» J-F Dagenais - Kataklysm
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Interview conducted April 2 2023
Interview published July 29 2023

Canadian melodic death metallers Kataklysm made a stop in Stockholm on their European tour together with Soilwork and Metal Covenant was able to spend some time talking to guitarist J-F Dagenais about touring and making music in general.

Kataklysm's new record Goliath is out on August 11th, which wasn't official when this interview was done.

Tobbe: You're out now on a quite extensive tour, actually. So how does it really feel to be out for four weeks on a tour, and then back home for three weeks, and then back out on the road again for another four weeks?

J-F: Well, I was so excited that they decided to do it this way, because when they first approached us for this tour, I saw the 55 shows, or whatever it is, and I was like, "Oh, my God.". (Laughs) Like, I love doing this. I love playing music and I still get, like, a huge kick when I'm on stage and touring, but I find at the age we're getting, and we all have, like, families and kids and all that at home, it's hard to leave for that long.

But we decided to do it. We thought it was a little long when we first got the offer and they were like, "Okay. What about we do it in two parts?" and I said, "Yeah. That's great. That's genius.", because you do the first part, then you get to go home and check on everything at home, and three weeks is enough to get your energy back. So now we've started leg two and we're all, like, prime and really stoked to be back in Scandinavia as well, because we don't get to play here that often.

So every time we get to be here we're super happy, and we have so many friends in every city, so it makes the whole experience fun. But yeah, I think the break in between should be almost like a model for other bands to follow, 'cause I think it is a good idea to do it like that. The thing when you're out this long, as much as you love doing this, then it really becomes a routine, and you really feel like it's a job, and it shouldn't be, 'cause I find that music to me is not really a job, but it's a passion.

And when you get to break a little bit like that, and go home, check out on your people, make sure everybody's fine, and get your energy back, and your motivation back, then I think, like that, it's amazing.

Tobbe: You said you aren't here so often, in Scandinavia. Not even on summer festivals.

J-F: Yeah, I know, I know. I mean, we love being here, and it's always that the timing is gonna make sense, and financially it's gonna also make sense, because we're always flying from America to here, so the offer we're getting has to include all the flying fees and all that. So it's easier for a European band to go play in Scandinavia and a festival, 'cause it's a two-hour flight and it's not even that expensive. But if we're already in Europe and it makes sense, then it's easier.

But we love it. We played Gefle (Metal Festival) a couple years ago. It was great and, yeah, wish we could do more. I mean, like yesterday we played Norway, but we never played on a festival in Norway. That would be amazing. I'd love to do one of those festivals there. Or bigger ones like Sweden Rock or things like that. It would be amazing. But hopefully offers will come and we're always open, so if it makes sense we'll be here and do it, for sure.

Tobbe: As a Canadian band, how do you look at the markets in Canada and in the States, in comparison to Europe?

J-F: I find that Canada is very comparable to Scandinavia, in a way, because I think Canada has a very big European influence. Especially where we're from, in Montreal, 'cause it's 80 percent French speaking. It feels like you're in Europe, but inside North America. It's a very special place. Heavy metal is big. And it's funny, because the same bands that are doing well in Canada, are usually the same bands that are doing well in Scandinavia. Like, it works.

I don't know if it's the cold air or the snow or something. Like, it's very alike. And then you go to the United States… Now I live in the United States. I live in Texas. I moved there 15 years ago, 'cause my wife is from there and I got away from the snow, and now I live in the desert. (Laughs) It's a different vibe, but it's also very metal in Texas, like where I'm from, in Dallas, Pantera is a local band there, and there's like this old, very American metal culture there, and it's ingrained in the people as well over there, so.

I think America is also very metal, but they like different bands, like for instance, a band that would be huge here and then go play there it might not be the same level of support, but they still respect what it is. And then you'll have other bands that are more American sounding and they'll do great in a certain area of the country. It's a different culture, but I see it as the usual, typical metalhead is the same guy wherever. It's just like in some places in the world there are more, and in some places there are less.

But I love touring the US, and North America, and Canada as well. We try to go there often and sometimes it's easier for us because we're from there, so financially it's easier to move around in the area. And after this tour we're going to South America. That's also cool. So looking forward to that one as well. And people are crazy down there and they're starved for metal, and not many bands go play for them, so they're always happy to see people going there and play for them.

Tobbe: South America is kind of huge. You don't see that on maps, but it's kind of huge. And Canada is huge too. What does it take to tour Canada and not go into bankruptcy? It's a long distance between major cities.

J-F: Exactly. When you tour Canada you are on the road, like, 8 hours, or 10 hours, to get to the next show. It's the norm. Like you don't go, like, 2 hours, next city. You got to have plenty of gas, and be ready to tour also a certain time of the year, because if you do it during the winter… I don't recommend it. It's really hard. Sometimes you get a storm, and you're stuck, and you have to cancel shows. So we try to do it when it makes sense, like spring, summer, early fall. That's, like, the time frame. Otherwise you don't touch it; you stay more south of the border.

Tobbe: Like you said, you are from Montreal, and is it really optional in that city to enjoy (ice) hockey or would you be seen as an outcast if you don't?

J-F: It's ingrained in the Canadian culture. I played when I was a kid, like many seasons in the small, local school leagues. I was a goalie, so that was my thing. You grew up with that stuff. My father, my grandfather, everybody's into hockey, and you get to learn all the players. I don't follow it as much since I moved to Texas, but we have a pretty decent team there. The Stars are okay. I went to see a couple of games just for fun.

Tobbe: So, back to music. You play very few or even no songs off the four first albums. Does that feel kind of sad sometimes, or is it just a necessary thing to do?

J-F: Well, we have a lot of albums and the thing that happened with us is it was sort of a different lineup in the early days. Maurizio and I are, like, the only guys left from those albums, and he was the bass player back then and we had a different singer. It's kind of hard to, with what we're doing now, sometimes to go back to these songs and do something and recreate what it was, 'cause it had a vibe with the drummer we had on those records and the old singer and all that. Once in a while, we'll do one or two.

There are songs we can still play off those records, like we like to play The Awakener from Temple Of Knowledge, or we play sometimes Sorcery from Sorcery, or the there's one song from the EP that we like. I don't know why I can't remember the name right now. The last song from The Mystical Gate I really like to play (The Orb Of Uncreation).

So sometimes we will play some of those songs, but we have 14 records now, so we try to always kind of promote the latest one, and then we play the hits from everything else. But it's also something we noticed that sometimes we go way back, even albums before the 2000s, and the fans don't even know what we're playing, 'cause they don't know those songs too well. So we try to keep the show entertaining with high energy the whole time. We try to come up with a set that portrays that, so.

But once in a while we'll throw in a surprise, or someone will come to the show and say, "I really wanna hear that song.", so, like, "Why not? Let's play it.".

Tobbe: A lot of bands get less brutal or heavy as their career moves forward, and where do you find Kataklysm in this statement?

J-F: Well, I mean, we always try to push the boundaries of what we do. So sometimes I'll let myself get inspired with the newer generation, because I think some of them come up with great ideas that we didn't think about when we started, because some of these ways of playing, or sometimes the equipment, changed and modernized.

Like the last couple of records, we wrote everything on some of the strings, and that opens up a whole new range that we didn't have access to before, just because now you can have that extreme low tuning. Like, because of all the tuning and the way guitars are made you can actually do it. It was fun to experiment with that. We threw a bit of those effects into the newer stuff. But yeah, we still write the same way we always did.

We just push ourselves to try to incorporate new spices here and there, and to inspire ourselves from the new generation. Yet we are sticking by our roots and every element that was there when we started is still kind of there. But we try to mix it up and keep it interesting for ourselves and challenging because we wanna write music that is still kind of relevant. We don't wanna be one of those bands that lives from the hits in the past. We try to create new things and new songs are gonna be in our setlist for years to come because they're good.

So we're really self-conscious when we write music and the four of us have to like it and think it's really good for us to record it and put it out. We don't wanna become that band that goes through the motion and just put out records. It's important for us, the creative process.

Tobbe: And this process of going forward, is it also because of increased playing skills and ability and also getting more mature as you grow older?

J-F: Yeah, yeah. I think the maturity is a big factor, because as a musician you evolve, like you like different things. You play different also, because as you tour and as you play together with the boys you develop a certain ability.

Like, something that was hard for us to play five years ago now becomes easy because you do it over and over. Often that happens. Like, we'll record a new album, and we'll push ourselves to a limit where it's like, "Wow! This is really hard and really intricate.", but then you play it live for a few years, and the part that was so hard when we recorded it, that took 50 times to nail on the record, and then you're like, "Hey. I can play it. No problem now.".

And then you improve and it changes your mind a bit on certain things. And then when you approach the next album after that, then it's something new that you have in your bag and you try to push yourself in a different way. It's always about trying to do the best as you can, like we really wanna push ourselves to the limit of our capacities, or beyond. And then the beyond becomes the norm. And then you keep pushing forward.

Tobbe: Your last record, Unconquered, was out in September 2020, so where are you guys at now in terms of another record?

J-F: Well, it's done. We have a new album. We recorded, then finished and mixed it right before the first part of this tour. And we're super excited about it. It's really extreme and we pushed it to the limit of our capacity and I think it's probably one of the heaviest stuff we've written in our entire career.

We brought some of the chaotic elements from the past, yet it's super modern and have all the elements that people like of Kataklysm nowadays. It's a very cool record. So I'm excited about it. I think the first single is gonna come out in end of May and then we gonna roll out maybe 2-3 songs and then the album comes out this summer. In August, I think.

Tobbe: You know, some bands find no reason to release albums anymore, but you're quite the opposite. This is the 15th record. So you're quite the opposite of not releasing records anymore. What keeps you guys going?

J-F: I don't know if I can speak for every member, but for myself, writing the music is the most interesting part of being in a band. Some people like to tour; I'm more of a writer. I like to sit down with my guitar and let myself get inspired and come up with new parts and new pieces of music that you piece together and then you craft them.

And it's funny because sometimes you'll spend weeks on just one song. And then when you start with piecing the album together, the tracks that you write in a couple hours are the ones that end up being the ones that people like, and then the one that you spent a month on gets a bit more unnoticed. But it's the way it goes. But for me, my favorite part is really to write the music.

Tobbe: When you guys started this band, like 30 years ago, could you even imagine doing this in 2023?

J-F: No. I mean, I still remember that one of the big guys that was working at the record label back in the day told us, like, "Enjoy this now, 'cause in five years it's gone. Bands don't last.", and here we are, 30 years later. I wish we would go back to that guy and be like, "Hey!".

I think, when you're 18 years old, you just write music for fun, and you go out there and it's kind of magical to get the record deal and go out to tour with bands that we used to listen to, but now you're touring with them. That in itself was awesome. And we always had something that was important to us in the band, and we always said like, "The moment this is not fun anymore, just don't do it and do something else.". But that hasn't happened yet, so it's still ongoing.

But we are going to tour a little less, like that's one thing that we're talking about, because we're reaching that age now where we wanna pick and choose what we do. So instead of going out and doing 55 shows like we just did, it's probably gonna be more like 2-3 weeks at a time, then go home for a month or two, and come back and do it 2-3 weeks.

Tobbe: Have you always tried to follow your own path and be your own boss and therefore it would be kind of hard to play in a band as a hired gun?

J-F: Yeah. I mean, you forge your path forward. At some point you got to kind of have the balance between your passion and loving what you do. And then on the other hand, there's the bills and you have to be able to afford the lifestyle, so. It becomes a thing where you can't take too many breaks between the albums and tours because it's your job. At the same time you created your job, so you're the boss of what you wanna do, so.

We always sit down and talk about these things to make sure everybody is in agreeance to what we wanna do and we plan ahead maybe a year or two. But we don't go 10 years in the future because we don't know. So we just kept going like this. And we thought at the beginning that it would last a few years, then it became 10 years, 15, 20, 25, and then you look back and, like, "Wow! It's an actual career.".

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