» Tony Kakko - Sonata Arctica
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Interview conducted October 19 2023
Interview published February 23 2024

Sonata Arctica's new making Clear Cold Beyond is out on March 8th. The band has to a pretty large extent returned to a sound in the vicinity of the early records that came out around the time of the millennium change.

Metal Covenant got to talk with vocalist Tony Kakko about the record and some other stuff when the band was out on a European tour with Stratovarius and Induction in October last year.

"The future is power metal for us."

[With hand on heart. Did anyone truly believe that Mr. Kakko would utter words like these ever again after straying away from power metal for such a long time?]

Tobbe: You guys just released a new single, First In Line, and this one is a real power metal track, kind of in the Silence vein, I would say.

Tony: It's the first song on the album and the first single. A lot of people are saying that, "Oh, they are just doing the same thing that they have always done. They have one fast song on the album.". But I can tell you this is not the case this time.

The next track on the album (California) is even faster. It will be a single later on as well, but we're gonna have two a little bit different singles (A Monster Only You Can't See and Dark Empath) before the next fast one. We wanted to go back in that direction and see if the people are still there. With the hold up of the Corona hassle and everything I just was able to rejuvenate sort of my interest and will to do this, and I saw the joy of creating power metal.

I don't really listen to this kind of music myself, but it's more fun to do. They are easy-going songs and everything, so. There's too much hassle and sad things happening in the world right now, so we need power metal, even if the lyrical content, at times, might be a little bit gloomy, but the songs themselves are upbeat, bring you joy and ease your pain in a way.

Tobbe: About those lyrics. Is it harder now to write to power metal songs than when you were young?

Tony: Well, it's just about the same thing actually. I wrote, I think, almost all the lyrics on our Latin American tour earlier this year, so. (In March and April of 2023) In a sunny environment. It was a little bit easier. (Laughs)

But it's always hard for me to come up with what to write about, because I always leave the lyrics as the last thing to do. Every aspect of the song is sort of cast in stone already, so I'm enslaved by the melody and need to find the lyrics and words that sort of fit. It makes it a little bit more challenging.

I've been trying to kick myself to write just, you know, poems and lyrics, and see what kind of music I could actually write to those lyrics. But, you know, songs just come out. They just pour out of me. I mean, with this album I just had to stop writing. Like, the songs just kept coming, but we had much more than we needed already.

We even had to leave one of the power metal songs out. It's a pretty good one actually, but I wasn't happy with the lyrics, so it will be on the next album.

Tobbe: A lot of bands, after, like, 20 or 25 years try to go a little bit back to their roots. Is that something that you're doing now?

Tony: Yeah, well, we've been adventuring around quite a bit. It's pretty amazing that we still have a following, so I suppose the music has always been good enough. But definitely I think with this single and this album we will bring back the power metal.

The shows will be power metal and we are bringing newer songs, and older songs, the classics. We have so many songs to choose from. We're trying to play the songs that people really want to hear, and also the new stuff.

Tobbe: You have explored new musical styles throughout your career. Maybe the first three records, or maybe four, were power metal records. Then you explored further with, like, every record. So my question is: Do you explore further on this record too, despite having a lot of power metal tracks on it?

Tony: Well, in that sense we sort of take something from the experimental side. Of course you've learned, developed and found new things during all this time, but still, this whole thing was made power metal. We even had the same guy mixing that mixed the earlier albums, Mikko Karmila, so. (Laughs)

It sounds right, so that's a good start obviously. This is what we wanna do in the future and this is where we are heading. The future is power metal for us. Because that's really what we are. I had, really, a tough time accepting this, because we've never been the most power metal band in the world ever, and still aren't.

You know, I always prefer calling us rather, you know, melodic metal. Because there are a lot of true power metal buffs saying, "Sonata Arctica isn't power metal!", because we are too slow, and too versatile, in a way, but we're just exploring a lot of different things, and this is my problem and my fault.

I like writing many different styles of songs, and just have fun, and write songs that mean something to me, that make me feel something, because that is the only way that I can make sure that people also feel something. It would be fake if the things I do don't come from the heart.

Tobbe: But 2022 was a little bit different, because then you released the two Acoustic Adventures albums. Will we ever see a third one of those out?

Tony: Hmm, we'll see, we'll see. It's not on the calendar now, yet. (Laughs) We're concentrating on the new album right now. But it was definitely fun to do, and something that we've been dreaming about and dreaming for, for a long, long time, and it was amazing to get it done, and the tour also. But it started to feel a little slow eventually. But it was good. We were able to fill the Corona void with those albums. They were released in the right time, so we were not forgotten.

Tobbe: But a third one would mean that maybe the best material is already taken for the two first albums.

Tony: No, absolutely not. There must have been, like, 10 demos that I made that are really good and that I would have loved to have on these albums. You know, just about any Sonata Arctica song we'll transform into acoustic mode is just a matter of rearranging it, and we're just rewriting some bits and pieces that don't necessarily function.

The idea was not that we were gonna play the songs straightforward and just leave the electric guitar out and then have an acoustic guitar play the same style. No, but we'd rearrange everything and rewrite the songs and play them as if they were written to be acoustic songs.

Tobbe: Don't you write a lot of your songs on piano and keyboards?

Tony: Yes, I do.

Tobbe: So it's not so distant to push them into an acoustic direction instead of metal.

Tony: No, it's not. Many of the songs actually sort of found their original form, or the way they were when I was demoing them.

Tobbe: If you would release a third one, do you think that you will go out on an extensive tour again?

Tony: Absolutely. If there will be a third one, which I have no idea of, then absolutely we would go on tour again.

Tobbe: And right now you're on a tour where you're not supporting an album, because the album is four or five months away.

Tony: That was a surprise for us. You know, we made a plan that we'd have a master of the album ready in August thinking that things are the way they used to be back in the day, like when you could absolutely release the album, like, two months after that, but, "No, it takes five months.". And we had the tour already planned, so it was sort of a mess.

So we just made sure that we'd have at least one of the singles out before the tour. It worked out, luckily. But we will be on a new tour in 2024.

Tobbe: When you have a new album out you obviously want to play the new songs, but a lot of fans are still shouting for older songs. Is it sometimes hard to disregard those demands, like "Play the old songs!".

Tony: Our last album Talviyö was an album that didn't have a lot of songs that sort of found a place in our setlist. It was slower and moody, you know. But I think now, at least with the sort of welcoming and reception First In Line has gotten from the audience, it's gonna swing right in. It's a really welcome addition to the setlist.

Like I said, we're gonna have a lot of those songs on the new album, so it's gonna be difficult to pick which songs we're actually gonna play live from the new album. It's gonna be a nice mix of old and new, crowd pleasers and a few new songs here and there, and we'll see what works and what doesn't.

Tobbe: And today you have so many albums out. It's, like, 120 songs to pick from; I don't know. It must be difficult to pick songs for the setlist.

Tony: Yes, exactly. It's a nightmare, yeah. It's really difficult, and everybody has their own ideas. But obviously, you know, we need to go with the singles and songs that people need. By now we already have sort of an idea which songs are the ones that people really want to hear.

Tobbe: Will we see any wolves in the artwork again?

Tony: Yes, absolutely. It's our totem and our sort of thing. Some have knights and whatever. We have a wolf and a raven.

Tobbe: Like the old song.

Tony: Yes, exactly. Actually in nature wolves and ravens work together.

Tobbe: Okay. Maybe they do; I don't know.

Tony: Yeah, they do. Google it. (Laughs)

Tobbe: It's been ages since you released a live album or a live video. Will we ever see a live album or a live video out from Sonata Arctica again?

Tony: Of course. Never say never. But, you know, it's a difficult market. A live album is easier, but the production costs for a live DVD are nuts in comparison to what you can expect to get from sales. So for a band of our size it's currently not financially viable.

A live album, yeah, why not? It would be cool, it would be fun, even as bonus material for, you know, something, like an album, but we have no such plan. But it's not a bad idea, at all.

Tobbe: Your former guitarist Jani Liimatainen is playing live now with Stratovarius on this tour as a bass player. Would a guest appearance be asking too much?

Tony: That is not gonna happen, yeah. (Smiles)

Tobbe: I can see the reason why, but the fans would love it.

Tony: Yeah, they would absolutely love it, but no, it's too much.

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