KATAKLYSM – Interview with Jean-Francois (JF) Dagenais

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Interview with guitarist JF Dagenais

By Peter Atkinson

Photos from www.facebook.com/kataklysm

After nearly 25 years in the death metal trenches, the Canadian-born/now multinational-based quartet Kataklysm have established a pretty solid brand for themselves. And recently they’ve started working to expand their product line – literally.

With frontman Maurizio Iacono having dabbled in the restaurant business in Chicago, Kataklysm introduced a line of signature hot sauces early this year. They are following that up this summer with their own beer. Called St. Tabarnak, the somewhat blasphemous blonde ale is being specially brewed by Brouwerij Eutropius, a relative newcomer to the legendary Belgian beer scene based in Heule.

In the meantime, the band are still going about their usual business of making music. At the end of July, Kataklysm will issue their 12th studio full length, Of Ghosts And Gods, and spend the summer playing festivals around Europe. In the fall, they will play at Slipknot’s “Knotfest” in California and are planning North American tour dates with Belphegor around that time. They will launch a full European tour with Septicflesh and Aborted early in the new year.

After fetching a fresh cup of joe, founding guitarist Jean-Francois (JF) Dagenais spoke over Skype from his home outside of then-flood-ravaged Texas about the band’s crazy schedule, what’s “new” about the new album, the unique way it’s being promoted and Kataklysm’s other endeavors, which he feels will not only offer the chance for the band to have a little fun but also resonate more with fans in an industry where these days it’s every band for themselves.

Got your coffee?

JF Dagenais: Yup, need it today, (laughs) but I’m ready to go.

I can’t imagine spending the day talking into your laptop.

Dagenais: I have my iPad, so it’s not so bad. I can carry that into the bathroom if I need too (laughs). It’s basically been a week of nonstop interviews, but I’m really happy to get feedback from everybody about the record, that’s a big plus. And it’s nice that people want to talk to us. This is not such a bad problem to have.

Are you in Dallas now?

Dagenais: Yes, I’m in Mesquite, which is a suburb of the city.

Did it finally stop raining there?

Dagenais: Yeah, no more tornadoes for a while. Every day I’d wake up and there’d be a tornado warning. My wife’s from here so she’s used to it, but I’m not. You don’t get many of them in Montreal.

Was the flooding that bad where you were?

Dagenais: We got like straight rain for two weeks, with storms in between, but we didn’t get any floods like they got on other parts of Texas. So we were lucky. It just made the grass greener and saved the trees I guess, because before that we got no rain at all. It just sucked because you’re stuck inside and you can’t do anything really. And then you come out and the grass is like a foot long.

Kataklysm: Guitarist JF Dagenais, bassist Stephane Barbe, vocalist Maurizio Iacono and drummer Oli Beaudoin

You’re headed to Europe, though, in a week or so?

Dagenais: Yeah, on Sunday I’m flying to Montreal and we’re going to film the remainder of the videos we need to do for the album, because we’re putting out the 10 videos and it’s so much work. Now I think we have six done and we have four more to do, so we’re going to film some stuff then. Then we’re flying over to Europe to do the Graspop and Dokk’em Festivals and then we’re coming back home for two weeks and then flying back to Europe again.

We have like 18 open airs this summer, so it’s a busy schedule. Last summer, we didn’t do too many open airs, we played maybe three or four and this summer it seems like we’re doing them all. So lots of flights back and forth. But it’s worth it because it’s a good start for the album and the promotion and we get to play before a lot of people right off the bat.

I’d like to do one of those American ones one year. It seems like we’re always busy, but I’d love to maybe do the Mayhem Festival or something like that one year, I think that’d be fun. That’s more like a touring festival, which would be cool.

I was just at the Maryland Deathfest up in Baltimore, have you ever played at that?

Dagenais: We never did. I think once we got an offer, but it was one of those things where they wanted a reunion, where we would only do stuff off the first three albums with the old singer [Sylvain Houde] or something like that. They wanted to pay a lot of money for us to do something special like that, but we were not really into it because we like what we do now and we don’t really care about going back in the past, so we turned that down. But it would be cool, I’ve heard good things about the festival and I’d love to play there for sure.

There’s nothing like playing a parking lot in Baltimore on Memorial Day weekend.

Dagenais: We’ve played the Sonar, which is around the corner, a number of times on regular tours, and I can see the area in my head and I’m sure it’s really cool. A bunch of drunk metalheads taking over the downtown. You can’t beat that (laughs).

Kataklysm guitarist JF Dagenais
Kataklysm guitarist JF Dagenais and drummer Oli Beaudoin live in Pittsburgh

You were mentioning the videos you were doing for each of the songs on the new album. Are they all actual “videos” or more like the lyric video things everyone seems to be doing now?

Dagenais: We’re trying to do 10 real videos. I don’t think we’re going to appear in all of them because I think it would be boring to have the band in every video. So we’re trying to make something special for each of them.

One of them is a live clip, we have a video of us playing a song in our rehearsal space and we appear randomly in some of the others. But a lot of them are going to be images that work with the song or the concept and little bit of acting here and there and a little bit of storytelling. Some of them are going to kind of be like lyric videos, but better than that. It will be something that you can actually get into, it’s not going to be like “Hey, here’s the cover art and the words to the song.”

We’re working very hard at it, it’s all very good quality. Tommy Jones, the producer, has this rad camera, it’s the same thing they used to film “Lord of the Rings.” It’s crisp and clear and it looks great. We’re just not going to do any of the CGI stuff because we obviously don’t have the budget. And I think that’s overdone anyways. We just wanted to do something fun and cool and artistic for this.

It’s a big project. It’s hard to find a killer idea for 10 videos and make it work, but so far from what I’ve seen I’m pretty happy. We’re going to be on time and we’re going to deliver.

Is there some sort of conceptual thread to the album to tie all the songs or videos together, because that would make things a bit easier. But if they are 10 individual and unrelated songs, you definitely have your work cut out for you.

Dagenais: The main line about the new album is we wanted to talk about the old debate about religion versus science. We’re not very religious people, and we’ve only talked a little bit on the subject in our lyrics, but this one we wanted to put the debate on the table. There’s a bunch of songs with different subjects within that argument.

We have a song called “The World Is A Dying Insect,” that one is about the connection between the human and the insects and how we could be considered the parasites on the planet, we’re consuming all of the resources, we’re reproducing at a crazy rate. Somebody else could come here and it would be, “all right, these guys are the insects.”

A lot of songs are philosophical, it’s stuff we talk about when we’re on the tour bus having a glass of wine or a beer at the end of the night. We’ll talk about that stuff and we want to talk about stuff that matters to us, that’s always been our thing with Kataklysm. We’re not really evil black metal people, or we never really talk about gory stuff like Cannibal Corpse would do because that’s their thing.

For us it’s just stuff that matters to us and we try to put in a way that sounds metal. We’re just creating our own little universe around our band. I think it works good for this record because all of the songs have a cool overtone or a subject to them, and with these videos it’s going to be easier to get our point across.

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If you’ve got something you really feel strongly about, that’s a great idea, because death metal lyrics can be easy to misinterpret unless they are like you said, obviously evil or gory?

Dagenais: Sometimes we’ll write a song, like Maurizio will write some lyrics about addiction or something like that, and somebody will come to us and say “Hey man, I lived that exact same thing with my girlfriend,” like it’s about a bad relationship or something, and we’re all looking at each like “What?” (laughs).

People are forever thinking it’s something completely different, but it’s cool because people can interpret things their own ways and that’s what art is all about, being able to touch people in different ways. If we’re able to achieve that then it’s success on a few different levels.

This being, your 12th album, what sort of new twists were you looking to add musically?

Dagenais: We did what we’ve always done, but one thing that is working really well for us is our new drummer Oli [Beaudoin, who replaced Max Duhamel in 2013]. Last record, he was really more of a session guy and we really didn’t know him before recording, so it was kind of like working with a stranger that was a good musician but we really didn’t connect yet. But now, a few years later, we’ve toured a lot together and we’re actually friends and we know each other’s interests in music and how we work and to work this new album together it was much easier to bring it to another level just because of the chemistry we have and I think that helped create something different.

And we also tried a few things, like we’d write a good riff and have a good beat to it and you’re like “OK, we know that this works because we’ve done it before, why not to take a complete left turn and bring it somewhere completely different?” And I think we added a lot of different elements and surprises on this record that keeps you interested from the start ’til the end and when you get to the end you’re like “Man, I want to hear that again because that was cool, there was some cool stuff on there.”

I think that was the main goal of this album. We don’t want to reinvent ourselves, but at the same time we want to keep it interesting for us and for the listener. We want to stay relevant as artists, we don’t want to become one of these bands where you put out a new record because that’s your job and then you go out on the road because you need to earn money. We don’t see it that way. We really want to put out a good album and we really want to put on a good show when we go out on the road. That’s what makes you happy at the end of the day.

Kataklysm live
Kataklysm live in Brazil in 2014

A couple things I noticed about the album is Maurizio’s vocals aren’t quite as husky or gruff as they have been, and there’s a melodic death metal feel to some of the songs, almost Arch Enemy-ish at some times?

Dagenais: Yeah. For the last few albums we were trying to capture the energy he’s giving live on the CD and it’s really hard. Sometimes on the CD you always try to go more surgical and more for perfection. On this record, we were like we don’t want perfection in that sense, we want perfection in the emotions that he put in every sentence and that’s what we went for.

It’s why we hired Mark Lewis [from Audiohammer Studios] to work with the vocals, because we wanted a different ear and a different approach, and that’s what we discussed when we came to start working on this record. We wanted to capture the live intensity and I feel like we got that and I that it’s his best performance, honestly, like you really feel what he means and I think it brings the music to another level.

I know we’re a bit pressed for time because you’re doing these in 15 minutes slots, but I wanted to ask you about the new Kataklysm beer

Dagenais: Yes. We’re very excited about that.

Is there anyone in the band who brews their own beer? Where did the idea for the beer to come from?

Dagenais: We’re all alcoholics (laughs), so we’re all fans of beers and wine and other stuff. I think beer and metal goes well together. And this year, for some strange reason, we’re getting these crazy opportunities to do a bunch of different things, like our line of hot sauces, and it has nothing to do with music but it has everything to do with what we like and how we live. Also, I want to say, we’re not becoming a company like Kiss or anything like that.

St. Tabarnak
Kataklysm’s St. Tabarnak blonde ale: “Like an angel pissing on your tongue”

So there’s not going to be any Kataklysm condoms or coffins?

Dagenais: (laughs) No, the point is to do things that we actually like and enjoy. It’s just a personal trip, and it’s a cool way of getting people’s attention and interest for the new album. I really feel like we have a great record and these little things are the things that are going to make people pay attention to the music and it’s worth it, especially in this day and age with the CD industry and and the album industry dying slowly.

I think it’s important to do other stuff to get people interested and at the same time I’m happy I get my own hot sauce and beer to wash it down with. It’s kind of like a personal fantasy come true. For us, that’s how I see it. We’re not going to gain a lot of money out of this, it’s not really a financial thing, it’s really just about putting the name of the band out there and doing cool stuff for our fans.

Obviously you’re having fun with this as well, because it’s 6.66 percent alcohol, the sales line is “like an angel pissing on our tongue” and the St. Tabarnak name itself – if my recollection of French-Canadian slang is true from growing up in northern Vermont – means St. Fucking or St. Fuck or something of the sort.

Dagenais: Yeah, it’s slang from back home. In Quebec, Canada, all the slang comes from the church. It comes from our grandparents and our great grandparents, and they all took church words and made their own blasphemous words from them, so Tabarnak is a very popular one.

It comes from the tabernacle and, yeah, we use like you would “fuck” or “fucking” in English. It’s got a lot of uses. It works because it’s our roots and at the same time everybody can appreciate the connection.

I guess you’ll get sample it when you head to Europe in a few days?

Dagenais: Yeah. They’re bring us like five or six different samples to try and see what we like best. The guys is brewing a recipe just for us he’s not copying anything, he’s trying to come up with something original. Apparently they are a really good brewery, so I’m looking forward to trying it.

Kataklysm 2015 promo shot