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ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: JONAS RENKSE (KATATONIA)

Name: Jonas Renkse
Bands: Katatonia
Location: Sweden
Website: katatonia.com

How and when was your interest in music sparked?
I have been obsessed by music for as long as I can remember. There was a lot of music in my home when I was a kid. My dad listened to a lot of blues and some early hard rock like Led Zeppelin. My mom listened to Scandinavian folk music, so I guess that formed my taste pretty well. When I reached my teens and was overwhelmed with the power of heavy, thrash and eventually also death metal, I wanted to have band of my own. Luckily I found a companion (Anders Nyström, guitars in Katatonia) and here we are today!

In Katatonia, you started out playing drums and singing and then moved on to guitar. Were you always aspiring to be a multi-instrumentalist? Do you handle any other instruments?
No, that was never the plan. I always wanted to be a drummer, but unfortunately I never had the chance to practice properly so I picked up the other instruments more out of restlessness. I mostly play guitar these days because I write songs, and I play bass in Bloodbath. I love instruments in general and would like to handle a few more. I have a banjo and have started trying to learn how to play it. I also have a few hand drums that I like to play from time to time.

Your music with Katatonia has taken quite a journey from the start until now, touching on anything from extreme metal to electronica. Is experimenting something that comes naturally for everything you do?
Yeah, I think so. We never set out to be experimental. It’s the love for music and its endless possibilities that has brought us to where we are right now, I think. For some people and some bands, limitations are a good thing. You wouldn’t want AC/DC to sound like Pink Floyd all of a sudden. But if the possibility is there and if it suits your mindset and creativity, I’m all for experimenting.

Out of all the things that come with being in a band – writing, recording, jamming, touring, traveling (the list goes on)…what is your favorite part?
It’s been changing for me, back and forth. Right now I think I enjoy writing the most, followed by touring/traveling. Back in the day, recording was my biggest pleasure. To enter a real studio and to hear your music grow to sound somewhat professional was a huge thing. But I guess with today’s technology you can achieve similar results in a minute in the comfort of your own home, so a bit of that magic has faded away unfortunately.

Looking back on this journey that started back in the early ‘90s, are there any specific moments or milestones that stand out for you personally?
The first album – to see it released was a huge thing. To realize it was actually available to buy from a record shop. Such a treat to a young, aspiring musician! The first time we played abroad… I actually don’t remember where we were, but it’s nice to realize that your music is taking you places. Also signing with Peaceville Records in ’98 was a stepping stone, since they had released so many of our favorite albums over the years.

What does your personal writing spot or home studio look like in terms of gear?
I have pretty simple setup since I want to be able to quickly get started if I have the inspiration going. Nothing too fancy, I have an iMac which I run Pro Tools on and a Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 sound card. For guitars and bass, I either use a (pretty old) Axe FX II or software. For vocals I have a Joemeek ThreeQ to get a little bit of “vintage” warmth, then I use a Klark Teknik 76-KT comp (which is a clone of the classic 1176 comp) and I sing through a Neumann U 87. I got the microphone to be able to record the vocals for our latest album in my home studio, but I used some other outboard gear in the chain on that one. For monitors, I use a pair of Mackie MR624 plus their sub MRS10. I also have some small Tannoy monitors to be able to switch between. I am probably more into the software world than the outboard stuff, haha.

On that note, what’s your process like when composing for an upcoming record? Do you set aside dedicated “on the job” time to write or does it happen when it happens?
I write music almost everyday. Now, a lot of that music goes in the bin and will never see the light of day, but I see it as a never ending learning process. Not only to become a better instrumentalist or singer, but also to learn how to see what works and what does not work. So, usually after taking care of the morning chores, I withdraw to my little studio room and spend most of my day there. Sometimes I’m only writing down lyrical ideas, but most of the time I’m working on something audible. Usually I go back in the evening as well, mainly to evaluate what I have been working on during the day (and perhaps throw some stuff away).

You are an avid Superior Drummer 3 user. How do you use the program in your work and how does it help your creative process?
It’s my favorite tool! I love drums, and I think they are such an integral part of music that I maybe even spend too much time on them, haha. Ever since I got the first EZdrummer when it was released I have been hammering away on my keyboard and I think this also has made up for the kind of abrupt end of my career as a (real) drummer. I like to think that I have a good mind for drums, but I can’t play them properly. So, to be able to do that through Superior Drummer is such a treat. And also, to be able to present demos to the other guys with drum ideas that actually sound like real drums – I think it enhances the whole introduction of a new possible song and makes it easier to picture where you would like to take it from there. If I am going to start with a song idea from scratch, I start with either guitars or drums. If I don’t have a genuine guitar idea, I usually play around with Superior Drummer, creating a beat that feels like it could be interesting to play guitar (or bass) to. I also keep “fixing” the drums as the songwriting goes on, and I never feel ready…even when I have sent off a final demo to our drummer, I still think about ideas that I’d like to program.

You’re also an EZkeys user, as heard on for example the song “Lacquer.” How do you normally use EZkeys?
With EZkeys, I love how quick you get usable sounds at your fingertips. You don’t have to sit and tweak the stuff, but rather just start playing around with it, put some stuff on top of a guitar riff, or have a huge pad breathing under an electronic beat or something. The Mellotoon is my favorite, it’s all over my songs. Sometimes not so upfront, and that’s where the pads come in. Usually a Mellotron is pretty dry in its original sound which is very cool but sometimes you still want the Mellotron sound, but in a much more atmospheric context. That’s why I think it’s great with the “ready-made” pads, like the “Permafrost” sound in the Mellotoon.

Best stage moment ever?
I still think that our first visit to Mexico is a complete highlight in our career. We were not prepared for the devotion and sheer craziness from the Mexican fans. It’s still one of my favorite places to play.

And worst stage moment ever?
At some point in our career we had a laptop (that was running Pro Tools for click track and backtracks) controlling our guitar pedals via MIDI. It was great when it worked, the guitar players didn’t have to switch sounds manually and could haul ass across the stage. But the problem was that when the computer decided to stop working in the middle of a gig, the guitars were stuck in the last used patch (which was a clean sound) and we couldn’t get them back to manual switching without the computer (which was dead). So we looked at the setlist and saw that there was no way we couldn’t finish off the gig playing guitars with only a clean sound on the guitars. We were also the support act when this happened so there was no real time to start troubleshooting on the spot… We simply had to go off stage after having played maybe two thirds of our set. We are back to manual switching on the guitar pedals, I should add.

FIVE QUICK QUESTIONS.

If you could only keep/play one guitar moving forward…which one in your collection would you pick and why?
I don’t own that many guitars, but if I could just keep one it has to be my Ibanez SG-model, it’s my first real electric guitar and it’s from the same year as I was born (1975). I just love to play it.

You could only bring one record to listen to during a massively long tour, which one would it be and why?
David Sylvian’s “Secrets of the Beehive.” Because it’s such a timeless and well-produced piece of music that I can’t seem to grow tired of. It’s got everything I love about music on it: melancholy, atmosphere, great lyrics. Also, being in a metal band and going on metal tours, it’s always nice to get a pause from the daily frantic noise!

Big festival or club show?
I love both but will have to go for club show. I love the more intimate atmosphere and I like to get sweaty on stage.

Name one piece of gear you can’t live without in your studio (and it can’t be the guitar or the computer!).
It’s computer related, but it has to be my KORG Nanokey2 because that’s what I (ab)use on a daily basis when creating drum beats in Superior Drummer 3!

Your all-time top five list of albums!

Morbid Angel “Altars of Madness”
The Cure “Disintegration”
David Sylvian “Secrets of the Beehive”
Autopsy “Mental Funeral”
Tool “Aenima”

LISTEN TO “LACQUER” BY KATATONIA.
Link: https://youtu.be/zGvZhRFBQ_I


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