Sonata Arctica - Interview
How talented does a band have to be to tour with power metal giants Stratovarius and Rhapsody after only one full-length album? Sonata Arctica, hailing from the frigid zones of northern Finland, have proven more than worthy. Their latest release "Silence" is seen as no less than a true masterpiece by the staff here at MetalBite, and it has gotten half of us into power metal in general. The genius composer and singer Tony Kakko has a way of creating melodies that will stick in your head for days! I had the privilege of having him take a break from mixing an upcoming live album to answer a few of my questions for all the hungry fans out there! Enjoy!
OK, I understand you just came home after a short tour in Finland, playing New Year’s Eve in Helsinki! How did that go? Are people still excited about "Silence"? What was the turnout like, regarding the relatively small population of Finland?
The shows in Finland, well, it's not touring in strictest sense of the word. We have mainly weekend shows. And we have those until the end of February. Not that many bands are able to really tour in Finland the way one can do in Europe for example. The show in Hell-sinki was ok. We had lot more fun on stage. We had guests from Japan(imagine, this girl came to our hometown Kemi on Dec 23rd, spent a week there, then took a taxi to Mietaa (400+km!!) where we had a show on 29th and ended the trip in Helsinki.), Germany, France & Sweden at least. Crazy people! "Silence" has sold nicely in Finland. More than "Ecliptica", which was expected. Relatively we sell best in Finland. About 10k albums to 5 million. We have sold around 40k in Japan, but there are zillion people in Japan. :)
"Silence" is a metal masterpiece! It has not left my player since I bought it, I must congratulate you as a composer, I am curious-what kind of musical education/experience do you have for such a young genius?
Thanks! Nice to hear you think so! Cool! I studied keyboards for 2 years when I was 18-19, but that really was not my thing. Frustrating to see little kids aged 5 learn and master things faster and better than "moi". SO other than that I'm "natures child", if you will.
Finland’s metal scene today is probably my favorite, with amazing bands like Children of Bodom, Stratovarius, Amorphis, Sentenced..., and now, of course, Sonata Arctica. Are you guys friends with any of these musicians?
Nightwish (HUGE addition to your list!) & Stratovarius are the closest ones. We toured with Stratos and got to know them. It's nice you can SMS or e-mail to these fellas as friend. Couple of years ago they were idols! I love this business (with all its little faults)! And Nightwish, well I've been working with them on couple of occasions and they are the closest thing we really have to a brothers/sister on this business. And Tuomas is my really good friend. It's nice to have someone to share this pain of creation. We have of course met a LOT of bands, but these 2 I consider being real friend bands.
One album left with Spinefarm; what are the plans for a new Sonata Arctica release? Do you have anything ready, or is it all coming from scratch?
We will enter the mighty Tico-Tico Studio in our town Kemi in September. I don't have any songs ready yet, some ideas though. A start of some kind. It's worrying to me that I'm more into making the ep/lp we release after the 3rd album. That is going to be a theme thing in vain of 'The End Of This Chapter', really dark thing.
What can we expect on the new one? Are you planning to progress your sound with time, or stick to the trusty old formula. Personally, I would love another album like "Silence"!
We have learned new things, new ways of doing some shit, naturally, so I'm pretty sure we have all something on it. But I agree you with this "Silence" thing. I'd like to get same kind of mood on it.
Where do you see yourself, or the band, in 20 years?
Hmmmmm...I'm turning 47....fuck. At least I'm not jumping on stage, that's for sure. And that kind of says what's the future of the band. There's time for everything. I hope to be able to do this as long as it feels good. Personally I'm sure I continue making music. Solo things maybe, other kind of music for other kind of band. Or then this kind of music for another band. Who knows. Music anyway. I will never go working on any factory. That would kill me.
How do the songs come together in the band, do the rest of the guys help out or do you take care of everything? How long do you spend writing each song? Do you play the guitar or other instruments in order to come up with all the melodies?
I write all melodies and lyrics alone. Other guys are irreplaceable when the songs are arranged. I could not do that part alone. The songs would be quite different without them. They also function as my official critics: when something is not all that good, they tell me and I change it. Sometimes you fall in love with some crappy ideas. I don't watch the time when I'm working. That would make it too stressful. A song can come in 5 minutes, or it can take 5 years. I have lot of ideas, unfinished songs and such that I will rip someday and build whole new songs out of them. They just need some kind of frame to be installed in. I play keyboards, of course, and then a little guitar. Basic chords, but that's enough to write songs. 'Replica' is one I wrote with guitar. Melodies come by singing and playing at the same time. For some reason I can't come up with melodies by playing that easily.
I really love the slower tracks on the album like 'Tallulah' and 'Sing in Silence'! Do the lyrics here come from personal experience or are they fictional? I think 'Tallulah' is the ultimate anthem to any guy who has been dumped by a girl he likes, is this what inspired you to write it?
Ah, I like the slower stuff best as well. Weird. Lyrics, well, my guideline is never to open my life to public. It's my own territory. Therefor I never use my personal experiences when I write. It might be therapeutic but nit fair for the other person involved. And I'm not that troubled soul that I should even do that. I would be quite miserable case if it was my life I'm writing about, don't you think? I'm living happily with my long time girlfriend, things are superb for me. All lyrics are fiction. I might sometimes get inspirations when I look at the people around me, but I change everything...how do they say it in movies? "All characters are fictional blah blah blaaa to real person are purely coincidental...and stuff.
Try as I might, I just can’t understand the meaning, title, and lyrics of the song 'Weballergy'. Musically, it’s one of my favorite songs, could you explain what it’s about?
I thought it would be sexy to clue words web & allergy to one word. It looks weird enough to be my idea. Lyrically it's really sarcastic addition, part deux if you will, to 'Blankfile' from "Ecliptica"-album. 'Blankfile' was much more serious, I was kind of worried about people getting stuck too much in the internet. Now this one, again, is much more tongue in the cheek kind of thing. I also wanted to say something to the people criticising my lyrics "these are not heavy metal lyrics". So, I took a look at some of the lyrics they mentioned as "truemetal" and... sweet Lord....unbelievable. So I wanted to add my version of "truemetal" lyrics on the chorus. Crappiest peace of shit I ever wrote:"...if you live, you will die...". That's pretty fucking basic thing, when we talk about obvious things. Do yourself a favour and don't think about the lyrics too much. hehee. :)
Do you have a favorite track from "Silence"?
I have few I like better than others. Not in any order: 'Sing I Silence', 'The End Of This Chapter', 'The Power of One', 'Last Drop Falls'. The slower stuff basically.
Are there any plans of Sonata Arctica touring North America?
That is a dream of ours. We were supposed to come there already last year, but our European tour was re-scheduled and that kinda ran it over. We'd all love to come there so it's only matter of time. I hope!
What do you think of the heavy metal scene today? In the last decade, Scandinavian countries have definitely been the largest contributors of metal bands. Why do you think this is? What is it about the northern lands and metal?
I honestly don't follow it. I have few bands I like really, and well, rest are just the "scene". Nightwish, Stratovarius, Rhapsody, Children of Bodom...and of course all the bands we know personally like Gamma Ray, Vanishing Point etc. I suppose the scene is ok. I don't know. Sorry. Scandinavian people are stupid and they have nothing to do because it's too fucking cold all the time and those polar bears are REALLY dangerous especially after 5PM when all Scandinavian people are having dinner in their red/white wooden cottages on candle light and the sweet scent of fried reindeer meat spreads to the landscape from the chimneys. Penguins are also real pain in the ass. Those bastards usually invade all bus-stops so we can't go anywhere. That's why we play heavy metal. We have all the time in our hands. Ain't that something. OK, now, who believed what I wrote? Come on, raise your hands...so to put it short: Scandinavian metal kicks ass, because penguins have invaded our bus-stops.
What bands or albums would you consider your personal and professional inspirations? What did you grow up listening to, what bands influenced the sound of Sonata Arctica today?
My first love musically was Queen. They have definitely had a huge influence on me. I grew up with their albums. The came bands like Midnight Oil and Crash Test Dummies whose music I enjoy very much. Career wise Stratovarius's "Visions" has been the biggest thing to me. Sonata Arctica simply would not exist without that masterpiece. They have had a big influence on the way we sound generally, well naturally, because we have the same guy mixing our albums and all that, but also the style of music. Later I have been inspired by bands like Nightwish and Rhapsody, but their style of music is a bit too different for me to write songs like that. Maybe for my solo some day.
Many people believe that there is a strong resurgence of metal today. 2001 was one of the best years for metal in a long time. Do you think real heavy metal bands like Sonata Arctica will always remain in the underground scene, or is there a chance of metal making it big in the mainstream market again?
Well, it depends solely on record companies, sadly. If they decide to make some band a huge thing, then they put money on it and if the band can't write songs of their own, someone will write them. For a "real heavymetal band" it's very hard to make it big without big record label. Of course it can happen, but as long as these "rap'n rollers" like, well, let's take Limb Bizkit are on favor, there's really no room for other kind of metalkind music on he top IMO. We can, as all bands, make it on the certain level, but from there on it's hard. We could write really poppy songs to sell more, but that would be too painful. I really prefer staying on Stratovarius level, taking that we ever make it that size.
What are your feelings about the growing surge of internet media like Mp3 downloading. Do you think it is hurting your sales to a certain degree, or perhaps improving them, since it’s an easy way for people to hear a sample before they buy a CD. Did you support Metallica’s legal action against Napster?
I'm totally against Napster and all communities like that, even though I realize that is a good way to find new bands and all that. But let's face it. It will not improve sales in the end. Win some, lose a bit more. That's what I think. It would be ok to have samples on internet, but on form of real audio. Mp3 has way too good quality. Too often you are tempted not to buy actual album after you vacuumed the whole fucking works from internet for free. It's just not fair. If this goes so far, I can't make a living with this, I quit on the spot and world gets to live without my music.
What kind of music are you cranking in your player these days?
Nothing. I'm not listening music that much. I enjoy silence much more. I sometimes take and listen some new album I've never heard when I'm typing these e-mail interviews. But not now, because I'm mixing our forthcoming live album in Helsinki. 800km away from home... :( I hate hotels.
Thanks a lot for answering my questions! I wish you guys all the best as a band, do you have any closing remarks?
I really hope to be able to play there in North-America as sooooon as possible. But I'm pretty sure it's not before 2003. Rock on and Stay Heavy!!! Ok. Thanks and you're welcome.
The Ninth Hour
Stones Grow Her Name
Live In Finland
The Days Of Grays
For The Sake Of Revenge
For The Sake Of Revenge
The End Of This Chapter
Don't Say A Word
Songs Of Silence - Live In Tokyo
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