Interviews

Speaking ‘In The Raw’ with Tarja Turunen

Interview by Erik De’Viking

ED: Thank you for meeting with me today….

TT: Thank you for having me…

ED: My pleasure. I’ll try not to keep you too long, as I know you’ve been at this awhile today.

TT: No it’s ok. I’m going to go to Paris after this, on the train. I’ve never taken the train before from London to Paris

ED: OK, it should be pretty good

TT: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it

ED: Yeah straight through and fast. Although I actually quite like going on the ferry…

TT: Easy. Unless you’re doing it with a touring bus.

ED: Yeah it can be easy, as long as there aren’t too many spot checks on the other side…

TT: (groans) oh, I know…

ED: As it is, when there’s a tour bus involved, something’s always going to go wrong at a border…

TT: Yes, yes exactly…

ED: Or in Germany

(laughter)

TT: Yes! Or somewhere in Eastern Europe… ay yai yai… been there, done that a few times.

ED: I bet…

(laughter)

ED: Whenever I’m interviewing someone and it turns to stories on the road, there always seem to be common places that crop up in almost every story, that I think I would just plain avoid if I was to go and drive that way

TT: Exactly!

(laughter)

Photos © Tim Tronckoe 2018-2019

ED: ‘In The Raw’ is your seventh solo album, following on from 2016’s ‘The Shadow Self’. When the album opens with that incredible riff offset by your stunning vocals it’s clear that this is going to be heavy offering. As it expands it forms a superb example of progressive metal with melodic and progressive elements. Having listened to it in depth, it has a very “live” sound to production. Was this intentional, or just a by-product of having an excellent team to work with?

TT: Wow, it’s so nice to hear that. This is the first day of the promo of the album. I only delivered the album to the label last Tuesday, and it’s been interesting for me to hear the comments, as for me, music has always been an emotional release, and it’s about a unique way of feeling it… So yeah, In The Raw, as the name of the album already sounds, I wanted to keep it quite raw when it comes to the band sound. It kind of struck me when I had finished the first demos for the first songs, that I really liked the rawness of the demo sounds, that it was not produced and polished… Because I’m a perfectionist in everything, but this time I had to lose a lot of it, because by all means, it’s a very personal album. I wrote a lot of personal things on that album, so it was kind of needed. I think that I wouldn’t have dared to do this ever before…

ED: Yes a lot of writers allow themselves to bare to a certain extent, but it’s clear listening to it that this is very personal and that Raw is kind of the understatement

TT: Yes! Take it or leave it, I don’t care!

(laughter)

ED: Yeah, which is fair enough. To some degree there has to be an element of that, because ultimately you have to be happy with it… Yeah it’s great when everyone else is as well, but your name is on it and you have to live with it.

TT: Yeah because the birth of it was a joy, when it came to the music, it was easy to write, music-wise… lyric-wise it was a bitch. It was difficult. Mainly, I’d been trying to understand… how I’d write, why I felt like that… I was also quite physically and mentally exhausted at the end of last year due to all the touring, and I knew that the pressure for the album was already there, and deadlines were there…

ED: And everyone wanted their piece of flesh as soon as possible…

TT: Yeah, and in a way I thought to myself “god damn it, am I really going to be able to handle this?” And I was alone. I was alone, which I liked, because I knew this was the only time that I would be able to do this, it’s my time… It’s now or never! I take it all, or I don’t do it. So that was the month of January when I struggled, painfully, with the lyrics of the album…

ED: And January is a very reflective month as it is…

TT: Yeah

ED: And you’re just getting over the holidays, the touring…

TT: Yes, yes!

ED: And that’s an awful lot to suddenly take on…

TT: But it was good to go through that process because, it cleansed me. It did. And now when I had done that, I worked intensively on the production of the album. So we worked on the production from February until the end of May, intensively…

ED: That’s quite a tight-packed period of time to turn all that around.

TT: Yeah… Yes it is…

ED: But it doesn’t sound like it…

TT: Yes! It doesn’t sound like it! Exactly! That’s the point!

(laughter)

TT: But I’ve grown a lot in the last ten years. My solo career has been a huge growing process for me, and after all these years, I can stand alone and I can say that, OK this is my child, and I did it… I did it…I stand behind it.

ED: Which is all you can ask for with anything you produce

TT: Yeah… it’s interesting… this process… It’s psychological…

Photos © Tim Tronckoe 2018-2019

ED: Anything artistic will have its psychological, emotional, and its metaphysical elements to it, and if you can’t feel it on an intrinsic level, almost at an esoteric level, then that will be reflected in the music, and you hear a lot of that in most of the mass produced music…

TT: Yeah…

ED: It’s very facile, it’s very homogeneous, and while I enjoy music across a huge spectrum I sometimes just don’t get it. When you get the expression of a voice and a powerful lyric, that is as good as it gets, but when it’s repetitive collection of inane lyrics it’s totally depressing…

TT: Yes, I totally hear you, that’s why I’m an old music lover…

(laughter)

TT: I’m sorry, but sometimes when you… OK, as a musician I am working with music all the time, and I barely get to listen to any new music anymore… but sometimes there is some light coming through

ED: Yeah, and there are some really good up-and-coming bands out there

TT: Yeah

ED: But that’s not always what the industry pushes and promotes, which doesn’t help.

TT: No, no it doesn’t

ED: So I’m glad there are still people like yourself out there making decent music…

(laughter)

ED: We need more music that people can actually connect with…

TT: Yes, I make albums, I don’t make singles.

ED: Yes, sure you can have your favourite songs off an album, but an album is something to be enjoyed. To be listened to fully and explored…

TT: Yes, an album is a journey. You know, there’s a reason why ‘The Golden Chamber’ is the middle track on the album. It was never going to be the first or the last, it had to be there, right in the middle.

ED: Which brings me to my next comment… The stand-out tracks on the album for me are ‘Tears In Rain’, ‘You And I’ and ‘The Golden Chamber’, with the last two particularly making the hairs raise on my arms the first time I heard them. They have a deep, resonating sonic structure with a clever use of the lower register that just cuts to the core and makes you just stop and lose yourself in the movement of the piece and your vocal prowess.

TT: Oui

ED:  So with that in mind, do you have a particular favourite? Or is that like asking about your favourite child?

(laughter)

TT: Yeah (laughing) I do feel like that, yeah… (laughing) That is a very difficult question…

ED: As I imagine was the case when it came to picking a single…

TT: Yeah, well the first single, ‘Dead Promises’, was because the song had that impact of energy, and I knew, I needed that first song to get some fists pumping, I wanted to have the full power of the band behind me to support my voice, to support me… The power of the band, the bass, guitar, and the drums, I mean, that’s it! All I need.

ED: Yeah it’s the sort of song that will pull people from across the other side of a field when you’re playing festivals

TT: So it was that. And then I spoke to the label and I was like, “well actually I’d like to have this song,” and they agreed with me, and so that was that. And these guys, they are so easy to work with and they really support my vision…

ED: Yeah you only ever hear good things about them.

TT: But also my classical music projects. But now, there isn’t really a favourite track. Because even for me, when I have the album, and I go through the songs, obviously I hear them probably very different – but I don’t even hear them like, “oh I should have done this, or I should have done that…”

ED: Which is good, because as a perfectionist, that is the first thing you start doing, because I know that all too well

(laughter)

TT: Yes, I really needed to forgive myself and understand that I cannot do that. If I don’t stop, then I only burn myself out and that’s just not good.

ED: Yeah, but sometimes the imperfections are what makes a song.

TT: Exactly, and hey, if I have a great drummer, I will not make that drummer die by editing the drums, by having everything on the grid, perfectly. And I do, I have a great drummer. He makes the band sound, he makes the band move… And for me, the drummer is more than the guy who hits things…

ED: Yeah because as a drummer, you hear all the composite parts separately and together at the same time, along with tracking everyone’s timing, plus vocal ques, and all the breaks in between, and when you have a good drummer and you limit them, that is when things start to go haywire.

Of course the alternative is that when you have all the instruments broken down across all the channels like that on a grid, you often get too much high-end, and not enough low-end, and that just kills the bass all together. Then when the bass line isn’t working with the drum line, all you’re left with are the guitars, because the vocals starts to blend in with them…

TT: Mhmmm… it just doesn’t work

ED: And everything is just on that same plain

TT: And that’s that. It’s not nice. It’s all off the ground, and I’d feel terrified not having the ground under my feet (laughing)

ED: Yeah I can understand that

(laughter)

ED: Throughout your career, you’ve recorded with many of your idols. With ‘In The Raw’ you duet with Bjorn “Speed” Strid, Cristina Scabbia, and Tommy Karevik. Did you have them in mind when you were writing the album, or did you think later, that these songs would really suit their vocals?

TT: When I wrote the songs, I wrote them for myself, and my voice. It was only when the songs were in production, I starting thinking, “hmm… well… ok… maybe this song..” ‘Goodbye Stranger’ for instance, “could work very nicely paired with another female vocalist.” And the other female vocalist, the only female vocalist that I wanted to work with for a long time was Cristina. We’d been talking about it, every now and then…

ED: And your voices melded really well…

TT: Yeah and she’s very distinctive… She’s very… she has her charismatic voice, which is very different from mine, which is absolutely great, and in that song, there is no more than guitar, bass, and drums. Her vocals, as well as mine. We put her in the middle, and mine on the sides, and so she has a lot of space in the song, and that’s why I enjoy collaborations in general. I always want to give my guests good space, because otherwise… If I worked on a collaboration, as a guest vocalist… if I don’t have the room, I feel… (makes a choking sound while miming being choked).

ED: Yeah you want that room to explore…

TT: Yeah, because if I’m just being asked, to sing a song, to sing a melody, I always do   

ED: Yes and it was interesting to hear how the collaborations worked, how they came together, and how seamless it is. There’s no competition, everyone was given their space, and the result is flawless.

TT: Bjorn, also has this capability of doing really harsh vocals, with the growling and all that… But when it’s clean, it’s beautiful, and colourful. His range is amazing, but he struggled in this song, because, as I said, I wrote the song for myself…

ED: So it almost sounds sadistic turning around and say, “here, sing this!”

TT: Yeah (laughing)

ED: No pressure (laughing)

(laughter)

TT: Yeah, but these guys, they delivered. Like Tommy, I wept like a baby… I remember receiving it… It was the same with Bjorn, I was so happy, I was so emotional, and was happy to listen to their work, because they really put a lot of effort into these songs. Really a lot of effort. But Tommy, came up with more than 40 tracks of vocals…

ED: Wow…

TT: I was sat crying in the kitchen as I listened through them all. I was like “I need to call him and say thank you so much for making me weep like a baby”. (laughing) It was really amazing. Great singers. All of them. I’m very happy, and proud of them.

Photos © Tim Tronckoe 2018-2019

ED: I love the visual created by the album cover, with you stood in St Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar with the stark contrast of the black against gold. Your pose invokes feelings of majesty but also a bit of a religious iconography about the grotto type image it conveys. What was the inspiration for the design?

TT: Did you see the stones? Because it’s a real picture of me throwing the stones. Their golden stones. It all has to do with alchemy. And the pictures also have a lot to do with alchemy, in general. I feel like, you know, talking about alchemy in general… being a singer, being an artist, and creating art… from… what?

ED: Yeah, from almost nothing…

TT: Yes it’s beautiful. So I feel like…

ED: A modern day alchemist…

TT: Yes…

ED: Only with sound, instead of metals

TT: It was also taken there in the cave because it was a symbolic way to enter myself, to be deep within myself. It was really perfect, the whole idea behind it, and then we started to take it further. OK, gold, the centre of the earth, golden light, It’s there… So all of that made sense to me… The rawness, the gold, being as a raw metal, and not polished as we see it and understand it. And so it all made sense, and it was a challenge to take those photos there, because of the lighting and all that, but a beautiful session, and beautiful photos. Tim Tronkoe, the photographer, he did a great job again… They are… they’re very classy looking, the photos… What I do hate very much is Photoshop. I hate… You see me doing photos in front of all of my albums in general, because I love photography, and in the future I’ll probably carry on doing that, because photos need to talk to me…

ED: Yes, because you’re not just capturing a moment, or an excellent photo. With the technology we have now, most people can do that, but they can often end up looking lifeless.

TT: Yes exactly…

ED: You need to be able to see the depth, the emotion, and the thought that has gone into that photo. It needs to invoke something from the person who is looking at it and engaging with it.

TT: Yeah, exactly that. I could have taken these photos in the studio, but I wanted to go to the fucking cave because I knew that was the perfect location, despite all the difficulties we had. I had a story, in my mind I had a story, and I told the team, “OK, we need to follow the story and create a storyline in the pictures, as much as we can.” So we tried to make a story in pictures of the album, which in a way it was difficult, but that way, you can walk the story through the pictures.

ED: Yes, so you create visual metaphors to represent the songs.

TT: Yes, precisely.

ED: Yeah, I get that. So moving swiftly on, what words of wisdom can you impart to any aspiring musicians out there?

TT: Words of wisdom?! Ay yai yai… Let’s see… To trust your gut. It’s just like that. And a little advice would be that while your ears are good, they’re not necessarily enough. At least that’s been the case for me. I’ve always found someone to look up to, or learn from, or give me a little hint of that, because everyone one of us works differently…

ED: Yes and we also hear everything differently…

TT: Yep, exactly! So you need to find the way, that is the way for you, without copying… but you can get influences, and be open-minded, to get them in, and then you just start building. So you need to trust your own abilities, but your ears may not be enough

ED: And last question then… I’ve seen you are playing a number of festivals this summer, and then touring Russia in September, and Finland in November and December.

TT: October is South America even…

ED: OK, and South America in October…

(laughter)

TT: So next year (laughing)…

ED: Yes, so next year will be…

TT: A whole year of touring…

ED: Well I look forward to seeing you then.

TT: Actually there is a very nice project that will be happening in January. You will get to know about it very soon… It’s very nice, and I think you will like it. It’s something… It’s about rock, and my music, and everything… but you’ll hear about it soon.

ED: OK, well I’m intrigued now…

TT: But from February on there will be the In The Raw tour in Europe, and it starts west, then centre, then east, and then north and south. Everything’s spread out because I don’t want to spend too long away from my family

ED: Which I can totally understand

TT: So it’s like two-and-a-half weeks maximum that I will not be with them at any time. So I have to split it up many times, and it will be two years of touring in the end.

ED: OK, well I wish you all the best. I wish you all the best for the album being released, and thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to seeing you on the road.

TT: Thank you for having me, it’s been great.

Photos © Tim Tronckoe 2018-2019

Interview by: Erik De’Viking

My Global Mind – UK Editor

Erik De’Viking is a London based freelance music journalist. His musical interests include music in all its forms, and he is constantly on the lookout for new bands and genres to discover and later preach about to the masses.

Socials: TwitterInstagramLast.FMSpotify

Tell Us How You Feel

Comments