By David E. Gehlke
It has been 17 years since Tarja Turunen was unceremoniously dismissed from NIGHTWISH via an open letter posted to the internet for the world to read. Her initial shock and dismay over her dismissal became an opportunity for the operatic singer to pursue new avenues, namely a solo career and side pursuits with classical music. Indeed Turunen has enjoyed a relatively stable and successful post-NIGHTWISH career, thus warranting the new "Best Of: Living The Dream" set that spans her 16 years as a solo artist. While symphonic metal will forever be in Turunen's wheelhouse, her ability to branch into other areas of rock may be another reason for her longevity. That, and a lot of persistence.
Turunen was in a reflective, philosophical mood when she caught up with BLABBERMOUTH.NET to talk about "Living The Dream" and her solo efforts. It hasn't been an easy journey (Turunen also suffered a stroke in 2018),but for someone who survived the late 1990s and early 2000s in the male-dominated metal scene, Turunen has plenty of stories — and advice to share.
Blabbermouth: You went solo in 2006. What's been the biggest lesson learned thus far?
Tarja: "Wow. What is the biggest thing that I've learned? It happened when I started working on the best-of album and writing my book ['Singing In My Blood']. I went through a lot of photos of my life and things I had forgotten completely. I did interviews with people who worked with me during this time or ones that are still there. It was interesting. I realized that I had a really colorful life. I went through some troubles, yes, but I've recovered and found my way and figured out my way. I've kicked the rocks. I'm still here, breathing and happy, feeling stronger than ever in a way. That was what the best-of was about. The book, 'Singing In My Blood', I wrote during Covid. It gave myself the wings for the best-of. With these photos, I've realized that I'm still here and happy living my dream." [Laughs]
Blabbermouth: Do you also see it as an opportunity to work with different people had your career not gone down this path?
Tarja: "Absolutely. It's been like that ever since the beginning of my career. First of all, I needed to find people to work with. It was the label that I found first. There were many that wanted a piece of me from the beginning. I wanted to find musicians and they were all new people. I needed to find out how to trust them. At that moment, I lost all trust in humanity. I was a nerve-wreck. I didn't know if I had it in me. But I found my way and the voice that I wanted to have, but it's not been easy. Collaborating with beautiful people all these years, not only on my music but their music, it's been a beautiful learning process. A very motivating process. I believe and I feel and tell this out loud to the musicians I'm working with — some of them have been there for 15 years. They are a big part of my music. I'm giving them big freedom to express themselves with my music. So, yes, without those people, it would be different. All of it."
Blabbermouth: When was the moment you started trusting other people again?
Tarja: "I cried many times. It's emotional to feel that because I can share emotions with others. We can talk about them. That's the beautiful thing. Even on the last tour, we shared a glass of wine after the shows and went back in time with the guys. We talk and share our memories. It's good to go back and laugh, but it's so wonderful to have that feeling that these guys will always be there no matter what happens. In 2018, I had a stroke. I went through that experience. I lived in fear for more or less a year. When I needed to talk about this, I didn't want to tell it in public, but I wanted to share this with the people I'm working with. They needed to know and also, for my safety, if they saw me acting weird during the tour, they would know what to do with me. I was crying when I told them about the stroke. They were completely in shock because they always see me as this 'super-woman,' a woman who has always been there for them and working her ass off all the time. They understood at the moment that I'm a person, also. I'm one of them."
Blabbermouth: You were not into metal when you started in the '90s. Stories abound of how out of place you felt at first. Can you talk about how you've come to embrace it?
Tarja: "I was a weird birdie for the metal scene. My life with music before was working with classical. I was dedicating myself completely, eight hours a day playing piano and singing, doing nothing. I had no life whatsoever. [Laughs] I discovered new music, a completely new genre. I was listening to METALLICA and hard rock albums from other bands, but I did not know so much beautiful music existed in metal. I got to learn and that is happening for my fans. They discovered me singing in front of a symphonic orchestra and making classical music. And it's like, 'She's doing a different type of music?' Then they see my metal shows and they're like, 'What!' It happens the other way. The same thing happened to me in my beginnings. I was eager to face the challenge because I loved the music we were making. I was ready for the challenge. That part of me has always remained to this day. I'm eager to take the challenge if I feel capable of doing it and love what I'm doing. I go for it. That hasn't changed. There is so much beautiful music around. Metal audiences and the media have embraced me since the beginning because I believe my perspective in this matter is that I've always been very true about my beginnings and growth. I've been very true. I believe my voice has been enough. You've seen a very hard-working woman. I'm always working and trying to improve and progress as a vocalist. The metal scene embraced me with all my other activities. They see me as a whole. How beautiful is that? It's super beautiful."
Blabbermouth: You have said in recent interviews that you felt very alone for a while in the metal scene. Now, there are a lot of great female vocalists fronting bands. Do you feel responsible for them in a way?
Tarja: "It's beautiful. Believe me, yes, I felt very alone at the beginning of the late '90s. Only recently, a few years back, I went to Jakarta for a festival. I was one of the only female vocalists there and it brought memories from the beginning. There were no women around! Where the heck are you guys? [Laughs] It's so nice. We have so much in common nowadays. I have a lot of friends in this industry and companionship in metal. It's really a beautiful thing. I get to hear the stories — even from some famous singers — about how my work has influenced them. It's a wonderful thing.
"I have not needed to grow balls. I have been different. I believe in having the voice I had from the beginning and kept progressing in it. I've never suffered just because I'm a woman. I found my own way. I've needed to fight my way, but it has not been easy and it would be lovely to have more of us around. When I perform and do my albums and every time women approach me, I feel like I'd love to empower them, to see they have it in them to say, 'Come on. You have it in you! Go for it, girl!' I feel like being their mother figure. [Laughs] It sounds weird, but on the other hand, it's really a beautiful thing."
Blabbermouth: Have you been in touch with (current NIGHTWISH singer) Floor Jansen since she received the news about her cancer diagnosis? (Jansen recently revealed she is cancer free.)
Tarja: "I've been in touch with her since I got the horrible news. I sent her a message. We've been in touch. I've been sending her my support. It's not an easy journey, but I wish her the best. My stroke was something I kept to myself for a couple of years. Then I healed myself with my music. On the last record, 'In The Raw', after the stroke, I did some touring and started writing the lyrics and working on the production for the album. I have to say it was very hard. [Laughs] I can imagine what Floor is going through now. I wish her well."
Blabbermouth: Are you fully recovered from your stroke?
Tarja: "I'm one hundred percent. I sought help after living in fear for quite a long time. I got help very fast, but the fact that it could have been a matter of seconds before I could not have been here any longer, it's scary. I said, 'I can't handle this alone. I need to understand myself better and why I feel like this.' I talked with an old Argentinian dude, a mentor. He has been helping lots of business people, not with therapy, but as a mentor. He made me talk so much about everything. He made me cry. He made me hate him. [Laughs] We went through everything because he saw through me. We had sessions and it was really good. He made me understand that I needed some changes in my life. In doing those changes, I feel so much better. I'm stress-free."
Blabbermouth: Physically, though, you've always taken care of yourself, right?
Tarja: "Always. The stroke was shocking because I'm physically strong. I've been able to handle myself. I've never been a party guy. I've always had to take care of my voice because of the voice I'm carrying. It came out of nowhere. They never found any reason for it to happen to me, so it was stressful. We stress about the past and the future and don't live in the moment. How crazy is that? It's a fact. Whatever has happened in the past we stress about and we stress about what is to come. I first said, 'I need to start living.' I found ways — meditation. It's been great for me."
Blabbermouth: Do you think you were stressing too much about the past and what happened a decade and a half ago?
Tarja: "It was about the future. Going on the road — taking care of the 'babies' on the road. If I have two at home, my husband and daughter, I have 50 on the road. [Laughs] I'm in charge. I am an artist. I'm not willing to jump into those worlds. I want to focus on music. Don't come with all the problems to me! I just want to sing with the band and take care of that. Then the rest of the issues come up all the time and I needed to be there to answer. I needed to learn how to give up those things."
Blabbermouth: And surely your husband (Marcelo Cabuli, who also doubles as her manager) is a big help with all this.
Tarja: "Absolutely. We've been working together for 20 years. We've been married at the end of this year for 20 years. Sometimes people would think, 'How can you share work and love with the person you are with? How can you function?' We found a way many years ago. Of course, we don't have any schedule. I don't mind. We both enjoy our work. He enjoys his work so much. If I saw him suffering with his work, it would bother me. We really love what we do."