The Katatonia camp has been somewhat busy of late. With a reissue of ‘Viva Emptiness’ seeing the decade-old album not only receiving a re-master, but a full remix at the hands of a band who have long been unhappy with the original; an upcoming, epic tour with Paradise Lost and Lacuna Coil (which will see the band playing ‘Viva…’ in full) and a new album on release now (the beautiful reworking of ‘dead end kings’ entitled ‘dethroned and uncrowned’ which is reviewed here) katatonia are finally gaining the level of recognition their dark, subtle work so richly deserves. It therefore seemed high time to catch up with the band to discuss the many commitments that are keeping them busy. Presented here is an email interview conducted with Anders Nystrom just prior to the release of ‘Dethroned…’.
Whilst re-mastering is a common enough phenomena nowadays, it is still relatively rare for artists ton consider remixing one of their works, especially if it is a fan favourite like ‘viva emptiness’ – what made you decide to take this step?
Just to be able to sleep at nights hah! No, but I guess seeking some sort of personal fulfilment knowing all the woes of old compromises are gone. We just want the album to be “up there” production wise alongside with the four others that came after.
In the press release you mentioned ‘obstacles’ that ‘compromised the end result’ – it sounds like quite a trying time for the band?
It was! Mixed with many confused decisions. You know, we’d been recording at this studio called Sunlight for a couple of years with Thomas Skogsberg doing all the engineering and mixing for the last three albums and I don’t know if it was because he was gonna move his studio or that we didn’t get our slotted booking when we wanted or that we were not happy with how long the session took the last time (this is another story…) that we decided to seek out a new studio, but we ended up at this legendary studio called Soundtrade (that had now switched name to 301 Studio) but without an engineer or anyone to mix. We were already comfortable producing ourselves but we always did that based on an engineer assisting us, so we ended up engineering and recording the album ourselves which caused some flaws and mistakes along the way. We were forced to record and edit on a system we’d never seen before (Logic) while we were used to write and record on another platform (Cubase), so I sat half of the time with the manual in my lap while recording. Then when we were finished we had all these great songs, but with the roughest sound that we didnt know what to do with, soa we had to give away the mix to someone else and ended up with first going to Dan Swanö and then later to Jens Bogren of Fascination Street (back then still called Studio Kuling and it was actually me who came up with the ‘Fascination Street’ name change as a tribute to The Cure song). I think this was Jens first major job and he did a good effort of turning the album back on track, but it quite never made it all the way. The snare sound is almost our St Anger light!
Given that Katatonia is constantly evolving its sound, how do you feel about returning to the UK to play Viva Emptiness in full?
Very excited about this! We already played the predecessor ‘Last Fair Deal Gone Down’ in its entirety and it’s a very prestigious thing to do. It takes you back and throwing you in that zone with your body, mind and soul set!
Do you consider it a challenge to recreate the album’s atmosphere live?
Playing any studio song live is always some sort of challenge, but I don’t see it being too difficult! I think the album transpires very well into a live setting. Actually, we’ve played all but three songs off this album live already many, many times, so we know it’s already going down well.
Are there any particular songs you are looking forward to playing and any that are in the set for the first time?
Yeah we haven’t touched ‘A Premonition’, ‘One Year From Now’, ‘inside The City Of Glass’ live (nor ever even rehearsed them), but I’m looking forward to just do the whole thing for just under an hour feeling how one song takes you to the next. It’s like going on a roller coaster ride with all these different curves you know!
Katatonia have always had a very strong visual element via the remarkable album covers – is that something that is important to you as a band and how much input do you have in the visual aesthetic of each record?
Utterly important! The whole visual element is an extension of our music as another art form. It should symbolise what the album is all about and represent the credo of the band.
The line-up for the UK tour: yourselves, paradise Lost and Lacuna Coil: is unusual because you’re all headliners in your own right – will there be a healthy sense of competition between the bands do you think?
Yeah you’re right, all of us could be doing this thing on our own, but all headlining politics are set aside for one purpose only and that is both us and Lacuna Coil aren’t on this tour to promote our latest albums, we’re on this to celebrate Paradise Lost’s 25 year anniversary as their guests. We’ve both been influenced by them so we’re just paying tribute and our effort of bringing something special to the table is to play ‘Viva Emptiness’ in its entirety because it happened to also celebrate its own 10 year anniversary. I guess it’s just a randomly win-win kinda thing for everyone.
You’ve already got a new album prepared – reworking songs form Dead end kings – what was the inspiration for such a bold step?
Well, I guess we felt both a certain potential and a challenge in trying to strip down something we’d been building and decorating to no end. Trying to take this thing already achieved and perceived as “more is more” into something “less is more”. I think the album title clearly indicates the result.
For bands like katatonia, anathema and opeth there seems to be a strong link between metal (particularly the more extreme end) and progressive with each band evolving their sound over the years – did you ever expect you would change so radically from when you started?
I expected us to change and evolve, but not how or in what way! I wouldn’t be able to describe what an album like Dead End Kings twenty years ago.
It seems that metal fans are very accepting of a band’s desire to evolve, even though that often means moving away from strictly metallic pastures – were you ever worried that you were stepping too far away from your roots.
Katatonia is like an old oak tree. We actually embrace that not all our branches grow in the same direction, some even tip over the fence and continue to grow over the “unknown” grounds, but they’re all still part of the same tree coming from with the same roots down into the ground.
At the heart of Katatonia it seems that the songs have always been the most important thing rather than flashes of technicality or bowing to trend – has it been difficult to maintain such an independent ethos?
Yes it’s all about the songs. That’s why I don’t, just don’t even call myself the “guitar player” anymore, because what I am is really a song writer. I know how to create music, but I know far less what there is to know and learn about being a guitar player and guitars and gear. Sometimes I see guys that sound more like engineers or builders than musicians when they talk. It’s good to know, but does the general fan really hold any weight or importance to what pickups I used when actually enjoying a new Katatonia album? If they are, you can be sure they’re playing themselves and it’s to get the same sound for themselves.
‘Dead end kings’ is an album that has so much depth and so many layers – how long did it take to write and record the album?
We spent December 2011 to May 2012 both writing and recording it as a crossed process.
With such a successful career behind you, what ambitions remain for katatonia?
Song writing is a constant ambition, it’s not something you start and stop or can achieve and say mission accomplished. Just when you completed one stage, another one follows. There’s a lot of potential in the unknown, how it can alter and improve your work. Jumps between progression and regression. Let’s go back to the old oak tree again, looking down on that branch that you skipped while climbing upwards and finding out its been growing into something you’re now curious and willing to explore. It’s all about swinging around between the branches in your own tree. The monkey’s got it figured out! Better give ’em some guitars ha-ha!
Despite the shift in sound you still play a number of more traditional metal festivals like Bloodstock and (most recently) Download – do you find you tailor your sets for such occasions to emphasise the heavier material and is it difficult to compact your music into comparatively short sets?
Yes we do! We can taylor a set into pretty much only heavy songs if we need to, depends where we’re playing and whom we’re playing with. With that said, we can also go the other way and perform a soft set and leave an impression accordingly. But in an ideal world, which is a Katatonia headline concert, we prefer to make just the even balance out of both!
Will you be likely to come to the UK for some headline dates later in the year or in 2014?
We’re definitely returning to a least London for a date on the forthcoming Dethroned tour, so that will probably be happening the first thing happening in the UK after the Viva Emptiness shows
Any final words for your UK fans?