Shining Through: An Interview With Anette Olzon

There is such thing as having to fill gigantic shoes. Blaze Bayley faced this challenge when he took over Iron Maideafter Bruce Dickinson’s departure, with questionable results. The problem is that you simply can’t satisfy a fanbase that has associated a certain sound with a band, and who might see you not only as a replacement, but as an enemy.
Anette Olzon went through something like this when, after Tarja Turunen‘s dismissal, was tapped by Tuomas Holopainen as the new singer for Nightwish. The fact that her voice was completely different from that of Tarja didn’t exactly help calm those who were skeptical about her nomination, and who worshipped not only Tarja herself, but the magic that, in their minds, existed between her and Tuomas.
Despite the success that she helped the band achieve, her time with Nightwish was not easy; from mere rude comments to death threats, Anette had a rude awakening into stardom. From relative obscurity, she was now at the center of a media frenzy, not to mention fans’ minds,  eager to find out everything they could about this young swede.
Now, with Nightwish behind her, and after what was a painful separation from the band, Anette has embarked in what might be her most ambitious project to date, by releasing Shine, her first solo album.


Olzon Interview 3Metal Blast: First of all, congratulations on Shine. It’s a really interesting release, though it’s not really what I think most people would expect from the former singer of Nightwish.
Anette: No, and that’s the thing of course. When I did this album in 2009 I was still their singer and I couldn’t compete with Nightwish if I was releasing it a side-project. That’s why it turned out to be a bit softer and a bit of a different style. When you’re in a band you don’t want to sound like them and have to compete.

Metal Blast: You worked on these songs after a tour with Nightwish that was full of problems: with fans, with critics, with your voice, etc. How did these events affect what you’ve created in Shine?
A: At the time I was just really anxious to do some songwriting. Like you say, there were so many things going on and everything was happening so fast. When you’re doing all that and stressing out so much, there’s a lot that you want to get out of you emotionally. I think the songs came to me because it was such an emotional time; they were definitely influenced by those years.

MB: You do sound very energetic this time around; I think many reviewers have pointed this out.
A:
 I think my voice was in perfect shape back then, since I had to practice every day to keep up with the tempo Nightwish had. When I came off the road and continued with my album, my mother said to me “You can tell that you’ve been singing for years!”. Even though I we had some problems while on tour, it was beneficial for me, since I really had to practice.

MB: Back then you put some of your demos back then on Myspace, which is how a lot of people became familiar with you as a solo artist. Even if you didn’t want to put things out commercially and compete with Nightwish at the time, your voice was already sounding really well. This really shows in the album, since you think you’re at your best.
A: I had a lot of confidence at the time. As a solo artist, I was working with a lot of very talented songwriters who were saying that I had a very good voice. These are people who have worked with very big artists, so they gave me the encouragement I needed to try to use my voice in different ways. They helped me a lot to get the best performances I could possibly give.

Anette bg
Photo: Ville Juurikkala

MB: Speaking of those collaborators; one of them worked with people like Madonna and Celine Dion. How did somebody coming from that mainstream pop realm shape the sound that ended up in Shine? It’s completely different from what you’re known for.
A: When I was starting to work with Anders Bagge [producer/songwriter], I was mostly working with some other writers. But Anders came and thought about what he might want to change to make things a little more catchy. It was just that everyone wanted to do something new and fresh. We wanted to do something fun, and that’s why the album sounds the way it does.

MB: There are very personal elements in the album. “Lies”, “Moving Away”, “Invincible”, all of these songs represent very personal things that happened with your divorce, with Nightwish, with your love for your husband now, etc. How much did working with these songwriters affect the lyrical aspect of your work, considering it dealt with something so personal?
A: When it came to that side of things, I was really free. The songwriters didn’t tell me how to do things in that way. They came in to help me. I’m not an instrumentalist; I can’t play piano or guitar that well, so I needed that help. I also needed people that could hear if my songs needed another structure.
What I did was that I would sing the melody I had in my head, with them sitting at a piano interpreting what I was delivering. From that we made the songs and then they went into the studio and added the other instruments. They were really important to the overall sound of the album, but the lyrics are all mine.

MB: Having been a member of a band like Nightwish is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you achieved a fame that would have been much harder, or impossible, to achieve on your own or with Alyson Avenue. At the same time, much like Tarja, your music will always be compared to Nightwish. You will always have that “former Nightwish singer” tag attached to you. Is it hard for you to live as a musician under that shadow?
A: In a way, yes, I think there will always be that comparison. It can be a curse, as we all know. It can be difficult to try to do something different on your own as people will always compare you and expect the kind of material that you created and performed with that band. But I also think it is a blessing, because more people will recognize me and give my new music a chance. I just hope that people will be open-minded to something new.

Olzon Interview 1

MB: I recently watched a video your first tour with Nightwish, when you went to Belo Horizonte, Brazil. You’re inside of a van and the fans were trying to get your attention screaming and hitting the doors and windows. Was it scary for you, as a young woman, to be suddenly accosted by all these fans?
A:
Yes, it was. Normally you don’t get that famous overnight. I think if I had stayed with Alyson Avenue we would have eventually made it and it would have been more gradual, but in joining Nightwish, who already had such a huge following in so many countries, I went from have almost no recognition to being essentially a celebrity almost immediately. It was a bit strange too. If you’ve never been that famous, and it hasn’t occurred gradually, you don’t fully understand people’s behavior towards you. Now I’ve gotten used to it and I’m not afraid anymore, but it was a shock. Most of the time people are friendly.

MB: Have you ever had a bad experience with fans in person?
A: There have been some. Some people yelling at a show in America, shouting “Fuck You Annette”… I’d just say “okay, love to you too.” Of course there have been some middle fingers, some death threats…

MB: Who the hell sent you death threats?!
A: It was mostly in letters and over the internet and on my blog. There were times I was scared and felt it was too much, so I had my manager contact that person. There were times though, like when someone threatened to shoot me in the head, that we hired more bodyguards for that show.
You’re not afraid on a daily basis, but sometimes you get those feelings. You can’t think about it because you never know what will happen. I think there are very few people that would actually do something though; I think that a lot of it were people who were so frustrated that Tarja wasn’t in the band anymore. It’s understandable that when you love something so much you get upset when it’s gone… but this is too much!

MB: I would have never thought that something like that would happen in the Nightwish fanbase. I can’t believe that someone would be stupid and crazy enough to do that. To send an e-mail is one thing, but to actually go buy paper, write a letter, seal it up and put it in the post… that requires a lot of commitment to hate.
A: It’s not just me that gets it either. Tuomas gets a lot of this as well. Not against him though; once he had a friend that people thought was his girlfriend, so that girl got a lot of hate. Dead mice in her mailbox and stuff like that. It happens to many bands; people get too emotional about things. Maybe they think they really know you or the band, so they get too attached.

Nightwish, photo by Ville Akseli

MB: Actually Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth, he also got that kind of treatment. Stalkers, people saying he was going to go the “Dimebag Darrell” way, etc. It’s absolutely insane.
A: My husband Johan, who is in Pain, was at a gig in Finland once. There was this one girl who just stared at him for the whole show, looking really angry, and then she started yelling “Fuck You! Fuck You!”. He didn’t do anything. He said to me “maybe that’s because she hated you”. I was so heavily in the media at back then that I guess this is kind of thing happens to the people around you during times like that.

MB: I’m really sorry that you had to go through all of that. I’ve read that you went through a lot of bullying as a kid, so I’m sure that it wasn’t very nice to go through similar things again.
A: Now I can look back on it and see it wasn’t that bad, but at the time it was scary. It was at least partially because of the departure of Tarja, in those first two years with the band. It was so big for the fans and, of course, some people wanted to have someone to blame. I, as the new lead singer, was a very easy target for that blame.

MB: You’ve said that you and Alyson Avenue might do a reunion at some point. Is that just wishful thinking or are there any concrete plans?
A: Niclas [Olsson, keyboardist in Alyson Avenue] and I are always meeting, since he owns the studio where I’ve been doing some work. They asked me a while ago if I wanted to be the singer in Alyson again; I said that of course, I would like to but that at this time I have to focus on my solo career.
Alyson Avenue started when we were very young; I was only 17 at the time. We struggled with the band for so many years and we did two albums. I think we could have made it much bigger; we all have such a great connection that I’m pretty sure that at some point we will do it.

MB: Since your departure from Nightwish you’ve been portrayed as a diva who just threw a temper tantrum and left the band. Do you think that kind of coverage has been the exception or the norm?
A: It was really hard for me. You can always say “No Comment”, and say nothing about what happened, or you can open your mouth, as I have done. It was really hard for me to decide if I should say something or if I should keep quiet. But I felt that in order for me to move on I needed to tell my story. I also knew that there would be a lot of hate and negativity directed toward me; I can feel that many people do hate me because I have told people my truth. At first people were a bit more negative, but since then it has been less and less of that.
I hope that now it can become more about me and Shine. I know there’s some negative PR, but people who know me would say it’s a big laugh, me being called a diva. I just hope that all the negativity will fade away quite soon so we can all move on.

MB: Thank you very much for taking the time today, it has been a pleasure. Congratulations on the new record and I hope to see you on tour soon!
A: 
You’re very welcome. See you soon!

Olzon Interview 2

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Considered by his mother as the brightest and prettiest boy, J's interest in metal started in his early teens, listening to bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica (coupled with an embarrassing period in which Marilyn Manson "totally represents me, man") eventually moving into the realm of power, black, and death metal. He holds a PhD in law, trains martial arts, practices law, and enjoys coming up with excuses as to why he has to miss work after going to a concert. He also dabbles as a concert photographer, you can see his sub-par work on his instagram.