Katatonia – The Heart Beneath

Thursday, 16th March 2017

After a three-year absence, Katatonia is returning to North American shores this March in support of their new The Fall of Hearts album. For a band who has been quite active on the live front since 2006’s The Great Cold Distance, such absenteeism on these shores is long-overdue and also emblematic of the stark economic realities facing both Scandinavian and European bands. This is a terribly difficult market to break, one that requires years of extensive and exhaustive touring. Thankfully, Katatonia has already put in the work, making this upcoming trek highly anticipated.

As espoused on these pages, The Fall of Hearts is Katatonia at its most varied and progressive. If anything, it’s their first “something for everyone” album, stocked with the band’s trademark melody-within-melancholy, along with numerous forward-thinking elements. Main cogs Anders Nyström (guitars) and Jonas Renkse (vocals) have maintained their long-running thread of pushing the band ahead while staying true to their identity, prolonging the notion that Katatonia are one of metal’s most identifiable bands.

This and more was discussed with super-relaxed bass player Niklas “Nille” Sandin, who because of recent lineup changes, is the third-longest tenured member of Katatonia after joining the band in late 2009. Sandin was cooking up a batch of “some Tex-Mex” prior to getting on the horn with DR, but he was kind enough to put the ladle down to chat it up…

Dead Rhetoric: With the addition of Roger (Öjersson, guitar) and Daniel (Moilanen, drums), you’re no longer the new guy in the band. How does that feel?

Niklas “Nille” Sandin: Well, it’s a little bit weird because time has flown by so quickly. I haven’t really reflected on it too much, but of course, it’s been almost pushing eight years, so it’s been some time in the band already. Things have happened and some lineup changes as well with the new Daniel and Roger coming into the band. It certainly doesn’t feel that long. [Laughs] It feels more like a couple of years.

Dead Rhetoric: What was the atmosphere in the band like when you joined in late 2009? Katatonia had gone so long without a lineup change, but then the Norrman brothers (Fred and Mattias) leave.

Sandin: I think it was like an “upper-cut” attitude in the band. Very much I was the only “new guy” because Sodomizer [Per Eriksson, guitar] had been the guitar tech for the band for a couple of years, so he was well-incorporated in the group already. I think it was more like instead of mourning two members lost, it was more like trying to get out and show that the band is still alive and kicking and ready to break new ground and play more than ever. With that touring cycle is when the band started to tour more, if I’m not mistaken. I think back in 2006 or 2007 when they were promoting The Great Cold Distance, the European tour was like a meager two-and-a-half or three weeks. But with Night is the New Day, it was booked for seven weeks. It was double or triple the effort in coming out to play for fans. It was more the attitude of “Okay, let’s just take this up a notch and do something more out of it.” I think it was more a case of disappointment the Norrman brothers wouldn’t commit to the heavy touring schedule for the Night is the New Day album, but no one was pissed or anything. It was more like an upper-cut kind of feeling, but they saw me and Sodomizer were more like a vitamin injection. That was a good platform to start on.

Dead Rhetoric: A “vitamin injection” in Katatonia. Well stated. [Laughs] Prior to joining Katatonia, you were in a lot of bands. How did you get to know Anders and Jonas?

Sandin: I’d only met them a couple of times before. I was a friend and also co-musician with Ronnie [Backlund] who was the tour manager for the band back in the day. It was through him that I got to know the others in Katatonia. Me and Ronnie were playing in this band called Amaran, even though I was with them briefly. I think I was with the band for less than a year and we were about to release an album and record some new songs, then [vocalist] Johanna DePierre was stepping down. We couldn’t find a suitable vocalist to replace her, so that put an end to that, but then I was already good friends with Ronnie and Robin Bergh, the drummer in Amaran, he was hanging around a lot with the Katatonia boys. I guess it was that way that I met the band.

Dead Rhetoric: Were you always a fan of the band?

Sandin: I wasn’t actually a “fan fan,” but I really appreciated The Great Cold Distance record. It was that together with Opeth’s Ghost Reveries that was spinning the most around 2006, 2007, 2008. They were at the top of the rotation for those years. That was pretty much the only CD I had been listening to as well in terms of Katatonia, so I wasn’t too familiar with their back catalog. There was lots of getting to know and getting familiar and practicing those 25 songs before my first tour with them.

Dead Rhetoric: The Fall of Hearts came out about nine months ago. Has your perspective on it changed after you recorded it?

Sandin: I think it’s, for us in the band, this album is less straightforward when it comes to songs that have been in the past. It’s more of a grower than something that hits you straight away. I think it’s the same for us in the band, at least for me. Both when listening to it on off-day occasions and when rehearsing and playing it live, the songs just grow. Of course, sometimes some songs fall out of fashion and come back into fashion, but as a whole and as a record, it just grows more and more. That shows when playing the songs as well. I’ve yet to grow tired of any songs from the new album. For the U.S., we’re picking out some more songs from the new album, which is great and fun. It keeps things fresh as well.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s a “something for everyone” album. It has elements that every Katatonia fan could enjoy to the heavy stuff to the melodic stuff, even to the progressive stuff.

Sandin: I would probably pretty much lay it out like that. I usually say in interviews that I think this is the biggest album that Katatonia has released in terms of having the soundscape sounding exactly like Katatonia, but it incorporates lots of elements. It has something new but also takes from the back catalog. You can find some stuff in the new album that you could relate to back in, for example, Discouraged Ones. I think it’s the whole span of the discography, almost, except those heavier and dark days. [Laughs]

Dead Rhetoric: Some of the riffs on the new album are somewhat technical, like on “Takeover.” As the bass player, is it fun to play material like that?

Sandin: It keeps it refreshing as well. I remember some stuff when I needed to learn them, it wasn’t anything like thinking or counting in your head, like the opener [“Takeover”] they needed to play it so many times that it got stuck in your hands, the muscle memory, instead of trying your best to count or disconnect yourself with the thinking part and just play, then everything goes fast. Of course, that’s refreshing. I think that this was a little bit of a learning experience for me as well. This was the time when I felt I could actually take the bass down a notch in playing and think more what I could do to let other things come across more and be the foundation and maybe not try to get in as much playing notes as possible on the record. I tried to keep myself out of the “ego room” [Laughs] and be more of a “humble” bass player which is much more nice and rewarding. The song benefits from it, rather than sitting there and going “I got this thing through, but it doesn’t fit or relate to the song.” When you listen to it later, you go, “Why did I put this there?”

Dead Rhetoric: When Anders and Jonas are putting songs together, where do you come in? Are you the tiebreaker when they can’t decide on something?

Sandin: I’m not incorporated that much, but I think that’s where they help each other and they make input on the other one’s song if they don’t come further with it. I’m really happy that it’s not like with other bands where what’s on their demo version and the pre-production has to stick on the end result. I have my input on my own playing and I can come forward with ideas. This time, as it was with Dead End Kings, we can sit in the studio and I could present some ideas that I’ve been working on and try those out and see how it works. Of course, the guitars don’t go exactly like they do on the pre-production version; same with the drums. It’s a little bit of tweaking and fixing in the studio. It’s really nice that they’re open-minded and let me try my own stuff. Sometimes it flies and others it has to be burned in the waste bin. [Laughs] It’s nice because I think the general perception of Jonas and Anders is that they’re some kind of fascists when writing music and we’re meager tools to make it alive on the record, but we have far more input than that.

Dead Rhetoric: Given the current state of the music industry, has it gotten any easier to keep Katatonia running full-time? Do you do anything outside of the band to maintain a living?

Sandin: It is difficult to make a living out of music nowadays. It doesn’t look like it’s getting any easier. I don’t know if it’s the market that needs to adjust and the industry needs to provide listeners with music in some way that makes people more willing to pay for it. Nowadays, everybody’s realized that doesn’t really work and you need to tour to make some kind of living, the roads get a little bit saturated and drenched with bands trying to reach people. It’s difficult there as well. But for me, I work in Stockholm, doing a little bit of this and that, mostly mixing sound and setting up PA’s whenever I find time. It’s a little bit of extra cash flow, but the ideal situation would be to get enough money to sustain it totally without focusing on anything else. I think it has to be some game-changer in the industry, like some kind of streaming medium that would provide some money for the musicians.

Dead Rhetoric: You recently did some shows playing The Great Cold Distance in full. Did you learn anything new about the album? As in, did you discover any songs that are a new favorite?

Sandin: I think the song “The Itch.”

Dead Rhetoric: What a great song.

Sandin: Yeah, that was really interesting. It was one of those difficult numbers that was rewarding when we rehearsed it then played it live. When we got it tight like on the album, that was really cool. I think it was that and “Journey Through Pressure.” It was really cool to play especially with the [Plovdiv Philharmonic] Orchestra [in Bulgaria] which lifted it even further. Playing with the orchestra was fun and cool, as well as lots of anticipation and a little bit nerve-wracking as well. When we flew down to Bulgaria, we had never heard the arrangements and we went down there knowing that we had two days to rehearse before playing. [Laughs] We didn’t know what to expect, but everything went well and the conductor Levon [Manukyan] was nice and flexible and really keen on the project. There wasn’t hard times trying to adjust these arrangements to our playing and liking. Everything combined nicely. That was a really nice experience and it turned out even greater than we could have expected.

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