite that serves as a tribute to nature in a way that easily takes you on a journey. We got to speak with vocalist Floor Jansen about these things, as well as her appearance on Beste Zangers last fall, ‘more is more’ in symphonic metal, and what she’d like to see in this new decade.
Dead Rhetoric: Given that it’s been 5 years since Endless Forms Most Beautiful, is it frustrating to see things shut down just as the band is about to get into high gear?
Floor Jansen: Yeah, of course. I’m just happy that the album was released anyway. We didn’t really take a break for long, but now that we have a new album we want to get back out there and play those songs live. I’m really relieved that we were able to release the album instead of postponing it. I think a lot of people enjoy listening to music a bit more now that they are stuck at home.
Dead Rhetoric: It looks like the first week numbers were pretty good, so at least it didn’t have too much of an effect there either.
Jansen: Absolutely! It’s really nice to see. We made quite a few charts and there’s been lots of positive reactions.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as the most striking elements of Human :||:Nature in terms of it being a Nightwish album?
Jansen: The length of it is pretty unusual. It didn’t fit on one album so it had to become two. There’s a 34-minute classical suite [laughs], I don’t think there are too many bands with that. There were quite a few challenging parts on this album too – more than before, and more for me personally. It was a cool challenge with some vocal lines, and with some of the operatic parts in “Shoemaker” really make this album too. The overall quality I think is really, really good.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that there’s any unintentional relevance to the current state of the world with what you’ve done with Human :||: Nature?
Jansen: Of course we didn’t know this was happening, but then again. We aren’t scientists and we aren’t politicians. So what do we know? But they should have known. They should have known that it is possible for something like this could happen. If any area is overpopulated by one area, this balance comes, and it’s very often that a disease comes in. That’s nature’s way of taking care of things. It’s weird to think that we aren’t part of nature, because we are. Our DNA is even similar to something like a banana, so it’s ridiculous to think we are not [a part of nature]. To think this wouldn’t happen – we were so incredibly ill-prepared for this.
Of course, we didn’t know. But I think everyone in our band, maybe some more than other, is in touch with nature. We all live very close to nature. Most of us have animals at home, and are connected to the natural world. We need to be; I need to be, in order to keep my sanity. I’m not a city person anymore. I can only be there when I have to work, and then I need to really leave to calm down from the mass input of everything that goes on in big cities. I think this is our love letter to nature, and that we say that we are a part of it can only be seen as a positive thing, and a positive way to look at this situation. It’s a clear warning that we need to change our ways.
You see in areas where we are doing less that waters and skies are clearing up, in a speed where nature can recover. It’s very inspiring. I would say that by connecting ourselves a little bit more to our actual source, we are still fine. But we need to be careful because we got a massive warning that is going to cost a lot of people’s lives.
Dead Rhetoric: I teach science and I like the way that you said that we are a part of nature. It’s something I try to stress to my students frequently. We are a part of the world, so it’s cool to see you mention that.
Jansen: Yeah, like I was saying with the DNA in a banana – we share a ridiculously high amount of information. The build-up on everything that’s alive on this planet comes from the same [DNA]. I read an article recently that said we are still drinking dinosaur pee. I’m sure that they were trying to catch people’s attention, but it was interesting to read. It had some good explanations to what I would say are basic knowledge. That’s how the planet evolves. Things go in circles – it comes back. If you put shit into the ground, it’s going to come back too [laughs], just as an example.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you balance having a family and being out on the road with a big band like Nightwish?
Jansen: The good thing about being this big, is that we know that these tours are going to happen well in advance. We can plan it out. It’s not like, “Oh, next week we are going to be out for like five weeks.” So we can be well-prepared. Another advantage is that the band is so big that we can have the possibility of bringing my daughter with me. When we don’t do like bus tours and we just fly, it’s impossible but there’s also grandparents. Of course, my husband is also a touring musician [Hannes van Dahl – Sabaton], and we don’t always tour at the same time. So far so good!
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel about the ‘more is more’ way of thinking that often accompanies symphonic metal? Do you feel that’s growing thing within symphonic metal?
Jansen: I can’t really say that I listen to a lot of symphonic metal bands, but I think in our case, it has been a lot of ‘more is more’ in our previous albums. I remember a journalist asking me on how we would get bigger [from Endless Forms] and I couldn’t really answer that question. Funny enough, I think we did – by doing less. Less is more, or by maybe doing a different approach. We approached some things differently. We didn’t include a massive orchestra this time. So the nine songs that the band is playing on, there is no orchestra at all. It’s all saved for the classical suite.
There’s a string quartet and a choir, but the rest is all us. So there’s more space for other things. For example, the harmonic singing that we started to experiment with during the Decades tour. The three of us – Marco [Hietala], Troy [Donockley], and me, creating different harmonies that fit to every song. It really makes every song sound differently as well. So we came up with different ways to fill space. I think that also made it a very dynamic but also very bombastic album.
Dead Rhetoric: I think too, the suite on the second album – there’s a lot of calm. I really enjoyed that.
Jansen: Yeah – it’s a love letter to nature. If I walk out the door here and go into the woods, the only thing I might startle is a deer or a bird. We have huge birds here. If you startle one of them, when they fly up it’s like, “Whoa!” But the rest is so calm. I think that type of peace that you can experience out there is well written into the music. Most of it is very calm, but sometimes something happens. You can imagine lots of things within music. It takes you to a different landscape in the different chapters.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that is the purpose of Nightwish? To take you to a different landscape?
Jansen: I would say so. People often refer to fantasy as a non-existing version of reality, but I think escaping in music – if the lyrics refer to existing or non-existing things, it doesn’t really matter. If you can escape into a green field by listening to our music, while you live in a city, I would say that is fantastic. Overall, I think this album is made to take you somewhere. If you have the time for, it and it seems like people do have it now, take that hour and a half to sit back with your headphones or a good sound system and close your eyes and let it take you places. Whatever your interpretation, it’s all good! It’s not supposed to tell you what you are supposed to feel or think. That’s a wonderful thing that music can do.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned earlier that you had some vocal challenges on this album. Given your tenure as a vocalist in the metal scene, how do you continue to challenge yourself?
Jansen: It’s wonderful to get challenged like this. I guess everything always has a challenge. The biggest challenge is to make you sound unique. It needs to like me. Whether it is written by someone else – Nightwish or anything. I actually recorded a song yesterday for this group – I can’t say too much about it yet, but it has to do with my connection to a good cause and it has to do with the Second World War. I’m Dutch, and the Netherlands has been liberated from the Nazis for 75 years as of this year. There’s still a few people who are alive to tell us about it, and remind us that freedom is not a given. This is something we should be able to speak about – the silence is ruining people. So it’s a really beautiful song. So there I get challenged to go into a position that I never really thought about until I got this email Monday asking me if I wanted to sing a song that’s connected to x, y, z.
Then I’m forced to go into it and transmit genuine emotions. That’s a challenge. The challenge lies there more than a complex melody or note. It’s funny to see with people that don’t know that much about singing – of course, we all don’t need to know all that much about it – but if you can sing a really high note, you are seen as a good singer. That’s so far from the actual truth [laughs]. I mean, sure it’s great that you can, but it’s usually how you are wired. How you are physically built – if you can sing a high note or not. Then it goes into technique. If possible, then yes, some feelings too. That part is the trickiest. Also with this Nightwish album, to really get into every lyric, understand the message that I want to transmit, which is going to be multi-interpretational anyway. You will listen to it differently than anyone else. The moment I pick it up it becomes my story. The moment you hear it, it becomes your story. There is where I find the biggest challenge of all.
Dead Rhetoric: Speaking to that, last year you were on the show Beste Zangers and sung a number of non-metal songs. Do you feel singing in metal sometimes gets a bad rap/underappreciated?
Jansen: Yeah, unfortunately. Definitely in the country where I am from, as soon as the label ‘metal’ is put on the music, it’s like, that’s not for us. It’s not going to be on Dutch radio, it’s not going to be on Dutch television, it’s not going to end up in the living room of my 55 year old aunt, because it’s too heavy. It’s for young, angry men with long hair, who worship Satan. Then comes a whole list of dumb things that have nothing to do with it.
So when a metal singer has a chance to sing different types of songs, trying to still get it as much to my genre as possible by making it a bit darker than the original – its still not metal, but all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh wow, she can really sing!” Yeah, I have been doing that for the last 20 years, but you didn’t listen did you? It’s metal, so you didn’t give it a shot. It’s wonderful to see, that at least for me, people are giving Nightwish a shot and seeing that it’s not dark, satanic music with nothing but screaming and aggressive [sounds]. So it was really cool to see that change there. I hope that it has opened up some more eyes worldwide, but at least in my own home country, it’s a wonderful thing to see.
Dead Rhetoric: I think that’s a cool thing to see. Even a band that we consider to be a huge in the scene like Nighwish has that room to grow if you can open the door to the larger audience.
Jansen: Yeah – I don’t need to get more famous or more rich, but I want people to listen to our music. I want people to have the chance to listen to it. It frustrates me to know that just because it has it a label that has the wrong ring to it [it is ignored]. Yes, there are tons of metal bands that don’t even envision a bigger audience – they make music for a very small niche. It’s not much that my 55 year old aunt is necessarily going to listen to.
But a band such as Nighwish is not like that. It’s not the same as a band like Vader or Testament. There are so many different styles and subgenres within the style – you can’t really call it all the same. I have respect for everybody, and I have my personal preferences within the music. I still like Pantera, for instance. That also may not go so well with the same aunt, to use the reference again. Once again, when the door stays closed based on wrong ideas, that’s what is frustrating to see. We will see if I got a foot between now [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: We are now in 2020. What would you like to see from metal as we are now in a new decade?
Jansen: I like the way that everything seems to be possible. Maybe I am too old to forget how it was back then. When I was 18, it seemed like metal was supposed to be, ‘this, this, and that’ or no one liked it. I can get upset with people not giving metal a chance, but I can also get upset with metalheads who only want to hear something that sounds like Slayer, and if it doesn’t sound like that it’s not cool. But I really think that a lot more people within metal, there’s a lot more variety that exists. I can only hope for that to continue on more and more.
Dead Rhetoric: As a vocal teacher, what do you feel is most important for people who are trying to make it to the next level with their voice?
Jansen: I would say that that are a few things to look into. One, is to find enough security to dare to sing. Two is the more technical part. If you get a good base, you can really go from there and there are so many things possible with your voice. Three – and it’s not in any particular order, but learn how to transmit emotion. You can sing a note perfectly, but if it’s emotionless it doesn’t sound great. It’s a balance of everything. That takes time. If you want to really sing, and you want to sound like one of your idols, don’t expect to be able to all of a sudden do it.
First of all, you may not have even sang before, so your vocal cords may need some training. You also need to get used to it, and maybe get some lessons. I definitely can recommend that in the beginning. You want to get that technical base down. You want to also create your own sound. You might want to sound like me, Tarja [Turunen], Anette [Olzen], or whoever, but you are you. You are going to sound like you, and that’s what makes you cool. It’s more important to focus on that, than to actually imitate someone else.
Dead Rhetoric: Is there a moment that stands out to you, whether it was with Nightwish or any other band that you have been in, as a memory that you cherish?
Jansen: I have tons. One time that comes to mind was when I had just joined Nighwish and we were in New Orleans. I basically jumped in, unprepared. I was about a week after starting. So the fear of those first shows, not knowing what I was doing, everyone was on a state of high alert – we started to calm down a bit. The guys asked me if I had ever been to New Orleans and I said no. We played the House of Blues. It was an early show, and the guys wanted to get out and have a drink together on the main street, Bourbon Street and we went to this old bar on the corner, where they served absinthe.
The most important thing is that we were in the midst of this crazy life on Bourbon Street and we were so happy and relaxed with each other. I guess they never really had a singer that would join them. We also got ourselves some fine cigars, so we were standing in our t-shirts in the middle of the street with our drinks and a big cigar – I think we even went dancing after we got drunk. That is something remarkable – it was like a first-timer in my Nighwish history. What a wonderful memory and a real highlight. It felt like that night really marked a beginning of a very good time together.
Dead Rhetoric: Is there anything going on with Nightwish currently?
Jansen: I don’t know. The politicians seem to be positive about the fall, but if you hear the scientists, they say things about us only picking up life as it was if we have a vaccine. We are not going to have that in the fall. It will be next year if we are lucky. So I don’t trust politicians because they are saying things for their agenda. I don’t think it’s in a scientist’s benefit to say something that isn’t true. I don’t want to paint a better picture than the truth.
At this point, if we are smart, we will be focusing on surviving more than focusing on what we don’t have or can’t do. That’s a luxury problem, and that’s all we have at the moment if you are not sick. For the healthy ones, we don’t have problems, we just have a discomfort for the time being. I am one of the first that would just love to get back on stage, don’t get me wrong, but I’d rather do the whole thing next year rather than push anything too early and find out that it was too early and have the same shit all over again. There are thousands of people dying on a daily basis, and I find it way more important than maybe, yes we can play.