NIGHTWISH keyboardist/founder TUOMAS HOLOPAINEN's first official solo album, Music Inspired By The Life And Times Of Scrooge, isn't metal by any means. The record is full blown big screen soundtrack music, which falls directly in line with Holopainen's trademark songwriting over the last several years. The fact that its focus is the comic book character Scrooge McDuck in a book penned by artist Don Rosa, on the other hand, is not what one might expect from the man who turned female operatic vocals into a metaldom staple and crossed over into movie-making with the Nightwish epic from 2011, Imaginaerum. Holopainen is unashamed by his pet project and very proud of how it turned out; if the music convinces some fans to go out and pick up the book that inspired him, so much the better.
"It's been stated pretty clearly from the start that this is a marginal solo album that has nothing to do with metal or Nightwish," says Holopainen. "It hasn't been that big of a surprise to people. The biggest surprise seems to be why I'm being so childish (laughs). Of course, that can be expected if you choose to do and album based on a children's comic book. It's just ignorance though, because people don't know what they're talking about."
If you're a comic book geek you can appreciate the lengths Holopainen has gone to in bringing the Scrooge stories to life, having taken time away from his world famous day job. he makes no secret of the fact that he made the album to satisfy himself and nobody else.
"I wanted to make an album that would do these beautiful stories justice, and an album that I'd care to listen to myself. The music came out incredibly easy. I think it was probably, if not the easiest, one of the easiest albums I've ever produced because whenever I read this wonderful book my head is filled with music immediately. It was all about channelling it and getting it out, finding the right arrangements and the right instruments to perform it. I've had the dream of doing this soundtrack since 1999, so it's about time that it saw daylight."
Holopainen's comments are reminiscent of a statement made by DEVIN TOWNSEND (ex-STRAPPING YOUNG LAD) in a BW&BK interview several years ago. Discussing his daily music-oriented reality, Townsend revealed that once his brain locks onto an idea he's unable to concentrate on even the simplest tasks until the music has been recorded and thus made "real."
"That's exactly my thing, too," Holopainen says. "It's always there and you can't think straight when you have something like this in the back of your mind all the time. It has to come out. I think that's the essence of music. Why do people write music or write poetry or paint art? They have something inside that needs to come out no matter how ridiculous or weird it seems."
As the mastermind behind arguably one of the most popular metal bands on the planet, Holopainen is always under the microscope. Deviating from his familiar stomping grounds to do something decidedly eccentric made him a target for ridicule long before any music had surfaced, an aspect of the Scrooge album he finds amusing more than anything.
"People are too quick to judge. I've heard some really funny comments like that; 'Is this the end of Nightwish?' and 'Dude, you've got to grow the fuck up...' (laughs). It's really amusing. It's a very serious thing for me, and this particular book is my Desert Island book. I've read it at least 200 times and it's given me so much; the book is filled with life philosophies and moral lessons. It's very inspiring, it really gives you a spark of life. I want to go out there and have as many adventures as possible, so in that way the Scrooge book is really inspirational."
Maybe so, but as popular as Nightwish is there's no getting away from the fact that it's a business as well as a band. The Scrooge album finds Holopainen on his own, well away from the dynamic that has ruled his life since the Nightwish breakthrough in 2000 with the Wishmaster album. In spite of the workload, he considers the solo project a welcome change of pace.
"It definitely was a break, and there are absolutely no expectations with this album financially or with album sales. I was able to go ahead and just let my mind flow without any restrictions. In that way it was very therapeutic, and it was also really nice to work with some other people for a change. I chose my closest friends to sing and play on the album so it was a very warm process."
Holopainen also managed to fulfill his goal of working together with SONATA ARCTICA vocalist Tony Kakko, something that has been discussed and planned seemingly forever but never came to pass. Kakko appears on the song 'Cold Heart Of The Klondike', which could easily pass as a Nightwish tune.
"This is just one episode," Holopainen laughs. "There might be something else to come in the future. We've been talking about it for the past 15 years but our schedules just haven't matched up. It would be great to do something with Tony, and I think we could come up with something really nice."
Holopainen's method of songwriting for the album didn't stray too far from his Nightwish frame of mind. And when he did go off on a tangent he often returned to his tried and true way of composing.
"At some point I realized I should include a couple choruses in some of the songs just to make them a bit more accessible and interesting, because the original idea was that the album would just be instrumental and ambient with absolutely no song structure. At some point I realized it makes more sense to keep that overall atmosphere but to have a few choruses and some lyrics and human voices. I think if you're into Nightwish music you'll appreciate this album as well because there are a lot of similarities."
The Life And Times Of Scrooge is an ambitious project made all the more special for Holopainen by having Don Rosa's blessing; he drew the original 212 page book of the same name. On top of that, Rosa created original artwork for the album.
"Even if he would have said no I would have made this album and have another artist do the cover, but to be honest the project just screamed Don Rosa's name all the time. I'm just so relieved and happy that he agreed to do it. At first he was clearly a bit sceptical and I don't blame him at all, but then he agreed to do the cover. I remember his first email saying 'Maybe you should get a proper artist...' (laughs). He was serious, as it might have something to do with the fact he hasn't done anything new since 2006 and maybe his eyesight isn't that great anymore. But when I saw the final cover art I was blown away. It was so beautiful. Even better than that, he dug up all his old original sketches from these chapters that nobody has ever seen, not even the publisher, and he gave them to me to use in the booklet layout."
An amazing gift for a unique piece of work.
"I know! I couldn't believe it when he offered them to me. And also, after the cover artwork I asked of he would like to join us for the video and he gave me an immediate yes. He flew over to Finland for two days and we shot it. He's such a lovely guy. Wow. It was and still is quite a fanboy moment for me having him involved in this."
As for what it was like having the creator of the stories that inspired the music sitting in the same room listening to the final product...
"Talk about an unreal feeling," says Holopainen. "It was so weird. I've been reading his stories since I was a kid and he's always been a big hero of mine, and here we are in the same room listening to music that I've written about his work. He was listening to it with his eyes closed and really smiling. After the listening he gave me a big bear hug, which came out of nowhere, and said 'Thank you, this is wonderful.' It was one of those moments in life that you live for and I'll remember it forever. It was so beautiful. I'm still having trouble realizing what has happened (laughs). At the same time I'm happier than ever that all of this came together."