Beyond the Boys’ Club is a monthly column from journalist and radio host Anne Erickson, focusing on women in the heavy music genres, as they offer their perspectives on the music industry and discuss their personal experiences. This month’s piece features an interview with Tarja Turunen.
When Tarja Turunen was breaking into the music world with Nightwish in the mid ’90s, she was one of a very small number of women in metal music at the time. As she toured the world and built Nightwish’s fan base, the Finnish vocalist inspired a bevy of other women to be fearless when it came to entering the heavy metal and hard rock genres.
Turunen was with Nightwish for roughly a decade and created five albums with the band. Since then, she has led a successful solo career. Her latest solo album, In the Raw, arrived in August, showcasing Turunen’s powerful vocals.
The singer recently checked in with Heavy Consequence for the latest “Beyond the Boys’ Club” column, discussing In the Raw, her strong U.S. fan base, her journey as a woman in the heavy music scene, and more. Read the full interview below:
On her early days with Nightwish and being one of the only female metal singers during the band’s genesis
In the beginning of my career, I didn’t have any female singer in metal to ask for advice, nor have I ever had a role model or a metal singer that could inspire me, because the way I sang was operatic. I am very grateful, actually, that I never started to do something I was not familiar or comfortable with. I just went ahead with my way, and that was the only way to go.
I finished my university studies with classical music while being in a successful metal band, but that was not an easy task at all. What really saved me, was that I was always respected by my audiences all over the world and also by other singing colleagues. They obviously all thought that I was different, but that was the key. I didn’t need to prove myself in the world of metal by being a woman. I was accepted as I am, and that was the blessing.
On seeing women such as Lzzy Hale and Maria Brink on the rock charts today and if she feels a sense of pride in paving the way
All of us we work individually and do our own creative work. I have always supported the women in this scene and felt the bond between us. For me, it is incredible to hear singers in the metal scene telling me I had been their inspiration. It’s like, WHAAAAAT???!!!!!!! I feel honored.
On how different the musical landscape is for women in metal today compared to when she first started out
There are many of us girls nowadays working professionally in this field of music. There are even festivals based on female-fronted metal bands, which for me only shows how many followers there are for this type of music. That’s just amazing.
On her overall experience being a woman in metal music
In the beginning of my career I had to deal with the fact that since I was the only woman in the band, the singer and the face of the band, I obviously got the most of the attention of the public everywhere I went. There were some security issues that needed to be taken care of and were not really understood by our crew at that time, so some unfortunate things happened to me a few times before things got better. I have always been an independent woman who takes care of herself and by being like that, my male colleagues didn’t really care about me. Certain things like, a private dressing room where I can change my clothes and warm up my voice, were misunderstood by the guys who thought that I was just playing a diva and needed extra attention.
But, I have to say that in the genre itself, the listeners and other colleagues always respected me. With that respect, I managed to get through trouble, so overall, my experience has been very positive. Even though I have always been very honest and clear about my roots in music being in classical music, the metal crowds have embraced me and the purists haven’t been able to shut me down.
On what women inspired her to get into music
Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Tyler, just to name few. All these women with different kinds of powerful vocals. The emotion, stage presence and charisma made me fall in love with these talented singers when I was young. But, the biggest inspiration came from my mother, who used to sing at home a lot. She saw the talent in me and helped me to follow my dreams in music.
On if she’s noticed a difference in the music industry since the #MeToo movement emerged
Not really. I think it is a good movement, but it’s mainly affected the movie industry.
On the importance of emotion in her music and on her new solo album, In the Raw
I cannot make music without my heart being involved. That’s just how I am as a person: very sensitive and caring. It is absolutely important for me to make music that has an emotional meaning to me. I am a storyteller, and I love painting pictures with my voice.
On In the Raw being a team effort, even though it’s a solo album
I have been a lucky woman to gather around a great team of musicians. Without these guys, my albums would not sound the same, so naturally, they all have an input to my work one way or another. I am producing my records and giving directions, but the trust and understanding that I share with these guys is vital. Some of these musicians have been working with me more than 10 years already, so we truly know each other, and I can rely on the people working with me. Naturally, everything in the production process of an album becomes easier when you have a long history together.
Still, I don’t have a band, but I am working together with professional session musicians. Anyways, I want to keep working with people that understand and share my passion with music. Also, these guys are good people, so that is equally important to me! Life is too short to waste with bad people, you know.
On her strong U.S. fan base
I would love to visit you more often to be honest! I am super blessed with the fact that I have supporters in U.S. and that these fans are sending me their love every single day. I am still living my dream, and that it possible only because of my fans, truly. I feel very humbled by the fact that there are people listening my music and feeling passionate about it. I (hope) I can return to U.S. with my new album and feel the love of the local audiences. It’s priceless.
On other projects she currently has in the works
I am working all the time with something! Naturally, I will be touring with the new album, In the Raw, during the next two years internationally, as the album is my priority at the moment, but you will see me also performing classical performances here and there.
There is an electronic project called Outlanders that I am putting my finishing touches on at the moment with the hope that this project will see the day of light as soon as possible. I am working on it with my producer friend Torsten Stenzel in the Caribbean island Antigua, and it is based on chill out music where I use my voice mostly like an instrument. It is something very different from me, but an enjoyable musical experience. You will get to listen to it pretty soon.
On what advice she would you give to young people looking to get into music
As the music industry is living its hardest time, and there are a lot of changes happening constantly, you can expect the journey to be a difficult one. But if you are ready to work a lot and willing to give the best out of you, you can make it happen. Just don’t expect anyone coming to your door to look for you. You need to have the guts to make the calls. You must believe, feel and stay humble, because if music is the one giving you life, you are privileged.
Our thanks to Tarja Turunen for taking the time to speak with us. Pick up her new album, In the Raw, and catch the singer on her upcoming tour dates.