Between 2007-2012 I was a part of the Nightwish crew, translating their web site to Swedish. On December 5th 2007 I went to their concert in Umeå, Sweden, and before the show I had the pleasure of being interviewed together with Tuomas Holopainen, by the nice journalist Ricarda Schwöbel. Thanks to the both of you!
Well, first of all Jessica, could you introduce yourself a little bit?
Jessica: I’m a 25 year old singer/songwriter from Sweden and I have this project called ONCE THERE WAS where I write and record all the music and vocals at home. I get help with recording bass lines, guitars and mixing, but other than that, it’s all me. The project was created when I was 17 years old and now I am releasing my third demo which is called ‘Where Angels Grow’.
And you are where exactly from Sweden?
Tuomas: Gällivare? Actually I know that place.
Jessica: Really. It’s a very tiny place so I’m surprised. (laughs)
Tuomas: Yeah, I don’t know but I’ve heard about it. I don’t know why though. (laughs)
So Jessica is just finishing her third demo as she said. How was your demo sending process when you started with NIGHTWISH? Did you send it to a lot of places and was it frustrating?
Tuomas: The truth is that it was really easy for us. The first demo we sent to maybe 5, 6 or 7 labels and we didn’t get a response from a single one. That was the acoustic 3-song-demo in early 1997. We sent it to Century Media, Nuclear Blast, Massacre, Spinefarm…never got an answer. Nothing. But we went to the studio in April 1997 to record “Angels Fall First”, the full album and then we played those songs to Ewo on tour and that’s how we got the deal. But when it comes to the first demo, not a single response.
So have you been sending your demos out and are you planning to also send the new one out?
Jessica: Yes, I am going to send the third one out to more labels I think. I sent my second one out to maybe 3 or 4 because I didn’t have so high hopes on that one.
Tuomas: In this matter I think the best way if possible is to have connections because the whole world works through connections. And if you just have the right person…well, you know what I mean. You can just send the demo to labels but they get hundreds of demos every week and it’s really easy for it to drown. But if you know certain persons then it’s much better. Like we got really lucky to have Ewo in the same tourbus with us when we had the demo so we could play it to him directly.
You are both from very small towns. Do you think it’s easier to get a record deal for people living in a larger city?
Tuomas: Yeah, maybe. Like in Finland, when you live in Helsinki you already have all the important people in one place so in that sense yes. But on the other hand there is always the exotic value that you have when you are coming out of a small village. If I would be working in a record label and I’d see something really promising coming out of a really small city then that would be something. Like “Ok, what is this?”. Because they must be getting like hundreds of demos from Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki all the time so it could also be an advantage.
Do you feel like you have some disadvantage? For example you’ve had trouble finding live-musicians.
Jessica: Yeah, I can’t even find a band which of course is not very good since I think it’s more likely to get signed in the first place if you have a band and can actually tour. But it works this way as well, at this stage at least, with me recording most instruments by myself. Hopefully one day I’ll move to some bigger place, where I can find people who would like to be a part of ONCE THERE WAS.
Another important issue in the music business is that illegal downloading is widespread. Do you think it has an effect on you guys like income-wise or anything at all? You as a big-selling artist and you as a not-so-big-selling artist…
Tuomas: When it comes to us I think it definitely has an impact but it also goes both ways. So I think in the end it doesn’t really hurt us that much. I would like to think that our fans are still the kind of people who want to buy the real thing with the real cover and booklet and everything. And it’s also good advertising, you know. You don’t have to go to a shop and listen to the album, you can just go to the internet, download a few songs and then be like “Ok, this sounds good.” And I really think that they want to buy the whole album. If there are 10.000 people in the world who don’t want to buy it, who are satisfied with just downloading it, it doesn’t matter because the commercial factor of the internet compensates it.
Jessica: For me downloading is perfectly fine. I can understand why bigger artists don’t like it that much but when it comes to my own music, I’m fine with it at this stage. The most important thing for me right now is anyway to reach out to as many as possible. Then there are those who don’t only download but also buy my demos, so maybe that’s partly why I feel fine about people who prefer to download only.
There has also been a trend towards legal downloading and some gloomy people claim that in maybe 20 years there won’t be CDs anymore. How do you feel about that since the artistic side is also important to you when it comes to design booklet and cover and so on?
Tuomas: I actually don’t really have an opinion in that matter. I don’t know what’s going to happen but I really don’t think that it’ll go to that for some reason. I don’t know why but I believe in people’s judgement. And you know, the support for vinyl is going up these days so people of this retro-spirit so maybe that will happen with CDs as well.
Jessica: People are quite materialistic, so I do believe CDs will always be around. Maybe downloading tracks will become even more popular than it is today, but some kind of hard copy will always exist, I think.
For me it’s also important to have something nice, like a great booklet or so…
Tuomas: Yes, I understand that but who knows, maybe in the future you would be able to download everything and print the whole booklet and everything.
But that’s shit (laughs).
Tuomas: Of course that’s shit or at least sounds like it but maybe it’s the future (laughs). You know, I was down to the bone, like really serious that I was never ever going to have a cell-phone. This was in 2000 I think.
And now you are on it all the time and can’t live without it (laughs).
Tuomas: Yes, exactly (laughs). So you never know. I also said that I would never own a computer and now I just bought one 6 months ago. Actually I could live without it but it’s a lot of fun, especially on tour killing time.
Do you think that the internet in general has made a more positive or negative impact on the whole music business? Like on one hand it’s much easier for artists like Jessica to get out there and on the other hand everyone can get out there so it’s overflowing with crap.
Tuomas: Yeah, you describe perfectly that it’s such a double-edged sword. So it’s really tough to say and I actually think it’s totally 50-50. I don’t sway towards either side. There are lots of good and bad issues. Like MySpace, having your own website, being able to communicate with other bands and everything.
Have you personally ever discovered someone over MySpace?
Tuomas: I have never ever gone to MySpace so no (laughs).
Ok, don’t go (laughs).
Tuomas: Ok, I won’t (laughs).
It’s quite addictive.
Tuomas: Yes, that’s what I heard.
Are there any other current issues in music business that you feel are important and affecting you in some way?
Tuomas: Well, I think this whole thing about releasing an album in different versions is totally getting out of hand. If somebody is doing it then someone else makes a counterattack and then they make a counterattack and now there is like I don’t even know how many different versions of our Singles and CDs. And this is all about selling more albums and getting the Single to be in the charts longer, it’s all about that. This is the way music business works these days. I think it kinda sucks but of course I also don’t want to have any bad blood between us and the record labels because they have to do what they have to do. I think it would be really naïve for us to say to them “No, you can just have this one version!” because they are trying to do the best for us as well. But I understand the fans’ frustration also. And the other thing that really sucks is that the radios are really strict these days, at least the big commercial radios, about how long tracks can be. It’s gone to the limits beyond ridiculous. It depends on the country of course but for instance UK said that they were not going to play ‘Amaranth’, not once.
What? But it’s such a short song.
Tuomas: Yes, it’s 3:51. But they said that 3:15 is the absolute maximum. 3:15!!! I mean how many songs in the world are there that are no longer than 3:15?
That’s really weird. Jessica, have you ever thought about approaching some radio stations with your stuff?
Jessica: Yeah, I actually have been played on some online radio stations but otherwise I haven’t really sent my demos anywhere. I will do that with ‘Where Angels Grow’. But if tracks have to be so short to get aired I might be in trouble since my shortest track on this demo is more than 3:30 (laughs).
The majority of professionals working in music business think that the future of music business is not in CD sales but in live shows, that people are not so willing to pay for CDs but they are willing to put their money down to go to a concert. Do you think that’s a feasible statement?
Tuomas: I think it might be so. Just think about ROLLING STONES for example. They are selling no albums. Really, no albums. ROLLING STONES is selling nothing anymore, I think we are selling more than they are. But when they go on tour it’s sold out with 100.000 people every night.
Do you have any opinion where this is going?
Jessica: Well, I’ve heard from various people that it is from live shows the artists earn most of their money. So I guess there’s a lot of truth in that statement.
NIGHTWISH also has this huge varieties of merchandise from coffee mugs to bed linen. Who comes up with those products? Is it actually someone from the band?
Tuomas: I think it’s basically Jukka, and then it’s Ewo, and then it’s me. We all have those weird ideas and it all comes down to the point that people actually want to buy the stuff so why not offer it to them. It’s as simple as that. And it’s a lot of fun. You know we laugh about them all the time: NIGHTWISH condoms, NIGHTWISH beer, all this stuff. People wanna buy it, we think it’s cool, life is not so serious. We have got some really weird ideas, I think there were even NIGHTWISH handcuffs at some point. And I wanted to have a NIGHTWISH cuckoo clock (laughs).
With a pendulum swinging (laughs)?
Tuomas: Yes, exactly, you totally get the idea (laughs). And then there would be Anette coming out of the clock “Quack, quack. Quack, quack...”. But it was too expensive to make I heard.
Awww (laughs). Would sell like hot cakes, I’m sure. Maybe you can make some Limited Edition or so.
Tuomas: Yeah, I haven’t given up on the thought yet, it’s just so cool (laughs).
Have you given any thought about merchandising?
Jessica: Yes, I have some shirts and so on. But the rest is quite far away still. It’s so expensive since I have to pay for such items myself.
It’s like a vicious circle: you can’t get promotion when you don’t have merchandise but you can only afford merchandise with a certain level of promotion.
Tuomas: Yeah, exactly.
Of course there are different factors that influence if an artist makes it or not but I want you to tell me which one is the most important out of this list. And don’t say that everyone is important because of course that’s true but still, just pick one. Choices are: talent, marketing, dedication, connections, luck.
Tuomas: Dedication. Out of those.
Do you have anything other to add?
Tuomas: I would say that Luck is number 2.
I meant anything to add that’s not on the list (laughs)…
Tuomas: Oh ok, sorry (laughs). Some kind of honesty. Well, it actually is connected to dedication but some kind of honesty in what you do is really important I think. Never ever follow trends. Dedication is pretty close. Dedication and Luck, that’s it.
Jessica: I’m saying dedication as well. Hard work takes you far.
Ok, now coming to an end. You as an experienced songwriter and musician, do you have any tips for her who is trying to get herself noticed?
Tuomas: It feels so stupid to say that because it sounds so corny and cliché but it’s all about doing the kind of music that you want to do and do it with a really big heart. Don’t listen to anybody else. Don’t listen to your band mates. Don’t listen to your mom. Just listen to yourself. And at some point you feel that “This music is real, what I do” and after that it’s all about luck, connections and if you happen to hit the right trend where music business is going. And we got really lucky with that. And I think with NIGHTWISH one of the biggest strengths that we have is originality and honesty in music but at the same time we got really lucky with the connections and we also got really lucky with the music scene in the world because there was an uprising of metal music and especially female fronted metal bands, so we happened to be in the right place at the right time. At least that’s the way I see it.