Niklas Sandin, Katatonia’s bass player, has wrapped up his summer in one of the most relaxed countries dealing with the pandemic – Sweden. This in no way means that Niklas or Katatonia have been spared from the catastrophes that have hit the music industry over the last two years. And like millions of us, he has been impacted. City of Burials, released in 2020 and receiving unanimous acclaim, took a huge hit, with zero opportunities to tour the album for fans. Focusing on some good – the band, now in its thirtieth year – have marked the occasion by way of an extensive release of some of Katatonia’s treasures from the vault; rarities, b-sides and remixes. Sentinel Daily caught up with Niklas, on the eve of the release of Mnemosynean – a symbolic and sleek representation of the might that is Katatonia, representing the many influences and attributes tendered to the band over the last three decades. Like the Scandinavian summer, the pandemic will end inevitably… but institutions such as Katatonia are fixed into the fabric of heavy metal for the ages.
This release of a special collection to mark the thirtieth anniversary of Katatonia… let’s just breathe that in shall we…. thirty years. “Yeah… it’s amazing since I just turned thirty five myself! [Laughs] It’s a bit bizarre, that I’m playing in a band that is just five years younger than myself”. Looking over the thirty years of the band – and of course over twelve years for yourself, what has been the linchpin of the band’s longevity in your opinion? “I think it’s been the integrity of how to portray yourself as a band and doing what you love – what speaks to you in the moment… because as is quite obvious on this mix and the last collection of songs, the band’s sound has been changing, quite a bit over the years, and it has to do with writing music that speaks to us and if we feel like a new element is to be incorporated to reach our vision and our artistic outlet then we will do it. It’s kind of like doing something that speaks more to us rather than just thinking strategically and should we release an album with a certain sound or leave something out just to appease the audience. This is the linchpin, the authenticity and it’s why each album speaks for itself, it is a very high quality of songwriting”.
Over the decades there has been a plethora of talent and ideas contributing to all these albums – and several different members in and out and of course moved around – many bands see this as a hindrance, always having to replace members – what’s your take on it? “I can see it as both – something that might obstruct a bands momentum and flow – if people are quitting a band, and this can create problems – filling an empty space, but in terms of Katatonia it has been positive – not in the sense that someone better has come as a replacement, but more that it creates a new vibe, including the way a new member plays their instrument. It can inspire us to write a different song because they have a new paint brush to work with in a way. So, for example, when new Daniel (Moilanen – drums 2015 – present) replaced old Daniel (Liljekvist – drums 1999 – 2014) it switched from maybe someone who relied more on playing the groove of the drums as opposed to someone who is more technical and has more tools in his belt, and it opened up a new dimension of song writing in terms of drum arrangements – this was a positive thing. Even though I really loved old Daniel’s drum playing, it really locked in with my bass playing – not taking anything away from new Daniel of course. Jonas [Renkse – drums, lead vocals, guitar] is a rainman – but with social capabilities [Laughs]. One of the most talented and underrated guitarists in all of Sweden – and he sings like a God as well. Jonas was a real boost for the band”….
The impending release – how did you all arrive at this project and was it difficult to piece it all together? “Jonas and Anders [Nyström – bass, guitars, keyboards] put all the songs together, dug a lot up from the vault – as they have both been here since the get go – it was natural they piece it together. It was important to include as much as possible and to arrange them in a way so there was a good flow and not just a stack of songs. And not necessarily in a chronological order, that was the hardest part of it – finding the flow”.
Were there any specific unreleased tracks you had been jonesing to get out over the last decade and did they make it? “I sure hope so! I hadn’t actually discussed this much with Jonas and Anders about what tracks they were most enthusiastic about getting out – but I definitely see some of my own in the track listing – like I really love Unfurl and Vakaren – which is in Swedish and also Ashen – this is probably one of the stronger titles – ending up on a b-track and I think it doesn’t have to necessarily be how strong a song is to end up on a general track listing, but its about the flow of the album. The ‘Strongest’ doesn’t necessarily mean the album leader”. For you personally, what were your roots in music – did you always want to play bass? “I started out as an Alto saxophone player as a kid – so I did that for a few years and then I got into rock and metal music, and I, like everybody else thought that the guitar player was the coolest one in the band – the most intriguing; fast solos, being in front, having the spotlight – but when i started playing guitar in former bands, I thought this might not be for me because I had less connection with the rest of band – it was more like putting chords on top of something I wanted to be a part of – I really want to be integrated with the drummer and having the kind of dialogue and communication with someone else in the band – and I’m not the kind of person who wants to be in the spotlight, I’m happier in the background. So I quickly realised I’m a bass player – not just in terms of musical expression but also more as a person”. Each instrument is definitely matched to a personality. “Absolutely – I mean, I play guitar in another band called Lik, which is a death metal band – very full on, though it is a very punkish approach to an instrument, so its not that much of standing in the spotlight with two minute long solos – more of a group effort, I really do like bass playing the most and I’m very comfortable in that role”.
Has Katatonia shifted or evolved your music style and of course your talent and ability to play your instrument? “Yes, in a way that might sound weird, I was more of an extravagant player before joining Katatonia – I was playing too much on the bass in my personal opinion – by joining Katatonia I have been reducing my palet more to playing the right notes instead of playing the most notes. Kind of like, reducing a burger from having fifteen ingredients to those four crucial ingredients. So that’s the way my bass playing has developed through the years with Katatonia”. So how did the band find you in 2009 and what did you find challenging within the music of Katatonia when starting and even up to today? “They found me through mutual friends – so I was briefly in a band called Amaran [ now disbanded], we played for a few years, but then I met these beautiful people who recommended to Anders and Jonas that they should give me an audition and interview so I’m really happy this happened. The challenging thing, especially back then; when it was just a matter of months from the initial meeting/audition to being on stage and touring – was to learn all the songs – doing it the hard way, learning at home from listening to the albums. The set list was comprised of like twenty five or thirty songs for touring so we could change it up if we wanted to. This was challenging – plus having a full time job at the time. So it was a lot of straight from work to sit at the computer to learn the songs yourself and hoping you’re playing it right” A baptism by fire “and I’m happy I didn’t get burnt [Laughs] that I was able to continue playing – and that’s the kind of thing I have experienced as well – when a new member comes in, they know the songs better than you do [Laughs]. When I came in, I was so focused, picking up chords here and there…. I was kind of the guide when I started – now its the same for me, someone is giving me instructions” [Laughs].
I understand the band would still be riding the success of City Burials [2020, Peaceville Records] – I’m curious though if Katatonia were able to successfully tour and promote this album in its first few months, due to the world going crazy? “No, unfortunately, the only song that we were able to play on a stage, and this was only during a soundcheck, was Behind the Blood, and that’s due to the fact that when we played in Athens – this was our last real live gig before it all happened – it was still a few weeks before the album was released. So, yeah, the only live thing we did was live streaming… it felt off because of course you need an audience there, you need that interaction. We have played in Bulgaria recently, that was great. It felt like we had a purpose again as a band – it really fuelled us, like a vitamin injection”. So the 2022, UK and European tour with Sólstafir (brilliant support decision) will be the biggest the band have had in a while “I’ve heard Sólstafir are great guys so I’m excited and I’m going to keep positive, hopefully there is no backlash – but I am positive thanks to the strong vaccine rollout in Europe” Everything is moving forward, 2022 is a new year of hope for the music industry globally “Definitely, I have high hopes – if not in the beginning, later on”. Can you imagine the energy and pent up rage that will be coming out into the moshpits from fans and band members who haven’t been able to see a live show in eighteen months or more, live music will be the next pandemic!! “Oh yeah… exactly. Right now hospitals are full with COVID patients but later on it will be people moshing too much” [Laughs] …. Broken legs and missing teeth “Yeah [Laughs] just a clear bench for mosh pitters”…
So Niklas – what’s in store for the next thirty years of Katatonia? “Releasing the best album yet – being as much on the road as we possibly can because this is something we really enjoy, being able to interact with fans and something of course gives us a lot of inspiration when you see people coming out appreciating your shows. We hope to include Australia again, it would be our pleasure”.
Mnemosynean is out now.