A piece of Arctic Metal music

FREE! Magazine had a relaxed talk in a central hotel of Helsinki with Toni Kakko (vocals) and Henrik “Henkka” Klingenberg (keyboards), who kindly explained the story behind the band’s origins:

How was the music scene in Kemi, your native town, where you started?

Toni: There were a few metal bands. I am still living there, and it is a nice, quiet place. A couple of times a year, the youth organisations have concerts or competitions for new bands. This is the way we started as well.

You had curious names for the band at the beginning. The first one was Tricky Beans, and then you changed to Tricky Means…

Toni: Tricky Beans came into being in May 1996, when we had our first show. We did not have any name at that time. We had to come up with a name. We had this really stupid song called Tricky Beans, so we decided to take that name and then change it later, but the show went pretty well, and people got to know us in Kemi under that name, so we could not really change it. We got stuck with Tricky Beans: a weird name for a band. Then in 1997, we started rehearsing these Stratovarius songs, more of a metal type of music, and then we changed it to Tricky Means. Then in 1999, we got the recording contract and it was clear we needed a new and better name. A friend of us came up with the present name Sonata Arctica, and I think it suits us pretty well.

The band that changed their lives

Were you a fan of Stratovarius?

Toni: Yeah, absolutely! Stratovarius’ albums were a big hit for me. That was the time when I started singing and writing that kind of material.

Do you remember when you listened to them for first time?

Toni: It was Visions album, in the summer of 1997.I first heard it on TV. They had already 2 videos from that album, The Kiss of Judas and then Black Diamond: that was a “big bang” for me…I remember that I walked inside the music store, and I had Stratovarius album in one hand and this Hanson album in the other. I put the Stratovarius album back in the shelf and I bought the Hanson album. The next day I went to the store and I bought Stratovarius album as well.

You corrected the mistake!

Absolutely. I am very sorry about that, because I wouldn’t be here if I have not bought it.

And how was the tour with them after releasing your first album Ecliptica?

Who? It was very funny. We had just finished mastering the first album, and we just went to the Spinefarm office with the new album, and the boss said “hey guys, you have some warm up gigs”. I thought that maybe it was Helloween or something like that, and he said “7 weeks in Europe with Stratovarius and Rhapsody.” And I was like “Goddamn shit!” It was huge, it was really scary – it was like “oh god, this is it!”

And a bit later you were touring with Alice Cooper…

Toni: Yeah, two shows in Finland.

Did you have the chance to talk to him?

Toni: Not really. I was walking outside of Helsinki Hockey Arena, a bouncer stopped me, and I saw a tall man there…and it was Alice Cooper. He looked at me and I nodded and he nodded, and I was like “Guau, he can actually see me.” That was the closest I was to him. But Dio was very cool. He came to talk to us. He had nothing to prove. He was really great.

After all these years playing in so many places, where is the craziest audience at your shows?

Toni: I think in South America: Brazil, Chile… they have so hot blooded there!
 

{mosimage}The Finnish recruitment procedure

Henrik, when you entered the band, I read that the selection procedure was a bit “special”: basically consisting of getting drunk together with the band…

Henrik: I was at first like: “Are we playing something?” We drank for a while and talked, and we played a couple of songs, and they were filming trying to get me annoyed to see how I reacted. So, we played a bit and then we went back to the bar.

Toni: We knew he could play, that was not the question. We wanted to see his personality, since we were going to be spending a lot of time with this guy on the bus, in bars, etc. So, we wanted to see the reaction.

Did you have a hangover the next day?

Henrik: A little… Well, actually we got really drunk…

Toni: I did not participate in the bar session that time.

Hopefully you did not have to repeat the interview again and again…

Henrik: It was all right…

Toni: It gave us the chance to see how he is in real life: to be sure that he did not turn out be a real asshole.

I suppose many people have asked you about the Nightwish split, since you were playing with them the same night they gave their last gig. What is your opinion about what happened and all the polemic that surrounded it?

Toni: Well, shit happens really. If it is the only way to keep the band going, it has to be done.

Would you like to tour with them again soon?

Toni: Well, I have not met the new singer yet, but why not. I am friends with Tuomas mainly…

Henrik: We would still very happily tour with them, of course.

Toni: Absolutely. I mean, if I would have to choose one band to tour again with, it would probably be Nightwish.

Henrik: Yeah, apart from Metallica. The Tallinn concert last year was excellent. I have tickets for the show in Helsinki as well.

H.I.M. is going to be playing that night with them… feeling jealous?

Henrik: Good for them. It’s ok. I don’t care: I am going to see Metallica, anyway, so I don’t care who is supporting them.

You have quite a long tour ahead of you this year. Any special place you are particularly excited about visiting?

Toni: Australia.

Henrik: And for me personally, South America. I have not played there. But Australia is the place everybody in the band is waiting for, because nobody has ever been there.

 

Box of curiosities:

Sonata Arctica has a song called San Sebastian that was played for first time live in the year 2000 in the city of… San Sebastian.

Henrik used to train different martial arts and contact sports, such as boxing, but he had to quit because of the risk of hurting his hands. Since then, he has gained 13 kilograms.

Toni’s favourite cities to visit are New York and Salzburg.