Interview with Sonata Arctica — “I let the songs sort of come naturally… whatever comes.”

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After doing an acoustic tour, SONATA ARCTICA realized they should take it to the next level and permanently re-arrange some of their songs acoustically with the release of a brand new album, “Acoustic Adventures – Volume One,” to be released on January 21st, 2021, via Atomic Fire Records. We talked with vocalist Tony Kakko the week of the album release and asked some questions about the record. Read/watch the complete interview below…

Hi and thank you so much for taking the time today to do this interview. How have you been?

Busy, you know, interviews and working on something… something that I’m not willing to talk about yet, but music things. So yeah, I think I’ve been busy.

Oh, that sounds exciting. Well, SONATA ARCTICA’s acoustic album is also coming out this week, I believe. How are you feeling about that?

I’m relieved in a way that it’s actually finally getting out, because the original idea was to release it in January last year. So because of the situation, everything was postponed by one full calendar year. So yeah, we’re getting the Volume One out now and then I think in October you can expect Volume Two. Both of those albums have been ready for more than a year now. So this is going to… let’s put it this way, that the albums have had time to breathe when it comes to us talking about it, and it’s sort of feeling fresh for me as well. Because I just took like a year off from listening to them and so it was nice. Nice to kind of find them again, in a way.

Did you listen to them again to prepare for your interviews and such?

Yeah, and I was just interested… what did we actually do, because after we have done mixing, I usually don’t get back to the albums all that much because you just know every little crack and click, and whatever you have there. So it’s healthy to let yourself go and then let the album go, and then not go back there in a while. Unless you’re somehow forced to do so, but this has been a really nice vacation from that. Oh, but I do love the songs and everything. It was just nice when we started filming the video and everything and I had to actually memorize the lyrics and everything all over again. [laughs]

I guess it’s been a while to memorize anything since there haven’t been many shows.

Yeah, it’s been rather quiet… too quiet. Unfortunately.

I have this vague memory that you always said you would like to make an acoustic album at some point in your career…

Oh, someone actually remembers that! [laughs]

I think you mentioned that in our last interview or I must have read it somewhere. But yes! Anyway, I was wondering if the pandemic was the main reason for creating these albums after the acoustic tour you did?

No, not at all. The whole idea was actually more… we had concrete plans after the acoustic adventures tour that we had in 2019, I think and after that, we started compiling them as songs and making arrangements and hit the studio, in late 2020. So the pandemic per se didn’t have anything to do with it. Only with the way we actually worked because the original idea was to hit the studio, like 1 year ago in January and do that in the USA. The plan was to go to LA and record everything there in our friend’s studio. That didn’t happen because there was no way for us to go there because of things. [laughs] So we took care of the recordings earlier than we were supposed to originally.

Is that something that is still on your bucket list? Recording in LA?

If we actually one day get to make more of these acoustic albums. That would be great because this is a lighter production and it’s rather easy to just go there and record everything with this acoustic thing. So it would be fun to go there and then take care of volumes three and four, for example, or something like that.

Before creating this record, you did the acoustic tour. I attended one date in Helsinki and it was quite an intimate show. Was it refreshing for you guys to do shows like that?

Yes. For me as a singer, this acoustic format gives me much more flexibility and enables me to use different colors in my voice much more so than during normal heavy metal shows where the little subtle, tiny things, they are lost in the loudness of everything and now this is just giving me a lot of room to play with my instrument and I do love it. Generally speaking, you know, the volume when it’s not as loud, I feel much more comfortable. Although, you know, volume comes with power and everything and it’s nice and all, but we have done that so much. So it’s a healthy change of pace… the rhythm of doing things.

Was that the same for you while creating the album and recording the vocals as well?

Yeah, absolutely. Although, it wasn’t quite the same, doing the whole thing in the studio than it is while doing the live show when you have an audience and everything, and you get so much energy and the atmosphere is so different. It’s difficult to reproduce that kind of thing in the studio unless you have actually people there and you play the show, because it’s a flow, the whole thing, and one song leads to another, and it rolls the whole thing, and it’s totally different in that perspective. I tried. [laughs]

I also remember from last time that you wanted to make “Talviyö” as if it was played live, more organic. This album was recorded live in the studio. Was it a conscious choice to do this live and without a click track, making it as organic as possible?

Well, obviously, there are some overdubs here and there, you can hear me’s, for example, in certain places. Generally speaking, the basic tracks and everything were played live, which gives it the kind of flowing feeling and it’s organic in that sense. There’s no other way of approaching this kind of thing, it becomes too clinical otherwise, and this needs to have that feeling of live and dirt to an extent. That’s something we actually wanted to do with “Talviyö” as well… the album that turned out so different than I originally actually thought.

In what way was “Talviyö” different than you thought?

I didn’t consider when I was drafting the demos and had them ready and everything I still felt at that point that the album is much more upbeat and happy and everything. I don’t know, I had been marinating myself in something [laughs] for a long enough time, being on my own and listening to certain kinds of music. So I suppose the “Talviyö” songs felt faster and more upbeat than they actually were. [laughs] I should have maybe listened to SONATA ARCTICA‘s earlier material and sort of compared. [laughs] Anyway, the album became so much more moody and dark than I intended.

Interesting realizations! Curious to see what will happen during the next album. Is that something you realized while doing these arrangements and revisiting your back catalog?

I let the songs sort of come naturally… whatever comes. I don’t aim to do a certain kind of album, although I do, but still, the songs are the boss. If I just happen to write moody slower songs for a certain album, that’s how it’s going to be, unfortunately. That’s how it has been and that’s really bad business, I have to say. Of course, I should let go of those moody things, in a way, or find an alternative sort of place, another project or whatever, because SONATA ARCTICA releases albums too seldomly. We should have at least one album per year, which would satisfy me as a songwriter, maybe. So, maybe I will find an alternative outlet for those and let SONATA ARCTICA have all the speedy material that SONATA ARCTICA really needs. To be honest, we should aim towards the early days, idealistically.

Cool! Looking forward to see what comes out of it then. Anyway, going back to the acoustic album, what was the process like to create this record? I suppose re-arranging songs acoustically is quite different from your usual flow?

My idea was to just let go of all the instruments and the way we have played the songs and just take the song as a raw piece of music. Because the instruments are different. I told the guys who took care of a lot of the arrangements to just forget all the original versions per se, and just take the songs to the verses, pre-choruses, and choruses and let’s put those together and form a song, and let go of the way you had played or electric guitar, for example, and just approach how you feel comfortable with acoustic guitar, for example, and piano and everything. What comes to guitars, those two instruments, they are so really different from each other. It’s a different animal to play in a way, and so we just took the easy, comfortable way, and I don’t know how else I could really put it. We gave ourselves a lot of freedom for the arrangements. If there were some bits and pieces of the song that just doesn’t feel right and didn’t work in the acoustic environment, we can just easily let it go and write something new on top of it and replace that part with something totally new. Like we did with the “Rest of the Sun Belongs to Me,” for example, which was a power metal song to start with. It has like this unit on really speedy guitar keyboard solo thing in the middle there and now we have this rhythmic Spanish type of whatever thing it is happening there in the middle. Such things.

Now in the press release, Henkka mentioned that not all of the songs that you tried worked out. So you decided not to record those. What songs, for instance?

Ah… the pressure of names… [laughs] there were a lot of songs actually, especially those that I tried to push in. [laughs] I think I must have made like ten to fifteen arrangements and I’m not sure if one or two of them actually got on the album eventually. So there’s a lot of material for more volumes if we should get a chance to do that. “Fly, Navigate, Communicate,” for example, is one song that I loved the version that I did, but I suppose I should have explained to the guys how I would approach it. My demos are maybe sometimes a little bit extensive. I try to make them as complete as possible and then sometimes they understand – especially with this acoustic thing – I think they misunderstood me. When I put a certain kind of acoustic guitar [sings rhythms] at Elias must have thought that that is the exact way that I want to have played with is probably impossible. [laughs] Those are mood demos when it comes to these acoustic albums, mostly.

Are there any songs that you guys maybe didn’t even think of that you would like to create an acoustic version for, since you have such an extensive back catalogue?

Mostly, I suppose the really long songs, like “Larger Than Life,” “Power of One,” or “White Pearl, Black Oceans,” those kinds of songs, because we would be forced to cut them somehow because there’s no way you can actually play them at least any slower than they are played. So you’d need to leave a lot of bits and pieces out, which would probably serve a purpose because there are usually really long solo bits as well on those songs. But that’s a challenge that I would be really willing to get into if we get a chance to do that more in the future.

You mentioned before that the second part of “Acoustic Adventures” is coming out in October. How did you guys pick which songs would go on each part?

We just wanted to make two albums that are somehow balanced together. We didn’t want to make one fast album and one really slow album. These are the albums that we came up with doing. Then it caused some surprising things, for example, someone told me that we don’t have any songs on the first album that are from our debut album “Ecliptica,” for example. So that was just an accident. We didn’t mean that to happen, it just went that way and nobody noticed anything. And now consequently, the second volume [“Ecliptica”] will be maybe a little bit over-represented, there’s like too much… [laughs] Not too many, but there are more “Ecliptica” songs than songs from other albums.

I guess that people who are looking forward to the classics will have to wait a little bit longer then.

You will get your “Full Moons” and “Letter to Dana’s.” [laughter]

You mentioned earlier that not all of the songs that you wanted to be on the record are on it. What do you think a song needs to be able to make an acoustic version of it?

Ultimately, I think any SONATA ARCTICA song would make a decent acoustic version because there’s a good melody in the core of everything. There are enough pieces and parts to make a short acoustic song, you just need to cut out every unnecessary part and all the decorations that are not really necessary to have there. Just take the melody and the mood of the song and find the way the song wants to be played. Give yourself time and freedom to do that. Any song would go, I’m sure.

I was wondering while you were recording this album, was there maybe kind of a different atmosphere than what you would have during normal album recordings?

Well, everybody knew the songs much more so than on the normal studio album [recordings]. Although we prepare ourselves for studio sessions, something changes all the time anyway. I might change lyrics, I might change melodies, and everything. That didn’t really happen on this acoustic album, although I did write or change some melodies as well. But anyway, the whole process was more ready, because it was based on our Acoustic Adventures Tour. So the idea was to just go into the studio and reproduce that Acoustic Adventures Tour. Plus, of course, make it a little bit more studio live thing than the natural show, which would be actually fun. I would love to record one of these Acoustic Adventures Tours for some kind of pirate release.

That’s something that I was actually wondering… why didn’t you record one of the shows?

The idea to actually make the album or the okay to make to record this album, we just got it after the tour. So we didn’t have time to prepare for it. Anyway, we didn’t have enough songs, I think. We wanted to play it safe as well. [laughs] Because there are so many things that might happen and go wrong in a live show. Now that we actually have the studio versions of these acoustic albums, in the future, on tour, we definitely want to record those and see if they’re good enough to be released.

It’s still a little bit tricky to ask about shows because they get canceled here and there. But are you planning to do more of these acoustic shows?

We are supposed to have a tour starting… an acoustic tour starting in Finland next month in February. That got postponed and then partially canceled, unfortunately, because the venues are fully booked for autumn time already. Obviously, when we get a chance, we will play basically anywhere and any chance we get because you can’t really say no if you have a chance of touring and doing it safely at this point.

What are some other things still in the works for you guys? Are you already maybe starting to work on a new album? Or are you just continuing with the acoustic stuff until the pandemic goes over?

We’re gonna have normal metal shows. At the moment still, we’re going to play in April in Latin America, and that’s going to be the 25th-anniversary tour. That’s going to be full metal, normal SONATA ARCTICA, so not acoustic and summer festivals, at this point, anyway, they are all normal SONATA ARCTICA. So that’s the thing that will happen. In autumn, I think we have both acoustic tour and normal touring happening there at the moment. Everything is written down in pencil, you can’t really ink anything down too much at this point, you never know what’s going to happen. That’s something we have learned for sure. But the idea anyways, is to hit the studio early next year and start recording but the next SONATA ARCTICA album, a normal studio album… number 11.

Wow. The eleventh album. I’m starting to feel old. [laughs]

Tell me about it. [laughs]

Anyway, I think that’s it for my questions. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with our readers and your fans?

I hope you check out the acoustic albums both of them and enjoy them. More than anything, I hope you all take care of yourselves and the people around you, in that order. Stay safe and let’s make this world roll and rock once again, so we can get to do these interviews, for example, and live shows, of course, face-to-face… the way we used to once upon a time.

Interview by Laureline Tilkin