For over two decades Sweden’s Katatonia have been one of most distinguished and recognised names in their genre. Attempting to label some bands is merely impossible, and a task we should better left undone. Originally begun as a more Doom Metal act, dating back to their debut full-length, 1993’s Dance of December Souls, Katatonia has continued to morph in style through the years and evolve their sound to what it is today. They have been a personal favourite ever since ‘Discouraged Ones’ came out, and also the more accessible Last Fair Deal Gone Down from 2001 which made a deep impact. It just stood apart at that time but more importantly, it’s how the band evolved from there that was truly remarkable. Every album saw a bit of improvement, a progression. Recently celebrating their 25th anniversary, the band has sustained several lineup changes, overcoming it all to be an international force that takes more than a simple casual listen to absorb. Their newest album ‘The Fall of Hearts’ is an emotive masterpiece; it’s everything you’ve come to expect from Katatonia and more: superbly nuanced, perfectly balanced, atmospheric and melancholy-drenched. We caught up with Anders Nyström to talk about past, present and future!
OBNUBIL: Is it true that the band was founded first under the name “Melancholium” in early 1987 by thirteen-year-old Anders Nyström (Sombreus Blackheim) and Jonas Renkse (Lord Seth) but split up soon till an reunion in 1991? And was it in June 1991, at the Gorysound Studio, when you recorded the first demo "Jhva Elohim Meth" with Dan Swanö from Edge of Sanity as your producer and distributed in an edition of 500 cassettes? Can you tell us something about that time back in 1987 and the first demo in 1991?
ANDERS: Melancholium (amongst many other names) was merely a short-lived trial period in the formative years. Back then there was no real band activity happening yet, we were still searching for an identity while wholeheartedly exploring and experimenting with our sound and vision. We were very young and inexperienced and still stuck in school, so those days were more about daydreaming and hammering out on whatever instruments and gear we could get our hands on. It wasn’t until 1991 we would stake out our future plans and get wind under our wings to finally record our first and only demo ’Jhva Elohim Meth’. With that tape released the following year our musical vision was set in stone.
OBNUBIL: Recalling the past and looking at the present, how was the band's evolution for you? Have there been any changes or decisions you would decide in a different way today? Things have changed a lot since 1991 when you had a more death/black presence in your tunes.
ANDERS: Well, one thing has lead to another. If we hadn’t been an extreme metal band back at the start we probably wouldn't have evolved into what we are today. We were caught up with the death/black/doom/thrash metal scene throughout our entire youth and it has and still does play a significant role in our lives, but Katatonia evolved into something beyond those borders. Each and every Katatonia album is a snapshot of the current climate and chapter in our lives. You can follow and see the steps we’ve taken. I miss those early times, too much sometimes, but that’s because I’ve the worst nostalgia syndrome in the world…
OBNUBIL: One of our team members had a huge addiction to your album “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” after it released in 2001. Why was the album named after a song by delta blues singer Robert Johnson?
ANDERS: Jonas suggested that we’d use that title for the album and I agreed as it had a very classic ring to it. It almost sounded like a movie or a novel. I know Jonas picked it up from one of Robert Johnson’s albums, but I think that was an irrelevant factor in deciding to use it. It probably wouldn’t have mattered if the song was by him or any other artist. It was about the genius stroke of the title itself that hit a chord with us.
OBNUBIL: It’s been four years since “Dead End Kings” and the new album “The Fall Of Hearts” is quite a significant record after all these years. How do you feel it stands up compared to all past albums?
ANDERS: I think it’s a strong culmination of all the things we’ve been doing for the last decade. Within a couple of seconds of spinning the album you’ll realize it’s Katatonia! At least when Jonas characteristic voice reveals itself over our trademark melodies. Then if you keep listening and continue the journey from song to song you’ll realize that it’s not ”just” Katatonia, but Katatonia doing something different! We’re not following a cloned recipe and playing it too safe. This album has a stark contrast of twists and turns in and out of of the metal scene’s safe-space. A few of the songs touch upon genres that has never been associated with a metal band and that is what gives us a prolific and unique sound. TFOH is not a extended shadow of our former albums, but rather an unknown abyss right in front of you that wants to you take the fall.
OBNUBIL: What’s your songwriting process? Are you one of those sleeping with a notebook next to your head and writing down ideas you get in the middle of the night? Or the sleepless front of the computer type?
ANDERS: I used to keep a notepad on my bedroom table for decades, but when the smartphones arrived those gadgets replaced the good old pen ’n paper. I use the notepad in that as well as record with the voice memo to catch and remember melodies and hooks on the fly. But when we indulge in a serious album writing phase it’s not unusual to have endless of late nights with headphones on in front of the computer. You use what you can, when you can.
OBNUBIL: There have been four major producers behind your albums. From 1991 to 1997 you worked with Dan Swanö, from 1998 to 2001 it was Tomas Skogsberg, 2001 to 2006 Jens Bogren and for the last ten years, from 2006 to 2016, David Castillo. In what way did they contribute in the evolution of the current “Katatonia” sound? Do you use analog or digital workflow? Or maybe a hybrid of both?
ANDERS: All those guys, with an exception of Dan Swanö, have been more the technical engineer type than a producer i.e. putting mics on kits and amps, twiddling knobs for sounds and balances, but the musical decisions, choices and intricate artistic values end have always been the band’s table, with myself and Jonas at the helm. Although in the early days Dan Swanö played a big role in this as well. He’s probably the only real producer we’ve had in the old fashioned way a producer works, he sees the overall picture of the band and strives to bring out the best in each member’s performance.
OBNUBIL: Do you guys have any special gear that you love the most? Without which your recording or live sessions would not be the same?
ANDERS: Well some particular guitars in my collection are definitely dear to me and part of memories attached to many recordings both live and studio. Some effect pedals are also significant to Katatonia that help us profile our sound, but it’s also about what place and environment that surrounds us. Studio Gröndahl (where both David Castillo and Jens Bogren currently works) is a really nice place to make an album. The old days at Sunlight studio with Tomas Skogsberg were also magic. The Unisound sessions are very dear as well. Now I’m getting pulled back into a haze of nostalgia again. Oh how those sweet days are long gone.
OBNUBIL: Roger Öjersson recently joined the band. Did he had time to contribute to the creation of your new album “The Fall Of Hearts”? If so, did he add something fresh to the recording process?
ANDERS: No he came onboard when the album was already recorded, but as we had a couple of weeks left until we were gonna mix the album the possibility of putting down some seering solos was still open and we did not let that pass. Roger is one hell of a guitar player and it’s exciting to imagine what he could add in the future and how Katatonia would benefit from that.
OBNUBIL: In a lot of occasions, also for your new album “The Fall Of Hearts”, your artwork has been designed by an american graphic artist called Travis Smith who is known for designing many heavy metal album art. Is there something particular of his work that makes you feel comfortable of choosing him as the designer or maybe because he is especially able to catch your ideas the way you want them to be in your final artwork?
ANDERS: We go a long way back with Travis Smith. We were probably one of the first European bands to use him, definitely the first Swedish band and we’ve been using him consistently for the last 18 years. We built a very special relationship throughout this time. The process to from an idea to the final cover is one hell of a journey! You would be really surprised how many emails we send back and forth before we reach the final stage that you know as the cover and even after that we still keep tossing ideas back and forth and we have to draw a line and just say ”ok we need to stop it and let it go”. I also keep folders where I save all the sketches and mockups and alternative versions and the count of those files reach several hundreds. It will be fun to browse through in the future.
OBNUBIL: We have always had a small obsession with birds. We incorporate small elements related to them in almost all our designs. Over the years, we have also noticed the presence of birds in your artwork. Do they also have a special meaning for you?
ANDERS: The crow, or particularly the raven, became somewhere along the way ”our” entity. It’s associated now as a symbol for Katatonia. It’s constantly coming and going in our lyrics and also displayed in our logo. The birds do have a special meaning for us. They represent liberty, but also an omen for the unsettling consequences that lurk behind humanity’s corner.
OBNUBIL: Last year 2016, you celebrate your 25th year anniversary! Congratulations! You put up a poll, asking your fans, which Katatonia album was their all-time favorite and “The Great Cold Distance” won. Over the years, there is probably no other album from which you played more songs live and there’s probably no other album with the same amount of songs that still remain in your setlist. Is there a song you specially enjoy or live more than any other on stage?
ANDERS: No that changes from show to show. I can enjoy an entire concert if the setlist is right and has a good flow. I like when it takes you on a rollercoaster, up and down and from side to side. It’s all about the pulse!
OBNUBIL: Your tours last many weeks and include many trips on short stay all around the world. After 25 years it must get harder to stay away from home for such a long time. Do you still feel the same energy? You also must have lived a lot of special moments touring around, is there any anecdote that you remember as the most emotive or the funniest?
ANDERS: Yes leaving home becomes much harder these days. I’m a very homesick person and I also have a son that needs his father. Touring life can be very rough and now almost all of us being close to middle-aged the wear and tear is not something you can just ignore like back when you were in your twenties. I cut down on drinking almost entirely on doctors orders. Sleep depravity kills me. Crap food turns me into a senior citizen. Still, we always try to unleash all our energy during the show, that’s what counts, that’s what people bought tickets for and came to see. We have a responsibility. That hour on stage is what really means something, what makes it worth the hassles, because the travel definitely does not. It’s a lot of wasted time, weeks of wasted opportunities of being productive and creative. It’s a slow death. The saying ”hurry up and wait” really summons up any touring musicians life. I wish our tours would be shorter or that we had teleporters already. The biggest fear is that I lose the edge, the enthusiasm to even go on tour because it makes me unhappy. Gotta play those cards carefully to retain a balance of the good and bad.
OBNUBIL: Thank you so much for taking your time answering our questions and for giving us more information about you! Is there anything that you would like to add to our readers and your fans?
ANDERS: Katatonia is a feeling and I hope you find it! Many thanks for listening.
Photo taken by Anders Nyström.
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