Nightwish‘s songwriter and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen came up with an idea of reinterpreting Don Rosa‘s comic book story The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck back in 1999, but it took him almost 15 years to carry that idea out on an album. Besides Tuomas himself, the record features few guest musicians including Sonata Arctica‘s Tony Kakko, Nightwish‘s Troy Donockley, Alan Reid, Mikko Livanainen, Johanna Kurkela and Johanna Livanainen, as well as Pip Williams handling the orchestral arrangements. The album also features creative output by Don Rosa as well, who designed the artwork.
The album will be released via Nuclear Blast Records starting from April 11 (Europe), followed by April 14 in UK and France, and April 15 in North America. Holopainen is currently busy with working on a new Nightwish record, but he answered the questionnaire related for the Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck album.
Do you remember the moment when you got the book The Life and times of Scrooge McDuck and read it for the first time?
It would have been right after the release – 1995, 1996 – but some of those stories were already published in the Finnish Donald Duck magazine beforehands. So I read those. But for the first time when I read all the chapters in chronological order, that would’ve been 1996, I think. Three years later, it was in the fall of ’99 I had the original idea to paint the story with music one day. And actually the first person I ever told about this idea was Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica, because he is an equally big Don Rosa fan as I am. And he said “Yeah, it’s a really cool idea. If you ever do that, please ask me to join.” And that has happened now.
What is it that makes this book that special for you?
I’ve grown up with Disney comics since I was like two years old. The Disney films and the whole world have always been really important part of my life, especially Carl Barks. Then Don Rosa came along in the beginning of the 90′s and totally blew me away. Especially this particular book. Ever since then it has been my, probably my all time favorite fictional story. It is my desert island book.
How did you go about developing the idea of releasing a concept album about The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck?
It’s pretty much as simple as this. Whenever I read those stories I hear music. I hear different melodies and instruments really, really strongly. Because, the book itself is rather cinematic. So I just thought it would be a cool idea to let all that music come out and see what happens, how would it sound like on a CD. And also, fancied the idea of maybe being the first one to ever write a soundtrack to a graphic novel. I don’t think it’s been done before.
Did you have a clear vision how to turn the story into music?
Well naturally it develops a little bit while writing. I mean, the original idea for this album was to be purely instrumental and much more ambient. At some point during the songwriting I realized that maybe I should add some lyrics, some human voices. Even a few choruses here and there, like the more traditional song structures – to make the whole album a bit more accessible. And interesting.
When did you start working on the record? How long did it take you to complete it?
It would have been about a year ago. We had a break from the Nightwish tour, after Australia and before the summer festivals. I was at home for about four, five months and that’s where I did most of my songwriting and lyric writing.
How does the story of the book reflect on the music?
Well, it was a fascinating idea because when you read the book – he goes all around the world twice. And he has his adventures on the Scottish islands, in the wild west, in Australia and in Africa. So, the potential to use different ethnic elements, sounds, instruments was huge. And that’s something that I really loved. We have a didgeridoo on one of the songs, we have the Scottish instrument, the Celtic vibe. We have the Ennio Morricone styled wild west in a track no. 2 – Into the West. So, it was just a really fascinating rollercoaster writing on the world, and so much fun to do.
For the orchestral arrangements you worked again with Pip Williams, with whom you worked previously on the past three Nightwish albums. What was his reaction when you approached him with the idea of this project?
He was quite enthusiastic from the beginning, but he hadn’t read the book. So, the first thing I sent him the book and said “Read it through, tell me what you think.” And he read it, he understood immediately what I was going after. And he was really excited from the beginning. I mean, we are talking about quite a marginal project here and to people who are not into this book, who don’t know who Don Rosa is. It might sound really farfetched, even naive so to say. But then again, if you think about the concept of the Lord of the Rings, it’s equally childish, it’s children’s book so to say, but people don’t think that way. So, leave your prejudices aside and give it a try.
Another important person for bringing this album to life is, of course, Don Rosa himself. Explain how did you approach him regarding the album and how he became the part of the whole project.
I believe it was back in 2010. He was promoting one of his books in Finland and I got a chance to meet him after the press conference in Helsinki for about five minutes. And I told him about this idea of mine, he listened to me very politely . I gave him a Nightwish CD and that was it. I don’t think he took it seriously and I don’t blame him. But then two years later I emailed him, told him “This thing is actually gonna happen. I have the studios booked and I have some of the songs ready, and I would love for you to draw the cover artwork.” And he said “Yeah, I can try but I haven’t done anything since 2006. Are you sure you want me to do it?” And I told “Absolutely, because this project is just screaming your name.” And then he came up with the most beautiful artwork for the cover. He even gave me some of his original sketches for the CD layout and for the music video that nobody has seen before. I was really privileged by that and then he also flew over to Finland to shoot the music video for the song A Lifetime of the Adventure with us. So, wow that was quite a fanboy moment for me.
What is the connection between Don Rosa and you like?
Well, we email each other every now and then. He is gonna fly over in April for the album release party in Helsinki. We’re gonna do a signing session and some promotion, and just celebrate the album release together. We are still in touch.
One of the guest singers is Tony Kakko, a long-time friend of you. What is his part in the story?
He doesn’t have an actual character, he is just a story teller in one of the songs called Cold Heart of the Klondike. The other three singers, they all have parts. Alan Reid – he is singing the part of Scrooge himself, then there is Johanna Kurkela who is singing the part of Glittering Goldie, and Johanna Livanainen doing the voice of Scrooge’s mother and his sister. But Tony is just an outside story teller, so to say.
There are three more amazing singers on the album: Alan Reid and two girls named Johanna. Can you introduce them?
How I chose these particular guest musicians and singers for this album was that I just brought my closest friends and then we did this album together. That was the philosophy behind it. I mean, Pip Williams, Troy Donockley, both Johanna‘s, Mikko Livanaien on the guitar and banjo – they all are my best friends and it was just a lovely idea of bringing them all together and doing this thing together. Something that I would definitely love to do in the future.
A Lifetime of Adventure is the first single off the album. Why did you choose this song in particular as the album’s single?
This is the only song on the whole album with an actual structure. There isn’t really any other song that you could do a single release from. I think that there are three songs with the chorus on the whole album, and this song has a clear beginning, clear end, there are verses, there’s the chorus. So it was the only and obvious choice for the single.
Buy The Life and Times of Scrooge here.