Sonata Arctica Interview

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Band Name: Sonata Arctica
Interviewed: Tony Kakko
Interviewer: 
Date: 2007-03-31


Previous Sonata Arctica Interviews
The Gauntlet: Hello!

Tony Kakko: Hello, how are you doing?

The Gauntlet: I'm doing alright, how are you?

Tony Kakko: I'm doing fine, thank you. Sorry I'm running a bit late here.

Gauntlet: That's quite alright, thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

Tony: No problem, absolutely. That's why we are here—New York.

Gauntlet: Oh, where are you now? Was that New York?

Tony: Yeah.

Gauntlet: Ah, because you're doing that listening party tomorrow, right?

Tony: Right. We arrived here last night around 12 AM. It took us about 23 hours to get to here from Finland. That was…long. (laughs) We had to wait in two different airports for hours.

Gauntlet: What was the hold-up?

Tony: Well, first our flight from Kemi, our hometown, was really early, before 6 AM. Then we had to wait for 6 hours in Helsinki to fly to London, where we had to wait for more hours to leave.. It's really expensive to fly direct from Finland, so…

Gauntlet: Yeah, I can image. Only times I've flown to Europe was a straight shot, nine hours.

Tony: Yeah, it doesn't take more than that really, but if you want to save the money…(laughs)

Gauntlet: Yeah. So, do you still live in Kemi? I was just reading up about it, actually.

Tony: Yeah, I am living there. And most of the band, actually. Well, Jani is living in a different place now and Henrik is living in Kokkola. But, three of the guys, we are living there.

Gauntlet: I read that it's home to the world's largest snow castle—is that true?

Tony: Mmm, yeah. At least it used to be. At some point it was the most beautiful and then it was the largest (laughs), but yes, we have that snow castle there. It's pretty ok.

Gauntlet: Interesting claim to fame.
Tony: (laughs)

Gauntlet: So, what are these listening parties like? I've never been to one myself—have you don them before?

Tony: Yeah, but they tend to be different, each one, depending on who's arranging it. And they are fun, people listen to the album and drink and talk and have fun. It's nothing really amazing for the band, at least. But it's cool if you have fans—I think this one is an open party, in that anyone can come there. So it's nice to meet the fans, at this stage.

Gauntlet: I've got a couple friends who are going to the one tomorrow. They try to make a habit of it; last time when Blind Guardian got one they actually got Hansi to go sit in their car and take pictures with them.

Tony: (laughs) Really?

Gauntlet: Yeah. So if you get people asking you to go sit in their car, they're not too dangerous, just a bit eager.

Tony: Mm-hmm. I think somebody told me about this already. It was Loana (Nuclear Blast press).

Gauntlet: Yeah? Hah. Alright. To get to the music. I was listening to the new album and from what I've heard so far it really sounds like your most ambitious yet. Would you agree with that?

Tony: Yeah, I appreciate that. Yeah, absolutely. It's different from what we've done so far. Maybe opening a few doors—and maybe closing a few windows (laughs) at the same time—it's more artsy…more theatrical, more progressive, more full, warm. In my opinion it's our best album. And I know it's cliché to say that, but the whole band really thinks that at the moment. One measure for this kind of thing is when the album is released and when you get the masters in your hand, the first thing you want to do is generally not to listen to it straight for 10 hours and then again for many days…and with this album, I did. I really wanted to listen to it, I was really excited, I still get a kick out of it after all this time. It's feeling weird and really good at the same time.

Gauntlet: I could tell you were excited about it when I was reading release statements and I saw you were talking about the new instruments you were using like the…bouzouki? How did you pronounce that one?

Tony: I think its 'boo-ZOO-ki'. Not a Finnish instrument (laughs).

Gauntlet: Yeah. How did that get set up on the album?

Tony: I knew this guy who has all these weird kind of string instruments like guitars that I can't even pronounce correctly. I asked him to join the recording and he took a couple days off from other things and came and recorded his parts. I basically gave him a free hand to do whatever he wanted, to give the album some kind of original, new, fresh perspective, and I think it worked out really well. I think there's only one thing we left out of what he recorded there, because it didn't really fit.

Gauntlet: Gotta be fun to have that freedom.

Tony: Absolutely.

Gauntlet: I can't help but be reminded a little of Angra's new album, in that you're slowing down a little, taking time to look around and dabble and see what else you can get into. I don't think it will alienate fans like Angra's did, though.

Tony: Did it? I'm not sure, I haven't heard the new Angra. Is it slower?

Gauntlet: Yeah, slower. And people were actually upset, saying, 'Oh, this isn't Angra! They're losing their touch, they're getting old', or something like that. But, I think the new Sonata doesn't feel like it's shooting for the mainstream, it feels like it's trying to grow. As if you'd finished what you'd done in previous fields and were looking for a new direction.

Tony: Yeah, if we had wanted to go into the mainstream, this album is not the one we would be doing here (laughs). This is way too complex to be a mainstream thing, really, in my opinion. This is…brain-food, soul-food for us, the band members, really. Something that needed to be done in order to keep the band intact and keep on doing this, because we didn't want to lose Sonata Arctica. And at some point at the end of the last tour we were really…tired. And although we were all still having fun the whole band wasn't really there anymore. Like, during the show you can think of completely different things than what you were actually doing there. It's weird. Like, my mouth, I could sing the words but be thinking of something completely different. And that is not good.

Gauntlet: Right, like a rote exercise.

Tony: Yeah. It's something weird that happens. If you lose the lyrics, then you can't get them back, you lose your focus. So this album will be a wake-up call, will be so much fun to do live. I can't think of anytime I have been this excited for an album ever since 'Silence' came out.

Gauntlet: Hmm. So, did you as a band talk about what was going on and try to figure out how to put some spark back into it?

Tony: I think the whole thing started going this direction when I wrote a song, actually a few songs, for this Idol Star in Finland, Agnes, who in the competition had sung a song from our 'Silence' album, 'Tallulah', and recorded it as well, making the song really popular in Finland. So to kind of thank her for that I was asked to write a song or two for her album, and the same night that I got this request I wrote a song that was too good (laughs) to be on this Idol Star album, because that song was 'Paid in Full', our first single from this album. But anyway, this project gave me an idea that it was really refreshing to write a song for someone other than Sonata Arctica, and I kind of taught myself to think outside the box, in a way. The whole album we have right now, I didn't write it for Sonata Arctica, per se, I just wrote the type of songs that made me happy, that gave me a good feeling, and in the end this is what we got. You know, a couple of the last albums, especially 'Reckoning Night', I had written six, seven songs at some point and noticed, 'oh, shit, we don't have any fast songs on the album' at that point, and so I just had to write them. They just needed to be written, and it wasn't really a pleasant or nice thing to do at that point, so I figured that something's got to change because this wasn't really fun anymore, the way it used to be. It was fun still, but it needed to be more. The ambition was gone, kind of repeating ourselves, doing something predictable. And I think this 'Unia' album is something that no one predicted that we would do.

Gauntlet: Do you think that it still is Sonata Arctica, though? Or is it a new…I don't want to say new band, but a new definition for Sonata Arctica?

Tony: Hmm, no, this is maybe just a step aside. I think that each album has seen a change. I think I've seen the change more than the people (laughs) have, and I've seen it more strongly than it actually was. But this time the changes are so big…But we are still Sonata Arctica and when you listen to the album you can find Sonata Arctica from there, absolutely, and when we play live we are absolutely going to play the old songs as well. So, we are still the same band, this is just something…a bit different. Like Henrik said at some point, "We are not yet too old to renew ourselves and try something new."

Gauntlet: I think that's a good way to put it. So, does writing this new material help give you a new appreciation or help you have fun with the old stuff again?

Tony: Yeah, I'm sure, I'm sure of it, actually.

Gauntlet: That's good. Some specific examples—I was interested by the diversity, like I said—you've got the more aggressive vocal types that you seem to be using a bit more frequently, on songs like 'In Black and White' and then you contrast that with the riffing in songs like 'For the Sake of Revenge', which has got kind of a dark, Gothic feel to it. So it's nice to see that spectrum of emotions.

Tony: Yeah, I'm happy you can hear it there. I've done a lot of work with the vocals on this album. I just let myself go crazy; I don't consider what people will think. Just do what needs to be done, really.

Gauntlet: Can you tell me some about the song 'Caleb'?

Tony: You know, it's the end of this chapter thing we've had. That was on 'Silence' and on 'Reckoning Night' we had 'Don't Say A Word', so this is sort of the vehicle for that. So this 'Caleb' song is the first in that trilogy that might even continue in the future, but anyway, it's giving a name for the guy who is going to be this huge stalker. So that's the idea, it's telling the same story, or the beginning of the story. It's like 'Batman: Beginning!'

(laughter)

Gauntlet: Well, that was quite a success, so… As far as other lyrical themes—a friend of mine was really curious about this one—your constant use of wolves, where does that interest come from?

Tony: Well, at some point wolves just kind of wolves just got lured into being our mascot, animal, in a way, our pet. And people in many places when they see a picture of a wolf the first thing that comes to their mind is Sonata Arctica, which I think is cool. It's a valuable asset for us to have this kind of totem animal (laughs). And on this album the wolf song is 'It Won't Fade'. There's got to be a wolf song on every album; it's something that makes me feel safe, at home, that I have at least one theme there ready even before I start working on an album there's something that I know I will do.

Gauntlet: A good way to get familiar with it.

Tony: Yeah.

Gauntlet: It seems like you're also taken a different approach with the art, too. A lot of the old covers were really rich and had a lot of images on them, but the new one is rather straightforward. Was this a decision you guys' part, or how did that work out?

Tony: Already when we released the 'Reckoning Night' album, we thought that and had discussions with people that the 'full' style, with a lot of details on the cover is a really power metal thing, and it's giving the wrong message of Sonata Arctica to some people who potentially might love our music. When they in the record shop and they see the 'Reckoning Night' cover they are not going to buy the album because they think it's something different than what it actually is. I love these really colorful covers with a hell of a lot of details, but we figured that it might be smart to kind of tune that down a bit, on the cover at least. Now, we have a lot of details and graphics on the inlay of the booklet—we've got to have that at least there, because I love to have those special pictures.

Gauntlet: And that brings up an interesting point. It seems as though you do not like to be put into the power metal genre. Is that right?

Tony: Mmm, yeah, in a way, because it's too restraining. It's…because we are not completely that. I accept it in a way, it doesn't matter what people call us, but everyone just says, 'power metal, power metal, power metal', and it is not the truth anymore. Like Charlie Chaplin. If you say that he was a comedian it's an understatement in a way, because he was so much more than a comedian, so…

Gauntlet: And did that factor into trying to take a new direction with this album?

Tony: Well, that wasn't the reason—you should not write an album just to prove some kind of point because you're stubborn—but…I don't know (laughs). No matter what had happened, this would be the album that we would have made at this point. I wrote the songs for other reasons, not to prove that we are not power metal. This is something we have been moving towards for a long time and I think I would have gone crazy if I had just written another, 'Hey! Let's everybody sing along!' album. You know, writing these songs for other artists has proven to me in a way that I could do it. I could write another 'Winterhearts Guild', it's no problem, but it's a matter of ambition and art in a way. I want to do something different, in a way, so I won't regret it when I'm older. Sonata Arctica's taken way too much time for me to be able to write solo albums and promote them and do what I feel is the art within that needs to get out. So, if Sonata Arctica was not that channel, I don't know, I'd go crazy.

Gauntlet: I suppose that answers one of my next questions, which was how you decided on the name of the new album ('Unia'). I read that it means 'dreams'?

Tony: Mm-hmm, correct.

Gauntlet: And so that's a representation of the ambition that you're trying to capture, or…?

Tony: Yeah…well, in a way. It was more personal in the beginning, and the title around Christmastime was a bit different still, but I had to change it. Basically it was the same thing, but it had more words which could have caused people to think of it in a wrong way, have double meanings for the title and it would have been dirty in a way. So 'Unia', dreams, was the closest thing that I could come up with that would still say the same thing.

Gauntlet: What was the original title?

Tony: Ah, I'm not going to tell you.

(laughter)

Gauntlet: Very well. We'll just leave that to the imagination.

Tony: Yeah (laughs).

Gauntlet: So, final specific question about the album. On the song 'Good Enough is Good Enough', at about 5:10, what's going on?

Tony: You mean after the silence?

Gauntlet: Yes.

Tony: Mm. There's someone snoring, believe it or not (laughs). It is not a part of that same song. At the end of every album we have some sort of ending, like a goof, and this is the goof of 'Unia'. It doesn't sound like it, but it's snoring. I'm not going to tell you who, but it is.

Gauntlet: Going back in time, it seems like Sonata was, after Stratovarius, really one of the first bands to put Finland on the map in the new millennium. So, what was it like back in the early days, trying to get together a band in a place as small as Kemi?

Tony: Well, we didn't really think of it that way. We were just having fun and taking every day as a new adventure, in a way. And..hm…you just aren't thinking that way at the beginning of your career, that you are carrying the whole of Finland (laughs) or you will get crushed. We were just doing our own little thing, fulfilling our dreams of being 'rock stars'.

Gauntlet: At what point did you get the idea that, 'wow, we're doing pretty well here'?

Tony: Actually on the U.S. tour, it hit me big time. 'Dude, we are in America! God damn!' This is something I had dreamed of since I was a little kid. (laughs) It's fun. But one moment I'm sitting at home, playing around with my keyboard and one year later I'm touring in the USA, Japan, Europe, you name it. It's weird—you just can't take that for granted. It's a special thing and I appreciate it greatly. I'm blessed to be able to do this. It's hard work and not anybody can do it, and I hope many young people will understand that it's better to have music and a band as hobbies than as a profession. It's better to accidentally slip into being a professional musician as a band, you know. Like we did. We were studying and some had other jobs, but suddenly the band slipped out of our hands, and in a way too big, for it to be possible for anyone to study or go to school all day. So, that's, in my opinion, important for people understand. Don't put everything on one card, all the eggs in one basket. If it happens it will happen, but do other things as well.

Gauntlet: A good way to stay true to the music, too, instead of trying to figure out how you can appeal and get to the next level.

Tony: Absolutely.

Gauntlet: So when did you start playing music, when did you begin?

Tony: Hmm, I think I was, like, eight, or something like that. I had been really musical all my life (laughs) up to that point already, but nobody every bought me any kind of instrument. When I was eight, my four year old sister got a keyboard, a small keyboard, as a Christmas present, and I kind of…stole hers

(laughter)

Tony: --so that was when I got started, in a way, but it was nothing serious. I only started playing keyboards more seriously when we started Sonata Arctica.

Gauntlet: And she was only four years old, she wouldn't have had any use for it anyway, right?

Tony: (laughs) Yeah.

Gauntlet: Does she play keyboard now?

Tony: No, no she doesn't.

Gauntlet: Well, I guess it was destiny.

Tony: Yeah, I couldn't help myself. It was, 'I'd rather play keyboard than sleep or eat. I need this!'

Gauntlet: So, and then you haven't had any professional training, is that true?

Tony: Well, I was studying it for two years in this local, what's the word, academy type thing, where you go there once a week for 45 minutes. In that kind of thing I learned the chords and the names and a little bit of the theory.

Gauntlet: Fundamentals?

Tony: Yeah, exactly, but I can't read the notes really. Or it's really slow. If I'm playing 'Itsy Bitsy Spider' it's....

Gauntlet: And when did you start singing?

Tony: Seriously only after we started Sonata Arctica.

Gauntlet: Huh. I've heard the Finnish musical education system is really outstanding.

Tony: Hmm, is it.

(laughter)

Gauntlet: Hey, it doesn't take much to be better than America's.

Tony: Well, I don't really know. You can study it in many places, especially in the bigger cities, it's easy, but like in Kemi it might be a bit difficult. And of course sometimes the cities are not doing that well as the times, there are a lot of dearths everywhere. So it might be sometimes hard for a town to arrange something for the young people. So, everybody's playing metal. (laughs) You have to educate yourself.

Gauntlet: It's hard to fathom that when you read about it—'Oh, the new Gorgoroth album landed on the Top 10 in the charts in Norway,' or something, and people over here are thinking, 'What? What is black metal landing on the charts?' when we look around, we see Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake…

Tony: Yeah, exactly (laughs)

Gauntlet: So, what sort of status do you enjoy in Finland? Is it that kind of 'rock star' lifestyle?

Tony: Mmm, no, not really. But that's because we live so far away from Helsinki—Hellll-sinki—

(laughter)

Tony: It's like 800 km away from Kemi, where I live. So, people know us in the Kemi area, but the Finnish mentality is that you don't go and speak to people all that much. Unless you are drunk. Or a such a huge fan, if you dare to go and as for an autograph or maybe a picture….It's in a way really cute, people are just whispering behind you (whispers), 'Hey, that's Tony from Sonata Arctica.' But it's not real rock star. It's a matter of the person you are, really. I'm a rock star only on stage, really. I leave it there. But then I don't really try to be a rock star (laughs).

Gauntlet: I think that's a healthy way to approach it.

Tony: Yeah, yeah.

Gauntlet: We sometimes, Americans, get caught up in wanting to be rock stars and try to be rock stars everywhere.

Tony: Yeah, and there are a lot of that type of rock stars in Finland as well. But it's sad, and weird, usually, because those real rock stars don't tend to stay there for all that long a time; they are like 'wanna-be's.

Gauntlet: Maybe those are the type of people trying to be professional musicians all along instead of keeping it as the hobby…

Tony: Yeah, exactly.

Gauntlet: Hm. Well, back to Sonata. What kind of music did you play back in the Tricky Beans days?

Tony: Well, it was in a way the same as Sonata Arctica although it was, of course, more mellow. And there are some songs we played with Tricky Means and Tricky Beans—we had both titles and both names—like 'Tallulah' from our 'Silence' album, that is on one of our demos. It was in a way, you can say, some of the songs, especially some of the ballads, they were in a metal vein. They were like power ballads already, then. It was like a pop/rock type thing.

Gauntlet: Are there any other recordings of that remaining, or do you listen to that stuff at all?

Tony: I think if you look really hard you can find some of our demos from the internet or some people have the originals. I think there were like 100 or 200 cassettes sold of each of our demos.

Gauntlet: And what were some of your major influences in those days?

Tony: Those days? Mm, I think Queen, Midnight Oil, some Finnish bands, actually. Well, Stratovarius came and changed everything (laughs).

Gauntlet: And what about now?

Tony: Now. Nightwish is one big thing and…I'm sorry, it's not necessarily an influence, but I enjoy Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, and that really different type of music from what I do. Maybe I'm growing. I'm living my exploration days now; I'm interested, I might pick up some Deep Purple albums, because I've never really listened to them, for example. There are many bands like that, really classic bands that everybody is talking about and comparing us to, even, huge bands from the past. And I have no idea (laughs).

Gauntlet: As far as what you play now, do you play keyboards anymore?

Tony: Yeah, I do. I compose all the songs with keyboards, so I can play most of the stuff that is on the album.

Gauntlet: And how do you work that out with the recording process?

Tony: I have the recording station at home: computer and keyboards and different types of software. You just do it, just record.

Gauntlet: Do you end up playing on the final album tracks or is that--?

Tony: Yeah, mostly. Actually, on this album I have played most of the stuff. Henrik has played some layers, all the Hammond organs, and of course all the solos. I don't go there.

Gauntlet: (laughs)

Tony: It is not my cup of tea (laughs).

Gauntlet: But the main point here is that it would not be smart and there is no point in redoing something that is good as it is, and I'm happy that Henrik has no problem with that either. He lets me play there and do my stuff.

Gauntlet: So aside from the direction you've taken on this new album, what do you think are some of the biggest changes that Sonata has undergone over the years?

Tony: Hmm, well, line-up changes, maybe. Those are pretty big, always.

Gauntlet: You do most of the composition though, correct?

Tony: Yeah, yeah. Jani has written only, like, one song. 'Reckoning Night's 'My Selene', that is Jani's song. And I've told the guys they are free to bring their own songs forward for us and we can work with them together if they are not completely ready. And it's no problem I am happy to do that with them. But I suppose they are happy, happy with the stuff I come up with, and I have no problem with that, but I'd be really happy to get some stuff from them as well.

Gauntlet: So how does the line-up change affect your songwriting process?

Tony: No, it really doesn't in any way, no.

Gauntlet: Okay. And you've got an American tour upcoming, correct?

Tony: Yeah, in September we are coming here, and it will be great. Again. And some point early next year we are coming back, so….

Gauntlet: Do you approach the American tours differently than other tours?

Tony: No, it's really a kind of routine thing. Of course, there are more things to do before you come here. You have to have a working Visa and stuff like that, which takes a lot of effort and is really expensive for us because we need to fly from our home town to Helsinki to take care of all that…shit.

(laughter)

Tony: It's not very pleasant because it's really expensive, but it's got to be done. And of course, when you come here, this is the place to be, really.

Gauntlet: That tour includes a date at Progpower, right?

Tony: Yeah, headlining there. That'll be something. It's a sold out show. I asked somebody how many people are there, what is the sold-out thing there, but I can't remember…

Gauntlet: I believe it's around 1000 or so? I went a couple years ago when Stratovarius was headlining, and I'm going again this year so I'll be there at that show to see you guys. But it's quite an atmosphere. I know it's probably not like some of the biggest European tours, but there are a lot of energetic fans. A good atmosphere.

Tony: Yeah? Well, that's the most important thing, the people that come here, who come to see the show have come to see the show, not just to hang around. Of course all the hang-around people are filling the room, and then the…acoustic elements—

(laughter)

Gauntlet: Yeah, there's some serious jockeying for position, though. The way it's set up: there's a standing main floor and then seats behind, like an auditorium, so there will be people sitting back there. But then there are others who, from when the show starts at 5 PM till it ends at 1 AM have been standing up there and are trying to fight their way to the front the entire time, so it should be a pretty good crowd.

Tony: Alright, can't wait.

Gauntlet: As far as tours go, I know you've got things like the 'Vodka Song', so are there any particularly outrageous vodka-inspired stories that come to mind for tour experiences?

Tony: Mm, no, not really. I'm staying away from the stuff. I enjoy drinking good whiskey. Not drinking, but tasting is the more appropriate word here. (pause) Well…(laughs). It must be something about Henkka and a hanger.

Gauntlet: Yeah, maybe just part of that 'growing process', too.

Tony: Yeah. Well, I'm sure that if someone offers Henkka a good Vodka, he won't turn it down. It's a way to get a contact…

Gauntlet: Break the ice.

Tony: Absolutely.

Gauntlet: As a final kind of off-to-the-side question, I remember reading a while back that there was a Sonata Arctica video game in development, but haven't heard about it since. What's that status with that and how did it come about?

Tony: It's a work in process. Of course the team isn't huge, it's not like Blizzard (laughs), or anything like that. It's taking time, but they are working on it constantly and I'm going to start writing music for it, background things, and later on this on this Spring we are recording vocals, you know, the characters of the game. That'll be myself, Jani, Marko, Henrik, Tommy. So, it should be fun and different…and how many times to you get to be a character in a computer game?

Gauntlet: Yeah, that's a good point.

Tony: Yeah, exactly.

Gauntlet: I remember being skeptical myself, thinking, 'What? Video game?' But if you've got the chance…

Tony: And the game itself doesn't have anything to do with Sonata Arctica, it's just fun with Sonata Arctica characters. But, it should be weird; I need to play that game.

Gauntlet: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I was going to ask if you were going to get a copy.

Tony: Yeah, absolutely. And, well, if I don't I'll be…pretty upset.

(laughter)

Gauntlet: Well, yeah, thanks a lot for taking the time.

Tony: Hey, no problem.

Gauntlet: Was there anything—interviewers often have their specific questions they ask and don't give any time for the interviewee time to say anything that they've got on their minds, so, is there anything you'd like to put out there?

Tony: Well, I'm happy to be here in New York (laughs) at the moment. And I can't wait to play the songs live. And the tour starts basically from the U.S.A., so I can't wait to come here and hope to see all you people there at our shows. Let's have fun together, that's all that matters.

Gauntlet: Great. Well, again, thank you, have a great time on the tour and enjoy the listening party—don't get mobbed too much by the fans.

Tony: No. I won't (laughs).

Gauntlet: Alright, good luck, take care.

Tony: You too.