You shouldn’t really need an intro for a Jonas Renkse interview. Chances are, you’ve dug his work in one of his bands. If you’re a death metal fan, you are seriously missing out if you haven’t heard anything from his supergroup, Bloodbath. If you’re bread is buttered more on the prog and doom metal side, Katatonia has probably been spun a time or two by you at least. However you know Renkse, there’s no denying that he’s an incredibly talented and influential musician.
When getting tickets for this year’s Maryland Deathfest, one of the bands I was most looking forward to was Bloodbath. Unfortunately, Bloodbath had to pull out before the festival due to visa issues, a problem that’s been all too common this year amongst bands, and that has bit me in the ass personally now a few times (R.I.P. my plans to see Watain). Fortunately for me, Renkse took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with me over email about his projects and his love of extreme metal.
How did you initially get into enjoying metal as a genre? Who were some of your early inspirations and important bands in becoming a fan of the genre?
Jonas: I wanted and got some metal albums for Christmas in 1983, got stuck immediately. Bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Accept were important for me when I was plunging into the world of heavy metal.
Between Bloodbath and Katatonia, you’ve done bass, vocals, guitars, keyboards, programming, and drums. What do you like about the challenge of mastering a new instrument?
Jonas: I am a jack of all trades but master of none! I never quite had the time (or interest in practicing) to become really good at something. I always wanted to move on to the next thing and thus I am semi-good or semi-bad on a bunch of things instead of being really good at something. This also goes beyond music related stuff unfortunately.
What was the origin of Katatonia? How did the band initially form and what prompted you and Anders to expand it to more than a two-piece?
Jonas: In the very beginning we had a full band (although with revolving line-ups) but as it turned out me and Anders Nyström were the only ones sharing our pretty narrow concept, so we had to do it ourselves for a bit. However, we always wanted to be a full band so we were constantly on the lookout for the right kind of people. Eventually we found them… and lost a few on the way, too.
With the lineup changing at times throughout the years, what do you guys look for when you have an opening? Has what you looked for in a new member changed as the years have gone on?
Jonas: Yeah, I think these days it’s more important to have someone you like as a person rather than someone who can play really well. When you spend loads of time together being on tour and whatnot, it’s nicer to have a friend by your side than just another “guitarist” or “drummer”. With that said, I am happy that our members are both friendly and great players as well.
What is the writing process like for the music side of things? How about the lyric writing process?
Jonas: I always make the music first, usually strumming the guitar or coming up with a drum beat and see where that can take me. Lyrics come very late in the process. I make vocal melodies first and then finalize the lyrics when I’m happy with everything else.
Katatonia is a really fun band to follow the evolution of the sound. You guys have grown and changed sound throughout your career to the point where no one really sounds like Katatonia. How would you describe the process of evolution that the band’s sound has gone through? What has led to those times where you switched it up and took things in a new direction? Like I said, it definitely keeps things from getting repetitive and, as a listener, it keeps you on your toes.
Jonas: It’s all been so natural so I can’t really say that we’ve made switches. It’s an integrated process and is just happening as we go along. I’m glad we can still do it that way, I would dread sitting and thinking about how we should change our sound, trying to become something else just for the sake of changing.
I really dug the latest album, City Burials. What was the writing/recording process like for that one? Being 11 albums in, how do you keep things fresh and exciting for yourself? Coming off a hiatus, did the band feel recharged getting into the creation process for that album?
Jonas: Yeah, we were all pretty eager to get back to business with a new album. Writing was pretty smooth, can’t really recall anything different with it. Recording went well too. We recorded drums at a big and famous studio here in Stockholm (Soundtrade) and then recorded guitars and bass at a smaller studio and then ending up mixing in Denmark with Jacob Hansen.
Like I had told you, I’m a huge fan of Bloodbath too. How did that band come about and what made you guys want to form a death metal supergroup?
Jonas: In the very beginning we were just talking about it, for fun, but when we got a chance to record three songs we wrote them on the spot. We never intended to be a supergroup, we were just four friends that had a big heart for death metal. Initially we didn’t even intend on releasing the recording, we just wanted to keep it to ourselves on cassette like a good old demo.
Was it an adjustment to switch from Katatonia over to a different group of guys recording a different style of music in a somewhat different role than you have in Katatonia? Is it ever a challenge to keep both bands up and running at the same time?
Jonas: It was never a problem since we knew each other so well already. Usually it’s not a challenge, Bloodbath is not as busy as Katatonia, we do it for the hell of it when we have the time.
You guys have had a variety of different band members over the years in Bloodbath but have managed to keep the band consistently high quality throughout multiple lineups. What do you look for in a Bloodbath member? How did Nick Holmes end up as your current vocalist? I’ve really enjoyed his work with the band and you’ve had nothing but great vocalists throughout your run.
Jonas: Someone who’s going to be part of Bloodbath needs to have the same background as the rest of us. Like Nick, we’d been touring with Katatonia and Paradise Lost and ended up talking about death metal all the time. He’s a few years older than us so he has been in the underground scene from the very beginning. When we had to look for a new singer Nick was an obvious choice.
The first two albums, Resurrection Through Carnage and Nightmares Made Flesh, are such strong opening LPs to start with. What was the recording/writing process like for those? How do you feel the band grew between those two recordings? Looking back, how do you feel about those two records now?
Jonas: With the second album, we became more of a real band, with Axe coming in. Before that we were more of a studio project. We started playing some shows after Nightmares Made Flesh and everything went up a notch. They’re both strong albums!
What’s the music recording process like for Bloodbath? Has it changed as the years have gone on and the lineup has changed?
Jonas: Very standard. Starting with drums and vocals last. No difference between the albums.
What’s the lyric writing process like then for Bloodbath? Who tends to write those and what do you guys use for inspiration for the themes?
Jonas: It’s a bit back and forth. I usually write lyrics for the songs I write and the other guys do the same. Nick’s writing more these days too. To me the inspiration comes from old death metal. I want to try and capture the same feeling I had when I read the lyrics from albums with Morbid Angel, Autopsy etc.
You guys have released two live Bloodbath albums and they’re both killer. What’s the key to getting a good live record made?
Jonas: To get into the death metal vibe!
When do you guys start thinking about making a new Bloodbath record? Is there someone that usually gets the ball rolling or how does that process work?
Jonas: When we have some spare time between the things we do with our main bands. It’s become a bit of a nightmare to find the right spots in the calendar to be honest.
How affected have both of your bands been by the COVID pandemic? How nice is it to finally be able to go back out and play shows again?
Jonas: It’s been horrible. We lost a good bunch of money and opportunities. But, there was of course nothing to do about it. It’s fantastic to be back, this is what we do. I have nothing to fall back on, really.
How excited are you for the MDF set? The lineup is, as always, incredible and it’s nice to have the fest finally back although I was very saddened to hear that it might have to be the final time [Ed. note: This interview was conducted before Bloodbath announced dropping out of the fest].
Jonas: Unfortunately we couldn’t make it to MDF due to visa issues. From what I understand there is a backlog due to COVID and maybe our case was seen as more difficult since we are from three different countries. We filed for our visas in October last year and now in May we still hadn’t got an approval. I was looking forward so much to play the States again.
Lastly, when you aren’t working with music, what do you like to do to relax? What are your free time hobbies/interests?
Jonas: I used to read a lot, unfortunately lost a bit of that. But I love cooking, it’s like therapy for me these days.
Check out Jonas on Instagram; Katatonia on their site, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud, and Apple Music; and Bloodbath on their site, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud, and Apple Music.