Phone interview with Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica
By Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal
March 5th 2010, Los Angeles CA
Andrew: How excited are you about this North American headlining tour and what are your goals and expectations from it?
Tony: I hope that we get a lot of new people in the shows here. Of course we are here to entertain the old fans, the people who know us already. I hope those people bring friends to the shows, see the band and have a good time. I'm sure its going to be a blast this whole tour!
Andrew: You were here opening for DragonForce back in September last year. How much did that tour help you in terms of gaining enough popularity to be able to do this headline tour now?
Tony: Well, I think DragonForce toured so many times for the same album. It kind of affected the crowds. We already saw so many people we've seen at our own shows. A lot of people knew the band already. But of course there were kids who were fans of Guitar Hero and stuff like that who had never heard us before. These people came up and talked to us saying, hey your band was really cool. They were really surprised. So I think it did some good. But the previous tour with Nightwish was better. We had more people at shows there. But yeah with DragonForce, it definitely affected us because they had done the Ultra Beatdown tour so many times. I even got some emails from a lot of people saying it wasn't worth it as they had seen DragonForce twice or thrice already and we had just 6-7 song sets.
Andrew: You played a few songs off of the new album on that tour. How different will the set list be this time around?
Tony: We have added more songs from the latest album. We're going to play songs like Deathaura. We are going to rehearse that one really soon. We are leaving some of the older material out and may be rehearsing something that we haven't played in a long time. We will leave some of the surprises for the people to find out. We have to shake it up a little bit. We've been playing the same old songs for a long time and its time to get a shock. It might be safe to play only the songs people want to hear but its getting boring for some of the older fans.
Andrew: Before the album 'The Days Of Grays' was released, Henrik said that the album won't be as complex as 'Unia', but it will be darker. Would you say that's true about the way the album sounds?
Tony: Not completely. I think Henrik was speaking when we were still rehearsing. (laughs) I feel that it is in a way a light album, but it's heavier also in the sense that the subjects I wrote about are darker and gloomier. With 'Unia' I was just writing whatever came to my mind. People who are more into the straightforward, easy music didn't really like it. That album worked for the whole band, but it was a bit weird for sure. We needed motivation to keep doing what we're doing. 'The Days Of Grays' is kind of like a step back to what we did earlier. 'Flag In The Ground' is a song I wrote back in 96. But of course its re-arranged and everything. Its still kind of a mixture of Unia and the older styles, with a few new flavours.
Andrew: The limited edition that was released in Europe had a bonus CD with instrumentals played by a symphony orchestra. What was the reasoning behind that and were you happy with the end product?
Tony: It turned out really well. But whatever I do, I would find a better way to do it, to change some little detail. I accept the fact that I'm never happy completely. That's actually a good thing as it's a way to learn and get better at what you do. I had worked with Mikko Mustonen before. I talked to him a year before we started working on this album about whether he would be interested in some orchestral arrangements. When the time came, we started working and I called him up. The album sounded really fantastic and I realized that some of the songs would work really well with the orchestra. We also had total instrumentals with the orchestra. The label also thought it would be a great bonus material.
Andrew: You had Perttu [Kivilaakso] from the band Apocalyptica playing cello on a few tracks. How did that come about?
Tony: It must have been three years ago when we were playing Festivals together in Spain and France. We had some Finnish festivals as well, specially Ankkarock in southern Finland. Eicca asked me if it would be possible for me to sing one or two songs with them. I said hell yeah! I did that and then last summer I did a few songs. There I talked to Perttu about helping out on our album and he was totally into it. It was really easy. The songs already had arrangements of the kind that he could use. He did his magic and it just sounded fantastic, specially the track 'Everything Fades To Gray'. He brought that whole thing alive and improved it so much.
Andrew: The band is confirmed to take part in the '70000 Tons Of Metal cruise' in January next year. What's that all about?!
Tony: It sounds so strange that I'll believe it when it actually happens (laughs). It's a great idea. I don't know how many bands they have signed on there but it seems to be like most of the bands were Finnish. I don't know what they're going to do (laughs). We were just laughing about that earlier amongst ourselves. But yeah a few days of metal there would be great. January is the darkest time of the year for us in Finland. So, no better time to leave for that cruise.
Andrew: Coming back to the album, Henrik talked in an interview about how the name came up. Your original choice for it was Deathaura. So how did that name come to your mind?
Tony: When I wrote the song, I was studying this witchcraft thing and how they burned the witches in the dark ages. I was reading about aura and colors and everything that had to do with it. Deathaura just sounded a really cool name for the song and the album as well. But it didn't take too long for me to realize that this sounds like a black metal album and that's not a good thing. We are not black metal band obviously and it was giving a wrong signal to a lot of people. We would have had some disappointed Sonata Arctica fans. I was asking around to friends for a title. I was playing 'World Of Warcraft' with some old friends. Then the name came up. We also realized that Days Of Grays is DOG which was fun because we had a wolf on the cover. The whole cover is like an image within an image.
Andrew: You have written almost all of Sonata Arctica's songs. Having four other members and guest musicians, how does it exactly work? Are there any conflicts?
Tony: Ever since we started this band, I told them that hey please feel free to bring your own songs forward. If you feel that they're not ready, still bring your unfinished songs and we can work with the song together a little bit. So far it has happened only twice (laughs). The members have actually said that they are really happy with the way I'm writing songs. My style of writing is changing constantly and its hard for them to follow it too. Like, if Henrik writes a song right now he sounds like two albums ago. But that is good for the fans as they can connect to the past a little bit. It also takes the load off my shoulders. Its refreshing. I always endorse that kind of thing. I arrange all the songs at home. The biggest conflicts I get into are with Tommy [Portimo, drums]. Its nothing serious, but when I write some drum part and he studies it, plays it for real, he says to me 'How many hands do you think I have??' We need to change it then. So that's the only big conflict.
Andrew: You guys have done a lot of cover songs over the years. I found your version of Helloween's 'I Want Out' to be really good. You should bring it out on stage!
Tony: Doing a cover song in the last part of the show is really fun. We did play 'I Want Out' at a show at some point. But we left it out and haven't played it with this line-up ever. But of course its possible. I remember that we went on tour with Gamma Ray in Europe back in 2001 and Kai Hansen said that he really likes the cover we did, but its too fast (laughs).
Andrew: It'll be only your second time ever at the Bloodstock Open Air festival in the UK this summer, with some great bands in the mix. It must be a good feeling being on that bill!
Tony: Absolutely! That festival has grown so much. When we played there the last time [in 2004], it was a small indoor venue. Now it's a huge outdoor event. Its going to be something fantastic. We were actually planning to do a UK tour, but if we did that we wouldn't get even half the people compared to the festival, so we decided to skip that and just do the festival.
Andrew: The first four albums that you released were purely power metal, with the last two being more progressive. So as the sole song writer, where do you see the band heading in terms of the musical direction?
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Tony: Its kind of hard to say. I call our music as 'melodic rock'. It has so many things buried within that rock, like power metal and progressive stuff. Where we are going, is hard to say before I come up with more songs. You should still be able to recognize Sonata Arctica. We do have certain boundaries of course, but you can stretch them quite a bit. Its going to be a metal plus rock thing.
Check out the band's website www.sonataarctica.info!