There’s no Christmas break for Tarja Turunen. The former Nightwish vocalist and longtime solo artist usually spend the holidays on the road, performing massive Christmas concerts to rapt audiences from November through the holiday itself. But with this year’s winter tour canceled for obvious reasons, Tarja decided that it would be better to adapt than leave her public without some warmth and inspiration this Christmas. Not only has she released a live album, Christmas Together: Live at Olomouc and Hradec Králové 2019, but tomorrow kicks off the first of two livestream performances, so that fans around the world — from her current home in Andalusia, Spain, to her childhood homeland of Finland — can enjoy her message of togetherness during these cold and shadowy times.
“At this moment, what’s hitting Finland is the darkness,” Turunen tells us. “I read about it in the news, and I hear it from my two brothers — Oh, how we miss the sun, how we miss the light. It’s not the easiest time of the year. I’ve had the pleasure of living in huge cities, but I’m a country girl — I was born in a teeny, tiny village. So I’ve been able to appreciate the beauty of so many different environments in my life, and thanks to that, I find where your heart is, is your home. It doesn’t depend on anything else than that.”
What does Christmas mean to you personally? Why does it bring out this creativity?
Well, of course I remember my family Christmases. Finland is a very Christmas-y country. Christmas in Finland is very magical, as you say — we wait for the snow, it’s very peaceful, we light up the candles, we put up the lights. It’s a very atmospheric period of time, a very dark period of time. Finns tend to be very independent on our own; my brothers and I all have big families and live very far apart. We do not maintain contact daily. It’s not like Latinos, like my Argentinian husband or the Spanish people here, where family is everything, family is always there. But we feel that during Christmastime, it’s necessary. That is the time of the year we really get together. So for me, those Christmases were that. But of course, my mother passed away in 2003, and after that I felt all crushed down, like, there isn’t any Christmas anymore, I cannot celebrate it as I used to. But the magic of Christmas, that was me. The little girl from the middle of nowhere, the sense of the peacefulness, of the darkness, the lights, that was the Christmas for me more than Santa or presents. For me, it’s that atmospheric period of time with the family.
Given that you’re normally on tour at the time, have you ever spent Christmas somewhere and thought, ‘Woah, this is NOT what I was raised with?’
That was New York last year! No, but we’ve spent Christmases in the Caribbean and South America, and they’re very different from my traditional Finnish Christmas. But I’m always trying to keep some part of that tradition with me. For my daughter, we’re always baking the Christmas cookies together, singing the Christmas songs, reliving the Christmas through my child. I lost it at some point, but with my child, it’s nice to see the innocence, how they live for it, believing in Santa, all of that. But of course, every country is different — we have cultural differences even in each country, so it’s changing.
Were Christmas concerts like the one you recorded for Christmas Forever a big part of your traditions growing up?
It’s a tradition in Finland. The majority of the artists touring at Christmastime, they start touring from November on to the end of December, so it’a a huge tradition that every family gets together and goes to listen to at least one Christmas concert a year. I’ve been doing these Christmas concerts since 2004, and they’ve been happening in churches, in theaters, in different kinds fo places, and it’s becoming a tradition for me. They hold this emotional impact that I cannot reach in my other concerts. In a rock concert, there’s another kind of impact, a celebration of the whole community, the communication with the fans. But these are very intimate. They bring people to tears, they really move the audiences. And the age, the variety, is huge — there are kids with their parents or grandparents. That’s the beautiful part. That’s why it’s been really amazing as a way for me to relax at the end of the year — I feel like I’m getting myself prepared for Christmas and the holidays. I’m still working, but I feel more relaxed.
That’s adorable. Over the years, have you ever watched some black-clad metal fans grow into moms and dads?
Oh yes! Plenty of them, plenty of these beautiful souls. They’ve been supporting me — oh my God, almost 30 years! I’ve seen the babies grow into little adults!
What about the live performance were you trying to capture with this record?
When I wrote my song “Together,” I wrote it for the lonely souls at Christmas, because Christmas is not a happy celebration for many of us. A lot of people hate Christmas, and when that time of the year comes it’s really heavy to go through, to live through, because of bad memories or because of losing someone very dear. We’ve all lost someone very dear — that is the case for me as well. So I really thought making an album and writing a song for those lonely souls. It started to bubble up in my mind, and I thought, ‘I really need to go for it, to do it this way.’ The live production is different from the album itself — the album was done with a symphonic orchestra and all that, and I’ve done those concerts, too, but the last year’s recording was done with a cello, piano, keyboards, and guitar. It had a more intimate setting and approach for the listeners, and so hopefully that’s what I wished for. That’s what I am — a very emotional singer. I go very deep. That’s what I really hope that it delivers — that you can rest, that you can have a rest from your daily life.
Was it difficult or intimidating to write such a dark Christmas song, when every other Christmas song is so bright and celebratory?
Well, yes, but — I am a very positive person, but there is a certain darkness in me, and I embrace it as my creative power. That is the energy that helps me to create. And I embrace it because I feel that all of us have that darkness, and that bright side, both of them. I didn’t find it difficult or out of context to write a song like this, because it’s still me, and I was handling the arrangements. We did it all in the same soundtrack kind of mood. It melts in there, even though it’s a dark story and doesn’t mention Christmas in the lyrics — it just means a lot, to be together, to try to stay connected even though we cannot always be. Like now, in this hell of a year we are living through! It’s a song for this year! If I think about this Christmas, so many of us cannot connect with our loved ones, so this song could be a nice connecting tool.
Is missing a Christmas’ worth of touring killing you inside, or are you enjoying the downtime?
I am so dying for ANY of my concerts! I miss my concerts like crazy! I miss my public, my fans, my musicians, my crew, the whole act of being out there — I miss it all! It feels so far away. My last tour was in March — we couldn’t finish it actually, it was the first European tour for my new record — but it feels so far away. I would have needed to have been on tour the majority of this year. I had a lot of tours scheduled, including a long, long Christmas tour for a month and a half across many different European countries. That was already rescheduled for next year. I have tours being booked for 2022. So yeah, mmm, everything is burning! To talk about concerts, and how is that — when the time comes, and it will, I’m afraid I will break all the bones in my body when I get back onstage!
Is there a Christmas present you remember getting as a child that you’ll always remember?
Oh wow…I don’t remember if I got my piano — my Hellas piano — for Christmas or for my birthday. I want to say Christmas, but I was so teeny tiny, I don’t remember. That Hellas piano is made in Finland and they don’t produce that brand anymore. It’s my daughter’s piano at the moment. It’s still alive. I have my beautiful Bechstein, but she has her beautiful Hellas piano. A shiny black Hellas. It’s survived all these international moves, so, an oldie but goldie!
Finally, you mention that Christmas can be a difficult time for some people, and for a lot of metal fans, Christmas music is the embodiment of that. As somebody who performs Christmas music regularly, is there a Christmas song that makes you think, Oh God, not this again?
Oh my God…actually…the Paul McCartney song, ‘Wonderful Christmastime.’ Pardon me, Paul McCartney — I love him, I have all his albums, we are huge fans, but that song is like, ‘What went wrong?!’ It’s one of his most played songs. My daughter is singing it in school, and I’m like, ‘What happened?’
It is one hell of an annoying song.
It’s like in 2006 when I was working with a producer, I made a point of saying, “No ‘Jingle Bells.’ There’s not going to be ‘Jingle Bells’ on my Christmas album. Nope!”
Tarja’s Christmas Together livestreams will be Friday, December 11th, at 8pm CET/2pm EST and Saturday, December, 12th, at 2am CET/8pm EST. Tickets are available for purchase.
Words by Chris Krovatin