Tarja Turunen, renowned for her skills as a classical singer, is best known for being one of the founding members of Finnish heavy metal band Nightwish and for the solo career she launched back in 2005. In addition, Turunen has performed on many different stages, music halls and churches, singing classical music and Christmas songs both alone and as a part of groups such Noche Escandinavia and Raskasta Joulua.
Already having a long and significant career as an artist, this forever young Marbella-based mother keeps on touring the globe with her band and performing songs from her latest studio album, In the Raw, which was published last year.
Turunen describes her current sound as prog-rock-metal-score meets classical. She has developed her unique sound through years of singing rock music without ever having gotten advice from vocal coaches. However, when performing classical music in particular, the soprano uses her knowledge and experience in lyrical singing and its technique.
Now this bright star of the symphonic rock scene is ready and willing to open up about her music, inspiration and being the voice of Finland.
What constitutes a perfect morning for you?
If I have been able to sleep more than seven hours, that’s a good morning for me. A double espresso with a big glass of water and the view from my own bedroom window and terrace make it perfect.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Was there a time where you thought about doing something completely different?
I definitely always wanted to become a professional musician and make a living out of it.
You found a new home in Spain some years back. How does the lifestyle in Marbella differ from Finland?
The climate, being so very different from Finland, helps me to enjoy the outdoors the year around. I go out for running in the mountains or near the sea many times a week. The sun also fills me with its energy in the mornings. I am not as well known a person here as I am in Finland, so I can freely breathe the air and live my life without people noticing my presence. Even though it’s a Spanish city, Marbella is having a very strong international feel to it. People near me here are all coming from different cultures and backgrounds. That is making life colourful and exciting every day.
What band or artist best represents Finnishness and why?
This question can be interpreted in many ways. If I think of ‘the’ Finnish artist, immediately Kari Tapio comes to my mind, singing his song Olen suomalainen, but that would mean for Finnish audience only. Now, if I think about Finnish artists and bands that are widely known abroad, I could mention Apocalyptica, Nightwish, Sunrise Avenue, myself and many others, but we are all performing in English! After all it all depends on the artists themselves how they feel about their roots. I have been waving the Finnish flag very proudly abroad during my career, even though I have not lived in Finland for a long time. You can take a Finnish girl away from Finland, but you cannot ever take Finland out of the girl. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland made an emoji with my image calling it “the voice of Finland”. This made me very happy and proud.
Let’s continue by talking about your music. How would you describe your latest release, In the Raw, to somebody who hasn’t heard it yet?
In the Raw is a dramatic, symphonic rock album with a vulnerable, personal touch from me.
How was the production process with such a personal recording?
Production for the new album was quite painless, because I have talented people in my production team close by and ready for the challenge. Nowadays every professional musician is having their own place to record and produce, as do I and the people I am using in my productions. So, the album was recorded in many places in the world: my vocals at my home and finally the mixing with Tim Palmer in Texas, the US, as was the case with my previous albums. I was overseeing and keeping the giant puzzle together until the whole process was finally finished. I was exhausted after all this, because the album happens to be the most personal album so far in my career. It took time to come out with all the songs and get it done, but I am very happy and satisfied with the end result.
This process sounds a bit different than the one with your last live-art-album Act II. What was it like putting this collection together? What was the inspiration for the songs on it?
It took me many months to work on this product. It consists all together eight-and-a-half hours of music and images, so the video editing and sound mixing took me a long time. Also, the artwork of this live record was done carefully, and it is based on photos taken in the streets of Florence, Italy, and beautiful live photos. I still today see importance in producing live records, mainly for me to realise where I am standing as an artist today. It is an opportunity from where people that haven’t witnessed my live concerts yet can see what I am doing and those who have been following my career can re-live the experience.
My first live record, ACT I, consists of two of the first studio album’s songs and this second live recording the following three. So, the setlist is based on those three records. I really hate repeating myself, so ACT II is refreshing, live-art-video whose arty looks I have deeply worked on.
Do you ever find yourself unable to express your creativity to the fullest? What kinds of things inhibit you?
If I jump into something new, into a new challenge, I have to be sure in advance that I will be capable of doing a good job with it. I have my limitations when it comes to singing as well and mostly my gut feeling is the one that I trust. I won’t do something if I don’t feel good about it. I have realised that life is too short to be spent on things that don’t give you anything.
I am my own boss, so I basically decide myself what to do and when, so when it comes to being creative I definitely express myself within my limits, and never I have found myself incapable of doing that. That’s a huge blessing to be honest.
When you perform, what do you want to deliver to the audience? What do you want the audience to feel?
I am a storyteller and I always pour my heart to my listeners. I am a very emotional artist and I am sure my audiences feel that in me. I want them to have the best time of their lives in my shows! I want them to laugh, to love, to cry and to feel. My music and my performances are all about emotions.
What mindset or trait do you think every singer must possess in order to become successful?
What is success? How you measure that? I think every person should find, first in their hearts, what personal success means for them. You want to succeed, you must have the passion and love for singing and you should be ready to fight for your dreams. You should truly be able to listen to your heart if you one day stand at the crossroads without knowing what to do. Music keeps you humble and grateful, because it’s a gift. That should never be forgotten.
You have been a household name for some 23 years, is there something that you haven’t accomplished as yet?
I am a workaholic in a way and I always seek new challenges. I think I can never learn enough from music, because I believe there is always something new to explore. I would like to express myself more as a songwriter still in the future and expand my “brand” as an artist.
What has been your most memorable gig so far? Why?
This is a very difficult question to answer, because my 23-year career consists of very many different kinds of concerts. But once I got to sing to a person as a surprise and make his knees bend and tears pour from his eyes, because he just couldn’t believe it was happening. This little surprise made his day shine and mine as well. I love making people happy with music, that’s my inspiration and motivation still today.
What have been the biggest inspirations for your career?
Film music, a few metal bands, Peter Gabriel and Paulo Coelho’s books. The fact that there is always something new to discover in music is motivating. You can only try to be the best, but you cannot ever be.
What are your other interests apart from music?
I love movies, interior design, gym, fashion, scuba diving.
And when are you at your happiest?
When I am playing with my little daughter. Her innocence and love are pure and real.
Interview was originally published in February 2020. Updated in September 2021.