Latest release: Night is the New Day (Peaceville/Riot!)
Jonas Renkse answers the phone and politely apologises for missing our interview slot the night before. After almost a week of chasing both he and guitarist Anders Nyström, I’ve finally nailed down the Katatonia vocalist, who is immediately upbeat about the band coming to Australia at last.
“Finally! I’m super stoked. I’m really happy that we’ll finally be able to come over,” he says. “We have to adjust our set to the playing time and our spot at the festival and everything, but right now I really don’t care about that because I’m just so happy that we finally come over.”
The Swedish group’s first visit to these shores will see them participate in December’s No Sleep Til Festival with a line-up of bands that includes Megadeth, the Descendents, NoFX, Parkway Drive, GWAR, Frenzal Rhomb, Atreyu, Dropkick Murphys and more. It’s a seriously high energy line-up, which makes the inclusion of the considerably more atmospheric Katatonia seem rather out-of-place. While Renkse is quick to agree, he also sees a benefit.
“Well, it’s a kind of a different thing for us to play this kind of festival. But I would like to think that we actually add something. Maybe it’s a good thing for the people who have a hangover, just to chill out!” he says with a laugh. “But seriously, I think that you know, it makes the festival more diverse, and that’s probably a good thing.”
With their appearances limited only to festival dates, Australians will have to make do with a necessarily shortened set. The upside to this is that, because it will be Katatonia’s first tour here, Renkse promises that they will include plenty of older material alongside songs from last year’s Night is the New Day opus. For him, it’s the logical thing to do.
“I think we will play some songs off the new album of course, but we will also try to play as much as possible of the back catalogue. Because Australia is a place we haven’t been before and I think a lot of people have been waiting to see us so we don’t just want to come across as some band trying to sell their new album to a new crowd. We also have to play to the people who have been supporting us for many years. But it’s difficult when you have a limited playing time. You have to try and make everybody happy. We’ll try to do that.”
Regardless of what shape the set list takes, Jonas Renkse guarantees me that there is one song that will definitely feature, that one song that the band can now never get away with not playing.
“‘Evidence’ from the Viva Emptiness album,” he says. “Because it’s a great live song and we’ve been playing it ever since the Viva Emptiness album came out and it’s been a crowd favourite for many years. It’s a great live song and it represents Katatonia in a good way.”
‘Evidence’ maybe the single track that represents the band, but for Renkse it is Night is the New Day that is the ultimate Katatonia album, the one the band has always worked towards.
“I would say that this is what Katatonia is all about today. And I think that this is the album that we’ve been saving up for. We’ve been experimenting in the past and mostly with a good result, but I think with this album everything fell into place in a perfect way. So I wouldn’t say it’s our masterpiece, because I think we still have that one in us, but it’s exactly what Katatonia’s about musically and lyrically and in terms of atmosphere and everything… It’s so representative of what we want to do.”
Fittingly then, Night is the New Day has been awash with praise since its release a year ago. Critical plaudits for the album have surpassed even those of their superb 2006 effort The Great Cold Distance, which was almost universally lauded at the time as one of the metal releases of the year.
“Even more than I expected,” Renkse says about the huge positive reaction the album has received. “I was very confident with the album when it was done, and I was super happy with it, but to see the amount of praise it has got is just overwhelming. And I’m happy that the situation actually came about with this album, because it’s the best album we’ve ever done. It’s just perfect! The timing is perfect… it’s time for us to actually tour the world and stuff, which we haven’t done before. It’s perfect timing.”
The schedule for No Sleep allows Katatonia a day’s grace either side of some of the shows, which is probably more than they would otherwise get if they were touring individually. It should be enough for Renkse and his bandmates to see a little of the country as well as having the opportunity to catch Megadeth play their classic Rust in Peace album in its entirety every night at the shows.
“I think I wanna see Megadeth,” Renkse says. “I think we’ve played with them before at festivals but I’ve never really got to see them. They’re a classic thrash band, which is cool to be on the same festival as them. Other than that, I just want to see as much as possible of Australia because it’s a huge country and it’s probably different from city to city and I just want to try to indulge in the different culture and try to have a good time.”
With luck, it won’t be too long before Katatonia can return to Australia for a headlining stint of their own and present their full show to the fans who have waited longer than most to see them.
“I really hope that this is just the beginning for us in Australia,” Jonas Renkse says. “Everybody in the band is also looking forward to playing clubs and a more intimate setting, the full set. That’s the main plan. But I think this is a great opportunity for us to come over and show the Australian audience that we’re alive on your continent!”