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Tuomas on writing lyrics (Rytmimanuaali)

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Here's a nice, short Q&A with Tuomas, translated from here.

 

"10 questions about lyric-writing" is a series where we are introduced to  famous lyricists and their methods, challenges and sources of inspiration. In the first part, the questions were answered by Tuomas Holopainen, the keyboardist-composer-lyricist of Nightwish.

 

Do you start songwriting always from the same point or does it vary? Do you for example start from choruses?

 

It varies greatly. The essential part is that I have to have the subject of the song clearly in my mind before I start the actual process. Songwriting never starts from "jamming basis", like "oh, what a nice riff/melody, what could it be about...". First the subject, then the music, then lyrics.

The lyrics themselves sometimes come chorus first, sometimes verses first, there's no specific logic behind that. Quite often I have a catchprase stuck in my mind, around which is inspirating to build a chorus, like Wish I had an angel / Bye bye beautiful / We are the Edema Ruh / Yours is an empty hope / Endless forms most beautiful etc...

 

In what point of the songwriting you start writing lyrics? Does the music have to be fully completed first?
 

That's exactly how it usually goes for me. Like I mentioned before, sometimes before music I might have a certain catchprase, around which it's easy to compose the music, but usually the lyrics are the last part of the process.

 

How much do you use symbolism in your lyric? Is it an important element of your texts?
 

Very important. Good lyric doesn't give too much away immediately, but on the other hand isn't too cryptic. For example I wanted to write a love song for our new album ("Alpenglow") but find a new angle for storytelling. There are enough awfulnesses like Bon Jovi's "Always" in the world. 99 % of existing songs are about the same universal themes; love, death, longing, life's challenges, wonder... The most important secret is to find new ways to bring those stories and emotions into music.

 

How have you yourself developed as lyric-writer? What have you learned?
 

Certain overtrying and the use of too fancy words has diminnished. Most important learnings have happened in phonetics. Earlier I used to write without thinking what vowels would be hard to sing in high register or how many s-letters I should use in choruses. With Floor we spent a lot of time with these details on EFMB and her tips from the singer's perspective were a great help in making the lyrics sound more natural when sung.

 

Where do you get your ideas?
 

From the surrounding world, wonders of natute and cosmos, own experiences, inspiring stories, fact and fiction... When I feel strongly about something, were it my personal love life, band's internal struggles, fate of the native Americans, a fantasy story, death of a loved one, starry sky or evolution, it creeps under your skin as a huge itching and doesn't leave before you turn it into music and words.

 

What a good text is like, in your opinion?
 

Something that awakes your interest on the first listen (or read) but might take dozens of listens to fully open itself. Inspiring, touching and sometimes ambiguos. For example "One" by Metallica, "Wonderful Life" by Black and "Pohjoisen taivaan alla" by Leevi and the Leavings, to mention a few.

 

Which lyricists do you admire?
 

Aaron Strainthorpe from My Dying Bride, James Hetfield and Gösta Sundqvist.

 

How important do you think the "formal" side of the lyrics is? Like all the lines rhyming perfecty and so on.
 

Too much rhyming is intolerable and may give songs a comic touch. This is a sense of style -question and you learn it by trying and failing. Rhymes are of course an effective device when used sparingly.

 

What is the most challenging part in writing lyrics?
 

The most challenging part is to make the text fit in the vocalist's mouth so that it sounds believable storytelling but also phonetically beautiful and unforced. Sometimes an extremely beautiful poem on paper is impossible to transform into smooth singing.

 

Finnish language is extremely challenging when compared to English, for me personally, that is. It's also a fascinating challenge, in which it would be fun to sink in sometime in the future.

 

What advice would you give to a beginner lyricist?

 

Write about what you know and what you feel. Without a strong inspiration and emotion you should not write anything. And like I mentioned, always try to find a new approach to your story. And when you yourself think you're ready, challenge every single line you wrote. Finally ask others for opinions and have and open mind, be receptive but keep your head :) Fighting spirit!

 

-Tuomas
 

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Great interview, one of the best in years. Alpenglow is a love song! Who would have thought?

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I thought that was kind of obvious? It's a really good one too. Very romantic. I feel like it's a sequel to Ever Dream both musically and lyrically.

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Great! Thanks for sharing this interview.

 

 

Where do you get your ideas?
 

From the surrounding world, wonders of natute and cosmos, own experiences, inspiring stories, fact and fiction... When I feel strongly about something, were it my personal love life, band's internal struggles, fate of the native Americans, a fantasy story, death of a loved one, starry sky or evolution,

 

While I was reading that part, it was like all the song titles came up to my mind and I automatically matched them with the corresponding categories he mentioned :P Although some people complain about the lyrics being repetitive with the child/innocence/long-lost-love theme, there's actually a wide range of interesting subjects to have fun with (:

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Great interview, thank you for sharing! Tuomas seems to be more open regarding his creative process (lyric wise) than he used to be a few years back.

It's a nice read 'cause his writting is the very thing that got me into NW when I discovered the band and it's something that I'm always curious about.  :)

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