On the 13 April, minutes before Kataklysm appeared on the stage of the Electric Ballroom, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Dagenais, the bandís guitar player. We talked about Kataklysmís latest release "Serenity in Fire", the revival of Metal music and our common admiration for the musical phenomenon called Loreena McKennitt.
Hi Jeff. Letís talk about Kataklysmís new album "Serenity in Fire", the bandís 7th studio album. Can you give us some information related to the recordings of the album?
Jeff: We started working on "Serenity in Fire"in the beginning of the summer. I believe that this is probably the most important album for us, because itís one of the albums that we worked the most spontaneously for - all of us together. It took us about a month and a half to write all the songs, and then we went straight to the studio where we spent three weeks recording the album and also mixing it. We made it just in time for the deadline that we had from Nuclear Blast, but again I enjoyed the fact that itís a very spontaneous album - I really like it.
So, isnít there anything that you would have done differently in your opinion?
Jeff: So far, I believe not. I think that itís the only record I made that I can still listen to and not be fed up with. With the previous records, two weeks after leaving the studio I would be able to detect something that I would have done differently, but this is probably the first album that I listen to a few months later and Iím still very happy with.
How different is "Serenity in Fire" from your previous releases? I detected quite a few different influences in this album, elements from Deicide and Hypocrisy.
Jeff: I donít think that "Serenity in Fire" is much different from our previous releases. I believe that thereís been a major improvement as far as the songwriting is concerned. The musicianship is also better now that we have a new drummer (Martin Maurais). Heís so much better that all the standard drummers that we used to have before - his arrival was a big kick in the ass for us. To get back to what I was saying, I believe that anyone whoís acquainted with our previous albums will be able to see that we have improved a lot as musicians.
What is the normal songwriting process that you guys follow? Is it one of your riffs that usually starts the whole thing or a vocal line..?
Jeff: It depends. Usually we start with either a chorus idea or a hook that we make out - for instance, in the first song of the album, "The Ambassador of Pain", I remember that we were walking down the street and Maurizio (Vocals) started singing to me the chorus of the song. Then we went straight home where he recorded it on the computer, and I made a guitar riff to go behind it. Some other times we start with a guitar riff of mine, and based on that we build the whole song. Every song is a different case. A song always start from either some ideas we had while on tour, or even when weíre in a bar drinking and having fun. At home I have my recording gear, so sometimes I will sit back and record some stuff, and when I need some ideas, I will go back to my computer and listen back to all those things that I have written so far. Thatís how I get good ideas in order to write a new song.
Was the album received well by the music press?
Jeff: Again I think that this is the best album for us so far. The worst score that we had so far for this album was 8 out of 10, which is amazing. The reviewers have been great to us. When I started checking out the reviews I received from Nuclear Blast, I was really happy with the way the press has seen the record. Itís great for the kind of music that we play. In the past, when we used to sell our own CDs, people would say, "Oh, this is too extreme" - they obviously didnít like our releases that much. Now we managed to record a very extreme record that the press likes, so weíre very happy.
You must be quite satisfied with Nuclear Blast then...
Jeff: Yeah, Nuclear Blast is treating us great. We made a lot of friends in the label which are supporting the band very passionately on every level. We also now have a bigger budget for our recordings. While touring Germany, the president of the label, Marcus, came to our show and told us that he is a huge Kataklysm fan, and that there will always be a place on the label for us no matter what happens. This is something that any band would have liked to hear.
Maurizio mentioned that youíre the person responsible for the production of the album.
Jeff: I feel very lucky with Kataklysm, cause I have the ability to produce my own music. I am a member of this band, so I know exactly how every musician wants his instruments to sound. When we go to the studio I know exactly how Martin wants his drums to sound and how I want my guitar to sound, Stephane with his bass and Maurizio with his vocals. Itís great Ďcause we work as a team. Every decision stays within us, and that happens simply because we donít have to work with anybody else. We all are quite understanding since we share the same vision. We are very proud of our product!
Which are your plans for promoting the album? Today you continue your UK tour with this London gig. How about touring?
Jeff: This tour we are doing so far is targeting the European markets. We are supporting Cannibal Corpse, and this is a great opportunity for us to promote our album to a bigger audience. We will soon be heading to America where weíll make our first headlining tour for this year together with Misery Index. We will do that for a month, and then weíll head back to Europe with Crowbar in the beginning of July. Then we will do a tour in Brazil and play in a lot of festivals and after that I believe that we will take a break as Maurizioís wife is pregnant and is excpecting his first child somewhere round December. After that weíll see what weíre going to do. We donít want to plan so far in advance Ďcause you never know what happens, but in general I think that we have a pretty busy schedule for the rest of the year.
Coming from America, can you detect any major differences between the American and the European Death metal fans as per their reaction to the music? Do you believe that there is a revival of Death Metal music in the last years?
Jeff: I believe that Death Metal has grown much stronger over the last two or three years. I donít believe that this applies only for Death Metal though, I believe that the whole Metal scene has grown much stronger the last couple of years. Itís very interesting for a band like us that things are getting better. I believe that weíre really lucky that we managed to stay together all these years, and now things are starting to become better for us again. We became a band in 1992 when Death Metal was strong, and then we started going down in the period between 1996 and 1998. We continued playing our music though, and things now have come full circle. Itís good for us that we managed to stick together and see this thing happening all over again. We have a few more good years ahead of us.
What was the reason that kept you guys going?
Jeff: I think it was just the love we have for music. For us itís not just a hobby, itís a passion. We get together we write and play music and we really enjoy doing that. Thatís what kept us going. We have the fire deep inside. We are doing this since we were really young...I believe that my life without music would have been really boring!
How do you find life on the road? Do you enjoy touring?
Jeff: The greatest thing about being on tour is the travelling part. I get to visit many different countries for different concerts. That for me is great! I like to wake up early in the morning and go travel, visit the city. Sometimes it sucks when we have to make a gig in the middle of nowhere, a place where thereís nothing around to see. Most of the time though we play in places where there are plenty of things to see, and thatís what I do most of the day. We actually play forty-five minutes every day, so that means that the rest of the day is free and I have nothing to do. So what I do is I go out, see places, meet people and that for me is great - the best part of the tour. This is something that every member of the band enjoys the most. We love playing live in front of an audience but thatís for less than an hour. We need to find things to do that will keep ourselves busy, or else life on the road will become quite boring.
Whatís the most memorable moment for you in the history of the band?
Jeff: It was the Wacken Open Air this past summer. Itís incredible - itís like a childís dream! You walk on stage and there is something like fifteen to twenty thousand people in front of you! It quite an incredible feeling just to be able to look at this crowd. We walked on the stage while the intro was starting and I felt my legs getting wobbly and shaky (laughs). Yeah, because you look at this crowd and it seems so unreal, even afterwards when you look at the pictures youíre like: "this is untrue, it looks fake" (laughs). It looks like somebody whoís working in a PhotoShop office made this picture - itís really crazy!
You already told me that you have a busy schedule up to the end of the year. What are the bandís plans for the futute? Are you going to record a new album soon? Do you have any new songs or ideas ready yet?
Jeff: Yeah, we have a bunch of ideas ready for our new album. I donít think that it will take super long before we release our next record. The plan was to tour as much as possible for "Serenity in Fire". After that we decided to take a four-five month break, Ďcause we all need it (laughs). We have been touring strong for the last five years, record-tour-record-tour, so I believe that a small break is really important for us at this moment in time. You should expect our next album to be out late 2005, early 2006.
Name some of the artists/bands that influenced you and inspired you to become a musician.
Jeff: The main reason why I play guitar today is Iron Maiden. If it wasnít for them, I wouldnít be doing this today. They are my biggest influence as far as guitar playing and music is concerned. I listen and enjoy different kinds of music, like Country or traditional Folk/Celtic music, which I like a lot. Iím pretty open-minded when it comes to music. I think that this is really important for a musician - having different influences helps you write better stuff.
This approach to music is like a blessing that came with the new millennium - nothing like it was back in the 80ís.
Jeff: Yes, thatís quite true. Years ago I wouldnít mention these influences cause people would have thought that we are posers. Well weíre not posers (laughs). We love music, we like listening to different styles. I think that especially when youíre on the road, listening and playing Death Metal all the time is not healthy (laughs).
I agree with you on that. What was the latest album that you bought?
Jeff: I think that the last album that I bought was the latest Loreena McKennitt CD (editorís note: fantastic singer - if you find the album "The Book of Secrets" buy it on the spot). I am a big fan of Loreenaís music. I also bought the new Evanescence which I also thought was really good. I love the music, and I really like the girlís voice as well. The next album that Iím really looking forward to buying is the new Suffocation album. That I believe is the latest stuff that I got.
What do you wish to achieve as a member of Kataklysm? Whatís your ultimate goal?
Jeff: You will probably think that Iím very foolish, but my dream is to be able to live by playing music (laughs). We are in a good level right now - weíre finally starting to see good money coming in the band. Iíd like to able to go and work in the studio so that I will be able to afford to pay my bills for the whole year. If I could just do that, go on tour and make records, that would be my dream.
What would you like to say to all those people who have come to see you tonight and buy your new album?
Jeff: I really hope that theyíll enjoy the gig. I think that weíre a pretty different band. I know of course that everyone says the same thing, but I believe that we have our own style. I hope that people will enjoy "Serenity in Fire". If you guys want to come and have a drink with us, weíll be more than happy to do that. Donít be afraid to come and talk to us - thatís why weíre here!
The Underground is still alive then! Thank you very much Jeff.
Jeff: Thank you John.
Interview © 2004