Sonata Arctica revive the young wolf

Sonata Arctica started out following in the footsteps of a Finnish national idol, Stratovarius. Step by step, the band grew without ever resting on their laurels. Through a mix of doubt and a will to prove themselves they could broaden their horizon, Sonata Arctica have taken a fresh look at their music, made it more complex, left their trademark fast tempi behind, and so on. Fans who had been following them since the very beginning might have been confused, but those initially resistant to the band had to change their opinion.

And still Sonata Arctica won’t stop reinventing themselves. Their previous album, Stones Grow Her Name, already put a stop to the progressive momentum behind Unia and The Last Of Grays, and the band is now ready to dive back into the style that made them famous. Pariah’s Child revives the wolfish imagery on both the record and the single covers, and the Finn’s old logo makes a comeback as well. Vocalist and main composer Tony Kakko describes this album as the one « that we would have written if we had continued on the path that was brought by the four first albums”. But don’t let this statement fool you: this is not so much a return to the past as the summary of a career that forever moves forward.

We talked about all this in the following interview with a very honest Tony Kakko, who didn’t hesitate, as usual, to go through a process of self-criticism and self-derision. It was also a good opportunity to mention the arrival of the band’s new bass player, Pasi Kauppinen, the impact the Finnish Donald Duck magazine had on his life, and the incredible story of Jordan Langlois, a French fan who travelled 4,000 kilometers on foot to join the band in their studio.

« We thought it would be nice to go back to that moment in time when we decided to do something totally different with Unia, and then taking another path. »

You have declared that « there are some instant Sonata Arctica greatest hits songs » on this new album. This album mixes the hard rock sound you’ve recently been developing with a rather old school approach and an epic touch on its very last song. Actually, the album cover also conveys the impression of a « classic » Sonata album. Was there a conscious effort from you guys to release an album that would somehow sum up your career?

Tony Kakko (vocals) : Hum yes, I have said this same thing, I think [laughs] with most of our albums: “the new album sums up everything we have done in the past.” Especially with the Stones Grow Her Name album, that was more bullshit [laughs] I think, in retrospective. But really now on Pariah’s Child we really have combined everything we have done in the past and it wasn’t really a decision we made; when we started writing the songs we didn’t know what was about to come. We were just writing a pile of songs and when we started rehearsing we picked up the songs that felt the most ready, finished and suited for the band and for this album. Even after that, when we started to rehearse, I still got to write a lot of songs. I think we have changed mostly half of the tracks we had at that point. It just sort of became what it is now after many changes. Already last tour we had to start thinking and preparing ourselves for this 15th anniversary tour. That is also a good opportunity for me as a song writer of course, it gives me a chance to go back, see and hear these old songs in a new, white, different way. It just felt somehow good and I decided to give it a go and write something in that old style. And at some point, when I brought “The Wolves Die Young song” to the rehearsal room and we played it, it felt instantly good. It played perfect, and we definitly we wanted that direction for the album. That was obvious, the first time we played it through, that it was the first single at that point, and then we thought that something totally weird was going to happen, that it would stay that way. And it did! It is the first single. After that I wrote “Running Lights” and also rearranged some of the other songs in order to make them more in the same vein: more speedy and maybe more progressive, and they just fit better together on this album.

Could we say that this album is a sort of an experiment to see if you could still write and enjoy that sort of songs?

Kind of yes, in the beginning. But only for one or two songs that I wrote last summer it was like that. But I found the joy; it was a lot of fun! But of course, you know, when we decided that we were gonna have this special 15th anniversary thing and then bringing a lot of the old songs back, it was already decided more or less that… Yeah, it doesn’t have to feel that bad anymore. We’ve been going in a totally different direction for what, 8 years? So we thought it would be nice to go back to that moment in time when we decided to do something totally different with Unia, and then taking another path. And now we’re kind of back into that moment and writing a different kind of Unia album, the other album that we would have written if we had continued on the path that was brought by the four first albums, you know? This album could have easily followed Reckoning Night. Bringing back the old logo and everything is just like underlining the same thing and it really feels great. The few shows we’ve had in Finland were fantastic because we were playing songs like “My Land” that we hadn’t played in… I don’t know when was the last time, and people really loved it. It’s just like [laughs] a “the good old days were back” feeling and it hit us really hard, it’s fantastic.

These songs from the four first albums are really fast and really difficult songs to play because the tempo is very fast and the vocals are very high; wasn’t it difficult for you guys to play these songs again?

Ahem… well, you know there are a few songs that we don’t even play today but for some songs we had to drop the key down a little bit so that I can actually sing them. [Laughs] For the songs of the first album, I was not even able to sing those live back then! [Laughs] To be honest we were young, stupid and just adventurous. I didn’t even know that I would have to be able to do those songs live one day, around 29 times in a months or something like that… [Laughs] It didn’t even pop my mind. I didn’t know how these things worked and I didn’t know how my body worked and what I could do. So I think it’s pretty ok, when you’re older and wiser to correct some of the tiny mistakes you did in the past. Instead of hoping that you had never written a song like “Wolf And Raven”, you just do it slightly differently, and maybe some people won’t even notice the difference, but for the performing artist it’s a world of difference.

« Maybe it’s time to concentrate on Sonata Arctica at full speed and do it properly, like we used to do back in the days. »

Is this kind of comeback the reason why you decided to bring back the classic wolf on the artwork for this album?

Yeah, I don’t know… someone told me very early after we had released Stones Grow Her Name that there were no wolves on the album. That didn’t even cross my mind before that! So it felt kind of bad because the wolves had been following us ever since Silence basically, or even before, “Full Moon” is like a werewolf song on Ecliptica already. Leaving it out, it’s just a mark of something totally different and now that we really want to go back and rewrite some of the history in a certain way, it’s was pretty obvious. If we want to go back to this kind of music and to write this kind of music we need to bring the wolf back on the cover; that was a no brainer. [Laughs] Of course we would have a wolf and have the old logo on top and everything. But, you know, on the booklet there are a lot of pictures but no wolves [laughs].

Is the wolf back for good or is it on the contrary the last time we’ll ever see it? What could be the next step in the evolution of Sonata Arctica?

Well, after every album I say “probably not, we’ll be the same” so I don’t know. Risking the possibility that I will [stops and laughs] talk you through a lot of bullshit, I’d say that we’re gonna stay on this track for a while now; this is what we want to do right now. The old logo is gonna stay there and the wolves are back to stay. You know we have come to realise that it is what we are and what Sonata Arctica is all about, and if as a songwriter I want to do something totally different, I would have to find my own path, my own means of doing that through a solo project, release a solo album or whatever you know, spend those stupid ideas into something else other than Sonata Arctica which is so much more than just me. So maybe it’s time to concentrate on Sonata Arctica at full speed and do it properly, like we used to do back in the days.

“X Marks The Spot” is one of the most original songs on the album. Can you tell us more about the writing of this song?

“X Marks The Spot”, yeah, that’s the humor blast of the album. Well, I think that it’s one of the songs that I rewrote at least twice. While rehearsing I wasn’t happy with anything of it, only the choirs were a keeper from the beginning but I didn’t know what it was going to be about. I was about cults at one point and then on the final version I came up with this “X Marks The Spot” exclamation there, I didn’t have any of the album lyrics yet but for some reason I just started to get this vibe that it would be fun to kind of talk about this. Old people, sometimes, actually often these days, they just follow their cult leader, or religious leader, someone who’s really charismatic and powerful and deals with their life in his hands or her hands, and they do anything these people [these leaders] tell you to do without questioning anything. It just turned out this way, as “X Marks The Spot” on this album. But it was nowhere near as joyful for me before we found this Jaakko Koskinen gentleman who’s doing these spoken parts on the album, on that song “X Marks The Spot”. This bridge thing, that’s not me, it’s a different guy. It works great for the song and he delivers it so it’s fantastic and I bet he will return on some Sonata Arctica songs in the future as well.

Since this album covers almost every aspect of your career, it could definitely have been called « Sonata Arctica ». Have you thought of self-titling the album?

Yeah that was one of the ideas, taking advantage of the fact that it’s our eighth album and to turn it with the aspect of the number eight and everything, you know… But it’s been done so many times and in so many ways that in the past that I didn’t want to take that path and then you know… As long as I come up with something better than Sonata Arctica [laughs] for an album title I’m gonna find a new name and give you some other name than Sonata Arctica. Because it should be really something that shows it’s the ultimate Sonata Arctica album. As if there was never going to be another Sonata Arctica album or if you ever buy one Sonata Arctica album, this is it. We’re not there yet, I want to do more. Maybe the last Sonata Arctica album will be named Sonata Arctica. [Laughs] I don’t know! But yes, it has crossed my mind, but I’m not ready to play that card yet.

« We have this saying in the band that anybody can suggest anything to me but usually it doesn’t always pass! [Laughs] »

Pasi Kauppinen joined the band after Marko’s departure. Before that, he had been working with you for quite a long time. Is this the reason why you picked him? Did you want someone who was close to the band, someone you could trust?

Partly, yes. He really is an extremely nice guy. He’s a fantastic bass player and he’s got a home studio which of course has some synergy effect to the whole thing. You know it’s nice to have a person in a band who really knows how studios work and do these stuff even when you’re on tour, if we need something extra, like intro tapes or whatever he’s just gonna do it. One of the biggest things, of course, for choosing him is that Marko, when he decided to call it quit, he said “you have to take Pasi; you can’t choose anybody else but Pasi.” If he didn’t approve anyone else, then neither did we. We had talked about taking him in anyway. It was perfect, everybody was ok with it.

So you haven’t auditioned any other bass players?

No. No no no. It was a done deal. It was easy. We didn’t even want to know about other bass players. We wanted Pasi, he’s perfect!

How did he contribute to the writing of the album, besides participating to the mixing?

It was an inspiration as a songwriter to have such a virtuoso bass player in the band. It allowed me to write stuff that I couldn’t write before. It was like having two guitar players in the band, other than the other guitar player is playing the bass, [Laughs] in a virtuoso manner. Other than that I just wrote all the songs and of course everybody have their sayings and sometimes some good ideas, sometimes bad ideas. We have this saying in the band that anybody can suggest anything to me but usually it doesn’t always pass! [Laughs] It has become more or less a joke that my writing vision is pretty strong and your ideas have to be really really good if you want them to get through. That’s how I function. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad but I think that someone who has a really good vision has a big chance of knowing how the final product will sound like.

You have contributed to the vocals on Tuomas Holopainen’s solo album about Scrooge McDuck. What is your relationship to this character? Are you also a Disney fan just like Tuomas?

Yeah, in Finland this Aku Ankka/Donald Duck magazine is a very big deal and I have had the inscription since I was two years old so for 36 years. So I kind of really grew up reading about Donald Duck and ScroogeMcDuck and everything about Walt Disney world, so it’s somewhere deep in my psychic and it’s a really big part of who I am today and it has never gone anywhere either. I was never really into any Spiderman or such things, I was a Donald Duck fan from the start [laughs]. That’s one of the reasons why he took me into the project as well because I think anybody had to enjoy Ducks! [Laughs] You know, other than in your plate! [Laughs] You have to be a Walt Disney fan I think.

« I kind of really grew up reading about Donald Duck and ScroogeMcDuck and everything about Walt Disney world […] it’s a really big part of who I am today. »

On another topic, a few months ago, a French Sonata Arctica fan named Jordan Langois travelled by foot from France to Finland just so he could meet you and have a drink with you. How do you feel about such dedication?

That was insane when I heard about it! His friends had made this link of a video he filmed the day he started walking and I sent him a few e-mails while he was walking and then finally he reached Finland, surprisingly quickly I think. He’s been walking really hard. I invited him to join us in the studio near Kokkola which is still like 400 kilometres south from Kemi which of course is where he wanted to go to see northern fires and northern lights and everything and to meet us as well. I invited him to come to Kokkola, he spent a few nights there and he’s even performing on the new album as well, you know? [Laughs] When you hear this clapping thing, he is part of that groove. It was amazing, you know, having someone walk such a long time and a long way to do something like that and then to meet some people, some band he likes, it’s mind blowing. I don’t know if I would ever do something like that. He’s a young guy and when you’re young, you’ve got to do this kind of stuff if you want to. It’s just mind blowing. He got some air time on Finnish national radio and everything; he got interviews and stuff so he was really famous in Finland for a while. [Laughs]

When meeting up with him, weren’t you afraid that he could be one of those dangerous maniacs like the one who shot Dimebag Darell?

Yeah… we had guns! [Laughs] No, no no. He sounds like a really cool guy. It didn’t even cross my mind. Well next guy who’s walking from anywhere to Finland… Beware! [Laughs] We’ll truly have our guns the next time! You scared the shit out of me now. [Laughs] No, no he seemed to be a really great guy; he’s a really great guy and I hope to see him in France.

For which artist would you be able to do the same thing?

Like 20 years ago, I might have done it! [Laughs] I don’t know it would be really cool to see Queen record something somewhere. [Laughs] I don’t know that’s maybe the one band. At some point Stratovarius were a big thing, but I don’t know about walking, from here to France for example, if for some reason they were recording in France, I don’t think I would.

Ok, so you wouldn’t do it to visit Jordan’s house in France for example? [Laughs]

[Laughs] I don’t think so. I’m not that kind of guy maybe I’m too fucking old for it now! [Laughs]

He is singing on one of the album tracks. How was it to record this track?

Yes actually he’s singing on the song “Cloud Factory”… No, I’m correcting myself again. You know on “X Marks The Spot” we have this choir and he’s part of that choir. He’s there and he also played flute on this thing that we were supposed to put at the end of the album but it didn’t qualify at the end, there was something wrong with it and it didn’t feel right to put it there. But you know I’m sure we’ll use it on a documentary or something. We have tons of video footage from the recording process that include Jordan. Then he’s going to be famous in France as well… Unless he already is! [Laughs]

Ok, well it looks like it’s very easy to be hired as a singer in Sonata Arctica, you just have to walk for 3000 miles and that’s it! [Laughs]

Well we’re talking about a choir; you know it’s a large choir so it’s great to have a variety of different people singing there, it makes the whole thing sound bigger. If we could have a whole stadium choir it would actually be better. If some of the people don’t have a clue how to sing, you know, it just makes the whole thing sound bigger, so… [Laughs]

Interview conducted by phone on February, 5th 2014 by Metal’O Phil.
Transcription : Natacha.
Introduction : Spaceman

Sonata Arctica official website : www.sonataarctica.info

Album Pariah’s Child, out since March, 28th 2014 via Nuclear Blast

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