Interview & Photos by Tracy.
I recently had the pleasure of catching Katatonia’s first date of their 2012 U.S. Tour, luckily kicking off in Seattle and interviewed Mr. Jonas Renkse, vocalist and one of the founding members of Katatonia. It was an honor as well as a memorable night. Also one of the best performances on the bands’ behalf that I have seen thus far. Now onward into the interview…
Being a long-time fan and follower of Katatonia, the one aspect I have always admired is the metaphorical content that comes with your lyrics. Katatonia has always taken an interesting spin of directions with this and done so successfully on every record which are each unique in their own way. Do you feel that obscurity is a necessary concept for your music and if so, will future releases continue in the same vein or become more “to-the-point” eventually in time?
J: I usually don’t have a concept for the lyrics that I sing beforehand (i.e. “I’m going to write about this and this on the next record”), it’s more of a spontaneous thing, but I guess I have a certain style and a style I feel comfortable with continuing which is describing the darker side of things which I think is also important because it goes hand-in-hand with the music so it sort of compliments each other. And you know, that’s the kind of lyrics I appreciate myself from reading and listening to music.
So it comes naturally?
J: It comes naturally. I like it, it’s a good way of getting your mind to work and to start thinking about lyrics.
As far as the musical writing process goes, do you ever receive inspiration from traveling or being overseas (i.e. while on tour) or does it come from being on your own homelands in particular, or both?
J: I think both, I mean we spend a lot of time in Sweden where we live, so you get some inspiration there. But I like the idea of traveling and seeing different cultures and things being different from where we are, and that’s also an inspiration. Sometimes you can get musical ideas from being abroad, and sometimes if it’s from your home environment. So it’s both, which I think is great because you don’t get stuck within something – you can always keep an open mind.
I have been listening to Dead End Kings on repeat since its release in the U.S. And noticed the usage of pianos a bit more frequently than any other album. Have you thought of incorporating more of this (perhaps their own solo pieces) into future songs?
J: I don’t know, maybe. It’s a good call actually, because we talked a little bit before starting the writing for this record that we wanted more piano with this. We all think it’s a beautiful instrument and it sounds really good together with the vocals and if you’re gonna do a stripped down part, I think the piano is as good as the guitar if you wanna create a certain feeling.
It goes really well.
J: It does! I think so. So that’s one of the things we brought up when we started talking to Frank, the guy who’s doing the keyboards for us and he agreed, and he loved some piano so it felt like a natural thing.
So, there probably is something to expect on the next album with this?
J: Yeah! I would love to do a song with just a piano and singing.
The topic of death as well as the fascination surrounding it is a reoccurring theme in metal, from bands all across the board of different sub-genres who have their own interpretation or fixation on it. Although Katatonia’s lyrics have always been left up to interpretation to the listener (ultimately), do you feel that it (death) has played a big influence on Katatonia’s music, both past and present? It may be a bit of an obvious question, but you can certainly see perspectives changing and growing with each release, so I am very curious to know your input.
J: Death is such a huge subject. You can always keep writing about it, when we started out we were teenagers that were into death metal, and death metal was all about death. So it sort of triggered the fascination for it, and now when we’re a bit older it comes to another level because you can see people around you, like when grandparents die and people around you get old, then it becomes a different perspective so you can always keep writing about it. And for this kind of dark music I guess it’s an important part of it because it’s something that we think about. I guess that goes for everybody in the world, maybe we are more…
Poetic about it?
J: Yeah, poetic and also maybe thinking about it more, in a creative kind of way which sounds weird, but since we are doing music and replaced from being a death metal band.
In regards to interpretation, although as I said, it is up to each listener to make what they can out of every song, there is one in particular on the new album which really stands out to me above the others, which is “The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here”. It is to me, the least obscure track on the new record. Although it is not completely direct, this particular line “The one you are looking for is hidden from you” leaves me curious as to what this person is seeking, in themselves or perhaps in someone else?
J: I believe this song is about feeling… like, people expect you to be a certain person, and sometimes you don’t feel like that person. So it’s written from that perspective pretty much. Like, “The one you are looking for is hidden from you” to me, means like you expected to see someone else here, but maybe I’m not that person. And I think that’s thing you can adapt to in a lot of situations basically because a lot of the time most people already have an opinion before they meet someone.
J: Yeah exactly. And I mean it’s not all about being a musician because then, people can see you and expect you to be different but also in other situations in life. I think it’s something that everybody can experience at some point.
Dead End Kings shows a lot of development and strength in Katatonia as a band. Although I am not a musician personally, there are elements in Dead End Kings which construct a very harmonious but unique sound which tend to fade with time for many musicians who have been making music as long as you have. This “new” sound has been getting a lot of comparisons to Tool, even in the last release (Night is the New Day). I personally don’t find their sound and Katatonia’s close enough to call identical but in some ways I can see the comparison. What are your personal thoughts on this feedback? Because I hear it all the time.
J: Yeah, we do too. Which is especially strange on the new album because I believe we were more inspired by Tool a couple of albums back. I still regard them as a fantastic band. On the new album there are certain parts that maybe have the same kind of…
J: Yeah, musical language basically. And it’s a flattering comparison although I don’t see all the raving like, “This sounds like Tool!” If people think this way then, it’s alright (laughs).
I am a firm believer of separating music and politics although it is inevitable that the thought of politics crosses all of our minds from time to time, perhaps more frequently these recent times. I have read a couple of previous interviews you’ve done with your views on this matter of political corruption in our society and how some of those aspects of life interpret themselves into your music which I find to be very liberating. Do you feel that this portal of release through music is the gateway ultimately to “true freedom” for yourself?
J: Most of the time I don’t mix up music with politics, but of course the way that you are thinking as a human being, of course it will somehow make its way into the message of the song sometimes. So, I would say there is always a little pinch in politics about what we write about. But it’s not always about taking sides or it’s definitely not about having the solution on any of the problems of anything. What I do think about a lot is the situation the world is in today, it’s kind of a shitty place basically. And I sometimes refer to it in lyrics. As I said, not presenting a solution unfortunately but just more of contemplating how it’s become this bad. Personally I think if we could take away a lot of the whole religious aspect of the world it would be a much better place because there are so many wars going on because of religion, people are not having the freedom they are allowed to because of religion – there are so many rules and dictatorship.
Has this become really effective in Sweden as well?
J: Sweden is not a very religious country but I think it’s more a general feeling, because you read about wars and stuff and it’s often caused by religious sources. So I think that’s one of the main things of why it’s so bad.
Seeing as you are a talented vocalist as well as multi-instrumentalist, do you ever express your creativity through other artistic endeavors such as visual art (drawing, painting, etc.)? If not currently, have you ever held interest in it before?
J: I definitely loved to draw when I was younger. Unfortunately I didn’t really follow it up because I started doing music instead. I still draw a little bit because I think it’s fun. Looking back on it, I sometimes think that if I kept up with drawing it could have been something I would actually use. So definitely that’s part of the artistic thing.
So all of your time is spent on music now?
J: Yeah, pretty much. I like to write some stuff that is not connected to music. It’s not something that I could see being released, it’s just smalls stories I send in emails to people. And more of…
More of a personal type of thing?
J: Yeah! It’s just weird humor going on (laughs). But I like writing. I just love to write and I love to read – it’s connected.
Aside from Katatonia, you have contributed some vocals with the “supergroup” Sailors With Wax Wings – will you be participating on anything further with this project or was this just a temporary/one time sort of thing?
J: I believe it was a one time thing because I haven’t heard very much from that main guy since the album was out. So I don’t know what’s up with that – it was a cool experience, it was something different. And I had a lot of freedom to work on my own premises. Both lyrically and with vocal lines.
A lot of city-related themes seem to pop up on Katatonia records. Is there a lot of influence you receive from the urban atmosphere which invokes lyrical inspiration in the song-writing process? If so, is there anything special about it in particular? A lot of metal bands tend to fixate on nature, but it is noticeably different with Katatonia’s lyrics focused on the outside world.
J: Yeah, I believe it is. Because both me and Anders who are the the original members both grew up in a city. Not as big as the American cities but we always had a close relationship to the suburbs. We were always really interested in finding the sort of abandoned places in the cities, because it’s something that represents the music that we do. For us it’s like finding an abandoned building somewhere, triggers the interest and then we sort of see Katatonia’s lyrics and music.
Very bleak and dark?
J: Yeah, bleak and I really love the atmosphere of abandoned places because it gets me thinking that in the past there have been people working here and living here and this place has been full of life and now it’s abandoned. And it gets your mind working.
Are there are specific abandoned places that you have been to or want to go to?
J: At least in Sweden we have been in abandoned train tunnels and hospitals. Both me and Anders went to this urban exploration thing where you actively search for these places. And we read an article about the place, a couple of hours north of Stockholm where there was supposed to be a whole village and factory place that was totally abandoned. So we went there and took pictures and just tried to find the right atmosphere. It’s definitely creative.
So you prefer the city life from living outside of civilization?
J: I’m not sure. I live in a suburb outside of Stockholm. I feel kind of ok there, but sometimes I would love to live closer to nature. But I guess since I’ve always been living in a city I would miss a lot of the convenient things being so close to places you can shop, things in the middle of the night and stuff like that. But maybe a change would be a good thing, once you start valuing things more.
Many thanks go out to Jonas, Paul from Peaceville Records, Brian from Fresno Media, LLC & Nicole from Studio Seven. Until next time!