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Sonata Arctica: California, Flying Cows, and the Clear Cold Beyond!

Sonata Arctica: California, Flying Cows, and the Clear Cold Beyond!

Photo Credit: Jaakko Manninen

Sonata Arctica: California, Flying Cows, and the Clear Cold Beyond!

Sonata Arctica from Finland has returned with the mighty Clear Cold Beyond, now out worldwide via Atomic Fire Records.  A power metal manifesto presenting the band in their finest hour, selections such as First In Line, California, and Dark Empath are destined to become fan favorites as well as genre classics.  Highwire Daze recently interviewed vocalist Tony Kakko to discuss the making of Clear Cold Beyond, California falling into the sea, flying cows, pop songstress Martika, a new side project called Himmelkraft, and other super topics of intrigue.  Read on…

We’re here with Tony from Sonata Arctica, and we’re going to talk about the new album, Clear Cold Beyond. First of all, is there any story or concept behind that album title and song, Clear Cold Beyond?
Well, the album title and the name Clear Cold Beyond originally popped into my mind when I was watching this, I don’t know, I can’t remember which TV series it is, but anyway, it’s about conquering the space. And there was this pilot who was flying in the upper limits of our atmosphere, and you could see the space, the vast black there, and then the curvature of the planet and the atmosphere beneath. And he or she was saying that you know, when you see that clear blue beyond, blah, blah, blah, something like that, wow, that this image and those words, that’s the thing I want to have on the album cover. Well, the album cover turned out different.

But anyway, the idea stuck for a while. The album was called Clear Blue Beyond, but then I realized that clear blue, hold on, that’s a brand of the pregnancy test, I think. [laughter] So that has to be changed anyway. So Clear Cold, because in the context of some of Sonata Arctica, cold sort of means the same thing as blue. So Clear Cold Beyond, that sounds just as good, in my opinion. So that’s how the name came to be. But the song itself and the album cover, those are connected together because basically, the song is about a young boy who’s too young to be drafted in the army, but somehow fools everybody and manages to go and fight in war, only to impress a girl and things go awfully wrong, obviously. And the album cover is connected, sort of functioning as a background for that song, in a way.

Let’s go to the top of the album First In Line. Give me a little background on that song and the lyrics.
First In Line. It’s a song basically about how worried I am about the state of – where we are going with everything, artificial intelligence and cancel culture and everything, you know because there are a lot of the things that were done in the past, they were okay, and now only recently they have not been okay. And which is a lot of world changes. And that’s a good thing. But a lot of the good things we have are because of some of the bad things that have happened in the past.

The main reason is the worry that what will happen with our children, if they are allowed to go down that path and everything that we’ve learned in the past will be rendered worthless. And then one point also in the song is the use of things like artificial intelligence, where I think we are stealing the power of creative mind, basically from children if they are allowed to use AI to create art, only by prompting it with what you want to have in the picture and by style of which artist. It’s just so wrong. And then using it instead of your own brain.

And we, the generations that are currently in working age and younger, we are the first generations to suffer from the consequences unless we limit the use of AI in many, many ways. And I think like being an artist myself and hearing and seeing how AI is being used to sort of create art that is not really even art. If you have Freddie Mercury singing something by some other artists, and it’s all being created using AI, I think that is wrong. You should not steal other one’s other person’s likeness, voice, or looks without permission. And then that’s what’s happening right now. And that First In Line basically is about fighting against that and not allowing this planet to go down that path.

What is A Monster Only You Can’t See?
That song is about friendship, how you can have a bunch of friends and oftentimes there is this one guy who always seem to mess things up one way or another, and you have to save him from a variety of different kind of problems that he’s in. And then that person might even be a little bit of an asshole, but he’s our asshole and we stick with him and then we’ve always been there for him and that also applies to his children. So, when that person is having a lot of problems, we are taking, handling your kid and children and making sure that everything’s okay at home so you just get yourself in order and back in the role. So that’s basically the meaning behind the song and the monster only you can’t see is basically just, whatever monkey that you have on your shoulder that we can see but you can’t.

California falls into the sea, you must tell me about that song.
Well, first of all, the “California falls into the sea” phrase, I am using it in this case, the same way one would use “When Cows Fly.” Because I saw this, like, science facts clip somewhere, stating that California cannot, in fact, slide into the ocean, like it does in science fiction, because of the continental plates are moving in the wrong direction for that to ever happen. And I do hope this is right information right now. So, it’s a human relationship story once again. About someone being very much interested in you for all the wrong reasons and using you to get some other person or thing, but not you really, and you realize this and basically tell him that “Yeah, yeah – I will be yours when the cows fly – when California falls into the sea…

Photo Credit: Jaakko Manninen

What do you personally think about California and the Los Angeles area?
I love it! There’s so many beautiful things when you drive down from San Francisco towards LA. It’s such an amazing scenery what you have there and it’s nice when you don’t have really cold, even when you think that you have very cold weather there, it’s basically summer. It’s nice thing and of course, you know, it’s just like the movies. So, California is the dream place for any movie buff, but you can see things that have been in movies everywhere, basically where you go, or at least things look like they are in a movie – feels like you are living in a movie all the time. And you never know who you’re going to see walking down the street.

Years ago I saw Martika opening for Rick Astley. I think was Universal Amphitheater and of course, she played Toy Soldiers. Don’t ask why I was there but anyway. What made you decide to cover Toy Soldiers by Martika?
I’ve loved the song ever since it came out. I remember vividly hearing the song and seeing the video for the first time. I’ve loved the song always and every now and again, you can hear it played on the radio here in Finland as well. And my original idea was to maybe have it on my side project as a sort of bonus track or whatever – but I made a demo. And it turned out pretty well. It’s a nice version slightly different from the original but not too much. It still sounds like the song, and we didn’t change the structure of the song much at all. Maybe a little bit here and there but still I think it works as it is. And basically, I always enjoy when we redo an older song, I always hope that through us that song will also find new audience.

Let’s go back 20 years ago to Reckoning Night. Tell me what you think of that album in retrospect and the fact that it’s been 20 years.
20 years, that’s just crazy! I hadn’t actually thought of it, but yeah, that’s crazy. Henrik had just joined the band for the tour of the previous album Winterheart’s Guild. We did a really short tour for Winterheart’s Guild. And we went in the studio very quickly after that so I was just trying to write the songs as fast as possible so we can have an album out with Henrik playing on it. It sort of started this era where we were constantly either on the road or in studio recording something new, it felt like we didn’t really have any free time. So that album was sort of watershed in a way – it was the beginning of the different era of Sonata Arctica.  Some people have actually noticed that it was the change happened already there instead of the following album Unia, which was very much different then again. But you could hear and see the difference also already on the Reckoning Night album. I think it has a lot of great songs there, mostly the one that comes to mind is Don’t Say A Word, obviously, but there were others as well, but that’s the one that really is still alive.

Is there any chance of the band touring here in the States in support of Clear Cold Beyond?
I truly hope so. It’s getting increasingly difficult though, because everything’s getting more expensive, working visas and the price of fuel, the buses themselves and everything and I do hope that we get to come there. There are ways we could actually even try like a crowdfunding thing, which would allow us to sort of touch base and see how many people would actually be attending the shows, because we definitely cannot allow ourselves to be in a debt of $200,000. Tour North America, which would be insane for a band our size. So that’s the problem that we should be bigger for it to become possible, but you know, things happen, and we are very happy making a minus, but not a large one when we come there. North America is my favorite place to tour, definitely, hands down. I love the buses and the environment and the people and everything there. It’s just fantastic. I’ve been saying this for a very long time for everybody who asks. It’s just that touring is very easy when you actually get there. That’s the difficult part and then the touring part is fun. There’s so much to see and experience. It’s like a traveling vacation always.

You mentioned solo project. I’d like to hear more about that. What’s going on with that?
Well, actually, yeah, the cat is out of the bag in a way because the album is called Himmelkraft. And it’s been released in Japan on March 1, which is like one week before Sonata Arcticas’ Clear Cold Beyond comes out.  It’s a project that has been brewing ever since early 2000s. I came up with the name and the style has changed. In some point, I thought it would sound something like Rammstein and then it turned into some kind of industrial pop kind of thing. And now finally, when I wrote the songs and the album is ready, it’s very hard to say. It sounds different from Sonata Arctica, that is for sure.

But of course, you know, when I am singing, people can connect Himmelkraft with Sonata Arctica with certain ease. But definitely, the style of the album is apart from maybe the ballad or two. It’s generally speaking very much different from Sonata Arctica. But this is a concept album, and it comes with a tiny story written for each of these songs. And it will be released everywhere eventually, but Japan is just the first step. And hopefully, we get the album out in the rest of the world during this year still. But I don’t have any news on that yet. But anyhow, check it out. I’m sure it will be online somewhere eventually and soon. It’s a wonderful project. We have real drum sounds, no samples used, cellos and horns, and such. It’s very organic in that way but also has this certain industrial kind of machine sounds put in it as well. So it sounds different. I love it. It’s very much different from Sonata Arctica.

Do you have any messages for fans out here in the States who are reading this now?
Well, the pandemic era time was just super difficult for all the people who are working in the industry, not only the bands but venues and technicians and everybody. So, I do hope that you go and see bands live and buy albums. And especially if you have a favorite club in a region, go and support that club. Go and see any sort of band that you can even tolerate a little bit. Go and see that show. You might meet some cool people there. And support the venue, buy merchandise from touring bands because that’s the only way you will have a chance to go and see your favorite band in that same club.  You are keeping live music alive. And even Sonata Arctica will possibly come and play in that club one day, hopefully soon. So while we are trying to find our way to come to North America, keep the industry alive there for us!

Absolutely!. And we’ll cross our fingers that you get back here to the States and to Los Angeles, and that California doesn’t fall into the sea, and we’ll all be good.
Let’s hope and believe that the information I got is correct, and that will never happen. Cows may fly one day, though.

You never know with all the new technology, including AI.

Tony Kakko – vocals
Elias Viljanen – guitars
Pasi Kauppinen – bass
Henrik “Henkka” Klingenberg – keyboards
Tommy Portimo – drums

(Interview by Ken Morton)

Sonata Arctica on Instagram

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