Masters of dark Swedish metal, Katatonia, released their tenth full-length album, titled The Fall of Hearts, in May of 2016. Antihero Magazine’s Mark Dean had a chat with bassist Niklas Sandin as the band prepares to kick-off a North American tour.
“I don’t know if it has that much to do with band members leaving and coming on board. I think it’s something that happens naturally for both Jonas and Anders, because they’re not interested in releasing the same record over and over and over again…that’s not what Katatonia‘s music is about. It needs to be rooted in what they’re being influenced by at the time. If they feel like they need to take us on or an album to a certain kind of route, they’re not going to skip that over…It’s always going to be an evolution. You never know what’s going to end up on the next record, which I think is more interesting than just sticking to your safe guns.”
Mark Dean: So, what are you guys up to at the moment? Are you still on tour, or taking some time off?
Niklas Sandin: Now we’re actually preparing to hit the States in about two weeks, we’re doing the first show in the States. So, we’re rehearsing and trying to get all the gear working.
Mark Dean: The band have been around for quite some time now. Is it difficult choosing the set these days for a tour?
Niklas Sandin: Well, I guess there’s actually both pros and cons to being around so long and having so many songs in the roster. The pros are, of course, that you have lots of songs to choose from, but the con is that, well, you cannot play too long either. I think 90 or 100 minutes is some kind of breaking point, and not fitting all the songs you want in a set, you actually have too much good stuff to choose from.
Mark Dean: You want to feature the latest album as much as possible as well.
Niklas Sandin: Exactly. You want to promote that, but at the same time you want to be able to present those old-time classics for the fans. I think that fans are coming equally out much to hear the new songs of course because it’s going to be a total new experience for those who have seen us before. And of course, hear those ones that they cherish so much from the past.
Mark Dean: The band have had many, many lineup changes over the years. I just want to know if you feel personally that the lineup changes have actually helped the band?
Niklas Sandin: Of course, it’s always sad and it’s heartbreaking when people decide to leave and step off the band, and venture on other things. But I feel like this time we’ve had such good replacements and Daniel [Moilanen] – well, new Daniel we can say – coming into the band, he was offering new stuff and new qualities that made it easier for Jonas and Anders to try new stuff, like really mad songwriting. And Roger [Öjersson] is contributing as much as well, because he’s one hell of a guitar player. There’s so many good guitar players out there, but Roger is something else. I think that he really contributes as well. So, we’ve been lucky with the additions.
Mark Dean: And of course, the band, the musical style has changed, evolved quite a lot over the years as well. I just wondered if that was something that was planned or a natural evolution as different band members came in and left, that the style of the band actually changed.
Niklas Sandin: I don’t know if it has that much to do with band members leaving and coming on board. I think it’s something that happens naturally for both Jonas and Anders, because they’re not interested in releasing the same record over and over and over again. There’s some bands that do that really well, like AC/DC and Iron Maiden and a few others. But that’s not what Katatonia’s music is about. It needs to be rooted in what they’re being influenced by at the time. If they feel like they need to take us on or an album to a certain kind of route, they’re not going to skip that over, like saying if we’re re-writing The Great Cold Distance and it starts being really really well-received and really popular and a great success, it’s not that they’re going to stick to some form because it’s safe. It’s always going to be an evolution. You never know what’s going to end up on the next record, which I think is more interesting than just sticking to your safe guns.
Mark Dean: And to be fair, the fans have largely stuck with you guys as well, even through the different band lineups and the different changes in style. You still have a very loyal fan base.
Niklas Sandin: Yeah, I think we have flexible fans in that way. They’re more interested in following the progress and the root feeling and vibe of the music, not that it should sound any how specifically the same or like that it needs to have all those kinds of elements or that kind of vibe there. I think they’re really musical in that way. I think they have big ears when it comes to music.
Mark Dean: How did you start, what was your first introduction to music? Can you remember? Was it maybe a song on the radio?
Niklas Sandin: Ooh, my first introduction to music. I would probably need to ask my dad about that because he’s the one in the family who’s always been playing music and always been playing everything from banjo to playing acoustic guitar and some electric guitar. So, I guess the music has always been around. I guess first introduction must have been some kind of jazz music, because that’s what he digests. I can remember the first album I ever bought for myself was Michael Jackson’s Bad.
Mark Dean: Quite different from what you do these days.
Niklas Sandin: Yeah. Quite different. I started out as a saxophone player.
Mark Dean: Right?
Niklas Sandin: I played that for four or five years before I realized I was more into heavy music, so of course my fingers wanted to lift some cash out of the wallet and buy an electric guitar. But before that it was a good old saxophone.
Mark Dean: You don’t play the saxophone at all these days, no?
Niklas Sandin: No, that’s unfortunately stuck in the closet. But I should pick it up. It’s one of those instruments in order to get any good tone out of it, you need to break in your lip for a couple of weeks. It’s not something you just pick up at a party, because I would sound horrible. I would try. Maybe that would be a good party trick, though.
Mark Dean: Yeah, who knows. Maybe some saxophone on the next Katatonia album.
Niklas Sandin: Oh, yeah. Who knows! You never know.
Niklas Sandin: Uh, well, a high point was definitely playing this Shepherd’s Bush Empire, that was really cool. Doing that on this Fall of Hearts tour through Europe when we played for almost sold-out Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, that was really cool. I think a low point, when I got really disappointed was when I joined this band called Siebenbürgen. It’s a little bit like Transylvanian black metal outfit. I was really young. I was 17 or something. I was promised to do my first European tour back then, but it never really happened and it fell through the cracks because of the drummer couldn’t leave since he’d bought this Harley-Davidson on down payment. So, I guess that was a little bit disappointing for me, but I got my tours a couple of years later so I’m not bitter about that today. But I guess as this 17-year-old with those kinds of dreams, it was a little bit tougher. Yeah. Down point.
Mark Dean: What do you like to do in your spare time, when you’re not playing on stage or recording in the studio? Have you any sort of interests or hobbies?
Niklas Sandin: That’s actually the weird thing with having your occupation as your hobby as well. It’s actually, playing more music. I have this death metal band called Lik, which is playing this kind of Stockholm old-school death metal raw sound, which is kind of where I go to get my rocks off when I don’t play with Katatonia. Boringly enough, it’s more music, is the answer. I don’t play chess or collect stamps or anything like that. It’s that, and then I try to hang out with my loved ones of course.
Mark Dean: You’ve been playing music for a long time. How you come to terms with maybe not having any less privacy. You’re always in the public eye, fans are always going to want a little piece of you. Is that difficult to deal with, when you want maybe some time away with family?
Niklas Sandin: Actually, being the bass player in the band, you have actually much private space because people are still leaning more towards pursuing either the singer or the guitarist, so that’s actually quite nice. For some reason, your face doesn’t really stick that heavily deep-rooted into the fans. That’s perfect for me, because I like to go out and have a look around when I’m on tour, and that would just be a hassle. I know that for me it’s quite easy to go out and go for a stroll. But if I, for example, have Jonas with me, then it’s a little more trouble. You sometimes come back to the venue and there’s lots of those fans already there. But of course, it’s nice to meet them as well, though sometimes it gets overwhelming.
Mark Dean: Obviously, you’re preparing for tour now. Before you go out on tour, would that be the only time you go back and listen to your own music? You know, when you’re getting the set together? Or do you actually take time to listen to your own music at home?
Niklas Sandin: Well, sometimes. Sometimes that happens. A little bit to refresh. If you haven’t listened to an album for some while, it can be nice to put it on there and get a sense of feel, how it works for you nowadays. But of course, when preparing for a tour, it’s mainly listening to those songs that you’re going to go out to play live, and those who are included in the set list that you have composed. But otherwise it’s mainly listening to other music.
Mark Dean: How do you view your own musical legacy? Do you look back with pride, is it something that you’re proud of, or is maybe some of those releases that you go, “Oh, dear, what was I doing?“
Niklas Sandin: No, I don’t think I have any skeletons in the closet when it comes to those things I was part of before. Maybe more like how you have looked on stage, or more kind of image-wise. But I think I can be straight up with everything that I’ve been part of. I don’t need to hide anything in some box in some shallow rift or something like that. Actually, when thinking about it I’m quite happy about that.
Mark Dean: That’s good. There have been many significant changes in the music industry since you started. Is it a better or worse career environment these days for a musician?
Niklas Sandin: Actually, for me, I came in at the same time as when very much all the income from selling records was just like, you could forget about it because of the downloads and the file sharing. And of course, nowadays, one of the largest media players where people listen to music is YouTube, so there’s hardly any money coming in, even right pretty much from when I came into the music industry. But I guess it was more easygoing to get a living out of playing music before, but of course it wasn’t as available for fans, and it was harder maybe to reach out and get new fans, because now so much of people they can just click on Spotify and discover you without having to need to have a discussion of whether you can afford that album, to pick that up or not, to listen to it.
So, I guess it’s for good and for worse. I think it just takes some time for the music industry to adjust as well. Maybe this is something that just takes a little bit longer for the industry to adjust, but as you see, what happens in the future. I know that something needs to happen, because you need to have a really, really, extensive playlist that plays on Spotify to get any kind of cash.
Mark Dean: It must be difficult for artists to basically be working for very little money, all your effort and all the time and all the love and passion that you put into creating music.
Niklas Sandin: Oh, yeah. That’s quite difficult because, well, I’ve stumbled upon people when being out playing and they’re like, “Oh, but back in Sweden, you must have this really nice house, because I can see that you’re really successful, you’re playing here and you’re playing there and you get to see these things,” and like, “Well, yeah, we get to play, but there is no big house, there is no expensive car. It’s pretty much just trying to get money for food on the table and maybe a couple of beers when Friday night comes. But there’s no luxury living.”
Mark Dean: What about your views on those sorts of schemes where fans contribute financially to bands, maybe creating an album or going out on tour? What’s your view on that?
Niklas Sandin: Oh, yeah. You mean like PledgeMusic?
Mark Dean: Yeah.
Niklas Sandin: I think that’s good, because that’s like a way for artists and musicians to finance their projects and really reach a goal where they have money to produce it, and then offer it to the fans. Then, of course, offer something more for those who have been willing to be like, not like a shareholder, but of course investing in your thing and believing in what you are doing. So, I think that’s quite cool, kind of like a communication and integration of the fans being part of it as well. That’s what we deal with, the Dethroned & Uncrowned CD, when we revamped that into an acoustic album. That became so successful, so we even did this 10-day-long European tour for that.
Mark Dean: Those seem to be situations where the bands are actually getting the funding and the fans are getting a little bit extra. It also helps the fans feel a little bit closer to the band.
Niklas Sandin: I think so. As long as the artists keep the integrity so the artist doesn’t feel like they’re selling their souls, like that they need to have some people over for dinner or something like that, I think that’s just cool when you have a chance to make the fans happy and you reach your goal and as you say, in the end it becomes a win-win situation.
Mark Dean: Who would be the most inspiring musician that you have ever worked with?
Niklas Sandin: Most inspiring musician I’ve ever worked with. That’s a good question. I think it’s all of the musicians that I’m playing with. There’s one in particular, and this is Tomas Akvik. He was filling out on the guitar spot for Katatonia for one and a half years there as a session guitarist. I’ve always been really, really inspired when playing with him, and rehearsing with him, and he really feels my musicianship in a good way. He’s also playing in this band I mentioned earlier, Lik. So, I know. He’s always a good bloke to play and jam with.
Mark Dean: Who would you like to sit down and interview, with you asking the questions?
Niklas Sandin: Oh. That’s a good one as well. Maybe I would interview, well, of course, George Lucas would be cool, now I’m thinking of Star Wars. Always been a good Star Wars fan, so maybe that would be cool, to sit down and interview him. Probably I will come up with someone else moments after we end this interview, but that’s the one that comes to mind right now if I need to choose one off the top of my head.
Mark Dean: Niklas, that’s great. Thank you very much for taking the time, and enjoy the rest of your day.
Niklas Sandin: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. Have a good evening.