SONATA ARCTICA is one of Finland’s biggest metal exports, which is understandable, considering they have their own unique and diverse sound. With their tenth studio album coming out (or ninth if you don’t include the remake of “Ecliptica”) in a few short months, we decided to take the opportunity to have a chat with Tony Kakko (vocals) and Henrik Klingenberg (keyboards) about their current style, returning themes, and the weird world of social media.
First of all, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Tony: Of course.
SONATA ARCTICA did an acoustic tour this summer – how did you decide that this was the time to do it and do you think you might ever do it again?
Henrik: Well, I think that we didn’t come up with anything else reasonable to do. The thing was, we did festivals already a year ago with “Pariah’s Child” and it felt like we wanted to present something new this summer, but we didn’t have a new album out, so we thought, okay let’s give it a shot and do some acoustic stuff. Because previously, sometimes on our tours we have had acoustic segments in the shows, and now we just decided to go full on and see what happens and it turned out really well, so I’m sure we’ll do this in the future at some point. But right now we’re just aiming on getting a new album out and playing new songs.
You guys have such a vast discography with so many different eras of your own sound. How do you decide which songs get included in the live sets and which songs/albums get left out?
Tony: There are certain songs that you kind of need to play, the ones that you choose as singles, and those form the frame. Then you try finding songs that are live-friendly, first of all. There are some songs that necessarily – at least on some of our albums – there are songs that… it’s not impossible really, but they’re not really nice to do live. There are so many layers of things that it would be a task for me to even choose the lead vocal line because there are so many things happening. And every harmony is important, like “Unia“…
Henrik: It got out of hand [laughs].
Tony: Yeah, it got a little bit out of hand, but I learned from that.
Henrik: It’s a hit-and-miss game. Of course we try. Now we had early on the Pariah’s Child world tour and we were doing the re-recording of “Ecliptica,” we had about thirty to thirty-five songs that you have to play and we tried to switch them up and now we tried to leave some of that stuff out so as not to repeat ourselves too much. So we have some stuff that we think at least that we have to do…
Tony: I think this is definitely the biggest renewal of set we’ve had in…
Henrik: A few years, at least. So it’s going to be interesting to see if it works or not. But it’s really difficult and the more albums you make, the harder it gets. I mean, it’s easy picking some songs from the new album, but as for the rest, with the exception of “Fullmoon” and “Don’t Say a Word”…
Tony: Yeah, trying to build this kind of “greatest hits” kind of thing and then add some special songs for those who are bigger fans and might appreciate you playing this [obscure] song that nobody has heard live ever, and then this is rare. It’s a treat, somehow.
Do you think any of the fan picks from Satama Open Air will stay on the setlist?
Tony: “Power of One” will stay.
Unfortunately, at this point in our interview, a journalist’s worst nightmare came true and the recording device decided to shut itself off. Fortunately, Henrik was willing to redo the interview with us from this point onward.
“Pariah’s Child” felt like a stylistic throwback to your first few albums – was this an intentional move for you guys, or did it just kind of happen that way? Do you think that “The Ninth Hour” then will be another throwback to that era, or will it touch on a different era, such as the “Unia” era?
It was a bit of both I guess. We talked a lot about what SONATA ARCTICA is and what it should be during the making of our book, and somehow this might have reflected in the music on “Pariah’s Child.” As far as “The Ninth Hour“ goes, I think it’s more like a continuation from “Pariah’s Child,” as opposed to being something totally new or a big leap toward something.
How representative of the new album is the first single?
I think it set the tone of the album and is a good start but I wouldn’t say that it really represents the album as a whole… but as said, it works as a starting point for this new album.
Do you think the album is “traditional” SONATA ARCTICA, or is it more experimental?
Well, I wouldn’t really know what it considered to be “traditional” SONATA ARCTICA these days – is it the power metal that we started out with, the progressive style that we introduced with “Unia” or something else? I’d say that it’s definitely not experimental and you can hear influences from all of the previous albums on it.
Word on the street is that you’re continuing Caleb’s murder saga, and you’re also doing a follow up to “White Pearl, Black Oceans.” How did you decide to revisit these two stories, considering that both of the narrators/protagonists are dead?
Yeah, the Caleb saga is something Tony’s been visiting on several albums: “Juliet” from “The Days of Grays” being the latest. As far as “WPBO part 2,” it was indeed interesting to continue the story, somehow Tony managed to revive the main characters. Musically speaking, it was a bit of a task to make the song since it’s a very long track and we needed to make sure that it was a worthy sequel to the first part, which has became quite important for a lot of people, including ourselves. There’s been tons of fan fiction and movie ideas and whatnot created around the story of the first “WPBO.”
If you ever decide that the story is finally over, would you ever consider playing the full Caleb story in chronological order?
We’ve been toying with the idea of doing that at some point. There’s already quite a few songs in that saga it so would be a special show kinda thing, since there wouldn’t be too much time to play other songs. We’ve also thought about the idea of playing both “WPBO” songs back to back at some point.
We’ve had a few discussions at Musicalypse about how a man who’s been with the same woman for so many years can write so many songs about heartbreak and dysfunctional relationships – do you have any comments on that?
Haha, well I won’t comment on that [laughs]. Tony does, however, have a very vivid imagination.
Apart from these two stories, are there any other topics or subjects that you’re willing to discuss from the album? Are there any subjects that you think are important that you’ve included in your music this time around?
A couple of songs deal with the issue of environmental awareness, which of course connects with the title of the album. However they’re more observations than trying to preach or telling people how to live their lives. There’s of course love stories on the album as well, in different forms and shapes.
Were there any subjects you would’ve liked to include that didn’t make the cut?
I don’t think so; the way we work is that when we have enough songs for the album, that’s about it. We don’t have tons of songs in storage waiting to be recorded or something.
Lastly, you both have these rather odd social media followings or fan groups, Tony Kakko’s Pants on Facebook being one, and The Keytar Adventures on Instagram being the other. Do you have any thoughts on these sort of quirky groups?
The Keytar Adventures was something that kinda happened and I just found out afterwards about it. These days I even have a pretty clear idea about who’s doing it [laughs]. It all started at our show in Tampere last year where, for some reason, I smashed my keytar at the end of the show. I then gave it as a gift to a dear friend of mine and apparently he’s been lending it out every once in a while for this thing… I find it hilarious. The Tony Kakko’s pants thing is quite old I guess… well that’s what you get from wearing weird pants [laughs].
Are the pants still around?
I think Tony still has them somewhere… and they might even do a comeback someday. Things like these have a tendency to pop up. Let’s wait and see…
Thank you again so much for your time (twice around) and best of luck with the new album release!
Interview by Bear Wiseman