Sonata Arctica interview
Birds fly, fish swim, and Tony Kakko sings. For almost 20 years, Tony Kakko has been painting pictures for us with his words in Sonata Arctica and inspiring us to push the limits of what can be done with the human voice. Also along with countless guest appearances on other bands albums, Tony is also one of the 4 explosively powerful voices in the metal vocal all-star extravaganza Northern Kings, taking popular non-metal songs and vastly improving them by putting a metal spin on them. Tony is gearing up to release Sonata Arctica‘s 8th studio album, “Pariah’s Child” very soon and after that, the sky is the limit.
Metalholic’s Mattie Jensen and Metal Wani’s William Richards recently had a chat with Tony Kakko who is currently on tour. The Sonata Arctica vocalist discusses the new album “Pariah’s Child”, songwriting, lyrical approach, evolution of the band, influences, Northern Kings and much more.
Mr. Tony Kakko. The man, the myth, the legend. Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us.
Haha, quite a start! 🙂 Thank you. I am happy to be here for you.
Keyboards have always been a big part of Sonata Arctica’s music, but in your new album “Pariah’s Child”, it seems to be much more prominent than ever before. Was there any particular reason for bringing the keys more to the forefront?
It sort of is part of our power metal side, which is more prominent on this album than it has been in years. I suppose that is the reason. I did not actually even think of that before you now mentioned it.
Throughout the history of Sonata Arctica, each album had a unique feel to it. Your latest effort, Pariah’s Child, has a more upbeat and fun feel to it than has been heard in the past, especially in songs like “Cloud Factory”. What decides the general tone of the album.
I write an album full of songs, plus maybe few on top of it, and then see where it seems to be leading us. That all is in so early stages of production that I have time to even rewrite the whole album if need be. But that’s how it starts. Then one song can change the whole thing. Like this time “The Wolves Die Young”. We all suddenly loved that track and wanted to take the whole album more into this upbeat direction. So it meant rewriting few songs and coming up with few completely new ones. Consequently I have quite a few songs ready for some other adventure. One thing that was clear already during the “Stones Grow Her Name” tour was that we definitely need to perk things up a bit. Despite that idea, the demos I had ready last summer were not quite enough in that direction apart from “Cloud Factory” which by the way is a really old song. I played the demo to the guys already on the “Stones Grow Her Name” rehearsing sessions, but decided to pull it off the set.
In the song “Larger than Life” off of your new album “Pariah’s Child“, there is a very heavy Queen feel. What inspired you to write a song that was more so a rock anthem than anything heard in the past?
It just happened. One morning I started to fool around with orchestral samples and pretty soon I had the intro and some of the recurring themes ready. It was clear that this song I had already then named “Larger than Life” was to be a long song, an album ender if I managed to get it done in time. Queen has played a big part in my musical growth, it was the first band I realized I was a fan of. So it’s pretty natural that you can hear Queen influence in lot of the things I do.
The new song “What Did You Do in the War, Dad?” put me very much in mind of the classic Sonata Arctica song “Replica” from the “Ecliptica” album. Is there any connection between these two songs?
No not really, but they do share the thematic atmosphere in a way. Yes, “What Did You Do in the War, Dad?” could be understood as “Replica II”. But I did not really mean it to be that.
Your lyrics have always been very based in reality, dealing with real world issues rather than more fictional subject matters as other bands of similar style tend to gravitate toward. Do you draw influence from some of the more serious songs from your own life, or from issues you observe in the world around you?
My songs are by no means diary entries, just songs inspired by more earthly matters such as human relationships. I’ve always considered important that people can relate to lyrics I write. For some part anyway, not all of them. I may sometimes throw in some little details that are from my own life, but those are mostly to remember e.g. people who are no longer with us. I would be a pretty miserable shell of a man had all these songs from my own life. Plus I’d be in jail or dead or totally insane and institutionalized or something, haha!
From “Ecliptica” to “Pariah’s Child“, Sonata Arctica’s sound has drastically changed through the years. Was this due to a natural evolution of the band and yourself as a musician, or was there a conscious effort to constantly reinvent yourself?
It’s a little of both. We’ve always produced our own albums, so the better you get at it and perhaps a little more ambitious too, the better the final result may sound. Or at least different. And we’ve been little adventurous since “Unia” album. As a songwriter I try to always come up with new things or at least new ways to reach the old goal.
What made you decide to start using more harsh vocals in the more recent albums?
I’ve done that live a lot and what you do live, and what feels good you always bring on the next album. Usually so anyway. I like to play with my voice and find out what kind of things I can do with it. It’s fun.
The sub genre classification of metal is always a big debate amongst metal fans throughout the world. As Sonata Arctica is fairly difficult to classify, often times referred to as power metal, symphonic metal, progressive metal, or even melodic rock, how do you feel about the amount of sub genres floating around the metal genre?
I find it more confusing and restricting than useful. I think we have anyway suffered from this kind of classification. I really don’t think we fit any of them all that good. I’d say melodic metal, which is one of the things we’ve been referred as in the past, I think it is pretty good, although not painting the whole picture of the band either. We seem to ambulate roughly in the waters of larger rock and metal genres, never really finding a seat with our name on from anywhere. We must be a nightmare to market.
Two common things that have showed up throughout the history of Sonata Arctica are wolves and winter. Why do these two themes mean so much to you?
Winter is easily my favorite season and I am a dog person. Somehow people always connect wolves with arctic areas, thus snow and cold, so these two go well together. I think it all started from our name, Sonata Arctica, small piece of arctic music. It was just a match made in heaven. I started writing songs with wolves as main characters and we took it part of our visual image and soon people started to connect these things together. The arctic nature with all its elements and Sonata Arctica sort of makes a good package.
How do you feel about the influence that your music has to younger generations of musicians that may be trying to emulate what you are doing vocally or what Sonata Arctica is doing musically?
I think it’s great! You know, we all have our own old farts and heroes we admire and follow. It’s a good way to learn. First copy or try to do what older bands and artists have done and then slowly add in your own spices and find your own thing. I do not really know how much we’ve actually influenced then young bands, but I’m sure at least some. The early stuff especially. I’ve heard few bands that’ve been seriously on the same thing we did then. It’s cool. I like it. I think if you can inspire a young kid pick up an instrument instead of a game console controller, you are making the world a better place. Music in any of its forms is a wonderful gift to give to a child.
How does it affect you when fans criticize the direction that Sonata Arctica has gone in moving away from the “classic” sound of the early Sonata albums?
It does not. Not one bit. I do this first and foremost for myself. Sometimes you have to sacrifice something, take a step back to be able to walk a mile forward. I need to explore the music that is in me. Otherwise I think I would be letting myself down. If this upsets some of the fans, it’s sad and all, but at the same time that same move will make some other people happy and most importantly myself. Sometimes that makes me feel a little selfish, but hey, it’s a free world and anyone can start doing this! Music is a great hobby. Not sure whether or not to recommend it as a profession though…
Oh, the King’s are on a crusade somewhere far away and we have no idea when they might be returning. This Raskasta Joulua (Heavy Christmas) project we have in Finland is taking too much time and energy from the group. And of course we have our own bands that are always the priority. But we have by no means buried NK! We just need to think what it is that we want to do, where we wanna go. We’ve recorded only cover songs so far and next it might be in order to release something original. When that might be and what sort of a thing it could be, I have no clue. But the will to do something is there.
What are the prospects of Sonata Arctica coming to India? Are you aware that you have such a massive fan following here?
We’ve been requested to play some festivals some years back, but it has always crashed on one or another thing, like us being on a recording break. All I think it needs is a right promoter who can make things happen and contact our management. Sometimes it can be just that easy. I’ve received some mails from fans in India, but I do not really have a clear idea what kind of following we have there. I would love to play in India! New places are always the salt and pepper in this soup.
In conclusion, how would you define your new album “Pariah’s Child” in one sentence?
“Pariah’s Child” is our return on the road paved by the four first albums. Right now I can’t come up with anything more elaborate.
Thank you again for taking the time out of your day to speak with us and give us a view into your mind, also for gifting the world with the beautiful words and music you provide for us.
It was my pleasure. Thank you very much! Be well. Hopefully we get to see you all soon. Dream is alive!