This extensive 8-part interview consists of various Katatonia features, written by Paul Kearns, Frank Bøkseth, Sauli Vuoti and Roy Kristensen. Enjoy!
Hardly ever one single band has been so successful in changing their style several times, and at the same time sustaining the high level of material. Katatonia is The band, at least for me, and judging from the amount of albums sold also for many other people as well. Katatonia first started as a black metal outfit, producing the melancholic masterpiece "Dance Of December Souls" in 1993. At 1996 with "Brave Murder Day" the band was again contemplating on the world of music, playing death/doom in the vein of early Paradise Lost but definitely maintaining the identity of Katatonia. And as if that wasn’t enough, in 1997 they released a masterpiece entitled "Discouraged Ones", the name clearly describing themselves and the suicidal lyrical aspect of the album. But the best (so far) was still to come, and it came in 1999 in the form of the highly acclaimed album "Tonight's Decision". These two newest albums were far from what the guys had done earlier, these being melancholic, depressive and extremely strong rock (or maybe even metal) albums. There have been a lot different CDs in my player lately due to this reviewing business, but these two albums have stayed and stayed. In fact I believe I will never get tired of listening to them. And the hunger grows while eating, so waiting for their new album has been a long, long wait. I had heard the boys were recording a new album, so I (Sauli Vuoti) phoned Jonas Renkse, the drummer & singer of Katatonia, to discuss various subjects and the obscurity of life on this planet…
Hello Jonas, I heard you guys had been on an American tour, how did it go?
"Actually it wasn’t a tour, just one gig at the Milwaukee metal feast. A very cool experience I think!"
Lot of people?
"Yeah, loads of people. And it was the first time we went to the U.S. Luckily people were very much into what we were doing."
I have followed your band since your debut album, and I must wonder how you’d managed to hold such a high level from a release to a release?
"I don’t know. We just have a great songwriter in the band, Anders Nyström. He is always full of different ideas. He listens to a lot of different music, so he is very inspired by a variety of different bands."
Your two newest albums were absolutely brilliant music, melancholic and sad, but still very strong in my opinion. Hardly ever have I heard music so full of emotions! If I’m right you are recording a new album soon?
"We are just in the middle of the recording process."
Do you already have a name for it?
"No, not yet." ("The Last Fair Deal Gone Down" – SauliED.)
Will the material be in the same vein as the previous two?
"Yeah, it’s more or less in the same vein. We have tried to take it a little bit further, so that we would be satisfied with it. We have to move on a little from a release to a release."
Actually I think you didn’t progress too much from "Discouraged Ones" to "Tonight’s Decision ", but still didn’t make the mistake that many bands do today, which is re-doing an album.
"It is very important to us that we won’t make an album again, so again we have moved on a little bit to keep the music interesting."
It would anyway be extremely hard to overdo "Tonight’s Decision" or "Discouraged Ones" because there is hardly anything negative I could really say about them!
"I think we have been able to make some good songs again, hopefully!"
What kind of feedback have you got from your fans after these two newest albums? I mean that if you think about your style, it has changed much during the ten years of existence, if we think about "Dance Of December Souls", "Brave Murder Day" and these two newest albums, they are all quite different.
"At first we were a bit afraid of how people would respond on the material of "Discouraged Ones". But generally the response has been good, people’s taste seems to progress the same way as our music does. It seems people want to hear something like this."
I guess the listener has got more mature, if they liked your black metal in’93 they like your new stuff in 2000. That is just what has happened to me.
Some other bands, at least in pop music make happy songs about happy stuff and some black metal outfits sort of bring out positive feelings while glorifying Satan or something like that. You yourselves have chosen sad & depressive music as your way of expressing yourselves, and you have done so since your debut album. What made you go for this stuff?
"In the beginning it was just because we liked that kind of music. We were always listening to Paradise Lost back then. Their first two albums were really depressive music, so we thought that this was the kind of a music we wanted to do ourselves. So we always tried to put as much darkness as possible into the music."
I think you succeeded very well with "Dance of December Souls". Would you still call it black metal, because the lyrics weren’t that black, it was just the music?
"Well, it’s sort of black metal, but only musically."
The music fits well into the black metal category and I think it’s very different compared to the other bands, even today.
After reading your lyrics, and of course the general feeling of your music – It all hints of sorrow & depression as we’ve discussed. Do you find life a constant battle, full of disappointments, sort of a 'no light in the end of the tunnel'?
"Not all the time of course, when I get down to writing the lyrics I just don’t feel like writing about anything happy. I usually think life is quite dark when I write the lyrics. And it inspires me a lot, but life isn’t always that negative."
How do you feel about life now when Katatonia seems to be doing fine, are you doing fine as well?
"Yeah, I guess I am. We hope to sell more records in the future, and hopefully grab everyone’s attention. So life is fine…"
Has it helped you personally to sing about pain and sadness and sort of get these emotions out of you through music?
"Yeah, I think so. Music is a good way of letting off steam. Every time when you feel stress it’s good to write something about it; kind of a self-therapy."
How has the Swedish scene reacted upon your music? I have heard that many bands know each other well inside the scene.
"We actually aren’t very big in Sweden, people don’t usually listen to Katatonia I think. We have a few fans here of course, but the main audience here is more into other bands I would say. So we haven’t yet seen the general audience’s reaction."
I am very disappointed about not being able to go to your gig in Helsinki…
"You didn’t miss anything because we didn’t go there… We were supposed to go but we cancelled it."
Will you perhaps tour Scandinavia in the future?
"We would like to go on an extensive European tour after this new album is finished, and hopefully it will include Norway and Finland too."
I have seen many Katatonia shirts on people here in Finland…
"I have noticed that Finland is a good country for us…"
I think that your depressive music fits together really well with the depressive state of mind that Finnish people often have.
Sometimes life really seems like a struggle that is impossible to win, and some people often resort to suicide. Have you ever thought about suicide and what do you think about suicide in general?
"Well, I think it’s kinda weak to do it, if I would support it I would be dead already. Of course it is the last thing a person can do when confronting problems."
So you’d prefer to go through the pain and survive?
"Yes, life usually gets better after the weak moments."
Have your loved ones, for example your girlfriend or parents wondered about this depressive suicide stuff which your music is full of?
"They have been asking me about it, but it’s kind of embarrassing to discuss it with them."
I think your lyrics are quite personal, but you always mention a "you" that you’ve written the lyric for. Who is that " you "?
"It’s different from time to time, it might be just one person or even the whole world."
Your really manage to sound depressed and desperate while singing. Has it taken much effort for you to be able to sing like you do these days compared to the earlier death vocals?
"Of course it takes a lot more time when learning to use the clean vocals, the recordings only lasted for a day when I did the death metal ones but now it’s several days with these clean ones. Clean vocals can definitely create a new dimension into the music."
And it is a most mature way to sing, more people will accept it and probably many bands would do better if they started to use clean vocals.
I remember you had the singer Opeth doing the vocals at some point…
"Yes, he is great vocalist who can come up with great vocal melodies. He has co-produced the clean vocals on our recordings. And he did some vocals for "Brave Murder Day" when I had lost my voice."
I have heard many people talking about Katatonia wimping out after Blackheim left… ..even though he is still in the band!
"Yes, some people have thought so because he stopped using the name "Blackheim". He’s real name Anders Nyström, and he is sill the songwriter."
There you have magazine editors from Italy!
Anders seems to have a project besides Katatonia, namely Diabolical Masquerade. Are you familiar with the actual music?
"Yes, it’s good music, nothing that I would do but still very interesting. It’s kinda black metal, but he does everything differently."
It’s sort of a horror black metal…
"Yes, and he just finished doing another album, it’s even more horror movie stuff than the previous one."
While preparing for this interview I noticed some old photos of you & Blackheim, you were originally called 'Lord Seth' and in this picture wear corpse paint and look like a very Satanic person. How do you look upon these times today? Maybe get a laugh?
"Yes, I definitely get a laugh from those times…We were like sixteen when those photos were taken. I didn’t practise any Satanism at that time, I was just interested in it."
Do you still listen to any black metal or follow the happenings of the so-called scene?
"Sometimes, but I don’t buy any black metal albums or anything. Sometimes I get albums for free and there are some good ones there definitely. Emperor is great. I don’t anyway listen to black metal every day like I used to."
You changed from Avantgarde Music to Peaceville on the previous album, did you feel satisfied with Avantgarde? What was the reason for jumping on to Peaceville?
"We were very satisfied with Avantgarde, we worked very well together. But it’s a small label, they haven’t got much money to spend on recordings and touring. When we got the offer from Peaceville we though it would be the best time to change label. We wanted to have a larger budget for the album, more promotion, touring etc. So it was a good decision."
Have you had any chances of touring now?
"No, not really. We were supposed to go on tour with Moonspell, but would have only got a chance to play like 30 minutes so we turned the offer down."
So Peaceville have treated you well, have they?
"Yes, very well. They are very good guys."
More about those old pictures, people of course thought that you guys are Satanists…
"We are basically atheists, at least I don’t believe in anything really. We were only interested in that Satanic stuff, not actually involved in it. We were young and were into the occult side of the stuff."
Like everyone is at that age…
The artwork of "Tonight’s Decision" is superb in my opinion. Whose idea was it and who was in charge of actual art?
"We got in touch with a guy from the states, Travis Smith, who had designed covers for bands. We were very impressed with his previous work so we decided to work with him. We just gave him the titles and the colours we wanted and the rest he worked out by himself. We could choose from a bunch of photos, and it turned out very well."
I just love the symbolic photo of the guy standing in the railway tracks…
"That’s very "tonight" don’t you think?"
Definitely. Another thing about the CD, who is the guy behind the "Nightmares By The Sea" song?
"It’s Jeff Buckley, he was a young artist from the states who only made a couple of albums before he drowned in 1996. He has been a great inspiration to us and we thought his music is pretty close to Katatonia so we wanted to pay a tribute to him."
So you didn’t dedicate the song "Saw You Drown" to him?
"Haha! No… We made that song before he drowned…"
Now to jump back to the actual music, how does Katatonia make a song? If I understand right, you are yourself able to play the guitar, as you play it in October Tide.
"It’s mostly Anders who does the music, he is so full of ideas all the time. If you go over to his place, he can present three new songs. And then after a few days he’ll have three more! He just sits with his guitar and tries different effects, he just lets it come naturally, in other words lets his inspiration flow and create music."
Do you make the lyrics for the songs in advance?
"Sometimes, usually I just write things all the time so we collect everything together after I’ve heard the music. We usually have to change the lyrics all the time because of the lyrics, but I just write small stuff all the time that is then put together."
You are a strange band; because usually a band has like three 'hit' songs per album, but you have like 7-9!
"We throw away useless stuff all the time, we want to hold the high level of our material. We always take the best out of everything to keep the listener and foremost ourselves happy."
You’re not doing like Darkthrone, using every riff they have came up with?
"Heh! No, the songs wouldn’t hold up in the studio…"
Have you got any pressure of finishing with a 'hit' song?
"We have no pressure at all. We know that when we pick the best stuff from all available material the outcome will always turn out good. If we have stuff that we aren’t sure about we just throw it away and start with something new. We just keep on doing everything the way we have done ever since we started."
How long does it usually take for you guys to make the song material for an album?
"The song material for the upcoming album was done in 6 moths time because Anders had so many good ideas all the time, but for the last two albums it took like one year each. It all depends on what mood you're in. Actually we had some stuff on tape which we had forgotten for a while but which we used for this new album."
Have you yourself made any songs for the albums?
"We still co-operate while doing the music, so if I come up with something good enough we of course use it. It’s not only Anders who makes the stuff. I made one song for this new album. And Fredrik, the other guitarist has made material for this album too. There’s probably one song on every album that I have written. But I’m not as creative as Anders. I concentrate on the lyrics and the vocals."
Now that we came across October Tide, it was a project consisting of you and Fredrik Norrman? Did you form this band to continue the style of "Brave Murder Day" or what was your motivation? By the way, there is a Finnish band called Rapture who said that they are inspired by the "Brave Murder Day" album and want to continue the style…
"We have buried the project now. We formed it because we were holding a break with Katatonia and we wanted to do something but that isn’t necessary anymore. We were jamming and we came up with good ideas so we decided to put them on CD. I think we succeeded well with "Grey Dawn". About Rapture, I have heard it and it was very good, they manage to create songs in the same style as us. Roberto of Avantgarde told them total rip-offs but we don’t think so. The stuff that they have made sounds very cool."
"Brave Murder Day" seems to be a favourite for many people.
"It’s a bit surprising, like the people in U.S just love it. I’m not so much into the first album anymore, but even that has been praised."
Who originally determined your new style?
"I think it was something we had been talking about for a long time. It was a decision of the whole band, going for clean vocals etc. We already started with the guitars in "Brave Murder Day", we came up with this special style of playing. "Discouraged Ones" was a continuation of "Brave Murder Day" but with clean vocals. I think we just grew into this new style quite naturally."
Back again to the music, have you got any musical sources of inspiration?
"There is a lot of different music from various genres that we listen to these days, mainly it’s alternative music like Jeff Buckley, Red House Painters etc. But they are very different of what we are doing. They use acoustic guitars etc. But the mood is quite similar to ours."
Your current style is very hard to describe for a person who for example hasn’t heard your music before… Would you say that Katatonia is rock or metal or a mixture of both or what? I have seen some people call your music gothic rock, but the best description that I came across was melancholic suicide rock. Do you agree?
"It’s a mixture of both, because we still have the heavy sound of metal music, but the songs are built up in the rock tradition. I think it’s very heavy rock or something like that. I don’t think it’s anything gothic though… We don’t sound like Sisters Of Mercy after all!!"
Like the rest of them do…(-¤ Gothic sucks! -¤) Who said that! ?? Anyway… Often bands have complained that they haven’t received any money for their work. Have you ever earned a dime with Katatonia?
"When we signed to Peaceville we got some advance money, but before that we hadn’t got anything. The contract with Peaceville is more serious, even though we can’t live off the music. We have done some small jobs here and there, nothing regular though because of the long tours, studio sessions etc."
Have you got any money for the touring?
"No, not really. All the travelling, food etc. goes from our budget at Peaceville. It’s basically because we have been the supporting band, like with Paradise Lost it was them who got all the money. But I think it’s well worth it because we can make new fans by touring. And it was cool to tour with Paradise Lost. I like their new album "Host" even though I think "Gothic" is absolutely the best."
So your song "No Good Can Come of This" doesn’t tell about Katatonia?
Did you know that there is band which is also called Catatonia, but it’s written with a 'c' instead of a 'k'. To my understanding it’s some kind of pop music or Euro-techno or something… Have you had any misunderstandings with being mixed with them?
"No, nothing big. Hopefully some people will buy our album thinking it was theirs’!"
We’ve now came to the end of this interview, and I’d like the mention that you say the words 'I’d like to try to live my life again' with such conviction on the song "Strained" that I always get cold shivers running down my back when listening to that part. I guess that statement comes straight from your heart?
"Yes, it does. You always make mistakes that you would like to correct. It just came to my mind that I would like to have another chance of going through the stuff again and not making the same mistakes again. Basically it’s something I feel all the time…"
Thank you for this interview Jonas. It has been interesting to discuss various stuffs with you. Do you have anything you’d like to add or any closing comments or info about the new album?
"Thank you for this interview. The new album will come out in November/December, but it all depends because we still have to record the vocals and mix the album, everything else is ready. We have a new drummer now so I will only do the vocals in the future."
Oh you have left drum playing behind?
"I didn’t have a place to rehearse so I wasn’t progressing at the same rate as the other guys so I saw it best to quit playing. Our new drummer is great; he played with us on the live dates on the Paradise Lost tour."
With these words we end this interview with the vampire… I mean Katatonia! I don’t know about you, but when I was younger I always waited for a better and better album to be released, mainly in the death/black/heavy/trash metal genre, and there were good albums but none of them really was strong enough or deep enough. When I heard the two newest Katatonia albums it felt like these were the ones I had been waiting for, so deep and strong, absolutely the most emotional stuff called music I could imagine. And I won’t hide the fact that they are the best two albums I have heard from all styles of music, and I suggest you open your mind a bit, throw your Burzum shirt away and listen to some stuff that’s emotions go off the scale…
Black & white live photos by Trine Lindh Justad!
Composed by Sauli Vuoti