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Showtime, Storytime: Interview with Marco Hietala, Nightwish

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In November 2011 Nightwish released their 7th studio album, Imaginaerum. Two months later they embarked on an 18-month, 104-concert world tour that would be a journey of ups and downs.  At its worst moment, the entire tour was under threat and the band parted ways with vocalist Anette Olzen.  Yet less than a year later the band brought the tour to a triumphant close in front of a massive crowd at Wacken 2013.

The music and the emotions of that year and a half have been recorded on the band’s new 2 DVD Showtime, Storytime release.  Their 85 minute live performance at Wacken makes up the musical “Showtime” DVD and captures the band at its highest point. Seventeen cameras bring all the action live into your living room. It’s a gig that Marco Hietala will never forget. “I think there were 82,000 people, probably the biggest audience that we’ve played for, it gives you a pretty powerful vibe”, he says. “As a Finnish country boy, when you lift your fist up into the air and you see that there are people stretching so far that they go to the horizon, you pretty much feel like a King for the day.”

The second part of the new DVD release is the “Storytime” documentary.  In many ways this is the heart of this release for Nightwish fans. It’s an emotional and very honest glimpse into a band in turmoil.  Hietala remembers the troubled times well, “The hole was deep and dark. When you are there in that moment and things are happening it’s really like a chaotic blur and a desperate struggle for survival – are we going to be able to do the show, is the whole tour going to fall over. It was a difficult time and you see people pretty raw and emotionally tired and worn out.  There’s no faking with the emotions or the attitudes or anything, that’s what it was.”

From the moment the notice appears on screen that former vocalist Olzen has requested her image and voice not appear in any part of the documentary, you know the split between band and singer still has at least some raw edges. Throughout, the band seem careful to not want to point fingers or lay blame. Hietala sums it up pretty simply, “We haven’t really been talking. Sometimes you get over things, sometimes it takes time. This much I know for sure, it was best for everyone. I don’t think she would disagree with that.”

The second part of the documentary focuses on the (initially) temporary recruitment of Dutch vocalist Floor Jansen.  The plan was simple – a phone call, a one way flight to Salt Lake City, and two days to learn and rehearse a set of 15 songs.  As Hietala explains “you also get to see how the whole thing lifts up and gets airborne again, and that to me is really a great thing to see. It reminds me of how good it felt to actually find the confidence and the joy in everything again.  Those were pretty amazing times to go through, I’m pretty proud of myself and my mates for having the will power and the collective attitude to do everything possible to make things happen, and then as a reward we really got it going.  It felt good.”

Jansen was an instant hit and following the tour’s conclusion the band announced she was joining as a full time member, reversing an earlier press release that no decisions would be made until at least 2014. At the same time they also ‘upgraded’ pipe player Troy Donockley from live session member to permanent member.  Hietala offers some thoughts on the timing, “We consciously tried to stay away from that decision during the tour because we wanted to be able to concentrate on doing the shows and forget about everything else.  But when we had done the US tour and South America and Australia, we started to feel as a band ‘do we really need to fix this thing because it doesn’t seem to be broken’.  We’d said we wouldn’t make a decision until 2014 but then the DVD and documentary were coming up so it made no sense to try and circle around the issue anymore, it would be better to deal with it right now.”

When original vocalist Tarja Turunen was fired in 2005 and replaced by Olzen there was a definite divide amongst fans.  In 2013 the response has been very different, with Floor being almost universally accepted.  “Of course she pretty much shines as a vocalist and a personality, so that affects people”, explains Hietala. “Tarja was the face and the voice back then, and this time around there wasn’t that kind of weight of the past. It’s the second time that it happened so it’s not such a big deal anymore.  All of these things are part of why it went so easily.”

In a further sign that the past is now firmly the past, Floor appeared on stage with Tarja in Belgium last month to perform a duet of Over The Hills, a track often played over the years by Nightwish.  It very much felt like ‘moving on’.  Hietala agrees, “Moving on is a good thing, you don’t want to live in the past and be bitter about things. I haven’t really been in that much of touch with Tarja but we happened to bump into each other at an airport here in Finland, she was asking how my kids where and I was asking where she was going and whatever.  It was totally friendly.”

After the trials and triumphs of 2012 and 2013 the band is now taking a well earned break. With studio time booked for the middle of next year it will most likely be 2015 before we see a new Nightwish album and tour. For now there’s “Showtime, Storytime” to fill the gap, and it’s essential viewing.

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