Today is Valentine’s Day, and to celebrate love in all its forms, why not post an interview with a singer and composer whom I deeply admire? He’s the one and only, the master of Finnish melodic metal, Tony Kakko!
Hello Tony, how are you doing at the moment?
Very good, sitting down ready for interviews! It’s a sunny day here in Kemi, Finland.
Great! What was the role of music in the early years of your life?
In the beginning, it was mostly what I heard from the radio that my parents would listen to, I didn’t really start any musical hobbies. My sister got her first keyboard when I was about eight years old, but I was really excited about music, so I tried to use the keyboard as much as possible. I was forbidden at first because they wanted my sister to start, but every moment I got to know she wasn’t using it, then I just walked in there and that was the start, I think. When I was 12 years old, I joined this music club where you could get cassette tapes and then order them for a little bit cheaper. It was my first contact with the big bands, and at the same time I fell in love with Queen. I heard their live show on a local TV in Finland when I was channel hopping, and it captivated me. I’ve been a Queen fan ever since, and that’s played a huge role in my musical upbringing; many people tell me that you can really hear that I’ve listened to a lot of Queen in my day and still do, from everything I do. It took a surprisingly long time before I got into any band; I didn’t have any friends playing in a band, and I was really shy. And I’m not really a sparkling personality that I’d go and find myself a band, so when I was about 15-16 years old, I just played on my own and then started writing really rough songs. I was 18-19 when I was asked to join this band that played at weddings and on such occasions where people are dancing. At the same time, I was studying music at the local music academy here in Kemi, and I spent there only two years; that’s the only formal education I’ve ever had for music.
Wow! Your band is one of the most famous in the melodic metal scene, but if you were to describe Sonata Arctica to someone who is just beginning to listen to this genre, how would you do it?
Well, we play a really wide variety of melodic music from the rock and metal genre, so there’s something for everybody. I think we are a modern version of some older bands in a way. Most of the songs follow some kind of traditional songwriting pattern. There is a mixture of many bands Queen, Stratovarius, Aerosmith… You name it.
That is a wonderful description. Do you get used to being a celebrity?
It takes some time, at least for me. I never felt comfortable being recognized, and it still bothers me at times. But of course, you know, having done this for such a long time already, you get used to it and learn to embrace it because it’s really a vital part of what we are doing. If you want to do something like what we’re doing, that’s your profession; you need to be recognized so people know you. It’s a very important thing, and it’s fine, it’s great. I’m old enough to have my own identity; I’m not shy anymore. At least here in Finland, it’s not a huge bother. People are kinda shy when it comes to approaching you unless they are drunk, and I don’t go in bars and such environments where people run around drunk.
Are there different processes you use to create a song?
Well, I used to sit down and start doodling around with whatever instrument I had; sometimes, you get a great idea easily, and sometimes it takes a little longer. Sometimes you really have to write songs when you are on a schedule, and you need to get in the studio in a week, and you’re still missing songs. So you have to force your creativity, and I have a lot of examples. I’ve been sitting down, playing around, trying to come up with a great idea for 8 hours… And when you’re about to quit, call it a day, eat and whatnot, you suddenly get the great idea and your 8 hour day turns into a 16 hour day. But then you get the song, and sometimes it’s like that, and sometimes it’s just easier, but generally speaking, I’m writing down ideas all the time, so I have a huge backpack full of different ideas. Some of them are not suitable for Sonata Arctica, as they are totally different for another kind of thing I hope to accomplish and create in the future.
Let’s suppose that 2,000 years from now, the whole music of the world is deleted, except for “Acoustic Adventures”. Would the futuristic people appreciate this record and try to write similar music?
I know I would! Being the songwriter, I love the songs I’ve written, and I’m the biggest fan of my own music. I have to be because I only write songs that please me: I do not write songs that aim to please others. It feels wrong… I’ve done it sometimes; I have turned a beautiful ballad into a power metal song, and it’s just squeezing your heart, and it feels really wrong. Sometimes you have to do such a thing, and now “Acoustic Adventure” has given me a chance to do a reverse process. When you’re looking at some of our latest releases, or the whole career more or less, I just wrote the songs that I wanted to write; that’s why our albums have such a variety of different styles, and we have drifted away from the early days, in a way. Evolving is good, and letting some natural process occur happen that’s a good thing. But to change just for the sake of a change, that’s not smart.
The music industry is not an easy place to survive in and much less for women. Do you think there are still disadvantages between the two sexes?
Yes and no. You know, it’s really hard to look at Elize Ryd of Amaranthe and think that she would have any disadvantages from being a woman. She can do anything any man can do and even more. So in that perspective, yeah, but I think there are just simply fewer women jumping into this career, for some reason. Even though those women who are doing this for a living are leading ladies like Elize, for example. An all-women band can be difficult to make because this is still, unfortunately, a man’s world we’re living in.
Be honest: what question don’t you like to answer?
Stories that you have told many times ever since the first album, like the history of the band. And the power metal questions. I honestly do not know that much about power metal, which might come as a surprise, but Stratovarius is pretty much the only power metal band that I have been a huge fan of. I never was a huge fan of the genre; instead, rock music, for example, is a different deal. It’s something that is very close to my heart. Power metal is a very limited genre, the way I see it. Or questions of something super-personal, something you would not necessarily even tell your friends. I politely decline when I get these questions: this is not appropriate. But generally speaking, I’m very open to answering any sort of question; sometimes, I talk too much and even get myself in trouble. It comes with honesty.
Can you share with us a funny experience that happened during a recording session?
In the early days, we used midi instruments when Tommy was playing the drums. We had all the arrangements and orchestration in the midi on the computer in the studio. Then something happened, and all the sounds got mixed up, and I think we’ve been laughing for like 2 hours; it sounded still musical but super funny. When you replace five melodic instruments with percussions, you sometimes get super exciting stuff. But usually, when things go wrong, they are not funny! Oh, another story: we were recording Pariah’s Child, and this dude from Paris, France, walked all the way to Finland, and he showed up at the studio. We were recording “Cloud Factory”, and we have this slapping thing in the song: we were actually slapping our butts! And the guy from France is in it as well. I do not believe there is any video material available of that day, but it was rather funny. Sometimes you do things like, “Let’s see what kind of sound might work”, and you might just as well clap your buttocks. It makes a great memory, so you can share it with someone who’s interviewing you 10 years later!
Oh man, that is quite funny indeed! Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview! Would you like to add anything to FemMetal readers?
The times being what they are, I really hope you’ll take care of yourselves and those around you. That’s the only way we can make this world happen again and get the bands on the road and the whole society functioning, and we get to do these interviews face to face, and play shows that’s been pending forever. There’s a lot of uncertainty going on all the time when it comes to the shows, and I want this to end already. A break sometimes really serves a purpose, and it’s been really good for me in that sense, but now I’m ready. I hope to see you all real soon, and I wish everybody a really great, much better 2022. To feel safe again and to be able to do what bands do without any fear of dying.
Hi! My name is Benedetta, I’m 29 and I live in Northern Italy. My passion has always been music: I started taking guitar lessons when I was 6. Now I work as a sales representative, but in my free time I interview talented people, I spread the word about my favorite band (MoonSun), and I go to concerts or travel around Europe.
I am a huge collector of anything Tolkien-related, autographs, merchandise, and CDs. I am quite an original person and don’t mind being the voice outside of the choir (even though I play in the church’s choir!).