Interview: TONY KAKKO of power metal legends SONATA ARCTICA on upcoming tenth studio album TALVIYÖ and more.
With more than two decades of power metal under their belts, Finnish legendary outfit SONATA ARCTICA are set to release their tenth studio album TALVIYÖ on September 6th, 2019 via Nuclear Blast.
Our editor-in-chief Alex had a fabulous opportunity to have a chat with vocalist TONY KAKKO who took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about the name, the creative process and the lyrical themes behind Talviyö along with lead single A Little Less Understanding released back in June. We discussed the live approach to the record, the current metal scene, Tony’s personal musical inspirations and personal evolution, the differences between the US and European live scenes, a memorable moment on stage as well as the upcoming US and EU tour.
- Good afternoon Tony, it’s Alex. Hey, how are you? I’m good, what about you? I’m doing good, thanks. It’s a honour and pleasure to speak with you. Likewise, happy to be here, enjoying the night.
So let’s start. Congratulations for achieving your tenth studio album TALVIYÖ you are set to release on September 6th. Thank you very much. Let’s talk about the lyrical themes and concepts discussed in the record.
Alright. It’s not a concept album, so all the songs are basically about something different but really loosely you can say that there are three songs that are somehow environmental versus political decisions inclined, they are in that direction and there’s one song that continues the Caleb Saga that started already with our second album Silence with The End Of This Chapter song. So we’ve been carrying that story along, rewriting how it should go and how it goes for many many times. I don’t even know how many songs we have there right now. One song is about the mythology surrounding the Northern lights. Then the rest of the songs are pretty much normal Sonata Arctica stuff, something to do with normal life, the interaction with other human beings basically.
- Let’s talk about the reasons behind choosing a title in Finnish and explain a little bit of its meaning and inspiration.
The name of the album was the last thing that we chose or I chose for the album. Everything else – the visual side – was ready, it just needed the name. For some reason I felt I wanted to have a simple name – still at that point ahaha – I was searching on Google translate for different words for “winter”, you know different languages and everything and then I ultimately came back to the Finnish language because our word “Talvi” looks really nice. So I was suggesting : “We should just name it Talvi”. It means winter and that’s what you have on the cover and it shouldn’t be too mysterious really. The guys told that it’s really boring and I was like : “Ok” and nobody suggested anything else. So I was like ok”. Awwww, it’s not boring, it’s fine, it’s not boring at all. Yeah, it would have been really easy, just Talvi, but you know they really felt like, no no not Talvi, so I said alright. As a sad joke I threw it in: “Ok Talviyö” which means “winter night”, because it’s gonna be a nightmare for a lot of people outside of Finland to pronounce. Yeah, I can imagine. Everybody started laughing. They were like: “You know that is the name, that’s what it should be called”. Well, Talviyö it is. Sorry about that ahaha! That’s a very wise choice. Thank you very much.
- This is following up The Ninth Hour dating back to 2016. So what kind of progression can we expect in terms of sound for this album as opposed to Sonata Arctica’s previous records?
I think that the general style of the album is in line with the two previous albums. We’ve actually have already with many albums – so we tried to go more into the live sound direction. Already with The Ninth Hour we were supposed to have our front of house sound guy co-producing the album, because we’ve always been praised how good we sound live but something sort of lacks in the studio albums. So we figured out that it would be really smart to actually bring the guy who makes the live sound help us with the album. But with The Ninth Hour it was impossible, schedule-wise it was a nightmare, I didn’t have the songs ready on time. This time around I was prepared and we were able to bring the guy in. The way we approached the recording involved recording the drums and the bass live in the studio in the same room, so that gives the whole album a sort of really organic and live-like foundation that’s really easy to kind of overdub with other instruments on top of that. And it gives the whole album a more rhythmic and organic feel.
- And in what measure have you also changed as individual being and musician across your long career Tony?
Well, obviously no matter what you do, you change. If you’re making interviews for 20-some years ahahah it becomes really boring to kind of repeat the same questions although you know you have to repeat the questions, but you probably come up with more elaborate better questions and you know how to go deeper into the head and the mind of the person who you are interviewing. And that’s sort of what I think that applies also to what we do. You know, we try to evolve and get better and try new things at what we do.
- What was the general writing and creative process approached for this album? Or general really, do you usually start from a riff, or rhythmic pattern..?
I usually come up with so kind of small fractions of a melody that sort of brings the song out. And usually, or surprisingly, it often happens in the place where you can’t actually record it. It might be in the shower, in sauna or wherever you feel really relaxed at and then you start jamming when you’re rinsing in the shower and I’m not ashamed to ahaha And then I come up with a great idea, I have to run out and record it on myself or on whatever. That’s how many of the songs start. But of course, you know, you can also approach it the way you just sit down and start writing, you’re forcing the creative process. And the music is the thing that always comes first. Basically like 99.9% of the times I first come up with the musical side and then the lyrics are the last thing that I even think of, which makes things really difficult. It’s a nightmare. And I don’t know why I still keep doing it in the same way. It would be ideal if I would write the lyrics the same time I write the actual music. It would make things so much easier. But you know if you lay for like, in some cases, ten years even, with a certain melody you’re really cast in stone. You can’t really change it anymore, so the only way you can approach the lyrical content of the song it’s to find the right words that have the right amount of syllables. Yeah, it goes with the metric, doesn’t it? Yes, exactly. So it’s a nightmare. But it’s my nightmare and I wanna hang on to it I think ahaha.
- Back in June you have given the world a taste of your album by releasing lead single A LITTLE LESS UNDERSTANDING. What was the mindset behind choosing this song in particular as best representing Talviyö? Let’s share some details about the single.
I think it’s nowhere near the best song on the album and honestly, we were pretty clueless about which song we would like to release as the first single or even singles. Of course you know, we had ideas about what songs we would like to release as singles, but it was really close to happen to be the whole album or pretty much so. It was already in a demo phase of the recording process, our manager came in and he listened to the songs and he thought that A Little Less Understanding it sounds like the first single that should really really be released before the album. It would function as a ramp towards the album being the most simple song on the album and would make it really easy to get into and work our way from there. So it was a decision made by other people than us. But of course we agreed. We could have said not, but it was a sort of help that we needed, we had no idea really what should be the first.
- With more than two decades of music under your belt, Sonata Arctica are a massive inspiration for breakout bands in the metal scene, but when it really comes to you, who are your main influences in terms of bands and genres?
Personally, it’s just about anything and everything that I’ve been listening to throughout my whole life. For me, musical education started when I was a kid. My parents were listening to this kind of – I don’t know what would be the name in English – “Schlager music”, pop-dance kind of like, sort of music that older people dance. It’s probably close to country music in American for example, but our European version of it. So that’s how it started. And older rock music obviously, you now Creedence Clearwater Revival and such things, the melodic stuff you could hear from the radio. The first time that I actually really felt in love with, it was Queen that I would name as my main influence and inspiration behind it all. That’s how it all started. But then you know, I started to go in a more metal direction. My first metal band was Stratovarius and then, everything and anything.
- How do you see the current power metal scene?
To be honest, I don’t really follow it at all ahah. That’s a really wise choice ahaha.
- Alright I got a difficult question for you. Nowadays many bands are drastically changing their sound for whatever reasons. How important is it to evolve beyond metal or conversely, how important is it to stick to your signature sound?
Of course it would be important and a really good thing, if you would sort of hang on to what you are really know of, like you know AC/DC, they’ve sounded like AC/DC throughout their career and they haven’t been gone exploring too much in any direction. Just a natural evolvement and development of their sound. But you know, for us, Sonata Arctica, if you take our debut album, it had already a variety of different styles in it. It had of course the power metal thing, but the you had songs like FullMoon or Letter to Dana, it wasn’t just power metal what we were creating. It was a pretty wide range of stuff we were testing and developed out style from there on, taking in new things and framed to keep the power metal thing in. There is a song that you can really call power metal, the opening track, Message from the Sun. I would call that a power metal song, which it is, I think.
- Sonata Arctica are setting off an extensive tour across the US starting in September until October and then back to Europe in November and December. So how are you preparing for this tour, what feelings and expectations are behind that?
We’ve been playing festivals the whole summer. We pretty much have our playing abilities, we warmed ourselves up so it’s just a matter of, you know, learning a few songs and refreshing the way we learnt them at rehearsals, especially the new songs, the new album. There are some songs we’re gonna play on the shows for the first time in North America. Everybody’s preparing on their own, we’re not gonna get together anymore at this point to rehearse. It’s all done with them you know. I just need to memorize all the lyrics and that’s my part pretty much. That’s your job ahah. Yeah, it’s my job..part of it. And trying to relax at home, because it’s gonna be a lot of time away. Yeah, it’s an extensive tour, it’s quite long. Yes, it is. I think we have two weeks off in between the two tours to come home just before Christmas.
- Still talking about your live experience. What’s typically different between the American and European fan bases? If you wish also in terms of scene, welcome, venues, setups..
I think it’s not as different as you might think. You know, of course there are a lot of huge cities in USA and also in Canada and the people who live there, they have seen everything and all the huge tours go there. So it’s really difficult to kinda wow them. You get them jaded really easily I think, in that sense. But still there is a certain appeal of course to play in big cities like New York for example and Los Angeles, the scenes. But we also have those in Europe, but they are smaller even when you play in Paris, it doesn’t feel like New York. Some are a little bit more intimate. And I think in Europe, especially in the Eastern side, Southern countries like Italy and Spain, you know the people tend to be more hot blooded. Yeah, we are ahaha. Yes, but then again, you can also find that in North America, when you go closer to Mexico for example. The shows tend to be a little bit hotter in that sense you know, the people are more excited. It goes with the temperature, isn’t it? Yeah, it must have something to deal with it.
- What songs can your fans expect from your upcoming setlist? Name just a couple of songs you will be playing from your discography.
We’re gonna play FoolMoon that’s for sure, at least and A Little Less Understading and I think the rest of the songs off the setlist I think it’s better to keep it as a secret..surprise!
- Let’s share a memorable or hilarious moment on stage across your long career.
Embarrassing moments ahah I think we were on a show in North America, I think it was a city in the New York State, anyway I had a really huge diarrhea ahahahah Oh My God, that’s baaad. Yeah, you know those moments when you tell your friends and they’re like: “Now you’re gonna play a long solo”. Usually the things that are really distressing and not fun while they happen on stage I think those at the ones you laugh at the most afterwards. And it happens to the best of us I think you know, we all get sick. We’re all humans at the end of the day. Yeah. Well there are of course tons of things that happened and hilarious stuff. I am the worst at remembering those stories, usually that’s Tommy is the one who tells the stories.
So we’re done Tony, it’s been a pleasure, thank you so much for your time.
Thank you Alex, thank you.
All the best of luck for the promotion of your record and upcoming tour.
Thank you very much. Hope to see you on tour!
SONATA ARCTICA – TALVIYÖ tracklisting:
1. Message from the Sun
4. Storm the Armada
5. The Last of the Lambs
6. Who Failed the Most
7. Ismo’s Got Good Reactors
8. Demon’s Cage
9. A Little Less Understanding
10. The Raven Still Flies
11. The Garden
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