Tarja Turunen Q&A
A lucky few were invited along to have an exclusive listen to the rather excellent brand new Tarja Turunen album What Lies Beneath in its entirety, and afterwards the lady herself sat down to answer a few questions.
You produced the album yourself. How did that feel?
Yeah, it sounds crazy, right? It’s a big word producer, and it’s a huge step for me as well. Definitely it was a learning experience from the start, but I felt after the first album that this needed to be done. I had to take control in some way, in the production. My band was there and we'd been touring together for a few years and the whole package was ready, so it was a lot easier for me to start directing people and seeing how to work. The first thing for me was to make the demos sound as close to the final songs and the final production as I could, which meant it was a long demo production for me. We started the recordings in February and spent the whole spring in production – and finally now the album is ready. But it was fun, I mean really a lot of fun; I'm so excited about it really.
Can you take us through the songwriting process?
That took around two years in total; altogether I was touring, wherever the hell I was stopping I wrote songs. Of course, writing for me is still very new and fresh; you step into somewhere that is still unknown, there are so many things that you learn everyday when you write songs about yourself, about the world and how you see it. But it’s so exciting for me to be able to tell you myself, to put it in writing or put it into music, how I feel, what I feel.
In music there are so many things that you learn every day, there's always somebody better than you coming along, but I don’t want to stop; this is my thing, and I just can't stop. Progress or making progress and developing myself is the most important thing, and writing for this album was a really long journey within myself and I've been writing songs about what lies beneath and the world around me; so all the songs are one way or another somehow connected under the title What Lies Beneath. So whether it’s under the surface of the water since I'm a scuba diving lover, or what lies beneath in us as human beings; how sometimes it would be good to look twice at things, I've seen that many times.
Sometimes you see something and the next day you look at the same thing again but it doesn't look like it did yesterday; it’s how scary how things are in the world; let us have the time to look at things properly.
What do you find so amazing about being underwater as a diver?
Oh, it’s so hard to explain for people that haven’t tried it! I find the underwater world absolutely fascinating, the colours are really beautiful; it’s a dream world. But the fact is my life is on the road all the time, and it’s been like that for many years; there are just so few moments when it’s really quiet. I live in Buenos Aires which is a huge city like London, a lot of noise, so it’s hard to get a place that's really quiet. So scuba diving is something special; I can hear my breathing whilst I'm diving, I concentrate on my breathing and it’s so relaxing. Everything else that was there yesterday or even the same day, it’s gone; I can forget it all. It’s definitely an inspiration; it’s important for everybody to get their escape, wherever that is.
When you were writing What Lies Beneath, did you want to make it heavier or more melodic? Was there any conscious thought how you wanted it to sound?
I wanted to make this album sound like what I would like myself to listen to, what my preferences in music today as a music lover are. Since it was a long writing process, I ended up writing around 30 songs, so I needed to take the best of them. But I never had any subconscious thing that I should write a heavier album; this is what I really wanted, with the orchestra and the love for the movies that I have still today.
What’s the concept behind the artwork and the scar on your face?
When I received the first pictures of the album cover and I showed it to people I asked them "So what do you think?"; "Oh, you look very pretty!" and that’s it, which made me very happy. The whole artwork is done with the same idea – you should look twice in life; certain things you don’t see at first sight. Then after the second look, you see something different. It was just inspired by that, I wanted the whole artwork to be based in photos; I really like that kind of art.
You have quite a lot of collaborations on this album. How did you pick the artists?
When the songs were demoed, the feeling was there that I needed some kind of special flavour for certain songs. I called in, for example, this group of Germans Van Canto, an a capella group, they did magnificent work for the opening track ‘Anteroom Of Death’; it’s a very aggressive, freaky song to open up the album, I wanted something really inspired like Queen's vocal arrangements – it was a very crazy thing to do with them. Then Will Calhoun came to play drums for some of the songs; Will is again a different kind of drummer that I have known from Living Colour with Doug again for some years. He's an unbelievable talent, really amazing; so I thought about every song, the need for every song. I feel that I'm not the kind of artist that can be boxed into a certain category, I feel that what comes, it comes because I'm very free today, I feel that having that freedom I never give any hint of it away.
How did you get Joe Satriani to play on ‘Falling Awake’?
I’ve been working with Doug Wimbish [bass player for Living Colour] for a few years now; he recorded the bass on the album, and Doug is a friend of Joey. They toured together in the USA, and I got to meet Joey when I went to work in Los Angeles for the mixing of the album, and I approached him with this idea for ‘Falling Awake’ to have a guitar solo; he listened to the song and said he loved it and would do the solo. I have all of Joey's albums; it was a really huge honour to have him on the track.
What was the inspiration behind doing a Bond-style track with ‘In For A Kill’?
It started as a kind of a joke, I think; there were these two writers in Stockholm and I went to their place and I said lets write it! We started to brainstorm about it, and then the story, the song was very radical, way out of the James Bond style and more about us as human beings; and I'm talking about sharks, about how people we think that sharks are hunting us but really we are hunting sharks.
That is the whole concept of that song, how sad it is. The misconception that we have in life in general that we think all the sharks are killers and we need to be afraid of sharks; I saw a documentary called Shark Water, I cried so much after that, it was so awful.
Of these eleven songs, which of these are you the happiest with?
Oh, don't ask me this one... bah, that’s a tough one! There is such diversity so it would be very difficult for me today to tell you one song. Maybe tomorrow it will be different. Seriously, it is a matter of emotion; the whole album is about that, I wrote the songs triggered by certain emotions. I would say that it has been wonderful to play live ‘In For A Kill’ for example, it’s the huge range of vocals and it demands a lot of power, but also a lot concentration from me; it’s the third or fourth take you hear on the record.
More or less all of the recordings are done without headphones, just having a microphone in the live room with acoustics and a monitor just in front of me and I sing live; that’s how I like to record. As a listener you can really hear me, it’s not bits and piece; I hate that. So probably that song today; tomorrow it could be totally different.
The record company wanted you to redo ‘I Feel Immortal’; what was your reaction? Were you frustrated about that?
Yes; I would be lying if I said I wasn't frustrated. It was delivered to me very late, everything else was done; but I made my decision. Of course since I would not be working with the label if I did not need them, so I understood their points. Basically what you hear in the song today, it is only the chorus that remains from the original; even the lyrics are all different. Since there was a kind of freedom, I decided to work on it. There's a beautiful video done for the song that I went to shoot it in Iceland; the landscape of Iceland was amazing, such a pretty country.
For this album you’ve covered Whitesnake's ‘Still Of The Night’; is Dave Coverdale aware, has he heard it?
I have no idea if he has; I'm too scared! I’ve been a big fan of Whitesnake since I was a teenager. It’s not going to be on the record proper, but on a deluxe version, a bonus track. It was so fun to do; I wanted to make a really great orchestra arrangement for it, something massive; the original has some space for it, so I thought to explore it a little bit further, so there is a huge choir as well. I think there are over 200 people singing on the track with the national orchestra of Slovakia.
You’ve recently appeared on the Scorpions song ‘The Good Die Young’.
It was a very strange moment when Klaus Meine called me; it was wonderful, such an honour. At the time they sent me two songs and I could pick the one I liked the most. It wasn’t until after I’d recorded the song that I heard that this was going to be the last studio album, I was completely shocked. I got to meet the guys and we played the song together on a music program in Austria; very nice people.
You also worked with Doro Pesch lately.
She's really such a lovely lady. We did do something together, she asked me to sing one of her songs for her album, and I apologised I didn't get a chance to ask her to sing on one of mine. I hope we can work out and do something together agian. She's been in the business a long time, 30 years.
Who do you like to work with?
Peter Gabriel! No, seriously! I love him, I really love Peter Gabriel, and he’s my idol. His music and the way he does it, the way he's represented in his music, the way he is as a person. I got to meet him a few years ago and I was trembling like a little girl, I was really nervous. I wish to remain as he is today; I wish that there is no reason to start flying around. He is such a great personality and musician; a great artist.
You've got a gig coming up in Shepherds Bush; what can we expect? Are there going to be any special guests?
I haven’t even got that far in my thoughts yet because the album is coming out. Definitely it’s going to be based on the new album; we're going to play lots and lots of cool songs. There will be some surprises as I always want to refresh the setlist. There will be a new bass player with me but I can't tell you yet who he is but he’s from America.
Tarja's album will be released on 13 September.