Interview with Katatonia's Anders Nystrom

Starving for your art, one dark prog tune at a time...

Katatonia’s guitarist Anders Nystrom and I are both chronologically and geographically worlds apart. It’s a delightful afternoon in Sweden for Mr Nystrom – and Skype is playing nicely on this cool evening in Australia so it’s all good...

The band’s 10th studio album The Fall of Hearts is released next month, and you’ve probably heard it a 1000 times already, but are you ever happy with a finished album? He’s philosophical. “It depends on the details. If you ask me as a musician or as a studio engineer then yes, there will always be details that I’ll want to go back to, but if you ask me as an artist then I’m 100 per cent happy.” And the album was produced by vocalist Jonas Renkse and yourself? “It’s something we’ve pretty much been forced to do lately; the budget has been quite restraining, and with the climate these days you can’t go into a proper studio and be in there forever. We actually need a long time in the studio to make a record (given the complexity of Katatonia’s compositions, this isn’t surprising) so what we do these days is set ourselves up with the recording equipment in an environment we need and we just take care of it ourselves.” Has it been a steep learning curve? “It’s something that we’ve been slowly learning with each album; we’ve been doing this for such a long time now – the band is in its 25th year – so you do pick up small stuff here and there, and you try to remember it and gather all of your experiences. Of course you still have a lot to learn but I think we're far enough down the path to be able to make good albums.”

The Fall of Hearts appears bigger, more layered and more grandiose than previous releases so do you foresee any issues with playing it live? Again, he’s quite philosophical about it. “At the moment, that’s what we’re finding very challenging – but also the most interesting part of our sound. The textures are what usually create all of these atmospherics and essentially we just want to create the most diverse and dynamic album possible, and I think with the help of all these textures, that’s the way to go. Musically we go in and out of every territory on this record. There’s a lot of heavy stuff, there’s a lot of slow calm stuff so we’re all about that fine balance. ”

And recently joined guitarist Roger Ojersson (Tiamat) has come into the band at a rather late stage of the proceedings to lay down some slinky solo work? He laughs. “Yeah, exactly! He would have had a bigger role on the record if we’d recruited him earlier but the album was written – it was actually almost entirely recorded when he stepped into the band – so we just had time to spice some of the songs with a few of his solos. They turned out great, and that’s actually a new element for Katatonia as well; we’ve not been doing much solo work in the past. It’s a great new flavour for the band and we’ll definitely see more of that in the future.”

I mention Dethroned & Uncrowned (2013), a reworking of Dead End Kings (2012), partially funded by fans via PledgeMusic and return to the lack of hard cash within the music industry. How did that experience work out for you? “The main reasons for doing that album is that first of all, it was an experiment – initially it wasn’t even supported by the label,” and he praises the commitment of fans (and their financial support) which essentially drove the album into existence. He adds “It was very spontaneous and very spur of the moment, and I’m very happy how it turned out because it ended up being a big fan favourite. It also led to a tour for the album to places I’d never been; we played cathedrals and old churches in Europe with the audience seated, and it was just these nights of great atmosphere. So I’m very happy how that turned out and it proves that our fan-base is very loyal and if they want to see something happen, they can do that.”

Staying on the subject of the unholy (but wholly necessary cash prizes), I mention Daniel Liljekvist, Katatonia’s recently resigned drummer who was forced to stand down due to the financial instability of the industry. I ask if Anders has any ideas on a sustainable business model where musicians can actually make their music and still earn a buck. “Not really.” And we laugh at his simple and honest answer. As Anders observes “We’re right in the middle of it with everyone else. Today it’s so much about streaming music and there’s no real revenue coming out of that so all the bands are pushed into the live arena and there’s a big competition going on because there’s only a certain amount money a person can spend – now they even have to start choosing and selecting which concerts to go to – and it effects everyone. It’s a really hard climate but I would say that if you’re willing to make a big sacrifice, like we have done, and live really, really sparsely and modestly, then you might be able to do it. But there’s no way in hell that you’re getting rich out of this!”

Are you hungry? Again, he cracks up. “I am hungry! But I’m hungry in other senses – I will always have something to feed myself with – but my hunger is still there in the music. I still have things to achieve and I won’t let the financial departments stop me doing that. I’ve been doing this for 25 years so I’ve set my path and coordinates – I’m well down the road but it’s not easy.”

I switch to a lighter subject; new drummer Daniel Moilanen – is it handy not having to remember a new name for your drummer? “It’s quite confusing speaking about the two Daniels; they’re both Daniels and they were both sitting on the drum throne. They’re also both kick-ass drummers. I think it will be a constant comparison between these two guys for a long time, but for me both have made a mark in Katatonia’s discography. They’re nice people and fine musicians.” I’m feeling the love, all the way down the phone.

The band is touring from April to October but mainly at the European festivals. “Yeah, the festival dates are all set already but the ‘real’ touring – the serious stuff – starts in October and it’s gonna be a hell of a long tour through Europe and will probably take us pretty much through November as well. The good news is we might actually end up in Australia in December.” You hear that, peeps? Start saving your hard-earned cash so Katatonia can eat and not wear rags. You’re also playing a two set show in London, playing the entire album of The Great Cold Distance (2006) and an assortment of old and new tracks. “Yeah – that album is set to have its ten year anniversary so we had to do something special. There are actually only two dates this year where we play double sets; the other one is in Bulgaria backed up by a full orchestra. It’s in an outdoor amphitheatre up in the mountains. Very special.” So do you see yourself playing The Fall of Hearts in full in ten years time? “It’s very possible.” If the fans want it, Katatonia will do it. “We’re easy – we can do it! So if that’s something they’d like to see then we’re all for doing that.”

You also played the madness that is 70,000Tonnes of Metal in February; how was that? Anders is both awed and amazed. “It was surreal! It was really bizarre and really, really strange in every way but awesome in every way too. We had our doubts as to whether that was going to be the right platform for us but it was a great gig and a great cruise. I would recommend it to anyone who maybe doubting it or hesitating – just go! It’s a great four days of just full-on metal.”

What a decidedly chipper fellow. I have greatly enjoyed talking to Anders and look forward to Katatonia’s imminent arrival in December.
Katatonia’s The Fall of Hearts – out 20th May, 2016.