Katatonia certainly kicked off the fall season with a bang. In support of their new album Dead End Kings, the Swedish doom group toured North America with The Devin Townsend Project, Paradise Lost, and Stolen Babies. Though the tour has come to an end, Katatonia have no plans of slowing down just yet. However, their original plans have been slightly altered, with the U.S. tour they were supposed to embark on with old friends Opeth getting canned.
It was during the tour’s stop at Irving Plaza in New York City last Sunday (September 23) that guitarist Anders Nystrom informed me of the change in plans touring wise. In addition to that, Nystrom sat down with me to discuss a number of other topics, including the difficulties behind maintaining band members for over 20 years, his personal love of art design, and Katatonia’s desire to improve their outreach in America. Plus, the guitarist also provided an update on Bloodbath’s new album, confirming that they have indeed found a “legendary” replacement for Mikael Akerfeldt.
You’ve previously stated how the title Dead End Kings refers to everything that has gone into keeping Katatonia together for over 20 years. Looking back, what would you say has been the biggest challenge to keeping Katatonia alive?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing. I think the hardest problem is probably keeping band members for as long as we have. We were actually very fortunate to have a stable lineup for ten years with the old lineup. That came to an end and before that, we had a lot of lineup problems. I think the hardest part of being in a band is keeping all the band members intact, just keeping them motivated and happy and still fueling their ambition and see what their goals are, and everything like that. Everything else you can work around but if they lose it, that’s probably the hardest part.
When we last spoke about two years ago, we discussed how Katatonia was in no rush to find “permanent” new members in the group. With guitarist Per Eriksson and bassist Niklas Sandin having been in the band for some time now, and having contributed to Dead End Kings, would you say that Katatonia has found a “permanent” lineup?
We could say that. We just haven’t gone out public with an official statement about it, but we’re there. People can tell we’re a really tighter band in all kinds of circumstances; live, in studio, socially, everything. So yeah, you could say that. I just need to write an update, I guess probably right now [laughs].
The band once again worked with artist Travis Smith on this album cover. And I’ve read in interviews where you’ve gone as far as to call Travis a sixth member of Katatonia. What is the communication process like between the band and Smith when collaborating on the artwork?
It’s mostly me and him doing that. I talked with him just now, actually. I talk with him daily. Still when we don’t work together, we just keep on talking about other people’s art all the time. Like “Have you seen this new cover of Testament? Yeah they should’ve made it blue there then black there!” We’re just really tight on that stuff. It’s fun. It’s probably my secret little ambition. If I wouldn’t be playing in the band, I’d probably do graphics.
Yeah. That’s totally what my kind of…I don’t know it’s just, I love it. I love to do it. So I’m really happy to do it for us. This is why we make it a big deal. For this album, I said to Travis like, “let’s get started immediately” when we just started writing the album. Not like when it’s done and just have a week. Like “let’s make the artwork grow along the album grows as well.” So we worked on the album artwork probably just as long, like six months probably doing it just going back and forth. My folder actually of these mockups and sketches, it’s a lot of gigs in there. And there’s tons of stuff we haven’t used as well. I mean, we did release this deluxe version with forty interior images, but there’s even more than that. So we had a lot of work on this album. I’m super happy about that. Couldn’t be happier working with Travis, it’s a tradition!
I didn’t realize you had a background in design as well.
I started out, when I tried to complete my studies in school, I did take a media thing but I dropped out in favor of Katatonia. But that still stuck with me and I love doing that.
It’s cool you’re able to do both in a sense.
Totally. I mean, for my band, I’m happy to do it. I don’t charge. [laughs]
What’s your favorite cover artwork of all time, whether it’s from your band or your idol’s band?
Well it would be a cliché to probably to say this, but I am so happy with our latest album artwork. I should bring up the first mockup that we had like the drawing and just put every image together to show a little bit of an improvement and evolution. If I put each image next to each other, it would probably be a hundred pictures. It’s my favorite right now, my new favorite. I look at every band’s artwork. There’s so many great artists out there, and there’s so many different styles; old school painters and guys who just do it on Photoshop, of course. There’s tons.
When we last spoke, you also noted that Peaceville really stepped up their game considerably in support of 2009’s Night Is The New Day. Though Dead End Kings did well in the U.S., it’s fair to say that it did better in Europe. With this in mind, would Katatonia consider moving forward with a label that has a larger reach in America?
Well, it’s not down to us, actually. That’s the frustrating part about it because I could totally see us doing way, way better here if we had more push behind us. I mean, we have management now that are on the same page. They’re working hard for getting that across, but it needs to be improved, totally. We’re doing fine in Europe, totally fine. We’re on Peaceville, they have a way, way different way of working; more power and input.
Nothing against Peaceville, they’re just a more European label.
Exactly, they are a European label. Their market is Europe. We try to do the best out of it. We try to put a lot of hard work ourselves, coming over and touring as much as we can. We’re not just gonna be like “Oh we don’t have a great label so we’re not gonna go over there”. We try to do as much as we possibly can do. But I would like to see the State side improve, definitely. So we will have to see what our management can do about it.
Speaking about touring, guitarist Fredrik Akesson let it slip this past summer that Opeth and Katatonia would be touring North America again later this year. Is that still happening?
That was supposed to happen, but Mikael [Akerfeldt, Opeth frontman] actually pulled the plug on that at the last minute. It’s very unfortunate because we have two more days on this tour now. In three days, we were supposed to start that tour, so it’s a bummer really. We were ready to do that.
Did he give a reason for canning the tour?
I think honestly, Mikael’s burnt. He’s just been touring nonstop, constantly. I think he had to choose his priorities because they’re going out in Europe in a month as well. So that would mean they probably wouldn’t have a gap at all and they decided to pull on this tour, which is unfortunate for us. But things like that happen, it’s out of our control.
On the plus side, at least you guys did get to tour together. It brought a lot of exposure for the band, I’m sure. I remember when we were speaking you were like, “that would be the perfect tour for us” and one year later…
It was a perfect tour. We could see our fanbase grow tremendously from that one. And Opeth, of course, are our old buddies, so it was probably the most smooth tour for us
Speaking of Mikael Akerfeldt, he recently announced that he was no longer in Bloodbath (the death metal supergroup also featuring Nystrom and singer Jonas P. Renske’s death metal project). I know you were optimistic that Bloodbath would record and tour again when we last spoke. Given Akerfeldt’s departure, what’s the current status of Bloodbath?
Well, we are going to make one new album. That’s part of the agenda. We’re already looking at seeing where we can fit it in schedule wise. The big obstacle is that Axe [Martin Axenrot, drummer of Opeth] is still in it. We use to say “Oh, Mikael is so busy, it’s hard to do Bloodbath,” but it’s just as busy for Axe, right? So we’re trying to look at the first week he can get off Opeth. We’re just gonna try to throw him into a studio and lay down drum tracks because after the drum tracks are done, we can just work whenever we want. Just on and off, weekends here and there. So we’re gonna try to work on the album in 2013 where we have the gaps. And we’ll see… This is a thing I’m not allowed to say, but with the new singer and everything like that.
There is a new singer?
Yeah there is, but we cannot go out with an official, like 100% confirmation on who it is because there is a little bit more discussion to be done and a little bit more paperwork to be done. It’s like bullshit stuff.
Politics, bureaucracy. Fuck that shit, we just wanna play death metal! [laughs] But that aside, it’s gonna be really fun to make it because we have all the concepts down. We have the concept for the artwork done. Songwriting is already going on, so it’s going to be really interesting. And I think it’s very well needed to do it because it’s going to be on the back of a Katatonia album. So it’s going to be something so different to do, which is going to be motivating.
It must be exciting for you as a songwriter, too, to be able to do two very different projects back to back.
Yes. You can compare it to eating food. You don’t want the same dish twice a day, basically. It totally balances your whole need and hunger for music, which is perfect.
So you hope to have it in the studio by 2013, hopefully. Is the singer already established or known?
Oh, he’s a legend!
So that’s why you need the contract!
Exactly. So it’s not just this guy from the street or anything. It’s not a nobody. We wouldn’t settle for anything less, actually. It’s just as much for the fans as for us, probably even more for us because when we do Bloodbath, we don’t think about any kind of aspects like what we need to do, what to expect from us, business decisions or anything. We just want to have a hell of a good time. We got the opportunity to work with two of the vocalists that I consider probably among the top five vocalists of death metal in the world, Peter Tagtgren [Hypocrisy] and Mikael Akerfeldt. It’s hard to be those guys. I mean, they have tremendous growl and range and everything like that. It’s just, apart from that, you can’t settle for anything less basically. You need to get someone else in there, and there are a couple of guys we always wanted to work with. So hopefully we’re getting one. [laughs]
When do you hope to have all the ink dry?
If things work out, I think Axe is going to come off of Opeth sometime in March. If we can get in studio by March with him doing the drums, we can knock the rest out between gigs and stuff. So hopefully an early Fall release. It’s definitely a 2013 release. That’s part of the contract thing as well, but we just got to make sure it happens.
Well I’m excited to find out who it is! So with the Opeth tour not happening this fall, are there any plans to fill that void?
We were talking with our agency over here [in the States] yesterday that came out to the show, and they just said “Yeah, we need to fill that gap.” And I said “Yeah, put us out with a cool act. We’re ready to go whenever you want, as long as we fit the bill.” That’s very important for us; we just don’t go with anybody. It has to be a band where we feel either we can have a challenge in making their audience come over to us, winning them over, or the other way; we can bring a band with us that will just appeal to our audience. It has to be like that. We cannot just go with anybody and just like “Oh whatever, we just wanna tour.” It doesn’t work like that. You have to think a little bit ahead. So as long as it’s a cool package with some melodic good bands, we’re ready to come over again. We have to be because we don’t want to lose momentum right now in America. As I said before, we are so focused on doing the hard work to make it happen over here right now because we got it going in Europe, so we need to work over here way harder.