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Interview with Tony Kakko (vocals, Sonata Arctica)

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Interview & photos : Adrian Hextall (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine

On the eve of their London show with Freedom Call in support, Tony Kakko spoke to Adrian Hextall to discuss the band’s 15th Anniversary, the re-recording of Ecliptica, their acclaimed début album and the thoughts around playing the whole thing on the tour to a willing and receptive fan base.

MGM: So Tony, it’s the 15th anniversary of the début album, you’ve taken the opportunity to re-record it and on this tour, you’re going to play it in full. That’s a pretty big milestone for you?

Tony: It is. It is. I didn’t see this coming. 15 years yeah, but not like playing the whole album again, back to back and rerecording the album as well. We’d never have done this if not for the request coming from our own label in Japan. It’s going to make it all a very special thing because they’ve gone with us through thick and thin in Japan since the beginning so, it’s kind of a thank you for them as well.

MGM: And the decision to not mess about with it as well? From what I understand it’s only maybe four solos that have changed.

Tony: Yeah, they (Japan) were just like, “the solos should be 94.5% the same that they are in the original”. I thought “Really??”  but yeah, they wanted to make the point that they needed to have as close to a blueprint as possible with what we’re going to create. Of course we had to change some of the keys because they were just ridiculously high for me, so well above my comfort range, so I just dropped some of them, as I’ve already done previously for some of those songs in similar live conditions. It was a pain in the ass to kind of stress on one spot in one song day to day, night to night. You know, I’m not 20 any more. So …

Sonata Tony_03MGM: I was going to ask, as you were listening back to it, did you think how on earth did I actually manage to hit those notes?

Tony: I was stupid for a long time. I didn’t consider it, whether I should be able to do them live every night and deal with everything that comes with touring. I didn’t know anything we were totally creamed, we hadn’t toured or anything. Just played local shows in our home town. So I didn’t know anything, I was just following Stratovarious, they were singing extremely high, so, yeah, I was going to do the same thing of course. You have to do it because that was the biggest band for me at the time. Huge fan. So I started mimicking what they did, you know writing songs into that style, which was a blessing. But I should have actually added some of my own thing to it, to register the higher the better.

MGM: So this time with the rerecording then, it’s almost with hindsight, that this is really the way you would’ve wanted to do it first time.

Tony: Well, yeah at some points you know, the feel of danger, the possibly derailing train feeling that you had with the original one, that would’ve been there already but not the particular keys, that’s the only thing.

It’s going all over the place you know, the original, its out of control but in a good way. That’s the appeal I think and people loved it, young guys just trampling and doing something extremely stupid. We were young. We didn’t know what we were doing, which is everything.

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MGM: Was there a temptation to also record that début single as well because I know the lead single is different this time. It is a missed opportunity to re-release ‘UnOpened’? This time I believe it’s ‘Beautiful Heart’?

Tony: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s from our label. You know, we recorded it (Beautiful Heart) but they wanted to use it like a spear’s head.

MGM: More for promotional purposes?

Tony: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I think ‘Beautiful Heart‘ it sells the album, the original because I know it was one of the four songs that were on the demo that got us on our label in the first place. So maybe a better choice I think.

MGM: Now in terms of the show tonight, you’re playing the album in full, again is that a risk for you? We’ve spoken to bands previously and they’ve said playing full albums are  the one thing they fear as they are worried that people will think Oh!, I know what’s coming, I know what’s coming and the focus goes, where is the element of surprise? Not knowing what the set list is, is a good thing. Is it a risk for you, you think or do you think your fans are actually really looking forward to this?

Tony: Now that you’ve mentioned it, we could have actually messed with them (the fans) but the album, the order of the songs in some way but we’re actually playing the album straight through so there’s really no surprise there, unless that’s something that you wouldn’t expect to just walk in. So maybe it’s a nice surprise, limited, its something new to expect although it’s a nightmare, its something special nonetheless. Its something we’re not going to redo, this is it. This is the end I think. So it gives you the incentive to come one more time.

MGM: Now just in terms of the 15th anniversary reissue of the album, I’m really curious, one of your bonus tracks that you’ve thrown in there is by Genesis.

Tony: (Smiling) Yeah. OK. I like Genesis. I’m more or less the Greatest Hits kind of listener and fan of the band. You know ‘I Can’t Dance’, I started jamming that song in the shower more or less, its always the place where you shouldn’t be when you great idea because you cant put it down anywhere so I came up with horn, (demo) in the shower, taking a shower, being happy in the rhythm, thinking, hey this would work great with that song and then just got of the shower and started working on the demo right away.

I was happy that I was actually able to do that so it came out OK. I liked it a lot, did it myself, and the rest of the band was like “uh, really???”. But you know, (laughs) I’m the boss! I decided to work on doing it anyway and it’s going to be cool.

MGM: Are you thinking of ever playing it live? I think it could be great.

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Tony: It will be the curve ball that nobody’s going to expect. But I think our label, they were a bit “Ahh! Don’t go there. Wrong song, wrong everything, it’s just wrong” but when they saw the video I showed them, they were like “ooohhh, it adds to it in a good way”. The video came out OK and it also promotes the album as well. I think in some way it justified the cover of the song because it’s so different. It’s nowhere near blueprint.

MGM: And it’s pretty much your style?

Tony: Yes…… (pauses) No, actually I think it’s even more straight forward rock-n-roll thing. If you didn’t know it was Sonata Arctica and me as a singer you wouldn’t know it was us at all.

MGM: Now in terms of where you are these days, this style of music, rerecording the début and also the style of the previous album as well, it’s more back to your original style of music. Is that where you feel more comfortable again now or is it just where you feel harmonious at the moment?

Tony: I got to stretch my legs as a songwriter with the albums that followed ‘Reckoning Night, but they were all over the place musically with so many songs pouring in as well. We were also totally burned out after our Reckoning Night tour. It was the first really long tour that we’d had. 160 something shows and we had too much happening at the same time and we needed to clean the table.

Now it’s good to go back into that intersection and continue to stretch that what’s going on from the first album to Reckoning Night.

MGM: Yes you’ve more or less gone back to the beginning and challenged yourself all over again.

Tony: I think we’re going to continue on this track right now. If there are any surprises, there will be some I’m sure, one or two odd balls, in each album. You got to have them I think so that’s still more back on track instead of where we have been all over the place. I love those later albums but some of the songs were not us. I think. If I come up with enough songs that are weird and they don’t fit Sonata Arctica then I think I’m going to go on and produce my solo album.

MGM: I hear you’ve got a tribute album.

Tony: Yeah, hey, that’s really cool, it makes me feel old. Kind of, are we already like on album X? So there’s a group of bands that are looking at you now as the influences versus the other way around.

Its really fine, it’s great you know, we have some fans and people who like our music, not necessarily fans, but in terms of music, and some bands that are really big like Shadows Fall, whose singer even mentioned one of our albums as one of the top albums of his life but instead its like wow, that’s really cool.

MGM: In terms of bands that are playing on the tribute album, do any of them stand out?  I’d seen Van Canto have a track for example.

Tony: Yeah, that’s actually the only song I’ve heard. I like it , its fantastic, its great. It’s different; And actually our bass player has mastered the album.

MGM: Something to look forward to then. And you mentioned just very brief, because we sort of talking about direction and influence and I hate to just skip over it, but Queen. You mentioned Queen real briefly and that would’ve presumably been your almost influence on the set of the rock album that you did.

Tony: Yeah absolutely. It was the first band that I found as a kid that I really considered being a fan of. I just turned the TV on, it must have been like ’85, ’86 around that time. Magic years and then we had like maybe six channels on TV and just saw that there’s band OK. And. Bam… Amazing , I sat through the whole show that was broadcast.

I just fell in love with that and then I joined this club in Finland, they have this music club and bought three cassettes with Live Magic being one of them. It started from that album. I was hooked it was a big thing for me and then it continued the rest of my life, my major, biggest influence.

On that thought and with the spirit of Freddie Mercury coursing through his veins, we leave Tony to prepare for the show.

Live REVIEW and PHOTOS to follow shortly.

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