I believe that this interview with Sonata Arctica makes it a first ever "three-peat" for Metal Reviews. I'm so glad that it is with a band of the caliber of Sonata Arctica as well. This past September, the Nightwish / Sonata Arctica US tour was a soggy dream come true and I had to ham it up with the guys. Again, grateful for any show I can see of them, the boys of winter delivered the goods. Before the show, out back behind the venue, in a relaxed atmosphere I spoke to keysman Henrik Klingenberg and new guitarist Elias Viljanen. This is a highly personal interview. I know pretty much everything about this band, inside and out and I thought it would be nice to probe the psyche and personality of the individuals present. So, if you're wondering "what does Sonata Arctica mean" or "who is Dana or Tallulah" then check out my other two interviews with Tony Kakko as well as tons more on the net.

From left to right Sonata Arctica is : Marko Paasikoski, Tommy Portimo, Tony Kakko, Henrik Klingenberg, Elias Viljanen

This first question has kind of a sociological slant to it. I'm curious as to not how you began to play an instrument, but rather how you came to realize that keyboards (Henrik) and guitar (Elias) would be an outlet for your creativity.

Henrik: For that I guess I would have to go a little bit about how I began to play actually. When I was a kid and first began to practice, it wasn't so much of a creative outlet. I was more trying to learn the instrument and learn to play other people's tunes. At some point I realized that, “Hey, I can start making something of my own.” I think that that is something that I gradually grew into and it is really hard for me to define a point or one specific raeson why it happened.

Elias: My father showed me some stuff when I was eight or nine and basically I knew that [the guitar] would be my instrument. I was eleven, twelve when I got my first electric guitar and I was thirteen when I formed my own band. When I was doing my own music I just knew that this was my thing.

Another aspect of heavy metal that I noticed is that as fans we seem to be social outcasts. This is one of the reasons why I think that we get so into the music. When you guys were growing up, did you even feel like an outcast, and if you did do you think it was because of your love of heavy metal or that it was because of other things and that heavy metal was a way for you to cope with that?

Henrik: For me, it was not really connected to music, at least that way. A lot of my friends listened to metal. I was an outcast but that was because I was maybe not... normal (laughs). I was interested in other things that most people weren't when I was growing up and this music was just one part of that. I wouldn't blame metal on being an outcast. Both metal and other music has helped me a lot ever since I was a kid. If I was feeling down or whatever, music was always good, no matter what kind it was. In that sense, heavy metal has helped me out as well.

Elias: I think metal music is not so much plastic music like disco or something like that. Somehow we were outcasts, me and my friends, but I don't know if it was just the music. I felt pretty normal growing up.

You guys have been involved in the music industry for quite a bit now. What is your least favorite aspect, such as being away from home on tour, contracts, and legalities, and what is your favorite part? This might even be the whole touring and seeing other countries and cultures, or playing live, or the creative process.

Henrik: The least favorite is all the hours on tour when you are not doing something interesting. There's so many hours spent on the bus driving, or standing around waiting for the show to happen. It feels like you are losing parts of your life little by little. But then of course when you see something new, or experience something genuinely good then everything is alright. On the other side of the coin then touring is my favorite part as well. Mainly because of the shows and also after this we are driving to New Orleans where we have two days off and we will see a lot of it. Those kind of moments are really great.

Elias: Playing live is like a big party you know? Also the creativity process, composing music, it's cool.

Do you guys still buy albums, and if you do is it because of a DVD or sweet packaging, is it because its a blind buy of a favorite band, or is it maybe because that's how you were raised before the internet?

Henrik: I buy albums because when I want to listen to music I want to put the cd in my stereo, I want to flip through the booklet. That's the way I've been listening to music since I was a kid. Somehow, downloading even if you pay for it... I don't want to see a picture of the album cover on the screen. It just seems wrong (laughs).

Elias: I don't buy that much anymore. Maybe I'm lazy or something. I buy albums from my favorite bands still, but not much else.

Henrik: It's not like I go out on some shopping spree and buy albums, but every once in a while I do. The new Metallica for example, and other groups that I really like that I want to get the albums by.

Sonata Arctica is a band that has very deep lyrics that many people relate to personally. Has there ever been an instance where someone used a song in a way that you thought was improper, or misinterpreted a song in a way that is really horrible?
Henrik: When talking to people about Tony's lyrics, you can get really wild different interpretations. But, I've never heard of somebody taking a song and really twisting it into something negative. It might have happened, I don't know. There could be some skinheads out there beating up kids while listening to Sonata Arctica but I don't think so.
With You Tube and My Space, any show that you guys do can get recorded and thrown up on the internet for the world to see. Does this aspect make you guys a bit nervous knowing this?
Henrik: Well, sometimes you do have a bad show and you wish that it didn't happen but that's life. This is the way we play, sometimes it sucks, sometimes it doesn't. If the video goes up there it is up there, there's not much we can do about it. There's no reason for us to start freaking out about that otherwise that would then affect every single show. If you really start to think about those things too much you start to go crazy. You go there, you do what you can and that's it.
How does the creativity process for Sonata Arctica happen? While Tony is credited for music and lyrics I know that each member adds his own touches to the overall sound. Do the songs come to you guys basically completely finished or would it be ideas that get worked on together?
Henrik: Some are finished and some we start out with demos that are somewhat finished. Some songs we start by learning them and playing them through, others are pretty good as they are and we don't have to do much to them, and then some other songs that we work on change quite a bit during the rehearsals. Stuff like “this part doesn't really fit here, let's chop that.” Especially with the last album [Unia], we actually had time to rehearse before the studio which is a rarity. Usually that isn't the case. There were a couple songs that changed a whole lot then there were a few that were almost completely like how Tony made them. There's of course solos and stuff added. Other than that I would say that [the creativity process] changes from song to song. And then sometimes when you know what you are going to play and start recording, even then we might change the song up a bit. Before it gets mixed, anything can happen. Last time Tony was mixing Marko Paasikoski in Helsinki and was like, “Ah can we make a part for this and that in this song, it sounds a bit empty here,” so we recorded some stuff, and sent it down. But then that is when it stops for real. Tony especially has a tendency to add more and more stuff and we have to stop him somehow because otherwise we would take forever to make an album and it would be constantly changing.
You mentioned sharing files back and forth. How much do you use technology when it comes to making music? It is now possible to create music with people over the world without leaving your room. Do you sometimes think about taking this route in music or do you adhere to the old fashioned “five guys in a room jamming” adage?

Henrik: I embrace the technology to an extent. For example, I appreciate that I have the opportunity to record at home. Elias is working on his new solo album and he's been sending me tracks and I'll record stuff and send it back. That aspect of it is good. But being in a band is the way I grew up and it's blood sweat and tears, standing in the same room with each other 'til you're about ready to kill each other. I think that's the way it is supposed to be (laughs). I mean I could work with musicians from other countries in that kind of way but it would be just for a project or something like that.

Elias: I feel the same way. I've been sweating my ass off in a garage since thirteen. I couldn't imagine not going through those experiences.

Unia is Sonata Arctica's most diverse album. It shook up people who are affixiated on the sounds of Ecliptica and Silence. Different as it may be you can still tell the songs are authentic, the performances are real. Have you ever had a moment as an artist where you felt that your fans wouldn't let you grow?
Henrik: Well, we have the same problem that every band has. If you change it, it sucks and if you don't change then it sucks. I've never really taken too much pressure from that kind of thing. If we make music that we think is good then there are bound to be other people out there that like it as well. So far we have managed to find a lot of these people. When Tony and I were doing a promotional tour for Unia, flying around and doing interviews and there was a lot of mixed emotions there from journalists. I think the rudest question was “Why did you make such a shit album now?” And then some other people were telling us that ,”Yeah, I was thinking that you guys were going to make some changes.” When you start to do something to please other people, especially when it comes to music, I think you're pretty fucked. Of course we appreciate that people like it but you have to start by pleasing yourself. If we make something that we cannot stand by, that we don't believe in then it would be hell to go out on tour and play a hundred fifty shows of songs that we don't believe in.
You mentioned that you hate the downtime on tours. So what do you do to occupy that dead space? I know for example that Blind Guardian gets on the World Of Warcraft and last time I talked to Tony he said him and Jani would go out to the Hard Rock Cafe and buy a bunch of cowboy hats and stuff.

Henrik: To some extent we like to buy stuff to bring home but I do have limited funds, if I did that every day I would be broke. I have a Playstation...

Elias: Yeah I have a PSP and keep up with writing my blog.

Henrik: I always try to read. I watch a lot of movies. Basically anything that you can do with your space on the bus which isn't too much. There's been a lot of drinking in the past and we've tried to cut down on that. But we can see how well that worked out yesterday.

What is it about Finnish musicians that causes them to write emotionally deep lyrics? This isn't a rehash of the other question but people like Tony, Tuomas, and Timo Tolkki, what about Finnish culture causes these individuals to have this emotional trait of empathy?

Elias: It's dark all the time.

Henrik: That and also the country is restricted in a way that it gets really cold in winter. When it gets down to minus forty degrees Celsius, you really don't want to spend too much time outside. We also have a month where it is totally dark so you get a lot of time to think about stuff and that's just the way that it all comes out. We are kind of geographically excluded from other European countries in the way that we don't have so many different cultures in Finland. There really isn't a lot that goes on. Sometimes on the weekends a band will come through but there is not that much to do. For example, New Orleans there is a ton of things to do but in Finland it is not that diverse. Also, one thing for sure that I know is that the three guys you mentioned are all pretty sensitive guys. Not everybody would write like that in Finland.

Have you heard of the four personality traits such as the melancholic type, sanguistic, choleric, and phlegmatic?
Henrik: No.
My friend Damien introduced me to these traits. They are supposed to be kind of templates for people . The melancholic doesn't necessarily mean someone who is sad all the time. Some of that categories' traits are genius prone, appreciation for the arts, doesn't have many friends but the ones they do have they keep extremely close, and they tend to be over analytical to the point of misconstruing things as negative. What I told you is very basic but this seemed to really describe a lot of musicians that I know.

Henrik: Yeah it really does if that's what it says.

Elias: It describes me pretty good, I'm surprised.

Henrik: (laughs) I think it describes everybody in the band! The friend thing is really good. I mean there's like millions of people that I know and have met before but the real friends, there's not many. And those people are usually ones that I've known since I was a kid. I think that is the same for most of us as wel both in the band and crew. I think the things you said basically describe ninety percent of Finnish musicians.

You wear a lot of Motley Crue stuff, what's your favorite album?
Henrik: Dr. Feelgood. I bought the new one but it's not pretty. I have to listen to it a couple more times and see if I can get into it or not.
Wasn't half of it written by like DJ Ashba or something?
Henrik: Exactly.
I'm gonna wrap this up with a question for both of you. What question would you love to answer but no one has asked you yet? Maybe it would be about a book, keyboard / guitar technique?

Elias: Technique is such a boring subject for me.

Henrik: Ha, yeah it really is. Give me a moment here to think... I could be interested in talking about books but I'm not sure I want to get too into that. I used to read so much when I was a kid. I can easily say the most boring questions I've been asked! “So when is your next show?” Stuff you can find if you go to the home page and don't even have to search for it's right there. I don't think there is something specific that I would love to talk about that I haven't already. But especially keyboard technique, programming and stuff, that is so boring! When you are out on tour and then at home recording, this is stuff that you deal with everyday and is definitely not something I like to talk about too much. I think that playing technique and technology should be there to help you, not make life harder which it ends up doing sometimes.

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