Floor Jansen is one of the most prominent and successful names in contemporary metal. In 1997, at the age of 16, she established herself in the metal community when she joined the symphonic metal group After Forever. Her success grew tremendously when, in 2013, she became Nightwish’s new full-time vocalist after a short stint filling in on the band’s Imaginaerum World Tour. In 2015, the group released their eighth studio album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, with Jansen on vocals. Fast forward five years to this past April and Nightwish released Human :||: Nature; a continuation of Endless Forms… and the next evolutionary step for the band. We recently spoke to Jansen about the record, the processes and challenges surrounding it, and the potential effects of the ongoing global pandemic on creativity and industry alike.
Jansen describes Human :||: Nature’s success as “nothing but mind-blowingly good,” and it’s no surprise. Nightwish’s dedication to perfection when it comes to orchestrations, melodies, and deeply structured symphonic songwriting has allowed them to permeate through the metal community for years, with exchanges of vocalists allowing them to pursue a plethora of approaches and stylistic innovations. According to Jansen, there were a number of elements that “naturally progressed from Endless Forms Most Beautiful.” “I still adore that album,” she says, “but I think this is indeed an evolution or progression from there.”
As with all of Nightwish’s music, there were challenges to thought processes throughout Human :||: Nature’s songwriting. While discussing the themes and messages of the new record, Jansen explains that “it’s not like there’s one message behind it; every song has a different story. It’s an overall positive thing, though.”
An example of this is found in “Noise,” one of Human :||: Nature’s most notable tracks, as Jansen explains that it “points out the human behaviour toward technology in the sense that we don’t hate the technology, but we can’t really sit back and enjoy the way that people seem to get completely sucked up by it and totally dependent even on it.” This is backed up by their enticing video that accompanies the track, which features the band and other characters taking selfies, crowds being absorbed into their phones, and other such technological terrors which are becoming more and more concerning as they develop. Nightwish’s intention isn’t to make people do or think a specific way; their elaborate and immersive songwriting, according to Jansen, “can help you realize that there is a real world out there that is just there for you.” In addition to the overall positive message, she mentions that “it’s all related to humans. It’s something that (Nightwish keyboardist, vocalist) Tuomas (Holopainen) considered a love letter to nature. Takes you through different parts of nature.”
For a complex and delicately structured album such as Human :||: Nature, an equally established songwriting process was required. Floor describes in detail that Holopainen, Nightwish’s songwriter mastermind, made a demo for each song with the vocal lines being conducted via piano before her contributions kick in. Floor mentions that once the parts were established from each member of the band, “Pip Williams, who’s been doing the orchestrations for us… translates the ideas of Tuomas into a full orchestration, or suitable for a choir… then, if we have all the ingredients, it might be that we have too much or we still miss something.” An arduous process of idea formation to the final product is a clear reason why Nightwish is one of the most successful contemporary metal bands to date.
On Tuomas, Jansen says, “I think he’s a man who really knows what he wants, and he knows what he wants to hear. So, I can only have large respect for that because I think that’s one of the hardest parts to choose from.” This, as Jansen says, is certainly difficult as “you have ideas, we try this, we try that, and then it’s the ‘kill your babies’ part this is something Tuomas does and probably hates…you have this great idea and it sounds absolutely fantastic, but it’s in the way of something else and they need to choose. That’s the process.”
Within Human :||: Nature, we hear some of Floor’s most impressive vocals to date, especially the dynamic and operatic segment of “Shoemaker,” and the powerfully melodic “Music.” Regarding preparing for their latest effort, Floor mentions, “I felt properly challenged there… it took me more practice than maybe ever before to really get it.” It’s no surprise, either, with a desire to achieving more than simply performing the song. “It’s hard to sing, but you don’t want to just sing it,” she says. “You really want to tell a story; you want to get the flow and the emotion of it all right.” This dedication to the music and the band is a huge part of both Floor’s success in the music industry, earning the respect and admiration of fans and musicians alike for her professionalism and determination to make each track she’s a part of the strongest it can be.
The process of telling a story through song in Human :||: Nature, however, was not a quick one. While describing how she learned each track’s feeling and taught herself to project the story, she says: “I had to really dissect the song. Every song by itself… first I need to remember the melodies, and the easy part, the chorus.”
“Because of the complexities of some parts of it, I had to really practice it enough to set the certain muscle memories… because from there, you can look into the actual storytelling, the meaning behind the whole song, and behind every word, what the emotions are, what’s the dynamic in it. That took me another bunch of weeks to really combine.”
With a back-catalogue as diverse and wide as Nightwish’s, and their dedication to touring, it’s no wonder the band decided to take a year-long break in 2017. It was a first in Nightwish’s 20+ year history, commencing after the release of Endless Forms Most Beautiful. According to Jansen, “there was nothing negative about Nightwish” to cause the break. “Sometimes you just need to step away to have renewed energy… it was so wonderful to go back in history, instead of focusing on something new,” she explains.
The break also worked for the fans, as it gave Nightwish an opportunity to return to their expansive back-catalogue and move away from repetitive album cycles. On performing these songs and returning to the past, Jansen describes that “you never have enough time if your discography just grows and grows. It was wonderful to dive into that as well.”
Nightwish has persistently pushed the boundaries of their musical frame since their inception, with new instrumental directions and contributions taking Human :||: Nature to a new level entirely. Kai Hahto, Nightwish’s new full-time drummer as of 2019 after Juka Nevalainen’s departure, has also allowed the band to explore new options. According to Jansen, Juka “is a great drummer, but Kaitu’s a different guy, so he can do different kinds of things.” This led to further evolution and change within the band to give the band a fresh sound and allowed for further exploration from Tuomas in terms of songwriting and composition.
With six members in the band, and a plethora of additional musical arrangements, you need a well-tuned ship with equal amounts cooperation and camaraderie for it to work. According to Jansen, Nightwish has just that. “It’s wonderful to be in this formation where everybody is good in what he or she does,” she explains. “We all know what we can do, and Tuomas knows what we can do and he’s using that… it’s a constant progression.” This constant progression is clear throughout Nightwish’s discography. While earlier albums, such as 2008’s Dark Passion Play, had a more aggressively symphonic metal feel to them, Human :||: Nature is smoother, voluptuous, and more expansive, with the evolution and synergy Jansen mentions evermore apparent.
Alongside the pressures and celebrations of being one of the most successful female vocalists in contemporary metal, Jansen recently endeavoured to begin a solo career. “It’s a whole new territory for me, but it also comes with a freedom I’ve never had before,” she says. Alongside the excitement of a solo career comes questions of its feasibility, as she explains:
“…the whole solo career sort of started in the Netherlands, but having been an international artist for so long, it inevitably becomes international. How on Earth am I going to get an international solo career next to being the singer of Nightwish? That is a question I’m trying to get an answer to (laughs).”
Her scheduled live performances were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result, has gained a boost in creativity and allowed contemplation over the topic. “A seed really took root and is growing,” Jansen notes. “A good thing with all this whole pandemic situation and my inability to perform live, I have a lot of time to write.” Now is certainly as good a time as ever to begin exploring our creative outlets, as the enforced isolation and retraction from normal routines is allowing creatives juices to flow and perspectives to change.
The ongoing pandemic is bringing a plethora of unprecedented effects on the way we live; simultaneously allowing us to spend more time at home with our loved ones whilst keeping us away from friends and postponing our concerts. To remedy the entertainment side of the situation somewhat, we’ve seen the likes of Katatonia perform livestream concerts (see our review here). However, until the pandemic is managed and eradicated as much as possible, we won’t be seeing physical live performances in our countries any time soon.
Upon pondering the pandemic’s effects on the music industry, Jansen holds a mostly positive and very wise perspective. “I think it stimulated the online usage of music and communication largely,” she says. “It obviously doesn’t change the desire to see the real thing… I think that’s a positive thing, that maybe you become extra appreciative of something that’s quite easy to take for granted.” We’ve certainly had our fair share of experiencing the concert-bereft blues as of late, and perhaps a new-found love and indulgence in concerts will form when restrictions are lifted, with higher attendances than ever before.
While the pandemic has certainly created a lot of uncertainty and stress to many people, there is also a silver lining to be taken out of it. Roads are quiet, with less smoke and dirt permeating the Earth’s breathing space, animals expanding their horizons and taking over towns, and people revisiting old passions and creating new ones. “I think it’s de-stressing a lot of people at the moment… or at least taking a sense of rush out,” Jansen ponders. “Both me and my husband after a while were like ‘I’m fried, I’m so fucking tired’ because we’ve been working non-stop… I think it’s important… to have a sense of slowing down in a world that’s just constantly moving forward. That would be a positive thing.”
On top of being a world-famous symphonic singer-songwriter, Jansen is a strong advocate for nature’s health, importance, and protection. She commits to this through her songwriting, general persona, and projecting her voice on these matters through publications and YouTube. As such, she maintains an element of hope for the world during the ongoing pandemic. “We tend to see our role in the existence of the planet as a very, very important one, which I can only stimulate when it comes to trying to improve the way we co-exist with it,” she says. The pandemic, however, has shown more than ever that the earth is dependent on its survival, which Jansen goes on to explain. “If we just back off, or if we would just disappear, the earth is still there. Everything is just going to continue as it was.”
Nature has indeed shown signs of regeneration in small doses due to our restricted contributions at this testing time for our species. As such, one can only imagine the potential such an event can have on our attitudes towards the environment, including mass production, waste and pollution, and the negative effects of the meat and dairy industries (including the catastrophic effect it has in the realm of ethics, animal cruelty, and so much more). “I kind of hope that the speed of where you see waters clearing up, skies clearing up, that for almost everybody this will be like ‘Oh God, this is wonderful! I’d like to keep that! I’d like to make sure my kid can go to school without having to breathe in that kind of shit.”