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Interview with Tony Kakko, Sonata Arctica vocalist PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 30 April 2010

By Jill Hughes Kirtland Tony Kakko - Sonata Arctica singer

Sonata Arctica, Finnish power metal outfit, has been around since 1995.  They have toured the USA numerous times, and have gained a strong following that keeps them coming back. In the past 8 months they have toured twice in support of their new album The Days of Grays , which is slightly more progressive than their past albums.  I had the opportunity to speak to their singer Tony Kakko in Baltimore, MD on the fall 2009 tour as openers for Dragonforce before embarking on their Spring 2010 headlining US tour.  

USA Progressive Music:  I think the audience tonight was a little surprised at how short your set was and also a little disappointed because we wanted to hear more.  Did you want to comment on being the opener for Dragonforce? 

Tony Kakko: We knew right away that we would be supporting and would get anywhere from half an hour to an hour. 45 minutes is what we got.  Depending on how long of a change we get, sometimes there are some problems like channels are mute and so we lose 5 minutes fixing problems.  It was a safe short set and we are here to reach people that have never heard us before like Dragonforce fans, brought in by the huge fame that Dragonforce has.  We will be headlining later in April.

USAProgMusic:  Although you are a supporting act, you are also doing a few headlining shows on your off dates.  So by headlining a few shows while here, is that how you justify the expenses of playing overseas?

Tony:  Once we are here, the little income does help.  It is always better.  We do need to play headlining shows. It is a shame we don’t get to play any of the huge cities like New York or LA for the headlining shows but of course Dragonforce pulls more people than we do.

USAProgMusic:   How would you compare the tour you are doing now to the ones you have done in the US before?

Tony:   We are usually headlining.  This is our second supporting tour. I think this is tour number 6 in the States for us.

USAProgMusic: I know you have been here in the USA quite a few times. I’ve seen Sonata Arctica perform at least 3 times.

Tony:  Yes, the past couple were supporting tours.  It is a shorter set but we get more time to talk to fans and meet those who have no idea who Sonata Arctica are.  We have our own following here, and the same people come to the shows so it’s important for us to reach new people.

We hope to tour 3 or 4 times here in the US in support of this album [The Days of Grays].

USAProgMusic:  How did you chose which 5 or 6 songs you were going to do when you have to do a short supporting act set-list?  It must be getting difficult since you have quite a few albums now.

Tony:  That’s why we need to step a take back and remember which songs are easier to get and the newest most difficult songs are not the best things for us now. We go back and see which songs have hit the people the most and find some kind of balance. 

USAProgMusic:  Songs like “Don’t Say a Word” and “Full Moon”?

Tony:  Yes, those are safe choices to have there.

USAProgMusic:  But then again you are here to play stuff off of your new album?

Tony:  Yes, and we need to and we have “Flag In the Ground” and that’s an easy song to play.  It is a shame we can’t play more on these support tours, but on the headlining tours we can play more of the new album.

USAProgMusic:  I think that your following is getting larger because of mySpace and Facebook. It is opening people up to this kind of music.

Tony:   That is the good thing about it. Of course if people would actually go buy our albums afterwards because of the advertisement.  A lot of people in the States who have never heard our album were looking for Victoria Secret and they found our song in the search, for example.

USAProgMusic:  <laughs> Why do a lot of your albums work in the reference to underwear?

Tony: I have no idea. It is just a coincidence. I like underwear. <laughs>

USAProgMusic:   What prompted Sonata Arctica to incorporate female vocals into the new album The Days of Grays?

Tony:  The original idea came about when we were talking to Mark [Jansen] from Epica.  We were talking about Simone singing on our album. She was fresh and beautiful…beautiful in every way, beautiful voice. She couldn’t do it this time, but I asked Simone to do something for us in the future.  I started writing with that in mind having a female guest on the album.  It is weird that I am not the one who starts the album...it’s kinda funny.

USAProgMusic:  I think it was something fresh and new for Sonata Arctica fans…when I listened to Days of Grays for the first time I thought ‘wow this is something new. I like this!’ but then again I am a huge fan of female-front metal.

Some people are saying that Sonata Arctica are moving towards a more progressive style. Yet your core still remains the same having the Sonata Arctica sound.  How do you go about striking that balance?  What do you think are the motifs or sounds that define Sonata?

Tony:  That’s a really hard question.  I have no idea. I am writing songs that come naturally and makes me feel happy, make me smile, laugh or cry. Something that moves me.  I don’t put music in a box. I just let it fly free.   That’s why it is kind of hard to say what genre we belong. I think it’s pretty widespread but some kind of crossover thing, I think, would be the way to put it.  It is hard to define our music style. It is getting more progressive with complex elements here and there. The song structures are not that poppy anymore. There are melodies.  The song structures only seem difficult although they aren’t when you get to know the songs.

USAProgMusic:  Do you find that a little bit harder to translate to the stage then?

Tony:  Unia was pretty hard to do actually but this new album it is not hard at all actually.  Matter of arrangement really and Unia was almost too complex.  There were 5 different lead melodies going on and I could only choose one …obviously <laughs>. and then backing vocals. Many layers of Tony’s there.

USAProgMusic:  That’s funny… I know how that is because I used to manage a band where the singer was the only one who could sing well so there no backing vocalists, and so they had to layer the voices on top of each other on the album. There would be 7 of that person. 

Tony: There are sometimes 150 Tony’s.

USAProgMusic: <laughs>  How do you like having so many multiple personalities?

Tony:  <laughs>  We like it. We get along sometimes.

USAProgMusic:  Don’t you wish you could actually clone yourself?

Tony: I am not sure I really would get along with myself that well. <laughs>

USAProgMusic:  How did you come up with the “concept” of the new album.  You have the whole “grays” thing going on with the titles “Days of Grays” and “Amazing Grays”...

Tony:  I had a lot of songs that had ‘gray’ there somehow…the originally title of the album was to be “Deathura” and it sounded a little too dark, too black metal.  I started to talk to my friends on World of Warcraft. I have a guild that is made of people I actually know in real life and known for almost 30 years now, basically all my life.  I asked them to help me with it and they said ‘So what kind of song titles do you have there?’ ..’Oh, you have a lot of grays… how about “days of grays”?’  …oh what the f*ck, that’s great! And so there is kind of this double meaning with grays like ‘grace’ as in Graceland and such.

USAProgMusic:  I like how you have the one song “Amazing Grays”. I had to look at the liner notes and realized it didn’t say “Amazing Grace” as in g-r-a-c-e, but grays and that was really cool with the play with words.

Tony: I enjoy playing with words and finally got to do it in English as well. 

USAProgMusic:  That’s awesome. Was there anything you were able to accomplish with Days of Grays that you couldn’t with Unia?

Tony:  Unia was some kind of mutiny. Everything that Sonata Arctica was trying to stand for, we tried to break free of the sound of the old.  It was like an extreme movement but looking back maybe 10 or 15 albums out it will be interesting to see how different Unia will be in that chain of albums that we hope to have one day.  Days of Grays is a bit easier to listen to. You don’t have to listen to it 15 times to get the hang of it.  There are little hooks here and there that click and makes you hopefully get back to the album again and again and you slowly pick up new things each time you listen to them.  At least for me the richest album in a world is like that. It is difficult... a few songs in the beginning you really like and then some parts here and there then you slowly get into the album deeper and deeper and you think this is a f*cking masterpiece, the whole album!  I am not saying that Days of Grays is a masterpiece but I know it opens a lot slower than Ecliptica, for example. But it should definitely be easier than Unia.

USAProgMusic:  I know I enjoyed it a lot more than Unia.  Reckoning Night is still my favorite, but as you come out with more albums I may change my mind on that!  So you touched on it a bit already, but what do you think separates Days of Grays from the rest of your discography?

Tony:  Hmmm… well the female voice.  It is hard to say. I am still a little close to it to be able to compare it.  We have a new guitar player for one.  With each album we get closer and closer to what we want to do.  Of course with Ecliptica we were doing exactly what we wanted to do; We were exactly where we wanted to be but my tastes in music have changed.  Everybody’s taste has changed, as they have gotten older.

USAProgMusic:  Well, you probably are listening to a lot of different stuff…

Tony:  Well, I listen to everything from classical to black metal, literally. And jazz and all that jazz… <laughs>

USAProgMusic:  Opera?

Tony:  Well, opera is not necessarily my thing … but with the classics I am more of a greatest hits kind of person. I listen to my favorites.

USAProgMusic:  Do you listen to a lot of music in your own genre?  Do you listen to the younger bands that are coming out?

Tony:  Sometimes if I hear something interesting…but I don’t really listen to progressive metal at all for some reason. I am more into extreme stuff like Slipknot and such.  Devin Townsend is my latest thing …Strapping Young Lad.  That’s fantastic.

USAProgMusic:  What do you think the future of Sonata Arctica is?

Tony:  I am hoping we get this band to the next level somehow. We’ve been doing the same thing for 10 years at the same level.  There hasn’t been any drastic change in our album sales. We haven’t gone up big or fallen down big in our album sales.  It be nice to finally go somewhere.  I’d rather have this long steady career and then have one huge pike and fall down and end up in the news, “Where are they now?”

USAProgMusic:  Right, become a ‘has been’.   Like the 80s bands…Flock of Seagulls was on some reality show like that.  We don’t want to have that for the prog and power metal genre.

Tony:  That’s why we are trying to change our style …not drastically but gradually. So we can play these songs when we are 50. They are not extremely fast or difficult to do.  Like the first album, it is physically impossible to do that long-term.  I want to have a career like The Rolling Stones.

USAProgMusic:  Oh so you can charge $500 a ticket?

Tony:  Yeah!  And so they can go “They are back again!”  The most fantastic thing is we have fans that have followed us from the beginning.  They were really young when they found the band and into power metal and we have changed a bit and they still like it.  But there are some people who love the first album way more and there is nothing we can do about that but even if we wrote the first album again it would not be the same.

USAProgMusic:  Sometimes it is about what you are familiar with.  Are you working on any side projects now?

Tony:  Well, I am still involved with Northern Kings and we are talking about working on a third album.  I do some guest things here and there, too.

USAProgMusic:  You actually did some guest vocals on my friends’ band Odin’s Court about a year or so ago.  They are from the Baltimore area here.

Tony:  Yeah!

USAProgMusic:  What makes you decide what albums you will guest on?  Some artists will not guest if they’ve never heard of a band.

Tony:  You always learn something from it. If I like the people or the person who asked me to do something, if there is a connection of some kind then why not. I am not that big of a star that I will lose anything from doing something.

USAProgMusic:  Well, I think you are well-known within the prog/power metal genre.  I think if you ask the fans of the genre at the festival here in the USA, ProgPower, they know who you are.

Tony:  Well, that’s nice to hear.   We can tour here and that says something already.

USAProgMusic:  Well, that’s all I have to ask today. Is there anything you want to say to your US fans?

Tony:  Please keep an open mind and check out the new album.  It is not as hard and difficult as Unia.  But please come see the live thing and interact with the band and have fun.  It is always great to be back here.
 
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