On the eve of releasing their seventh album ‘Stones Grow Her Name’ and with over 16 years as a band, Sonata Arctica are continuing to make amazing music, their melodic and at times heavy songs making them a big draw card in their home country of Finland. This album is sure to propel them even further with some of the best work you’ve heard yet. With a story like theirs, SONATA ARCTICA are a textbook example of how dreams can be put into action, what dreams can help you achieve, and why dreams are worth believing in.
We spoke to Sonata Arctica vocalist Tony Kakko about the band’s new album ‘Stones Grow Her Name’ and how it was all put together as well as what touring looks like for the band and maybe even touch on the Northern Kings…
Your new album is due to be released this month, can you give us an idea of what to expect from ‘Stones Grow Her Name’?
Well, it is more simple compared to the last two albums, a little bit less parts in the songs and they are little bit more rock oriented and the main emphasis on the song writing has been on the lead melodies instead of having a hell of a lot of harmonies going on all the time, although we do have those as well, but I really concentrated on writing the lead melodies, so the songs actually work without having 150 tracks of backing vocals messing up the whole thing ha ha, which I love but I really wanted more vocally. We try to call it melodic heavy rock and I think that’s the best words to describe the whole thing, but it’s got a lot of variation and some things on the album, featuring one of the heaviest songs we’ve ever recorded ‘Somewhere Close To You’ and it’s not the fastest but I’s one of those songs I would almost call Metal ha ha. Also, some weird oddballs like ‘Cinderblox’ which has this bluegrass banjo thing driving the whole thing forward and that kind of stuff. It’s going to be a surprising album for a lot of fans but in a pleasant way.
Where does the name come from?
Well, on the song ‘Alone In Heaven’ it has a line that goes along the lines of ‘it hurts to be alone on the field where the stones grow dead names’ which refers to a graveyard where you have a lot of headstones, and if you take a little bit of poetic freedom you can imagine the names growing on those headstones. I realised that I don’t want to have graveyard on a Sonata Arctica album cover so that needed to be changed, so nature is quite a big theme, especially with the last two songs on the album, Wildfire II and III, as we truly are destroying this planet, this whole title can refer to Mother Nature and I came up with this changed idea that Stones grow her name, like all the stones on this planet, this rock, is growing her name as we destroy. All of a sudden I have the album art for it as well, the concept for it.
What was the inspiration behind the songs on this new album?
Wow, well I’ve been listening to a lot of Devin Townsend lately, everything he has done with Strapping Young Lad and his solo projects, I’m sure you can actually tell by listening to our latest album ha ha, but, I’m not sure if I mentioned it already but I have this paper on my desk for when I write the songs that says ‘KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid’ so that was the theme.
Is there a story or a meaning behind the first single track ‘I Have a Right’?
Yes it’s about how we should bring up our offspring, our children, especially here in Finland we’ve been at war with Russia, our parents were fighting with Russia and Russians killed a lot of Finnish people, of course that’s what you do in war. They bombed and there was a lot of Russian hate in Finland, so my Grandparents might have had a lot of prejudice for Russian people, but the whole thing got milder for our parents, but my Mom is a little bit prejudice about certain things still. That doesn’t mean that I have to boot that burden forward to my own kids any more you know and I’m trying to teach my kids to have a normal, mind of their own really, and not to be racist just because that’s the way it has always been around here or something like that.
Eight years on from ‘Reckoning Night’ we have Wildfire part II and III… why was now the right time to write and record these?
Wow, it’s been eight years? Wow, I don’t even look back that far ha ha, wow! I didn’t really consider why I wrote that song, it just came to be, I started fooling around with a theme which was already on the original Wildfire, which you can hear on the beginning of ‘Wildfire II’, a town band is playing it. We wanted to use that theme somehow as I felt the song didn’t get attention, it got buried under all kinds of other stuff that was happening on the original song, so reusing that thing was only possible if I reused the title as well in some form, so all of a sudden I had ‘Wildfire II’ brewing there and wrote the song and the lyrics to go with it. At the same time there was this other long song I was composing, I always have ten songs open at a time and I might take parts from one and put it over another and so on, I realised as most of the songs on this album are somewhere in the vicinity of four minutes or five tops, I can’t have really two songs that are seven or eight minutes long in the middle of the album. The only chance to do that is to have them at the end of the album and somehow joined together into this one long song, so ‘Wildfire III’ came from that thing. I did enjoy writing that song a lot as the lyrics have a strong message for people and how we should consider the environment and more so the survival of the environment instead of us, how we survive IN the environment of nature.
This being your seventh album, how did you go in to the making of this one compared to previous efforts?
Well there was the KISS thing of course ha ha ha, keeping the whole thing a hell of a lot more simple but, well, one big difference was we actually demoed the songs, this is something we have not done ever since we got our recording contract back in ’99 ha ha, so it’s been a slight break on the demo recording of things but this time we were able to do that because all of, well not all of the songs were ready over one year ago already. I was playing my demos for the guys on our last European tour and that was a year ago, because of that we were actually able to rehearse together and play the songs and the album through the song order that was already approved when we went to the studio and so this was a more produced album in this sense. Usually we have just winged it pretty much, so gone with the feeling and just took the songs we liked and whatever songs I’m not able to write and then think later which songs should go where. This time around it was pretty clear, the good thing that mixed things up a little bit was the last two songs I wrote, ‘Cinderblox’ and especially ‘I Have A Right’ which came to be on the last day of recording, we were done with the drums already and Tommy sent me an SMS saying “I’m done and I’m having a beer now and into the sauna” ha ha and I said “Not quite yet, go and check your emails dude, there’s one more song” and he was like “Fuck You!” he checked the song and loved it a lot and recorded it in the first take and that was pretty amazing, probably something that has never happened before. The song is fairly simple and of course he had drank one beer so he didn’t stretch the whole thing too much ha ha, but it was a pleasant surprise, kind of a last moment thing and of course the song ‘I Have A Right’ came to be the first single, so it wasn’t the worst of songs either.
Sixteen years as a band, can you think of one defining moment you’ve had over your career?
Wow. Other than getting the recording contract of course, I don’t know, for us as a band and I’m not sure how it reflects outside, but when we sold our first Gold disc in Finland, that was a turning point, at least for me and made me realise that wow, we really are a band and people are here and know us and the fact when I realised I don’t have time to go to school anymore because this band is taking all my time and at the same time I’m making my living with the whole thing, not getting rich but I don’t have to even consider getting another job, that’s one thing. Show wise, I don’t know, that moment when we arrived on the soil of Australia for the first time as that had been on the plan for a long, long time, that was fantastic. The next thing is Africa ha ha. Iceland is actually one place that we’ve never been; we’ll use the excuse of playing a show to go there as well.
Touring wise what are your plans on this new album looking like?
Well at the moment the whole thing starts with Summer festivals all over Europe and then the European tour starts in Finland around September / October, I think it’s around that time and then we are touring Europe until the beginning of December, then from that moment on it’s open still, but we will definitely go to Japan at some point and it would be awesome to come down to Australia on that same trip as we are coming around there. Then North America, South America I’m sure, the whole thing has always gone with the last two albums. We hope to play around 180 shows, the same as ‘The Days Of Grace’ and but then the schedule could be a little tighter I feel as we’ve had a lot of free time and also releasing an album every three years is a bit slow, this is the case. This album is released on my Birthday, May 16th which is two days earlier than the release of Europe, so the next time we release an album at this rate I’ll be 40 and I don’t want to be 40 when the next album comes out ha ha I’d rather be 39, so tightening the schedule a little more and making it tighter would be cool.
Start writing some more songs now then ha ha
Ha ha absolutely, I’m also releasing a solo album, I have quite a songs in good momentum at the moment, I hope to get them written this year so I can plan the recording sometime next year as I know Sonata Arctica won’t be recording a new album next year anyway, it’ll be rehearsal.
I wanted to ask about Northern Kings, can we expect more from the band soon?
Well, we’ve been talking about it, the same crew and the same people who are the heart of the project are also working a lot freelance jobs, they are professional musicians and also this Finish heavy Christmas thing has taken a lot of time, it’s weird, it’s Summer time but still the Christmas shows are planned already and it might actually, hopefully if all things go well we might get in TV in Finland. So it has taken a lot of time from Northern Kings, but we do have a label willing to release the album and everyone would love to get something new done, but the thing that should maybe be something new, original songs, which is just finding someone who has the will and time to write the songs for Northern Kings, because we have covered a lot of those 80’s and 90’s style songs.
Do you enjoy doing that though?
Yes, well they are easy, they are songs you can just go and listen and they are there and especially for us singers it’s easy it’s just getting our asses in the studio and sing, so it’s easy and I love it, it’s fantastic. With Sonata Arctica, the whole thing is just on my back and I have all the stress and I have to tell everybody what to do. With Northern Kings it’s a vacation, it’s fantastic.
Is there any one song that you haven’t covered that you want to do as that band?
Wow. Queen has always been a kind of a bit of a holy cow thing for me and a scary thing to cover as I have such high respect and I love that band so much and I don’t want to cover Queen with Sonata Arctica, so anyways, with Northern Kings it might be a different thing, so doing some huge Queen song with Northern Kings might be in order, that would be great. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or something.
What does the rest of 2012 look like for you besides touring?
Well hope to get some free time with the family and demolishing that old out house barn thing we have out in the yard ha ha ha, that’s the personal touch there.
You did mention Australia before, but are there any plans at all to come and tour here at the moment?
It’s a dream at the moment but I’m going to put a word forward that it would be great to combine Australia with Japan, because the flight from Japan to Australia, it’s a long flight yeah, but it’s a hell of a lot shorter than what Finland to Australia is directly, so combining all those areas on one long tour would be fantastic.
Happy Birthday for the 16th and hopefully we’ll see you soon.
Thank you for that man. Cheers.
Band members: Tony Kakko – Vocals, Elias Viljanen – Guitars, Tommy Portimo – Drums, Marko Paasikoski – Bass, Henrik Klingenberg – Keyboards
Latest release: Stones Grow Her Name (May 18 – Nuclear Blast / Riot! Entertainment)