Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica interviewed by EvilG for Metal-Rules
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.