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Sonata Arctica interview (08/2019)

With: Tony Kakko
Conducted by: RaduP (skype)
Published: 22.08.2019

Band profile:

Sonata Arctica

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the biggest power metal fan and I haven't listened to Sonata Arctica in about four years, but they always held a special place in my heart for being one of my favorite bands at one time, one that I could share with friends who weren't that much into metal. So when the opportunity arose to talk with Tony Kakko, singer and songwriter of the band, I was a bit reluctant due to how long it was since I last gave the band any attention, but I took it nonetheless to satisfy what little is left of the young me, and also to flex on Euro power metal haters.


RP: So how are you today?

TK: Doing good, sitting in my small cabin here in my yard, staring at the fire. Had a busy day, working in the garden and working here, doing stuff to prepare the house and yard for the coming of autumn.

RP: Great! I suppose we should talk about your music in that case.

TK: That would be nice, yes.

RP: Or we could talk about something else for the next twenty minutes, it would be a great interview.

TK: *laughs* Yes, that would be great. Anyway, talking about the music serves the purpose more.

RP: Well, probably. So, you have a new album coming up, Talviyö, how many times did you have to tell people today about it?

TK: It's actually the first time for today.

RP: So you're fresh with the description, what can you tell us about it?

TK: Well, it's our tenth album. I think stylistically we are not really drifting so far from the two previous albums, Pariah's Child and The Ninth Hour, soundwise it's slightly different. We went a bit more into the organic live direction.

RP: With twenty years worth of albums and God knows how many songs, how difficult is it picking a setlist for a tour?

TK: It's a nightmare, slowly getting there anyways, way more than one hundred songs to choose from. And of course there's always a lot of songs that the crowd wants to hear and there are a lot of songs that we would like to play just to keep the setlist interesting for ourselves and they're fun to do. We always find a different setlist, we have a lot of songs that are sort of amassed a frame of the setlist, so it's honestly not that difficult, just try to keep it fresh and play different songs, at least to a certain degree, each time we come to, let's say North America for example. At some point we had this problem that we always changed the setlist for the next continent. We played a certain setlist in Europe and changed it for North America and then came back to Europe and changed it back to the same that it was earlier, realizing that we didn't actually change anything. *laughs* Henrik, our keyboard player, is on the map right now with these kind of things, checking what we played the last time so it wouldn't be a problem anymore.

RP: I suppose it was a lot easier for when you had an acoustic tour or an Ecliptica tour, where the songs kinda choose themselves, either ones from the album or ones that translate easier into an acoustic version, right?

TK: Yeah, the acoustic thing it was a lot of fun to do and we went through a lot of trouble to find a decent set, but not just take the obvious acoustic songs, not all ballads, we took some faster songs and some surprising songs as well, because the music that I've been writing for twenty years is all melodic so basically any of the songs translate well into an acoustic environment. It's a matter of rearranging it, but also sometimes a little recomposing, writing different kinds of solo parts and so on. It was a fantastic tour, a lot of fun. I hope to do it again.

RP: Was it liberating not to have to play metal?

TK: Yes, for a change! *laughs* You know, I do love what we do with Sonata Arctica the normal way, but it's really refreshing. And as a singer, I do enjoy the acoustic things more. You don't have to wear your ear plugs, it's not as loud and you can hear everything, and I can use my vocal style in a much more versatile way, paint things with my singing instead of just screaming and howling in the way that I do in a normal Sonata Arctica show.

RP: Thank God you don't play death metal.

TK: Hell yeah, thank God.

RP: It's actually an acoustic song that was my favorite Sonata Arctica thing for a while, it was that medley of three songs with "Shy", "Mary Lou" and "Letter To Dana", it was from Live In Finland, the DVD.

TK: That was sort of the starting point for the whole acoustic adventure tour, because it was such a fun thing to do, and people seemed to love it. We just took it a little bit further.

RP: I also think it's because those songs were written before Sonata Arctica was Sonata Arctica, right?

TK: Yes, most of the songs. I think all of them actually.

RP: Now I'm kinda curious how they sounded like on those demos.

TK: The original version of "Shy" was actually a rock song, it sounded a lot like Bon Jovi.

RP: I'm suddenly less interested.

TK: *laughs* I'm really happy that I chose to go that direction with the actual final version of it. But it was a Bon Jovi kind of song in a good way in my opinion.

The upcoming tour

RP: Are there any songs from your back catalog that you wish you could play but you have to put the biggest hits first?

TK: Just about any slower ballad type song, "On The Faultline", I would love to play that live a lot more than we have done so far, just to mention one. *silence*

RP: "The Misery"

TK: "The Misery", that's one song as well, but for vocals it's pretty goddamn high. We haven't done that in the longest time, maybe we should take it back at some point.

RP: You're coming to Romania in November and I looked on the last setlist and there were very few songs that were among my favorites back in the day. If you could sneak "The Misery" in there it would be great.

TK: *laughs* We'll see.

RP: You also mentioned that you were preparing a solo project for weirder stuff that doesn't really fit with Sonata Arctica. Is there any progress on that?

TK: Well, yeah, but I'm really reluctant to talk about it because if I start talking about it...

RP: If you confirm something then it's confirmed.

TK: Yeah, a schedule and all that. I wanna get everything ready before deciding which way I wanna release it out there, so it's something that probably, once I have all the songs ready, I will start recording, because I have way more than one full album of material that is absolutely not gonna be on any Sonata Arctica album ever.

RP: Great, because I could tell that some of the Sonata Arctica songs weren't really meant to be metal.

TK: Yes.

RP: Like the last song that you released, from the new album, you could clearly tell that that wasn't meant to be a metal song.

TK: Yeah, I'm really more from the rock side of things instead of metal. I started listening to metal when I was like twenty-three years old, so I was sort of a late bloomer in that sense. I was listening to Queen, it was pretty much the hardest stuff that I was listening to. I was listening to pop music and rock music but not metal. It's reflected in my songwriting even these days. Maybe that's one of the things that make Sonata Arctica stand out a little bit from the normal metal bands out there, and we're not the most metal band out there and we never will be. We sort of function as a gateway or a step towards metal music for a lot of people that have just been listening to pop music and find metal music through some of Sonata Arctica's songs and start searching for more and more songs in that style. They fall in love with Sonata Arctica and then they start falling in love with Iron Maiden and whatever and then start listening to black metal or something. *laughs* You never know, but it's opening doors.

RP: It's a slippery slope.

TK: Yes!

RP: I know that you're into all kinds of music besides metal and rock music, you also mentioned that you like some electronic music, you've made some club music as well.

TK: Sort of, yeah. Back when I didn't even have a band. Most songs were sort of like Eurodance kind of thing. *laughs*


TK: Sort of, yeah, that was the stuff that we were listening to in the car with it going *club noises* *laughs* when I was a kid.

RP: I remember there was one Sonata Arctica song that had an electronic intro. What was it, "Shitload Of Money"?

TK: That one, yes.

RP: That was surprising

TK: It's nice to flirt around with things that you shouldn't flirt with.

RP: Hey, don't say that around your wife!

TK: *laughs* Well, yeah, thanks!

RP: You have a career as a musician right now, you don't work anything else, right?

TK: Yes, that's correct.

RP: Do you think this means that you constantly have to please fans and you're kind of stuck playing power metal and metal because that's what you were into when you got signed?

TK: Well, let's say that I changed my songwriting style with Unia, that was pretty much what people consider sort of a commercial suicide, and after that album I've been writing music that I really want to write. Of course, to a certain extent you need to write songs that are somewhat suitable, and I realized that if I went all Frank Zappa with my songwriting it would definitely kill Sonata Arctica and we would no longer be able to do this thing as a living anymore, I think. So, to a certain extent, but I pretty much get to do what I want with Sonata Arctica as it is. And of course put all the too Frank Zappa or too weird whatever into the solo project.

RP: And will the solo project be like concentrated into one genre or whatever you feel like?

TK: Pretty much whatever I feel like but I tried to make everything sound somehow connected. You can realize that it's one album instead of a collection of weird songs. And they're not that weird, they're melodic and it's going to be a fantastic thing.

RP: Well don't make them less weird!

TK: *laughs* No, no, they are weird enough, I can tell you that.

RP: You could try to cover some of the Sonata Arctica songs, especially the ones that don't feel like metal, like "A Little Less Understanding", I really want to hear a version of it that's not metal.

TK: I think I might even go incognito with this project and not tell anybody that it's me.

RP: You can tell me, I'm not gonna tell anyone.

TK: It might be that I'm not even singing on that album myself, so it's just something like if you wanna have fun and relax you should not connect any of the things that you do when you are actually working to it, so if I want to make the side project more like a hobby then I should find other people to do the stuff that I normally do. Just concentrate on songwriting and maybe play keyboards and do backing vocals and whatever.

RP: You did play keyboards on Ecliptica, right?

TK: Yes, I did that, and on other albums, also on the latest a little bit here and there.

RP: Well then you can do a solo album by yourself.

TK: Yeah, absolutely. *laughs*

RP: Maybe you already did but we don't know. You released it incognito.

TK: *desperately tries to cover it up* No, no, I did not, yet.

RP: This is what you would say if you did.

TK: Yes, of course I would, that's correct. *laughs*

RP: And when you transitioned from the early band name, from Tricky Means to Sonata Arctica, it was because at the time you were very into Stratovarius, right?

TK: Yes.

RP: And this basically settled what Sonata Arctica would sound like for the next few albums?

TK: Yes, of course, we were really into it and it was the best thing ever. But then I started drifting away and then that was it. I think already with the second album we went in a direction that was...

RP: That you were yourselves instead of a clone of someone else.

TK: Yes. More like it.

RP: I suppose it felt great doing guest vocals on a Stratovarius song.

TK: Oh, yes! It's one of those things. You know, a dream.

RP: What would the band have sounded like today if you were obsessed with some other band instead of Stratovarius? What if you were obsessed with Amorphis or Demilich instead?

TK: I don't know. I think we might sound pretty much the same as we do these days. Only that we wouldn't have any of those power metal things there anymore, any residue, from some tracks to entire albums would be missing.

RP: So not much would be lost.

TK: No. But if I were to fall in love with some music style that was popular at the time it would've been reggae.

RP: *laughs* A reggae Sonata Arctica album would be something to behold.

TK: It would probably still sound like Sonata Arctica, but it would be a really crappy reggae album.

RP: *laughs* You never know.

TK: You never know.

RP: So why do Japanese versions of albums always have an extra song?

TK: Currently still, I'm not sure how much in the future that trend will go on, but anyway the reason behind it is that it's cheaper for a Japanese fan to order the European or American version of the album and get it delivered on their door than to buy it from their local music shop just downstairs. That's why you need to have some extra bonus, whatever material there, songs are the most natural thing obviously. They even demand it on the contract. So that's the reason, the albums are ridiculously priced, or at least they were, I'm not sure how accurate that is anymore.

RP: Crazy how capitalism influences how music is made right now.

TK: Yes, but sometimes good things come out of it as well, it forces the band to write one more song as a bonus track, like in our case the song "I Have A Right", which would not exist had I not had this need to write an extra bonus song for Japan, and it just turned out really relaxed and fun and it was the first single we got from the Stones Grow Her Name album. So that's the good side there, it forces bands to extend themselves a little further.

RP: The bad side is when the song is about as good as the ones on the album itself and people that are not in Japan don't get it.

TK: Yeah, but these days it's ridiculous to even go there, because everyone can listen to any song online. It's just one song and I have no problem if people buy the European or American version of the album and then go and listen to the song online for free. Doesn't make any difference for me basically.

RP: You still get your money. You still don't have to get an extra job.

TK: Well, yes. But of course, if you really really wanna go all the way you can order the export version of the album from Japan. Or even better if you want to listen to the extra song you can stream it somewhere some official way, so that everybody gets what's coming to them.

RP: But is streaming as financially viable as buying the actual album?

TK: Fuck no! *laughs* It's really not, but it's much better than downloading an illegal copy. Streaming is probably the way that it's gonna be in the future, but the way they are compensating the artists currently is stupid.

RP: It's trash.

TK: Yeah, it's not working. I think we're just starting the whole process of turning into digital distribution via streaming, but there have been talks that streaming is not environmentally sustainable, because you are spending a lot of data every time you stream each song, so it's consuming more electricity so it's polluting the environment and blah blah blah [relevant article], I don't know where it will eventually go, but I think the best way of consuming the music electronically and digitally is to buy the actual copy of the song somewhere from a service like iTunes, and then download it once and listen to it however.

RP: But I can't really imagine having to buy all of the music that I listen to. It's much more convenient to stream for like 10$ a month, maybe less. Compare that to paying one dollar for every song that you listen to. I would need to get ten salaries a month.

TK: *laughs* Yeah, obviously. But that's why people have radios. And this is the difficult conversation to have. From 10$ per month, the artists aren't getting their share. That's the problem here, unfortunately.

RP: I'd say that since you obviously can't pay for all the music that you listen to, you should try to spend as much money on music and merchandise as possible. This is what I try to do.

TK: Of course, everybody should support the kind of music they love, and just streaming your favorite band is not the right way to go, that much I know. It doesn't do much.

RP: Well, that's about it, thank you very much, and don't forget to put "The Misery" in your setlist.

TK: *laughs* We will do our best. Thank you very much.

Posted on 22.08.2019 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.


Comments: 6   Visited by: 191 users
22.08.2019 - 17:55
Mountain King
K i K o
Cool article. Thank you for sharing. I see that Tony is the main reason behind Sonata's newer sound. To be honest, Replica wasn't a clone of Strato and the first 3 albums are gems. The songs themselves are really good, it's not about doing Power Metal. If Tony did songs like "Sing In Silence", "Shy", "The Misery", "Replica" etc... which are softer, I would still love their style. Unfortunately most of the newer songs are lame and uninteresting. No intensity, no power, no passion.
23.08.2019 - 02:30
Nick Carter

He used to be God in my good all pubert days.
24.08.2019 - 00:08
Made of Metal
Nice interview, thanks for posting this!
31.08.2019 - 00:30
SoUnDs LiKe PoP

Good interview - interesting questions, and I especially like the info we got on the future solo album (although I'd hate hate HATE if he didn't sing on it, that would just be a terrible decision).

Also, count me among the minority that enjoys both old and new Sonata.
I lift weights and listen to metal
31.08.2019 - 00:53
Definitely not my style of music, yet quite an interesting read. Damn dude, I envy your interviews!
31.08.2019 - 11:27
Written by nikarg on 31.08.2019 at 00:53

Definitely not my style of music, yet quite an interesting read. Damn dude, I envy your interviews!

There's a reason why I prefer in-person or skype interview as opposed to e-mail ones. Your questions for the Wormwood one was great, but there's not a lot you can build from when their answers are short and formulaic. Especially uninteresting when they act like a company promoting a product instead of a person proud of their work.
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?

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