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Sonata Arctica

Sonata Arctica timmert aan de weg. Het is publiek geheim dat hun nieuweling 'Silence' zo onbeschoft goed is dat iedere fan van melodieuze powermetal die deze cd nog niet bezit zich diep hoort te schamen. Ik sprak met gitarist Jani Liimatainen, die een paar dagen eerder terugkwam van een korte Japanse toer waar een live-cd is opgenomen.

Door: Ferdi | Archiveer onder

Hello Jani , how was the Japanese tour last week?

“The Japanese tour was most unbelievable. The Japanese were the best audience that we've ever had, although we didn't even play our best shows there. You see, our singer Tony was very ill during those shows and his voice suffered from it. But the fans didn't care, they went nuts ant treated us like gods. Almost to the point of annoyance, because was someone on every moment of the day asking if you are alright. Hehehe, but that's part of the deal I guess. We played four headliner shows, each one was 90 minutes and we had an extra day for promotion. We got back two days ago and I'm still suffering from the jetlag. So apart from sleeping I haven't been up to much since I got home. But it was a great experience and I can't wait to go there again.”

You were supposed to record a live-CD in Japan. Who came up with the idea of recording one and how did the recordings turn out to be?

“Our record company proposed us to record a live-CD and of course what better place to record it than Japan? We recorded two shows last week, but up to this point aren't sure what to do with it. I listened to the recordings from the first night, but don't know if they are good enough to release it. Like I said, Tony was suffering from both a fever and the flue and he had a very hard time on stage. I haven't even listened to the recordings from the second night. But when we all have the nerves to listen to it we'll decide if we'll release it and which songs we'll use. We will select the best songs and have about 70 minutes of music.”

And is it an option to record the vocals in the studio and use redubs?

“That's an option, but I'd rather not do that. I want to keep it as pure as possible, but it is really to early to say anything about that without having heard the recordings first.”

How important is the Japanese market to you?

“The Japanese market is our biggest market at the moment. People there are really crazy about us. For this reason we released a special EP before we went on tour and released our last album 'Silence' in Japan first.”

Please tell me something about the Japanese EP.

“It is called 'Orientation' and was released several weeks ago. It includes the song 'Black Sheep' from our album Silence, the Iron Maiden-cover 'Die With Your Boots On', the Bette Midler-cover 'The Wind Beneath My Wings' and an acoustic version of 'Mary Lou'. This release was meant as a gesture towards our Japanese fans, so this CD will not be released in Europe in the same way. The Europeans will get the 'Tear Drop Falls' EP in this month. It will be released in Finland on the 24th of September (This interview took place before the release of the album –ED) in Finland and possibly on the same day in the rest of Europe and it will include the Maiden-cover and the acoustic version of Mary Lou.”

Can you tell me something about the bonustracks?

“Our record label asked us to record the Iron Maiden-cover for an upcoming tribute. Tony came up with the idea of covering the Bette Midler-song because he liked the melodies and the lyrics. We played the song in our rehearsalroom and liked it all. We changed the arrangements a little to make it more metal, but the change is not as radical as the Scorpions-cover we did. Mary Lou is an old song. The song dates back from when the band was still named Tricky Beans. The song was originally a ballad, but we speeded it up when we recorded it as a b-side for our first single. On this version we've slowed it down again, so in fact it is the same version as Tony intended it to be when he wrote it four years ago.”

What do you think of this album yourself?

“Well, this is an interview and I guess that I have to say that I like it, hehehe. No, without joking: the album is a couple of months old and I guess that we could've done several things otherwise. But in general I'm still pleased with it. We grew as musicians and as persons and released a more mature sounding record. Tony has improved a lot as a singer and the songs are much stronger. So I really think that its a step ahead from Ecliptica.”

How did you record the album and how long did it take you?

“The album was recorded over the course of six months. We recorded a handful of songs, then went home and wrote some new material and then recorded those, etc. When we were reaching the end we felt like we had too many really fast song; the album was already a lot faster than the first CD. So we consciously slowed some other songs down and recorded some slow songs. In the end I think that we managed to write a very balanced album with a big variety of songs.”

You said that Tony improved as a singer and I wholeheartedly agree: he has become an awesome singer. Has e ever had singing-lessons?

“No, not that I'm aware of. The improvements just came natural. On the tour with Stratovarius he didn't have to play keyboards so I he could focus completely on singing and I guess that helped him too. Tony has got a very delicate voice, that can't handle too much pressure. He has got asthma, so when there's too much smoke in the audience it kills his voice.”

In the past you've always had various editions of your albums. Silence appeared in no less than four different versions in different area's in the world. Don't you think that, in this day of age when napsterclones and ftp-sites are common, it is old-fashioned to release Japanese-only bonustracks?

“Well we are in a kind of awkward situation when it comes to Japan. On one hand we don't want to let down the Japanese fans in any way because they are our prime target at the moment and at the other hand we don't want to insult our European fans either. As for mp3, we fully support people downloading the bonustracks from the various editions. If people can't get hold of an expensive imported copy and still want to have that one special song then they can download it and that's okay. As long as they don't download our full albums.”

But why bother to issue different releases then? If everyone downloads those tracks anyway, surely there's no point not to put them on all of the versions?

“It is a complicated issue. You have to imagine that the prices in Japan are generally higher than elsewhere in the world. So much higher in fact, that it is cheaper for Japanese stores to import albums from Europe than to buy domestic versions. That's why we put an exclusive track on the Japanese version so that it becomes worthwhile for Japanese stores to sell the Japanese version.”

So in the end the Japanese fans end up paying more for the same. If you would release one version of every album the Japanese fans could buy imported copies and pay less and the European would have every song without having to look them up on the internet or download them.

“That's true, but we would be hurting the Japanese market that way.“

Why are you guys so anti-internet? You've done three songs about how bad the net is.

“I don't have an internet connection myself, but I like to surf the web every now and then. We have got a lot of visitors on our website and we love to communicate with them that way. We have a messageboard on the homepage and love to read what people think of our music. Sometimes we try to respond to their messages their, but unfortunately don't have the time to answer every message. As for the internet in general, it has its plusses and minuses. It speeds up communication between people, but also makes lies and rumours spread faster. The song 'Falls News Travels Fast' actually deals with this topic. And I think that mp3 poses a real threat to the music-industry. I don't mind if people download some of our song, but people who want our full albums should just go to the stores and buy them.”

This year you'll go on tour with Gamma Ray. How did you get to be on it?

“Well I'm not exactly sure, but I believe that there was a poll on the Gamma Ray mailinglist about which band should be the support for Gamma Ray. Somehow we managed to come out on top of the list and Gamma Ray's management approached our record company. Spinefarm asked us if we wanted to do the tour and we instantly said yes. We were waiting for a chance to go on tour to come along and this was exactly what we were waiting for. We are the second band on the bill. Vanishing Point starts off, we're second and Gamma Ray is a headliner.”

You guys recorded a version of the Helloween song 'I Want Out. What does Kai think of the song?

“I don't know. I guess that I'm gonna ask him on tour, hehehe.“

You're not gonna play the Helloween-cover live, are you?

“No, we wont play it. We'll only play it on the last show of the tour, in Helsinki.”

You guys have got two CD's and a handful of covers ready. How do you decide the setlist?

“The setlist changes from day to day. An hour before we go on the stage we ask ourselves which songs we feel like playing the most. We're able to play every song live that we have recorded, so there's enough to choose from.”

Last year you went on tour with Rhapsody and Stratovarius. Some people say that that tour was integral to your current success. How do you see this yourself?

“Well, I don't know. In Japan we were already very successful before the tour. But yeah, I guess that in Europe we gained a lot of fans on that tour. That's the main purpose of touring: to gain new grounds. And a lot of Rhapsody and Stratofans probably liked our sound.”

Was it also a learning-experience, as it was your first tour?

“Oh, definitely. It was our introduction to touring and to live on the road. Stratovarius turned out to be a great band to tour with. They're very professional and serious about what they do and certainly thought us a good number of tricks. We especially spend a lot of time with their drummer Jorg Michael who knew a lot about the business itself. He taught us important stuff about how the record industry works and for example learned us that you should never, ever, give away the rights to your merchandising. That kind of stuff. It helped us a lot to get an insight into how it works being a musician.“

Can you live off the band now?

“Yes, we can. We don't have a lot of money so we cant live like the rich, but we certainly don't have to work besides the band and none of us goes to school anymore. And that's a good thing, because with all the touring, recording and promoting going on, there s barely time for us to do anything else.“

How old are you by now?

“I myself turned 21 last week. The other guys are either 20 or 21, only Tony is 26.”

You guys are very young. Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

“That's a hard question. I hope that in ten years time I will still be making music on a professional level. Perhaps not with Sonata Arctica, but in one way or another I hope that I'll be doing the same thing as I am doing now.”

How far do you think that you can push this band?

“That's also hard to say. I've been taught never to be too optimistic, because if you are disappointment lurks just around the corner. We take things on a step-by-step basis. We'll release a single this month, go on tour, perhaps release a live album and start working on the new record by the end of the year. It is hard to look ahead further than that because by its nature this industry is so predictable.”

You've got a point. I can imagine that two or three years ago you never imagined to be this popular.


Back to Silence for a moment. You re-recorded the song San Sebastian from your previous EP. Why?

“Because we felt this was a very strong track and thought it a waste to have it on the EP and nothing else. So we re-recorded it and I think that it worked out rather well. This version sounds much tighter because we used click-tracks and they keyboard have a more prominent place.”

Why didn't you rerecord the song 'Shy'?

“That's kind of a strange story, but it comes down to it that we didn't think the song fitted in with the material on the rest of the album.”

But I love that song!

“Yeah, so do I. The song was written when we were still named Tricky Beans and we dusted it off for the Sucessor-record. But I think that it was too slow and since we already had two ballads, we didn't put it on Silence.”

When is Dana gonna return to your albums?

“I'm sorry to break this to you, but Dana will not return anymore. Probably. We've used her on two songs, but Dana is buried for now.”

[B]Hmm… perhaps you could bring her back from the dead.[/b]

“Well, there's a thought. Dana coming back from the dead to hunt people down. I've got to ask Tony about this one (laughs).”

But now that we're on the subject, you've had a couple songs dealing with horror-topics. Are you guys into watching movies?

“Tony is the big movie freak in the band and also comes up with most of the ideas for the lyrics. And yes, various lyrics were influenced by films. For example 'Full Moon', 'Wolf & Raven' and 'Destruction Preventer'. When you listen to those songs and close your eyes you can imagine the story taking place as if you were watching a film.”

The song the 'End Of This Chapter' on Silence also has a very soundtrackish quality. Was it influenced by any film?

“No, it was a story that we came up with ourselves. It is a story about a man and a woman having a relation, but the guy is really sick. He goes into a mental institution and disappears from her live. The girl gets away, starts a new life elsewhere with a new partner. The song starts a couple of years later when the guy is released from the institution and calls her on the phone and for her the nightmare starts all over again.”

Is the song part of a bigger concept? Will you, for example, ever translate the preceding story into another song?

“No, but we might do a sequel. There's another song in the works that continues where this song left off and perhaps we'll put those two songs on an EP with some bonus-material. But that's unsure at the moment how and if this will take place, so you'll just have to have patience.”

We talked about Tricky Beans a couple of moments ago. What was the story behind this band?

“Tricky Beans was the name of Sonata Arctica before we got a contract, our record company suggested that we changed the name to something cooler. It was a kinda silly name. With the band we played a strange mix op pop/rock and we released several demo's. Some of the older demo songs were re-recorded with Sonata Arctica. We drastically changed our style on the fourth demo, the one that got us signed.”

And what made you decide to change the music?

“Stratovarius! We heard their CD and decided that that was what we wanted to do too.”

Your last single Wolf & Raven' reached the third place in the Finnish single-charts. How the hell do metalbands manage to get into the Finnish charts, because that seems unimaginable in a lot of other countries.

“I don't know. I honestly don't know. Bands like Stratovarius and Nightwish frequently end up high in the charts and I have absolutely no sensible explanation why they do so well here and so bad in other countries. There must be a reason, but I can't think of one.”

Perhaps because the media pay more attention to metal in Finland? Do you get a lot of airplay with sonata Arctica?

“No, that's the strange part. We don't get any airplay on the radio and television. They only showed our video on a chartshow, but never during regular programmes.“

You will release the ballad Tear drop Falls on a single this month. Is it going to be your first number one hit in Finland?

“Hahaha, who knows! But seriously: I would be very happy if it did, but I try to keep my expectations low. But I think that we have a very big chance to. The song is very strong and will probably appeal to a large audience and with two unreleased songs it is good value for money top our regular fans too. We'll see!”

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