Interview conducted July 2 2019
Interview published September 1 2019
"We are so much lighter
and closer to the
Metal Covenant talked to vocalist
Tony Kakko of Finnish outfit Sonata Arctica in order
to find out a little bit about the band's new making Talviyö [Winter
Night, Out September 6th].
Tobbe: Describe with your own words in what
way this album continues the path of Sonata Arctica.
Tony: I think stylistically it's in line with
the two previous albums, Pariah's Child  and The Ninth Hour .
The one before those, Stones Grow Her Name , was totally different.
It was a more rock-oriented album, and pop even. But now we've been
on the same path ever since that one. I think it fits in line and we've
found some kind of consistency with the style of songs that we have
on the albums.
But there are a lot of differences at the same
time on this album, especially on the production side of things. We
actually played drums and bass and partially also the guitars live in
the studio and you can really hear that from the outcome of the album.
That was the aim and we tried to get more of a live feeling on the album.
think it's also some kind of ongoing trend, that bands are trying to
do that, but we've been aiming to do that for many, many years now,
on our own, without a producer. If you try to do the same thing again
and again and again, and always expect a different kind of result, you
are stupid. [Laughs]
So you need to change something and of course
the most obvious thing and the easiest way to get the live sound is
to bring our front of house guy [Mikko Tegelman], who also is a studio
guy in the equation, and he produced the album with us. And I think
it sounds just bloody marvelous.
Tobbe: If you look at the diversity of the
record. In what way do you feel that you have managed to come out with
a varied record, like you have done many times before?
Tony: I think it's really diverse. The album
kicks off with a song called Message From The Sun and, well, let's put
it this way: The so-called old school Sonata Arctica fans will be exhilarated
to hear that song. It's kind of false advertisement for the album anyway,
because that's sort of a one-off. But still, that power metal-esque
style is part of Sonata Arctica and always will be. So there you have
that and then the rest of the songs are versatile and we have something
for everybody there, really. The album is like a good puzzle without
any loose pieces here and there, but it's like an all-together kind
Tobbe: So you think you can still please
the old fans with this record?
Tony: I'm pretty sure, yeah. At least with a
few songs. [Laughs] You know, we have never been really, purely anything,
even when we were, like, the power metal band. Everybody thought we
were a power metal band, but that was always only just part of the story,
Even on the first album [Ecliptica, 1999] we
have a lot of songs that are not power metal at all and we slowly with
the second album [Silence, 2001] and the third album [Winterheart's
Guild, 2003] started to drift away in a more experimental and more diverse
rock kind of approach and even pop things. We've been doing this for
20 years and slowly along the years we have just become a band that
is hard to put in any kind of box of genre and now that's really impossible,
Tobbe: What does the words progress and
growth mean to the band today?
Tony: Well, it's going forward. Not staying stagnant.
And I would probably die like a shark if I stayed in one place and didn't
take my music in different directions and used new influences that I've
found, like new bands, or whatever styles and things I'm into. It's
sort of like spices in a soup. We also wanna stay true to ourselves
and not start doing something or certain things, that we know that a
lot of people would love, just because of money.
think we proved our point already with Unia [Dreams] back in 2007. We
were on the rise there with Reckoning Night  and everything just
started to feel so wrong and it needed to end, so we started drifting
around with a couple of albums. Unia, The Days Of Grace  and Stones
Grow Her Name were all really different albums compared to each other.
We were like a car drifting from one side to another, and now we're
back on the road.
Tobbe: Does it feel a whole lot different
to write and also record an album nowadays in comparison to what it did
when you were younger?
Tony: I think when we recorded the first album
a computer was used only to, like, putting the album together, like
some kind of finished mix, and mastering, and so forth. And that was
it. So we've come a long way from there. And composing: I couldn't use
any computers back in the day, so it was just, like, paper.
But nowadays, of course I have all the gear and
you can produce music on a professional level on your own. In the privacy
of your own home. Of course there are things that would be best to do
really live, like with real instruments. But if you're into any form
of electronic music, then you can do that at home. With keyboards and
orchestrations, that you might wanna have on the album, it's really
nice to be able to do that at home. It's just, you know, go and record
drums, guitars and such instruments, and vocals in a real studio.
Well, the vocals I actually recorded at home
as well. But then it's really important to get together with the band,
to kind of get everybody's input. That's the only way you can really
make the album sound like Sonata Arctica, I suppose.
Tobbe: You guys have 10 full-length records
out now and was it even possible to imagine such a number when you were
Tony: No. 10 songs would be more like it. We
never looked too far into the future and we have just done one album
at a time, or when you have a recording contract, the length of that
contract. But with the coming of age, sort of, thoughts come, like,
"Every album and every tour can be your last one, so make the best
out of it and enjoy the ride.". When you're in a city somewhere,
like Stockholm, New York or L.A., try to enjoy the moment, because you
never know what's gonna happen, you know. The same applies of course
with the albums, so try to enjoy the whole process. Be it really stressful
and everything, but still, sort of, live in the moment.
Tobbe: In what mood or in what situations
do you come up with your best lyrics?
Tony: Well, when you're going through emotions
for one reason or another; of course those moments are something that
you should use to write down your thoughts. And then you're gonna distill
it a little bit and use filters to make it to a line of thoughts fit
for the song, so you're not actually writing your diary in a song. I
just always try to write songs that people have a chance to relate to
in some way. But, you know, I usually need to force myself to write
the lyrics. It's the thing that comes last.
ideal situation would be that you're writing the song and the lyrics
come together at the same time, so whatever lyrical idea you come up
with you can complement it with the right melody. But when you have,
like, a solid melody, like "Oh! This is perfect." and you
can't change it, then you start thinking about the lyrics, like, "Okay.
I need one more syllable here.". It's a challenge, always. I never
make it easy for myself.
Tobbe: Ever since day one of the band you
have personally written most of the music and most of the lyrics by yourself,
and have you never missed a songwriting partner?
Tony: Well, especially with the lyrics. It would
be nice to take someone's great poem or something like that. But with
music, I don't know. I'm a lone wolf a little bit with that stuff. I
don't know what kind of person would tolerate me. Not, at least, a person
that is like me. But it would be nice to try that stuff; collaboration.
Maybe it would be easiest if you had a partner
and you both would write your own songs on the album. That's probably
the only way I can imagine working on such an album. That I write a
song and then when it's almost finished I present it to the other person
and then we work with the song together to see if that other guy comes
up with a better idea for some parts or with some way to improve it.
And that's actually the way we work with Sonata Arctica also.
Tobbe: Do you feel a pressure from time
to time to come out with stuff?
Tony: I'm super critical with what I do. Probably
too much even. I should relax a little bit. You know, as a manifest
of that, we had a lot of songs that was the "last" song I
wrote for this album, with an idea that it was gonna be a bonus track
for Japan. And then all of a sudden I had a song that was gonna be the
first single off the album [A Little Less Understanding].
When you kind of toss all the expectations and
everything out the window and just, you know, relax and do something,
usually the outcome is something that stands out from the rest of the
album. Not necessarily artistically, as an ambitious thing, but still
something that serves a purpose and has a place on the album as well,
and it's probably the easiest songs to take in for the people.
Tobbe: I watched that song on YouTube and
I read some comments and there were many different opinions there, like
"This song is so generic." or "This song is the greatest
thing they've done.".
Tony: You mean comments like "Bring Jani
back!"? [Laughs] Especially people who pay attention to the lyrics
and can relate to this song particularly seem to like it a lot. It has
a meaning and a purpose in their life. But it's a game we cannot win
at this point anymore. We have such a wide scale and range of songs
and styles. We've been doing songs from really speedy power metal things
to slow, cheesy ballads, and pop music, and rock music, and whatever.
And each style that we've done has its own fans.
Tobbe: Why name the record Talviyö?
A name that no English-speaking person in this world can pronounce.
Tony: That's why. We wanted to give it a little
bit of a curveball there. The first idea of course was to take the easy
road. We realized and we knew that we wanted to have, like, Talvi or
something, Winter Night or something. But Winter Night felt lame, for
us anyway. It felt corny even. So we feel that it's more exotic to use
the Finnish word for it. So first it was Talvi, just like Winter, which
had been really, really nice and simple and people could actually say
when you use Y and Ö, then that's when it gets interesting. It
felt funny and we were laughing about it and "Yeah. Let's use Talviyö.".
'Cause the meaning is really cool and it fits the album cover and also
the artwork in the booklet. So, "Talviyö" and now we're
just stuck with it, I suppose.
Tobbe: You have used the words before, like
in Takatalvi [EP, 2003] and Winterheart's Guild, so I guess winter is
still important to you just because you come from the North.
Tony: Yeah. It's Sonata Arctica, so even the
name implies that. It was just sort of a given to us when we changed
the name to Sonata Arctica. [In 1999. From Tricky Beans to Tricky Means
and then to Sonata Arctica.] It's like we can't use palms and sunshine
that much. It makes things easier also. You know, when you need to come
up with merchandise and album covers, for example, using winter, and
wolves, is fairly easy.
But what does winter mean? Well, in spite of
what people might think, that it's a really dark time of the year and
everything, for me, the time of the winter that I love is the springtime
winter from, let's say late February to late April. Late April in Finland,
where you can still call that wintertime. At least up there in the North.
That's the brightest time of the year, because you have sunshine, long
days and snow, so you gotta wear shades because otherwise you'll get
So that's my favorite time of the year, when
you have, like, a snow cover that can carry you. Like, when you're 1
meter [3 feet 4 inches.] off the ground, but on snow. And then you can
go skiing and skating. The trees and everything; it's so beautiful.
It's just the most beautiful time of the year, for me. That's my opinion.
And I like cold better than hot. I like sunshine, but temperature-wise
it's easier. You can wear clothes.
Tobbe: If you look at the music industry,
it has changed a whole lot since you first started out, so how will you
be able to make a living out of this for the rest of your life?
Tony: When we started off internet was something
totally different than it is today. People bought the albums; CDs at
the time, and the music business was blooming in that sense, and bands
were having a great time. [Laughs] And then the digitalization of music
started and later on the streaming services. Things that changed the
whole game drastically. And not in a good direction from a band and
creative point of view. It's killing the thing.
and fewer people are able to make a living on this thing and they need
to take a day-job and fans will lose bands that they love because of
this thing. You just can't support your family anymore on this thing,
because people are listening to some streaming service thing that is
not paying enough to the bands. It's just an opinion
But anyway, that's probably the biggest change in the game.
On the positive side, if we could combine the
sales of, like, physical CDs, or if the financial side of things would
have stayed the same as it was in the late '90s and in the early 2000's,
with that we add this social media thing where it's so easy to communicate
with your fans on a wide scale, then that would be a perfect situation.
Some changes are good, but generally speaking I don't know if there
are too many older bands that can say "This has been a great change!",
I understand the bands that have been around
for 5 years or so. You know, they say that it's great, but they don't
have the background. They don't know how much cooler it was for everybody
back in the day. It's hard to say, and difficult to say, and painful
to say that we are an old band already.
Tobbe: I think a lot of people don't realize
that it costs a lot of money to go out on tour, and to produce records,
and that the money that comes in has to be split between more people than
the actual band as well. It's not like you get €100,000 right down
your pockets for a festival show.
Tony: Who does get €100,000? [Laughs] But,
yes, I know. Usually, the bigger fee you have, the more you're expected
to put in your show. If you get a €100,000 for a show you won't
just walk on stage and play an acoustic guitar. But if you're a band
you try to make it as bombastic as possible, with pyros and whatnot.
But, you know, of course it's important to make money as well. The season
and the chances that you have to make decent money is really short,
so you travel around to festivals in the summertime and try to gather
as many berries as you can so you can eat during the whole winter. That's
basically how it is.
It's not like everybody's making €1,000,000
during the summer. We just make a normal living, like any other person
who's got a day-job. And this is more than a day-job, I'd say, you know.
But we get to stay a lot of time at home as well, but the times you
are away from home, your kids and everything are tough.
Tobbe: Are you sometimes worried about losing
your older fans and not gaining younger fans? Because every band needs
different generations of fans.
Tony: Absolutely. Like Iron Maiden. They just
always get new fans and that's great. It's a fantastic thing. But there
are young kids who love our music. And I think we will always function
as some kind of gateway to heavier music for children. We are a heavy
metal band per se and if you are coming from, like, Teletubbies type
of music it's much easier to move on to us first than go straight to
Metallica. We are so much lighter
and closer to the Teletubbies.
[Laughs wholeheartedly] Why did I say that? [Laughs] I just handed it
are the best things actually, that comes out of interviews sometimes.
But that's fine. But anyway, I've heard so many stories from people,
young people or older people, that have been into something totally
different and then suddenly they've found or heard on some occasion
one of our songs. And then found out which band we are and then getting
an album and then falling in love with the whole thing. And eventually
started to look up other bands and moving on to heavier stuff. So we
are, like, a gateway and a stairway in a good direction, I have to say.
Like "I first listened to you guys and now I'm listening to Metallica
and Iron Maiden.".
Tobbe: About the Sonata Arctica Acoustic
Adventures tour that you did. It did seem to attract quite a few of the
band's fans and was that a little bit surprising to you?
Tony: No, not for us, but for everybody else
it seems to be. Our management and the booking agents were like "It's
not gonna work. It didn't work for other bands.". But we've always
based our music in melodies and having, like, pop-like structures in
the songs, so they translate fairly easy into an acoustic thing as well.
The idea was always that you should be able to take an acoustic guitar
and just play the song in some form, so that it's recognizable with
Sometimes it's just rearranging the songs and
sometimes you almost have to recompose the song. You know, write new
parts. Like for example The Rest Of The Sun Belongs To Me, which was
a bonus track for Japan [On Winterheart's Guild], which is a speedy
song, and now, acoustically, it's not. You can't put any of the fast
solos there. It just does not work. That's the one thing that you need
to strip when you are translating the songs into an acoustic environment
Our friend Masi [Hukari] kind of composed new
kinds of solos and parts and it was wonderful. It's beautiful. A lot
of the songs are much speedier in, like, normal conditions, and now
they get a totally new life and function sometimes even much better
acoustically, because of the melody, and especially for a singer because
it gives you so many more opportunities and chances to add color to
Tobbe: What actually led up to the decision
of making acoustic shows? Was it to experience different kinds of stuff,
or just boredom of playing the same songs over and over again?
Tony: We've had a tiny acoustic bit on the shows
before and one summer  we did acoustic shows on festivals in Finland
and they got great feedback. It was a lot of fun and relaxed to do,
so that kind of sparked the whole thing slowly, like, "It would
be great to take this whole concept out of Finland as well.".
when we encountered, you know, "It's not gonna work. It's not metal.".
But we never were the most metal band in the world to start with, and
never will be, so why try to kind of present us as the most metal band
in the world, when it's an impossible equation? It started with our
need and we knew that it was gonna be fun. It's a little bit of a risk
also. We sort of knew that it was gonna be okay and great, but you never
When you go and do something like this for the
first time, it's not enough that you yourself believe in it, but, you
know, you need to believe that there are people who are brave enough
to take a chance and come and see the shows. And advertise the whole
thing of course. As much as possible. Put live clips online, so people
are gonna go "Oh! It looks really nice. I should go and see the
Tobbe: So when will we get to see that kind
of experience again? Since it was so successful, I would say.
Tony: Probably when we end the Talviyö
tour. That's the thing we are doing right now, for a year and a half
/ two years, I think. Like, 2021, might be a time for that kind of thing,
depending on what happens on this tour.
Tobbe: By doing different stuff like this,
where can you see the band going next? Is there anything else than doing
the regular shows or the acoustic shows?
Tony: You can expand the acoustic thing quite
a bit actually, if you get resources to do so. Like introduce new members
in the band, like maybe a quartet, a choir or something like that. You
can make that bigger. But maybe it's enough to have the normal version
of Sonata Arctica and then the acoustic version. If you get those two
working together really well, then that's perfect and I don't see ourselves
expanding to electronic dance music, for example. [Laughs] Which might
work as well, but you know, maybe there is a limit.