About Me

Interview with Marko Hietala

Marko Hietala almost doesn’t need any introductions. He formed a band with his brother in 1984, Tarot. In 2001 he joined Nightwish as a bassist and vocalist in some of their songs. He has also been in some other projects, such as Delain, Northern Kings and Sinergy. This year, he released the album “Pyre of the Black Heart” and we talked to him to tell us a little bit more about his first solo album.

M.I. - Your new album “Pyre Of The Black Heart” came out on January 24th. Tell me a little bit more about the album.

Well, it started when the Nightwish was planning to have a sabbatical year. I figured that I had stuff, I had music and I had lyrical pieces both in Finnish and in English and I figured that now would be a good time to do kind of a thing on my own. I’ve been thinking about it for about a year and there had never been a good opportunity and time… I also had written enough stuff, I’d been pretty productive in the few years before and I’ve been writing enough stuff to release an album and even more. So, I asked a couple of friends of mine, Mister Tuomas Wäinölä on the guitar and Vili Ollila in keyboards, if they would be interested in coming over to my place and staying for a few nights and we would go over my demo stuff and see if they would like anything. I had known the guys for quite a while, know them to be passionate and open minded and musicians with a strict perfectionism and all that and I knew that if the guys would get into the music they would get passionate about it and that's what happened. 

M.I. - Let me tell you that I’ve listened to the album and I liked it a lot.

Thank you very much for that. We are happy about it and we set out to do an album that would have a lot of variety of atmospheres and feelings and stories and all that. From what I've been hearing it's been something that… well you just confirmed it and also a lot of people… they were really happy to find this kind of an album because again it jumps outside the normal boundaries that stays over and Melody and it’s good to listen.

M.I. - How have the fans reacted to the album so far?

Very well, they have been liking it a lot. Gradually ever since releasing everything but yeah, I've been hearing and been like getting more and more confident and comfortable with all things.

M.I. - What inspired the title “Pyre of the Black Heart”?

I had some darkness in my life before. I'm a chronic depressive and all that, so it’s kind of the symbol of this Darkness. It's hard and it's strong but there is also will to crush it and put it behind you so I guess it’s what it symbolizes.

M.I. - Can you tell me a little bit more about the songs. What are they about? Like “Stones” for example.

“Stones” it’s got bluesy style rock lyrics because I had kind of a Mediterranean sounding acoustic guitar thing which I realize can be combined very nicely into something like these blues’ melody. When I had the melody, I started writing a lyric that had the same kind of a bluesy repetition from one line to another and that kind of made the song how it started. And it ended sounding like Black Sabath combined with the Finnish traditional folk song melody. It became like this staging rock of all the album after all these elements combined together. And then there was “The Voice of My Father” well it's obviously a personal thing. I mean from one generation to another we transfer things both intentionally and unintentionally. My father and I both suffered from alcoholism, we were out of there alive luckily both of us. When we all were younger, he would sing me and my brother to sleep, then and then I did the same thing to my boys when they were small, so these things they follow.

M.I. - So, you told me a little bit about the process of songwriting but can you tell me a little bit more about it?

Well, “Star, Sand and Shadow” that’s kind of a love story but very possessive. Then there’s “Dead God’s Son”, it’s kind of a Fantastical and existential crisis at the same time. But of course, if you want to relate it to anything real, then maybe it is about the loss of all that Fantastical when you grow.

M.I. - You've released a Finnish version of the album in May 2019. The first single was “Isäni Äani (The Voice Of My Father)”. Why?

That was just to screw up expectations (laughs) because they were, of course, expecting you to release something metal or rock or whatever. I decided to put out something a little bit more sensitive.

M.I. - The Finnish version was released in May 2019… why did you decide to do it a makeover and release it in English?

I had songs already written both in English and in Finnish and that was the situation where we've started from. So I had to make a decision: should I translate one to another or what? And then I realized,  but I have a chance to do both, I can translate the Finnish songs to English and the English songs to Finnish, do a full album. And we were supposed to release them at the same time but we ran into deadlines and the work went too slow and all that and we had to finish shows, Festival shows over the last summer… we had to finish the Finnish album first because we got to have a straight back when we would go to Festival promoters that we would have music in the radio here and all that and then we finished the English vocals after summer. After those shows and everything, then we got the album later on out but it's false information if people think that I did it all in Finnish first it was a mixed bunch of songs that I translated crisscrossed from Finnish to English and English to Finnish.

M.I. - What’s the meaning of the cover of the album? Why is the hand holding a black heart? 

Well, of course, it relates to the black heart that hard obsidian stone heart shiny and impenetrable and then there’s this Burning Hard Hand trying to crush and burn it at the same time… well simple metaphorical devil and angel. Maybe not that much, I mean it just I have a feeling like the impurity fighting some Darkness.

M.I. - Who thought about the design for the album? Was it you?

Yeah, I had the ideal of a cover, how to do it with and then about the picture itself. But, then, I saw this poster that a guy had done for Nightwish, like a tour poster, you know old school pencil lines used to draw a picture and the shadings and everything and I was like, hum, I like it a lot. It is almost that kind of old school finish that I wanted to give, a kind of classical Greek but with a northern twist. And we asked this guy Remo Pohl, a German guy, if he could do a drawing or painting out of this idea… he did it and there it was.

M.I. - Can you tell me a little bit more about the musicians that play with you in the album.

We’re old like friends obviously. The drummer I have known him since I was fifteen and he was sixteen. That was when we first met in a kind of a rock and pop and Jazz musical camp at Finnish summertime. He's been playing drums really a lot, he's been playing with a shitload of artists, albums, their live gigs and TV shows, so he's a long-term pro. The guitar player and the keyboard guy, these guys I knew, from this Christmas project that we've been having here in Finland, going annually already fifteen years, and I knew these guys to be very personal open-minded musicians. They also played in a lot of different bands and groups and albums and all that and have a good and open vision of rockers at heart. So I asked these guys to help me out and they were the first guys to come over and start going over the songs with me. I knew that if they liked the stuff, they would get passionate and active and they did. Tuomas got so active that, in the process, he actually became a recording engineer, producer and the mixer of the album. All of them were okay and both guys also came up with a lot of arrangements, stuff and sounds and everything which really complemented the songs a lot.  So their handwork is really visible along the album and they also brought in a few musical ideas for composing, for instance they developed the whole sea part in “The Voice of My Father” I was missing a sea part, we were talking about it and then he came up with this one too and I tried lyrics on it and it matched. 

M.I. - You have been in and worked with several bands and you are currently in Nightwish. How did all the experiences you had so far contributed for this album?

Well, of course, the more you do, the more you play with different people and hear different performances from, if you keep your eyes and ears open, you see that there are a lot of ways of doing things and that is also something that I guess teaches you to be open-minded in music.

M.I. - How complicated is it being in such a big and busy band as Nightwish and finding time to release your own material?

Yeah, there's been some pretty tight schedules here last year… I finished 3 albums, well some of them twice, so maybe not fully three music videos, I was in a physical photo shoot, I rehearsed with one band, and then did Summer Festival shows. At the same time, while I was at the summer festivals on weekends, I went to rehearse with Nightwish. And then I recorded the album with them while doing the shows. When the last photo shoot with Nightwish was done, that was in October, I decided “Okay I'm off” and then I flew over to Brazil and stayed there. I came back to do the annual Christmas tour thing for two weeks but then I went back to Brazil. I was basically there in the warm and sea, air and sunshine and all that just to lock my memories away for a couple of months. In fact, I didn't even think about the album at that time, I wanted to take a break from work. I had time for that when I returned and here we are.

M.I. - In your opinion, what would be the best word to describe Marco Hietala’s sound in this album?

Perhaps that it just came to me by accident and that I consider it to be hard prog. It has got these progressive elements combined with a very powerful rock side.

M.I. - Have you got any plans to release another solo album?

We've been talking about it so there are plans. It’s just a little bit of scheduling and it's a little bit further away. We’re not talking about earlier 2021, since Nightwish is getting active so, like I said, it was a solo project that kinda grew a band out of it, so everybody's been liking to do this and we would like to do Festival shows and all that. If we have a chance, we’ll be doing some more.

M.I. - Being around the music business for so long, how do you see all the changes that happened in the music industry?

Well it's a little bit of a double-edged sword because, of course, how it spreads and everything it's really great that you can reach a lot of people but, then, all the copyright problems and inequality of payments have really come across. I like the idea of freedom and the availability of stuff but, you should realize that, the ones who make those things, the authors and writers and songwriters, they should get their share. It should be legalized and checked out and made into something else but, so far, the internet is a jungle.

M.I. - How do you feel about the online platforms to promote the albums? Do you think it's a natural evolution of things?

Yeah, in the end, if you use bigger services to store data which can be shared without physical plastic and everything that we had with CDs and all that, yeah, I see that as a great improvement over things but, of course, then the fact that streaming mp3’s from Spotify, in its’ quality is way weaker than what we had with CD’s. That is something that I'm really missing because I'm a sound enthusiast and the digital distortion in those compressed files actually masks a lot of really good instrumental stuff. Data transfer will get better and better all the time, so it's basically up to the service providers to update the databases into better files and just treating them but, of course, it's not a cost-effective solution so I doubt about their enthusiasm for that. But, for some people, quality is also something that they use for competition, for instance I have a subscription TIDAL, because they use FLACS, and when I want to listen to something, I can immediately download it and it has way better quality, sounds way better and, if I don’t like it, I can just erase it from the phone.

M.I. - Do you want to leave a message to your fans in Portugal?

Sure, I mean, if you haven't heard the album, if you're interested in hearing something that has a pretty noise and a weird composition in its elements, then give it a try and it would be nice… it's not my business to say if you would like or not. Just give it a try. 
Thank you so much for your time and I hope to see you in Portugal in concert.

For Portuguese version, click here

Interview by Isabel Martins