Latest release: Meditations (Nuclear Blast) Website: www.kataklysm.ca
Canada’s Kataklysm are quite simply an international workhorse of a band and having been around for over twenty five years, have retained their edge through dedication and sheer hard work. Their attitude has assisted in endless creativity and their most recent album titled Meditations offers up an intriguing combination of crushing death metal with visceral lyricism which is a foundation to their sound. The band will again be touring Australia this week, only this time with Sweden’s Hypocrisy on the latter band’s incoming debut sonic onslaught to our shores. Loud Online caught up with founding guitarist and driving force Jean-François Dagenais about his enduring career.
What sort of set list have you got in mind for this tour?
Oh, we are getting the big guns ready but yeah, it is hard to choose songs from our back catalogue of fourteen albums. We are of course going to play all our hits and we want to play some of our newest material as well since we haven’t played them at all in Australia. We want to make sure we’re coming with a fully loaded set and we are really eager and excited about it. All of the boys are so eager to come back to Australia as we had such as good time when we were last there.
Have you now fully gone over to using digital gear instead of carting around amplifier cabinets?
Yeah, I am a Kemper [profiling digital amplifier] fan myself. I think it is great because I get to bring my studio tone everywhere I go. It is easy to set up, it is fast and you get the same sound as the record basically. You just plug into any sound system and now the technology makes it so much easier for musicians to travel and it helps to get the perfect sound you need everywhere.
Given you’re also a mix engineer and producer the benefits must also exist when smart bands you work with come into the studio with their sound pretty much organised.
Yeah and I am a nerd about that stuff. I love that aspect about making music industry but I think that mixing is my favourite part. I really love doing mixing because I can get into my world and I can get into the music to get in there and separate all of the instruments. It is an outlet where I can put all that together and build a puzzle so I really like that part. But when it is time to tour with the band, I cannot help but to bring all of that knowledge with me for the guitar sounds. Even with the drums and bass, I try to make everything sound the best as it can be and we just try to use the best technology for every instrument to bring out the full production at a cheaper cost. It is so easy to do this today so we want the show to sound the same if we are playing in Australia or if we are playing at home in our backyard with everything that we have available. That is very important to us.
Mixing being your favourite aspect, did you pick Andy Sneap’s brain when you worked with him on your previous album?
Yeah, of course. For the last few albums, we’ve had the chance to work with different mixers and yeah, you learn a lot from the process since I do it myself too. When you work with someone in that field you get to converse with them every day about all the different aspects of the job. That is very inspiring for when I get back to my regular work at my studio, you apply the things you’ve learned and that just makes you a better engineer. I am very thankful for getting the chance to work with some of these big names because I have learned a lot.
The latest album, Meditations, has some seriously full on tracks on it such as ‘Guillotine’, ‘Outsider’ and ‘In Limbic Resonance’. The sound is massive so did recording the album in your new studio deep in the Canadian forest help you focus on making it that hard hitting?
At the very beginning of things we worked so hard on that song writing but what made things very different for this record was that we were all in the same room whilst writing the songs. So, it was really easy to go back and forth with bouncing ideas off each other. I think that the sense of this record came from that – just being face to face and writing music. We haven’t done that for a few years because we all live in different cities so sometimes it is just harder to be able to do that. Normally we would exchange files of stuff that I had recorded in my studio which I would sent to the other guys for them to add to it and then send it back to me. That was how we worked but on this last one, we worked in the same room to write songs together. Then we took that to the studio and then when we started recording we spent a lot of time setting up everything to make sure that everything was recorded to the best of our abilities. To get the performance right, we did not take ‘no’ for an answer. We just went for it but I think that the key when you’re recording is to have patience. You have to take the time that it takes to get the right takes. Sometimes you’ll be lucky and get it very quickly but sometimes, it can take a few days to nail a song right so you have to do it until it is perfect or until you are all happy with it. For me, happiness in the studio is not one hundred percent perfection, I think that you have to leave a little bit of room to have that natural feeling in there. I really like the performance in there to be something in between perfect and something done by feel. I think that the best is somewhere in the middle of those two things. That is what I go for normally. I like to have a very tight performance but you have to feel something when you play it or when you listen to the track. When the whole band catches a buzz then that is when you know that you have a good take.
A song like ‘In Limbic Resonance’ is quite intense with a lot of different styles or aspects to the track. Does it take a lot of rehearsals to get that down?
We have been playing together for so many years that playing something like that is not necessarily hard for us. I think that sometimes the harder songs are actually the slower songs because I feel that it is harder to nail a groove just perfectly right so that it grooves the right way. For me, ‘In Limbic Resonance’ was fairly easy for me to record but a song like ‘Narcissist’ was very much the most simplistic thing that you can do on the guitar. It wasn’t that easy for me though because you’ve got to nail that groove and then have it so a listener will say, ‘wow’ and really feel the song. That was by far the hardest thing for me to do on this album. I think I spent about three or four days recording ‘Narcissist’ just to get that perfect groove. It is simplistic when you hear it but there was so much thought put into that track to make it sound the way it sounds.
You picked up a Juno award for a recent album [Of Ghosts and Gods]. That’s an achievement.
Yeah it was a great thing for us because it was a kind of like an acknowledgment from our own country. We’ve been doing this for so many years and we have been at the forefront of holding the Canadian flag everywhere around the world with us as far as metal is concerned. There was never really any support for heavy metal in any of the mainstream outlets in Canada so this was really cool to have them first add the metal category to their version of the American Grammy awards ceremony. It is only recent and has only been for a couple of years that they have had it but to win it was really amazing. My whole family was really proud of me. It was important for them than it was for me to some extent, ha-ha because it doesn’t change your life really, you just keep going and you do your thing. But, to win something prestigious like that in Canada is kind of like it is nice to have that pat on your back and some sort of acknowledgement that you’ve done something good with your career and with your life.
Indeed. How many times has Rush cleaned up in it?
Ha-ha, it is so recent that and there are not that many bands in Canada who are actually doing the worldwide touring cycle plus putting out records years after year. Rush are definitely the pioneers and the masters at all levels when it comes to that stuff. I am shocked that they haven’t won something like that but I’m also not even sure that they are considered to be really metal since they fit into the rock categories and stuff like that.
Definitely true. Guitar techniques wise, is there any influence from black metal in your playing or is it mostly just death metal?
I like it all, I am very open minded when it comes to metal and when it comes to music. In general, I like black metal and recently in the studio I recorded a band called Thy Antichrist. It is very underground black metal signed to Napalm and there is an energy in there that I really appreciate. It is that raw power and raw darkness that is really cool. Sometimes you can apply some of these techniques and chords to your music. It just adds some really cool elements that I can bring in but whenever I write, I don’t really look at this elements, I am mostly spontaneous so I just pick up my guitar, put it on and start playing. What comes out might usually be some really cool metal riffing that I then try to arrange into songs. For me it is really a feel thing. I like to feel the music and sometimes I will write something that is really out of the box but if it fits in with what we are doing or brings a new element to it then why not use it. We are very open minded about all that.
Is that the kind of approach you might take with the layering of guitar tracks? Things like were you have a guitar track then an overdubbed harmony line followed by a variation on the rhythm figure?
Yeah, I mean it is not like I have a preconceived structure but we always work with – we kind of structure our stuff in sections and then it goes through those section parts. Then I will try to put a harmony line in. I do not limit myself just because I am one guitar player. If I hear a harmony in my head that I think will sound better then I will actually do the doubling and sometimes there will be layers with four or five tracks on the record, making sure that the songs are executed as well as they can be. That was always something that we debated in the band; at the beginning being only one guitar player some of the guys were thinking that we shouldn’t push it and should keep it as a four piece so that we can perform the songs live and they will sound like the record. But, I think that nowadays with technology it is possible to play live and have it added into effects or to sometimes have a few backing tracks for certain harmonies to play along with and that unlocks the song writing process because you can do a lot more on the record and be able to perform it live. It might not be all of the guys playing it but we are still able to pull it off. I embrace it and I think that it is a great thing that technology brings to the table for bands in our situation. I really use it a lot to my advantage as far as song writing goes.
Does having an outside producer also add extra say in expanding your arrangements?
Not really because we do everything in house, we record ourselves and we know what we want and what we are looking for but the reason we are hiring somebody like Jay [Rushton – Stonesour and Anthrax producer] for mixing the record is because I used to mix all the Kataklysm records. Back in the day until up to almost 2010 or so and then… it is a long process when you are writing and recording an album yourself and I’ve found that when you come to the mixing stage, that is where all of us in the band end up fighting for different things. I just got up fed up with being the guy in the middle of that fight when I’m trying to mix. So we started giving the mixing away to other producers for that reason. He comes in and he is the guy that is in the middle of everybody who is going to have to sort things out and make a great mix and dealing with what everybody wants and needs from this process in the studio. So, I think that Jay did a great job and so did Andy Sneap on the previous album [Of Ghosts and Gods]. That is one of the main reasons why we delegate the mix to somebody else. It is also good to have somebody else to have a different look over what you did as far as work goes and to give a second opinion on everything. But, on the arrangements, whenever it comes to the point, everything is done and everything is delivered so it is really an in-house thing for us.
How would you say your song writing has changed over your career and which Kataklysm album are you most proud of at this point?
I’d like to think that we are getting better and that we are learning. For every album that we have put out, we have learned a lot and as a musician yourself, you want to keep improving. It is like a never ending road and I don’t want to put any limits or barriers to where we can bring this music but at the same time, we want to be respectful to our roots and who we are and where we came from. I think that somewhere along the way you learn how to keep those roots within what you are doing and to push forward. So, I’d like to think we are better songwriters. For my favourite album, I think that it is Of Ghosts and Gods. That is my personal favourite. That is just because I feel that whatever we wrote in those years really resonated with me. I also really like Meditations as well. I think it is a great record and also think that the songs on that record are translating very well live on the shows we have done so far on the tours that we’ve played. It is also exciting to see the reaction of the fans to the stuff that you did in the studio. When you play them live, you get to see those songs come alive which is cool. You progress as a musician then hopefully the next album will be better and incorporate even more elements to it.