By Raymond Westland
Swedish progressive dark metal outfit Katatonia are about to drop their latest album, entitled Dead End Kings, later this month. I recently had the pleasure of having a very nice conversation with guitarist Anders Nyström. He talked candidly about the new album, the writing process, Katatonia’s longevity and relevance, the possibility of a new Bloodbath album and his expectations on the upcoming tour with Paradise Lost and Devin Townsend…
The creative process for the previous Katatonia was quite a difficult process. How did that process go for Dead End Kings?
We were very lucky this time, because the writing process was more spontaneous. I didn’t really go deep, some songs actually came to me. Somehow I managed to find my way back where I left off a few years ago. I was on a peak of creativity. I totally enjoyed the process and I felt really blessed. The whole writing that plagued me on Night Is The New Day totally vanished.
When you start working on new songs for Katatonia do you need to be in a special mood or headspace?
We do actually tour a lot these days, but we never write on the road. I need certain a certain form of comfort before I start writing and that’s not something you have while touring. We need to be in a certain zone so to speak before we can write Katatonia music. We are most comfortable doing it individually in our homes basically jamming out stuff. Being locked up in our own sanctuary works best for us. At some point you gather round and go through all the music you’ve written. Each individual Katatonia song starts with being isolated in your home.
On the Katatonia homepage Jonas Renkse offers a rather philosophical explanation of the album title. What does it mean to you personally?
The way I see things that we sort of reflect on the past years of being in Katatonia. We get approached by people who measure years in terms of success and how you’ve risen on the proverbial ladder. Even some friends and relatives ask question why we are not more successful. We put twenty years into this band and they ask us why don’t have fancy cars and fancy houses, but that was never the goal of our band. Our goal is that we still exist after 20 years and we’re still going strong. Many bands nowadays don’t even have any more original band members within their ranks. The two same two guys who had this creative vision are still in the band. Of course we had our share of member changes. We are in our own niche, or a dead end if you like. We are very much in control of our musical niche or destiny, so in a way we are the kings of our dead end. So we rather be the king of our dead end than to be a nobody run by other people.
You mean like being pushed by a manager or a record label for the magical number one hit?
Something like that yes, basically something being forced into something you don’t want to do. That can also having a shitty job being pushed around by a manager just to earn a buck. I’d rather be poor and in Katatonia so that I’m happy.
Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way” very much applies to Katatonia in that sense..
Haha, yes exactly! In our early days we started out as a doom/death metal outfit and along the way evolved into something quite different. Doing things on our own terms is very much a part of our vision of Katatonia. That is something we will never abandon. As long as Jonas and I are in the band things won’t get carried away. We have this guideline for new aspiring members. If you want to be in this band you have to share the vision. The same thing applies for labels. If you want to have us on your label you have to trust us and let our mind pave the way forwards. You don’t have to tell us what we should do. As soon as you let other people run you, you’re done for.
Seen in that light, Dead End Kings feels like a summary what you’ve done musically from Tonight’s Decision up until Night Is The New Day. What is your take on this?
I totally agree. That kind of happened because the writing process for our new album was just so spontaneous. We never sat down and analyse things. It was more about staying in the flow once it got underway. Write, write and write and make the most out of it as long as it’s there for you. I think we had magic going on this time. We did sit down and discuss the album, but that was before we started with the writing process. We didn’t do that during the actual writing process. It was all about following your gut feeling.
So you started working on Dead End Kings without any preconceived plans?
Well, we did sit down and discuss the general direction, but we weren’t too concerned about how we were going to top our last album. Most of our discussions were about technical stuff, like the production side of things. Musically we were certainly not going to abandon the thing we had going on Night Is The New Day, because that album still feels like the new album to us. Despite the fact we recorded a new one I still refer to NITND as our new album. It’s still very fresh to us so we wanted to make more of that the best way we can. We felt very inspired by that record, so we went with that format and stretched it further on Dead End Kings. A lot people tell me they hear a lot of The Great Cold Distance in our new material. That’s perfectly fine with me, because I feel every album we’ve done from the early 2000’s on still sounds up to date to me.
It may sound a little pretentious, but do you feel the music by Katatonia has a certain timeless quality to it?
That’s not for me to answer, but when I listen to my own favourite albums they do have a certain timeless quality to them, because I always get back to them. Of course I’m always checking out new albums, but when I’m creating a new playlist on my Ipod I always end up coming back to those timeless album. It’s my goal to write timeless music and perhaps I may never end up getting there, but it’s totally something you’re hoping for. The only time when I allow myself to get carried away by my own music is during the writing process.
Let’s talk a bit about how Katatonia evolved over the years. How was this process received your fanbase?
In the beginning people reacted really harsh. I think people weren’t as ready as we were for the new sound. However, with time the reactions kept on getting better and better. At some point our fanbase grew with us. I don’t see that as a problem anymore. Like I said before people are very appreciative of the records we released since the millennium. It was more difficult in the late nineties when the really big transition took place from doom/death with growls to alternative metal with clean vocals.
I still vividly remember the harsh criticism back when Tonight’s Decision came out…
Yes, we received a lot of bad press for that album, but some of people who bashed that album became its most ardent defenders two or three years later. People came to me and told me that they’re simply not ready for that album. Now we understand what you are trying to do and in what frame of mind you guys were at the time. It’s fine with me now, haha.
Let’s move on to the artwork of Dead End Kings. It’s once again done by Travis Smith. You guys have a very long working relationship with him. What makes working with him so special?
We have been working with for the past 15 years or so. It’s just that I enjoy working with him so much. He’s technically able to translate our visions into graphics. We tried working with other people, but in the end we always come back to him. We learned from that experience, so we’re not trying to look for other people anymore, because at the end of the day we always end up working with him anyway, haha. It’s a total cliche I know, but he’s like a sixth band member to us. We have so much history together and each time he exactly knows how we want to be represented visually. We always send him little notes about what mood we tried to capture in our songs and it gets off from there.
The arrival of Twitter, Skype and Facebook give bands a whole new range of possibilities to get in contact with their fanbase. How does this change things for you?
Skype is certainly a blessing, especially when you’re on the road. Touring wouldn’t be that exciting without Skype. It changed the whole game. I remember touring in the early nineties and internet was virtually not around, so the only chance to stay in contact with your family and friends was to go to a phone booth and do these mega expensive collect calls where you could for three minutes per week or you simply sent a postcard home. I can’t really imagine how we did that back then. When things like ICQ, email, chatting and Facebook came around things got so much easier on the road. Time certainly passes a lot faster. Without having this you’d be for more miserable being on the road missing people and all. As a band we really thankful for this technology and what it brings.
It also makes things easier for you to stay in direct contact with your fanbase..
Exactly, it makes things a lot easier to see where their minds are at and to receive feedback. I love to interact with my fans. I actually spend a lot of time on Facebook chatting with fans and update things on a regular basis. I think that’s the way to go, you know.
Do you use their feedback as a way to improve your songwriting skills?
No, I never do that. If I would do that I’d lose my ability to follow my gut feeling. It would become too much of a guideline. The whole magic of the writing part is when that spark of creativity comes. We don’t listen to anybody and we basically block out the rest of the world when that spark comes. I think that’s the way it should be done. We like to look from within to find new stuff and not so much from the outside.
Let’s return to Dead End Kings once more. You and Jonas are the creative backbone of Katatonia, but there also some new players within the band. What did they bring to the table?
Mostly their style of playing. They really laid down a very solid performance. That totally colored everything. They’re really tight and good musicians, so we welcomed them to play on the album. Per Erikson, our new guitar player write one song together with Jonas on the new album. I think this is also very cool for the fans, because they can see that the new guys can deliver.
So if Per comes up with five or six songs for the next Katatonia album, would you welcome that?
I would totally welcome that. As long as it sounds like Katatonia I don’t give a rat’s ass who wrote it. For twenty years I had the pressure on my shoulders to come up with songs for every new album, so I welcome everyone in the band to step up and come with new material.
In September you’re guys are going to tour with Paradise Lost and Devin Townsend. What are your expectations?
I think it’s a killer bill for everyone involved. I love both Paradise Lost and Devin Townsend. They’re all great musicians and they’re good people. For the fans it’s a killer package. As as fan I’d love to be on this tour and watch all these three bands in a single night. Paradise Lost is more like the traditional doom metal band and Devin Townsend is arguably the most progressive of the three of us. As Katatonia we bridge the gap between those two bands. I’m a huge Devin Townsend fan myself and rumours have it that his new album is his most atmospheric yet. If that’s true it should go hand in hand with Katatonia.
As a final question I would to know whether any new material by Bloodbath will see the light the day within the foreseeable future?
We’re actually trying to prepare a new Bloodbath album that will fit somewhere in the schedules of all the members involved. It’s getting harder and harder nowadays with Opeth getting so big. Michael Akerfeldt is out of Bloodbath, but Axe is still our drummer. We try to schedule some recording time with him when he’s off the road with Opeth within half a year or so. We intend to release a new Bloodbath album in 2013. It’s all in our agenda. That’s as far as we look in the future project-wise. We need to squeeze this Bloodbath thing in, because it’s so much fun recording a Bloodbath album, because it so different from what I’m doing for Katatonia. I really need this to balance things out, so that’s why I can’t wait working on the upcoming Bloodbath album.
Dead End Kings is scheduled for release at the end of August on Peaceville Records