TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE
This interview with Jonas Renkse of Katatonia was done by phone by Audrey Dujardin on February 2nd, 2006.
Katatonia's groundbreaking debut album "Dance Of December Souls" was one of the milestones in the history of Swedish extreme metal. Back then it was all about primitive, raw, bleak and dark music. Today Katatonia have become so much more, a mature musical entity unlike any other, moving forward on their own journey. Their latest creation, "The Great Cold Distance", is perhaps their most passionate but also heaviest album this far and a very serious contender for this year's top release. [The Editor]
How are you?
Are you at home or at the record label?
I’m at home.
If you could go over the whole of your career and pinpoint the events that you are most proud of, what would they be?
Well I think I’m really proud of everything that we’ve done…. Getting the first record deal is a milestone and we’re really proud about it… And then we released the third album… And I think with third record was an important one because we started doing the clean vocals instead of death metal style which pretty much forced us to redefine our style…. Doing clean vocals, we had to adjust song structure, before we had very long songs. It was important for us to sign with Peaceville records we’ve been on small labels before and being picked up by a big one it’s good for us, for our self-esteem. It made us want to achieve more. Then I would say, maybe the new album is the most important one…It’s an album we’ve been working very hard with in terms of songwriting and we all put probably too much time into just trying to over-produce… Well not really but you know we focused very much on the performance of every band member, and that’s something that we never really cared for before. We’re a band that rely very much on feeling you know, so we want to record something and keep something that’s not really technically perfect but that contains a special kind of feeling and in the record we would keep it but this time we erased most of the mistakes and we focused on the performance as well.
Going over the whole of your career is there anything that you would change?
Well… I don’t think so. I’ve been thinking about that myself and I don’t think… I’m really proud of everything that we have done like I said before and you know if an album sounds that special way, it’s probably meant to be like that. The first album we did sounds… It’s not very well played, things like that, but it has something else instead. We had a certain hunger back then, and a very strong will to do something different from the others. Not follow the trend. So I’m very happy with everything. I wouldn’t want to change anything because it definitely makes sense.
How is it going with Peaceville so far?
Well you know the initial reaction towards Peaceville actually looking to sign Katatonia was a big thing, because a lot of good bands have been on Peaceville, bands that have shaped OUR sounds, bands that we were listening to everyday, when we started our band. And then our cooperation has been… You know, we had a lot of arguments. I think the people at Peaceville are lovely people, but maybe we hadn’t been sharing the same visions all the time, but you know we’re sort of meeting in the middle, and we’re both compromising. I think for this new album they have been very … I think they want to come up with something. I mean we did a single, which is something we had never done before, and hopefully it will play on radios and stuff like that. And we have done a video, unlike before, so things are going better.
So you’ll stick with them after this new album?
Well we have one new album to do with them to fulfill the contract; and then after that we’re open for business with anybody. But that’s the future. For now let’s concentrate on promoting the new album.
Can you tell me some more about the touring that you’ve done in the past… I know that you’ve played at the Milwaukee Metal Fest, I was wondering what that brought you, to play an American festival?
Well that was the first time ever to play on American soil, and that of course is a big thing for us, so we were looking forward to that very much. Unfortunately, we had some problems… Basically we couldn’t bring our own instruments. The festival told us that we should send a list and they would provide the exact same equipment that we usually have, which they didn’t. They didn’t actually show up at all. So maybe 10 minutes before going on stage we had to ask one of the bands that had played during the day if we could borrow their guitars. So I think we did find ONE distortion pedal… But I mean the gig in itself from our point of view was horrible you know. But seeing so many people staying there waiting for us to play that was great. That was a great feeling for us. It helped us to get it over with! Well I think it was a good opportunity for us to play there. It’s a big festival. It just wasn’t the best performance for us. But nevermind!
You went back to the USA in 2004… So how about that?
Well it was much better organized. It was a really cool festival. Unfortunately, we were playing last. I think the other bands that played were mostly power metal bands, and I think most of the people were power metal fans, so we didn’t have very many left when we actually played. But people that were there were actually brilliant it was a really cool gig and experience.
So who do you believe your fan-base is composed of?
I think we’re one of the bands that have the broadest fan base. Some people are die-hard metal fans, some are death metal only, then we have people who usually only like pop music… They like Katatonia for some reason…. So we see all kinds of people at our shows which I think is a good sign that we are doing so good… I like seeing a variety of people.
And has the proportion between the die-hard metal fans and the pop fans changed throughout the years?
I think in the beginning we had a certain type of fans, people who were just like ourselves, people being into gloomy doom metal, some black metal. But then when we started experimenting between vocals and changing the style, it opened the opportunity to get another kind of people… but at the same time I think we kept the older fans. They were probably pretty much like ourselves, being into the old stuff as well as being open for different new directions and things like that… There are 2 types of fans. One that came along with the change, that the others that are our good old fans, who got into the band in the beginning and developed their style since the beginning.
I know that you’ve probably heard this many times before, that people make a parallel between Katatonia and Opeth, but what are some other bands that people might compare you to?
Well um… It’s not uncommon that people compare us to Opeth. I dunno… We share some musical ideas, we’re really close friends with Opeth, especially me and Mikael, we’re very good friends, whenever we get together, we talk only about music and we play music together, play the guitars together… We have the same kind of ideas, but we perform them differently from each other. I think people can see the similarities and that’s why they compare them to Opeth… But in the beginning we were compared to Paradise Lost all the time, but it was no secret that we admired Paradise Lost. Actually we wanted to sound exactly like them, you know… But luckily we found our own style. So getting compared to bands, doesn’t bother me at all. Now it’s cool to hear different music and different perspectives… I mean when people say ‘you sound like Oasis’ it doesn’t bother their mind, it’s always funny that people compare us.
I heard people compare you to Tiamat and Anathema, things like that…
That’s a lot more realistic … But those bands you just mentioned, we all come from the same background and our bands have been around for quite a long time, and we’ve had the time to sort of try new things… They have released new records so we’ve had all the time in the world to experiment…
So the new album is coming out in March. What response have you been getting so far, from listeners, or from the press?
Overwhelming I have to say… I’m always a little bit nervous you know, but you can never get too much praise but… It always makes me wait for that BAD review or whatever, but there’s a very good response so far so we’re very happy about that.
Do you have an events planned for the album when it comes out? Will you have a release party or something like that? What will you do?
Well initially we had planned for a release party. And then we had the opportunity to play a gig somewhere on the same day. But now the gig is not happening and all of a sudden its too late to plan the release party which is a shame but we’ll try to do something, at least some minor thing, but I think it’s too late to book a place where we could actually play live. But we will probably just throw party for the release.
Was there anything planned to celebrate the band’s 10th anniversary?
I think we forgot!
All the press has the promotional copies of the record, and I saw that there were already some of those available for download on the internet. How does that make you feel?
Well once the album is released, I don’t really care. If someone is selling the promotional copies, that’s something that happens all the time. I think the worst part of this downloading thing is when the albums leak out and people can actually get a hold of them before the release date. Because whenever the album is out you know for purchase, I don’t really care about them being available on the internet. Because the internet is a promotional tool in itself. But I remember in the old days, there used to be something magical about a release. I used to be running to the record store on the release day of my favorite albums. Or when a new record is coming out. But I think that today the new generation is missing something important. Because they can get a new album just like that by pushing a few buttons then maybe when the album actually comes out they’re tired of it already.
Can you tell me a few stories about when you were recording the album, how did it go, did anything special happen?
Well I think first of all… I think we planned to be in the studio for one month, but we started the recording and realized what kind of album we were doing, we had to change plans and we ended up being in the studio for 3 months. That was probably too long for a band like that, but the guy who was recording the record, he’s very picky with everything. He was nagging all the time saying this is not good enough. You have to re-do this... And then we felt that maybe we should focus very much on the performance, let the album take as much time as it needs, to be as good as possible, so we decided to stay until the album sounded as good as it could. We didn’t see much... We went into the studio the first of June and then we were done in September I think. At least me and Anders, the guitarist, we had to be in the studio all the time. So we were locked in the studio for the whole summer, we didn’t see much of the summer, but what the hell!! But I’m not sure if anything special happened… We were thinking about the music and we didn’t have much time to see what’s going on around.
I’d like to talk about the content of the record. For the people who haven’t listened to the promo copy like myself, can you tell us how this album will be different from what you’ve done in the past?
Well I think that the main thing is what we already talked about: the performance and the production… I think this album sounds massive due to the time we spent in the studio. And then musically we focused more on the heavy side of things. But also we tried to bring back some of the more atmospheric parts that we had pre-Viva Emptiness. Because with Viva Emptiness we wanted to strip things down a little and do something mainly based on 2 guitars. But this time we wanted to bring back the atmospheric thing. Also focus more on the heavy side. Does that make sense?
Well to me it sounds like you wanted to make sure that the album was really polished. The effort is more on making it as elaborate as possible.
That’s what I mean. And also we wanted to … This is a contradiction. We wanted to make things a little more sophisticated in some of the arrangements and songwriting, but also make everything sound like it came straight from the heart. I guess it’s usually either or, but I think you can hear that in this record.
It does sound a little contradictory because if you want something to be sophisticated, usually it’s less spontaneous…
Could you tell me a little more about what the title means?
Well, I came up with the title pretty late when we were sort of finalizing the album. I was reading through the lyrics that I had written, and I realized that some of the songs, not all of them but some of them were dealing with the same kind of topics, from different kind of perspectives, and I sort of started thinking about the distance that we people keep to each other because we are afraid to get too close, we don’t want eventually to get hurt, how we find it difficult to socialize. I mean eventually this brings some kind of isolation in the social situations. It’s something that interests me and I’m certainly part of it, and I just realized that I’ve been writing about it probably subconsciously, nevertheless it’s something that I think about very much, that is what I think about the title anyway.
I was curious to know why you chose ‘my twin’ to be the single?
I think because when we started fooling around with the small fragments and ideas that we had, it looked like it could be a classic Katatonia song. Like Teargas maybe and having that in mind, we started to work on it like, maybe not a single track, but it was supposed to be a hit single, but trying to squeeze as much Katatonia into the song and make it not too long an then when it was finished, I think we were pretty satisfied with the result, and felt that this album is going to have a single and this is the song that we would use.
And that was a common decision from everyone in the band?
So apart from what you just told me, what else inspired you to write that song?
It was pretty much that. I mean the initial heart of the song invited us to … I dunno it sounds weird but well …. It’s the most accessible song on the album. Well.. I Dunno…
What are your favorite songs on the album?
Uh I think that song ‘in the white’ is my personal favorite.
I think it’s got small parts of everything that I like with music. It’s got the soft parts, it’s got the more heavy parts, and I like the notes… I like that the kind of notes that are being used in that song it’s my taste, basically… I like all the songs on the record, but this is my favorite one, along with … I think the first track is also very good, because it’s massive and it sets the atmosphere for the whole album.
How do you guys compose then? Does everyone have a specific job, or does everybody come with various elements that you put together?
Well Viva Emptiness and for this record, we have been working in a different way. Because previously Anders was the main songwriter, he had been writing music whenever he had the inspiration. Whenever he had enough songs for an album, he would put them into the record. But starting with Viva Emptiness, I had a lot of new ideas, and so he wanted us to be writing together, and so we just … Bought a lot of equipment, and set up a home studio, and then we just sat there and sort of… I think we worked 9 to 5, 5 days a week with just writing and arranging and rearranging together. I think that’s what’s the key to that record. And that’s what we kept on doing, even for this record. So all of the ideas that we had between the last record and this one, we just sad down and listened to anything that we had done and then we just started to put the album together and it took 2 months of pure work, 9 to 5 work. And then we sent some CDs of the rest of the guys because they have day jobs. And so we always leave some space open for what they have to say, they give us a call if they want to change this or that. And then we do that. Because me and Andres live in Stockholm and the other 3 guys live in a different part of the country so we don’t see each other very much. And that’s when it’s more convenient to just send the ideas on a CD and speak on the phone. And then we eventually meet up in the studio, and we also leave space open in the studio to change things, because that’s when we get together and we can try different things. So that’s how it’s been working for the last 2 records. It’s been working really well.
I have a few questions about the future… So where and when will you be touring after the release of the new album?
Well at the moment it looks like we’re going to be doing 2 European tours. One smaller which is hopefully kicking off at the end of April. And then we will have a summer break, hopefully doing as many festivals as possible, and then going on a longer European tour in the fall. That’s the plan at least. We’re trying to book the tours so I’m not 100% sure what it’s going to be but that’s the plan.
Do you already know at this point what summer fests you will be going to?
I have no idea. I haven’t heard if we’re booked for any yet. I know we had some offers, but I’m not sure about which festivals.
And how about your other project Bloodbath, is anything going on with that?
Well we’re doing some planning at least. Because we’ve been talking about doing the third full-length album, but we need to plan so much because everybody is very busy with many things. But hopefully we can book some studio time as soon as possible. I’ve already started working on a couple of new songs, and I’m really looking forward to doing a new album. We just have to find a new singer, which we haven’t found yet. And that’s the main priority. A new singer, book the studio, and then blast!
Sounds like a full time job!
Where do you see yourself and where do you see the band in 5 years?
Well in 5 years I think we’re still going, at least I hope so… I got a similar question the other day, they were asking where is the band in 10 years, and that’s a different story… But in 5 years, I hope that we have released a couple of albums more and continue to explore dark music. But I definitely hope that we’ll still be playing gigs.. At the moment it feels like we have more to give… But you know, we’re getting a bit old, but you know, it’s a challenge!
Thank you very much for your time!
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