Polar bears (or beers ?! Hmm...) and Sonatas....

SONATA ARCTICA interview 23.5.2002 with Tony Kakko

This interview was a collaboration with my friend Anne from SF Perkele magazine. We interviewed the singer of Sonata, Tony, but were also accompanied by Marko and Tommy, who sat there nice and quiet (pretty much so) next to Tony. Oh, and let's not forget the little pet that tried to have a piece of all of us, or our drinks. Marty McFly...hmm, I mean the fly that kept harassing us. Sonata Arctica are going to release a live album called "Songs Of Silence-Live In Tokyo" in Europe in July. It was earlier released in Japan and now we are also being served this treat. So we asked Tony about the album and more.

Aor: First could you enlighten the readers of AOR-Europe where does the unusual name of the band come from ?

Tony: Originally our name was something else (Tricky Beans), but when we got the record deal we had to think of changing the name and after we didn't come up with nothing Mape Ollila -trademark, hah- (from SF Perkele) came up with Sonata Arctica. So for a while we thought about it and thought "damn, this does work" and it does tell something about us. Actually I don't underline the Sonata-part much, I don't see much classical influences in us. But the Arctica-part I do, because we're from the north (Kemi). And for the Japanese it sounds good. Otherwise it's a bit difficult name, everyone leaves the "c" out of it.

Aor: Or then you get something like Sonta Arctica...("sonta" means shit in finnish).

Tony: You have to live with that.

SONGS OF SILENCE- LIVE IN TOKYO

Aor: Being as young band as you are you already release a livealbum, only two studio albums behind you. The idea must've come from Spinefarm, but do you think of it as a good idea?

Tony: Sure it's quite early for that, but when you think of it from the fans point of view is it bad, that they have more material available? Think of it like after three or four albums there would have been songs that were left out, which now have been included here. It increases the category of good liveversions that are available. You can already find almost everything as bootlegs and they're total crap. This kind of a good livealbum is after all a good thing. And for ourselves it's fun to laugh about it after a couple of years.

Aor: What kind of reception has the live album gotten in Japan, how has it sold so far?

Tony: In a few days it sold over 10 000, now I don't know what the numbers are. I would've been pleased at 10 000 already, because normally those sell like only quarter of it. I'm pretty satisfied, it's only plus from here on. The live album came out without difficulty.

Aor: What are the expectations from the album in Finland and Europe ?

Tony: It's fun to see if it ever makes it to the charts, but nothing much really as it's an old story by now. It was recorded over six months ago anyway. It's a too long space in between there. We've now fully concentrated on the new album.

Aor: What kind of a feeling did that Tokyo show leave you? And Japan in general?

Tony: It was a very confusing time in my life. I was sick during that time, in a terrible flu before and long time after that. I didn't have a good feeling at all personally. The crowd was good and I was so angry I couldn't get into all that. The rest of the band probably had more fun. Our self-criticism has begun to rise its' head concerning live playing, we easily categorize shows into bad ones.

Aor: But your album isn't those ones, that were remastered zillions of times.

Tony: It is pretty rough and lively, a real LIVE live album.

Aor: What was the idea in the end of "False News Travel Fast", having a Stratovarius "Speed Of Light" riff ?

Tony: As a matter of fact Jani always plays it there. It's funny, 'cos Kotipelto has the last scream on our album.

Aor: Did the Japanese notice it ?

Tony: No one said anything to me, but it's so self-evident anyhows, a very well known song among the fans. They know what it's about.

Aor: I heard a rumour you did some karaoke-singing in Japan ?

Tony: I had fun anyway.

Aor: Is Titanic perhaps a fave movie ?!

Tony: Nah, but the song ("My Heart Will Go On") is in a perfect key that I can do it just like Celine Dion. It's easy. Riku from Spinefarm has tried to talk us to doing it with an orchestra again. But it's those kinds of songs that are really useless of doing again, for example do the "Livin' On A Prayer" again as a cover. Not necessarily a good idea. It's just fun to play it now and then. We've thought about raping the song completely, maybe then it would be more justified, maybe not.

Aor: Are you going to release a karaoke-album in the future ?!

Tony: Who knows, we just had a notebook released. The Japanese had written down eight of our songs from the first and second albums. Spinefarm might distribute it to finnish libraries. The notes are quite near to original. They've done a helluva job there.

Aor: Can any of you read notes ?

Tony: Some can, some can't. There's three of us that can, two sitting right here. I know some too, but can't do it ex tempore. I do know the tones, but I haven't had the interest in reading those "balls". What would I do with them anyway ?! In the beginning it was probably for doing own songs, 'cos I couldn't play other songs.

THE TOUR-LIFE...

Aor: You've had a couple of longer tours with bigger bands, such as Stratovarius, Gamma Ray...what have those tours tought you ?

Tony: Stratovarius have mostly taught us. Even though we might've gotten maybe a too rosy picture of it all. They're good friends of ours and gladly guide and advice us. But of course you have to do some own mistakes, but for instance Jrg Michael (Stratovarius) has given us golden tips and advices. Like for instance you shouldn't do all the mistakes, 'cos they might haunt you for long and you can't always note them only as a mistake. With Gamma Ray we went on tour with the same attitude as with Stratovarius, that it would be easy, but then the Gamma tour manager decided to do things a bit differently. It wasn't as fun as we had with Stratovarius. It was nice that we had Vanishing Point also with us, they were really nice guys and we stayed in their bus a lot. We didn't talk with the guys from Gamma Ray much. The tour with them started with the wrong foot, but we managed it through and seemed like we had more audience there than with Strato. It was clear that lots of the crowd had come to see us.

Aor: Two questions from the Vanishing Point mailing list: Will you ever dare to tour with another Australian band after experiencing the Vanishing Point guys?

Tony: Yeah we would, I'm dreaming a lot of playing in Australia right now. Edguy just played there, so it's not impossible. Vanishing Point are really good friends and they're always there doing everything one hundred percent, really nice guys. It was really tough ending the tour and I'm glad it ended here in Finland. Kinda easier, when you had the familiar landscapes and things waiting right here.

Aor: When will you play in Australia ?

Tony: Hopefully soon. It has to work out financially so that you don't end up paying it yourself. Even if you like playing you don't want to pay it from your own wallet. But it would be ok, if you can go there, come back with souvenirs and pay the next month's rent. If you didn't have to pay it all yourself then definately we would go. This isn't yet that solid based job however.

Aor: There's some kind of a boom going on with the finnish bands. We've got a lot of great bands that they like over there.

Tony: I haven't seen much Australians here. There was one person though. And from Japan there was this girl, she took a cab from Kemi to Mietaa, where we had a show in December. Felt kinda ashamed, 'cos she came all the way from Japan and we didn't realize asking her to our bus, 'cos we still had lots of empty seats. But she did join us from Mietaa to Helsinki. You have to draw a limit on these things however. You might get grateful and eternal fans this way, but you better not have them get used to your everyday life, 'cos then they'd probably be behind your door if they knew your address. I've heard someone has had these kinds of problems.

Aor: Do you prefer the tour/club shows to festivals and why ?

Tony: It depends, but I've never really liked places with lots of smoke, it's not good for an asthmatic person. But there are smaller clubs where you have the intense atmosphere, if they're fully booked. Like Wacken was last year, that was great. We've never had that much audience.

Aor: What about touring, is it fun or not?

Tony: Once it felt like some kind of a burden, I could've easily lived without it. But when you spend much time at home you realize that sucks. The band needs the gigs, you get to ventilate your thoughts and have the chance to see how the fans react to your new album.

Aor: Is there any tension before going on stage?

Tony: Not a thing, but somehow when we come to Helsinki you're always tense. I don't know any other place where it would be like this. In Kemi there was a bit of an idiotic feeling, but it's because the crowd sucks there. I guess when you come to Helsinki you're tense, because after all this is a "scene". The last show on the european tour in Nosturi was the most frightning, until we went on stage and it was like nothing.

Aor: Have you met any unforgettable fans?

Tony: The ones we've been e-mailing with from the start. It was like wow, someone writes to me, cool ! We've gotten friends from there. Then there's this japanese guy, Masa, who speaks like 13 languages, a really nice person.

Aor: What is the most memorable or best gig you've ever played ?

Tony: Santiago De Chile was just wild. We went on stage and started playing "Weballergy" and when I started singing the mic didn't work. You hardly noticed from the tape that I didn't sing and the crowd was singing helluva loud. When I opened my mouth and they knew I was gonna sing they sang everything and knew the lyrics and sang really loud, so loud that our mixer couldn't hear the band at all ! Only when there was a solo he was able to hear us and check the balance. And again when we started singing he could only hear that buzz. It was a crazy experience. The best gig ever for me. The rest might think something like So Paolo was the best. I liked the Brazil show too, but otherwise it all sucked. But the show was good.

Aor: You also played in this place that was about to crash down ?!

Tony: It was in San Sebastian with Stratovarius and Gamma Ray. We played "San Sebastian" there live the first time ever, we intentionally saved it. And as you might guess it was a big hit over there, at least then you expected the ceiling to come down ! The whole Spain was the highlight of the tour and France was great too.

Aor: What song do you like to sing live, any favourites ?

Tony: I like "Sing In Silence" and "Shy" and of course the ones where the crowd sings along. I'm pretty bored with most of the songs from the first album, especially "Replica" and "My Land", which we've probably played at every show. They somehow have become the kind of songs that we can't leave out from the set. Not that it does much harm, but at some point it turns to a burden if you still play the same shit after ten years. But the fans want to hear those songs, that's how it goes. I just have to hope this doesn't happen to a song I don't like at all. But mostly it's the technical side, like something is hard to sing and you can't play that song in the beginning of the show but in the end.

Aor: What is the most demanding song then?

Tony: Must be "Blank File". When we recorded that song I didn't know anything about keys, how high you can go with the song. And in the studio it went as high as we could get it. At gigs we've lowered it and it's still too high, because at the end of the second chorus it goes so high that after singing an hour and fifteen minutes it gets hard to go through with it. Hopefully we've learned our lesson and won't compose songs like these anymore. But "Blank" is probably the hardest, though it's a song I would never like to leave out from the set.

Aor: How hard is it to sing "Unopened", the lyrics go pretty fast there (for a finn anyhows) ?

Tony: I don't remember the song at all. We've never played it during "Silence", only some intro thing and then changed the song. Complitely forgotten it. I don't even like the song at all anymore. It would be some sort of surprise if we started playing it as a different version, like on the next tour. Every one of us must be bored with the song, it was our first single after all. We could do some kind of a version from it, like a potpurr...(tongue in cheek ?!...)

At this point the interview had been going on for about an hour, so some more refreshments were needed...

LET'S GET LYRICAL!

Aor: Sonata Arctica has been labelled as a power metal band...

Tony: Some even said we're speed, which is completely absurd !

Aor: Has the labelling given you any pressure to do "smart" lyrics, 'cos the dragons and swords are missing ?

Tony: I don't know, I like to write songs with the basic school english, so that everyone is able to understand them. But not with a dictionary. I'm not the best in english and you might notice that from the lyrics. I write songs about relationships and get nice feedback about it when it reflects someone's life. It's even wiser to do songs like these than political ones. And these fast bassdrum songs, I think it's a sin to put too much thought in their lyrics.

Aor: But in a few songs you do emphasize more in the lyrics.

Tony: In some yes and then you have the singalongs. But some lyrics really mean something. I've rarely had any thought in the faster songs. "Power Of One" is a bit faster and has more thought.

Aor: You've probably gotten a lot of critic from your lyrics, especially from the "If you live you will die"-part from "Weballergy" ? How do you react to those ?

Tony: That was done tongue in cheek and "if you live..." has been mostly criticized, because the lyrics aren't heavy metal. This song is completely futile crap, it's a sarcastic draw really.

By now Tony catches Marty McFly, he squashes the poor flying bacteria against my recorder...thanks, dammit ! "I've clearly tried too hard in my life" he says, as he had earlier tried to catch it with fast moves, but now he only needed to press his finger against the recorder, sloooowly, and the job was done!

Aor: Do you have something against computers or the modern technology, 'cos from songs "Weballergy" and "Blank File" you get that kind of picture ? Or is it nicer to run wild in the woods than to be slaves to machines ?

Tony: To answer the last question, yes it is nicer to run wild. "Blank File" was more of a pretentious move, that I cared about people who actually live in the net, just sit there and don't have any other life. "Weballergy" is kind of a continuation to that, a sarcastic draw made tongue in cheek. I don't have anything against computers. What would life be without them ? All the interviews and other arrangements in life. You're pretty far integrated with cell phone and e-mail. This damn machine (cell phone/calender/etc) has become something, that if you leave it at home you're screwed.

Aor: Tell me about the story behind "The End Of This Chapter", any basis in the real life ?

Tony: Yeah, I persecute this woman...(lots of laughter from everyone), nah, I'm a big movie fan and I like movies like "Scream", so I've gotten the ideas from there, molded it to more of my own thing. We have the intention of extending the "Chapter", if we could make one album from it.

Aor: Also in "The End Of This Chapter" why do you go for the "Death Metal" grunts a couple of times ? It's an awesome track, but somehow they just stick out like a sore thumb...

Tony: Pretty good question...sore thumb...I just think it's fun to use the voice in different ways. I do that quite a lot live. At some point I realized I'm never gonna be Kotipelto (Stratovarius) and I wouldn't want that anymore either. I want more edge and rock'n'roll in it. I wanted to bring more of that live thing there. It's good that you haven't heard two of the last songs we've recorded. The other one is pretty rough. The first time in the history of Sonata Arctica we have "fuck" in a song. Sometimes I think you just have to do things that feel like your own thing. Of course you do those for the fans too, it's work after all. You have to calculate a bit that this song might work live. It might not be too wise, if you did songs that feel good and what mood you're in. The "Chapter" album will probably show what we'd really like to do, but it's not an "official" release, but an intermediate album. That's the plan.

Aor: On "Silence" you have many touching songs ("The End..", "Last Drop Falls", "Tallulah") of the pain caused by love and breaking up. Where did the lyrics come from and how do you get a credible feeling to them ?

Tony: I must be a certain kind of emphatic. It has always been easy to put myself on someone else's position, what would the other person feel like in a certain situation. It's kinda embarrasing how nice life I've had and no dramas. It's really easy to scoop things from movies. And something like "Last Drop Falls" doesn't need much work, you just write that you're woman left with another guy and suddenly she's coming back.

Aor: How do you work on the songs ?

Tony: Earlier the songs were done in the rehearsal place, we got some ideas there. Now the songs are done about halfway by me at home, 'cos you have the computers to work at home with nowadays. I bring some nearly finished idea to the rehearsal place, we play it and see what it feels like. Everyone can add their own thing to the soup of course. But someone needs to hold the strings anyway.

Aor: You play the keys yourself, so you're able to go through the guitar parts ?

Tony: Actually I do some basis on keys and Jani knows approximately what he should play. I can play some guitar though.

COVERS, AOR AND BARRY MANILOW

Aor: Why did you fasten up the Scorpions-cover "Still Loving You" ? Some people hate it.

Tony: And some like it a lot. We wanted to do something fun to it. It's one of those songs that fit me like a glove. It works really well for me. Later we were asked to play a song on this tribute album and suddenly "Still.." was available and we did it. First we were going to do a rougher version of the whole song, but then it felt more fun to keep the beginning more traditional and surprise and turn it to a heavier version. The laughter part came live spontaniously.

Aor: What is it with covers, that so many bands play those ? You also did "Die With Your Boots On".

Tony: We were asked to do that too. We did one song on our own, a nice Bette Midler song. ("The Wind Beneath My Wings", released in "Orientation" mcd in Japan). But basically we do those, 'cos we're asked to. The next cover we're going to play will be on Metallica-tribute, the song will be "Fade To Black". Wait with fear ! It will be out sometime in the fall or the end of the year. SOLO ALBUM ?

Aor: You've got a pretty "AOR'ish" voice, have you ever thought of recording material more in the AOR vein?

Tony: Yeah, I've got a pretty basic voice. I have some songs, so I could produce a solo album at some point. It would probably be a chaos. Luckily I don't have any repressions like Timo Tolkki (Stratovarius), it brings out so conflicting emotions. A great album in my opinion though. But who knows. When you start doing own songs you want to fullfill all the ideas inside your head. But believe it or not, I've also composed waltzes and played in a humppa/schlager/dance band (for older people) earlier. But I'm not going to put anything like that on a solo album ! More from the rock department.

Aor: Do you have sceletons in the closet, like Barry Manilow ?? (Hah...)

Tony: I don't like Barry, I don't own any of his albums. There must be some sceletons though. Like I've told everyone my public sceleton is Crash Test Dummies. When people hear something like this from a metal singer they're like huh ?! Every music style has their own good things though. I don't listen to black metal much, but there's some good things too, like Dimmu Borgir. I've seen them live couple of times. Then there's some good humppa/schlager songs I could use and could've composed myself or turn them to something else. A good song is a good song no matter how you do it. It's hard to imagine something like Darude. That doesn't bring a warm feeling. It has to be a real song.

Aor: Do you like aor ?

Tony: I've never been much of an aor-guy, it's too clean and even boring. It's so well done you don't get the feeling of discovering something there, except the songs. But I don't listen to metal much either. I listen to all kinds of stuff, depends on the mood. Sometimes I might pop in a classical album. But usually I don't listen to music much, I try to concentrate on doing it myself. When you don't want nothing to do with music you just don't. When you don't play it yourself you don't feel like listening to it either.

Aor: How did you end up in the MTV 3 channel's (in Finland) night chat ?

Tony: They asked us and we said of course we'll come. It wasn't tough, it was really nice. They said if we'd stay there for about two hours it would be ok. And when the two hours had passed it felt like what, is that it ?! It went really fast, I'd be glad to do it again. The censorship guys must've been busy...

Aor: In the end of this interview we could do a drunk test..(in which Tony mumbles like he was totally intoxicated...)

From there the guys took off to their hotel and later on to a Nightwish party and who knows maybe to see Sentenced the same night. Lots of action in Helsinki that night. Even Marco, Tuomas and the ex-bassist from Nightwish were seen after the interview in the same bar with us.

Interview by Satu Reunanen, with assistance from Anne Tulokas.