Latest release: Act II (earMUSIC) Website: www.tarjaturunen.com
Like so many others cast aside by the vehicles that made them a star, the very public dismissal of Tarja Turunen from Nightwish in 2005 could have been the end for the singer. At that point, fronting the Finnish metal powerhouse had been the extent of her entire career. Trained as a classical singer, Turunen’s only professional experience was singing in a metal band. To say that her life had come to a crossroad, as she herself does, is quite possibly an understatement.
“In 2005 when my work with Nightwish ended, I was asking myself – now what?” she says, recalling the moment. She considers the question of whether she would have chosen to move into a career in classical music very briefly. “I found the path, the middle path to continue working as I do, to write new songs on my own. Being only a classical singer would have been a complete change in my life, because I had never been done classical music professionally ever. I was 18 when I joined the band, so that would have been a completely radical change and I don’t think I would have been able to do that, to be honest. I think I would become very miserable by doing so.”
The middle path, as she puts it, led her to a solo career that has seen her explore both rock and classical personalities. Building a steady group of musicians around herself that include guitarist Alex Scholpp, keyboard player Christian Kretschmar and alternating bassists in Kevin Chown and Doug Wimbish, Turunen has now produced five rock albums, three classical sets – two featuring Christmas songs – and a string of EPs. The latest is Act II, her second solo live statement.
“I think that it really shows where I am right now as an artist,” she says of the release, recorded in London and Milan during 2016. “How happy I am to perform with the killer band that I have and it really shows how good we are together on a stage: the vibe, the atmosphere. It’s rocking, but it’s also as intimate as it can be, as emotional as it can be.”
Emotional and dramatic are adjectives thrown around a lot when discussing Tarja Turunen’s music, and not without due cause. By her own admission, she is a dramatic performer. It’s an aspect that she works very hard on, putting in a lot of time to keep her voice in the shape it needs to be in.
“I am an emotional artist. I have to tell stories. I am a very workaholic person in that sense, I work very hard to maintain the voice I have. It includes a lot of training, daily training, but when it comes to my performances, it has to be pitch perfect for me.”
Turunen’s last concert series ran for more than 200 shows. This year she wants to concentrate on writing and family time. Prior to leaving Nightwish, Turunen had never written her own songs. Now she finds the process not only easier but clearly enjoyable.
“I write in front of the piano, and it’s so easy to write these days,” she explains. “I enjoy the freedom that is there, and when something feels right to me, it’s right. I need to capture it down and if it feels right the next morning, then it’s perfect. I have a lot of songs now for the next album and I am enjoying the whole process a lot more, much more than before.”
Turunen has developed a strong self-belief. Unlike some others who split from their bands for whatever reason, the now 40-year old singer has been able to maintain and grow a career of her own with the support of a strong fanbase that continue to stand with her.
“Since starting my solo career after all these years, it’s been a learning process writing songs and becoming comfortable with the process. Trust yourself, trust your instincts. I had to find that myself. There’s no one else to teach you that, and if you weren’t capable of doing it, you wouldn’t be doing it. I am very happy I’m doing it, and it’s fun. I also have a blessing in my life that I have so many activities in the classical world. I have found the harmony, finally, between my classical activities and my rock activities. It’s a hard balance to establish. It’s a hard balance to establish. The training for classical tours takes a lot more time than the rock tours. But my rock fans still come and see me when I sing an aria. They like to see me in different environments. They are very open minded people. They have embraced me and the whole aspect of what I do. It’s unbelievable.”
That harmony isn’t likely to change. Regardless of her fondness for classical performance, Tarja Turunen is still very much a rock singer.
“Rock is the liberating and fun part,” she says with certainty. “I have a lot of fun seeing people singing my lyrics, they cheer with me, they have fun, they cry, they get emotional. I cannot live without that. I couldn’t choose. I could not.”