By Vladimir Yonchev
Published on 25 March 2013
Plamen Dimov of Bulgaria is the music teacher of the original Nightwish members, the person who got them hooked to rock music and brought them together. It was him who taught Tarja, Tuomas, Emppu and Jukka music and led their first rehearsals. And even now he is among their closest people.
Plamen Dimov gave the interview in june 2012 when he last returned to Bulgaria and played Nightwish songs in a tribute concert in a club in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.
This is the first time the interview has been published.
We know that Kitee is a small town, but owing to Nightwish it is now probably the best-known corner of Finland. Will you tell us what this town is like?
Kitee is a really small town. 26 years ago, when I moved there, it had a population of 14,000. Now, it is merely 9,000-10,000. This is the same trend witnessed in all small towns around the globe – population is shifting to bigger centres. It is also a very scenic place located on a lake. There are some 300,000 lakes in Finland and it is on a scenic lake.
How did you happen to go there?
I went there in 1984. I was with a band, Trio, in Norway at the time and we got a contract for Kitee, Finland. I started looking up this Kitee town on the map. As soon as I found it, I told the boys we were not going there, as it was near the Russian border. But things turned out in such a way that we went there, I met my (then future) wife and so on.
And in Bulgaria, which band did you play with?
First I played with Montana Band and later with Trio Alibi – both of them based in the Southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv.
I suppose there is just one school in Kitee and all Nightwish members knew each other from that school?
There is a comprehensive school, high school, college, folk school. There are four different types of schools.
Four schools for 9,000 people?
Yes, they target different groups of people. There is a school that provides support for underprivileged, disadvantaged people who have lost hope in life. They receive accommodation and a chance to get education – the state supports them. Then, there is a comprehensive school, a high school.
Whom of Nightwish members did you meet first? I guess Tuomas Holopainen– he is the oldest?
Yes, it was Tuomas. Our families were close and I noticed that the boy was the most extraordinary off all I knew at the time.
I suppose he was 8-9 years old when you met him.
He was 10 or 11. He was a dreamer. Looking into his eyes, you could see that the boy desired to create a world of his own. And he did so – music of his own, a band of his own. Even his latest album Imaginaerum is a pun. Tuomas’s idea was to title it Imaginarium. Unfortunately, this is the brand of a Spanish toy chain. And the title was changed in order to avoid any multimillion claims.
Tell us about Tarja. How did she turn up?
A friend of mine brought Tarja to me. If you search in YouTube ‘Plamen Dimov Tarja’, you will find a video of her singing a Michael Jackson cover. I think she was 13 or 14 years old then. When I saw her, she was 11. This friend of mine, a music teacher, brought her and said: “Look at this, it is something extraordinary!” Tarja and I sang a song and I jokingly asked: “Look, there is a song, the Greatest Love of All, with very challenging English, but can you sing it?” And she sang the song very accurately. I am not saying flawlessly, but in tune, like a child. Surprised, I asked her “Why don’t you sing out of tune?” And she looked at me and was startled, thinking she was supposed to sing out of tune, and Tarja never sings out of tune.
Tarja probably looked very different from what she is now, didn’t she?
Yes, of course. Watching that video in YouTube, you will see how different she was. Naturally, we are very different from when we were children. We change as we grow or put on weight.
There is something vague about the creation of Nightwish – was it Tuomas and Emppu together? Where exactly were they – on the shore of a lake? They are said to have intended to establish an acoustic folk band but it turned out something different. Can you give us some details?
The idea came from Tuomas. They were three friends who also played in my projects. They went to an island opposite Kitee where they set a fire and Tuomas told them: “Let’s set up a band, called Nightwish.” The band was supposed to be half-acoustic, performing slow, lyrical music, but since Tuomas is a poet... He first has his vision, ideas, then he is a poet, he is also a musician, he can orchestrate and nail down things. Every Nightwish song you hear – not a single superfluous tone or place, everything fits as part of a mechanism, order. There is no chaos. This is when the idea was born, he told the boys...
And who were the boys?
Jukka and Emppu (Jukka Antero “Julius” Nevalainen is the drummer and Erno “Emppu” Matti Juhani Vuorinen is the guitarist of Nightwish)
And how did they find Tarja? Did they know each other before that?
Yes, they did. They played together. If you check Tuomasholopainen.com, there is a big interview I gave. There is also a video showing Tuomas playing the saxophone with my band.
So you, at the time you were teaching, had your own band and they played in it, didn’t they?
Yes, it was called Braz Band. In fact, Tuomas, Jukka, Emppu played in it. Their repertory included Chameleon, Herbie Hancock, Birdland – we played jazz.
How weird, who would have imagined that Nightwish was born from jazz?
Yes. The first CDs we made – I have several of them – they cost to the tune of €200. I do not put tags – a fan rings and asks about a CD and I say I cannot name a price. And so, I last sent a CD to Melbourne.
They were all around me. I knew them, I knew Tarja. We had played for 3-4 years with Emppu, Jukka, Tuomas and Tarja. Then in 1997, they recorded their first CD, Angels Fall First. At the time, it was only four of them. Emppu played the bass and the guitar – they did not have a bassist. Then, Samppa Hirvonen joined them but later was conscripted into the army. Next, it was Sami Vanska. He played for some time and recorded two CDs. And then Marco Hietala came – the great arrival for Nightwish from out of Kitee.
Which album do you have the greatest influence on?
I had influenced the most Oceanborn where I am the entire orchestra. There were other people but they left. Tuomas and I did the entire orchestration without a single note. Tuomas played and I followed on the violin. The album is Oceanborn – one of the finest in the history of Nightwish. Back then, they were 21-22 years old.
This album is very strange. Tarja says of it that it was the most difficult because Tuomas kept making her re-sing again and again until the outcome matched what was inside his head. And it was very different from what she imagined. Tarja often says she did not listen to rock music as a child. What sort of music did she listen to then? What is the atmosphere in a town like Kitee? What type of music do youth, children listen to?
My father says that if I go Greenland, after three years grass will be growing there, too. I changed the atmosphere in this town, turned it upside down. Tuomas and I were the making of this town. It is not any more famous then Nokia now, but two years ago, I got an invitation from then-President of Finland Tarja Halonen. And when I went there, I told her: “I have not brought you brown bread or pontikkamoonshine, but I have brought you eight CDs of Finland greatest exports at the moment – Nightwish from our village.” And she replied: “Cut that stuff. I know who you are.” A photo can be seen in Facebook, in which I am presenting the eight CDs, six of them platinum.
I would also like to ask you about the most widely discussed and discomfiting topic – Why did the boys and Tarja go different ways? Is Tarja tricky to get on with – I am under the impression that she is pretty agreeable. Was there anything else?
Whenever I have been interviewed, I have always said good things of Tarja because I get on well with her even though we are not regularly in touch. I cannot say anything unfavourable of Tarja – she is a great artist, a professional, with a unique style combining rock and classical music that she has managed to establish. This style has been invented by Tarja, it is unmatched. But there are five members in Nightwish, no room for a sixth person – neither Tuomas’s mother, nor Emppu’s father, nor Tarja’s lover. When decisions are taken, they are aken by the five of them. If a sixth person interferes, things change and flop! – the way they flopped in the band. This is the truth about Nightwish.
Is there any chance of them to reunite?
I don’t think so.
Has the divide become so wide?
Yes, but they would not even talk about these things.
Is it a strong sense of solidarity within the band? To an outsider, Tuomas seems too strong a personality to sit down and talk things over with Emppu and Jukka.
Tuomas is noble, a gentleman. When they were kids, playing, if you took his toy, he would hand you another. He is a wonderful person.
And what are the rest like?
Tuomas is a thinker. Emppu is like quicksilver, all over the place, smiling, charming. Jukka is very fast. He used to play on our baseball team and was one of the fastest in Finland. He is sound, a nice guy.
How long did they spend rehearsing? How does a 14-15-year-old boy or girl spend time in Finland? I have the feeling that in the winter it is dark until 10 am and then at 4 pm it gets dark again.
Well, it does not have much effect. Or it does probably, psychologically, mentally, some people get depressed. But Nightwish were constantly in the studio, playing all the time. Tuomas is a unificator and inspired everybody to believe in that thing. I have repeatedly stated it. And even when they chose Anette, I sent a text: “Any above-average vocalist is a star by your side.” Because Tuomas does all the work. Tuomas is an ingenious young composer. I listen to a very different type of music, but I am also a person who plays jazz, jazz-rock and I respect and play and enjoy heavy metal. This is young people’s protest today. The times are no longer as romantic as when we were young. Nowadays, entire countries are dying because of our greed.
Do you have a hand in any of the compositions of Nightwish?
No, this is entirely an area of their own. I do not compose for Nightwish, but in Oceanborn, if you listen to it, there are plenty of things I have said or suggested.
And did you tell them of Bulgaria?
Yes, of course. And when we recorded the second album together – Play That Funky Humpa Music in 1996 – that was the first album the four then-future Nightwish members contributed to – I wrote that it was devoted to the Bulgarian prophet Vanga. She died at that time. And they asked me who she was and I told them that she had the ability to foretell. People in the North are quite disbelieving of those things whereas in the South we believe more. I brought 20 CDs to Vanga’s St. Petka church. Boris Christoff (a Bulgarian opera singer and one of the greatest basses of the 20th century) had also brought music there even before me.
And do you keep in touch with the band members now?
Yes. Even now, while I was driving from Belgrade, Emppu had a birthday and we had a talk. When I return to Finland in July, they will have a big show and I will probably see Tuomas.