Interviewed by Thomas Schwarzkopf (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
If there is a band that has undergone many musical changes in the last ten years it has to be the Finnish Melodic Metal band SONATA ARCTICA. When metalheads hear this name, it evokes a feeling of love or hate. The band is known for Power Metal classics like “Ecliptica” or “Silence”, but those records went hand in hand with more progressive albums like “Unia” and “Days Of Grays”. The fanbase is split. Now Sonata Arctica comes along with a new album, called “Pariah’s Child” and it has the difficult task to please old and new fans. Singer and songwriter Tony Kakko took the time to talk with me about the new album, musical development, critics … and wolves. Here is what he had to say.
Hello Tony, great to talk to you. How is everything going?
TK: All’s pretty good. Just came back home from a fantastic Latin-American tour. Little relaxation and“normal life”, then Europe awaits.
The new album “Pariah’s Child” will be released soon. What can you tell us about the album title?
TK: After the music style and the wolf theme on the cover was clear, it took me quite a time actually to come up with the title. We kinda abandoned the wolf along the “Stones Grow Her Name”-album, unintentionally. So it more or less became a pariah, although we did not really hate it, but I suppose I had grown tired of all what it stood for a long time ago. Now with all things clicking so nicely together again, it was a good time to bring all those “good old things” back. This album could be considered a child of that pariah. Hah, or that’s anyway how I explain the thing to you today. It’s just a name. I like it.
With the new record you wanted to go a step back to the roots. What led to this decision?
TK: Few things. First we had to start the preparations for our 15th-anniversary tour, which meant going thru all the old stuff we’ve recorded. That was a surprisingly nice task. I surprised myself. I thought the whole thing would be total pain in the arse. I have not heard some of those songs in more than ten years. I found myself smiling. The other thing was an “Ecliptica” remake, requested by our label in Japan. We decided to say yes after a long discussion with the band. These two things combined inspired me to try out what it would be like to write a song in that “Winterhearts Guild”/“Reckoning Night”-style. The result was what came to be “The Wolves Die Young”. The whole band liked the song and mood it had and that was when we decided to take the album a little bit more into that direction. Going back to the roots never meant going back to Stone Age, but rather finding that intersection in time when we got a little side tracked. Without forgetting everything we’ve learned in the last ten years. That was quite a long side track…
You know, with “Unia” you did a radical change in style and many people are still complaining that you don’t play traditional Power Metal anymore and all that stuff. Does that make you sad or angry sometimes? Do you still care?
TK: I never really considered myself being a metal head. I just drifted into doing this by being totally into Power Metal, or more closely Stratovarius, back in late 90’s. And then the band I was in suddenly scored a recording deal with this Power Metal styled demo. Holy shit…I think in some ways I am writing my music for the wrong people! (laughs) Or I take it back. I write my music mainly to please myself. If others like my songs, it’s a nice bonus, naturally. “Unia” was a necessary step. I would have quit Sonata had the guys not given me a green light to go into that direction. And afterwards I chose to do whatever I like musically in the future as well, come hell or high water. Life is too short to fulfill your passion by doing things you don’t feel right. These complains don’t make me sad or angry, although it’s frustrating at times. I understand them very well. The thing is we never really even played the traditional Power Metal to start with. It was always “a little different” from that industry genre definition. And lots of Power Metal fans even in the beginning claimed we’re not real Power Metal, although I did feel we were at the time. It just left me feel musically homeless. A drifter. But for over a decade now I have chosen to not give a shit about genres. Music is music.
Personally “Stones Grow Her Name” was my album of the year in 2012 and this is due to the great melodies. You added much more catchiness there and it feels like you continue this path on “Pariah’s Child”. Many bands have to deal with critics, who say bands would just do it to sell more records and that everything is just “mainstream”. What do you think about this matter?
TK: Thank you! But of course! It’s…damn, as if it was a sin and shame to write music with good melodies… The thing is that world is full of people who just can’t do it no matter how hard they try. It’s not easy. But there’s room for all sorts of musical escapades in this world. My view on the matter is that if you don’t like melodies, you don’t like music. Music is melodies for me. All rhythmic elements are simply secondary. And of course bands like us, wishing to do this for a living, also hope to sell some albums. I don’t think anyone gets rich with this business anymore, but as long as you sell some albums you can a) pay for all the touring costs as that is not a money making machine, b) pay the bills and keep the children fed and clothed. I think the “critics”, who’ll probably get their statues erected in the central square of their home town in near future, they’re just jealous of the bands they like. Can’t like something everyone likes. I know that feeling.
Yeah, I think people should be more open-minded. What defines Sonata Arctica today? What is the essence of Sonata in your opinion?
TK: I think we’re just maturing with each album. With that being the case I fear in some point soon we will fail to reach the teenagers. Luckily they will eventually grow-up as well. The essence of Sonata? I don’t know. Love. Love for music, this band and everyone around us. Musically we could be defined as drifters. We’re just drifting around the vast space of music in the galaxy of Rock and Metal … like a rogue planet, causing confusion.
What are your favorite genres at the moment?
TK: I don’t like genres. I like bands and artists. At the moment I’m back listening to Midnight Oil, one of my all-time favorite bands. They always bounce back. Other big thing for me is Devin Townsend Project. Ray Charles also rings a lot of bells in me today, again.
What I love about your songwriting is that you are able to put so many ideas, moods and emotions in one song and there is still a red line in it. So what inspires you to such tricky arrangements and different vibes?
TK: I suppose I always take a too big a bite of whatever cake it is I have on my plate and then I just have to swallow it, write myself through it. I think the musical composer somewhere deep in me is rearing his ugly head and trying to squeeze a world of music a short form song. Writing simple things is getting increasingly difficult for me. Everything else feels very natural to me.
So let’s talk about some songs. The most experimental track seems to be “X Marks The Spot”. What can you tell about this one? What was the idea behind those speaking parts?
TK: I rewrote the song a few times. The only original parts are the pre-chorus, chorus and the heavy rhythmic solo part in the middle. I think we even rehearsed two or three different versions of this song before I was happy with where the song was going. I also had hard times coming up with the lyrical theme for this baby. The religious kinda ranting just came to me one day. How frustratingly stupid I think it is when people throw themselves away and join these cult-like… businesses. I understand the mental, spiritual need for someone big high above to hold your hand and all that jazz, but come on. There are “normal” versions of that stuff available, when you reach that moment in your life you feel the need for comfort and safety. We met Elias’s friend Jaakko a long time ago and I remembered him doing this role of “southern preacher” and sounding absolutely amazing! This song was spot on perfect for something like that. Jaakko and I just scripted him some lines to “preach” and I think it came out pretty damn good. I’m very happy with the result.
Another gem to me is “What Did You Do in The War, Dad”. What is the story behind it?
TK: One day I was sitting in my sauna and just came up with that title question. It all started from that. I imagined myself being a father, war veteran who had done some horrible things out there, traumatized by it all. How would I react if my kids saw my suffering, understanding something deeply, and asked me what did I do in the war? Simple as that. It’s a very emotional piece.
“Larger Than Life” seems to be a homage to Shakespeare and to theater itself. What is the concept of this particular song?
TK: It’s a life of one man, who grew to be something larger than life, an artist, an actor who’s reached all the career goals he’s set to himself, getting famous and rich and recognized as a champion by his peers. Still at older age he realizes he has totally missed the most important thing in life. And finally before the final curtain call he is truly able to get everything life has to offer. It’s never too late.
What makes a song interesting for you and worth listening to?
TK: Good melody, some lyrical hooks and depth, interesting and unusual instrumental approach, good vocals. I believe there’s a right song for each moment in life.
You are often writing about wolves and the wolf is also back on the cover artwork to“Pariah’s Child”. What fascinates you so much at these animals?
TK: I love dogs. Wolves are a source of myths, feared, thus also hated and admired at the same time. I find everything a wolf stands for very fascinating. As we have this arctic image, it’s very easy to apply things considered arctic in everything we do. Like wolves. Very early the wolf became our “totem animal”, something somehow synonymous with Sonata Arctica in the eyes of some people. In some point the wolf became my escape. If I had nothing else to write about, there was always the wolf. It was, and still is a nice metaphor for many things. I like writing songs around my grey ones.
There will be another European Tour this year with lots of shows. You know, there are always songs you just have to play, because the fans demand it. Do you ever get sick of some older Sonata tunes or do you still love to play all of them? I mean you must have played some songs a hundred times now.
TK: Of course you get tired of some songs. Some more, some less. Like “Don’t Say a Word” has not grown old yet and we’ve been playing it for ten years now. I think it has to do with the fact that it’s always been a show ender. Lot of great moments and feelings are wrapped around it. For some reason we always get most tired of the songs that have the unfortunate role of being the show opener. I don’t know why that is really. Those songs just always get all the shit piled atop them. (laughs) Let’s hope “The Wolves Die Young” get around that mine somehow.
I could imagine at a certain point there is much routine while touring. So what do you do to keep the shows still exciting for you and your band?
TK: Changing a song, just one song every now and then stirs the soup quite a bit. It brings in the extra spice to re-spark the excitement. A healthy, safe routine is mostly a good thing, as long as you keep the show flexible and organic in other ways.
Are there any other projects with you in the nearer future?
TK: Yeah, in fact. I am involved in this Karmaflow -project. You can check it out on http://karmaflowgame.com. Other than that it’s just some random live shows here and there. Sonata is consuming all my time. As it should be.
Let’s talk about some more general things: What are your favorite records of all time?
TK: Midnight Oil: -Blue Sky Mining, -Diesel & Dust, -Earth And Sun And Moon. Aerosmith: Pump, Permanent Vacation. Queen: most of them. -Night at the Opera. ..those few from the top of my head. Listening to Midnight Oil at the moment.
What do you enjoy the most as a musician in the music industry?
TK: The creation. Writing new songs. All else is secondary. I would be perfectly happy just staying home and writing new songs. Everything else just steals time away from that.
Last question for today: What was the craziest gift you got from a fan?
TK: Oh, I’ve gotten all sorts of funny and crazy things. I just came across these miniature toy“meals”, with real porcelain plates and the works. They look like the real thing, but are…not. Those are pretty interesting things to get for a man from small town in northern Finland. (laughs) I’ve gotten tons of toy wolves – (keep them coming!), chess games, wine glasses and other items that help me remember those places forever. Even the smallest and craziest things always make me very happy.
Tony, thanks for talking, the final words are yours!
TK: Pariah’s Child is out! Go get yours! See you all soon on the road. We’ve missed you, Europe!