Interview with Auri — “Both albums come from the same place and the same emotions.”

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Summer is long last gone and grey skies, rain, and cold wind have taken over. Not only is it time to get your teapots out of the pantry, buy those marshmallows to put in your hot chocolates, but autumn also means the perfect mood and atmosphere for a new AURI album… or at least that’s what the people at Nuclear Blast must have thought. The trio is going to release their sophomore album, II – Those We Don’t Speak Of on September 3rd, 2021. We had the opportunity to chat with Tuomas Holopainen and Johanna Kurkela about the upcoming release. Watch the video here or read the complete interview below…

First of all, thank you so much for doing this promo day today. How are you both doing?

Johanna: Great. I mean we’re enjoying the summer weather and keeping a positive outlook because that’s very important.

Tuomas: That’s the most important thing, amidst all this bizarreness… you have to stay optimistic about the future because this is not going to last forever, things are going to get back to normal at some point. You just have to find something constructive to do so we don’t get bored, and that’s the thing we’ve been doing for the past year and a half with some really fantastic results.

Yes, you’ve both been very busy with creating music, both NIGHTWISH and ALTAMULLAN ROAD have released a new album in the past year and a half. Now, AURI is releasing its sophomore album. How are you looking forward to the release of the new album?

Tuomas: It’s about time. We’ve been sitting on this album for nearly a year. It was mixed already in October last year.

Johanna: It’s been a long way.

Tuomas: But for some reason, the record label thought that this album sounds more like autumn than spring. So they were really adamant that it should be postponed until September to be released. We were like okay, whatever.

Did you guys have plenty of freedom to work on your albums, one by one? You had your ALTAMULLAN ROAD album out last year and then AURI this year? Was there any trouble getting things out or was it a nice, steady release stream for you?

Johanna: Really well. Really smooth flow, actually.

Tuomas: Nothing was overlapping. The minds were busy all the time creating something new, but there was never any stress. Especially AURI, for me, represents the ultimate musical freedom. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, with these people. So the last thing you want AURI to become is full of schedules, and that’s not the case. But like you said, it’s really important, it was really important that when the lockdown started that we made [ourselves busy]. We actually made a list of things, so we don’t get bored, that we can do now so that we would keep our minds busy enough. So the first thing then was the AURI album, then DARKWOORDS MY BETROTHED, renovate the house, paint the house, all that sort of thing.

The album’s title is “II – Those We Don’t Speak Of”; the first thing that came to my mind was the psychological thriller “The Village” and its soundtrack. That specific song has a similar vibe too, so I was wondering if it was somehow a homage to the composer? Or how did you come up with it?

Tuomas: The song was written completely by Johanna, actually.

Johanna: It was just a fun little moment that I had. I had actually discovered a keyboard sound, I was just fiddling around with different sounds and I found this… well, I thought it said “strangers,” the sound. Later on, I figured out it actually said “singers,” but at the time, the word “strangers” instantly sparked my imagination, so the music came, and then the story came. It was just a fun little moment, it was just supposed to be a bit of fun, just a scary bedtime story if you will. When I played it to the guys, it was almost like a joke, “well I made this sort of little thing, I don’t know if it makes the album, but…”

Tuomas: It’s an oxymoron if you think about it… “Those We Don’t Speak Of” and then we speak about them in the song anyway.

Johanna: It’s a fun little thing anyway, you can go and look at it as a nightmarish, really awful, scary thing, or you can kind of find different layers and marvel at the mind how it weaves these amazing things for us.

Tuomas: It’s a brilliant little tune. I personally never saw it as an opening up the album. I would have put it somewhere in the middle, like a watershed on the album. But then it was Troy actually, who said this needs to be number one because it’s a lovely introduction for the journey to come at the album. As usual, he was right.

It’s definitely one of the darkest things you have written so far. If you compare the new album to the first one, I feel that – except for the two singles – the album as a whole sounds a bit darker? What do you guys think about the sound?

Johanna: I don’t think we really think much about it. We just let the music come and then we just look at it, “well, this is what we made.” There are some darker shades for sure but then again there was “Savant” [on the first album].

Tuomas: Music is great because it’s always sort of subjective for their makers and the listeners as well. When I think about the first album, songs like you mentioned “Savant” or “Underthing Solstice,” they are, to me, quite dark. On this album, songs like “The Duty of Dust,” “Those We Don’t Speak Of,” or “Scattered to the Four Winds,” even “Fireside Bard,” the ending of that song is quite dark, so I don’t know. Both of the albums have their lighter and darker moments.

Johanna: We never plan ahead.

Tuomas: Never ever. That’s the freedom that I was just talking about. AURI needs to be pure freedom, no conflict, no egos, no restraints, and we have to give credit to the record label, again, to Nuclear Blast. They never ever asked us about any samples or demos or anything. They just say that to the album, master it, deliver us the master copy and that’s it. That’s pretty rare.

Do you guys think that you were in a different place at all when this album was written? Were you in a happier place or a sadder place, or a more frustrating place? Is there any emotional difference in the creation of this album compared to the last?

Johanna: I mean we did start to write new material back in 2018 when we released the first album. Right after that, I started writing new songs for AURI. So it’s been what? Three years or two years? Even before that. I think the first album really gave us a playground, something tangible, like now we finally have this world.

Tuomas: Absolutely. I don’t really see much difference emotion-wise, I think both albums come from the same place and [come from] the same emotions. Maybe the biggest difference was that when we were doing the debut album, it still felt more like a project, but doing this album, it feels more like a cohesive band that actually has a long future [ahead], hopefully.

Upon scrolling through some comments on one of your YouTube videos, someone commented that they thought that AURI is essentially like escapism but recorded in music. To me, that’s exactly what your band feels like. I was wondering what your thoughts are about that?

Tuomas: Escapism recorded in music.

Johanna: It’s a great way of putting it.

Tuomas: Yeah, but then again, all music can be escapism, back to the thing of it being so subjective anyway. Most of the music that I listen to is escapism for me, it takes me places.

As a project, is writing music for AURI for you both a way to escape from daily life, for instance?

Johanna: I think it’s sort of a way to interpret everything that we see and feel just like with NIGHTWISH and every time we make music. But what’s different about AURI, I think that it’s such a novel thing. There aren’t many expectations, well not no expectations, but no box that we should fit in. There’s not a lot of history. I don’t think it ever really is down, in terms of what we have to do next, because we always kind of live in the moment and stay true to what feels right.

Tuomas: Sure thing. But if you compare AURI with NIGHTWISH, they come from the same place, but the dynamic is pretty different. NIGHTWISH has 25 years of history behind it, AURI is a novelty. And I’m super thrilled about the idea of starting from scratch. To be able to do a tour with AURI where we play like for 50 or 100 people in pubs, churches, small concert halls, theater stages, it’s just an exhilarating thought and I hope it happens at some point.

Troy had promised last time that you guys would do a tour of the saunas of Finland.

Johanna: Oh really? [laughs]

Tuomas: Yeah, why not?

I guess the smallest gig you’ve recently done is the one with Nevsky and the Prospects, the not-so-secret NIGHTWISH show. How was that experience for you to perform for a bit of a smaller audience, more casual?

Tuomas: I love it, the size of the venue or the crowd doesn’t really matter. Not at all. So it was just good fun. Old school feeling really.

One essential difference with the last album is that this time the percussion parts were taken care of by Kai Hahto, rather than Frank Van Essen. Why the change and what did Kai bring, in your opinion, to the sound of AURI?

Johanna: Wow, I forget how we ended up using Kai?

Tuomas: I think the original idea was that since the first album was recorded and mixed in England, the photos were taken in England. So let’s go to Finland, this time and take all the promotional photos in Finland, use as much Finnish personnel and musicians as possible. That’s why Tero Kinnunen recorded and mixed the album. That’s why Kai played the drums, Juho Kanervo for the bass, etc. So, the first one is English, this one Finnish, next album… wherever.

Johanna: Who knows… [laughs]

Were there any other things in the process that changed for you due to changing the location?

Tuomas: Well this time we actually took the promotional photos afterwards, not before the actual recording as we did on the video. [Other than that], not really. I mean, corona didn’t really change the way we work at all.

Did it actually give you some more ideas to do the photoshoot afterwards so that you could visualize precisely what you wanted to in the photos?

Johanna: We had a better idea of what the world was because the music was done.

Tuomas: Yeah, that’s true. The album is very campfirey, thus some campfirey photos, but also it was just the plain fact that we couldn’t fly Troy over earlier, even though we would have wanted to, because of the restrictions.

For the previous album, you also had this really beautiful short-film-type music video for “Night 13.” This time, you guys released lyric videos, but nothing large-scale. Is that a side effect of the pandemic?

Tuomas: If I recall correctly, it was due to the pandemic. It’s a bit too much hassle to start working on the music video and the budget was what it was, so we just decided to do two really nice lyric videos… works for us. I don’t see AURI really doing traditional music video of us dancing about and playing.

Johanna: But who knows, but yeah, for the time it’s right.

Tuomas: I think they’re both brilliant. “Pearl Diving,” the music video is wonderful, we’ve got Janne “ToxicAngel” Pitkänen to thank for that, and also “The Valley,” I was really positively surprised when the horses are galloping near the end, it makes me tear up.

Johanna: Same here.

Speaking of that song, the lyrics reminded me a little bit of Snufkin [Nuuskamuikkunen] from Moomin. Is there a sense of truth in that or just part of my imagination?

Tuomas: Yeah, it might be something to do with that. We love our Moomin books and the Spring Tune stories are probably my favorite together with the Magic Winter, there’s just something about the story that really captures the essence of the feeling of homecoming.

Johanna: Also songwriting.

Tuomas: …and songwriting, yeah. How delicate an issue is and when you’re writing songs, it’s a serious matter and you have to wait for… it’s right there to be taken, but you don’t want to rush it, you have to wait for the proper moment, and then somebody might come along and ruin the whole situation, ruin the whole moment – as happens in that novel – but the song is not merely about Snufkin and the Spring Tune, it’s a very ambiguous lyric about these themes that I just mentioned. But well-spotted!

Is there any character from Moomin that you both identify with the most?

Johanna: Snufkin is one of them, for sure.

Tuomas: Snufkin by a mile. But also Moomin Mamma, she as a personality that we both aim to be someday.

Johanna: She’s my idol.

Tuomas: Yeah, but you are a bit like that.

Johanna: Thank you, that’s a great compliment.

Tuomas: You really are… the balance of her and the positivity and everything. What a role model.

We used to be two separate magazines, so when we had interviewed you last time as Musicalypse, you had talked about a really impressive solo done by someone called Joomba… the horse.

Johanna: I remember, yeah.

Tuomas: I think it’s become a thing for the AURI albums, there’s always a solo or a theme or something played by an animal. The first album, it was Joomba the horse, now it’s Vangelis, the cat. And next time it’s going to be…

Johanna: Dirk, the goat.

Tuomas: Dirk, the goat, playing the trumpet.

Are you willing to say which songs they participated in?

Tuomas: Joomba played his parts in “Savant” and Vangelis played in “Those We Don’t Speak Of,” both the darker songs.

In our last interview, you talked about Patrick Rothfuss obviously being a huge influence. Obviously, he hasn’t released anything new since then, so are there any other new inspirations you found literary or otherwise?

Tuomas: We’re both constantly inspired by things: books, films, people we meet, nature, and it happens every now and then that you get inspiration from a particular source like a book or a person, but that’s actually quite rare. Inspiration is more about having these experiences, letting them come in, and then they come out in the form of music.

Johanna: It really is like a melting pot, isn’t it? Like you could get an idea for a song from something, but then it kind of evolves into a thing of its own. So, it rarely is specifically anything or tied to a certain thing, it might start there with it, but then…

Tuomas: It becomes something completely different, melting pot is a good term to describe it. Lately, some big things… the movie Nomad Land, made a big impact on the both of us, so let’s see if that sparks, I don’t know.

Obviously, I kind of have to ask this, even though the future is so uncertain. Do you guys have any plans for the release? Are you preparing for a tour or something like that?

Tuomas: Well, in an ideal world, without the pandemic, we would start our tour in about two months. That was the original plan, to do November-December, but since everything is postponed and NIGHTWISH is still the priority, there are a lot of postponed shows that need to be done. So I think we’re going to do those hopefully this fall, but all 2022, for sure. So the tour is gonna have to wait a little while longer.

Johanna: The right time will come, like with this album, you never know, it might be sooner than later or later than sooner, who knows. Someday, for sure.

Tuomas: Maybe 2023, maybe 2025.

Johanna: Who knows, maybe we have the third album by then.

Do you think it’s actually more feasible to potentially do AURI shows than Nightwish shows, since they would theoretically have smaller, more intimate crowds?

Tuomas: All these rules, they are so illogical and insane that it’s impossible to say anything to that.

Johanna: These are weird times.

Tuomas: The new rules that were introduced yesterday for Finland just make absolutely zero sense.

Yeah, they’re quite complex. I don’t understand the rules here.

Tuomas: We’ll just have to wait and laugh our way through all this and stay positive.

I actually saw DRAGONFORCE in Semifinal. They were supposed to play in a bigger venue, but that place had a flooding issue. That venue is really small. Is that something you guys would be up for, playing in such small venues where local bands usually play?

Tuomas: Yeah, as long as there’s enough room for the band. It’s gonna be a six or seven-piece on stage live, so Semifinal… maybe. But also for this kind of music, it would be ideal to play special venues. What I mean by that is like castles, churches, cathedrals, outdoor venues, the Great Wall of China, whatever.

Johanna: Oh wow, yeah! Anything quirky and out of the ordinary.

Tuomas: Theater stages would be nice.

There’s a lot of little beautiful outdoor theater stages all kinds of around small places in Finland. You can really find some cool places to play if you were so inclined.

Tuomas: the British Isles as well, they’re full of those wonderful locations.

Johanna: Maybe a cave, somewhere. Oh! Merlin’s cave.

Tuomas: Sounds very AURI, doing these kinds of venues.

All right! That’s it for my questions. Thank you both so much for your time. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with your fans and other people who will read or watch this interview?

Johanna: We’re just really happy to finally share this second album with you all.

Tuomas: Yeah, it has been 11 months.

Johanna: I know!

Tuomas: …since it has been ready, so it makes us really excited. Now, finally, it’s going to see the daylight. And also like I’ve mentioned, one hunded times already, just stay positive amidst all this. This is not going to be for forever. Let’s take care of each other.

Johanna: Yeah, and thank you all so much!

Tuomas: Thank you.

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