10 years after Nightwish, Tarja Turunen is stronger than ever
Ex-Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen is proving her critics wrong with a pair of new solo albums
"The whole thing was such a shock, because it came out of nowhere – I never expected anything like that, and neither did my husband,” says Tarja Turunen, talking to us on the phone from Berlin. She is remembering the moment, a decade ago, when she was publicly sacked from symphonic metal giants Nightwish. “The Earth was shaking, everything was shaking, and we were both crying for two weeks.”
It’s 9am in Germany, and the Finnish singer is on the first day of the promotional campaign for her two new solo albums – The Shadow Self and its shorter ‘prequel’, The Brightest Void. She arrived in Europe yesterday evening after a 13-hour flight from the Caribbean, where she, her husband-manager Marcelo Cabuli and their three-year-old daughter Naomi are living. Life for the exiled frontwoman is a world away from what it once was, and she’s now the most in-demand female singer in her homeland.
“Being in Nightwish will always remain a big part of my life,” she reflects. “It was important, and it gave me a chance to be a solo artist and have a career on my own, since I never wrote any songs with the band.”
Born in a small village near Kitee in Finland, Tarja began learning piano at the age of six (taught by Nightwish founder Tuomas Holopainen’s mum), before studying music at the renowned Sibelius Academy, and joining Nightwish when she was just 19 years old. Her shock dismissal via letter nine years later pushed her into starting a solo career, successfully embracing both classical and metal arenas. She’s since performed all around the world, in prestigious locations like Finland’s Presidential Palace and with the Romanian National Opera. She was the winning judge for two seasons of Finland’s hugely popular version of The Voice, appearing alongside former Hanoi Rocks frontman Michael Monroe. And she recently became the first singer to be awarded her own emoji by the Finnish Ministry For Foreign Affairs, taking her place alongside icons such as former president and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Martti Ahtisaari and footballer Jari Litmanen.
In 2016, Tarja is a confident, über-glamorous soprano, who is hardly recognisable from the chubby-faced girl-next-door who sang on Nightwish’s debut, Angels Fall First. Bringing Nightwish up after all these years might seem superfluous, but without the platinum-selling band, she might never have achieved all the above. Although break-ups are often messy, Tarja remained composed and diplomatic throughout the media storm, despite the news even reaching Finnish Parliament, with the country’s then-Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen being asked for his opinion. She posted a heartfelt response online and kept her head down until the dark clouds had passed, and has barely spoken about the weeks and months that followed, or revealed what it was really like to go it alone after such a confidence-shattering shock.
When we ask her about that period in her life now, Tarja’s usually lively voice suddenly goes flat, and it’s clear her memories of the dismissal are still raw.
“I had to get away from Finland, so I took a flight [to Argentina, where her husband is from] the next day, and I was surrounded by the news even there. I was sitting on the plane, crying, and all the TV sets were being turned down. [It was on] the daily news: ‘Tarja is fired from Nightwish!’ It was following me every day for the next couple of weeks, and the TV cameras were outside my door in Buenos Aires. I couldn’t even get outside of my apartment. It wasn’t easy.”