You have a new album out, The Ninth Hour. Can you tell us more about this new record?
It’s our ninth album. The normal version has eleven brand new songs and if you get the extended edition, it has one cover song included there and I think it’s pretty damn good. When we get asked if our latest album is the best one I almost always want to say no, I don’t think so, but this album is definitely one of the best we’ve come up with, if not the best one yet. It’s somehow in line with the previous album, Pariah’s Child, but slightly different. More intact and whole and stylistically it’s more set in line.
Can you tell us something more about the songs, the topics or the inspiration behind them?
The album cover is telling something, of course. It has this perfect utopia as a main background where nature and humans and human technologies are all in perfect balance and harmony. Then you have this hourglass contraption with arrows in the middle. That represents everything that we are doing wrong here on the planet, destroying everything and polluting, and eventually if we continue meddling with that, we might turn the hourglass in one or another direction. Choosing one of the alternatives, one of them is dystopia where nature is gone, basically. On the other hand, there is this one future we can face where we are not here anymore, humans are gone, we have self-annihilated and there is only nature left and it has a chance to heal itself. Some of the songs we have there, like “Closer To An Animal,” are in line with the cover of the album. And also “We Are What We Are” scrapes the same subject, but it’s more like a story and science-fiction exploration. But that’s not the only subject. Some other might be known from our previous records, the human relation stories, love stories and such. This album is not different from that it’s heavily immersed there. We continue one story that started on our 2004 album with “White Pearl, Black Oceans” and now on this album we have Part II. Also this kind of saga started on out second album SIlence with “The End Of This Chapter” and then continued with “Don’t Say a Word, Caleb and Juliet” – now it continues with the track “Till Death’s Done Us Apart.” It’s like multitude of different topics. This is not a theme album, that would have one theme throughout the album.
How do you come up with the different ideas for the songs?
They just come about naturally, in a way. There’s also one song about the politics. You know there’s something happening in the United States currently, and will be happening while we are on tour there in November, so that is one topic, and I’m dealing with it in kind of a sarcastic matter. And it’s observing, keeping my eyes, ears, mind and heart open for things. Reading everything, anything, watching movies. Kind of getting inspiration from lot of different sources.
What was the recording of the album like?
It was close to a nightmare.
The previous album, Pariah’s Child, was different. We had all the songs ready and we had chance to rehearse them for months and then entering the studio with practically ready album. That was a pleasurable, stress free process of getting an album done. But we didn’t really learn anything from that and when we entered studio this time, it was stressing and compressed period in time when we created the album. The reason behind it was I decided to have my first ever break from Sonata Arctica after the Pariah’s Child tour. Complete break, no business, no songwriting, not even thinking about Sonata Arctica. It was a four-month period and I did different things. I went to Rock in Rio with Nightwish and had like two dozen Christmas shows in Finland with Ragnarok Juletide. Of course, I got to spend a lot of time with my family and I concentrated on other things. But when the moment finally came, I needed to start working on the Sonata Arctica album, I was totally blank. I didn’t come up with any songs. It was really awful. We also had this seven week North American tour with Nightwish. That sort of could have been the time we spent writing the songs in the studio, and make it all nice and easy going session that we had previously planned, but that did not happen. So once we got home from the tour in April I just needed to stay home and write songs while the rest of the guys went to studio and started recording whatever little I had ready at that time. And just shooting them new material whenever I got it ready and just getting everything done. The last song that I wrote for this album I started from scratch one week before we were mastering the album.
That must have been crazy.
Yes. That’s kind of the world I was living in for two or three months. It was quite difficult, because we were running out of time. So it was 24/7 work. I was even working while sleeping, dreaming about finding solutions for the proper melodic parts of the songs. I was really immersed in the process and it reflects, but not in the negative way, in the final outcome of the album. It’s more together, the whole album is like one entity. There are two songs that build bridges in different directions. “Rise A Night” is taking us back musically and stylistically in the times of Winterheart’s Guild in 2003. And “Fly, Navigate, Communicate” is building a bridge I don’t know where, but somewhere. Eventually, if I had more time I might have written different kind of songs to replace them and “Rise A Night” could have been great bonus track for Japan. But I’m happy with the outcome anyways. This might be out best album.
What’s the creative process in the band? Are you the main one behind the composition, lyrics, music-wise? How much do the other band members contribute?
After this album, we have over one hundred songs. Our ex-guitar player Jani wrote one song and our keyboard player Henrik has written another one. And I wrote the rest. So more than 99% of the songs are mine. Basically I write songs when I’m home, I need my solitude and privacy, it’s really intimate process. Then I let them hear the songs I come up with eventually and it’s an unnerving process every time. I work and pour my heart out on these songs and they get to scrutinize them, tell me that they are no good or if they love them. It never gets any easier.
What is your favourite song on this album?
Currently I’m more into more slow and mellow material on the album, but that’s probably going to change once we start touring and playing all the heavier stuff as well. Now my favourite songs are “Among The Shooting Stars” and “On The Faultline,” those hit me the hardest at the moment. A song called “Fairytale” is this political sarcastic outtake from the process of getting a new president, it always makes me smile, so I could also call that my favourite.
Any specific reason why you chose “Closer To An Animal” as first single?
As I told you, this process was really intense and as a result, we were really blinded. We only had idea which songs might be suitable as a single. For the first time ever once we delivered the album we just told whish songs we figured might be nice singles, but ultimately have them freedom to choose. So this was Nuclear Blast’s idea and take on the order of the singles and which ones to use. And I’m really happy, it was smart idea to release “Closer To An Animal” first and next singles coming out shortly after that. Second is Life, also the second track on the album. It looks funny as if we’re going to release the whole goddamn album one track at a time, but no, we’re not, that’s just a coincidence.
You are going on both European and North American tour in next months. What are they going to be like?
We’re going to renew the set a lot. For many years we’ve been really lazy and taken the easy road, played a lot of songs that we always played. We have never renewed our set as much as we maybe should have. This time we’re going to take the hard road and renew everything and come out as fresh Sonata Arctica. That of course includes lots of songs from the last album and also re-introducing songs we haven’t played in the longest time. For example, “The Power Of One” from Silence, we have not played this song live since 2002. Maybe some more power metal songs from Winterheart’s Guild album and so on. That’s the plan we have and I’m extremely happy with it. I think people will appreciate the setlist. And of course, we’re never ditching some of the crowd’s favourites like “FullMoon” and “Don’t Say a Word.”
What is your most favourite place to play?
I really don’t have a place, but if I got to choose which area is my favourite to tour I’d have to choose North America. This is not kissing your ass, I always loved touring North America. We had many tours there, I think this one is going to be number thirteen, and I’m still not tired of it. I love buses there, the people, there’s so much to see, wonderful places you want to visit.
And if you could choose a country where you’ve never been before, where would you love to play in the most?
I think Iceland. I’ve always hoped to go there and I’ve never been to Iceland and that would be fun. And the other place might be South Africa, because the whole continent is still Sonata Arctica-free and that’s the one country that is actually possible to tour.
How do you usually spend time on tour when you are off stage?
Everybody has different approach. Me and Passi we enjoy taking long walks. We have a small breakfast and take off, have coffee somewhere and walk something like three to even ten miles sometimes. In the morning and early in the day before anything really happens. So we walk and go and see the world. And when we get back the rest of the band is usually waking up. Of course, we tend to watch movies after the show when the bus had already taken off and we don’t really feel tired, have a beer or two. It’s the normal everyday life on tour, at least for us.
What are your next plans?
The tour will continue until I don’t know when. In 2017 in January we will tour in Finland and then we will go on 7-week European tour, we only have these short two weeks now, so we need to come back and patch it up. Then during the next spring we’re going to head out to South America and then we are facing the summer festivals season with a lot of shows around the Europe. Then come autumn and there’s going to be Japan. I hope to come back to North America again, probably late next year. After that I don’t have any plans for break, it didn’t fit me all that well, so I think I will continue straight away and start on next album.
You’ve always cited Queen as one of your biggest influences. What are your other musical influences, inspirations, any favourite bands or musicians?
I’m not sure if the music really reflects my influences these days. Queen was the biggest influence for me for a long time, the first band, my first love musically and they say they hear that from my music. But I listen to vast variety of different kind of music styles from classical to blues, jazz to metal to whatever. The latest band that really hit me big-time was the Devin Townsend Project, at the time they released The Addicted, I’ve been a fan ever since.
You said you actually did not plan to be a musician, that music chose you. What exactly did you mean by that?
I’ve chosen music as a hobby and kind of regarded as a hobby for a long time and I stayed in school. Up until a point where Sonata Arctica had started and then we were working on our second album. I suddenly didn’t have time to be in the lessons anymore, I could not be there and it felt just awful bad and wrong. But still, the teachers were excited about the whole thing that we are touring the world and they let me slide. The grades were shit, but still I passed. I could tell from the looks of the other students that they didn’t think so highly of me, like, “that dude gets by but he’s never here.” That’s the reason why I quit the school and became a musician. And at the same time I realized I am actually making a living with this. That’s why I think that the music chose me, I really did not choose the music.
Where do you see yourself in next ten or twenty years?
Currently, I think I’ll be still doing this and hopefully will be able to do it, maybe talk with you on the phone because we will be just releasing a new album again. And so far, it looks good and I don’t see myself doing any huge changes in any direction.
To conclude this interview, any special message to all the Sonata Arctica fans out there?
Of course! I hope you’ll all check out the new album once it’s out and then come see us live. And before that of course go and buy tickets and see other bands live where real people play real instruments and real music for real people like you. And buy the merchandise, buy ticket for live shows, because that’s the only way to make sure that you can enjoy live music. Because that’s how we keep live music alive and bands will come. And it’s a harsh reality, but that’s how it goes.