by: Chris Rigney
Kat Spencer and Chris Rigney interview vocalist Tony Kakko and keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg of the Finish band Sonata Arctica at The Galaxy Theater in Santa Ana..
KUCI: The new album, Unia, has a very different sound to it, it's much slower. Do you think that you're gearing toward that for future albums?
Tony Kakko: Absolutely. The speedy music never was my thing. It's something that we got really interested in, and got into it, and made a demo, and then we got a recording contract, and everybody expected us to do that kind of sh*t. And of course it was fun to do that kind of thing, but now we're trying to find our own voice and own way of doing. There are bands that will always be faster than we are, and always do this power metalling better than we ever did, so it's better if we just try to find our own way.
KUCI: It's like a contest. Who can be faster than everyone else.
TK: Yeah, and when music becomes a contest, it's pretty sad.
KUCI: On the new album, you've also used less of your higher range of vocals than in the past.
TK: Yes. This is my own range, really, ‘cause I have been doing silly things like straining my voice.
Henrik Klingenberg: Mickey Mouse.
TK: I've been doing this Mickey Mouse thing, when in fact it's not my natural range. This album is what I'd like to do. It's easy, fairly easy, I just go up and go down occasionally.
KUCI: I read that Jani had to leave the band to perform his civil service, and that now he's actually been fired from the band. Why is that?
TK: Well, because he didn't do anything towards taking care of this matter, he didn't go to army, and eventually he was arrested and was in jail for one month, and he still didn't do anything. Then he got out of jail to go to Civil service training. He just made himself so unavailable in every possible way, that we had no chance.
HK: The thing is, when this first came up we decided that if he takes care of this business then he's welcome him back, but he didn't do anything. I didn't talk to him for over 6 months. I mean, if a guy does answer the phone, doesn't answer his email, how can you work with that? It's just impossible.
TK: It was really insulting.
KUCI: So you're not on good terms now?
TK: Well... I can say hello to him if I meet him. But really, I have no reason to contact him.
HK: I actually met him, playing with another band in my hometown, and it was just like nothing ever happened, which was a bit weird for me.
TK: He had a lot of little problems that just piled up. I think he's doing better.
HK: He seems to be relieved and a lot happier.
TK: It's like when you're dating someone, and you don't want to be with him or her anymore, and you're not man or woman enough to say it, so you start sabotaging the whole thing so the other one has to make the decision. So I figure it was something like that.
KUCI: What is the meaning behind your logo?
TK: We didn't actually come up with the name of the band in the first place, our friend came up with it when we got a recording contract. We were playing under a different name and it was pretty obvious that we can't continue as a real band. So he came up with the Sonata Arctica title and the guy who is now doing all of our artwork made the logo and we have just started making all kinds of meanings for it. The main thing for me I think is the middle part, the AA. The gate, as we say it. Gate for everything.
KUCI: You also altered the logo on the cover of the new album.
TK: Yeah we changed the whole logo, pretty much.
HK: We're still using the old logo on some of the merch and stuff like that, but we wanted something that goes together better with the music.
TK: It was a too hardcore kind of logo... edgy.
KUCI: And you don't consider yourselves very edgy?
TK: The logo says different things than our music. They are not really...communicating that well.
KUCI: Also on the new album, the cover is very minimalistic in compared to past albums.
TK: Yeah, same thing with that. We don't consider us being power metal with this new album. We've been moving further and further away from that with every album.
KUCI: Did you ever play D&D? Dungeons and Dragons? [Laughs all around]
HK: When I was a kid all right, you can't hold that against me.
KUCI: It's like the quintessential metal thing. D&D and Tolkien.
TK: I've never been into it.
HK: Well I tried for about a year, and it got too much I had to quit because, well, my life started sucking. But I was like 12 or 13.
KUCI: It's like Warcraft.
TK: I play World of Warcraft.
KUCI: v Do you?
TK: Yeah, of course [Laughs]. But it has nothing to do with music. The whole thing with dragons and swords and knights, it has never been our thing.
KUCI: How can you tour and have a real life with that?
HK: We've got internet on the bus [Laughs]
TK: Yeah well, when I'm at home I play. I'm not a no-life. I don't have a level-70 character.
HK: I don't play either. I think when I start something, I tend to get caught up.
TK: What I do is go to the auction house and rip everybody's money off, buying things and selling them at a higher price [laughs].
KUCI: What would you say has been your biggest challenge as a band so far?
TK: Hm...I don't know. This last album was pretty hard, the whole thing after the last tour.
HK: Especially the situation with Jani and everything.
TK: Making the new album, and the Jani situation happening at the same time. That has been the hardest thing.
HK: I think we haven't had anything really huge, or bigger than that, but it's basically just overcoming small obstacles every day. You know, as you work together, then eventually you end up somewhere. But there's always something going on that you've got to work on.
TK: We're like a family. We don't always get along. But still, it's like... blood.
HK: And sometimes you make your life difficult for yourself by drinking too much
TK: Yeeaaaahh..... [Laughs]
KUCI: Do you have any real regrets as a band? If you could go back and change things, would you?
TK: Don't you? Of course, you learn not to make the same mistakes again. But, I don't know. Not really. Nothing big. There are always little things that you'd do better. We're all learning. It's only human.
KUCI: What do you feel has been your biggest success as a band?
TK: The last 2 years in Finland, I think. All of our albums have sold gold within 2 years, which is pretty wild.
KUCI: Because you haven't been around for that long. Since 1996?
TK: In '96 we started the band. In '99 we got our recording contract, and the first album came out.
KUCI: I hate to ask the standard question, but I'm wondering about any influences. I know that for you [Tony], Queen has been a big influence.
TK: Yeah well, that's the big thing. My wife told me that with this album you can really tell that I've listened to my Queen albums. Queen is more there than ever. Of course, what got this band really going was Stratovarius. That's one big thing. Although, it's not there that much anymore, but we can never forget that. We owe them a lot.
HK: Everything influences me more or less. I think musically the most important influences are the ones you have when you started to play when you were a kid. The older you get the harder it is to get heavily influenced by something in the same manner as when you were younger. Pantera, Metallica, Dream Theater, Slayer, stuff like that. Basic metal catalog.
KUCI: What was the inspiration behind the Paid in Full video?
TK: We didn't have time to do anything else. [Laughs] We just walked on the ice, blew up some dynamite [Tony makes explosion sounds]. It was too cold.
HK: It was a bit stressful to set that up because we were originally going to work with another company. And then I didn't hear from them for a couple weeks, so I called them up and they were all "Oh yeah, sorry we meant to tell you that we can't do this video with this budget" and I'm like, "Dude, it woulda been nice to know." So we got a deadline that was like the last minute thing.
TK: We had to shoot it within a week.
HK: I found a director from Southern Finland and told him what the problem was. He came up with this. It was like "That's cool. Do it on the ice and whatever." So it was just one day of shooting, and he drove straight home for 10-12 hours and started editing it right away and it was ready in a couple days.
KUCI: What was the inspiration for "Under your Tree" on Unia?
TK: I have a dog, and she's really young still. But I know that, eventually, if everything goes.. well.. she will die before I do. I love that dog a lot and it's killing me to know I've got to bury it one day. That's the idea behind that song.
KUCI: What kind of dog is it?
TK: Uh...I'm not going to tell you. I'm not gonna sell that. Never sell something you can't buy back. And that dog is mine.
KUCI: What was the production process like this time around, and how was it different from previous albums you've done?
TK: It was bigger. The whole thing, we actually had a choir and real strings and more programming. A lot of guests on the album. Well, not a lot compared to the new Nightwish album [Laughs]. But for Sonata Arctica scale, it was a big production.
HK: One of the main differences was the in way we work, because usually when we come off tour there's not too much time for him to write songs. So we go into the studio having only maybe 3 songs ready and he comes in in the morning with all kinds of weird ideas going on. But this time, actually, because the Reckoning Night tour was almost 2 years, so at the end of that you've already got a bunch of demos ready. So we hired a small cottage...
TK: A camping area.
HK: In the middle of the woods and we went there for one month and wrote the songs.
TK: And if not for this Jani thing, it would have been fairly stressless. Recording Winterhearts Guild and Reckoning Night, they were killers. I was like, dead after those albums were done. I can blame myself when we go into the studio and we have like 2 songs ready at the time. Then I'm writing the whole time we're [mumble yes this and that]. Then I went out and I'd spend a whole day in the studio, then I go home and write and write until I fall asleep on the table. Then a few hours later I'm off to the studio again. And…sh*t, it's terrible. This time it was easier
HK: We knew what we wanted to do and we actually got to work on the record.
TK: And I didn't have to be in the studio that much anyways. I just popped in every now and then to check out what's happening. I recorded all my vocals at home, and that was really great.
HK: I wasn't in the studio that much either.
TK: Everybody recorded at home, mostly.
HK: I played the organ at my friend's studio, and the rest of the stuff at home.
TK: It was great. I enjoyed that process a lot, and I can't wait to start another one.
KUCI: What are some more tours aside from what you're doing now that you currently have in the works, in terms of where you want to go, or are going, that you're looking forward to?
TK: Three weeks after this tour we are heading to Europe, and playing there for like four weeks, I think. And then we have a few shows in Finland after Christmas, before New Years. I think in January, at some point, we might hit Russia for the first time. Not sure yet, it'd be nice. It's like right next door from Finland [Laughs] and I've never been there which is weird. Then in February we'll be here in the States playing different places.
HK: Then we're going down to South America, Mexico, home for a while. Then we'll do a short European tour before the festivals. Then it's festivals, then in the Fall we probably will be back here.
TK: And next summer we'll play a lot of festivals, it looks like. Not much time off.
HK: Basically it's going to be like this for the next couple years.
KUCI: Where have you gotten the most positive responses as far as crowds?
HK: At home after the tour. [Laughs]
KUCI: There's a video on YouTube of Tony and Jani playing a solo acoustic show in Japan.
TK: Yeah. Oh, that thing. That was, I think, a Reckoning Night promotional tour there, and they asked us to do that kind of thing and...it's pretty...crappy.
KUCI: It seemed like you had a very sizeable crowd.
TK: Yeah, well, it was ok. Whenever we go there, there are like, enough people there. So it's nice.
KUCI: I know that in Mexico they love metal shows.
TK: Yeah. They especially seem to love one song that we are not playing live at all. Wolf and the Raven [Laughs]. They want to hear that [Tony mimics by chanting Wolf and Raven]. We're like no sh*t. They're screaming Wolf and Raven, and we know already that we are not going to play that.
KUCI: Do you just refuse to play it now?
TK: That song is a pain in the ass. If I could unwrite it, I might do that. [Laughs]
HK: It's a nice song to play, but it's a bit boring for a singer.
TK: Yes, but I think the next time we're playing in Mexico we have to play that. But you know, Elias has been in the band only like 1/2 a year, and he's had a hell of a lot to learn, you know, practicing all the songs. So we just gave him slack.
HK: And ourselves as well [Laughs all around]. Some years ago we played it, and last year we played some medley with it.
TK: I don't like the arrangement of that song at all. It's too fast, it doesn't honor the melody at all, and it's impossible to sing because I have not written myself any space to breathe. [Tony makes speedy metal sounds] It's terrible.
KUCI: Are there any songs that you won't play live anymore?
TK: A lot. You know, [Laughs] we have like 5 albums so there's gotta be quite a few songs that we're not playing live.
KUCI: Are there any that you just refuse to play?
TK: Everybody's got a veto right. Like, I wouldn't refuse playing "Letter to Dana" from the first album, but there are some guys that use their veto right like everybody "[Tony makes an shooting sound] NO!" [Laughs all around]. Everybody's got a song like that.
KUCI: Was that really about Dana Scully?
TK: No! [Laughs all around] I just took the name. The name only. It's just a, like, Irish type. A sad love story.
HK: Basically when we make up a set list, of course we try to think a little bit of the audience as well, but we have to play these songs for years. We have to have a set that we can get excited about every night. So if there's a lot of songs that we don't like, and we don't want to play, it's going to show. We have enough great songs to choose from, so we just pick the ones we like.
KUCI: What are your favorite songs to play?
TK: I like the ballads. They're nice for a singer, of course. And I don't have to scream too much.
HK: Of the current setlist........ [he's taking a while to think about it]
TK: You don't like any of the songs.
HK: Yeah, I don't know. I don't like this music. [Laughs all around] "Don't say a word" and "The Cage" are cool.
TK: The last 2 songs in the set [Laughs] Yeah, I'm always happy to sing those as well.
KUCI: Is there anything else you'd like to tell the fans of KUCI?
TK: We'll be back. So come and check out the show, and bring your friends with you.
KUCI: One more question. I know interviewers always ask the same questions. Are there any questions you wish the people would ask? Anything you want people to know?
KUCI: You're just like "Stop prying! Get out of my life."
TK: That is actually one of the questions people ask quite a bit. [Laughs all around]
HK: On this album we've done over 200 interviews. So to find a question that we haven't heard before is rare, and you have to have a lot of luck as well.
KUCI: When you were a little boy what was the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? How about that? Is that new?
TK: No, actually, I don't know if that's new. But I know the answer for that. I was maybe 2 or 3 years old, and my family and I were at a bus stop somewhere and there was this older gentleman looking when I was kind of playing on the ground waiting for the bus, and he just asked what I'm gonna be when I grow up, and I said "a rock singer!" [laughs]
HK: My sister told me, I don't remember this, she said "when you were 8 years old you told me that you're gonna be a rock star." [Laughs]
KUCI: I wanted to deliver the mail. Our mail man was a really cool guy. [Laughs all around] I liked him a lot. His name was Dave.