Tarja: “These shows are emotional, rocking, and I am sure we are going to have an amazing time together!” (6/14 at TLA)

Next Friday, June 23rd, will mark the release of the self-titled debut LP from Outlanders, the project of Finnish symphonic metal legend Tarja Turunen (best known simply as Tarja)...

Next Friday, June 23rd, will mark the release of the self-titled debut LP from Outlanders, the project of Finnish symphonic metal legend Tarja Turunen (best known simply as Tarja) and German EDM producer and composer Torsten Stenzel.  The album, which is more than a decade in the making, features 12 original tracks, with guitar contributions from legends like Trevor Rabin (YES), Marty Friedman, and Bumblefoot.  However, this Wednesday, June 14th, Tarja kicks off the Living the Dream Tour right here at Theatre of Living Arts.  The 12-date US trek is in support of last year’s Best of: Living the Dream LP.  The album is a celebration of Tarja’s first decade-and-a-half as a solo artist, compiling the best-known tracks and personal favorites from her six rock studio albums.  I recently got a chance to chat with Tarja, who tells me about how the touring of Living the Dream has been going, the origins and history of Outlanders, and some of the highlights of her time as a solo artist.

Izzy Cihak: You’re just about to kick off the Living the Dream Tour right here in Philadelphia.  What can be expected of the tour, in regards to setlist, production, and just the general feel of the evening?

Tarja Turunen: I am super excited to get back to the US and have the chance to come to sing for you people.  I miss my fans there!  The musicians coming along with me are the ones that I have been touring several years with in my rock shows, including Doug Wimbish from Living Colour in bass, (Your own son :)) Alex Scholpp guitars, Julian Barrett guitars, Alex Holzwarth drums, and Christian Kretschmar in keyboards.  The show is exactly the same as we are taking it to the rest of the world.  The set list includes songs from all of the albums from my solo career, as I am celebrating my career with these “best of”-shows.  These shows are emotional, rocking, and I am sure we are going to have an amazing time together!

Izzy: The majority of your touring seems to take place in Europe, in addition to South America and Central America.  Are there any US cities or venues that you’re especially excited to return to, or where you just have especially good memories?

Tarja: I am always very happy to return to New York City.  I love the feeling of the city itself and my shows there have been wonderful experiences.  The venue Irving Plaza is also a venue where I played a sold out show a few years ago, so it’s a huge pleasure to go back there again.  But it’s going to be my first time in Philadelphia, so for this opportunity I am very grateful!

Izzy: You’re going to be on tour with Armored Dawn, who I also enjoy.  How did you get connected with them, and what are your thoughts on their music?

Tarja: There has been a change in support band.  The band supporting me this time will come from Switzerland and is called Chaoseum.  They played with me a few times in the past and I really like them.

Izzy: This tour has you playing a lot of rock clubs and theaters, but you also play a lot of major festivals on a pretty regular basis.  How does the experience of playing a relatively intimate club compare to performing at a huge festival?  Do you approach each setting differently?

Tarja: I have been very lucky to experience huge arenas, theaters, opera houses, festivals, intimate clubs, etc. during my versatile career.  Every venue brings a different kind of feeling with it naturally and I can absorb all that as an artist, so I feel very privileged, actually.  As I am also having lots of activities with classical music and other styles, for example I have been singing with a symphonic orchestra many times, my production preparation is different depending on the event and the venues.  Singing wise, I need to be in good singing and physical condition to be able to go through all the touring without getting sick and tired and that goes with all kinds of tours I am doing.  I love being in front of a big festival crowd, since I feel it’s always an opportunity for us artists to perform for masses that not necessarily have come only to see your show but other bands as well.  But I also love to perform in an intimate theatre or club for my own audience.  There is actually nothing better than that.  The love that I am getting from my fans is incredible and I cherish every moment with them.

Izzy: This is a big question but, considering you’ve been a solo artist for more than 15 years now, what have been a few of the personal highlights of that time writing, recording, and performing your own music?  You’ve achieved many awards and accolades, but I imagine there have also been a lot of experiences and interactions that have stood out as being especially meaningful.

Tarja: The whole fact that I have been able to build and maintain an international solo career during these amazing years, I feel is a personal success to me.  I love music, maybe more than ever still today.  I can fulfill my dreams with it, get rid of my sorrows with it, and have fun with it.  What else can I ask?  My goal truly is to be able to make people happy with my voice and music, that’s what I am trying to do.  When I see my audience celebrating, crying tears of joy, and having fun in my shows, that’s the best gift I can get.

Izzy: In addition to this US tour, your Outlanders project with Torsten Stenzel is also set to release your debut LP later this month, which has been in the works for quite some time.  How do you feel like this music, with a famous EDM producer and composer, compares to your other work?  I know the two of you have worked together in the past, as well.

Tarja: Back in 2005, I was invited to co-write and sing the song “Tired of Being Alone” with the German electronic artist Schiller for his album, Tag und Nacht.  I enjoyed the challenge and its outcome very much since electronic music was a new field for me.  I loved this different world of sounds I was getting myself into for the first time.

Inspired by Alan Parson’s electronic album A Valid Path, especially by the songs “Return to Tunguska” and “L’Arc en Ciel,” where David Gilmour plays the guitar, I realized that I should do something with that same vibe.  When I started to check what truly exists around, I found several electronic music projects done with guitars and others with vocals, but the combination of these three elements — the voice, guitars, and electronic background — I didn’t come across.  So, I decided that I wanted to try it myself.

I knew my friend Torsten would be just perfect for the project because he had been working with electronic music all his life and his knowledge in that field is incredible.  We are friends and it felt like a great thing to do together as a friendship project.  It’s been a wonderful learning experience for me and a project without any pressure on my shoulders.

Izzy: Have you had any favorite reactions to these songs so far?  You’ve been releasing singles from the album for quite some time now.

Tarja: My fans are actually really open minded people with a deep understanding towards my career.  They have been supporting my activities within different musical styles ever since I became known as a singer.  They know me as a whole and know that my interests in music don’t lie only in heavy metal, but in music in general.  The ones that have discovered the music of Outlanders, have given us incredibly positive feedback.  They have been surprised about how the songs are so different from each other.  It’s an album that makes you feel good, as we have really focused on that.  I wanted to create an album that could ease the mind of its listener.  I hope it does that.

Izzy: Can we expect more from Outlanders in the future, whether just in the form of new music, or possibly some live dates?

Tarja: I cannot close the door from touring with Outlanders, even though I know that it would be very challenging to find the time and the perfect guitar player for it.  I am curious though and it has always been on my mind to make some shows with this project.  Anyways, I am writing new songs for Outlanders, so hopefully our debut album won’t be the only one you’ll get to hear from us.

Izzy: The album’s most recent single, “A Peaceful Place (Return To The Oasis),” features Walter Giardino, who plays on a few other album tracks, as well.  How was working with him, and how did this particular track come about?

Tarja: As for the last single for Outlanders before the album release, I was happy to revisit my own “Oasis,” the very first song that I personally wrote and that got released back in the days, which makes the song very close to my heart.

With Outlanders, the song is reborn as we managed to take it to a different place which I could have never imagined when I composed it just with my piano 16 years ago.  I also decided to write English lyrics to make it special for Outlanders (The original has Finnish lyrics.)

I have known Walter for a very long time.  When I started with Outlanders I was living in Argentina, and I needed a world class guitar player that could understand what we wanted to achieve.  Walter is a very well-known rock guitarist.  He can play fast and with great technique, but I have also seen a different side of him, playing very melodic and tastefully outstanding solos.  I wasn’t sure he was going to be up for my proposal, as it seemed so far away from his style, but I was sure he was the right player to be able to do what I was thinking of.  He did an amazing job.

Izzy: You also recently released a really cool official visualizer for the song.  What is it that inspired the concept behind the visuals?  Did they just feel like a natural companion to the sounds themselves?

Tarja: The island of Antigua in the Caribbean has been the inspiration for Outlanders in general.  Most of the song writing, recordings, photos for artworks and visualizers have been done there.  It is a beautiful, tranquil place where I used to travel between my tours to rest and to create.

Instead of focusing all the efforts into 1 or 2 videos to promote the first singles, we decided to film images for all the songs recorded for Outlanders.

The main reason was for us to be able to show you the beautiful island of Antigua.

These videos are colorful mood captures of the island without any script or story behind them, deprived from any postproduction, and not meant to be understood as music videos.  We call them visualizers.  It is nice to listen to music while you have an image synchronized with it, so I hope these visualizers will help people to discover our music while at the same time the unspoiled, natural paradise, Antigua.

Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you, whether relating to your solo work, Outlanders, or anything else you have going on?

Tarja: Lots of concerts ahead of me during this and next year with Living the Dream — and Christmas tours — but I am also preparing my forthcoming rock album in the meantime.  I am currently writing songs for it and hoping to start the production early next year.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.