English works better into the whole band soundscape: Interview with Marko Hietala
Hello There, Marko! You have a new album out called Pyre Of The Black Heart, which is your solo debut after 35 years in the music business. How long had you planned to make this?
To be honest, I guess in a way kind of all my life! says Marko Hietala. It took a while, but I think that everybody who write a lot of music and lyrical stuff is having that kind of ideas. But this was the time when I kind of had the means to realize it. I had been writing things both in finnish and in english that felt so personal that they ended up being in my disc just waiting for me. And then Nightwish was taking a step back. I knew some good friends of mine that I could ask, and acutally they agreed to come over and hear my raw stuff and we started pulling them together into an album. And that’s basically what happened, getting to this point.
When I imagined what a Marko Hietala solo album would sound like, I kind of expected it to expand on the mellow sides of your previous work, and that’s also kind of what I think it did. Is this the kind of music that feels the most personal to you?
Yeah, because I got hooked to Sabbath when I was nine and all that, and I know my good guitar rock pretty much from all the ends too. So I also wanted to get in touch with more of the pagan folk style that’s also a part of my musical history. I got hooked with Jethro Tull already in my teens, and listen to Mike Rutherford in Genesis and all those too… So that’s what had been unexplodered pretty much in the previous works. And then there’s also my infatuation of some certain folk music elements, so there was this contious kind of decision also in a way, that I would incorporate finish folk music metal levels into it. But that was maybe the only contious decision, otherwise it was built in a way and arranged, and all that. We were doing things we would want to hear ourselves.
Looking back at The Islander, the 2007 Nightwish song where you sort of laid the groundwork for this kind of song writing, do you feel that song was a breaking point where you discovered a new way to write songs?
Maybe not that much a breaking point to find that way to write songs… But yeah, actually, having the courage to write that side of stuff and making it work and find it becoming good. That was a confidence boost, definately. Good observation, hadn’t thought of that myself!
Was this something that emerged from within yourself, or was it something that Nightwish wanted to add to their sound?
I guess it was kind of both, because when I presented the raw song to Toumas (Holopainen, keyboard player and Nightwish founder), he got into it and then on went to write also more stuff like I Want My Tears Back and all this. So he found his kind of a celtic side as well.
One song that isn’t so mellow is Runner Of The Railways, which is more fast and playful.
You’re right about that, it’s a kind of folk metal/stoner rock combination. With some added wierdness!
What does that come from?
It was something that I tried out in my home studio. Firstly, I didn’t have that melody that it starts with and all that. Toumas (Wäinölä, guitar) was powering in the rhythm section, and then it kind of reminded me of, when I tried to pull in some riff stuff, I thought this is kind of a folk metal/stoner rock. So the story… it kind of inspired me to go into this kind of “back in the days, after war, redneck little hill town” situation, where you get this Don Juan kind of asshole caracter travelling the town picking up women. So that’s how the whole thing came about. I don’t know if you get that kind of vision when you read just the lyrical side. It might be a little bit hard to find, I admit my things can be vague.
Irish folk music seems to be something you connect strongly with. How did this musical tradition get such a hold of a man from Finland like yourself?
That I blame my father, he got me hooked to that when I was a kid. He had a shit load of albums! From jazz to irish folk stuff, and Beatles, Elvis… On some of these quarter inch tapes he had Emerson Lake & Palmer and stuff like that. So it was a musical fruitful childhood. Also not to mention all the classical stuff.
Are you to credit for the increasing irish influences in recent Nightwish albums too?
I’m partly to blame. But I think Toumas and Troy (Donockley, pipes) are just as much. It’s the unholy trinity, sorry!
The album was originally released in finnish. But the way I understand it, it wasn’t a huge hit in Finland.
Yeah, there are reasons for it. I had written songs already at the same time in finnish and in english. And then the decision that I had to make was should I translate something to get these things across. I figured that I’d do them both, translate the english to finnish and the finnish to english and make both of the albums. So then we got the english album, which is of course the language of rock ‘n’ roll, and then I get this six million people tribal irish album. It’s not stuff that many have done, I don’t know if anyone has had the idea. I just like the idea, it tickled my funny bone. And we have just been ramming some time tables and problem, we weren’t able to release both of the albums at the same time… Because we didn’t have time enough to finish it, we had to make a decision, and we had already been booked to finnish festivals. So of course we had to have something for the radio to play, and had to get the finnish album out.
Do you think the album has a better chance with an international audience?
Well… It should. If every possible sign of history shows any kind of indication, yes. But of course, this is music business! It’s really fucking wierd…
Are there any changes made on the international version beyond the vocals?
We didn’t do so much on the mixing side, maybe some lyrics and things that got a little bit evened out. But the actual language is a funny thing. Finnish dynamics are way more uneven, because of the hard consonants and the relation to vowels. English is a softer language, which make it kind of easier to sing. You also start a little bit higher up with your voice. In finnish, you gotta leave headroom for the hard consonants, so your vowels are softened. Therefore you have to mix finnish louder for the lyrical stuff to be heard. English works naturally better into the whole band soundscape. And by doing these albums, this thing has become very clear to me when I hear both of them. But I think that if you compare them, you will find the band sounds a little more kick ass in the english version. Just because of the changed vocals! It’s wierd.
With titles like The Voice Of My Father, I get the impression that the lyrics are more personal than your previous songs.
Yeah, that is very much based on reality; of my father singing me and my brother to sleep when we were kids, and me doing the same to my boys. Also, metaphorically, me and my dad both did suffer from a good alcoholism… So there are levels. Also remembering my dad in a kind of personal way, but it doesn’t have to be noticed as any kind of tribute, that much. There’s also the level of what we are as generations, and what we bring across from our fathers to our sons, or daughters from mothers. But it’s firstly father and son in this song.
You have stopped using your stage name Marco with a C and instead started using your real name Marko with a K. Is this a way for you to put aside an image and connect closer with the audience?
I think it’s more a way to connect more to myself! When I took along the C, I was heading into my twenties and we were getting our first album deal and all of that. So we thought about our names and that they would be cool and international, and I’m on the end of eighteen and all that… Later on I decided to kind of let that thing lie, but then I started to feel it was a kind of a burden. That is was one thing of me that was not totally me. I’m tired of fasades and tired of masquerade, I just wanna present myself to the world as I am. And I thought it was time to get rid of it.
You are soon to march out on tour with your solo band in february and may, and then you will tour the world with Nightwish. How soon can we expect either another solo album or the next Nightwish album?
Well, the next Nightwish album is gonna be coming out this spring as I understand it. I think there are some mastering versions going on as we speak, I don’t know, but I should be hearing the stuff myself in the upcoming date.
You won’t play in Sweden with your solo band, but we will see you at Sweden Rock Festival this summer with Nightwish. It’s your first concert on this festival in 16 years. Do you remember that concert?
Yeah I do, I do remember that, of course. Yeah, it’s been a while. Goddamn it, is it that long? Tarja was still singing! It’s nice to be back.
Let’s hope for better weather this time!
Well, then all I can say is good luck with the tour and album sales, and I’ll see you at Sweden Rock!
Yeah, and hopefully we’ll have all of those things! Having the album released myself is just two weeks away, and… I feel like I have to gotta go take a dump a little bit more often than usual!
Pyre Of The Black Heart will be released on the 24th of january through Nuclear Blast. You can read Stargazed Magazines review in the link below: