Interview with Floor Jansen of Nightwish
Just before a year-long sabbatical, Finland's Nightwish release a triple live DVD covering two concerts in London and Tampere. In an in-depth interview with the DPRP's Menno von Brucken Fock, the band's Dutch vocalist Floor Jansen talks about life on the road and closer to home, including her relationship with Sabaton drummer, Hannes Van Dahl. She also reveals whether there will ever be a revamp of her former band After Forever.
Finnish ‘gothic metal’ band Nightwish is celebrating just over twenty years of music. During that period the band gained worldwide recognition and can be considered as the band that defined gothic metal. During those twenty years there had been some changes in the line-up: bass player Sami Vänskä was replaced by the talented Marco Hietala in 2001. The band changed the management and started its own web shop that same year. That wasn’t enough to prevent the problems that had been emerging at the beginning of the new millennium. In spite of the huge success with albums Century Child and Once and the DVD End Of An Era the band decided to end the collaboration with singer Tarja Turunen in 2005.
The gothic metal sound had changed already with the addition of Marco Hietala’s vocal and the introduction of a real orchestra. Soundtrack elements were incorporated and the music became even more bombastic. With the announcement of new singer Anette Olzon in 2007 there came a slightly different direction musically and also multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley was introduced as a guest musician. Again a bigger world tour, a bigger fan base, but still not the desired stability within the band. That struggle came to an outburst in the fall of 2012 when the band fired Olzon and Dutch ex-After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen was called in for the rescue.
Embraced by the fans as well as by the band she was offered to become a permanent band member just over a year later, together with Troy Donockley. They both accepted and having spoken to mastermind Tuomas Holopainen last year it became clear to me that this is the line up the band had been longing for. Only problem remaining is the insomnia that forced drummer Jukka Nevelainen to step out during the preparation of the Endless Forms Most Beautiful album. For the last massive tour his replacement had been Kai Hahto and he is the one to take his place for the recordings as well. With the band a year on sabbatical it’s a perfect time for Floor, about 8 months pregnant during this interview, to have a baby and the opportunity to spend more than enough time with the new-born before Nightwish-duties call upon her again. Floor will comment on the recently released triple DVD and her own future.
[MvBF] You are currently fronting Nightwish and permanent member of the band. Does this mean ReVamp is over for good and how about a reunion of After Forever? Lately there were some reissues again and when the first two albums were re-released you were furious in your response on your Facebook page.
[FJ] ReVamp is no more. On September 29, 2016 we officially announced the end of the band. I didn’t think it would be fair to my former band members to keep ReVamp on hold while I’m so busy touring and working with Nightwish. As for an After Forever reunion: no, not if I was to decide whether or not that would happen. There has been a lot of damage done and for my part I feel it’s a closed chapter.
Concerning those re-releases: I’m still furious and I get so angry and pissed off when I think about how the man responsible manipulated us and our artistic legacy. We never received the royalties we’re entitled to. The man led his company to a bankruptcy and sold the rights of numerous recordings (among those our albums) to his wife/partner for a ridiculous price, something like one guilder (about a dollar), if I remember well. It should been us he should have offered those rights to! Later he started a new company and bought the rights back from his wife and now he is re-releasing our legacy with additional recordings we never approved of!
I know one of my former band-mates is working with him, but that is purely an attempt to minimize the damaging effects, not because he is actively involved. For instance the ‘new’ cover with my head only with snakes in the background: horrifying, I never gave permission to use my face on a cover in such a way!
We have tried to stop those re-releases every way possible, even through a court case but although anyone would feel differently, it turned out the judge’s verdict was that he’d got the law on his side. You know, as many artists we were young, ambitious and only interested in making music and build a name for ourselves and we were taken advantage of in the most horrible way.
Apparently such misfits in the legislation need to harvest victims before someone realizes this is not the way the law was meant to be interpreted. It’s an agony but fortunately I am able to support myself and I’m no longer depending on that man’s company anymore nor After Forever’s legacy.
Speaking of After Forever: are you still in contact with your former band-mates?
Oh yeah surely, especially with Joost (van den Broek) who is doing all kinds of amazing things. With everything he does, he’s so passionate (laughs)! He is a real multi-tasking person and I’ve got a great admiration for what he accomplished. Whenever he knows I’m in Holland he always tries to meet up, he's a dear friend!
I understand you flew from Sweden to The Netherlands to see a Sabaton show in the Heineken Music Hall (now called AFAS Live)? The father of your child is Sabaton’s drummer, Hannes Van Dahl. Where did you meet?
Yes, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing tomorrow! I’ve tried to keep my visit to Amsterdam a secret from Hannes, an attempt to surprise him, but when you live together and you have to book flights and make reservations et cetera, it’s just not that easy to do that secretly. The press got involved because they would like me to do more promotion for the new Nightwish DVD, so in the end I had to tell him what I was up to. We met in the States when ReVamp supported Iced Earth on their tour together with Sabaton. I did just this one tour with Revamp in America but Hannes and I got along so well that we hooked up. There was this ‘click’ between us and we became a couple. Sabaton live is really awesome: so much power and so much energy and everyone has fun!
If the information is correct you’re about eight months in your pregnancy, that means you did a number of shows being pregnant already. Weren’t you afraid something would happen to you or the unborn child?
No not at all. I didn’t think of my pregnancy as a handicap for one minute, but having said that I think the only big challenge was being so tired all the time. Like most women I worked through the first months of pregnancy, no big deal. I must admit however that especially those last shows in Asia, when I had that terrible jet lag, were the most difficult ones.
You know, I only have to work for two hours so I shouldn’t complain: everything else is looked after by others! When a pregnancy begins those cells begin their mitosis, and during the first three months everything from limbs to organs to the brain and neurological system is being developed and I never realized that would consume so much energy, it drains every bit of energy you have and your hormonal status is changed dramatically! Once I learned how to deal with that I didn’t have any problems.
So far I’m fortunate enough to have a really smooth pregnancy. No problems with nausea nor circulation problems or hormonal disturbances and such. So indeed it has been an easy ride so far! It was a deliberate choice for us to try to become a family and I didn’t have that many options. If I had waited until the tour was over I could have been pregnant during the preparations for the next album and then things would have become much more complicated. Now we’re on a sabbatical for a year so that means I have time to take care of our child properly and can enjoy the first half year of its life without any pressure. And, I’m not the only mother in the music business so we will find a way to make it all work out.
When did you tell the band you were pregnant?
Mmm (chuckles) my intention was to tell them after those very important 12 weeks. You know, we know each other really well. We spend so much time together, it’s hard to keep a secret especially one like this (point at her belly).
I think the guys noted a change when I quit taking the pill, at that point already they told me I behaved differently, more emotionally. When I stopped drinking wine they immediately knew, I didn’t even have to tell them. At first I’ve tried to fool them by drinking alcohol free beers but within a few days my plan fell though (laughs out loud).
On you Facebook page the information is you live in Finland but in fact you’re living in Sweden currently?
True. To be honest: I deliberately tend not to post things like ‘I’m having a relationship’ or where I live. I’m a bit reluctant to keep this kind of information up to date because people are inclined to see things like that as statements and I rather keep a little bit of privacy, if possible at all.
We used to live an hour’s drive from Kitee (Finland) and we had a gorgeous place there. But it turned out to be far from practical: driving to a small airport, an hour flight to Helsinki and then onwards to whatever destination. Now we live in the countryside quite near to Gothenburg, much more convenient when you lead a life full of travels.
So the two of you (Hannnes & Floor) are definitely going to try to combine a family-life with playing in bands and touring?
Oh absolutely. We have considered all options and the band-members in Nightwish already anticipated what was coming. It will have some consequences, no doubt about that, but you know, tour schedules can be adjusted and then there is something like day-care too so we are quite confident it will all work out fine.
You used to teach as well. Are you able to do so professionally in Sweden as well?
I gave up teaching in The Netherlands a few years ago already and I simply don’t have enough time to it as a side job. I would need to get some updated schooling because there has been a lot of changes in technique among others so if was to pick up teaching again, I would need to go ‘back to school’.
Occasionally I do workshops which are great fun to do, but next week my pregnancy will in its 46th week so I think I’d better prepare for what coming next and enjoy my sabbatical!
Do you know anything about the original Nightwish drummer Jukka (Nevelainen)? Has he recovered from his insomnia problems?
I used to live in the same town as Jukka so we were quite close and we are still in contact. He is doing really well. It turned out his insomnia is related to touring. As long as he’s not touring, insomnia is not a problem anymore. The only issue is now: what if he comes back in the band and we go on tour: what would happen then? I guess that is an enigma.
Before he had to leave the band he was already a business man and to my knowledge he is the managing director of EMP, a big merchandise company, I think they’re called ‘LARGE’ in The Netherlands. He is also handling all business for Nightwish, so he is working full time on another level, another trade!
You told me you really got to know the members of Nightwish when you supported them with After Forever. I can imagine during a tour you spend most of the time with your fellow band members, speaking your own language and such. How do these things work when you go on tour?
Well, in the case of our tour as After Forever with Nightwish we shared the same bus. Of course there are moments you want to be alone or with your own band mates, but there is plenty of time to get acquainted with members of the other band and that’s exactly what we did. We had dinner together, we drank something together after shows and some of the days off we spent time together as well.
You don’t have that ‘click’ with everyone you know and I had some less cheerful experiences with bands. Nightwish had had plenty of problems with their singers. We toured with Nightwish in 2002 and that means over 7 years went by when After Forever broke up in 2009. We did meet whenever After Forever and Nightwish played on the same festival and if possible I went to see them when they would do a show in Holland or Germany and I always felt welcome.
But we were not in contact anymore until the band asked me to step in, in September 2012. We both had less favourable experiences and at first the goal was solely: trying to survive and save this tour! Luckily we got along really well, there was this chemistry between us, we really liked each other and we got to know one and other really well. Now I’m in Nightwish, that relationship grew far more intense and I can honestly say that if there is a group of people I relate to as brothers and whom I can trust completely it’s this group of people! The business side of Nightwish is also very carefully designed, it feels good to be part of such an organized group.
How about Troy: how does he manage to work with a ‘bunch of foreigners?’
(Laughing) Troy is quite a character. He’s been doing all kinds of things his whole life so he has learned to adjust. He didn’t become a member of the band overnight. At first a modest role as guest musician, then an occasional live show, a whole tour and then he was asked to join. Main reason being he became very close friends with Tuomas. He communicates very easily and has become a truly valuable member of this band. Especially Tuomas, Troy and me can have a lot of fun together, because we have quite a few interests in common. I think Troy’s role will be even more important on the next album as well as during the live shows.
You have toured quite extensively for over 18 months. Do you have time to visit points of interest and is the western world much different from the eastern part of globe?
Well of course there are differences, mostly cultural but if you travel as much as we have done over the years there is a point you don’t care much for a big building or a huge cathedral with gold many workers paid for with their lives. Occasionally I can rejoice because all of a sudden you get a chance to see the seventh world wonder.
When we were in Japan, we had dinner in a restaurant and that turned out to be the place the first Kill Bill movie was shot, now those kinds of surprises make me happy! I have been fortunate enough to see many places of this earth and most certainly a lot of art, but I would be more interested to see more of the natural wonders of the world. Same happened last year.
Did you make friends with other bands during your last tours such as Delain, Sabaton, Amorphis, Sonata Arctica, Arch Enemy, and Apocalyptica?
Oh yes, I got along really well with Arch Enemy, I like both the music and the people in the band. With Delain it’s always a lot of fun. I don’t relate to their music that much but the people in the band are cool! Sabaton is a story you already know.
Obviously your native language is Dutch, your second language would be English but you have lived in Finland for more than 18 months and now in Sweden. Does this mean you can speak both languages? I can imagine that you were very curious to learn what your Finnish band-mates were talking about?
(Chuckles) Finnish is unbelievably hard to learn. I have tried real hard and I can safely say I can understand most of what they’re saying but speaking the language or writing is another level. I will try my best in the future to learn more though. In Sweden I have learned to understand and speak Swedish fairly well. We plan to stay in Sweden so I have to learn to speak, read and write Swedish really well but we agreed to teach our child Dutch too!
By the way, in Finland the second language all kids have to learn is Swedish. From there, the leap to English is less difficult. Most Finnish people are able to speak and understand English, even the older generation. You can easily find a Dutch taxi driver who doesn’t speak English but in Scandinavia they all do!
Have you met Richard Dawkins personally?
Yes, I shared the stage with him! Just kidding. He was there the afternoon for the sound check, afterwards we had dinner together and I was sitting right next to him. A truly eloquent gentleman. At first I didn’t know what to say but it turned out he knew nothing of our world and although he is used to speak in front of an audience, in a stadium with thousands of metal-fans is somewhat different! But he really succeeded to get everyone listening and that little pause in his recital at the end of the show: both stunning and it sent shivers down my spine.
Recently you worked with your old friend Arjen ‘Ayreon’ Lucassen again?
(Smiling) Yes, it’s always a pleasure and a privilege. It’s nice to know he calls me knowing he has this vast database of vocalist he could ask. With Arjen you know it will be top notch and the part he had in my mind for me appealed to me instantly. I’m very curious to hear the full album and even more excited to bring it live in the fall this year!
About the new DVD Vehicle Of Spirit. I can imagine a DVD is less exiting for a band compared to the making of an album. What was your role as a band exactly?
It’s a different process but you can show the fans what you have been doing fort he last 18 months and try to get across the energy of a live performance. It’s valuable for those who have not been able to attend a show or fans wanting to have the sensation they felt during a live show once more. We have been actively involved in the choices to be made in preparing a package worth while buying by presenting two shows and a lot of bonus material. Of course we knew up front where the dvd would be shot and we had to choose Wembley because of its reputation and Tampere being a big stadium in the homeland of Nightwish!
We have someone editing all the material and then we review the results and we make comments if we feel a passage is too slow or another angle at a certain point would be more favourable. It’s also a learning process. I never get to see much of my band-mates on stage, so only recently I discovered all the mimic and all the hilarious facial expressions by Empuu for instance.
It struck me that you don’t always sing some of the songs in the same fashion, do you do it deliberately and what kind of things influence the way you sing?
Gee... I don’t know, I don’t know of any influences from fans or venue. It’s never planned that’s for sure. I guess it’s by gut reaction, by feeling.
With Nightwish you play a lot of show as headlining act. In summertime you play a lot of festivals too. Is there a big difference for you personally or for the band or crew between your own shows and a gig at some festival?
For me personally there not too much difference between the two but when the band plays a show like you saw in Oberhausen (Germany), our trucks have to be in the Arena at 8 AM to set up the stage. At a festival there is a stage waiting for you. Having said that, I must emphasize that these last years Nightwish is headlining most of the festivals so whenever that’s the case, our crew has to be on the spot because our stage set must be built up before anyone else's.
When you play your own show just about everyone came out to see YOU, at a festival there might be a lot of fans but also lots of people who came to see other bands. Some of them might not know the band at all. Although that happens less and less there’s still the the challenge to get other people to like your music too!
Backstage there’s a difference too. As headliner most of the time Nightwish has its own private space. Musicians or whole bands are eager to meet and prove on their social media they shared the stage with Nightwish. Sometimes that’s cool but it can be annoying too. Most of the time I like to have a chat with fellow musicians because when you have toured as much as we did, there’s always someone around you know.
Could it be the number of festival in the summertime has grown extensively through the years? Is it profitable to play a lot of festivals?
Now you mention it, that might be true: we do play more festivals than one or two decades ago! In my opinion it’s very important for most bands to play at festivals. Bookers tend to look at tour schedules to avoid having too many bands on stage that just played a club show nearby and there’s a lot of competition these days.
You have proven your skills as composer through the years. Is it your intention to contribute as composer to Nightwish albums in the future?
Not really. Tuomas is our mastermind and he always builds the framework we as band members start to work with. Marco contributes too but would possibly be my motivation to try and get my own composition on an album when you have someone like Tuomas as songwriter? By using my own talents to give a finishing touch to Tuomas’s compositions and use my artistic freedom in all the vocal interpretations I don’t feel the need to compose for Nightwish at all.
Should I come up with some truly awesome theme or idea I’m sure Tuomas will listen and be open minded whether to use it or not. I really believe democracy in a band doesn’t work. There must be someone who will make the final call and in Nightwish that’s Tuomas. Usually we get the demo’s from Tuomas and in my case I have to sing the melodies played by piano. How will I sing those melodies? Screaming? Operatic? Sensually? Loud?
For the first time Tuomas sat in the studio with a singer to try different ways of singing and he liked that approach very much. For example My Walden has changed dramatically because of our being in the studio all together. So in conclusion I’m really perfectly happy with my role in the band as it is right now!
Last question Floor: Nightwish is twenty years further now, great line up, fantastic and loyal people you are working with, playing arena’s, having made a movie, recording with a full orchestra, performing in every corner of the globe. what more can there be?
Well I don’t think Nightwish’s goal will be to be looking for ‘more’. Our challenge is rather to keep up this high level of composing and performing and creatively try to find new ideas within the Nightwish concept. It would be fantastic to be able to maintain these high standards and that we could keep going the way we are doing right now.
We’d love to keep on writing our own music with the artistic freedom we have and hopefully get an enthusiastic response from the fans like ‘yes we dig what you have come up with and we really want to see you live again’. I think that would be our goal for the near future. We will get together early 2018 and we’ll see what happens then…
Having thanked Floor for taking far more time for our interview than scheduled I asked her to put an autograph in my EFMB ear book. She commented that the artwork on the page featuring our earth is in fact how our earth would look like if the evolution through time would continue like it’s doing now: the continents are slowly shifting… Some of them were once one and that will happen again, so researchers state.
Furthermore she referred to an article she read in some newspaper: researchers have succeeded in manipulating DNA from porcine origin to make organs for humans. Some people are horrified by that idea, I’m not, quite on the contrary. As we well know there is a constant lack of healthy organs worldwide so I think it’s a fantastic breakthrough. No need for organ donors anymore because we can culture our own spare organs. A great solution for a big problem and while others say it’s not natural at all, I disagree: humans as species have become so intelligent that they’re able to do it so in my humble opinion it’s both natural development and a terrific prospect!