Interview by Miriam C. and Alessandra “Psamathes” Cognetta
Being able to chat freely with an artist you respect is always an amazing opportunity, and this interview was no exception. I had the chance to talk to Floor Jansen about Nightwish, their upcoming live DVD “Vehicle of Spirit”, Raskasta Joulua, and vocal techniques. The fact that we almost went overtime because we got too absorbed talking about singing should be enough to demonstrate how passionate Floor is about music, and how much thought and effort go into this craft. This interview is filled with interesting antics about Nightwish, being on stage (or behind the stage!), singing Christmas songs and how personal development affects a musician’s journey from the very first vocal lesson to finding a teacher you can connect with. It’s overall an inspirational talk on crossing boundaries, which is eventually what makes metal music so special.
Hi Floor, welcome back to Femme Metal Webzine. How are you?
I’m fine, thank you!
We’re here to talk a little about Nightwish’s latest DVD effort called “Vehicle of Spirit” that features two different sets and shows: Wembley Arena in London and Ratina Stadion, Tampere. How was your approach during this two shows?
We wanted to show the whole face of the Nightwish World Tour, so we indeed have these two full-length shows, but also a whole DVD full of bonus material that we recorded all over the world. It’s very important to state that as well, because it really is about the total picture that we wanted to give. The show in Tampere is the first stadium show of Nightwish ever, in the band’s home country, with 23,000 people, with the biggest stage set that we’ve ever had. That was something we wanted to immortalize, show to the rest of the world. That was the “outside show”. The “inside show” is Wembley, where you have such a different atmosphere. Being the first Finnish band to headline in Wembley Arena also made it special. And then to even have Mr. Richard Dawkins join us… there were some special things that we thought were worth documenting!
The Wembley show sees the participation of Richard Dawkins. How did you convince him to take part in it?
Well, we didn’t need to convince him, actually! We asked him and he said “Yes” (laughs).
That was easy!
Yes! Above expectations!
The title came from a friend of Troy that has defined Nightwish as “a Vehicle of spirit that defies category”. In your opinion, how and in which way has Nightwish, during its 20-year-long career, managed to defy any possible category?
I think that Nightwish has never been afraid to really cross boundaries when it comes to genre. Right from the beginning a lot of styles were integrated and smoothly, throughout the years, this became bigger. To call it a “symphonic metal band” or a “pop band” would not be enough, it wouldn’t really do justice to also say that it’s folk music. In that sense it defies category and we’re not desperate to state this concept. Yes, it’s difficult to put us into some kind of box, and this is the most poetic description of this fact.
I think that’s what makes the music special. That you can’t really frame it in any way.
Something that shines through from the shows (besides everything!) is that your stage presence is magnetic. I also noticed this as a member of the audience myself, but you have the incredible ability to deliver the song through your body as well as your voice and to convey your joy to everyone else, both on stage and to the public. As a long-time fan, but also as someone who has been studying vocal techniques for many, many years – I was at your advanced Masterclass in June – I always appreciated this since the very beginning, but I also wondered how your personal character and your professional training interact. Is there something that helped you in particular to achieve this, during your studies?
I would say yes and no, it’s the same as learning how to sing. You can learn it by taking lessons and by practicing, but you will never become a great singer if you weren’t born with the talent to do it. I don’t want to sound arrogant on that, but I think that for me a part of it came very naturally and a part of it came by studying. I had lessons, but that was many, many years ago. I also had a personal development of being on stage a lot, and then, by coming into Nightwish, I really found my spot there. That’s a natural thing that you also can’t really make, it either works or doesn’t. For us it really did from the get-go, and that also makes you feel more natural. I’ve had this natural connection to the music as well. All these factors come into matter on why it feels – cause it’s always more feeling than fact. But it’s a big compliment actually, thank you very much.
I had the time to give a glimpse to both the 3 DVD and except the third one that is a well-packaged collection of different live performances, the main visual difference that I can get between Wembley and Tampere show is that the first one was mixed in a more “cinematic” way. Maybe it’s only my point of view of how I perceive the show, but what can you share about the post-production and mixing of the recordings?
The whole thing has been a cooperation between the man who has been recording the footage and producing this DVD and who is the same man who did “Showtime, Storytime”, our previous DVD, Ville Lipiäinen. He really knows how to catch Nightwish, and that goes in cooperation with Tuomas mainly, but also with the rest of the group. We all have been thinking about it, because there’s so much happening on our stage, so what do you want to actually show? You can think about a part of this before recording everything, but definitely as you say in the postproduction you can give it a cinematic element, take your time to stay on one person, don’t just shift the cameras every second because it’s more dynamic. It’s worth looking at someone just a little bit longer. Every step of the way came with a lot of thinking and feeling. Maybe the cinematic element comes from how we are on stage. There’s this theatrical link to it. It is a band on stage, rocking, but there’s more happening and it’s cool that that has been caught on this DVD.
I also feel that the bigger stage enhanced your space and your ability to do more on stage. The pyros and a bigger screen to project on… that also makes it more “bombastic”.
Absolutely, yeah! You wanna catch that, but you also wanna catch that smile on Emppu‘s face or Tuomas, you know, he has such a serious face but there’s a lot happening in his facial expressions that you would totally miss if things would go too fast. Also for me in a way, I do a lot but I don’t see anything when I’m behind the stage, so it was really fun to see so much of what happens when I’m not on stage or what happens when I’m on the right side and the other guys are on the left side, what happens on the screen… and even if you’ve been at the show, you might have been focusing on Tuomas and then Emppu just did this funny thing, or you were looking at the screen and these pyros went off on the other side. It was a lot of choosing in the end, but then it was cool to have all these different camera angles to really give it a very 3-dimensional image.
The next level is going to be virtual reality then!
Back in 2012, you joined Nightwish. I know that probably it’s early for any balance, but so far how is this new musical adventure treating you? Is there something that you feel you learned by being in the band and something that the other members have learned from you?
It’s been four years and I’ve learned a lot. They are very experienced musicians, everybody is a bit older, everybody has been spending more time on this earth so I’ve been learning some life lessons there. What we’ve learned from each other is that we have regained trust in each other. To really trust one another in a band, we both – Nightwish and I – had our reasons to have lost our trust on the way, and to regain that trust, things just need to work between people. That partially goes automatic, or it doesn’t – which if it doesn’t, it’s really shit (laughs), but if it does then that’s what you really need to continue. It also comes with the effort of learning from one another, as any other relationship. I always call it a bit of the same as a marriage, when you’re in love things are all good, but it’s always work in a relationship. I think that’s what I learned: when there’s this natural connection with people, it’s worth trusting, it’s worth working on, and it’s a lot of fun! (laughs) And things like, how does Nightwish record? I had no idea! To see Marco work on the harmonies for instance, it was really inspiring. He has such a good ear for those things. To see Tuomas take the lead as a band leader without trying to control everything out of this scared need to be on top of everything. He can let go when it’s okay to let go. A good leader knows when to do that, and also knows when to say “Okay, guys, this is me taking charge right now”. That’s really inspiring. I’ve learned that even the chemistry between people is extremely important. When you see management teams, or teams of people who work in an office together for instance, the more and more they are formed so that the personalities match, so when there’s a leading personality, you also need a following personality. There are types of personalities that work or not work with each other. That’s a super important element in how things can be together. In a band where egos and adoration and all that crazy stuff that we have around us all day matters, it’s important that you know each other well. We know from each other that we’re down-to-earth people and it’s important to keep it that way no matter how big the band is.
Yeah, I was thinking about this, Nightwish has been on tour for so long. It seems, every time I read interviews or see some videos or live reports and you’re all together, I think “Aren’t they tired? They look like they’re having the time of their lives!” even if it’s been months and months.
And we were! You can’t fake that. That really has to do with chemistry. You have to have genuine fun, or it will wear you out. and there will be days that you are tired, or days where the whole band is tired. I know from myself and from the other guys, the shows are always lifting us out of the fatigue. The overall feeling has been so positive that when you have a few days you’re like “Phew, I should have slept a bit longer!”. You’ll get out of it really easily because of the chemistry and because the shows are always really fun.
You recently joined Marco on the Baltic Princess for Raskasta Joulua. This seems to be a traditional yearly program in Finland. Could you tell us a bit more about it and about your vocal approach to a different repertoire? How did you make these songs “yours”?
It has been now 12 years. It started with just a bunch of guys who wanted to make a heavy metal Christmas show, out of existing songs mainly. When they started it was two shows, I think. Throughout the last 12 years it grew into almost a month of touring. They do about 32 shows this year, so the show I was on was the very first of an entire tour that will all take place in Finland. Raskasta Joulua means “I love Christmas” in Finnish and the idea is to make heavy metal Christmas shows. So it’s Christmas songs all in a heavy metal style and either they are classics that fit into the theme such as “Ave Maria”, or songs they’ve written themselves. I think Marco has been with this project since the beginning. They only form for this occasion. A few months ago they asked me if I wanted to join, they’ve been working with Elize from Amaranthe and she’s been singing on a few albums. I only do 8 of all the shows and Elize will be on other shows. Then there is going to be one show in Helsinki on the 16th of December where all the singers on the project will sing. They have this band who plays every show, and a big group of singers who change every show. Marco is the only one who does all of them (laughs). To make it my own… some were easier than others. I have to understand what I’m singing, but with Christmas it’s always quite religious and that’s really not what I am, so I kinda need to follow the lead of the music to give it an emotion that is not necessarily mine.
When I talk to fans, or to other people who are studying vocal techniques like me, I feel that there is a lot of pressure on women to be a soprano, to sing really high, to be dramatic, coloratura etc. etc. In short, a lot of emphasis on natural abilities and so-called “talent”. However, singing is clearly much more than that. What is your opinion on these kind of stereotypes?
I come from a very free background, so I went to study music without having had any vocal lessons. I didn’t know anything about vocal techniques, nothing. When I had my very first vocal lesson, which was a Conservatory for rock and pop music, my teacher asks “So, what is it you want to learn?” and I said “Well, I want to learn how to sing!”. I was 17/18, so I basically thought, duh, what a weird question (laughs)! I didn’t know anything about registers, low or high, I didn’t really care, I personally did think that singing high was something special, that if you could sing high then you were a good singer. Now of course, being an educated musician, it doesn’t mean anything. Then there’s also the classical categorization of soprano, or mezzo, dramatic… all those things. I think it really depends on your background, what you think might be important, how you got influenced. But my personal opinion is that it doesn’t indeed matter. It’s nice to give something a name, like Nightwish wants to be put into a box by people who want to be able to describe it. That’s where the necessity of that might come in, but when it comes to personal development I would say, please don’t be held back by these kind of boundaries. Because once you put it in a box, it is a boundary in a sense. Don’t forget that vocal techniques are still very much in development. It is such a young thing, it’s decades old. Whereas, classical theories and classical training is centuries old. So now, all of a sudden, we have both worlds clashing. There are people who still say you can’t sing classical and still sing differently at the same time, if you’re a classical singer you’re not supposed to sing differently. The old-fashioned classical people will still say this. And then there are pop singers who don’t know anything about classical – clashing worlds right there! Slowly but certainly, I think there are more and more people who don’t care (laughs) and find their own way and the matching theories with it. That vocal method I recommended back at the Masterclass is the first one who, for me, really tries to cross the borders and just gives a total impression of what you can do with your voice and how to technically do that. How, when, what, doesn’t really matter: if you want to do everything at once, then by all means! Doesn’t mean it’s pretty, but it’s not about that. That’s in the end what you really think is best. But to find that out you really need to first do it, that’s why I gave you the example of how it was in the beginning for me. when you don’t know what’s out there, you don’t know where to begin. But you begin somewhere, maybe you start off with classical stuff – cool! Now you have a feeling of what that is, but you’ve been missing something maybe, you wanna investigate what’s more on the other side. Does this fit with me and does this fit with my idea of music? Maybe I’ve been listening to both Mozart and Mariah Carey and I wanna be able to do both, how do I do that? That’s where personal shaping comes in and that might take a while (laughs)! It’s nice to become a singer that “defies category” (laughs)!
What you said about clashing worlds, I also think it’s very valuable that nowadays we also have a lot of examples. There’s you, there’s a lot of singers who experiment, especially in metal. You see Alissa White-Gluz, or Simone Simons, and then you… it’s nice for people to be able to listen and think “Oh, so this can be done!”. It leads the way for other people to experiment as well.
Yeah, that would be great if it could work like that! Then it’s really hard to find the right teacher… but bits and pieces of different people might really be great to have. It is your personal path. I realized quite soon in my studies when I didn’t really match with my teacher, it’s such a personal connection that you need to have with this person that if it doesn’t work, no harm done, but find somebody else. And after you feel that you’ve reached a certain boundary with this person, you’ve picked their brain enough, then it’s time for somebody else perhaps. It’s hard to find somebody who matches exactly with your desires. But as much as I would love to continue talking, as you know I’m a vocal nerd, I have a next interview (laughs)!
Okay, so we can wrap it up (laughs)! Thank you so much, it’s really nice to have been able to discuss this more in-depth. Thank you for taking the time and all the best to you and Nightwish for your future adventures!
Thank you! See you in 2018 after our little break, but thank you for spreading the word in Italy and among female fans. All the best to you as well and see you very soon! Ciao!