Swedish traditional metallers Katana make no bones about their affinity for the 80’s, or as some see it, the glory days of metal. While some feel that notion is not entirely true (read: there was a lot of crap in the 80’s, too), Katana brings to life the good things about said decade, including songs with a Maiden-like bravado, basted with overlapping melodies and the classically-framed vocals of Johan Bernspång. One can find such things on their Storms of War sophomore effort, which quickly follows last year’s well-received Heads Will Roll. Wanting to get to the bottom of Katana’s 80’s hard-on, we snagged guitarist Tobias Karlsson for a quick chat. Read on...
Blistering.com: Heads Will Roll was released last year and now you’re back with Storms of War. Why such the quick turnaround?
Tobias Karlsson: Even though Heads Will Roll was released last year, it was recorded nearly three years ago and all of us in the band felt eager to start working on new material at last! So we concentrated very much on writing songs and it all came very naturally, it was great fun and lots of cool ideas were spawned! We set up a deadline to have a new album recorded by the end of 2011, and we made it happen. There is no reason to rush things, of course, but there is no reason to be lazy about it either.
Blistering.com: After you released Heads Will Roll, you hit the road with Lizzy Borden. What was that like?
Karlsson: That was great, some of the guys in the band are huge Lizzy fans. We also toured with Where Angels Suffer, with (former WASP members) Ira Black, Chris Holmes and Stet Howland at the helm. That was an awesome experience; those guys are legendary and great fun to tour with! Absolutely insane people, for sure, but legendary. We learned a lot from them.
Blistering.com: Were they your ideal touring partners? Any other bands you’re dying to tour with?
Karlsson: Ideal, who knows. They taught us a lot about what to do, and what not to do, in pretty much any given situation, so for that reason it was great! We are really dying to tour right now with Hardcore Superstar, we are leaving in four days and we´ll be gone for two weeks so that´s gonna be great!
Blistering.com: Your look and sound is tied to the 80’s. What is it about this era that appeals to you most?
Karlsson: Except for the most obvious fact that we all think the best music ever made was made in the 80s, there is a lot of stuff that makes the 80s inspiring. The sense of image for example, I think that´s very important, and not just for Katana but for any band. I think this was one of the main things that made the 80s such an interesting decade, because people had a sense for image that is largely lost today. People go up on stage and play in their street clothes. I mean seriously, there´s no magic in that. Live shows should be something magical, something almost profound. The shows you remember and look back on again and again are the ones where the band offered something more than just their music. Something that takes the music to an entirely new level.
And as I said, there was something special about the music in that decade, especially in the first half of it. heavy metal was new and fresh, and interesting. The scene really blossomed with lots and lots of fantastic bands! Today, there is still a very large fanbase for that kind of music, and obviously we count ourselves to that fan base. But soon, there will come a time when none of the bands from that era exist anymore! A lot of other genres have managed to stay alive, and renew themselves in manners that do not necessarily mean that they evolve into something else. But classic heavy metal is a genre that, at least a couple of years ago, was blatantly missing on the younger scene. At first, for us at least, it was all about the music. Then the image was sort of a natural continuation of that. And we sure got a lot of encouragement! When people saw us on stage the first time we used spandex tights and sneakers and stuff, they went mad with admiration! Especially the older guys in the audience who literally hadn´t seen anything like this in 25 years! So we felt that there was a place for us in the music scene of today, and we have tried to develop this style in a way that fits us.
Blistering.com: Do you regret not forming two decades earlier? (Obviously, you were quite young when the 80’s hit…but you get the point ha-ha.)
Karlsson: Well, I´ve whished many times that I was born in 1965 rather than 1985, but that´s mostly because there are so many fantastic shows and tours that I would have loved to see firsthand! As for Katana, I don´t think we could have existed back then. I would want to experience the 80s as a fan first and foremost. The wonderful thing about Katana today is that we have the opportunity to take inspiration both from those bands that formed the NWOBHM, but also from the rich cultures of metal that have formed since. We could never be a pure early 80s band, there is no way to ignore the inspiration that comes from our present days as well! If Katana had been around in those days, we would never have sounded like we sound today.
Blistering.com: There’s been quite the resurgence in your own country of Sweden with classic metal bands ala Portrait, RAM, and Enforcer. Do you feel any type of bond and/or connection with these bands?
Karlsson: I can see both similarities and differences. We all have our own slightly unique approach to the music that we play, but at the same time we are aiming for more or less the same target. But as far as I can tell there is no competition between us, there is just camaraderie and appreciation for the music! We´ve played live together with RAM, Portrait, Helvetets Port and whenever we meet any of them or the others there is always a heavy metal party!
Blistering.com: One thing that separates Katana from other traditional metal bands is your production – it’s very clear and professional-sounding. What made you go this route?
Karlsson: It was a very conscious decision. We wanted our music to be displayed in the best possible way it could, while still sounding 80s. A lot of the other bands of this resurgence go for the more 80s demo tape garage sound on their recordings, and I think that fits perfectly in many cases, but we didn´t feel like that was the approach we wanted to take. We wanted our albums to be comparable with the best possible productions from the early 80s. I dare say we, or rather Andy LaRocque, succeeded!
Blistering.com: LaRocque handled production duties for both albums. What was it like working with him? Did he share any memorable King Diamond stories with you?
Karlsson: Working with Andy is fantastic, he is not only a producer who knows what he is doing; he is a musician who was active right in the middle of the period that we try to recreate. So sometimes we´d find ourselves in situations where he would approach something not as a producer, but rather think back to how they did stuff as musicians in the 80s. And that sort of input is invaluable to us. He is a great guy and yes, he always has a story or two to share!
Blistering.com: Have you started working on new material for the next album?
Karlsson: No, that will have to wait at least a couple of months I think. But there are always new ideas forming, and I´m sure if we got together right now there would be at least 3 or 4 songs between the five of us that would be worth working on. So there are always ideas.
Blistering.com: Finally, what’s on tap for the rest of 2012?
Karlsson: Play as much as possible, and get Storms of War out there!