SONATA ARCTICA – Interview with Tony Kakko
The past two years have come with a variety of ideas and surprises from a lot of our musical heroes, and an acoustic release from the Finns in Sonata Arctica is not something I would have expected. I have seen their acoustic performance in Oslo back in 2019, but I thought it would turn into a DVD, not in an actual album with rearranged songs and interesting twists.
Wanting to know the story behind the album, but also see how one famous Finnish band thrives during the years of no concerts nor other events but live streams, I got to chat with he singer Tony Kakko and below you find the transcribed dialogue. A pretty fun one, if you ask me /Andrea
How has Corona time been for you guys in the band?
Tony: I can mainly speak from my personal side, but I know others have mentioned similar things. It’s been actually rather nice, getting to spend some time home for a change, no rush to get anywhere. This has actually given me the first real long break since we started the band. It’s been very good for me. I was getting a bit burned out maybe, I was feeling I was running out of energy and was already thinking it could be nice to have a break. And ta-da, there comes pandemic. Guess Tony needs to be very careful with what he’s wishing for.
But so I got my break, and now I can say I’m ready for the next twenty five years of Sonata Arctica. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, and now I don’t know how many bottles of lemonade I have ready.
My kids are at that age when it is actually vital and meaningful to be home, as maybe in ten more years from now I’ll be just the wallet. Haha. So it was nice for them to have dad home for a longer time.
You made me realize, that for musicians/artists, this pandemic can make or break things from this point of view. Had you been younger at the beginning of the pandemic, with a band at the beginning of its career, the answer would have been completely different.
Tony: Absolutely! When you are at that age and that phase in your career when you are trying to make something of yourself, when you haven’t yet established, it is vital to be on the road, release albums, get to be known. For us, this was probably way overdue and the break was really needed.
You guys had at least one canceled tour, if I am not mistaken. How has the Finnish government supported you in regards to that? Here in Norway, some bands got compensated. I don’t know how much nor if everyone who had canceled shows benefited from any form of compensation, but wondering what the situation is like in Finland
Tony: We have received some, but it’s nowhere near enough. If you didn’t happen to have any savings, then a lot of the bands and mainly people working in the industry have been in a lot of trouble. We are a band that still sells albums and have means to support ourselves, but this doesn’t last forever, obviously. We are not at that age where we can become pensionists from that.
So, like I said, we received some compensation but nowhere nearly enough to cover everything, especially for those who are working behind the curtains. The tour crew and such. Those are the people who have suffered the most
Yes, same here. It’s a sad situation as most of those people have the kind of niche jobs and you can’t just hire them anywhere and have them grow new skills overnight.
Tony: Exactly. ‘Get a real job’, you hear that a lot. But without those non real jobs, you would never have events.
I started listening to your most recent release, the ‘Acoustic adventures’, probably one of the first releases this year. So what’s the story, how did you come to the decision to make an acoustic album?
Tony: My first idea of having acoustic versions of our songs is probably dated back to sometime in 2000, when we recorded an acoustic version of one of the tracks from our debut album. I thought it was great, I wanted to do more, but nothing happened until like ten years later when on our live in Finland DVD we had this acoustic bit in between the regular show.
In 2014 we played acoustic summer festivals in Finland and then in 2018 we got the idea that we would actually like to make this Acoustic Adventures album. But first we had to convince a lot of people, so they’d also believe it’s a good idea that would work. So we had to go on tour, and that’s where the acoustic our idea began. That also took some convincing though, we had to convince the promoters, management, agents that they can actually book this. It worked out great, it was wonderful, and our label guys attended our shows and saw how great it went, and so they gave us the green light for the album. So that’s how we ended up here.
We recorded the thing already in 2020 and it was supposed to be released earlier, but things happened.
So you didn’t have to sit down and all of a sudden rearrange the songs, since you had quite a bunch of them that had already been played live.
Tony: It was a rather long scheme that we have thought about, years back, knowing we had to be done with one part of the scheme first before being able to go into the studio.
Who is the ‘main brain’ behind the acoustic versions of your songs?
Tony: It was a common effort by everybody. Everyone chipped in. My idea, that I already told the guys ages ago, if you remember those MTV unplugged series. I especially remember Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’ and the <guitar solo humming sounds>. But then, the acoustic version came out, which I think it’s even better. And it doesn’t even have that big riff in that form, it’s totally transformed and it’s a beautiful version.
That was my goal or my idea that I was aiming at. Just boldly taking anything unnecessary out and start building the song from the ground but with acoustic instruments. And give yourself to change anything, basically. Write new parts, if that’s needed. As I said, everybody chipped in with ideas, and I actually did surprisingly little, other than singing. I think I made 10 to 15 demos but the guys thought that my songs were too obscure and weird. I picked songs that are not so well known. It was maybe a good idea to go with some more well known songs on such an adventure.
How did you end up with the songs that have been picked for the album?
Tony: It’s basically the same process as picking the songs for a live show, which we did. That was the starting point. After that tour we actually had one and a half hours of music ready and we had to tweak the arrangements a bit and maybe pick a few more songs, so we’d have material for two albums.
The main idea was to have songs that people would know and recognise like at a regular Sonata Arctica show, and then add some stranger tunes. Like the first song on the album, ‘The Rest of The Sun Belongs to Me’, which was a bonus track for the Japanese version of our third album, ‘Winterheart’s Guild’, from 2003. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people, even Sonata Arctica fans, that haven’t heard that song. And now we made a totally different version of it and I think it serves the song and the album pretty well.
Sounds nice. I personally always wonder, as I am not a musician myself, if musicians, after a number of years look back at their songs and wish they could modify this or that within the song. And that’s what you just did.
Tony: We stripped the songs totally, and totally re-did everything. There are some songs that we more or less just played with acoustic instruments, without changing much. Like ‘Don’t Say a Word’ for example. It ended up surprisingly like a blueprint of the original and it worked really well.
What’s the challenge of actually recording acoustic albums, compared to the regular ones? Is there a difference?
Tony: Finding the key, at least for me as a singer, the key where you can sing the songs naturally. We are a heavy metal band, or a power metal band, or whatever you wanna call us and it comes with high pitched singing and powerful sounds, but these don’t fit the acoustic atmosphere that well. So you have to find an alternative way of singing. I had to sing lower and it force me to use my voice in a different way and add colors and such to it, in this new manner. So this was one challenge.
Take ‘Wolf and Raven’ song, it’s one of the other songs that we kept really close to the original, with a really fast guitar/keyboard tradeoff. That was a challenge to play, as the guys are used to play with electric guitars and keyboards and now they were using actual piano and acoustic guitars. And these are instruments that react differently to your style of playing, especially if you are used to play harder. So it was a challenge for them to get everything tight to fit the album.
But, as we gave ourselves a lot of freedom to change the songs, we didn’t really have to do anything the same way we do on the original songs. So that gave us the freedom to leave out the things that didn’t work, or add stuff that helps. Freedom was wonderful to have.
Indeed, the album has a nice overall vibe and it feels like you guys had fun making it. Which is probably one of the most important things when putting together a musical release.
Tony: Yeah, we actually did. If the audience and those who listen to the album can feel it and the fun comes through and the lively feeling of the whole thing, it all works much better.
Do you miss being on the road, now that you are ready to tour for 25 more years?
Tony: Oh YEAH. Seeing friends who get to tour now in North America or Europe I get this weird burning sensation that you really want to be there as well. I loved the bus tours very much, where you get to sleep in the bus
Really? You’re weird
I guess. But it’s the whole atmosphere of the tour. I’ve been doing it for a living for such a long time, that it becomes like a second nature in a way. For a while I was a bit sick and tired of it and was thinking to do something else for a while, but this break has helped a lot and now I am so ready to do it again.
You might not like this question, but considering that age doesn’t avoid anyone, I wonder how do you keep in shape, as you are an active person on stage, you run around, you’re never static.
Tony: I go jogging and try to stay in shape to my best ability. But as you start getting older, it affects everything and anything that you have. You wake up early, and you groan and yell ‘neah, I can’t walk’.
The joints hurt and such, but it’s part of the deal. I have learned to embrace the aging process and lately even do that by showing my gray hear. I guess for about 30 years I used to dye my hair, and I stopped that like four years ago. It used to be red, either long or short but I decided to stop putting color.
When you are on tour and dye your hair, but you also have to wash your hair a lot, you end up with this silver gray hair rather often and notice that you need to dye it again after one week. But I got fed up with the whole thing. Also having to dye your hair in the most ridiculous places sometimes.
During the pandemic I managed to grow myself long hair again and now I’m like Gandalf the Gray. Everybody seems to like it and that’s good, as I am not going to dye it again at the age of 47.
I really got to watch a live show soon, then.
It seems like gray hair is in fashion now so people get jealous and ask me where I went to get it dyed. Well, I did not.
Do you have time and patience to ever watch live recordings of your shows?
Tony: Generally speaking, no. Even if we had a show on TV and we play one song, I didn’t watch the original, nor the re-run. I do not care what I’ve done there. Maybe later in time. Or maybe if some very early material would come out, maybe I’d get this nostalgic feeling that I used to be so young and did this and that. But I’m usually not doing it.
How do you feel about live stream shows?
Tony: We did one actually, an acoustic one. It was fun, a lot of fun to do. Especially the one we did for the non European audience, it was like 3 or 4 in the morning and there was midnight sun when we played, so we had people who thought it was actually the middle of the day and it was a recording. But it was not, I can vouch for that.
Stream shows are fun, like a one off kind of thing, but I don’t think they can replace the tours and the live shows. Especially tours, because you are basically milking all the cows in one go. When you go on tour, you only have to ‘fight’ over the audience that is in that one town for that specific date. But when you are streaming, you are in a battle for the whole world. Against other bands who might happen to stream at the exact same day or time. It’s something that I cannot personally see as a viable way of doing it for a living. It is nice to maybe do it every now and then. Maybe acoustically. Maybe it would allow more interaction, when the technology gets a bit further and allows you to talk to the audience.
When we did the stream, we didn’t have any such opportunity. We had a laptop. The comments from the audience were running, but it wasn’t possible to do anything with them. We should have maybe had an extra person interviewing us, this is actually a good idea now that I think of it.
So you don’t think they are meant to replace the live ones. It’s the cost of a streamed show comparable to a live show? And the outcome?
Tony: Depends on how many people purchase tickets. It can lead to better income, but only for one show. You cannot do it every night, for months, like you’d do with a normal tour. It can actually be surprisingly expensive, when you think of the production. You need to have people who know the technology, you have to pay for the technology, it can get rather expensive.
When touring, you have the starting expenses. When you fly, maybe, but after that, you just have to pay for the gas maybe. But I have a rather limited view on the thing and I base my answer on the one thing that we did.
Thanks so much for your time, and have fun touring soon, hopefully
Tony: Yeah, keeping my fingers crossed for that. And for all the areas that have suffered greatly during this time, I hope they get some relief soon.
SONATA ARCTICA live:
19.03. FI Pori – Isomäki Areena (w/ STAM1NA)
23.03. IL Tel Aviv – Havana Club
»25th Anniversary Tour«
01.04. BR Belo Horizonte – Mister Rock
02.04. BR Brasília – Toinha Brasil Show
03.04. BR Curitiba – Tork n’ Roll
05.04. BR Porto Alegre – Opinião
06.04. BR Florianópolis – John Bull Pub Floripa
08.04. BR Limeira – Bar da Montanha
09.04. BR São Paulo – Audio
10.04. BR Rio de Janeiro – Circo Voador
12.04. AR Buenos Aires – El Teatro Flores
14.04. CL Santiago – Teatro Teletón
15.04. CL Puerto Montt – Arena
17.04. CO Bogotá – TBA
18.04. CO Medellín – TBA
20.04. CR San José – Pepper Disco Club
23.04. SV San Salvador – Cifco
24.04. GT Guatemala City – Salon San Jose
02. – 05.06. CZ Pilsen – Metalfest Open Air
10.06. SE Sölvesborg – Sweden Rock Festival
17./18.06. FI Oulu – Metal Capital Festival
29./30.07. FI Kokkola – Kokkolan Viinijuhlat
05.08. FI Jämsä – Himos Metal Festival
26./27.08. FI Kajaani – Kainuun Musiikkijuhlat
22.09. UA Kiev – Atlas Club
»Acoustic Adventures MMXXII«
30.09. FI Kuhmo – Kuhmo-talo
01.10. FI Lappeenranta – Lappeenranta-sali
02.10. FI Kuopio – Kuopion Musiikkikeskus
06.10. FI Helsinki – Kulttuuritalo
07.10. FI Hämeenlinna – Verkatehdas
08.10. FI Pieksämäki – Poleenin-sali
12.02. FI Raahe – Raahe-sali
13.02. FI Ylivieska – Kulttuurikeskus Akustiikka
14.10. FI Turku – Logomo
15.10. FI Rauma – Rauma-sali
»Acoustic Adventures MMXXII«
Presented by Metal Hammer (DE), Rock It! (DE), musix (DE), Rocksverige (SE), Rock Hard (FR), Power (ES), Scream (NO), Dragon Productions & Atomic Fire
20.10. SE Stockholm – Södra Teatern
21.10. SE Östersund – Gamla Teatern
22.10. NO Trondheim – Byscenen
23.10. NO Oslo – Parkteatret
24.10. SE Gothenburg – Valand (Ordensalen)
25.10. DE Hamburg – Fabrik
27.10. NL Tilburg – 013
28.10. DE Bochum – Christuskirche
29.10. NL Utrecht – Pandora
31.10. UK London – Islington Assembly Hall
02.11. FR Paris/Vauréal – Le Forum
03.11. FR Lyon – Le CCO
04.11. ES Barcelona – Salamandra
05.11. ES Bilbao – Stage Live
06.11. ES Madrid – Copérnico
08.11. ES Sevilla – Custom
09.11. ES Murcia – Garaje
10.11. ES Pamplona – Totem
11.11. FR Toulouse – Le Metronum
12.11. FR Nantes – Le Ferrailleur
13.11. BE Sint-Niklaas – De Casino
15.11. DE Nuremberg – Hirsch
16.11. CH Pratteln – Z7
17.11. IT Milan – Live Club
18.11. SI Ljubljana – Orto Bar
20.11. BG Sofia – Music Jam
21.11. RO Bucharest – Quantic Club
22.11. RO Cluj-Napoca – Form Space
24.11. AT Vienna – Szene
25.11. HU Budapest – Akvarium
26.11. CZ Ostrava – Club Garage
27.11. PL Warsaw – Proxima
28.11. DE Berlin – Columbia Theater
29.11. DE Munich – Backstage (Werk)
01.12. DE Cologne – Essigfabrik
02.12. DE Passau – Zauberberg
03.12. DE Speyer – Halle 101