This extensive 8-part interview consists of various Katatonia features, written by Paul Kearns, Frank Bøkseth, Sauli Vuoti and Roy Kristensen. Enjoy!
A band that changes but still maintains to keep its identity is a band that demands respect. Katatonia is such a band and Imhotep's Roy Kristensen went to Stockholm to confront Jonas Renkse and Anders Nyström with this, that and whatnot, in three parts. The first is a run through the albums, the second is one for the enthusiasts while the last is not the dead end one could expect from these kings of Sweden.
How proud were you when got your hands on the first pressed article of "Dance Of December Souls" from 1993? Anders is overly enthusiastic.
"I remember when we got the first test pressing of the LP. I mean, vinyl was the thing for us at the time. The only think that made me go less crazy was that there were no label on it. If I had seen a label with our logo on it, I would've gone like "oh yeah, this is fucking awesome, this is our record". The test press was just black, or was it white? No information, you know. And we were so enthusiastic, not really sure that it was our record, that it was our music... So, when we eventually got to listen to that LP, we were just so out there. You can never beat the feeling of having your first album in your hands ever again. It's like losing your virginity, and you can do it only once."
"One fun thing about that album is that when we were mixing that album, Dan Swanö's DAT player was broken. He had to bring down a VHS video tape for use in the mixing process."
Jonas tells us this and Anders says that this is something you should avoid for all the money in the world. The music gets super-compromised. Jonas continues.
"I asked Dan if it at least was a brand new video tape. Well, he said it was just some old porn, but he just taped over it. So, that was our mastertape..."
"Our master is on top of porn", laughs Anders.
So, it was not Jonas' vocals on that one, ahem...
Was "Brave Murder Day" from 1996 a hard album to stand behind at the time, since it was so different from the crowd? Anders definitely thinks so.
"Nobody understood the album when it was released. Nobody!", he says while Jonas reveals that Mikael [Åkerfeldt] thought it was a punk album.
"He thought it was a punk album because it was so primitive, it was just driving on and on and on. And Dan, who recorded it, didn't like it at all, he hated the album. He thought the musicianship sucked big time. Well, we had different ideas on the music and we wanted to experiment with dissonant material, and Dan hated that."
"Where he felt that it was so wrong, we just felt that it was dark. We couldn't meet on the same page. Dan said that if he should complete the album, we had to include at least one melodic song. So, we brought in "Endtime" and the song "12", which first was named "Black Erotica" and had been pressed on the "W.A.R. Compilation Volume 1". So, then he said that he can at least wake up in the morning and be able to go down in the basement to record the album with us. Jonas and Dan had big arguments, and I mean big... But we stood on our ground and said that we really believed in our music and he just said that we should do whatever we wanted. He didn't care in the end. The ironic thing is that Dan was right in the beginning. Everybody hated our album the first two-three years. But then it came, then people began to understand our work. When we toured nobody wanted to hear songs from this album, ha ha. That's how we found the album title to the album that came after this one. We were the..."
..."Discouraged Ones" from 1998. With this album Jonas sang instead of growled. Poor people who were just about to get used to "Brave Murder Day", and now this. Jonas suggests that the album may have come too early.
"But the reception was actually better for this new one compared to "Brave...". Some people thought it sounded like Oasis due to the clean vocals. The puritans' opinion, those who were mostly into death metal. They couldn't take that we wanted to experiment a little bit, which is all fine. I mean, I totally respect people who only like death metal and wish I was one of them. We have and had at the time more influences that we wanted to bring out."
Anders was on top of the situation then.
"I think one of the reasons this album was more accepted was that I used every interview we did to explain that the riffs weren't any different, we just had shorter songs and the vocals were different since they were clean all the way."
When you played live at the time around "Discouraged Ones" and the follower "Tonight's Decision" from 1999, how did people respond to your development? I guess you did songs from "Brave Murder Day" and even "Dance Of December Souls" at the time. Anders says that they did that but they divided the set into two.
"We told the audience after we'd played half the set, that from 'here on' we will not play the old songs. I don't really remember why we did it like that".
Jonas on the other hand remembers.
"I actually remember now, just when we sit here talking, that we got our new drummer, Daniel Liljekvist. You probably don't remember this [talking to Anders], but he refused to play the old songs. So, I played the drums and you did the vocals... I remember we did this in Poland and it was so weird. Daniel just left the set, probably to drink some beer or something."
Anders remembers now.
"We did that for a while, yes. It was a bit confusing and people didn't understand shit. We were just trying to make people happy, playing older songs."
Jonas says that they didn't even rehearse this and that he didn't feel very comfortable behind the drum kit. We laugh our heads off here, imagining how that appeared!
Before the next album, Katatonia gave us some hints on what was to come. The "Teargas" single showed a more mature band and, if I'm not mistaken, "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" was the band's breakthrough? Anders confirms that, but it was not only a breakthrough commercially speaking. Jonas thinks that the band really stepped up to the next level.
"Our song-writing improved a lot and this was also the first album where I was satisfied vocal wise. "Tonight's Decision" was a step up from the previous album, but with "Last Fair..." I was actually thinking that "wow, this is actually ok and even good at times"."
Anders tells us about the more technical aspect of the development.
"We started to experiment with different tunings on the guitars. Almost on every song on this album I play six string chords on the guitar, and not just power chords or one string sections. I worked a lot to convince myself that I could write real songs. And I did it. I mean, I wrote real songs that even my father could approve, if you see what I mean. It was a kind of desperation in what I did, I kind of wanted to be accepted as a real musician. I think now that some of the songs on this album are definitely among our classics as well. What tied this all together was the enormous production! It has a fat sound, it's analogue, there are heavy drums... It's probably one of the best productions that Sunlight ever created."
Jonas reminds us that this was the first album with Daniel as a new drummer and Anders was very happy to play with a real drummer for the first time.
"Earlier we just made compromises. Like, the drums were played alongside the music while now we had a drummer who actually hit right and improved our material. We just told him to do what he needed to do and it definitely benefitted the album."
How was it to play the whole album from beginning to end towards the end of December 2011?
"It was interesting. The album celebrated 10 years so it was the obvious thing to do. Our manager told us that we had to play one album in full. The first one? Nah, don't think so (laughs)".
Jonas tells us that the band actually celebrated 20 years and since "Last Fair Deal..." was 10 it made sense to do this tour. Anders explains how they viewed the gigs.
"We are very satisfied with how the whole thing went down. Lots of people came to see us and they were in for a treat. We did the whole album in the first half of the gig, only to burst out with one song from every other album in the second part and just go crazy with that. And it worked! We even played "Without God" from the debut album and we did "Murder" from "Brave Murder Day". We actually did some growls again and paid tribute to our past."
"Viva Emptiness" is my favourite Katatonia album. I'm not sure why, but it does speak to me. Was it hard to try to follow up the success, making music within the Katatonia-frame without repeating yourself too much?
"This album was actually a reaction to "Last Fair Deal Gone Down". We were not too pleased with the sound later on, but songwise it's definitely a great album".
I agree with Jonas here. Anders becomes sad when he thinks about this.
"I think the songs would've been better with a different production. We play a lot of these songs live and I love those songs. When we release a live-CD or a DVD those songs do sound great. But on the album it was such a big compromise with the production and the mixing. If there is ever one album that we would go back and repair, it has to be "Viva Emptiness". I would love to make the album what it was supposed to be. We had our mind set on the fat sound that would make a certain impact, but it just went the other way. The whole production has this metallic can to it. Most of it has to do with the drums. I feel very sad about this because we did compromise too much and we've never done that before or later. It's so sad with the production when we're so pleased with the songs."
Jonas says that next year this album has its 10 year celebration, so you know what to expect (laughs).
With "The Great Cold Distance" and also the "Live Consternation", I guess they were focused on making a better production after what went wrong with "Viva Emptiness". Both nod and agree completely. Anders tells us that they would do everything to avoid a similar scenario again.
"With the former album we experimented with different studios, different people involved in the production. This time we wanted one studio and one producer to get a fantastic production, and we spent the whole summer in that studio just to make sure we would not repeat the event with "Viva Emptiness"."
It was not a cheap album to make, recalls Jonas.
"It is the most expensive album ever in Peaceville's history. And I think it sounds like that, so..."
Anders tells us that they didn't even know the concert was going to be shot.
"We didn't know until just a few minutes before the show. They approached us and asked us if it was OK if they filmed the gig, and we thought "why not?". We just wanted to see if the sound was fine and all. When we saw the material we thought that the footage was actually pretty good and it captured the vibe of the band."
The playing time is not that long. Jonas agrees.
"This was filmed during a festival, so the playing time was not more than that. If we knew we'd end up using this as a DVD, we would've played more songs."
When will you release a real DVD? I mean, the way I understood it "Live Consternation" is a live-CD with a bonus DVD... Anders confirms my suspicion.
"This was never, from our point of view, a real DVD, only a bonus as you suggest. Our first DVD is not official until there are some documentaries and bonus material, and of course a longer concert most of all. We do have some good news here because the 20 year celebration allowed us to shoot one of the concerts with great equipment and it's a double concert. "Last Fair Deal..." - and then the rest of the stuff. This is actually all done and is somewhat ready to be release. But the new album got in the way (laughs). It seems like it's gonna be out early next year, our first official DVD finally! Travis Smith did the artwork again, and it has been ready for ages now."
"Night Is The New Day" is an album that is more varied than earlier. I mean, it's Katatonia, but it's more varied than anything you've done thus far in my opinion. Anders explains.
"It could be because Jonas wrote most part of the album. I wrote one song on my own and we wrote "Forsaker" together, but the rest are Jonas' songs, all of them. I suffered from writer's block, I had a real depression at the time and I couldn't come up with fucking anything, except what I've already mentioned. I was very much involved with "The Great Cold Distance" and letting Jonas take over with his visions, it got so different. Jonas writes more atmospheric material than me and I think his way of writing gave a more varied impression of Katatonia. With "The Great Cold..." it was still more riff based and structured, while with "Night..." the whole became more floating. I guess it became something of a surprise to people and it's definitely the most atmospheric release that we have."
So on "Dead End Kings" you've written more and perhaps become quite inspired by his writing on "Night Is The New Day"? Anders concurs.
"Yeah, we feed on each other's writing. It sounds so cocky to say it, but I'm inspired by our last ["Night..."] album. That's the truth! It works great this way, because I was worried and nervous on beforehand. Would my depression continue? It's strange to experience writer's block. I mean, on most albums I've written more or less everything and Jonas has penned the lyrics. And suddenly I didn't write anything at all. I did try to make business decisions for the band, though not wearing a suit and tie."
Jonas thought it was difficult to run the show.
"It was really difficult for me to step up and write it all. I probably wrote half the songs on "The Great Cold Distance" but to write a whole album was exhausting to me. I was pondering so much on different things. I wanted to keep the variety, and even though I was almost the sole songwriter for "Night..." I didn't want to write the same song over and over again. I had to do loads of work and I was very involved with this album. The other guys just came and did their things. I did spend like five months writing the album and then we spent four months in the studio and I was there like every day. Afterwards I kind of collapsed, but I think it was worth it because the album is another very important Katatonia release. It was a great success as well, which is nice for me to know since I was so nervous about the whole thing. I love the songs I made but I also want everybody to love them."
"Katatonia is not only about one person, there are two who hold the ship so to speak", Anders adds before Jonas concludes by saying that it was good to have Anders back writing songs for "Dead End Kings".
Black & white live photos by Trine Lindh Justad!
Composed by Roy Kristensen