Tony Kakko – Sonata Arctica ‘After Hours’

Sonata Arctica has been on the Power Metal scene really since the scenes inception. Hailing from Kemo in Finland, the band burst on to the scene in 1999 with the release of Ecliptica, through Spine Farm Records, and solidified their place within the genre with Silence in 2001. The bands early signature sound revolved around faced paced tempos embellished with multi-layered melodies and Tony Kakko’s high vocals. The band has had success across most continents, including Asia and South America, as well as Europe. They even visited Australian in 2009 as part of the New Year’s Eve metal festival in Sydney, Scream Fest; headlining the first night.

As the band has progressed, so has their music. Even though the band doesn’t focus on the never ending fast paced tracks of the first three albums as much, the signature melodies and structures are still there and in many ways are much stronger and deeper than they initially were. In 2016 Sonata Arctica are about to release their ninth studio album, aptly titled The Ninth Hour; their sixth studio album with Nuclear Blast. I was fortunate to catch up with Tony Kakko himself to discuss the new album and Sonata Arctica in 2016.

So how did The Ninth Hour come together, was this album written in the same vein as the back catalogue?

No, but this was a little hastier though. We were in a hurry with the writing process. Somehow I had a blank when we started writing, this was January. This was the first break in twenty years and we had a tour in between. So by April we were in a hurry as we had deadlines that we committed to. But I don’t think that it reflects that process in a negative way. With our last album I had it written and rehearsed it for a whole month before we recorded, which was a luxury.

The opening track on the album ‘Closer to an Animal’ starts with a great bass riff and expands into an open ended song with a heavy chunky guitar pulling the track together. Where did the inspiration for this come from?

Funny track in the way. The first version I wrote was the last thing initially, if that makes sense. It was a ballad and I thought about giving it away to a female singer, but when we moved it around it started to change. I eventually started, after a while, coming up with alternate versions of the song and this is actually what happened. We eventually had two version of this song and the other was a ballad. I love both versions but this was the right one for the album. 

sonataarctica2016aIs this your normal mode of inspiration/songwriting?

Usually when we have enough breaks I come home and relax and then start writing songs. Usually when we have enough touring I have songs ready, you know, maybe half an album or more. This time was not the case, unfortunately. But at times the clean slate is also very healthy. I have about fifty songs in my back catalogue and I haven’t found a forum for them yet as they may not really be right for Sonata Arctica. But normally after a break, or even by the end of a tour, I have a number of tracks ready to be worked on.

Can you talk us through the concept behind the third track ‘Fairytale’? I have read that it is about the current Presidential Campaign in the US.

Yes it is! Of course the music came about first and I came up with this triplet feel song and we haven’t played this sort of thing for a while. Tommy (drums) had a little trouble with this as we haven’t done anything like this for a while. It was a fun song and I wrote lyrics to come with it. I tried to include everything that I have read about this campaign. There are so many things wrong there and I wrote about those things in a sarcastic view but it has a strong message in it as well. It came up very well this track.

Is there a song on the album that stands out for you?

At the moment my favourite are the more mellow songs, like Among the Shooting Stars, I think at this point. But we are just about to start the tour and so the fast songs will start to come to the fore and Fairytale sounds great in rehearsal, so that I think will become dear to me. I am not your normal metal head and I am into mellow and melodic songs and not always your fast paced ones.

Looking back over Sonata Arctica’s career, how do you keep your material fresh and relevant?

I hate repeating myself. I try to write songs that are different enough and avoid loops and trends and harmony patterns and things. I try to shake that every time, and try and learn new instruments to keep me moving. I am a keyboard player and so it is easy to come stuck so I pick up different instruments and worm through this to keep perspectives fresh and different. 

You have had a number of artists collaborate with Sonata Arctica and you have done some guest appearances on albums yourself, but is there a particular band who you would love to collaborate with?

None comes to mind at the moment, well Nightwish are always fun, but this was a long time ago when I did a track with them (2001 Over the Hills and Far Away). But any bands that I really like and befriended. You know bands that I have a connection with as beyond this nothing comes to mind.

Tony, you are vocalist who is well respected across metal and I am wondering what metal vocalists are you a fan of?

Huge amount of great singers in metal but I would say, Devin Townsend, he is extremely talented and crazy. He is on the fine line of genius and crazy and it works. One of the most impressive singers that I have seen lately would be Adam Lambert as I saw him sing with Queen and he was amazing. I don’t know if that is what you expected, or that it seems fitting for a metal singer to say, but yeah he was amazing and really blew me away to be honest.

The only time that Sonata Arctica has been to Australia was 2009 so are there any plans to bring the tour for The Ninth Hour to down under?

It has been way too long to be honest and only once! We have high hopes to fix this next year. There is nothing solid but we are talking September possibly next year. We will be going to Japan at this time and this is a good time to come to Australia. I really hope that we could have more than two shows at this stage and to play places like Perth. I want to see fans and witness Australian and all it has to offer.

It was a real pleasure to speak with Tony, one of the leading Power Metal vocalist. Despite all of their success and career longevity, Tony is very down to earth and humble, and a musician who seems to be as excited about his music today, as he was in 1999. The Ninth Hour is released through Nuclear Blast on the 7th of October and it is an album full of memorable metal melodies and with a produced sound that any “big league” Power Metal outfit would be proud of. My only hope now is that they come back to Australia in support of the album and that the initial planning comes through.

Interview by Mark Snedden