Off stage Tuomas Holopainen is known—at least in the company of strangers — to be unapproachable and shy. However, the Nightwish boss warms up in the ‘Chat Box’ interview, and discusses his first musical performance; his traumatic experience in the Finnish army; and his enthusiasm for boy bands, Disney toys, and moving film scenes.
Tuomas, how and where did you grow up?
I grew up on a farm in the woods of Kitee, a small, Finnish town with 10,000 residents. I still live there. I had a very happy childhood and have especially fond memories of the Christmas seasons. I come from a typical middle-class family. My mother is a teacher, and my father is an engineer. My sister is a doctor, and my brother is a pathologist.
Were you more of a geek/nerd or a punk in school?
I was an absolute model student, always had good grades and graduated with a 9.8 (out of 10). School was never a problem for me; I always had fun learning new things. I was neither an outsider nor a geek. I liked being alone but I also had good friends.
How did you get interested in harder music?
I spent a year in America as an exchange student, and in October 1992, my host family dragged me to a Guns N’Roses and Metallica concert in Kansas City. At the time I listened mostly to pop bands. If a cassette from Gary Moore landed in my stereo, that was some seriously hard music for me at the time. I couldn’t really relate to heavy metal. Needless to say, I wasn’t very excited about going to this concert. Fortunately, my host family convinced me to go. I was enthralled from the very first note that Metallica played. It sounds so cliché, but in this one night, I was transformed into a metal fan. The show from Hetfield & co. was the coolest thing that I had ever seen in my life. The next day I bought the entire catalog of Metallica’s music. I was completely infected. Shortly thereafter, I discovered Ozzy Osbourne, Pantera, and Dream Theater.
When was your own first concert?
My first performance was when I was 9 years old at a concert at my music school. I played piano and clarinet. I was also on stage a lot during my high school years. I was a member of a jazz band and our school orchestra, in which I played saxophone and clarinet.
What was the worst performance of your career?
During my time in the Finnish military, which is mandatory, I played in the military orchestra for 9 months. Many of our performances took place during parades. I remember a concert in the middle of winter. We had to stand for an hour in -40 degree (celcius), ice-cold weather. It was a total horror.
What was the worst job that you’ve had?
In the early days of Nightwish, I worked on the side as a substitute teacher. Actually, it was a lot of fun, but one time I had to cover for a teacher who was sick who just happened to teach home economics. The purpose of this course is to teach students how to do everyday things like cooking and cleaning. I found the teaching plan that explained in detail how I was to conduct the lesson. Among other things, my task was to teach 15 year olds how to make spring rolls (egg rolls). It was terrible. It wasn’t one of my most brilliant achievements.
How would you describe the worst date that you’ve had?
During my time as an exchange student in Kansas, the son of my host family fixed me up with one of his female friends. I was 15 years old and still very green behind the ears. The girl, on the other hand, had already gathered a lot of experience when it comes to men. When we went to the drive-in that night to watch a movie, she suddenly started to do some peculiar things. I had no idea what this was about and ran away screaming. It wasn’t an exceptionally great experience, but still, I managed to give my first kiss.
When was the last time you were in a fight?
Fortunately, I’ve never been involved in a fist fight in my life.
Is there anything that you absolutely hate?
I hate spiders; large, faceless crowds; and waking up early. What really gets on my nerves is complaining. I absolutely cannot stand it when people get all worked up over ridiculously small things.
How would you describe yourself to a blind date?
Be on the look-out for a hippy-redneck from Kitee!
What is your worst characteristic?
I’m terribly impatient and want to get things done immediately because I can’t stand to wait.
And what is your best characteristic?
In many respects, I’m a very creative person. Also, I can put myself in other people’s shoes and understand their thoughts and feelings. I can understand why they handle themselves and situations in certain ways. Even when it comes to harsh words and deeds, I understand the motivation behind it and what is driving someone to do it.
When was the last time you cried and for what reason?
Last night I watched “King Kong”. I had to cry during the last scene. This is no exception; when I watch emotionally moving scenes in films, I always cry. The point in “Dancing with Wolves” where the wolf is killed is the saddest scene in all of movie history. When I see it, I can bawl for hours.
Have you ever had to make the choice between a woman and music?
What other interests do you have other than music?
I’m a Disney fanatic. This is my passion. I collect everything that has to do with Disney: comics, films, figurines. My room is filled to the ceiling with the stuff. My new house that I’m currently building in Kitee will even have a special Disney room. Aside from that, I spend a lot of money on travel and music.
Where is your favorite vacation destination?
There is nothing more beautiful than wandering through Lapland. I’ve been around the world a few times and love to learn about new cultures, but the best spot on this planet is Lapland. I’ve been there countless times.
What book are you reading at the moment?
The new Stephen King book, “Puls”. (original title: “Cell. A Novel” )
Confess. What is the most embarrassing record in your collection?
“Oops!...I Did It Again” from Britney Spears is in my collection. The single “Stronger” from it is totally great. I also have a CD from the Backstreet Boys. The guys have written a few really good numbers. Often, individual songs interest me more than bands or genres. I have nothing against boy groups, regardless of how corny or commercial they may be, as long as they make good songs. On the other hand, you can forget about Westlife. They have nothing to offer. I’d much rather listen to my Madonna record, which I really don’t consider embarrassing at all.
What would be your first act if you were President of the United States?
I’d change the slogan, “God bless America” to “God bless the world”!
Would you ever pose for Playgirl?
Probably not. I don’t have the body for it.
If you could have a conversation with a famous person, who would it be?
I would like to meet my idol, Hans Zimmer, and talk to him about music. It would also be cool to exchange words with Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci. I’d convince them to work in my next video.
Have you ever had a paranormal experience?
When I was a teenager, a few friends and I played Gläserrücken (Don’t know what it’s called in English. I think it’s like ouiji board, except with a glass). As we were asking the spirit a question, the glass in the middle of the table suddenly started to move very quickly. It was totally creepy. I can well imagine that there’s more between heaven and earth than we know.
Are you religious?
I believe that everything is possible, try in the broadest sense to live according the Commandments, and I think the Bible contains some very interesting principles. However, I would not describe myself as a religious person or a Christian. I’m more of a spiritual person, and my interest in different beliefs stems from a more cultural prospective. I envy people who have very strong belief systems because I, personally, don’t have any.
What is the craziest rumor about you that you’ve ever heard?
In the past it was often speculated that I was gay. The rumor comes from the fact that I’ve never shown my girlfriends to the general public. The big tabloids were naturally hot for an exposure story and reported about my alleged boyfriends. The editors even went so far as to call my parents and offered them money for an interview in which they were to admit that I was gay.
What was your craziest drug trip?
I don’t take drugs, but a few years ago, someone must have slipped something in my drink because I suddenly started to have unbelievable hallucinations. I sat in my hotel room and saw millions of Chinese people who were making these terribly excited crackling/rustling noises. It was almost unbearable. I only started to feel better after I turned off the lights and called my mother.
What song should they play at your funeral?
The original version of “Walking in the Air”.