Interview with Johanna Kurkela, Tuomas Holopainen and Troy Donockley by Carina Lawrence / Dark Art Conspiracy
Auri was born in 2011 when Nightwish’s keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley teamed up with Finnish singer Johanna Kurkela. They first unleashed their magical charms in the form of their debut self-titled album in 2018, which displayed their otherworldly sound that is hard to define in a tremendous sense. Now, fortunately, they are back to stun us again with their sophomore album, ‘Those We Don’t Speak Of’, which is out on the 3rd of September via Nuclear Blast. In a world full of chaos due to Covid-19, Auri is the perfect escape from the madness. We caught up with the creative trio to find out all about the new album.
Sorry I know you must get asked this all the time, but is it true that you got your band name from the character Auri of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle book? I’m a big fan of his books!
Tuomas: Well, that was the starting point, but it is much more ambiguous than that, and the word ‘auri’ in itself has multiple different meanings, so pick your choice.
Are the lyrics inspired by Patrick Rothfuss and other fantasy books also?
Johanna: Well, we do love his books, but we love many books, it’s just one we draw inspiration from, but there’s a myriad of other things as well that makes the sound and world of Auri.
How did Auri come to form in 2011? What about that time made it a good time?
Troy: Me and Johanna worked together on some music, and Johanna was about to make a new album, and I was going to be involved in that. I wrote a song for Johanna. I don’t know why or what for (laughs) but I wrote this song ‘Aphrodite Rising’, and Johanna and Tuomas were over at my place and we recorded it and we loved working on it, then as we travelled and went further basically all three of us expressed the inevitable that we wanted to work together outside of our usual but we also both me and Tuomas were big fans of Johanna’s voice and Johanna, in turn, was a big fan of what we were up to. It was a match made in some strange star system. It was there. It was always there, so then it started to propel itself.
How happy were you with how the debut Auri album was received and the response from the fans?
Johanna: I love it. It came out, unlike anything I have ever done. It’s a representation of us three and who we are as friends and people. You can hear the love we have for each other.
I haven’t heard anything like it either. It sounds so magical, like a fairy tale and takes you to a fantasy world.
Tuomas: The fact that in this day in time that it is like nothing before is a huge compliment and achievement, which I don’t take lightly, so thank you.
I think if you can’t define something easily, you have got something good.
Troy: Yeah, that to me is mission accomplished. This album was a huge success for us, and also it’s a time capsule for us. The making of it and its experience was the beginning, and it was an experience that cannot be repeated. All we can do is embellish it moving forward and in the next twenty-seven Auri albums.
There’s going to be more then?
Troy: That’s what we intend to do. One album every five years. It’s going to be splendid.
So, moving onto the new album, how did you come up with the new album title, ‘Those We Don’t Speak Of’? What does it mean to you?
Johanna: Well, it’s a mystery. I see it as just a fun, scary little bedtime story that is a great wake up call for the listener to usher into the rest of the album.
Troy: I just love how Johanna downplays that. It’s seriously strange and open to a bizarre interpretation. This, again, is one of the tenets of Auri is that we don’t explain anything really because we don’t want to spoil the effect. It’s like saying, “Did you see the film Titanic”? Then like “Yeah, the ship sunk!” we don’t want to spoil it for everyone. We want people to make up their own minds. So ‘Those We Don’t Speak Of’ we like to say well we don’t speak of them.
The title track ‘Those We Don’t Speak Of’ has quite a haunting and eerie feel to it, compared to some of the other tracks. Can you tell us a bit about the song in particular, or again can you not really speak of this?
Tuomas: Nothing is ever intentional about music. The last thing we ever want to do is sit around the table together and ponder what the album should sound like, should it have a theme, should we use those instruments, none of that nonsense ever. I mean, the songs just come out of somewhere. You are inspired by a certain moment in life, book, film or another human and then just keep your mind completely free. That is how the songs are born, and that’s what keeps music still so interesting to us. We don’t know why audio frequencies make us feel the way we do. It’s like the biggest magic trick in the universe. The same applies to writing songs. Where do you get that idea? Why does this song sound like that? I honestly can’t say.
Johanna: It’s really fascinating.
Troy: Originally, the plan was just to call ‘Auri 2’, but it was provocative, ‘Those We Don’t Speak Of’ looked aesthetically good. The mystery of it and the fact that we chose to open the album with it, it’s not your typical album opener, you know it’s not all fireworks and all guns blazing, it’s none of that it just creeps into you, it sets the scene, the trip for the journey. It’s kind of that map that the listener is given, ‘Those We Don’t Speak Of’, and those evocative words, and that takes you to the end of the trip, which is ‘Fireside Bard’, which is an old man singing his song.
What was the writing and recording process like for the new album? Was it more challenging to create this during a pandemic than previously?
Troy: The absolute same as the first album. We worked in the same way. It was easy for us; the pandemic was irrelevant. It expedited our schedules, so we had free time.
From the sound of the album, your creativity was not affected by covid at all. I imagine just a great escape from it all?
Tuomas: It didn’t really affect, for the better or worse, didn’t affect my creativity at all.
Troy: I mean, I’m expecting a slew of bands albums that are really miserable through the pandemic, with really negative conspiracy theory lyrics, and Auri is the antidote. We work in like the Eden project like in its own little world.
I know hard for you to pinpoint particular inspirations, but is there anything you are especially inspired by right now, such as books, films, shows, if you have to mention any?
Troy: Not really. I think I’m getting more retrogressive with it. I watched Contact last night. Yeah, we have been watching old films. I’m going to do Indiana Jones next, all our old favourites and I’m re-reading old books. I think you have to stay in deep contact with those formative things, those things that made you, and it’s important to be aware of them at all times. It certainly helps me with music. It’s good to be influenced by all my favourite books and films, there all in there.
You recently released the single ‘The Valley’. What made you decide to release this one from the album, and can you tell us about the song?
Tuomas: Single releases are a bit of a necessary evil as the Auri albums should be listened to as a whole, so to put a song on a pedestal doesn’t feel right, but it’s the way it works. ‘Pearl Diving’ as the first single was an obvious choice, and ‘The Valley’ equally was an obvious choice for a second single, but I don’t really know why and ‘Kiss The Mountain’ will be the third release.
Troy: The singles really are like chapters, and if you take the chapter out of context, it has a different effect. We do really encourage our listeners to listen to the whole thing.
Tuomas: We just had to play with the rules of the modern world. I guess you have to as it makes life easier. Like if it were up to me, I would never release a single.
Can you tell us about the new album artwork? I believe created by Janne “ToxicAngel” Pitkänen again. Who did your first album cover? What I like about the cover is that it’s pretty minimalistic, but it also has a mystery to it.
Troy: Well, you said it, that’s exactly it, and it really suits our music, and when you see the inside booklets, I’m sure you will really like that. There is some powerful imagery in there.
Are there any tour plans to tie in with the album launch or a special live stream or anything?
Johanna: I mean, it is a dream of ours, and we are definitely going to do it at some point. We just don’t know yet when.
Tuomas: We have to wait a bit longer; also, a lot of Nightwish postponed shows, so those are a priority, but still, whether it is 2023 or 2025, Auri is going to do quite the tour.
Great. I hope you come to the UK.
Troy: Oh, we will definitely do the UK. The idea is for us to be playing interesting venues and cathedrals, you know, like York Minster.
I think you touched on this at the start, and from what you have all said that you definitely intend to carry Auri on, have you already started thinking about your next album and journey for the band?
Troy: Yeah, absolutely.
Johanna: Yes, definitely, and I’m thinking next year is full-on writing more songs. I can’t wait to start.
You have all your other projects working on, such as Nightwish and Darkwoods My Betrothed, so guessing you are all going to be keeping busy with those?
Tuomas: It’s great to keep a busy mind and be passionate about art that involved with, and at the moment, I have three wonderful platforms, Nightwish, Auri and My Betrothed and completely different dynamics in all of them and a great combo.
Is there anything else you would like to add or share?
Troy: We just hope that everybody who hears the new album feels a glimmer of what we feel about it. The response has been wonderful to the first album, and I presume that the people who bought the first album might buy the second one again. Hopefully, their journey with us will continue.
Auri: II – Those We Don’t Speak Of is out 3rd of September 2021 via Nuclear Blast Records.
For more on Auri: