It should come as no surprise that I’ve been dying to speak with Jonas Renkse for some time now. Aside from fronting one of my favorite metal bands for more than two decades, Renske has also contributed to a number of projects that continue to receive heavy play through my own musical rotation, including Bloodbath and October Tide. After eagerly awaiting my first live experience with Katatonia for years, 2010 blessed me with not one, but two unforgettable shows: at Sweden’s Peace & Love Festival in the summer and at the legendary Whisky on Sunset.
Fast forward to 2011. As if the announcement of Opeth’s tenth studio album was not enough excitement for the prog-rocker deep within, news of their US tour with Katatonia in tow nearly blew me over the edge. And when the routing revealed not one but three southern California dates, I suddenly knew how I’d be spending the month of October.
Prior to the band’s appearance at the Mayan Theatre in LA, I had the chance to regrettably interrupt Renkse during dinnertime and spend few moments talking shop. We discussed the band’s lineup shift from Night is the New Day, their lengthy tenure with Peaceville, and the upcoming reissue of their long-out-of-print For Funerals to Come.
So you guys have been on the road for awhile now with Opeth throughout North America. How have the shows been compared to the last time you were here?
Well, everything is much bigger, of course. I also like to do the headlining, smaller tours, but this is a great opportunity. We’re great friends with the band and having a lot of fun, so it’s perfect.
I know that during your off-dates, you’ve been having special 20th anniversary headlining shows as well.
What’s been different with the set that you’re performing on those dates, aside from the obvious extended time?
With what we did in Europe in the spring, which is we played the album Last Fair Deal Gone Down from start to finish, and then we did another set with favorite songs from pretty much all the records. So it’s pretty much like a two and a half hour show, which is kind of exhausting. So it’s good to come back to the Opeth shows again.
I would imagine performing that long would be insanely tiring. I don’t think that a lot of bands would be able to pull that off…
I think it’s a bit too long, but that’s because I don’t like to go to concerts myself. Even when I see my favorite bands, I always hope that they will stop playing at some point, when it would be perfect! (LAUGHS)
Some bands tend to play a bit too long, but I want the magic to be–you know, stop it when it’s at its best.
Yeah, some of the people I went to see Opeth with on their 20th anniversary tour seemed to think the band played a bit too long.
Oh yeah, I can imagine. (LAUGHS)
You’re still touring in support of Night is the New Day, which was re-released as a deluxe edition earlier this year. Along with the Last Fair Deal Gone Down, is this the first time you’ve had a special release available for US fans?
Yeah, I think so.
What was the motivation behind repackaging both efforts?
The Last Fair Deal [Gone Down] is celebrating 10 years, and while we’re doing the anniversary shows, it’s a good point to re-release it. I’m not involved in that—it’s a label decision—but they want to, I guess, get some people to buy another copy because it’s got some bonus material.
You’re not involved at all?
Yeah, pretty much. As soon as they decide that they want to do something again, like a re-release, then we want to be in on it because we want it to be as good as possible. But the idea is never from us. It’s never like, “Oh, it’s time to re-release this to sell more copies.”
Well, jumping around a little bit then, I know you guys are re-releasing For Funerals to Come on vinyl in November. So that was strictly a label decision as well?
Pretty much, but I think that is a different thing. The original is long out of print. What is it, like fifteen years ago? Something like that? So that makes it more understandable to actually re-release [it].
But the ‘09 record, Night is the New Day, it’s just two years old. You can still buy the original version in stores. But you know, that’s just me.
I think that goes along with labels trying to do whatever they can to make as much money from each effort as possible. Sometimes we forget that it’s a business.
Yes, but I’m not a business man. (LAUGHS)
True. But at least you guys get some help. Isn’t Sweden one of the countries that offers government grants to musicians?
If you’re lucky, yes. But you can always get help to pay for your rehearsal space. It’s amazing.
Well, with the last several releases, there’s been an obvious shift in the music. Was there a conscious decision to move beyond a harsher style, or was it more of a natural progression?
I think it’s a natural thing. It’s not something that we’re doing deliberately, like “Oh, I think we need to make more mellow stuff.” I guess we’re getting old. (LAUGHS) We’re mellow as persons. When you’re like 18, you’re more angry at the world. (LAUGHS)
But you know, it also makes space to actually explore different music styles within what we’re doing. So I think it’s more of a challenge to make that kind of music, where you can experiment and throw in bits and pieces of everything that you like.
Have your influences changed from when you first started making music to now?
Well, it’s been the same kind of stuff, but it’s of course different bands and artists. Even when we started the band, I was always into dark music. Not only the death metal thing, but bands like The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, stuff like this. And, you know, I still have that urge for dark, melancholy music. I just try to find what appeals to me, and if I like something, it becomes sort of an influence to me, I guess, unconsciously.
You’ve had a bit of a lineup switch since the album was actually recorded. Will you continue working with Per and Niklas, or are they moreso live additions?
They’re session musicians at this point, but it’s not something that we’ve actually discussed. We are very happy with them, so it’s not a bad guess that they will be real members in the future, but right now, we don’t think about it too much.
Because the last album was so well received, especially here in the States, do you feel a certain amount of pressure in regards to creating its follow-up?
Yeah, a little bit, which I think is healthy. I also see it as a challenge to impress myself and hopefully other people. That’s what I want to do. I wouldn’t want to do an album that’s just so-so, and then release it because we need to have a new album. That’s not going to happen.
The music I’ve been working on, so far, is really good…well, I think.
Is it somewhat of a continuation of Night is the New Day?
Yeah, I think so. I’m still going to add stuff, but it makes it even better. It’s not that I changed the formula of the songwriting or the type of music that I’m doing, but I’m trying to get it even better. That’s my goal. (LAUGHS)
Good goal. (LAUGHS) Considering that a lot of bands are choosing to put music out on their own now, do you see yourself staying not only with Peaceville, but with a label in general, for the rest of your career?
I don’t know. I think you have to have a certain business-mind to do that, and I’m not that kind of person at all, you know?
But then with touring–if you put the albums out yourself, then you won’t find the money it costs to tour from a record label, like with tour support, because it’s very expensive to tour…
…for foreign bands to come here, absolutely.
Yes, the visas, flight tickets, fuel for the bus, the driver…
I don’t know if fans realize how much money it costs for their favorite bands to actually tour.
No, there is no way.
If they did, they hopefully wouldn’t steal so much music.
Yes, exactly. We’re not making money off of this tour, but it’s a good support tour.
Yeah, it’s kind of like the pinnacle for progressive metal fans…
I think so, yes. It’s a great tour for us, but also a great tour for the fans too.
Well, I know you’ve announced several 20th anniversary shows throughout Scandinavia and mainland Europe for the remainder of the year. Starting in 2012, what’s next for the band?
The new album, definitely. As I said, I’ve already written parts for the new album, and as soon as we get back home, we will continue writing. I hope to be in the studio by January.
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