Katatonia: Twenty Years Down the Road

By Laura Wiebe

I first heard Katatonia dropped in the middle of a home-made mixed tape (yes, an actual cassette). It was a track off Discouraged Ones – “Relention,” I think – and I wasn’t sure what to make of it when death metal was the only Swedish music I normally paid attention to. “Deadhouse” didn’t make much more sense to me when I heard it sandwiched between Sentenced and Nevermore on Century Media’s ’99 compilation I Defy. With “For My Demons” off Tonight’s Decision (1999) the band started to win me over, though I couldn’t help feeling like I was listening to a heavier, alternate-universe take on The Cure.

Slowly I started to work my way through Katatonia’s back catalogue, knowing there was something special about them, even if I couldn’t yet see what it was. And then it was 2001 and a new record. I picked up my own copy of Last Fair Deal Gone Down, and things suddenly came into focus. I was hooked. The newer material crawled under my skin and into my brain and the older songs finally clicked.

Ten years down the road, on top of another ten stretching back toward the band’s first signs of life, and my favourite album is getting some special attention. Days after kicking off a North American anniversary tour, with headlining dates tucked in between dates opening for Opeth, guitarist/songwriter Anders Nyström enthusiastically answered some questions about Katatonia’s latest activities and current travels on this side of the Atlantic.

Hellbound: How would you describe or define Katatonia for someone who has never heard of the band or your music?

Anders: Dark atmospheric music that spans all the way from the mellow corner to the heavy corner in the metal ring!

This fall you guys are back in North America for a month and a half of live dates, just a year after your last visit to this side of the ocean. What motivated the decision to return so soon after your last NA tour?

Opeth invited us to be their special guests on their Heritage tour, so how could we turn that down? It’s a killer package in every aspect and we get to play much bigger venues to a lot more people than on our own.

On some of your tour stops this fall you’ll be opening for Opeth, and on some stops headlining some special anniversary shows… how did you end up choosing where and when you would be playing the headlining shows?

That was easy! All the headlining sideshows take place when Opeth takes a day off, so that means Katatonia have no days off (haha!). The fact is that we’re playing a show every night for almost two months! We should be casting for The Walking Dead when this tour is done!

What can your fans expect on these headlining dates?

2+ hours with Katatonia on stage! We’re doing Last Fair Deal Gone Down in its entirety followed by a set with some classics mixed with a few rare songs. We also have some surprises where we swap positions and change instruments. The clubs we play for these shows are way smaller than the venues with Opeth, so that’s your chance to catch us in a really intimate and personal environment.

Why did you choose to play Last Fair Deal Gone Down in full rather than something earlier, perhaps to mark twenty years of Katatonia?

Well, I guess we could have played any album really, but it just dawned on us that Last Fair Deal Gone Down also celebrates a ten-year anniversary this year, so it made sense to go with that reason. [Last Fair Deal Gone Down has also been re-released this year in a double-CD anniversary edition – LW]

Will we be hearing anything off Tonight’s Decision? Or from any of the even older records? (or any Robert Johnson?)

We’re doing at least one song from all our albums, even the early ones, to honour the celebration.

Twenty years is a long time to be in this business… how has Katatonia weathered the past two decades?

Well, I have a hard time realizing we’ve been around for twenty years. That’s such a long time, it’s like more than half our personal lifetimes, but being determined and passionate about what we do definitely is the answer to that. Maybe we had some random luck as well, or maybe it was fate all the way…

What are the main ways you feel the band has changed over the years?

Well, I guess our musicality has come a long way since we started, something we’re still exploring, of course. Just as we’ve grown from naive teenagers to adult men (currently in our best years – haha!), we’ve equally improved as musicians and grown as performers. We’re just more experienced these days while the passion and determination has remained the same.

How have you dealt with member changes – how have they affected the band and how you operate as a collective?

We’ve been real fortunate with this as well. Back in the early years, we were really struggling to find members that would fit the band and share its concept and visions, but eventually in 1999 we found a line-up that stayed intact without any members leaving or coming during ten years time. I guess this line-up is what people think about when you mention “Katatonia,” but Mathias “Kryptan” Norrman (bass) and Fredrik “North” Norrman (guitar) made a decision to leave the band in early 2010 and since then we’ve had Per “Sodomizer” Eriksson replacing Fredrik and Niklas “Nille” Sandin replacing Mathias, and it’s been working really well as they’ve been injecting a lot of energy into the live shows. Musically, the member changes have had little to zero effect, since Jonas and me have always been the people writing the songs.

An Opeth-Katatonia live pairing seems very appropriate – what’s your perspective on the two bands’ relationship or your connections with Opeth?

Yeah, it seems that a lot of people seem to connect us together. It could be that we are both Swedish, from the same city, share some fan base, have similarities in music or that we’re just good old friends and have been doing side projects together and working together. We love each other and have always supported each other.

How are you feeling about this tour line-up? What are you looking forward to the most?

Having a smooth ride and enjoying myself! It’s a very social and family-friendly tour since we know most of their crew as well from before.

How do North American audiences compare to the audiences you’ve encountered elsewhere in the world?

XXL!

What’s up next for Katatonia after this tour comes to a close?

We’re going back home to do some more of the anniversary shows for Scandinavia and that will wrap up the year. Early 2012 will be the time to sit down and write and record our next album.

Hellbound will be catching Katatonia headlining in Rochester NY this Saturday, September 24.

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.