I N T E R V I E W S
On the Friday before Halloween in Chicago's North Side neighborhood of Lakeview, I sat down for a chat with Katatonia co-founder Anders Nyström. As direct support for Opeth on the North American 'Heritage' tour, the band had already been on the road for five weeks, with the Chicago show coming to the Vic Theatre. As evening fell outside, the line of black-clad metalheads outside the venue grew while costumed revelers filtered around them: a couple as Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat; a 20-something but perfectly bald Captain Picard, with bearded Commander Riker in tow; and any number of 'sexy [random professional]' for those with more budget than imagination. After meeting the band's tour manager beneath the flashing 'Sold Out' marquee, I was led to a side entrance and into a downstairs corridor where Opeth and Katatonia occupied opposing dressing rooms. There I found Anders, Daniel Liljekvist (drums), and Niklas Sandin (live bassist), in repose on a couple couches, with Jonas Renkse (vocals) and "Sodo" (live guitars) passing in and out. After introductions, I squeezed in cozily next to Daniel while Anders' put aside his Mac, marked with a sticker of their old pentagram logo over the glowing Apple on its back. Our conversation was casual and convivial, and I found Anders to be a companionable fellow, at ease on a broad array of topics. Comprising the better part of an hour, our (very loosely edited) conversation follows.
ALL INTERVIEWS FOR: KATATONIA
ALL REVIEWS FOR: KATATONIA
Maximum Metal: Welcome back to Chicago.
Anders Nyström: Thank you.
MM: I've been reading quite a bit about how this tour has been going, and it seems that at every turn you are really positive about it. My first thought, then, was how this has been different—or what unexpected changes have you seen—since the last time you toured with Opeth 10 years ago?
Anders Nyström: Well, Opeth has grown immensely since that time to be a really big band, so they're doing way, way bigger tours. At the time that we toured together in Europe 10 years ago, we were pretty much at the same kind of level. Then they had their break and have been touring their asses of for years, but we really didn't. So when we got the opportunity to jump on this tour, we had some expectations of what it was going to be like, and all those expectations have become reality. We're playing all the venues we want to play. We're playing to a lot of people every night—way more people than we could ever play for. And the good thing is that most of those people see something in our band as well, so it's been translating really well on this tour. It's the same fun that we had 10 years ago, but it's just a lot bigger this time.
MM: Have there been things that you didn't anticipate that have been surprising?
Anders: (ponders) No. We are honored to be on the tour, as I say, and every night is a new experience. And there are so many people coming to each show--it's killer. There are never less than 1,000 people. 1,000 people to 3,500 people every night. It's great, and it's just a blast to go out there. We have an hour per night to just do our thing, and hopefully we'll attract some other people, which we seem to do. It's so cool to tour again with our old friends.
MM: The touring that you mentioned—that Opeth had been touring a lot but you had not—was something I had picked up on. Was there a reason in the past for not having done the tour circuit as heavily as you have recently, even in just the past couple years?
Anders: It actually mostly has to do with us not having proper management back in those years.
MM: When it was mostly just you?
Anders: Yeah...we were just sitting around waiting for something to happen. We were all ready to do it at the time, but we didn't have the people behind us to put us on those tours. We didn't have a proper agency, either. Now we are actually on the same agency and the same management as Opeth, so that's probably why we're sitting here now. (Laughs)
MM: Northern Music, right?
Anders: Yeah, from the UK. And I think we hooked up on that whole thing way too late. If we would have done it already 10 years ago, we would be in a different situation today. But I'm not bitter about it, I'm not complaining about it, because we've had a good ride ourselves. Look where we are now. We're totally fine where we are now. It's been slowly and steadily upwards.
MM: I've been very pleased to see that growth. I remember the last time I saw you was at The Pearl Room out in Mokena, which is that south suburb way out—
Anders: Oh, yeah, I remember that one.
MM: What do you remember about it?
Anders: It was a good show. There were a lot of people there, actually, for being that kind of venue. But…I want to play a big venue in Chicago, you know. (Laughs)
MM: Right! Welcome to the Vic [Theatre, in the heart of the Lakeview neighborhood on Chicago's north side].
Anders: Thank you.
MM: I do remember that you came through last year as well [to Reggie's Rock Club]. I couldn't attend since I was living in Sweden at the time—
Anders: Oh, really?
MM: But I did see the Katatonia/Metallica, or Katallica, I suppose, logo that you guys had drawn in the dressing room downstairs.
Anders: Oh, I make those everywhere. (Laughs)
MM: I wish I had taken a picture of it. It was fantastic, there, surrounded by all the other drawings. But, anyway, after this tour you're heading back to Europe for more shows, including a couple festivals, Madrid is the Dark being one of them. You're headlining the second night of that, are you not?
Anders: Yeah, yeah. And it's a really cool bill, because there's an American band on it, Daylight Dies, who we love. We've toured with them before and their drummer's our webmaster, so we have a lot of connections and ties together. And musically, as well, they sound like some kind of old Katatonia formation, but way more dramatic and dark. I really love that band. October Tide is there, which everybody should know is Jonas' and Fredrik's—our now ex-guitar player—old band, and he decided to pick that up again and have another go.
MM: Yes, I've been glad to see that come back.
Anders: They released a new album that I really like, so there's a lot of good bands on that bill. It's going to be a cool thing.
MM: So, now that you've been on the tour circuit more regularly in the past handful of years, has that changed how you write new material, knowing that you'll perhaps be expected to play it live?
Anders: A bit. It's definitely in the back of your mind somewhere when you do it. I don't sit and deliberately write riffs that will work live, but I do have it somewhere, maybe, when you choose the track listing for the album. What song might be the first single, what song are we going to promote, what song might work best live? There's always going to be a couple on an album that will never work live, and that's totally ok, because an album doesn't have to be played all the way through live. There's always a couple of songs just to keep in your [head]phones for yourself, you know. But, to be honest, I do think about it a little bit more than I did in the past because you do want to enjoy yourself on stage. Now I know a little bit more of what kind of songs from our past discography really work live—you can tell from the reception from the audience. So, when we make a new album, we make sure that we have a couple songs that really have that power to it that really comes across live, and that's going to be mixed with a few experimental songs that just work on the album. I guess it's all about the balance, really.
MM: And I've read about this—in terms of the songs that you are choosing to play live—the setlist pool that you've done. And I heard when I came in…Daniel, is it you who's choosing the setlist today?
Daniel Liljekvist: (peering into his iPhone) I'm doing it.
MM: What songs are unique to the setlists that you've chosen that you particularly like?
Daniel Liljekvist: (cagey grin) You'll find out tonight.
Anders: (laughs) It's a surprise. It's a surprise even for us. But that's such a cool thing. Seeing the guys choose their own setlist every night…you never know what they're going to come up with. No one can say, 'You can't choose that one.' Everybody can choose what they want—
Daniel: (suddenly) Det är, det är det bästa lista—(more quick Swedish)
Anders: Ok, he says this is the best list he's ever done. Which scares me a little.
Daniel: (begins several excited sentences, shakes his head) I'm just having a rush right now.
MM: I guess it does keep things exciting.
Anders: See, he's building up expectations levels, now.
(Daniel gets up, shows the list on his phone to Anders and Niklas, pointing to a couple spots in particular)
Niklas Sandin: Wow.
Anders: People are in for some surprises today, I think.
(Laughter. Daniel exits into the hallway, jubilant)
Anders: It's going to be very…rough.
MM: Well, there must be a grand pool from which you can pull the possibilities…
Anders: Yeah, yeah. And we're going to extend that pool. Right now there are 45 tracks in it, and we're going to extend that to probably double. This is so fun, doing this every night. I mean, you can tell (gestures out the door after Daniel) from the guys. They love it. I love it as well. So when you have a pool of, like, 100 songs…wow, man, it's going to be great. You're going to be able to choose all your favorites, and I've seen people really applaud us for doing this. I think a lot of bands should be doing this, because it's fun for everybody: the band themselves have a challenge, which keeps it interesting, and the audience never knows what to expect. They saw the setlist from the night before, but it might be totally different now. So, yeah, more bands should start doing it.
MM: Since you're not the one composing the setlist this evening, then, this might not be giving anything away. Are there songs that you particularly want to have on it that other members don't select as much? Or are there certain songs that you especially come back to when you're making your lists?
Anders: Yeah, there are. But I actually try to make my setlist like an answer to the one last night. There are maybe five songs that I don't want to change, because I enjoy playing them live so much. Right now it's mostly songs from our last album, of course. What else would I say? But, yeah, I try to make an answer to the one before it.
MM: Speaking of that last album, then, In terms of songwriting it was really dominated by Jonas. And I've read that now a lot of the management duties are shifted off of your shoulders, it's really rejuvenated you in a way. Is that a correct assessment?
Anders: Oh, yes. That's totally true. I'm really fortunate that Jonas was able to step into those shoes and really deliver on his front. He did a great job. The most rewarding thing about that whole thing is that people wouldn't know if we didn't tell them. It still sounds like a Katatonia album. So, for me, I come to a point where it doesn't matter who's writing the songs anymore—it's still going to sound like Katatonia. Hopefully I will step up and do more songs on the next album, which I feel I have more in me now. I have this creative thing going again and I'm really thrilled about getting back into the writing phase. (pauses, listening to the house music filtering down from upstairs) King Diamond, by the way… But, yeah, it doesn't matter. We're just going to continue to doing our thing: collaborate when we can, do individual songs when it's needed, and find the fun thing about it again. Especially on my part.
MM: Hmm. I read also an interview where you were talking about that songwriting process and mentioned that Jonas is also a drummer.
Anders: Oh, yeah. He started as the drummer in the band—that's all he did, in the beginning.
MM: And also that he composes many of the percussion parts for the band.
Anders: He does.
MM: That came as a surprise to me. Particularly on the last couple records, the percussion has achieved this completely new level, I feel. How does that work, then, with a drummer like Daniel? Getting the interplay between what the 'non-drummer's vision is, so to speak, and what the actual drummer is doing?
Anders: Well, the answer is almost what you already said. Jonas is a fantastic drummer, actually. We did our first demo, the EP after and stuff, that's all he did. He did the lyrics, yes, but he was the drummer, and did all the drums for shows at that time. When he changed vocal styles and started doing the clean vocals, he left the drums behind because it just wouldn't work live…would look silly. But he still kept being a drummer, which he's done throughout all these years. He's able to do all the things that you hear on the album, because he's programmed that, and he's written those parts, and Daniel…Daniel is actually a real drummer. I mean, for Jonas it is more like a hobby that he follows. But when the two of them communicate, I've never seen any kind of technical issues between them in the songwriting, what goes on in the studio, or live. It's just a flawless, smooth thing going on.
MM: So, then, in the development of the drums into a position that plays a stronger counterpoint—I feel that it has a more expressive, leading voice in the music—how did that come about? Was that something that was a natural progression in the songwriting?
Anders: Yeah, it came about because we discovered that Daniel was actually able to deliver that, you know? If we hadn't, we would probably be keeping it more back in 4/4, with cymbal rides (mimics classic air drumming groove). But when we knew that he was able to deliver on that front, we felt that it was something we could really pick up to give some kind of progressive edge to the music. People have often referred to Katatonia as being very...there's a word for it…monotonous. We've been hearing that for years and years and years, and we kind of grew a little bit tired of hearing it all the time. I mean, a lot of the riffs we are doing are intentionally monotonous. But, I think there's a beautiful thing by adding a certain kind of beat that's really inventive, that keeps driving, but is still interesting.
MM: Then, as for you, I know that you started playing a lot more bass and piano on newer material, instead of just guitar. Has playing those instruments given you a new perspective on songwriting? What is that process like for you?
Anders: I'll start to jam on something, and if I've got a riff going, I will have a beat in my head for that. So I'll start to program, and I'll probably feel it needs a flavor of some electronic thing, some kind of lush atmospheric in the background. And as soon as you've got that part done, you feel immediately what it needs to be next. And there you go—you're onto a song from nothing. And there, you just bounce back and forth, change a few notes here or there, but that's how it works for me. And then we of course bounce the riffs back and forth to each other for input. 'What kind of vibe do you get out of this? Do you have a lyric idea for it?' And we just keep doing that and put them all into folders until those albums are super full. Then we know that it's time to make an album.
MM: After working together in such a way for 20 years now do you still surprise one another?
Anders: We do. We do, definitely. And I think it works in the way that Jonas is a kind of filter on me, because I'm usually "accused" (with air quotations) as being the one that comes up with more of the cheesy stuff. So he has put this filter on me that I have to pass for something to be on a Katatonia album. (chuckles) And, on the other hand, I maybe take some of his stuff and bring it to a spot where it might be a little more musical from a point where it maybe sounds a little "off", or maybe not quite fitting. We work really in that we fill each other's weak spots. But sometimes we're lucky. There are songs that Jonas has written on his own that I wouldn't even touch. They're fantastic and I'm blown away. So it's not all black and white. There's a lot of grey spectrum, there, and it depends on the songs themselves, of course.
MM: And also on this newest record, you worked with Krister Linder—
Anders: Yes! On one song, yes.
MM: Aye, the last one, 'Departer'. This was your first significant guest—I know that Frank [Default] has done some work with you on the electronic front, though—in quite a while. What was it like working with him? Did that reveal anything to you about the band's songwriting process by getting that outsider perspective?
Anders: We actually had already wanted him on 'The Great Cold Distance'. We were talking about it in the studio when we were recording that album, because he was living in Örebro at the time, which is the city where we recorded it. Me and Jonas just sat there a couple of nights, just saying, 'Should we give him a call?' And then we were like, 'Well, what if he says no? It would just break our hearts.'
Anders: 'Should we just forget it? It might be just a stupid idea.' And then we continued, saying, 'But what if he says yes? Wow! This is our dream coming true,' because we were both really old fans of his. We've been growing up with his music since we were kids, so for us he was a big name. A huge talent. And we chickened out; we didn't make that phone call at the time. But we remembered it on the last album, and then somehow, Krister and Jonas had gotten in touch. I can't really remember how they did, but they became friends. And then the story just reversed and became totally the opposite. Krister said, 'You'd better let me do some guesting on your next album.'
MM: That must have been a nice compliment to receive.
Anders: And we were like, '…wow.' Kind of freaky, actually. And Jonas said, 'If we already know beforehand that Krister's going to be on the album, I'm going to write a song particularly for that. And it's going to be the last song on the album.' And you just hear how his thoughts are going towards this epic thing, and that's how 'Departer' came about. I couldn't be more pleased. I'm still stoked about the songs when I hear it. It's probably one of the most beautiful songs Katatonia has ever come up with.
MM: Yeah, I would agree.
Anders: And it's such a beautiful collaboration between him and Krister, when they trade off their vocals like that. We did it once live in New York—[Krister] lives in New York now—
MM: Ahh, I would have loved to have seen that.
Anders: It was magic. People were looking at Krister when he came up, and so were we. We forgot the audience was there, and were just (strums an air guitar and looks fawningly to the side), 'Wow, is this really happening?'
Anders: It was a hallelujah moment.
MM: When he recorded his piece for that song, was he with you in the studio?
Anders: No. We had meetings with him where we went through it all—the vibe, and also Jonas and him did the lyrics together, to make sure it all matched. But his vocal takes were done at his own studio. That's how he likes to do it, you know.
MM: Aye, working in the home space. I understand. What did you learn from that collaboration?
Anders: Ahh…(thinking) I learned that we should not hesitate to make those phone calls. There are a lot of guests I would love to have on our albums. I also learned that there are no border to where our music can go. A song from us can grow so much by having someone else be a part of it. With Jonas' vocals now being the lead part, being the frontman and everything, I think a lot of our albums could keep a really unexpected, fresh approach to it if we let someone we really thinking highly of guest on the album. So this is something we're going to keep exploring the possibilities for on our next album.
MM: I'm looking forward to that.
Anders: Yeah. We're not looking forward to a 'no'—
Anders: —but we'll try to convince the people we're talking to the best way we can.
MM: On the note of inspiration, you've talked in the past about Accept, Bathory, Greg Mackintosh, and so forth—actually, have you heard his new Vallenfyre project?
Anders: We were just checking that out right now, an hour before. We were looking at the new video.
MM: Oh, I didn't know they had one.
Anders: Yeah, I think it's from today, actually, on Blabbermouth. We just checked that out and it was really different to see Gregor, only(gestures firmly as if holding a mic stand), you know, having a mic and doing growls. It was like, 'Wow!' And he sounded really good, as well. Really good. And they are using the Heavy Metal pedals so they have—
MM: That old school—
Anders: I was about to say Bloodbath sound—
Anders: But, yes, it sound awesome. It's definitely not something I was expecting for him to do. So it's awesome to see him do something like that.
MM: I suppose it was a couple months ago, now, I got an offer to do an interview and thought, 'Who is this Vallenfyre band? I've never heard of them,' and regrettably didn't have the time to take it up.
Anders: It sounds weird. It sounds like some kind of knights-in-armour power metal band. (gestures grandiosely)
MM: Yeah! Exactly.
Anders: I'm glad it was not.
MM: But, anyway, those are some of the musical influences you have. What about outside of the musical realm? From literary, film, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, etc. Where do you draw your inspiration from if it's not other musicians?
Anders: For me, it's mostly about the mood settings I have, which I usually create myself. If I go for a walk by myself, that's usually my biggest way of collecting inspiration and influences to write about: what I see, what I reflect upon, what I ponder about. It doesn't have to be what I see locally when I'm on the walk, but just how I feel to where you're at in life and whole outlook on the world. That's really what I digest and put back into the music these days. Mixed, of course, with musical influences, because that is more of a direct influence that can make you really sit down and immediately feel that you need to do something, you know? But these days, musically, it's more the outside-of-metal influences that keep me going. Jonas always puts on all these bands and artists and singer-songwriters that I've never heard about. Ah, there he is (Jonas enters, greetings exchanged). And that keeps it fresh. I'm really open-minded to check out new artists. I love hearing a new album that blows me away. It just makes me more triggered to make music with Katatonia. And lately it just happens to be a lot of the non-metal stuff that doest that for me. I really figured out that our formula—making us sound the way we do—is taking non-metal influences and putting them into metal. That's how it's been working for us, and why stop it if it works?
MM: Can't argue with that. What was the last record that did that for you?
Anders: There was one just the other night: a longtime favorite of mine, Tori Amos, just came out with her new album. So that's been on my phones now every night when I'm trying to sleep. Yeah, super inspired by that. Beautiful, non-standard piano, the vocals…just taking things to territories I wouldn't have gone myself. Really nice.
MM: And when you talk about just going for a walk for inspiration and thinking your own thoughts, does the place that you do that have a significant influence, or is it just that you have space in your own mind? For instance, if you went for a walk in the city versus a park, how does that impact the thought processes you'll have?
Anders: Yes, it will. I think in general I'm really influenced by Stockholm. If I walk around Stockholm in the nighttime, that's almost asking for a song to be written. I've been thinking a lot of times, actually, of having a song title with Stockholm in it somehow, just for the heritage of it and how important it is. When we write the songs, we often mention Stockholm and places in Stockholm as working titles for the songs, so it definitely has a significance, and a role, in the creative process. And that goes for everything, from the city itself to the parks outside...just in love with it, basically.
MM: What do you like so much about it?
Anders: It's probably because I grew up there, so I have a lot of memories attached to everywhere. I'm a sucker for nostalgia, I guess. (pauses) I'm a victim, even, for it sometimes.
MM: When I was there the first time, I was walking around—
Anders: Were you in Stockholm?
MM: I was. And I was thinking, 'This city is so clean, so organized, and it's friendly.' I just had the hardest time associating Stockholm the city with the nasty death metal that came from that city.
Anders: (nodding vigorously) Oh, yes.
MM: Sometimes you can make the connection between a city and the music that comes from it, but in that instance it was something I had a hard time fathoming.
Anders: Yeah, you need to connect it with Katatonia (smiling).
MM: I think that will be much easier for me.
MM: And then, as far as other things that Katatonia is associated with, naturally it's been associated a lot with the Gothic culture and darker side of humanity and people's mental processes. Can you assess the band in ways that are simply negative or positive? When people associate Katatonia with a Gothic scene, does that work for you? How do you react to that?
Anders: I kind of have to make it work, because we have been, at a point in our career, very Gothic-driven ourselves. I think we even used to call ourselves 'Gothic Black Metal' at a point…which is asking for it. (laughs) And, yeah, we even tried to make a gothic song, 'Scarlet Heavens', back in '94. It was like an 11-minute song, I don't know if you heard that one.
MM: Oh, sure. An epic.
Anders: It was our attempt. We were big fans of Gothic and everything, and we still are in a way. There's a band called Fields of the Nephilim. Huge influence on Katatonia. I never really regarded them as a pure Gothic band, because they went into some kind of territory beyond Goth. But if that's Goth, I'm fine with it, you know what I mean? When I see these…I'm sorry to say, but cheesily-dressed, ragged, with fishnets, vampire sort of thing…that's the side of Gothic that I dissociate myself from. That doesn't really have anything to do with us anymore. And people usually think about that when they hear Goth. But, to each his own. I wouldn't argue with anyone telling us we were a Goth band. Then I would say, 'Great. Then buy our Goth albums, come to our Goth concerts, buy Goth merch.'
Anders: But I wouldn't stress it myself. It's the same with any kind of label, I guess. People always say, 'Are you a metal band or are you a rock band?'
MM: Aye, when it's really immaterial.
Anders: What are we? I don't know. We try to make good songs. We're a Good Songs band. I hope.
MM: Then, to remove the genre name from it, do you ultimately feel that the music has a negative energy or a positive? I wouldn't call it really depressing, but neither is it happy.
Anders: No, it's melancholic to me. And melancholy, to some people, is a positive thing. The energy is taken from the negative thing, but the result is a positive thing. This is how I, and probably how everybody in the band treats it. We put a lot of negative energy and emotions into the band, but the outcome I see with our audience…they're a happy bunch. They say that we are helping them out, they can relate to our songs both musically and lyrically, so the final outcome is a pretty positive one. And that's how it should be. I wouldn't like hearing that you shouldn't listen to Katatonia because they're a bad medicine for you. It should be the other way. If you're in that state, you should be able to listen to us and handle it and to come out of it. That's how I feel. But the beautiful thing is that you can dwell there for a while. That's where we come in. That's how I think about it when I write, as well. I dwell in that negative space for a while, and the outcome is something beautiful.
MM: So you dwell in it, and then release it.
Anders: Yes. There's a lot of tension and release in the whole band. That's how we build everything.
MM: Do you find that to be exhausting sometimes?
Anders: No, not really, because I feel that it's such a part of our lifestyle right now. This is what we've been doing for 20 years, and it's looking the same every year.… In a good way. That sounded like we've been stuck on the same work for 20 years, but no—
Anders: This is so much bigger than that. Especially for me and Jonas, this is the only thing we ever did. It's the only thing we want to do. (shrugs) And I don't want it to ever stop.
MM: I would say that, in the sense of taking that negative energy and then releasing it, you've been very successful. At least just from an outsider's perspective. You are taking this negative energy, but are not reinforcing it. Rather, it's a catharsis in a way.
Anders: Yeah, we do not want people to go kill themselves. (laughs)
MM: Right. Not that I'd suggest that you were, but there are definitely bands that create this miasma of negativity that becomes almost overwhelming. But Katatonia has a presence where you can be in that space, but see what's beyond that. That's when I think the band is at its best.
Anders: You totally nailed it. That's the whole mission.
MM: Good. Glad we're on the same page on that. Reaching back a little bit, I believe you and Jonas have both spoken a bit disparagingly about the production on 'Viva Emptiness', and possibly wanting to remix/remaster that, with its 10-year anniversary coming up fairly soon.
Anders: Yeah, in 2013.
MM: And that was the album that really grabbed me and pulled me into the band—
Anders: Ah, okay…so you're not fine with that [remix/remaster].
MM: Well, it definitely struck a chord with me, because I'm curious as to what specifically on that record you were looking to improve upon.
Anders: To be honest, everything behind the scenes on that album and the making of it was a mess. It's really important that I mention that it was never about the songs themselves. Many of my all-time favorite songs are still on that album; we still play a lot of those songs live. So the songs are fine. But the production is inferior to what we were expecting when we were making that album. We did it in a studio without a proper producer or a proper engineer. We actually ended up doing both of those tasks ourselves, which we weren't ready for that at the time. We might have been ready to produce it, but we would have needed to collaborate way more closely with a talented engineer like we'd done in the past with Tomas Skogsberg and Dan Swanö. They were filling a part that we didn't have the knowledge about. Now all of a sudden we had to take on that role as well and…(shakes head) the results were chaos. The rough mixes on that album didn't sound really good, and we ended up actually phoning Dan Swanö and asking him to save the album. We had to send him the tapes and he had to go through everything to just clean it up. Daniel did fantastic work on the drums, performance-wise, but we ended up replacing a lot of the drums for triggered samples. This is something that was a big letdown. We went away from something organic and turned it into something digital and hollow. Same with the guitars. Dan Swanö said the guitars sounded like thin mosquitoes buzzing. That you don't want, you know? We filtered those, re-amped, and all of a sudden it was like all our time in the studio was for nothing. All our sounds were just wasting away. We came up with this new production that was barely good enough to make it, and I think when we mixed the album later on with Jens [Bogren] at Fascination Street it actually came to the level where we felt it was good enough. But it was so far away from what we expected it to be. So, there you have it—the whole story behind 'Viva Emptiness'. And I would love, for our own…
Anders: Yeah, exactly. It's something that…it's just like a turmoil somewhere. I want to make it calm, lay that behind me in the past, and get on with it. We'd just do a remix of those original, organic files that we have, because I know today we could do that.
MM: Ahh, with the technology now available. That was my next question, actually: how you would bring it back to that organic state without having to rerecord half of it.
Anders: Yes, we could do that today by working with really talented people and because of technology. We'd have it sound as close to either 'The Great Cold Distance' or 'Night is the New Day', because I feel that both of those albums, I wouldn't change a thing. They're perfect for me. So I'd just want to get a little bit closer to that, and then I could put down the cross again. (laughs)
MM: So, then, on particularly 'Night is the New Day', you as a band have really achieved that capability of handing more of your own production. In not just being a performer, but also having the full command of the broader experience, did that provide feedback from the performance side to the production side? What is that perspective like?
Anders: I think these days we are comfortable being in the chair and holding all those duties ourselves. You don't have anyone telling you what to do, you can take your time to get your best takes, really put your emotion into it, and not just be like, (looks at imaginary watch) 'Oh, what time is it? Do we have one hour left before you go home and dinner with your wife?' You do it whenever you want. You speak your language, from your heart. So, we're definitely going to continue producing our albums. I would love to bring in someone else to be a part of it, but we're such a good team right now. And also, with Frank, he's also a little bit in on the production part. He's a really, really talented musician. He's not just a keyboard or piano player. He can play any instrument—almost—as well, and he's a good singer. So he knows the whole thing, and when we all sit there in the studio, we're just bouncing stuff around and there's basically not any space for anybody else.
MM: How did he come into the picture?
Anders: He was a friend of the guy we've been working with the most lately, David Castillo, who was the engineer on both of our last albums. In between and also before that he was also our main front-of-house guy, actually, for a lot of our shows. We have different people for that now, and Frank is just working in the studio, which is called Ghost Ward Studios. He was a friend of David's, who said, 'If you would ever need professional electronic stuff going on with your album, you need to talk to this guy.' And me and Jonas had always been, I would say, fooling around with it, because we are not in any way professional piano players. We just use our fingers and hit the right notes where we feel it sounds good (plays imaginary keyboard like a two-fingered typist). When we started with him, he was not coming from metal or anything—he was coming from electronics. But he was really fascinated with how metal bands worked and what we were after. He was really intrigued by the power in the production and all that. It seemed that when we put our ideas together we could come up with stuff that neither would have on their own. So we felt that this collaboration was going to go somewhere. Jonas sent all his demos to Frank and said, 'Flavor them, see what you can do,' as a test. And they grew from being just a rock band doing something to a cinematic soundtrack, and we felt that we had to have this guy on board. We asked him to be part of it and step into the whole production picture and work with us on all the electronic things: rearranged strings, see what sounds would fit, you know. I don't even know what some of the sounds are called, but he has all these files named. It's so funny to see what some of these are actually called; their titles are like movies, you know? 'Black Rain in the Night'! 'We need some 'Black Rain in the Night' at that 3:18 part.'
Anders: 'If you say so.' So that's usually how we work these days. He's flavoring our primitively staged demos, and then we give input back to him. 'You overdid it', or 'we need more'. So it's a great collaboration going with Frank Default.
MM: I've been digging through some old interviews and read also that your first concert was at Gröna Lund, or one of the first that you went to—
Anders: Oh! That was my first—
MM: Yes, yes, not Katatonia.
Anders: Yeah, (pointing at Daniel, laughing), I saw his face, for a moment. That would have ruled.
Daniel: They have good shows there, at Gröna Lund.
Anders: Yeah, it was my first show.
MM: I have a really difficult time connecting the amusement park on this island in Stockholm—
Anders: Yeah, you were there, right?
MM: Yes. And connecting that with the transcendental melancholy quality of Katatonia. So, when was it that you knew that this was the kind of you music you were going to create?
Anders: Well, it was definitely not that night. I don't even remember…ah, I was watching this guy who was part of this old American TV series called 'Wild West'. Was super big in Sweden at the time. Super big. And this guy just had a really short career. I can't remember that song…maybe he only had one song.
(Katatonia's tour manager enters and we all spend a minute discussing 'Wild West', 'How the West Was Won', the Cartwright brothers, a capella renditions of the 'Bonanza' theme, etc. The manager announces that the band needs to perform their line check soon..)
Anders: Anyway, enough of the Western stuff.
MM: Right. I also see that you've been asked recently about resurrecting Diabolical Masquerade, so let me add my voice to that chorus. I love those records and would love to hear more of that.
Anders: Cool. So do I.
MM: And you have talked about needing to find the time to do it.
Anders: Yeah. Right now it's only the time. My vision is there, my creativity is there, my folder, as I spoke about before, has grown immensely. I probably have an album in that folder now. So, I was talking to Dan Swanö about it and said, 'If I'm going to do it, I want to do it with you.' Because that's the only logical way to do it. He's up for it. He has the time. So now I just need to find my time. Maybe I'll buy myself some.
MM: You might be able to do this crowd-sourcing thing where fans donate a certain amount of funds to make this record be made. I'm pretty sure you could get some people to do this if you pitched it as, 'Dan and I are going to do a new Diabolical Masquerade album.' People would throw down some money for that.
Anders: Wow…(nodding) Now you're getting the ideas rolling.
MM: I hope so. And naturally, Bloodbath is the other huge gorilla in the room when discussing time constraints. But you guys have always talked about that as a side project.
MM: I feel, at this point, with three albums and this incredible EP under the band's belt, it's transcended just paying homage to a scene and has become a band and a force within itself. I always used to feel that I was cheating when someone would say, 'Tell me some of your favorite death metal bands,' and I would respond, 'Well, Bloodbath, obviously.' But now it's gone beyond that to the point where I can legitimately say it. For you guys, do you think that it will always be that side project concept? When will it achieve a sense of fullness in your mind? Is that possible, even?
Anders: I think the biggest mistake we ever did is that we formed Bloodbath out of Katatonia and Opeth members.
MM: Well, that's part of the appeal, too…
Anders: Yeah. But that's our biggest mistake at the same time, because these two bands are just going to continue to grow. And the time will grow less and less for doing other things. That's how it works. Opeth's world tour for 'Heritage' will be at least two or three years, now. And meanwhile, while they're on that tour, we're going to have a new album out and be starting our world tour for the next two years. See? There's only going to be small opportunities or gaps where there might be a moment to grab. The drummer might have a week off where we could put him in the studio, but then we can't continue with the guitars for half a year. So this is the dilemma we're against and why we could never become that full band. Unfortunately.
MM: So, pretty much the only way we're going to see a lot more Bloodbath and Diabolical Masquerade is if Opeth and Katatonia completely fail.
Anders: Yes. Very true.
MM: That's an intense conundrum.
Anders: That's very extreme, but it's the truth on a plate. Yes.
MM: Well, I hope that that doesn't happen, because I love what both of you are doing in your own rights, but maybe someday you'll find the time somewhere.
Anders: Yeah, well, it's always hard to predict the future.
MM: Thanks so much for your time, it's really been a pleasure.
Anders: Yes! Great talk.
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