INTERVIEW: Jean-François Dagenais – Kataklysm


WORDS: James Weaver

As far as modern death metal goes, KATAKLYSM have been a staple in the scene for years now. Since forming in 1991 the band has enjoyed a long and fruitful career at the summit of modern death metal. Whilst on a huge European tour in support of last year’s Of Ghosts and Gods we caught up with guitarist Jean-François Dagenais to talk about the tour, making a music video for every song on an album and how KATAKLYSM sit outside of extreme metal.

Okay, So we’re many dates now into this European tour, how’s it been so far?

Jean: It’s been amazing, I mean I couldn’t wish for a better scenario because we started this tour with three sell outs in a row and we’re like ‘what’s going on? That’s amazing!’ I mean we always done well in certain markets over in Europe but this has been way over the top, beyond our expectations, we’re very, very happy and what a nice way to finish in the UK! It’s so cool to get that warm, fuzzy feeling here! Even if the weather’s a little bit crazy this winter! But it’s been super nice, we had a really cool show in Ireland yesterday and Scotland and Ibiza were sold out too and Glasgow and now here in Manchester we’re looking forward to this show as well!

Yeah because it always seems KATAKLYSM are very well received in the UK, do you feel like the European market is more catered to death metal than back at home?

Jean: For us I feel like the main places where we do well in the world would be mainland Europe like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, that’s our big KATAKLYSM fan base but everywhere else keeps on growing and keeps being very friendly like people are used to seeing us every two years and they come out, come to the show and then say hello and it’s great! It’s very exciting because we did 44 dates and none of them was a failure, like it was good every night and that’s a success in itself.

It’s always what you want to have for every date! The band’s been active since 1991 which is quite a landmark, so you’ve seen the death metal scene grow into what it is today…

Jean: yeah it’s been through many different stages and trends come and go but for some reason we always kind of stay in the mix.

A lot of people say death metal today isn’t as good as it was when it was at its height with the likes of DEICIDE, MORBID ANGEL, CANNIBAL CORPSE very much at their peak, how would you say the scene is? Would you say it’s in a good place?

Jean: My opinion about it is, I feel the newer generation of bands are better players, they know more about how to get a good sound, a good tone; the knowledge level is much higher now than it was back then. The thing I think has got lost in translation through the years, I think is the song writing, I feel like bands nowadays know how to play their instruments but they don’t quite know how to get that song. That’s what we try to do as a band, we focus a lot on of course playing well and sound great but we want to write songs and that’s how we got brought up from the early 90’s and that’s what we try to do and I think that’s what our fans appreciate from our band.

We’re approaching nearly the first year since Ghosts and Gods has been out, how have you found the reception?

Jean: Unbelievable! Like usually when you play new songs on a tour it’s always like ‘ahh it’s the new song’ and you feel like everything else works great but your new song, everyone always pays attention. But this one is different, Of Ghosts and Gods it’s almost like the new songs are better received than the older stuff, you can tell a difference, which is really rewarding for us because it feels like you put all this hard work into the music and then it pays off, it’s a really good feeling.

And with it being album number twelve, were there any difficulties when writing in terms of inspiration?

Jean: it’s always kind of a spontaneous thing! You never know where it’s going to go because we don’t want to lock ourselves up within a formula, sometimes it’s cool to go completely left and do something completely crazy and then bring it back into what we do and think a little bit outside the box and bringing different elements make it so much more interesting. But we’re a spontaneous band when it comes to writing so it’s not like we’re going to talk about it, we just write it, whatever comes out, comes out and we try and do our best every single time.

I’ve always been fascinated with extreme metal, particularly with death metal it seems there is a very tight formula and if you stray too far from that then the bands will backlash. Do you kind of listen to that input?

Jean: I feel when it comes to our band we’ve always been kind of a little bit separate or like the outsider from the metal scene so I feel because of that I feel we have the opportunity to wander different places whereas other bands are kind of stuck within their genres. We feel we have more open doors to go through different things and I think it’s better as a musician because you want to just be able to express yourself without barriers and without limits, I feel we are very lucky as a band we can actually achieve that. We also stay true to our sound and our roots so it’s like a mix of both worlds I guess.

So you get a lot of creative freedom?

Jean: Yeah I feel like we have our own creative freedom because our fans have always followed or twisted creativity I’d say and the label doesn’t really give us any barriers either, they’re like ‘go for it whatever you do because it always works’ so they’re supporting the band and our friends are supporting the band so it’s really, really nice to have that open horizon for and it’s also kind of exciting for the future because we have no idea where the next one is going to go either but we’re going in this direction we really love and we’re hoping to expand more on.

I know it’s only been a year since Of Ghosts and Gods, but have you already started looking ahead to the next album?

Jean: Yeah you know like the last few songs we wrote and recorded for that album we were already going like ‘wow we want to keep going’ but it was time to kind of close the record up but we already have a bunch of ideas on the back burner for the next one because we were in such a good creative place, I’m actually looking forward to going home and carrying on writing!

So I imagine it won’t be too long before we see another KATAKLYSM album?

Jean: No not too long! A couple of years maximum. We’re all excited about writing so we’ll see what comes out and whenever we feel we have something really strong we’re going to go ahead and record.

Interestingly for that album, you did a music video for every single song on the album. Which I think is the first time I’ve ever seen that for a band! What was the decision behind that?

Jean: We just had this crazy idea, we couldn’t pick a single and usually you have to pick a track which represents the album and the label had an idea and the producer had a different idea and we had a different idea, we couldn’t really find a song and as a joke we just said let’s do ten videos! And we started with this crazy idea and then the label were like ‘yeah you guys are crazy enough to pull something like that’ and at first we thought it was a great idea but as you’re doing it you realise how much work it is to do ten videos, ten good videos! And you’re like ‘okay…’ Like if you ask me, at the moment I thought it was a great idea, it served its purpose for the record and I think it did wonders because there was a lot of people who got to hear the whole album and just decided to buy it because it was a cool record. But if you ask me if I want to do it again – no! It’s too much work and it’s a lot of your time involved and I think next time go back to the formula and make it good.

Yeah a lot of work!

Jean: Yeah we spent about three months of our lives on that. You look at it at the end and think ok it was cool, it was a good artistic thing.

So to close this interview off, what can fans expect from the band for the rest of the year? Do you have any plans for UK festivals?

Jean: Yeah we definitely want to come back and do some of the bigger stuff, we already have a few offers on the table for the summer. Also our singer Maurizio who’s going to have a baby coming soon, that’s why we’re doing our tour so long now, that we’re going to do a bit less dates this year because of that. When things are back on track for him and his wife and he’s ready to tour again we’re going to start again and do part two of the touring. We have a lot of stuff lined up, we’re definitely coming back at the end of the year for another tour.

I’m sure we’ll all look forward to that and to tonight as well!

Jean: I think we’re going to do more openers next year, not this summer but the one after.

Awesome! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us and best of luck for tonight!