Latest release: In the Raw (earMusic)Website: www.tarjaturunen.com

Finnish soprano Tarja Turunen is about to release her fifth solo rock album, In the Raw. True to its title, it’s perhaps the heaviest and most rock-oriented album the singer has produced since going solo in the mid 00s, and yet not without the orchestral elements with which she has long been identified. By her own admission, she feels it to be the most personal record she has made so far, and gave her the opportunity to work with some other talented voices as she explained when we spoke.
Congratulations on the new album, Tarja. In the Raw is a very different sounding album from what we have come to expect from you, would you agree?

It is! Since I started my solo career, it has already been many years ago, and I have been learning a lot and the journey has been interesting. I have been to so many places and I have been living on different continents, and everything that has to do with my personal life has to do with my art. It’s a natural thing, and I’m a progressive person, so I always want to… well, I hate repeating myself, so I always choose to do something new and interesting, because I want to do something that is inspired. Music is really something that is extraordinary in my life, and I really enjoy everything that I do. Especially when it comes to my freedom. There is a freedom that I have today; there is a label supporting me and no one really directing me at all. I have the complete freedom to do what I want, and that is amazing.

I feel that this is the most personal album ever in my career. It is sort of a groundbreaking album for me personally for that reason. I wrote more songs for the album, but at the end of the day when I was thinking about it in pre-production, I left those songs out because they just didn’t fit in. These ten songs were the journey I wanted to tell on this album this time, and so that’s what it is!

There are duets across the album with some very notable voices: Bjorn Strid from Soilwork, who has quite a chameleonic style, Tommy Karevik from Kamelot, and Cristina Scabbia from Lacuna Coil.

First of all, when I finished the songs for the album, I thought that I might not have any duets on the album. It was just a feeling that I wrote these songs for my voice, and I was thinking, “Oh shit, I’ve always enjoyed collaborations but this time maybe I won’t do them.” I still had high hopes that I might choose one of them for a duet, but when I was in production recording the musicians and my own voice, I started to feel that these three songs stood out. When it comes to songs that are written for a female voice, any female voice, and it comes to addressing that song for a male voice, it’s always a huge challenge because of our different kinds of range. That’s happened to me in my collaborations with male artists and male singers in general, because the range is just different. So I needed to find great singers, and I knew these guys, not personally, but I had followed their careers and they’re both very emotional singers. Both very distinct and they have abilities… they are talented singers! And they are both charming personalities, and they did great on these songs! Tommy did incredible vocal arrangements they made me cry like a baby, and Bjorn did exactly what I wanted, tastefully decorating the song with a little bit of growling and his clean voice. It was perfect. He made the song go to another level.

When it comes to Cristina, we’ve been friends for a very long time and we’ve been looking for a chance to collaborate, but now there was this song. It’s very different, only having bass guitar and drums and it’s a song, production-wise, very different for me. I haven’t done a song like this before. I’ve always used a lot of keyboards and orchestral elements, but being so raw it was crying out for another female voice. And because it’s so empty, the vocals sound so powerful. So it was a way we could celebrate our sisterhood in metal! (laughs)

You and Cristina came to notice at around about the same time: Nightwish and Lacuna Coil really started to emerge at concurrent moments. It’s a little surprising that you haven’t had the chance to work together before.

I’ve been asked many times, you know… just recently I sang with Sharon from Within Temptation at a show and we’ve done a duet together. We girls are always supporting each other! I’ve been asked many times, “Tarja, is there much competition between you and blah, blah, blah…” That has never existed. I have never been part of anything like that, nor would I be interested at all. We are all big friends, seeking our ways, working our ways in this industry that is hard for everybody. Me being an operatic singer, I’m somewhere else anyway. I have lots of work in the classical world and other projects as well, so there isn’t any competition that exists. It’s just a lot of love and support, and we have so much in common, us girls, in this testosterone world we live in! (laughs)

Over the years you have moved slowly away from heavier music with your projects, but this album has some pretty heavy songs on it.

It’s kind of natural for me. I love writing with my guitar players, Alex (Scholpp) whom I’ve been working with for over ten years, and Julián (Barrett) who is from Argentina, and they are really the only two musicians that I work on music with. Other than that, I write music alone or with a few of the songwriters I’ve worked with in the past. I’m writing alone much more than ever before, and that’s something very natural and I very much enjoy that process. When it comes to the heaviness, the raw guitar sound and all that, I really worked very hard on the sound of this album. That rawness, that harsh sound is definitely not the sound of Tim Palmer, who has been my mixing engineer for many years. I was pushing his buttons really hard this time to get this heavier type of sound, because I loved it from the first demos. When I got the first demos from Alex, the guitar sound was really great already! Demos are demos and they aren’t really produced, but when I heard them I knew that I really enjoyed that sound. I didn’t want to over-produce my album this time, and that’s where this whole idea of raw, in the raw kind of thing started to bubble. And then the rawness came into my lyrics. I opened myself up way more than ever before. I wrote some very personal texts on the album this time.

It’s an album that moves from some pretty heavy musical territory, into a more operatic style and then ends back on the heavier side of things. It certainly is very much a journey through the various aspects of your personality, isn’t it?

It’s exactly what I am, to be honest. I put everything in because there’s nothing I want to hide about it. This is my identity. This is who I am. It’s not complicated. I’ve been asked, “Are you more comfortable singing in front of an orchestra or are you more comfortable in front of a rock band?” Hey – it’s still me. It’s still music, it’s the same voice – I can just use it differently. It doesn’t matter about the type of band. I’ve never had issues with it, and neither should my audience. It’s just music, and music is there to make you feel. I want to be the storyteller and bring colour and beautiful emotions with my voice. It’s not more complicated than that! (laughs)