“I don’t go looking for inspiration” – exclusive interview with Marko Hietala

Marko Hietala. Writing the perfect lead – this is definitely the most challenging part of this article. Marko Hietala is the Gandalf of Metal, a living legend, and he has a special place in many metalheads’ heart. He joined Nightwish back in 2001, and Century Child was his very first album with the Finnish band. Last year he released his first solo album, Mustan sydämen rovio, the English version, Pyre of the Black Heart came out this January under the flag of Nuclear Blast. Prior to his show in Budapest, we had the opportunity to do an exclusive interview with him.

Of course, it was quite a busy day for him, basically, he was waiting for soundcheck when we started the interview. It’s undeniable that his first solo album became a huge success and received really positive feedback. But has he expected that?

“Well, of course, it was a little bit shaky feeling, because well… I’m not too qualified to judge stuff that I’ve been writing and recording. Of course, these couple of guys here were doing a lot of it as well. They came into my studio to listen to the demo and they had their opinion that ‘these are good songs let’s do some stuff’, and then they did a hell of a lot of stuff for it. So, that was my first touch to them, of course then I was singing the demo version of “Stones” when we were doing the Nightwish tour. It immediately called some attention, because next morning I was having some coffee and Ewo came from the sleeping bunker and he was like lo-to-lotololoo (mourning the melody – editor’s note)… And I was like okay, then Tuomas Holopainen, in this case, came next and he said: ‘that song has been in my head for the whole night.’ And I felt like okay, I might have a song, so confidence was growing and after all now we see how many good reviews we’ve got, everything… Fuck yeah! I like that! (laughs)”

At that point, I mentioned, that I personally prefer the Finnish version. “Well, if you hear it first, it’s usually a so-called demo effect with us musicians” – he noted. “When you do a demo version, then you listen and you feel ‘oh yeah, this is working’, then you do an album it’s not the same… It doesn’t work that well, it’s the demo effect. But well, not necessarily. Of course, for many people, the Finnish is kinda exotic, that’s also why I wanted to do both of the albums, the English, and the Finnish one. The Finnish, of course, it tickled my sense of humor, because it’s basically a six million tribal language. (laughs) It’s not commercial, this isn’t at all. Yeah, well I was also writing these songs, so they were mixed bunch of English and Finnish, so then it was a decision that either translate everything to English – except Stones that were already in English – and put it out as an international thing, but then the idea came up, that why wouldn’t I actually translate the English one into Finnish as well. And this is how the two albums came to be. I think 6 songs were originally in Finnish, 4 were originally in English.”

Photo: Péter Tepliczky / MyTouche Blog

And how challenging was it to keep the messages in both languages? “Well, that’s kind of an interesting question. Of course, all have kind of a vision in my head, and here’s a point A of this particular song which ends somewhere in the point B. I have the storyline in this, of course, I can use different metaphors and different angles of how to get into the vibe and the things that I need. But my meanings, my purposes are a bit wake to myself… You can make your own interpretations if you understand either one of them.” At that point I also mentioned to him that – in my opinion – “Stones” would be a perfect song for a viking-themed movie. Yeah, the melody of the chorus, is pretty like Finnish or Scandinavic. It’s kind of a… You know, when you get a Black Sabbath guitar riff and then you put in that kind of a Scandinavian folk melody. Yeeah, and the chorus came just like ‘okay, we got a nice point here’, then let’s put some pirate humming in there. (laughs)”

What about the inspiration? “I don’t go looking for inspiration, I never had. I just kind of try to build up a mental setup that is open. Whatever you see, whatever you hear might give you an idea, and then you end up you had filled pages in your notebook, humming a melody into recording programs you have. And then, later on, you check them all and cut out a lot of them, at least I do, and then what’s left is something then you work on.”

Photo: Péter Tepliczky / MyTouche Blog

“There are pieces of lyrics, music, that also I had been fiddling about for quite a long while, but they just haven’t found their place, so this was the time… I’d say that most of the songs and lyrics, that in the form that they’re now, were written when we started working together on the songs. There was a lot of stuff written also before that, but yeah. Most of are quite reasonable, but there are bits and pieces in the lyrical stuff and in the music that’s also… Well, yeah it could be like 10-20 years old even. The 20 years olds were written in the ’90s. “

I was also curious if there is a pressure on him to perform as a solo artist? “Yeah, well, I haven’t been really scared of going to the stage for some decades I guess, but when we started doing the Finnish shows in the summertime, then I did have some butterflies in my stomach. So, on the scale of 1 to 10 maybe 2 or 3, but well, since I said I haven’t had any in decades, 2 or 3 is quite a lot. It’s a little bit more personal. New band, new stuff, and everything… But yeah, it seems to be going fine with really good audience and shows.”

Fun Q&A

-Can you describe your solo album in five words?

-Progressive, hard, heavy, sensitive, and atmospheric. 

-And if you could be a Black Sabbath song which would you be and why?

-If I were a Black Sabbath song? Certainly not the Country Girl (smiles), let me think about this one… Paranoid, too close (laughs)… Um, damn! That’s a hard one! I’m a human male, carrying all these experiences and whatever in life… It’s Heaven and Hell! 

-What is your life philosophy? 

-Don’t be a dick! You can replace it with commandments or whatsoever. And you should replace it actually all kind of rulebooks, or politicians, or religious leaders and all that… 

Don’t forget to check out the full gallery of  Marko Hietala gig at Barba Negra Budapest.

Interview: Afrodite Szeleczky
Copy editor: Alexandra Égi
Photos: Péter Tepliczky

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"I associate heavy metal with fantasy because of the tremendous power that the music delivers." - Christopher Lee

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