Lords of Metal
Arrow Lords of Metal
Jonas Renkse: “I kept writing music, just to keep my sanity. So I wrote until I had the work of an album and I told the other guys ‘I have a bunch of songs. Maybe we should do another album.’ They could listen to the songs and come up with their own ideas and then we just started to record. So it was really nice to have something to focus on during the uncertain times.

Wie open staat voor enige melancholie kan al jaren terecht bij Katatonia. Het twaalfde studioalbum ‘Sky Void Of Stars’ (als we ‘Dethroned & Uncrowned’ niet meetellen) is weer een parel om weg te dromen bij allerlei mijmeringen, al wordt er ook stevig gerockt. Ditmaal heeft Jonas Renkse zowel de teksten als de muziek geschreven. Hem wilden we aan de lijn om even door te bomen over deze prestatie, maar daarvoor moesten we wel even geduld oefenen tot de US tour afgelopen was en Renkse terug in Stockholm was.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 31 januari 2023

Hi Jonas, how are you doing?
I am pretty okay, only a bit sick, but that’s usual after a tour.

Yes, you have been on the road for a long time and that’s the situation where you are confronted with all kinds of viruses of course…
Exactly. We were in the US now for five weeks and luckily I did not get sick until I came home. I guess our bodies are pretty much programmed to function until the very end of the tour. Something like that.

Fortunately you didn’t get ill on tour. And how was it, because I think it was a long time since you had toured, especially in the States?
Yes, it has been four or five years since we had toured in the States, so it has been a long time and it was great to be back. Especially after the pandemic you really need to get back out there and get on with the program again. We missed it so much.

Indeed, because I remember when ‘City Burials’ came out, you could not tour, because it was 2020, that must have been very frustrating…
Yes it was super frustrating. At the same time we did not know what to expect from anything at that time. The whole thing was so new. It took a long time before the world opened up again and we could do the things that we do, so I am super happy that things are pretty much back on track now.

In the meantime you have written ‘Sky Void Of Stars’ and that is a very poetic title. What brought this title to your mind? What is the inspiration for it?
I think first of all it is a very open title, you can interpret it in many different ways. I also think it looks good and it sounds good, but for the inspiration of it I was thinking of back in the day when people navigated with the help of the stars and I thought about when the sky was clouded or you can’t see anything, you probably got lost and this is also true for our times today. It is easy to loose your way and it is easy to feel like you are going nowhere and don’t really know where you are. Well, it is pretty open, you can do anything you want with it, but it is a nice title.

That is true and it makes me go into the garden at night and look at the stars.
Okay. That is nice!

You were a band that was so true to Peaceville and now suddenly, the record comes out at Napalm Records. What was the reason for that?
Well, we have been with Peaceville for many, many years and as our contract with them ended, we realized that there is a lot of interest for our band from other record labels and we thought: ‘maybe it is time to do something else’ and take a chance and see what could happen if we were on a different label. I think Napalm Records are very strong. They have offices all around the world. Peaceville has been more of a European label, so I think we have the chance to reach out to more people when being on Napalm Records. So we are taking a chance and see where we end up with this.

Let us zoom in to some of the songs. For instance ‘No Beacon To Illuminate Our Fall’ struck me, because it has such a grand momentum. Can you tell a little bit more about that song?
Yes, this song is probably the most progressive song on this album. It has a lot of cards, it has a lot of adventurous parts I would say. I think the whole song is put together to feel like you are experiencing some kind of emotional adventure. It is going up and down in different kinds of musical styles. It goes from very soft to aggressive and back and forth. So it is a very progressive song. I am very happy with it. When I finished it, it felt like a natural last song on the album.

The grand finale…

I also have the impression that you don’t forget to rock on this album…
Yeah. Definitely. Like the song ‘Birds’, that is energetic, for being us at least and I think the whole album has a little bit more of that energy and I think maybe it comes from the fact that we were sitting home for two and a half years and we could not go out on tour and to the stage. So maybe the songs got inspired by the need to go back on stage and feel the pulse and the rock thing. I think maybe that’s the way it was.

In general, are the lyrics inspired by inner feelings or is it also inspired by outside factors when you experience things in the outside world?
It is a mix. Things that happen on the outside usually tend to go inside as well. You need to kind of deal with stuff. So it is always a mix I would say. I mean, our lyrics have always been dealing about the same kind of issues, it is stuff that needs to be done sometimes I think, for everyone, but you don’t write it down like I do. You have to come to certain conclusions inside. It is always the same kind of feelings and red threads throughout the lyrics. So it is the same as it has been mostly all the time.

I think every human beings has to deal with it in his own way in order to cope with life in general…
Of course, that’s how we keep on going I think. It needs to be sort of assembled and then dealt with it and then you can move on.

What struck me is that there is a bird always coming back: in the artwork and we have the song ‘Birds’… do you have a kind of special affinity with birds?
Yeah it has become a symbol for us through the years. We sort of like the kind of things that you can relate to birds. It is a sign of freedom and it is also a sign of death. People back in the day used to believe in the bird in their home and stuff like that. It suits the band very well, so it has become our symbol pretty much and we use it, because you can make it look very beautiful. Birds are very graceful and they do very well when you start doing artwork and stuff, if you have birds in there, it is always a nice thing to look at I think.

And they have one feature I am always jealous at: they can fly!
Exactly. We have to be on aeroplanes to do that, so they are way ahead of us.

I often dream that I can fly…
I think that is a common dream, I have it too (chuckles) Because you cannot do it, it is probably something that we think about in the back of our minds, because it would make life easier.

In the song ‘Impermanence’ you have a guest singer: Joel Ekelöf from Soen. How did this contact come into being?
Soen is a band that we know and we like very much. Joel’s voice is something special. We have been talking about doing something together for quite some time now and when I wrote this certain song, I really could feel that this is the right time to do it, because it has some features that would make both my voice and his voice work in a good way. So it felt like this was the right moment to do something together and I think the result is super nice. He did a perfect job. It is really nice.

In the song ‘Author’ we hear the title in the lyrics…
Yeah that is where I got it from. I wrote the lyrics first I think and then that line sort of stood out. It felt like it was a good general meaning to call the whole album that, because – like I said before – it is very open, you can make your own idea of it, that is a good album title actually.

What are the plans with video clips?
We have done two clips so far for the album. It is the ‘Atrium’ song and we just released a week ago the second single, which is the opening track ‘Austerity’. I think there will be another video before the album comes out.

Are there special plans for Christmas and New Years Eve for you?
I think I will just try to relax, because we just got home from the tour. So it is nice to finally be back with the family. Christmas will be really easygoing I think. It is mostly for the kids these days. New Years Eve I haven’t really thought of so far. Hopefully some kind of nice celebration with some friends and stuff. I hope so.

If you look back at that US tour now, what were the highlights of that tour?
We had a lot of highlights. I mean, just going on tour first of all was a highlight, because we hadn’t done it for such a long time, but there were a few shows I think that stood out. It is always nice to play in New York. It is a special one. We had a super nice turnout in Atlanta. Well, just the feeling of being back on the road was pretty much good for me and for the rest of the guys as well, because it is something we missed very much during the whole covid thing. It is just nice to get back on the road.

Could you actually meet with the other guys during the writing of this album, because there were restrictions, but in Sweden not so strict I think?
No, it was not so strict in Sweden. In Sweden we were allowed to meet, and even though we did not have any shows, we sort of met up in the rehearsal room anyway and played some songs, just sat there and had a drink, talking about how much we wanted things to change and get better. In Sweden it wasn’t as tough as in many other countries, so we had a pretty normal life anyway.

Stop life like in China is the other way of dealing with it…
Exactly. It is not good for anyone to be isolated either. As long as you would keep elder people from seeing too many people during this thing, I think the younger ones could actually still be hanging out as normal I guess, but in the beginning you did not know of course, because it was such a new disease.

I am looking forward to when you go on tour again, with Sólstafir…
Oh yeah that will be in January and February.

That is also a good band. Did you ever visit Iceland?
No. I think we played a couple of shows with Sólstafir before, but we never toured with them, so it will be a nice experience to go on the road together and see what they can bring as a bill of these two bands. I think we share a lot of the same kind of audience.

Who is SOM, the other band?
It is an American band. I think they are fairly new, but I think they suit well on the bill as well. It is a cool band.

What can you tell about the artwork?
It is done by an Italian artist called Roberto Bordin. We worked with him some years ago, he was designing a T shirt for us. This time we thought that it was time to give him the chance to do something bigger for us, because we really like his style and he did super well on the artwork. It is really intriguing and suitable for the whole album.

Yes, it is a nice atmosphere which is created before you hear the music…
Exactly. We want them always to go hand in hand, the artwork and the music and the lyrics. It is always a balance, but he did very well on it.

Is there a happening or a kind of story in your life that will always remind you at the making of this album?
It is not a story, it is not a concept thing. All the songs are separate, the lyrics as well, but of course we are dealing with the same kind of things most of the time, so there is always a red thread, but it is not like a story. All the songs are just separate.

Some of the lyrics are really poetic. Are you a fan of reading poetry?
Yeah I can do it sometimes. It is not something I do every day, but I like words, I like to read and I like to write, so it is an inspiring circle just going on and when I get the chance to write lyrics, I just try to make them poetic if the music sort of demands it, which is usually the case. So it is a challenge of course, but it is also a nice experience to have them done.

But I think for this album you have also written the music, isn’t it?
Yes it is true. I think because, when we released the previous album ‘City Burials’; as we already mentioned, it was just in the beginning of the pandemic, we had no idea what to expect from the future and to me, I thought I just keep writing music, to keep my sanity. So I wrote until I had the work of an album and I told the other guys ‘I have a bunch of songs. Maybe we should do another album.’ They could listen to the songs and come up with their own ideas and then we just started to record. So it was really nice to have something to focus on during the uncertain times. I did it this time, but I hope next time Anders will write some stuff too for the next album.

Where did you record the album? Was it the usual place or different?
We recorded the drums in Denmark together with Jacob Hansen who has a studio there. And then we recorded guitars and bass and vocals in Sweden and then we returned to Denmark for the mix of the album. So it is mainly done in Denmark I would say.

In the US the weather was really cold, but did you finally managed to tour there in warmer areas?
Yes, definitely. At the end of the tour we were in Florida and we were in Texas, those warmer states. So by the end of the tour we had really nice weather. And then we flew back to Sweden, it is very, very cold here. Today it is -16°, right now I really don’t want to go outside. It is too cold.

If there is anything you like to add, please do…
I am really proud on the album and I hope that people will pick it up and give it a chance, because I think it is definitely worth it. It is a really good Katatonia record I would say.