An Interview With Jonas Renkse of Katatonia!

An Interview With Jonas Renkse of Katatonia!

Night is the New Day, your most recent record, was released about two years ago… Are you working on anything new right now?

We are, actually. We were supposed to be finishing off the writing pretty much now, but we got this tour [Opeth’s 2011 Heritage USA Tour], so everything is a little bit postponed, but as soon as we get home we will continue writing and then hopefully be in the studio by winter.

How do you feel that you guys are going to connect to this album more so than Night Is the New Day?

I don’t know, we don’t have a master plan. We just…I always think that I want to write good songs and that’s it, you know? So be it different, or in the same style; I don’t care, you know, as long as the songs are great. That’s my biggest hope.

Your songs are full of a certain energy. When you’re writing, how do you translate the visions that you have inside your mind onto paper or into a song?

Hmm… I don’t know, I think it’s something that just comes to me when I’m writing. Like, if I just start with a chord on the guitar or something… Just some kind of vision comes to me and I get a (pauses) vision of what the song should be like. Not maybe just one chord, but a few chords that can give me some kind of hint, and we speak a lot in visions when we’re writing together, like me and Anders [Nystrom, guitarist]. Like colors, and (pauses) also moods, and environments that we have seen. We’re particularly fascinated by a band or stuff like that. So, it’s something that we talk about when we make songs, which is, I guess, kind of weird, but it works.

You said that it comes naturally, but is there a way that everything materializes inside your mind?

Well, sometimes it’s about just work, and working for a couple of days before something comes, and sometimes I can get an idea just by waking up in the morning, you know? So, it’s all different from song to song and idea to idea. You never know what to expect, which is fun.

And you guys have been doing this for a long time…

Yeah, yeah… Too long! (laughs)

Nah! It’s never too long for music, is it?

I mean, as long as we have something interesting to give, I think it’s all right, but I don’t think we would be the band to keep on touring just to play the favorite songs for people. Touring is not [like] that. (laughs)

Since you guys have been doing this for so long; twenty years… When you first started, did you envision everything that would be happening now? Or what did you initially envision Katatonia to be? And has that vision changed at all throughout the twenty years?

No, I don’t think that vision has not changed because… We’re kind of humble people. And our goal when we started was just to have a band, you know? Because we were listening to music and wanted to have a band of our own, which I think is very common. And then the main goal was to write a couple of songs and have a demo tape, and with every little step that we do, is our next target because we don’t aim at anything bigger, you know? We take it one step at a time, and always did, so we don’t expect to be an overnight sensation band. We’ve been doing this for so long and I think we’ve been building a fan base slowly but steadily, and that’s the way I like it. And also, I think it’s a good thing because one day when this is not happening anymore; the band might split up or something, I think I can be very happy with what we did. I will not feel like something is taken away from me because I’ve been there in every step of the band, and I’m happy with it. (laughs)

How would you say that you express your passion through your music?

By writing music that is as good as possible, and lyrics. I mean, being personal as much as possible… Not writing just for the sake of writing, just to have a new album out, stuff like that, rather than just…. I mean, music is such a serious thing to me, that I would never do something off-heart.

How do you say the music you write symbolizes who you are as a person?

Yeah, it does very much, because what you hear and what you read, like the lyrics and the music itself, it’s…Who I am. It’s easy to see, because the music is kind of dark and melancholic, and I guess that’s the kind of person that I’ve always been. It’s not just an image, but I’m happy with it. I’m glad that I found music, because I found a way to express myself and also help myself.

How would you say that music gives you an escape?

It does, I mean, not just my own music, but listening to my favorite artists and it’s always been there as a comfort. Sometimes life is a struggle and I think music has been, probably, the best foundation for trying to get back into a normal state of mind.

Over the last twenty years, what has been something that has really impacted you, that has really affected the music you write?

Hmm. It’s hard to say. I mean, as I said before, we’re taking everything one step at a time, so we have a lot of small check points we’re happy with, like getting the first record deal, getting the record deal with Peaceville [Records], which is a label that released a lot of our favorite music when we were younger, like Darkthrone and Autopsy, stuff like that.

Darkthrone!! So you’re a black metal fan?

Yeah, yeah, I like it. Back in the day, I was a big, big fan.

Dead [former Mayhem vocalist, deceased] or Maniac [former Mayhem vocalist], who do you like better?

Um…(pauses) It’s hard… Attila(laughs)

Wow…I was not expecting that.

No, but I think it sounds horrible, which is good for that kind of music, you know?

(laughs) True… Ok. You guys have had eight or nine albums out, as well as several EP’s. When do you believe that you truly found your sound, or which album do you believe you did?

I would say it’s two albums that got us the sound we’re still working on, and the first is our second album, Brave Murder Day. We started experimenting with more simplistic arrangements and more monotonous, depressive elements rather than just melody. Then the album after that, Discouraged Ones, where I started doing the clean vocals instead of screaming, which also was a big step. So those two albums are the foundation of what we’re doing today, but I think with every album, of course, we try to reinvent ourselves a little bit and, as I said, write the best songs possible.

Over the years, how do you feel that your connection with your fans has changed or evolved with each album as they’ve been released?

I think it seems like it’s growing strong with every release pretty much, which I like because I think it’s one of the most important things…to feel that you’re at one with your audience, that they trust you in the craft, what we’re doing, you know? I’m not writing to satisfy anyone else but myself and the guys in the band, but when people actually love our music, I think that’s the greatest achievement.

What do you think is most special about you guys to your fans?

(pauses) I think people like our honesty. We’re not a band of an image. We don’t put on a stage show, we don’t have fireworks. We just play and sing our hearts out, that’s all. It’s the only thing we can do. We don’t dress up in frilly shirts, you know? (laughs) So I think the honesty is something that people like with us. We try to be available to the fans and speak to people when we get the chance, you know? Stuff like that. I think that’s important, to have that type of relationship, because they’re the ones that keep us going.

When you’re recording, how do, or do you try to, translate your live energy into the recordings?

Absolutely… I try to, you know, small simple details, like turning the lights out, just try to feel as comfortable as possible with what I’m singing about and see what the song is asking for, and just… I don’t know, I just concentrate so much on the lyrics and the words, what they mean to me. I just try to have a (inaudible) environment in the studio.

You just said something very interesting… Something like, the song speaks to you? What do you mean by that?

When I’m writing lyrics and music, but mostly lyric part, I’m not always sure what it means to me until it’s done and when it’s time to sing it, I kind of realize that, “Wow, I was thinking about this,” but I didn’t know it at the time. So that’s what I mean, that it speaks to me in a way that I wasn’t maybe sure of when I wrote them, because I change lyrics all the time until it’s time to actually sing them, so when it’s time I know that this is it and now I have to really face the lyrics and see what they are about.

Is it kind of scary sometimes?

Yeah, it can be, you know? But it’s also more interesting than scary. So, I just try to do it the best way possible.

Do you ever feel kind of vulnerable with so many people reading your lyrics and hearing your songs?

Yeah, absolutely, but I think I have grown to accept that part because I always write about myself, first and foremost. Parts of it is fiction of course, but most of it is from my own experiences and stuff. Of course, in the beginning, you feel kind of naked in a way, but in a good way, because the people that pick up our music are probably– they have a feeling of what I’m doing. So, it’s not like I’m not singing this stuff on American Idol. It’s rather for the people that know what I’m talking about.

What do you believe the listener is searching for when they’re listening to your music?

I would say some kind of comfort, but also, I think it can bring some power into people’s lives. Like give them a feeling that they’re not alone with whatever they’re feeling; to feel a bit of strength. Comfort, strength, atmosphere; to help bring an atmosphere that I like and I hope other people like too. When I say atmosphere, I mean I like to listen to this kind of music, say, when you are going by car in the middle of the night, that kind of stuff…you put on a very atmospheric record. It makes the ride much more calming. I think that’s also a point in our music. It’s good to put on in certain situations.

When you’re on-stage, you have that feeling, a feeling that comes over you. How would you describe that feeling when you’re up there? Some artists have described it as on fire. Would you say it’s “on fire?”

I wouldn’t say on fire, not for me personally, but when I go on stage, I just expect myself to sing from my heart and nothing else, you know? It’s a simple thing. I’m not a showman, I’m not an entertainer. I’m just a singer and that’s what I do, you know? I sing my songs and lyrics. I hope people are happy with it. It’s a moment of concentration, absolutely.

With so much history that your band has had, how would you say that you have grown stronger with various lineup changes over the years?

I think we grow stronger with every little thing that we do, like a tour. It keeps the band together. I mean, we have to travel together for seven weeks, like this tour… And in a very small space, and I think it gives you different aspects of showing respect than I would normally have if I’m just at home having a normal job.

Doing this kind of stuff, it helps you to get to know people, learn how to work together as a team, stuff like that. Not necessarily about carrying stuff, but rather, know when to stay away and know when you want to be there for somebody, stuff like that; more human.

When you are writing or recording, what is it that you want people to feel in your music besides the calmness or tranquility or things you spoke of earlier? Is there something else in there that you want people to feel, or that you believe that they already feel?

I think they already have that kind of mindset. If you’re a fan of our band, you know what to expect and you probably know what we like, what kind of situations and environments we like. So, yeah, it’s difficult to say, but it’s something that’s there.

What is it that initially sparked your passion for playing this type of music? What was it that really sparked the way that you love the music?

I know for me and Anders, I think it was the chance to express something that we both felt. The kind of– the darker side of metal music in the beginning; that we heard bands that could do something that we love, but we could also do it and make it even more our thing. So, I think the answer is… That we actually got the chance to express something that we already had within us, even since we were teenagers. That’s why we started the band. So, you know, a lot of small things that make a bigger picture.

Throughout music, you’re on a path that’s lit with a burning flame of passion and desire… Over the years, what have been some of the most special moments that made that flame burn brighter while traveling on that path?

I think writing a song that you’re really happy with is a spark that… (pauses) It’s very hard to compete with that. And also some of the live shows are like monuments in the history of myself and the band, you know? Certain shows, when you feel that everything is just right, and the audience is great, and you feel that tonight, ‘I gave everything I have,’ and it showed….That’s just perfect.

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