To say that KATATONIA are one of the best exports out of Sweden is an understatement. Starting out as a death/doom band 16 years ago, they’ve carved out several niches with each evolution of their sound. Their groundbreaking early to mid-era sound of infectious, melodic guitar leads played over down stroked eighth notes has influenced more than a few bands around the world. However, it’s their last couple of albums that has seen the biggest growth from the band with their ever growing dark somber tones, progressive-minded riffs, and growing songwriting prowess. APESHIT spoke with founding member/guitarist Anders Nystrom during their first U.S. tour last Fall to learn more about their past struggles, their brilliant new album, The Great Cold Distance, and the fight to claim the success that they deserve.
APESHIT: First of all, how is the tour going?
Anders: It’s going great. It’s a good package. It’s like a dark metal package really because you’ve got DAYLIGHT DIES from America. They don’t really sound American to me. They sound very Scandinavian. And MOONSPELL are known for their gothic metal-thing and we are too. It’s a good package. We share the same kind of audience really. It’s been going good. This is our first tour in America and we’re having a blast as far as shows go. It’s been a bumpy road as well because there’s a lot of business issues going on; sorting out that shit. That’s a negative thing on the whole touring because there’s some rough issues going on as well. Tonight there were no local openers. I don’t want to bash local openers but at some gigs there’s been like four, five local acts and that means we have to play [only] 30 minutes. They cut our stage time. So people are like, “Hey, why didn’t you play more? “Don’t blame me man.”
Overall, I’m happy to be here and play on this tour. I think that goes for everybody in the band. But it’s a bumpy road.
APESHIT: I think all of the fans have asked why it’s taken so long to do a U.S. tour.
Anders: Yeah, you know, what can I say? We haven’t had a proper label in the U.S. to support us. This is the first real opportunity and we’re just gonna grab it and do it. We will be back. This is just the start. It’s late I agree. It should have been ten years ago. Better late than never, right?
APESHIT: Yeah. I want to congratulate you on the new album. It turned out really great. I think with each album, it’s kind of a breakthrough for you guys. You keep pushing it further and further. How easy or hard is it for you guys to write each album?
Anders: It’s becoming harder because itâ€™s a challenge for ourselves to push it every time. We write for ourselves obviously. If we’re not pleased with ourselves, we won’t release it. That even happened in ’97. We released a mini-CD called Sounds of Decay. We were so unhappy with the whole fuckin’ recording that we just scrapped it and did it all over again. Everything that comes out, we stand by 100%. And the new album especially, I mean it’s cliche to say it but, we’re really proud of it and it’s our best work yet. We worked months on the album.
APESHIT: I’ve listened to The Great Cold Distance so many times and I can hear each of you guys really pushing it. There are always these little tricks that you guys do on the album and I really appreciate it because I play music as well. So it’s cool to see you guys continue to evolve.
Anders: Yeah, that’s what keeps up going. If the challenge isn’t there, I don’t think KATATONIA would go on. We have to push the boundaries. We keep everything on the horizon and we just want to go into the territories that we haven’t been exploring yet. That’s what keeps your flame burning, your excitement, everything. We’re talking about doing the next album now and it’s like, “We can go into that territory and check out that shit.” It’s exciting. We’re hungrier than ever.
APESHIT: I can hear how you and Fredrik Norrman (guitars) have evolved as guitar players. And I really appreciate the little intricacies that you put into the songs. It just sounds like you guys work hard to put in those extra little parts. It shows your growth as guitar players.
Anders: I don’t think Fredrik or myself consider ourselves good guitar players but I try to develop as a musician. I’m really into exploring a lot of sounds with guitar. We use so many effects that people actually think they are keyboards. But they’re actually guitars that we tweak around with effects; fuck around to make really weird sounds. I like to stay within the guitar world so to speak but still not do sounds that are strictly clean, lead, and distortion. [I want to] break the boundaries of all that. You’re going to hear more of that from KATATONIA.
APESHIT: You guys have two videos for “My Twin” and “Deliberation.” I think both videos are completely different and they came out well. How do you feel about how they captured the essence of the songs?
Anders: We got to know this guy, Charlie Granberg. He does some good stuff. We haven’t been into this video stuff at all before. We gave him freedom to handle the material. We gave him the song. We gave him the lyrics. We’re like, “Hey man. What’s your vision? What do you feel out of this?” He came back with a script like, “Here is what I feel about the song.” We weren’t really part of it much. We were there on the first day of shooting for “My Twin.” I like it. It’s our first video. I think it turned out good; professional. As far as “Deliberation” goes…
Daniel Liljekvist (drums): It’s a bit like the first A-HA video.
APESHIT: “Take on Me.”
Anders: Tha’s true! It’s all done with a charcoal pencil so that’s cool.
APESHIT: You’ve had to put up with all the shit of being in a band and finally with Mattias and Daniel coming into the band, you have a solid line-up after all these years. How frustrating was it to finally get a live line-up and a complete band?
Anders: It felt like we were doomed really. Me and Jonas talked about it for like six years, “We’re never ever going to have a line-up with guys with the same mentality.” In the beginning we had so many guys going in and out. We had a guy who wanted to turn KATATONIA into a MORBID ANGEL clone. We had a guy who was like, “Hey, let’s flush the toilet. It’s a great effect!” (Laughs). So we’ve been through that. It’s like, “No more. Let’s stay a duo or a trio or nothing.” But then we found these guys and we’ve been together since ’99. That’s longer than before we fuckin’ formed KATATONIA. It was amazing that we were still going with this line-up. Everybody knows their position. Everybody knows what they’re doing. It’s very solid in that way. Now, I feel kind of spoiled actually. (Laughs). We have no line-up problems anymore.
[Turning to Daniel.] What’s up with that? We should start a fight or something. (Laughs).
APESHIT: Going back to the frustrations of the band…If you guys had the proper promotion, the proper distribution…
Anders: That’s the truth. We could’ve been so much further in our success and everything. We’re doing alright. This band is very solid. It’s not like weâ’ve been missing out on anything. We’ve been bringing up our audience slowly. It’s not gonna be some big fuckinâ’ crash and fall. We’re not tonight’s sensation. It’s not a problem. We’re going step by step slowly. It’s better this way. But that’s not saying that I don’t fuckin’ want success.
APESHIT: Peaceville recently bought the rights to your back catalogue including DIABOLICAL MASQUERADE and OCTOBER TIDE. How long was that in the works before it became official?
Anders: That was just in a matter of a couple of weeks because we’re on the last album for Peaceville now. They obviously want to have as much of our back catalogue as possible. If we release a new album on another label, they will continue to sell the whole back catalogue as that goes on. But I was amazed that they bought our fuckin’ side projects, everything. They bought all the DIABOLICAL MASQUERADE albums. They bought all the OCTOBER TIDE albums. They haven’t touched BEWITCHED yet. But I don’t think they can touch BEWITCHEDâ€¦
APESHIT: Because of Osmose Productions…
Anders: Because of Osmose being there. In a way, those albums were not at a good home anyway. So I found having everything at Peaceville to be safer because I have better control over everything. I just phone this guy and he has everything so it’s better for me as well. It’s more serious on a more professional level. If I wasn’t part of these collaborations, they would re-release these albums in a shitty way. The fans would be disturbed by that. Maybe new artwork but not any new improvement.
APESHIT: Nothing is new.
Anders: Exactly. Why not just repress the whole thing? We were like, “Let’s remaster this.” Brave Murder Day wasn’t even mastered in the first place. For me, it’s a dream after 10 years to get it to the mastering! (Laughs). So now we mastered it. I dropped my jaw comparing the two together. I wrote some liner notes for each album and dug up some unreleased photos. So it was just a relief in a way. I’m there to make sure they are legit and worthy so it’s not like, “What the fuck is this Binge and Purge shit!?!” (Laughs).
APESHIT: There’s a 2-CD KATATONIA tribute album, December Songs, coming out next month, which covers the early to mid eras of the band. How does it feel to have a tribute album dedicated to you guys?
Anders: I’m honored but I can’t tell yet if I should be reserved because I don’t know the bands on there. But of course, I will listen to it. I know the guys who did this and he lives for KATATONIA! Northern Silence Productions, even a title from our first demo. It’s his idea. We supported it. He found the bands. He did everything on it. We approved the artwork which is actually done by Kristian Wahlin. We never got artwork done by him so we were like, “Cool! That’s classic;” all the No Fashion [Records] bands have his artwork.
Anders: Exactly; everybody. So that was cool. It’s an honor.
APESHIT: Just the early to mid-era of the band with the down stroked eighth notes and the melodic guitar leads, that’s something a lot of bands have picked up on and are influenced by. It’s really cool to finally have a tribute because of the influence that you have had.
Anders: It’s a style that we more or less abandoned. I mean we didn’t abandon it but we pretty much left it in the past, maybe too fast if you put a retrospective on it. I love what we created with Brave Murder Day. I love these down strokes, this primitive, simplistic monotone stuff. It’s still very dark and has some integrity to it. We could have left it a little bit too early in retrospect. But for me, a band like RAPTURE from Finland; I met those guys and they are nice guys. I’m actually a fan of those guys. I put on that album and I really love it. Of course, it’s an honor. Listen to those guys if you want hear that (Brave Murder Day) going. If you want to hear Brave Murder Day, you can go with the RAPTURE guys.
APESHIT: I want to talk about your signature guitar, the Mayones Gothic Regius.
Anders: Wow! (Laughs). It’s my dream guitar.
APESHIT: You told those guys exactly what you wanted and they made it?
Anders: I was about to accept a few offers for endorsements but I was like these guys are willing to make the guitar exactly how I want it – the look, the finish, the pick ups, the inlays, everything! Why go with a guitar that everybody has like an ESP or Gibson? This is the only guitar in the world that’s been made like this. It’s my fuckin’ dream guitar made for me. I’m like a kid on Christmas opening the presents for the first time.
I’ve got some great shit in that guitar like a Fernandes sustainer, which is basically an EBow. It’s built in and helps a lot with the feedback. It adds a lot of emotion to the leads. I had it professionally tuned so it’s low tuning. It has very low action and it’s very smooth to play. It’s lightweight but it’s still good wood.
APESHIT: What’s next for you guys after this tour?
Anders: We’ve been working on a DVD for something like two years now. We’re going to keep on working on that. It’s not enough with one concert. There’s got to be bonus shit, juicy stuff because this is our first official DVD. I want it to be worth every fuckin’ cent, you know? We’re also going to start writing the new album. In between writing the new album, we’re gonna look at every chance for touring possibilities. We want to come back here.