Interview and Photos by: David Thrower
Last year, with the release of ‘The Ninth Hour’, Sonata Arctica proved yet again that music can carry not only passion and melody but also a message. Since debut ‘Ecliptica’ way back in 1999 the band has delivered songs asking that we question our actions and strive for improvement not only in our daily lives but in the World that surrounds us.
I recently caught up with vocalist and songwriter Tony Kakko prior to the band’s gig in Glasgow and still some way off from completing the European leg of their globe-trotting tour. A situation not unfamiliar to Sonata Arctica.
“A band that doesn’t tour is a dead band,” Tony said before admitting the current tour was the most demanding the band had ever undertaken.
“We do have time off,” he confessed, “but lately, for the last year, it’s been really hard touring. We had a seven-week North American tour, before that we had a couple of weeks in Europe, now another seven weeks here and some shows in Finland.” As if that wasn’t enough the band will jet off to Latin America for five weeks in May. “It’s an insane touring schedule we have but it’s really effective – we get everything done in a year. Then we get half a year off!”
Six months downtime may sound idyllic but the reality is far from the perception.
“In the eyes of the fans we have time off,” Tony said, “but I’m working, writing songs and in the studio. Some of the guys in the band might actually have half a year off but for me, it’s still a lot of work.”
In fact, Tony took his first break from music since 1999 prior to recording ‘The Ninth Hour’ and for three months lived in isolation, cutting all ties.
“It was healthy and felt good,” he said, “but the Tony that came out the other end of this tube, this vacation, was slightly different, more mellow. [‘The Ninth Hour’] then turned out slightly different from what I had in mind while we were still touring ‘Pariah’s Child’. But it’s all good – I feel healthier because of that break.”
Health, particularly for a vocalist, is very important. Something Dan Cleary, singer with support act Striker, found out only too recently.
“Unfortunately, Striker have had to cancel [the Glasgow show],” Tony admitted, “because Dan’s voice has gone and he needs the rest, but that’s the professional thing. You need to know when to take time off as this is the only instrument we have so if you lose it you never really get it back.” Frankly, the cancellation came as no surprise – it had been plain to see (hear?) that Dan was struggling the previous night in Sheffield.
I asked Tony how he protected his own voice considering both his range and touring schedule.
“I try to sleep,” he said. “With the coming of age comes wisdom – I know what to do and what not to do and have the right poison for every ill. I’m a walking pharmacist.”
Downtime during tours can also cause problems.
“Physically you feel more drained after a couple of days off,” Tony confessed. “The older I get the smarter I get in that I try to do sports and stretch on days off – you can’t just lay in bed, watch movies and eat and drink. I always feel that after a day off the first show on the next leg is really difficult – everything hurts more, but that’s normal. It’s necessary to have time off; at least for my voice!”
On stage, Sonata Arctica takes their music seriously and work hard to impress their feelings and opinions both musically and vocally. During the show in Sheffield Tony even took time out to sit before the crowd and thank everyone for supporting live music.
“The future depends on people buying tickets and going to see the shows,” Tony said. “If you’ve ever enjoyed live music and would like your children to one day have the same experience then this is the way to do it – the only way. The music business is struggling, these are difficult times we live in.”
As well as his feelings on the support of live music Tony has strong feelings on the environment and the damage mankind is doing to Planet Earth. The band’s Facebook page even goes so far as to talk about a possible Armageddon though while our conversation took place mere days following the horrific attack in London Tony was quick to make clear his argument.
“The Armageddon is not about terrorism,” Tony said. “though it all contributes to the decline of humankind, but my main concern is about nature. We are being greedy and destroying everything. We could change and get everything done and fix things but unfortunately, we are what we are. It’s kind of gloomy but I’m trying to urge people to point their middle finger at me and say, ‘no you’re wrong, we are not what we are, we can change and better things and teach our children to save us all’. We’ll see. It’s scary to live in these times of change and it’s obvious that things are going in a weird direction.
“[In Finland] we have a lot of forests and clean water – when you go up North you can drink from the streams and eat the berries. It’s something I want my kids and grandchildren to have as well but it all feels endangered at the moment.”
Thankfully, Sonata Arctica is doing everything they can to encourage change.
“When you have the chance to convey some sort of message it would be a shame if you didn’t,” Tony said. “If you really feel that you have something to say, even if you only make a tiny bit of difference, say it … small steps.”
Sonata Arctica will be playing across Europe until early April before jetting off to warmer climes to spread their manifesto. Please support them on the road.
Life is a mess, Tony stated during our conversation – it would be all the worse if Sonata Arctica were not part of it.