Interview With Vocalist Tony Kakko
Interviewed by EvilG
Transcription by Tony Wilson
All Live photos by Brat
Taken at Rock To The River Festival
Imatra, Finland / 12 & 13 August 2006
Hello. Since I’m your first interview of the day, I’ll try not to keep you too long. So I’ll jump right in with some questions. For your new album, there’s a lot going on on the new album. There are sounds and instrumentation that a lot of fans haven’t heard from your music so far. On first listen my first reaction was, “this sounds different.” But as I’ve heard it a few more times it really does seem like the band is turning a new page, musically. It still sounds like Sonata Arctica, of course, but it does sound like something new.
Yeah. I think you can hear it that way because everybody has said that it is really confusing the first time you hear it if you are expecting a normal Sonata Arctica album. This is not your normal Sonata Arctica album, but it’s there, it’s only the surface that’s really different. But the songs, of course, we are still Sonata Arctica. You’ll find it there but it might take more work, but I think it’s worth it. It’s like good wine.
Yeah. The more you hear it, the more you enjoy it.
Yeah, it can take the spins.
The band’s sound, obviously then, continues to evolve. Your first album, for example, sounds quite far removed from what you did even on your second album. Evolution is a good thing, of course, and a band should evolve and keep things fresh. But I’m sure there’s going to be some people who are going to say, “Where are the fast, double-kicking, power metal songs?” Is there a reason why there are no full-on speedy songs on the new album?
With the Reckoning Night tour we played 160 shows and we were really, really tired after the tour. Personally, I was really, really tired too to start writing these speed songs. These speedy, melodic metal songs that are our trademark… from the past… and in the future, of course. Usually, with previous albums, I write about 6 or 7 songs then I realize “oh shit, I’m missing all these speedy songs that people want to hear.” Then I just start writing them, and that’s been kind of bugging me all these years.
You kind of feel obligated, that you have to do that?
Yeah, because they haven’t always come naturally. In some points I felt that I’m ruining a good song because it has to be that way. But they’ve been fun to do. It’s great people love them, and of course we love them as well because a good song is a good song, no matter how you do it.
But this time I started approaching the whole thing a bit differently. I’ve been writing songs for other projects. That taught me to think outside the box, and write for someone else, not necessarily for Sonata Arctica. That felt really good when I did that for the first time, so I figured, “hey, let’s try this kind of thing this time.” And I wrote, and wrote, and I fell in love with this different kind of songs that came so easily. There’s a lot of work to do with arrangements and everything, but it’s a lot of fun.
Every song makes me smile or cry. There’s a lot of feeling in this album, for me. So I thought, “Hey, this feels good.” And it would feel really wrong to try to change these songs. We’re trying this approach this time. This is for the band mainly. We need some, kind of, soul food to be intact as a band. Everybody was so tired, and we need something more complex and refreshing on the setlist as well.
So this was kind of a liberating feeling to write without constraints of trying to fit into anyone’s perception of what Sonata Arctica is supposed to be?
Yeah. Absolutely. Although, it might be a bit weird because we are not that old of a band yet. But still, it feels good. It feels like you are doing something for yourself too. Something different. Something with a meaning. Something that not all the bands are doing. Because there are a lot of melodic metal bands that are doing a really, really good job in this genre. Many times people have said, “I don’t really listen to melodic metal, but Sonata Arctica is really cool.” So it’s been really weird because that is, for me, saying we are not necessarily that much metal. Or we are at least not power metal. “I don’t listen to power metal, but Sonata Arcitca’s really cool.” That’s something we’ve been hearing a lot.
It’s definitely a bit weird, but well, we’ll see if people still call this power metal. I would not mind really. It’s a different kind of power metal, if you want to say it. It doesn’t really matter for me.
I read your studio diary, and it mentioned that you started out with something like 20 songs which, of course, have narrowed down to the 12 that are on the CD. Were any of the other songs finished or have they been shelved for future release? Or are you just scrapping them entirely?
No we are not scrapping them. Two of those songs were actually covers. One is Gary Moore, Out In the Fields and then another cover song that I’m not going to tell you yet. It’s going to be a secret. Unless you’ve heard it from somewhere! It’s going to be a secret and we are finalizing it, absolutely, and we are releasing it in a later location sometime. The other songs we had are missing something like the lyrics, or I’m not completely happy with them, but they will be released. They are good songs. I didn’t have time to finalize them. 20 songs is pretty much…
A double album?
Yeah. It’s not really the smartest way to go here. We are thinking about maybe releasing some sort of mini-CD, EP type of thing later on. Once we have time to work on this. At the moment this is what we do. We are promoting Unia.
I read that you recorded your vocals and some keys in your home studio. In layman’s terms, what kind of home studio setup do you have? Is it a PC based studio environment, or something else?
Yeah. It’s something that basically anybody can have. I have a little bit better preamp on the microphone, but the tube amp I’m using is a T-Bone. So it is not very expensive, but you can create good quality sound with it, anyway. And the computers are making it easy. I have good software for it.
When you go in there it’s not really a studio, but the function is the same.
Did any of your keyboard parts make it into the final album, or did you just lay them down as a guide?
Actually, it’s funny, but I probably programmed on and played most of the keys on the album. Henrik played some of the layers and all of the solos, of course. And all the Hammond Organs because it’s not my cup of tea. When I’m arranging the songs and working with them at home, they are pretty ready at that time. So there’s no point doing something again that is OK as it is. It’s just a waste of time. And Henrik is OK with the things that I do there. I’m kind of a keyboard player myself, and consider it nice to be able to do something besides singing too.
Out of all your album covers, your new one is probably your most minimalist artwork. Was there a reason for a more simple style artwork for the new album?
When we released the Reckoning Night album we said that maybe we should try something more simple. Because there are a lot of people around the world which are turned off by this graphical thing. I like it myself. I would love a lot of details and that kind of thing. But it is not connecting with the music totally. At least, not anymore. If we had some flashy thing, or weird waves in the form of a wolf coming at you from the cover art would be weird. And people would not recognize the music from the cover. If they are just blindly buying some albums just to see what this music is about, they would not find what they are looking for.
So we’re exciting to try this kind of thing. We changed the logo too, but we are using both logos alongside each other. So people with tattoos don’t have to worry. The old logo is remaining! We’re just trying something different at the moment. Of course, it’s causing a lot of hassle, but what are we here for? Causing a hassle.
Your new album’s title translates in English as “Dreams.” I was wondering why you chose to use the Finnish word rather than the English word, and is there any other meaning behind the title that you can elaborate on.
Actually, I think we had 2 or 3 different names that I had in mind and I changed them over these 2 years that I’ve been working on this project. The last one I had, I changed around Christmas because I realized that people would get the wrong idea out of it. They would hear some weird double meanings that I realized only a bit too late. All the inlay art that we had inside there was practically ready at that time so I had to come up with some kind of name that would work with the art in the booklet. So we changed it to Unia then. It had something to do with our personal dreams, where we want to end up. Not necessarily what you see when you are sleeping, but like, “what are you dreaming of?”
Do you have any songs on the new album that are about wolves? And what is it about wolves that you continue to write songs about wolves? About 1 per album?
“It Won’t Fade” is the wolf song on this album. When you read the lyrics, it is like the pack staying together, and someone was betraying the pack and endangering the whole future of the pack. So that’s the type of lyrics there about wolves this time. It’s kind of our theme anymore, our pet in a way. Gotta have a wolf song!
Can you tell me a little bit about maybe some of the lyrical content and the album in general? Are there any songs that stand out to you personally, and what inspired them?
It’s a good thing you asked because maybe for the first time ever I feel like I need to explain the lyric of one song a bit. This is “My Dream’s But a Cup of Fuel for a Nightmare.” When you read the lyrics even, you might be a bit confused, or think “oh, Tony’s gone loco!” They are really weird. But the story behind it is that I wanted to write a song about dreams. Basically what you see when you are sleeping. There’s this kind of schools of science that dreams can mean something. Like if you see your teeth falling out someone is dying in the near future, or something like that. So I went to the library and I read a lot of the books that they had there about interpreting those dreams. And I really freely combined all the bad omens I could find from those books. There is other stuff there, but it’s basically about bad omens in a dream. So if you are into this kind of dream thing you might see and hear something that means something to you there.
But it’s a weird piece of lyrical content anyway, and that’s only one area thus far that I need to explain to people. Otherwise, I’d be crazy in their books for sure.
Can you tell me a little bit about the lady loves that you write about? Do refer to specific people in each song with names changed to protect the innocent, or are the bulk of the relationship type songs about a particular girl that has inspired you to write a song about them?
I’m like a novelist, you know. I wonder if people ask these things of Steven King. “Are these stories from your real life?” It’s pretty much the same thing. They are imaginary things. I might get inspired by some things, but when the song is ready it might very much be that I can’t even remember what gave me the idea to write this song. They’re all love stories, and they’re mostly like, tragic love stories. They come kind of easily. It’s much easier to write about sad love and tragic love than to write about happy love. I’m trying to study that thing and maybe on the next album we’ll have something about how everything is so fine. [Laughs]
Rainbows and gumdrop smiles.
It seems that you’re enjoying quite a surge in popularity in the US recently. You’re headlining ProgPower and you’re doing another US tour. To what would you attribute this? Is it just the band’s determination, is the label doing a really good job, or is it both?
I think there has been some kind of movement in the Underground in the US for this kind of thing because the mainstream music has been kind of strongly boosted everywhere. At least when I look from Finland, it looks like there’s only certain types of music styles that get into the mainstream thing, and this type of music hasn’t been it. But of course there’s a hell of a lot of people living in the US and North America generally and there’s got to be a lot of people who would like to hear a different type of music. Like ours, for instance.
Hmm… It’s hard. Maybe people just like our kind of music. I haven’t really analyzed this thing that much. Because I don’t really consider us being really famous in the United States anyway.
That leads into my next question. I know you do quite well in your home country and in Europe and your album is on the charts. Whereas in North America there are no charts that you ever see Sonata Arctica, or Nightwish, or any bands like that on. Do you notice a difference still in coming here and people don’t know who you are except for the hard-core fans of this style of music?
In Finland there a lot of people who knows us, because we are feeling pretty OK there, and we’ve been in other kinds of media. So people know us despite even if they don’t know the music necessarily. But here in the US the fans don’t know when we are here and we can pretty much go wherever we want to go really without being noticed. In a way, of course, it’s nice but then when you are thinking about your career it would be nice to have some kind of recognizable thing going on that people would know you. But it’s got its downside too. But we can enjoy our privacy here, really. I hope that will change.
As most know, Jani now has a leave of absence from the band for Civil Service duty. Do you know what kind of stuff he will be doing, and will he be practicing guitar, and when is he expected back to the band?
It’s, at the moment, hard to say because Jani is actually… it’s not Civil Service that he is doing because he has refused to do anything. So that’s causing kind of a hassle. And he really does not, at the moment, as I understand, know himself either. We are a little bit upset about the way he has handled this whole thing because this is definitely afflicting the whole band a lot. That’s why we now have someone to replace him. At the moment we don’t know when Jani will be available for any gigs. So we have to see that. It’s a really complicated situation and there will be some statements made later on, on our website for everybody to read. But at the moment we are postponing that because we don’t have all the facts, and we don’t have enough information for people. So if everybody would just stop speculating. That’s not good for anybody because speculations become unofficial truths. And we don’t want to have that.
So this is something that in Finland everybody has to do at some point, I assume. Is it?
Yeah. There are many ways you can do it. You can either go into the Army and do Civil Service, you can go see a shrink, and get out of it that way, or then you can go to jail.
And what was your option when you went through this?
I spent 330 days in the Army.
Was that fun?
Yeah. I was so young when I went there. I was 20, and I didn’t have anything else to do at the time. I had just graduated, and it was something I wanted to do just to see how it is. It’s like, time has made all the memories golden. There was a lot of shit going on, but it was also fun. I learned something there, you know, the Morse code, so I’m a radio guy in the Army. So I benefitted something out of it. It’s good when you’re making rhythmic things, you can hide messages there.
Morse code riffs.
Yeah, exactly. You can come up with amazing things you would dream of doing otherwise.
I looked at your online bio and the question that I found interesting was, “what would you be doing if not Sonata Arctica?” You mentioned probably something in advertising. I was wondering what is it that you think would be interesting about that. Are you involved in any of the advertising activities of, or decisions that are done for Sonata Arctica?
I’ve been asked to do music for some advertisements, but I don’t have time to do that at the moment. That would mean that I need to put some of the good ideas that I’m using for Sonata Arctica in something else. Something rather different. So at the moment I’m staying out of it. But, you know, when I was like 12 or something and in school we had to take these test, “what would be your future career.” And advertising was what I got. Then 5 years later I got the same result so I’m basing the whole thing on that as well. That I would be in advertising.
I have a good imagination, so I’d be coming up with a lot of crazy ideas, or sure. It’s only a matter of people tuning them down. [Laughs]
Would you say you have a good sense of humor?
Mmm… It’s weird. You could ask the guys who know me better.
I hope so, because I have a question that I don’t want you to take the wrong way. It’s meant to be just funny.
So inquiring minds want to know, what inspired you to have an image that included plaid pajamas with mesh shirts, or tie-dyed shirts?
[laughs] When people come to see you in a show it’s better to cause people to think something different. I’m not wearing that kind of thing when I’m walking the street. Then again, I don’t want to be wearing the things I’m wearing when I’m walking the street on stage. It’s got to be different enough. It’s fun, because I don’t want to put any real “Black Metal” chain shit on stage. It’s not my thing. So I can go the other way. People get upset about it, or are happy about it. So far it’s been good.
So for the new album do you have a new outfit that you’re going to be unleashing on everybody to discuss and wonder?
I think. Might be. [Laughs] I’m not sure, it’s not ready yet. I have a lot of time to do that.
More seriously, when you reflect back on your time with the band, it’s been a little over 10 years now, what has been the most rewarding thing about being in Sonata Arctica? Is it the fans, seeing the world, the whole creative process, or is it anything else?
It’s the whole package. We have been able to make a living and that is, of course, in everybody’s life a big, big thing. There’s no guarantee that you’d be working doing anything for a living. You might be unemployed and living in a really, really poor way otherwise.
The first time I ever got out of Scandinavia, I had only been in Sweden, the really, really Northern part and Norway before Sonata Arctica. So now I’ve been around the world, so that is something that not too many people get to have in their lives, ever. So that’s one big thing.
And then, of course, there’s the fans. We have met so many incredible people all these years, and it has kind of enriched our lives tremendously. It’s been a huge ride and hopefully it will continue that way.
On the flip side, is there any one thing or anything that makes you question why you chose this as your career path?
Isn’t there in every profession? There have been weak moments when I think it would be so easy to go live and work at 7 AM and come home at 4, and have an 8 hour day and just stay home every night. Then when you spend half a year a home practically, just writing the songs, you are so ready to go out. And it refreshing for our relationship also. When you are spending too much time with your spouse, or your wife, or whatever. It’s nice to be able to miss your home. I think it’s a really good thing.
And your home is still in the Northern part of Finland?
Absolutely. I’m staying, too. I’m not leaving anywhere from there.
I guess you like the silence provided by living somewhere a little separated from the big city and the craziness?
Yeah. I’m kind of a hermit. I like to live in privacy.
Sure… So you’re doing a press tour now. You’re in New York, and how many cities will you be traveling to in the next few days for this kind of thing?
Actually, we’re staying in New York now. Everybody’s coming here and we are doing this phone thing around the USA and North America. Then in 2 weeks we are flying to Europe and doing a couple of cities there. We are going to Germany and Spain, Italy… Paris. Stuff like that. That’s the nearest things we are doing. Then, of course Japan is following closer to the release date in late May.
Well, that’s everything I had to ask. I don’t know if there’s any news or things that the band is doing that you want to let people know about.
Not really. This is it, at the moment. We are rehearsing for a few shows in Finland in one month. So we are rehearsing for those.
I guess you’ve already rehearsed with your new guitar player.
Yeah. Absolutely, because we knew this Jani situation earlier. That he would not be able to play the shows.
So he’s working out OK?
Yeah, he should be fine. As far as I know! [Laughs] He told me everything was cool. Jani has also met Elias who is replacing him and they are actually old friends. They know each other. So no worries. Jani’s approving.
Well, thank you for your time, and have a fun day doing interviews. I hope everyone loves the CD tomorrow at the release party.
I hope that too.