An Afternoon Chat with Tony Kakko, the Voice of Sonata Arctica
In the 17 years since the release of their first album, Finnish rockers Sonata Arctica have been touring the world with their unique brand of melodic metal… and they are showing no signs of slowing down. Although they officially ended the touring cycle for their last album, “Pariah’s Child”, last summer… they couldn’t resist one more chance to tour North America this winter before returning to the studio to begin recording their, as of yet unnamed, ninth studio album. They began the tour as support for Nightwish, but wrapped it up by doing several headlining shows across the continent. I was fortunate enough to catch up with the band’s vocalist, Tony, in the earlier part of their headlining tour at the Soundstage in Baltimore, Maryland. We had a chance to discuss the recent tour, the upcoming album, old favorites revisited, tributes, and just what is up with the “ascot” fashion accessory. Here is how it went:
Afternoiz: This is Joe Prostredny with Afternoiz and I’m here with Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica! How are you doing today?
TK: Better I think. Yesterday I was feeling a little under the wind but I’m getting there again. Everybody has been really ill on this tour. We were touring with Nightwish, opening for them earlier and they had to cancel one show.
Afternoiz: Yeah, Floor was sick I heard.
TK: Yeah…I’ve been fortunate so far, still there’s nothing really wrong. Just a precaution type of thing, I went to see a doctor for a throat thing for a little bit of infection, but it’s ok.
Afternoiz: You’re still able to sing OK?
TK: Yeah, it should be ok. I’m a little bit on a bass side at the moment but I’ll be a soprano later on so… (laughs).
Afternoiz: (laughs). OK!! Well we appreciate you talking with us and hopefully you save some of your voice for tonight! You’ve just finished up a successful North American support tour with Nightwish and with no downtime, you’re launching into a headlining tour of North America! Haven’t you had enough of us by now?
TK: No, not at all! Not yet! But after this two weeks of headlining, for sure. Opening for Nightwish is such a pleasure, it’s a lot of fun and easy thing. We only play 45 minutes so there’s really nothing to it!
Afternoiz: You’re got a longer set tonight I assume?
TK: Yeah, we’ll play for about 90 minutes or so.
Afternoiz: So about twice as long?
TK: Of course, headlining, you’ve gotta do it.
Afternoiz: Other than the illnesses, overall the tour went well?
TK: Well everybody was ill at some point, except for me.
Afternoiz: I think there was a glitch the first night or something, because everybody had to shorten their set because the show started late.
TK: I don’t know, I think the illness was there from the get-go more or less. It just jumped from one person to another. I don’t even know who was ill, some got it worse than others and our bus that we call “Container” (laughs), it actually spared [us] and we didn’t really get hit that bad.
Afternoiz: Well, hopefully the rest of this tour will go without incident! Sonata Arctica has been around for almost two decades now, as Sonata Arctica or under a couple other names before that. You already had a large fan base and the last time you came through North America you headlined when you were doing the “Pariah’s Child” World tour.
TK: Yeah…I think we had headlined already back in 2006 for the first time. We opened for Nightwish twice and DragonForce for the rest. I think this is our tour number nine [in North America].
Afternoiz: Obviously, one of the reasons bands tour as a support band is to get exposure to fans that might not have heard of you before. Nightwish is arguably one of the largest symphonic metal bands on the planet. Do you feel like this current tour allowed you to tap a new fan base?
TK: Absolutely! Yeah, we get to play for like 3000 people in some places (or more), and it means a lot to us. We heard all the time from people: “Oh, we’ve never heard of you guys”. And that’s the kind of thing I want to hear!
Afternoiz: That’s why your there!
TK: … to hear them say: “We loved you guys!” We hope to be able to kind of harvest it later on of course. We’re headlining here later this year, before Christmas… with the new album and all.
Afternoiz: Well I have a confession to make; I actually learned about you guys the opposite way back in 2014. I thought: “Oh, Delain is coming again, I’ll go see them, and Xandria, and that’s great! And they’re opening for…?” I didn’t know who you were (laughs).
Afternoiz: (laughing) And I loved your set, so I actually learned about you at your headlining tour because I came to see your support acts…. And I’m now a fan!
TK: I love hearing that because that means that the supports are a good thing and they actually bring in people and that’s the point as well.
Afternoiz: Right, right… so it works both ways!
Afternoiz: It’s been two years since ‘Pariah’s Child’ was released, and you’ve been touring the album all over the world since its release. Now that you’re pretty much finishing the end of the touring cycle….
TK: We actually did already, back at the end of August.
Afternoiz: You officially ended it back in August, so what are you doing now? (laughing) What do you call this?
TK: We should be in the studio right now actually, working on the new album and all, writing songs and shit. But what do you do when Nightwish asks you join them for a North American tour?
Afternoiz: Well… you don’t say “No”! (laughs)
TK: You just set everything aside and make some room. But it’ll be awfully stressful for the rest of the year (laughs).
Afternoiz: What has been the fans reception to “Pariah’s Child”? Did they like it?
TK: It [the fan reception] was way more positive than “Stones Grow Her Name” (2012’s album), which was kind of a hard rock mood album, more or less. It was an odd ball to throw out at that point, I think.
Afternoiz: I know that you’ve said that this album, “Pariah’s Child”, was getting more back to your metal roots?
TK: Yeah, more or less, but I don’t mean the Stone Age like “Ecliptica”, all the way there, but I think it’s getting there. I think it’s justifiable to have that more metal type logo put back on this album. It’s definitely in the same vein as our first four albums, whereas the fifth, sixth, and seventh we had a few albums that had that softer type logo. They are a little bit different albums, maybe except for “The Days of Grays”.
Afternoiz: I liked them and it’s ok to change it up.
TK: Yeah, me too. But still I think it was the right moment to go back to that old logo. It’s got, maybe in some ways, a better karma to it, I’m sure (laughs). Something like that.
Afternoiz: So, you’re going back in the studio when this tour is over?
TK: Pretty much right away. Just take a moment to rest, crash, and die. (laughs)
Afternoiz: Have you been writing already?
TK: Yeah, I have roughly a little more than half of the songs there, but still, it takes a lot of writing and I’ll probably keep writing until the last moment. You never know when “the diamond” is found.
Afternoiz: Is there anything you can tell us about the new album? Is it too early?
TK: Well, it’s gonna sound like Sonata Arctica, that’s for sure (laughs). The idea was to make this roughly the same kind of album as “Pariah’s Child”. Originally the idea was to go in a more metal direction. I’m not sure if that’s gonna happen or stay in the same vein. It’s still going to sound like Sonata Arctica.
Afternoiz: Does it have a name yet?
TK: No, not really. A few ideas, but it’s better to just to be…
Afternoiz: To be determined?
Afternoiz: Is there a release date?
Afternoiz: Now, last year you guys rerecorded your debut album “Ecliptica”. Now, I’ve heard of bands remixing the albums and releasing them, but I’ve never heard of a band rerecording an album. Why did you choose to do that?
TK: The idea came from our label in Japan. It was fifteen years since the release of “Ecliptica” and we’ve wandered in all sorts of directions musically.
Afternoiz: Lost in the Finnish woods…?
TK: (laughs) Yeah! We’ve been working with that same label ever since the beginning, so they have gone with us through thick and thin. So they asked us, would it be ok, as a celebration of that album, to rerecord it. And we were like: “Aaahhh!”, because that’s a little bit of like touching the holy cow kind of thing.
Afternoiz: Yeah, because it was a very popular with the fans. How did they react to the album being rerecorded?
TK: Yeah, that was why we really hesitated and thought is it a smart idea? And then I thought well, we’ve been working with these guys and if we just make it for the Japanese market. They requested it… and we did it as a “thank you”; it was like a Japanese polite thing to do. They liked it and it was a good move of course.
Afternoiz: Would you do it again with another album if they asked?
TK: No, I don’t think so. Because the newer albums, they are more complex. “Ecliptica” was really easy to jump back to in a way that it was a really straightforward punk rock type of approach to it really. But then with “Silence”, already the production and everything is way more complex. So I’m not sure that it would be really worth it to go back there. And this remake actually gave us a chance, or me the chance, to get some things fixed that had been bothering me and just bring the old music to the new group of fans who had maybe never even heard of the original one.
Afternoiz: Yeah! I actually heard the remake before I heard the original.
TK: It just kind of shows the growth of the band. And of course Nuclear Blast wanted to have it as well.
Afternoiz: Right! Because you were on a different label back then?
TK: Yes, Spinefarm. And then Century Media…
Afternoiz: When a band has been on the scene for two decades, as Sonata Arctica has, their music is likely to heavily influence and inspire a lot of newer bands that are “up and coming”. Last year, several bands that you have influence, Xandria, Stream of Passion, and several others came together to record a Sonata Arctica tribute album covering several of your songs.
TK: Yeah, that’s a very odd feeling (laughs).
Afternoiz: How does that make you feel?
TK: Um, old, first of all (laughs).
TK: Are we really that old (laughs)?
Afternoiz: It’s an honor isn’t it?
TK: Yes! Of course it is! But my first thought was: “Shit, have we actually landed there already? There are enough young bands that consider us as an influence?” But of course, if you’ve been doing this for twenty years, sixteen, or fifteen years at that point, professionally of course you’re influencing people, if you are on a certain level of course. I was really happy after the first shock about it. It’s fun and I think they did a really good job! There are exhilaratingly weird and different kinds of versions of the songs that you barely recognize them… and that’s a good thing. But, that’s the point. I think it’s important that bands, when they start covering, making cover versions of songs, they ought to make the song their own rather than just try to come up with a blueprint.
Afternoiz: I can remember the first tour I saw you guys back in 2014, Dianne van Giersbergen, the vocalist for Xandria… the whole time you were playing she was back here dancing and singing to your set!
TK: Oh, really?! (laughs)
Afternoiz: Oh yeah! She was really getting into it!. She was just dancing and singing along. So, she’s obviously a big fan of yours.
Afternoiz: One of the biggest things that stood out to me when I first saw you guys on stage, and I mean this in the best possible way… the band has a very, for lack of a better word, “goofy” stage presence! The musical production is fabulous but there are a lot of goofy faces and a lot of self-deprecating humor. It’s like: “We take the music very seriously but we don’t take ourselves all that seriously. We’re here to have a good time, and we want the audience to have a good time too.” How did this stage presence develop? Has it been there all along or was it something that evolved over the years?
TK: It comes from somewhere deep within. I want to entertain people.
Afternoiz: Well, you definitely do that… in a very good way!
TK: Yeah! That’s what we’re here to do. I’d rather have people going home happy and smiling rather than feeling grumpy. It’s escapism, you just leave all your daily worries you might have aside for a moment and just enjoy the show and laugh… and be with people who think the same way. That means a lot. It’s what I get my kicks from.
Afternoiz: I have another question and the reason I bring this up is because every time a group of fans start talking about Sonata Arctica, for whatever reason this comes up. Your ascot.
TK: (laughs) Ah, this! (points to it)
Afternoiz: That’s not a very “metal thing” but you always wear it. What’s up with that?
TK: It’s my instrument(pointing to his throat). It just makes me feel safe, I don’t know. But like now there’s a reason for it [currently being cold outside] (laughs). It’s just my thing. Like even during summer, I wear this.
Afternoiz: It’s not just a stage thing? It’s you. You wear it everywhere?
TK: Yeah!! It’s just me and what I wear everywhere. This is my instrument… you put your guitar in a case when you’re playing to keep it safe, and this keeps me safe. I feel naked [without it]. It’s part of my costume as well.
Afternoiz: I just had to ask!
TK: (laughs) Yeah, yeah… I get asked that a lot!
Afternoiz: So you’ll finish up the current North America tour and then, as you said, it’s back to the studio to work on the new album. You’ve been over here for a while now, I’m sure you’re anxious to get back home?
TK: Slowly, yes. Yeah we all miss home. Some more, some less, but everybody does that. Thank God for Internet and Facetime and Skype and whatever you might use. You actually have a visual phone where you can see friends and family and everything. It means a lot.
Afternoiz: Well, we appreciate you spending so much time with us, obviously.
TK: Of course. It’s a long flight here, and a long travel and it’s expensive. So we want to [do as many shows as possible].
Afternoiz: What else can fans expect from Sonata Artica in the coming year?
TK: Touring… yeah. We’ll be back in the States in November/December.
Afternoiz: Oh, really? Good! And I assume you’re hitting the European festival circuit?
TK: In the summertime, yeah, the summer festivals.
Afternoiz: Well, Tony, our time together is coming to an end, but I’m looking forward to seeing you on stage tonight! Is there anything else you’d like to say to your fans before you leave us?
TK: Thank you very much for this tour. On behalf of Nightwish, Delain, and us, and all the local acts, it’s been a blast touring here again! I love touring North America, it’s my favorite place to tour…
Afternoiz: Oh! Thank you!
TK: …and I mean that, no bullshit! I just enjoy everything. As a kid I saw a lot of American movies and everything and TV series and all the coolest things ever, they were from America. So I’ve finally been able to tour here many, many times and see a lot of places… and I still have a shit-load of places that I want to see. Every time we come back here, it’s just a blast and I really look forward to it and enjoy it!
Afternoiz: Well, I look forward to seeing you onstage tonight and I’ll look forward to when you guys come back in the fall! Kiitos!
TK: Thank you!