At “The Greatest Show On Earth”: An on the road interview with Nightwish’s Marco Hietala
It has been almost a year since the release of Nightwish’s newest album, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”, which is a stunning tribute to the wonder of life and evolution. To the delight of their fans, the band has been steadily touring the album around the world since its release. This year, the fans in North America got an unexpected treat as Nightwish returned to our shores for a second round of touring. I had the pleasure of catching up with the band’s bassist, Marco, right before the second show of this tour. We discussed the album’s success, the current tour, and the band’s plans for the future.
Here is how it went:
Afternoiz: This is Joe Prostredny from Afternoiz and I’m here with Marco Hietala of Nightwish. How are you doing this evening?
Marco: I think I’m pretty good. A little bit jet lagged now and then but I seem to be a bit woozy but it seems to be wearing off.
Afternoiz: You just landed in North America about 48 hours ago, right?
Marco: Uhhhhh (thinking)….. (laughs) You might be right, there!
Afternoiz: (laughs) Ok! Thank you very much for talking with us tonight, despite the jet lag! So we’re here, at the beginning of the second round of North American touring of the phenomenal new album, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”.
Marco: Thank you!
Afternoiz: Last night was the first show and I was there and from an audience perspective it was stunning! How did you guys feel like it went? Any pre-tour glitches?
Marco: I think it was pretty OK for a first one, actually. Well not really ok, it was just really good for a first one, especially since everybody before the first show was like… woo, woo… (laughs) a little bit woozy and everything (laughs). But you get on stage and you just get into it and then suddenly it clicks, it works, and that’s how it should go.
Afternoiz: Good! It seemed like Nightwish did a fairly extensive tour of North America last year and I was able to catch three shows myself. How did we get so lucky to get you back, what brought you back?
Marco: Well the US is big and there’s plenty of towns to visit.
Afternoiz: Yes, yes!
Marco: So I don’t know if we’ve managed to do enough for the US even with these two [tours] but let’s try.
Afternoiz: Well, we are all very glad that you’ve come back! Your shows here seem to be getting bigger and bigger. It’s always a little bit of a challenge for European bands to sell out the size venues over here, that they do over there. A lot of the shows of this tour are already sold out, last night was sold out, this night is sold out and I think tomorrow night is sold out.
Marco: Sounds good!
Afternoiz: Yeah! Have you changed the set much from last year?
Marco: Not that much. A few songs have changed. But, of course now, that we have come over here today, we have rehearsed a couple more at the sound check and probably will tomorrow as well and they will be inserted into the set. And after that we still have a couple more waiting in the wings.
Afternoiz: Delain is opening for you, again, like they did last year, and you are actually a very popular guest artist on their albums. I think you’ve been on three out of their four studio albums to date and last year, you did guest vocals for them on the tour. Any plans for doing that this year?
Marco: I guess we’re all finding our legs first, but I see it as a kind of inevitable thing to happen (laughs).
Afternoiz: That should make the fans at the later shows very happy. I got to see it happen last year. Delain has a new album coming out later this year. Did they recruit you again?
Marco: No, not for this one.
Afternoiz: What is your favorite part of coming to the Americas? What’s different here from Europe or Asia? Is anything different?
Marco: Well, let me think. Every place is basically different so I just try to appreciate the cultural differences and all kinds of things you can see. But so far I also have to say that I don’t really make that much of a big difference in the places that we play. For me personally, I just like doing shows for the people, wherever they are or we are.
Afternoiz: The same around the world? Any difference in the fans?
Marco: Of course, yeah. You know, for instance, the Japanese, they’re a polite culture and everything and the girls are like “hee hee” (imitates subtle laughing) and all that.
Afternoiz: I hear the Japanese are pretty crazy though, during the shows?
Marco: Yeah, at the shows they can be. But, then of course, the most crazy people you get are in the South Americas. And also the old Eastern [European countries], the old countries there that used to be behind the Iron Curtain. They’re not that jaded of our rock and roll and bands because they still seem to be having that… awe. It’s a big thing when you’ve got rock and roll bands come and arrive and all that.
Afternoiz: Because it’s all still relatively new?
Marco: Yeah. But then the people, for instance, in Western Europe or in the states, they are little bit more reserved, they want to check out how the band is doing, and are they playing good and all that. But still, I think we manage to pull a good response almost anywhere we go.
Afternoiz: Last year, I was able to interview Tuomas at the beginning of the touring of the new album and he seemed very pleased and even genuinely humbled by the fan response. Has that fan response continued to be as positive as it was right after the release?
Marco: Yeah! Very much, yeah. I don’t think we’ve had a bad show… of course, some shows are weaker if we think about our own opinion or something like that. Like: “this didn’t go as well as we meant”, but usually we always manage to pull off a good show. I don’t think there had been something that you could call bad on this tour, or even the last one. I can’t remember actually when we’ve done something where people would be like putting their heads in their hands or anything. Nothing like that has happened for a long time.
Afternoiz: Any fan responses that have really stood out to you? Anything a fan has told you that you just thought, “Wow!”. Or does it all just kind of blur?
Marco: It’s not a blur, but of course all these things, you tend to build up a….Well, nothing is really that new anymore. I mean there are people who have said that we’ve managed to save their lives with music… otherwise they would have considered suicide or something like that. That is important, but there are already a few. Then there are people who say that I picked up bass playing because of you or I started singing because of you and all that. It happens a lot. And it is a great thing… to see that you make that big of an impression to someone. But something that would be genuinely like a one-time thing I’d really have to think about that now (laughs).
Afternoiz: So this year, Nightwish is turning 20 years old! Congratulations!
Marco: Thank you!
Afternoiz: Twenty years is a long time for any band to be around. A lot of bands after twenty years have either broken up by that time, or they are resting on their laurels and they’ve become a nostalgia band playing their old hits but not really producing new music. But here you are, still putting out phenomenal albums, and it seems like your popularity, at least from a fan perspective, seems to be continuing to get bigger and bigger. I know the band was already really popular when you joined, but did you ever imagine that you would be at this level?
Marco: To be honest I didn’t think about it at the time (laughs). When the guys called me and asked me, I already knew the band and knew the guys and all that… and thought this is gonna be interesting especially when they said we were gonna be dropping the tunings a bit and making it a bit heavier and all that… and I’m all for that! So I just joined in, and then now we’re here and one thing leads to another. It’s been a good ride and hopefully it continues. To be able to keep up making interesting music and all that is pretty much, I guess… because we tend to think about, “Well let’s do the music, at first, so that it pleases ourselves”. So that way you’ve gotta find new ideas, you’ve gotta be impressed about some other things you hear and see and all that and keep up with some of the things that come with the times. And that changes your perspective on how you get inspirational things and all that, and they’ll change in time. So you hear from the roots, yeah it’s the same group and the same people, and the same band and all that, but…
Afternoiz: But there’s an evolution.
Marco: But there’s evolution, yeah definitely.
Afternoiz: Tuomas said in a recent interview, that there are no official plans for a 20th anniversary celebration… but he said, kind of jokingly, maybe the 25th, 30th or maybe even 50th! Do you still see yourself in this band 30 years from now playing at Nightwish’s 50th anniversary (laughs)?
Marco: (laughing) Well, if I’m alive and well ! Like I said, I just love doing shows!
Afternoiz: I think I’ll be 83 at the time but… (laughing), but if I’m alive and well… I’ll be there if you’ll be there!
Marco: (laughing) Thank you!…. You’re welcome!
Afternoiz: Well, we would certainly like to see you stay around as long as possible! How long will you continue touring in support of “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”? Will the touring wrap up in 2016, or will it continue into next year?
Marco: I think we’re gonna be wrapping up before Christmas of this year. It’s almost a year now, another festival summer coming up, and after that some shows but I don’t think we’re gonna be starting up any touring in any places after that. Then it’s time to rest a bit and then see what comes next.
Afternoiz: Your concert DVDs have always been very popular and rumor has it there’s one slated to come out toward the end of this year?
Marco: We have material, quite a lot. I’ve actually already been involved in some vocal aids and all that.
Afternoiz: Is there much you can tell us about it?
Marco: Not really much because the whole content is still something we all need to decide on and we’re still talking about it. But there are still some things that we’re definitely gonna be putting on it, but otherwise I can’t really tell anything for certain. Not even the release date (laughs)!
Afternoiz: Ok! It has been said that it may be several years before the next Nightwish album, that there’s a lot of creativity that goes into the albums and there’s not been any real work started on the next one. So if you’re wrapping up touring in 2016, what happens then? Are you guys just taking a break?
Marco: Yeah! Taking a break, yeah that’s for certain, but writing new stuff and all that, it usually comes when we get around to talking about that. And so far, we’ve just been enjoying doing the shows and doing the tour so the schedule about future things will get clarified by the time we get a little bit closer.
Afternoiz: Most fans know that your drummer, Jukka, sat out the recording for this album and the touring due to insomnia issues, in the hope that he can recover. Officially, he hasn’t left the band and he’s still very much a part of it. How is he doing?
Marco: The man, himself, seems to be pretty fine right now. I have no idea, and I don’t know if he himself has, if he’s going to be able to start touring or doing that kind of a thing again, because I think the chaos and the uncertainties of touring and all that are one part of why he ended up in that way. So at this point in time he takes care of the band’s business and company stuff and all that but, yeah, I can’t really tell if he’s gonna be returning to playing.
Afternoiz: Well if he’s able to we would certainly love him to!
Marco: Yeah, we would take him home any day! But of course Kai himself is also really a nice guy and really a good drummer.
Afternoiz: Yes he is!! And he has been phenomenal on this tour. But he has his own band to take care of…
Marco: Yes, a few of them (laughs)!
Afternoiz: Nightwish has always been a very friendly band, very friendly with the fans and everyone seems to have their own personalities. You seem to be the comedian of the group; you always joke around with the fans. Do you do that on purpose or is that just your personality coming out?
Marco: I think it’s the personality. But I do try to take an open minded attitude that nobody’s an asshole until proven otherwise (laughs). So, yeah, I try to take it as an open mind, but when we’re with the inner circle of the band there are quite a lot of other people that tend to let their humor show.
Afternoiz: But the fans don’t get to see that part.
Marco: Yeah, well maybe it could be that, also. Some people are more reserved when there’s a lot of people around and all that, but I try to shake that off.
Afternoiz: Last year you guys did your first ever Nightwish cruise. How did that go?
Marco: It was good. It was this ferry ship from Finland to Sweden and back and had about 1000 people or so coming to the show both nights. That was fun!
Afternoiz: Good enough to do again?
Marco: Good enough to do again! Yeah, definitely!
Afternoiz: Any plans to do it again or just maybe?
Marco: Just maybe.
Afternoiz: Well, Marco, we’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk with us today! Are there any parting words you’d like to say to your fans before you leave?
Marco: For the US fans, it’s pretty much thank you and respect! Again, like you said, it seems that the popularity is growing, and the venues every time seem to get bigger and bigger. There’s a continuum I would like to see continue!
Afternoiz: So would we! We are here for you! Kiitos!
Marco: Ei kestä!