MUSIC FEATURE: Inside the Mind Of… Tarja Turunen
Photo Credit: Tim Tronckoe
For the past 20+ years, Tarja Turunen has been one of the most emblematic voices to hail from Finland. Whether it be with one of the biggest symphonic metal bands out there (you know the one), or joined by her solo band, this Nordic queen of operatic vocals has more than left her mark on the world of music. But what has Tarja done since her last studio album, 2019’s In The Raw? We caught up with the soprano a short while ago to talk about her upcoming release under the Outlanders moniker, as well as her new book, Singing In My Blood.
The past 18+ months since her last concert haven’t been wasted in any way, as we soon find out, with English publisher Rocket 88 coming up with the idea of a photo book, to be released during this downtime: “I went and explored my garage, under the dust. I was gathering all the old photos, seriously, and it was really nice to go through those photos – they brought back memories, and made me realise what a life I’ve had. It was a really interesting process. It was there and then that I had the idea to write more material, more text for the book, and the publisher agreed to do that, so this became a different kind of book,” she says, explaining how the book was conceived and how it came to be what it is now – not a mere photo book. That being said, it had to undergo a few changes to be ready to publish: “There was so much material at the end of the day, I had to cut out a lot of photos and text, to reduce it”. The amount of cut content might be put to use in the not-so-near future, however, as a fully-fledged autobiography could still be in the cards: “I would love to do that biography one day… But that must wait, if I hopefully have a long life and have more things to talk about, to tell you about, more experiences. That I would still like to do, one day.”
Looking back on years worth of experiences and memories, as well as the freedom that came with being a solo artist, the soprano had time to think about some of the highlights that she’s been lucky enough to experience: “When I completed my second album, What Lies Beneath, and I produced it on my own, that made me realise that, “Oh gee, I’m able to do this!” It was a really nice moment of realisation where I thought “Oh wow, there’s a world of production that I want to learn everything about!” This drive to learn more about production, followed by songwriting, has slowly but surely helped further chisel and shape her sound. In fact, the break caused by the pandemic gave Tarja enough time to start work on the follow-up to her last studio album: “I’ve been [writing] lots of songs for the new album already, through these… [laughs] weird times, being at home so much, because I’ve been able to focus on them”.
Knowing that it would never turn into a biography, the singer had a certain purpose in mind for this photo book: “I wanted [it] to focus more on my music, my visual art – the visual part of my art is very important to me, since I’ve always been focusing on photography.” The visual aspect was not the only thing she had in mind for Singing In My Blood, however. With the addition of Tarja’s written contributions, there was now another goal – to establish a connection with the Finns who haven’t been keeping up with her career: “I’m a Finnish artist, but not many Finns today actually know what I’m doing in my life, because I haven’t lived in the country for such a long time. I perform there, but not as much as I perform in other countries, so the Finns don’t know what I’m doing. Even though I’m a “superstar” in my country – I go there, and I do a lot of TV, and so on – there’s still this lack of knowledge about my career”.
As we promptly found out, Christmas is a really important holiday for Finnish families, and no less for Tarja’s family. Even though she didn’t feel the Christmas magic for a few years when her mother passed away, the birth of her daughter helped her rediscover that magic, and despite the fact she’s usually touring during that time of year, she still loves it: “The fact that I can give happiness to people through my voice, my personality being there through these concerts, is absolutely astonishing! The energy levels I am with when I return from these tours… i JNbyt’s unbelievable!”
Having said that, the question of holiday shows for 2021 is still an uncertain one for Tarja, whose hopes remain high: “This Christmas – hopefully – I will still have SOME concerts left! We’ll see, hopefully I’ll find myself in front of an audience before the end of the year!” In any case, she does have some other holiday plans laid out: “I’m (…) going to record a second part for Spirits and Ghosts, (…) there will be a second part of that, and so different kinds of songs involved in that album.” And who knows, maybe, if her remaining Christmas shows are postponed as well, we’ll be treated to a different type of celebration: some more live streamed shows, like the “super nice, but still very odd (given the context)” ones she held last year.
Circling back to the book, we quickly discover that the audio versions teased on the singer’s Instagram stories came of her own volition, which even surprised the publishers. “The publishers in Finland and England were both like really? You want-REALLY?’, and I said yeah, yeah I really would want to! It’s a new challenge! I would like to do it.” What Tarja wasn’t ready for, however, was the sheer challenge of the task, and everything that came with it, from voice volumes to stomach noises: “I was recording everything here in my home studio, and the book recordings were taking a lot more time. I spent months recording the Finnish audiobook, first, and now the English one. If I have just recently ate breakfast, I can’t record for the book, because my stomach will be going [gurgles]. Or then, when I’ve recorded for a few hours, I’m getting hungry: [gurgles again]. I don’t have a vocal booth here at home that I could record [in] without hearing the neighbours, and then they were starting construction work here beside us. It’s a very demanding process, and it took me a lot longer than I thought.” Of the two versions – Finnish and English – of the book, she clearly found the one in Finnish easier to do. “It’s my mother tongue, so it was easier to do it, even though I do not speak too much Finnish nowadays.” She didn’t outright dislike the English one, however, adding “of course you can hear my accent in English, when I’m reading a story, and of course I make some pronunciation mistakes here and there – not spelling, because that’s been corrected [laughs]. But I don’t care, it’s me talking.”
There was one thing about the book that she found interesting: the prospect of doing solo spoken shows, in the vein of what Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson has been doing since he launched his own autobiography: “Huh… Not a bad idea! It’s always nice to connect with my people, so I wouldn’t have anything against it. It’s interesting what Bruce is doing.”
As our time with the Finnish singer started to draw to a close, we moved on from the book to one of her upcoming ventures: Outlanders, her collaboration with producer/songwriter Torsten Stenzel. The project takes its name from the 2011 track that the pair first worked on, and the two have been quietly working on this collection of songs for the past decade. Stenzel is based on the island of Antigua, however, so when Tarja wasn’t able to fly over and visit him, they had to rely on technology to complete the record. The reason it took a huge period of time to complete? Technological issues! “We’d be working with the files, sending them back and forth, and his computer has crashed completely at least three times during these 10 year. He lost everything, so for some songs, I recorded the vocals four or five times!” While this did prove to be “a pain in the ass”, in her own words, she did find the songs improving every time they were forced to re-record, and she’s very proud of what came out of it: “I’m super proud of it, and how it eventually turned out, it’s much better than I thought. I have complete trust in Torsten’s ability as an electronic/dance producer, so I never got involved in that. He had his vision, and I respected that. I focused on melodies, lyrics, songwriting, that’s it. And it really worked out fantastic.”
Featuring the likes of Joe Satriani, Al Di Meola, and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, to name but a few, Outlanders is riddled with talented guitar players across all of its tracks. As it turns out, the task of choosing which guitarists to collaborate with on this record came to Tarja and her husband, and they had a huge list to choose from. “This project started with Walter Giardino, the Argentinean friend of mine, [and] it kind of gave us an idea that, depending on the song, I’d call in a certain type of player. Depending on the spirit of the song, I chose the guitar players and, thankfully, the people that I wanted to have on this project did get involved. They really poured their souls into these songs, the guitar is as important as my voice, or the electronic background of the music, so you’ll hear all the guitar players being super present – it’s not like they are just playing a solo”.
The first single to be released from this project, Closer to the Sky, was released on 26th November 2021 and features the guitar playing of Yes’ Trevor Rabin. Speaking of the track, the singer tells us to expect a catchy song, with plenty of earworm qualities (which instantly shot it to “first single” status): “Trevor [Rabin], as a guitar player – I’m a huge fan, not only from Yes, but from his movie soundtracks too. I’d been following his career, so it’s astonishing for me to have him on one of my songs – it’s like “whoa!” – but the song is beautiful! We have a visualiser filmed – I wouldn’t call it a music video, but a visualiser, since there’s no video production on it, but it shows the beautiful island of Antigua, or starts the process of showing where we’ve been working; what we’ve been doing; what a beautiful island it is. That’s about all I can tell! [chuckles]”.
And with that, our half an hour with the Finnish queen of operatic metal herself draws to a close. We say our goodbyes, our thanks and “kiitos”, and we go our separate ways.
Tarja Turunen’s new book, Singing In My Blood, is out now – available to purchase HERE.
Check out Outlanders‘ new single Closer To The Sky HERE.