KATATONIA - INTERVIEW WITH JONAS RENKSE - 2-23-06

Rebel Extravaganza: First, I'd like to say congratulations on the new album. I have to admit wondering where you were going to take things after Viva Emptiness, but what came out was unexpected. It's Katatonia, but in some ways you've "progressed by regression".

Jonas Renkse: Thank you for saying that! That's exactly what I feel, and that's what makes this album different from previous ones. It's still the same Katatonia, but it's not what you'd expect. It's more aggressive, and it has sharper edges than Viva  Emptiness. I guess you could say that it's a look towards the past, because some of the earlier aggression made its way onto the album. I think it's a natural  progession, though.  

RX: How has your writing style changed throughout the years? The music and lyrics of the band 
have both taken a turn over the past few albums. Is Anders still writing most of the music?

JR: In the very beginning, and up until probably Last Fair Deal Gone Down, it was pretty much Anders who was responsible for all the music. With the last few albums - at least this one and Viva Emptiness -, I've been contributing more to the music. We've found a formula that works now between the two of us. We now will get together at Anders' apartment, where he has a small studio set up, and just write until the album is written.

RX: What's it like sharing the songwriting now, and trying to have your vision come through almost at the hands of someone else? I have a friend that I write with on very rare occasion, and we seem to almost feed off of each other's inspiration.

JR: It's very inspiring. I think of it as a very good way, because you never get stuck. If you work on your own, you may get stuck. If you're with someone you trust, and whose ideas follow the same pattern as yours, it's that much easier. I'm really happy with the way things are turning out with this style of writing.

RX: What brought on the title The Great Cold Distance? I notice there's not a song with that name, but there's a theme of almost self-imposed exile throughout the album.

JR: Yeah, I think you're right about that. When the album was finished, I was just looking over the lyrics, and felt there was a sort of thread going through. It's not at all a "concept album" in the strict sense of the term, but a lot of the songs are about…well, about my inability to relate to people. There's a distance in the lyrics also, an isolation that is a part of my everyday life, and it's not me seeking pity - it's just the way I am. I'm not always totally aware of what I'm writing, but when I'm done, it seems to all come together. The title just sprang from that feeling of separation and distance.

RX: What relation does the artwork have to the lyrical theme on this one? I wondered if there might be a connection between the use of the colour blue on Viva Emptiness and a red  tone to The Great Cold Distance.

JR: The way the art came about was because we wanted to have a stylistic change in the layout. We told Travis (Smith) - who is a master of things and designs that are very layered, and very textured - that we didn't want this for this album. We wanted very sparse pictures.

RX: It seems very…old. The man on the cover isn't being forced into anything. It seems he's willingly turning his head away or refusing to see, which adds greatly to the mood of the whole disc.

JR: Yes, yes. I think the idea probably came from Russian propaganda films. If you look at it in a certain way, I can pretty much see the album as propaganda.

RX: Propoganda for loneliness.

JR: Exactly!

RX: The title of 'Soil's Song' jumped out at me before I'd even listened to the album, and it's become one of my favourites on The Great Cold Distance. Would you give us a little insight into the lyrics?

JR: I wanted to try to write something on the subject of oppression. Nothing specific, really, but trying to put myself in a situation where there is oppression…like living in a country where there is some sort of overt dictatorship. I was thinking about suicide bombers also. I should probably take a minute to say that this song is not about suicide bombers. The thought that there are people who believe in something enough to willingly give their lives for it is just… impressive in a way.

RX: Lyrically, Katatonia has gone from having somewhat involved songs to using a more "stream of consciousness" style since Tonight's Decision. Sometimes the vocals seem more like snatches of conversation than actual complete thoughts. Is this an intentional effort to make the lyrics more universal in their appeal?

JR: Something I've been actively trying to do is limit the lyrics in a way, to keep them as small  as possible. By saying less sometimes, you can create more as the feeling goes. As much as I can, I've been using fewer words and not trying to overwrite. Especially with the way  Katatonia is moving now musically, I'd rather leave the lyrical point of the song open for people to interpret however they wish.

RX: Having existed for fifteen years as Katatonia, you've seen quite a few metal trends come and (thankfully) go. How do you view the state of metal in 2006?

JR: I think that what's happening now is something that always happens with anything that's popular. It means overflooding the scene, and it's always flooded with crappy bands, isn't it (Laughter)?

RX: You're telling me, man!

JR: I think it will take maybe a few years, like it always does, for people to see what's good and what's shit. I think that Katatonia will keep on going as ever, and when the kids of today get tired of the outer trappings of the scene and are ready for something more real, we (Katatonia) will be there waiting…hopefully!

RX: Knowing that it could be awhile before the next album, what are Katatonia's plans for the remainder of the year?

JR: Our main plan is touring for this album now. We're leaving on a small European tour at the end of April, and that will be the beginning of live activities for The Great Cold Distance. After that, we're going to hit as many of the summer festivals as possible, and then take a bigger tour of Europe in the fall.

RX: Any chance of you making it over to the US?

JR: We've only played two shows in the US so far, which I think is much too little. It's such a big country…

RX: Yeah, that seems to be the first impression on bands that come over for their first real US tour. The sheer size of the country amazes them before they even see their first US audience. I mean, when you're used to Europe, where you can drive for six hours and hit three countries…

JR: That's it exactly! But I think that's also part of the reason that every European band wants to have at least the chance to come over and tour. I'm not sure if we'd ever make it to a full tour, but maybe a short run of shows in the larger cities is something we could pull off. I've been talking to Mikael (Akerfeldt) of Opeth - I think they've toured the US twelve times so far -, and he'll go off (to play) here in Europe, and it'll be like "See you in a month!". Then, he'll head out to the US, and it's like "I'll be back in three months!" (Laughter).

RX: Katatonia has never been one of those bands that follows after its critics, and it seems as if the band has often put intentional distance between itself and its publicity, be it good or bad. Still, the people who appreciate the music of Katatonia have remained faithful to the group through all its changes.

JR: I don't think we've ever been interested in doing something just for the sake of recognition. We've had this band for fifteen years now, which is half of my life. We've never had that "big break", and we're just now starting to work our way through. We've gotten more known, and attracted more fans with every release, though, which is something I'm proud of. The respect feels good, and of course I want the band to grow as large as it can, but not at any price.

RX: I see this album as probably the most pivotal one in the band's career, because unlike, say, Brave Murder Day or Discouraged Ones, you could really go anywhere from here. Whether you continue to explore the minimalist themes of Katatonia today, or return with something even more aggressive, you have the option to take things in any direction.

JR: Thank you, that's such a good thing to hear! We haven't really been limiting ourselves to a certain style. We chose to be heavier with this album than the last, but we're definitely not tied into a specific sound. It gives us the creativity to be whatever we want, because whatever we do, it will be Katatonia.

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