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Jean-François Dagenais (Kataklysm)

Interview with Jean-François Dagenais from Kataklysm
by Charlotte Lamontagne at 20 July 2015, 6:01 PM

Formed since the early 90s, Jean-François Dagenais has always been a part of KATAKLYSM, playing guitar from the start. 11 albums later and after several prestigious appearances worldwide, the band is finally ready to release ''Of Ghosts and Gods'', 12th record due for July 31th 2015. When Charlotte Lamontagne spoke with the guitarist, we discussed the album, the production and concepts behind it, upcoming tours and the lifestyle that goes with it.

Hello Jean-François! Thank you for taking some of your time for Metal Temple today. How are you?

All good.

You seem to have a lot of projects going on this year, the band is very active.

Oh yes, it's a very big year for us. I've been asking myself if I was a 100% ready, I'm hoping yes!

And here's my job today, I'll be asking you your opinions about all these adventures coming up.  Incidentally, to this day, how are you feeling about the new record ''Of Ghosts and Gods'', due for July 31th?

I'm really excited, we've been doing interviews for two weeks now and people all over the world seem very positive about the new material. A lot of people have heard it and thought good of it, so that's always cool feedback. It feels very nice, we've worked so hard. It's always a pleasure to see the metal community react with enthusiasm.

How would you qualify the new record?  What can we expect for the style or musical direction?

Well we're pretty much sticking to what we usually do. There's one thing we did differently this time, though. In the past, every time we had new ideas, we knew how to make them work. We knew how to jumble a riff with the voice and the drums, so instead of reaching out for our older methods, this time we'd try to take a complete opposite direction. That's what we had in mind when composing the record, we didn't want to follow a particular path. We just wanted to lean a bit away from the usual path, but still bring some traditional elements from time to time. It's a very interesting listen from start to finish. There are so many different elements, I feel people will want to listen to it more than once in order to fully grasp the energy.

You had an optic of change in mind, you were orienting yourselves from something slightly different.

Yes. Without completely reinventing ourselves, we wanted to add surprising elements. It's for fun us, for the fans. You know, I find it boring when bands repeat the same album over and over, especially if they've been around for a long time. As a musician, you evolve through changes. I'm always very opened to all kinds of styles or arrangements and that's what I enjoy. I like exploring and trying out new things. The product turns out to be more interesting for us and the fans.

For the first time, the band will shoot a conceptual video for every song on the record. Can you give us further details about the project?

Yeah, it kind of started as a joke actually. We didn't know what to choose as first song for the record or for the video and the radio announcement… We all had different ideas and even the record company had their own. We also asked the producer, but he ended up suggesting completely different ideas from what we had in mind. So for a while there, we kept thinking how good it was that we were this inspired, but also how it wasn't helping us in making a decision. As a joke, one of the guys randomly said we'd be better off if we did 10 videos. The record company automatically loved the idea, they thought of it as genius. They said we were crazy enough to make it work, so that just encouraged us more into going that way. We got this friend, Tommy, he made a DVD with us a couple years back. He really fell for the idea too and made us a good deal out of it. He'll be producing all 10. We're working on them right now and it's really demanding – the work charges are huge. I mean, you need 10 different ideas. We usually go for one or two clips per record and work from three to four weeks on them, but now we don't have the luxury of doing that for all 10 videos. It's all at the same time, always different ideas. You know, we don't want to release 10 live clips of us playing, that'd be way too boring. We got some clips we're not even in, only images that  fit with the concept of the song. Some contain footages of us playing in studio or live, some songs even have actors expressing the themes! And so now we're basically trying to pull all of it together and make it on time for the deadline. Still four to go, we got six done already. We'll be back in Montreal this weekend, so we should definitely be shooting two or three videos in the next days.

You seem to orient yourselves towards conceptual works for this record. Incidentally, where does the title ''Of Ghosts and Gods'' come from? Would you say there is a particular philosophical signification behind it?

Well, for the new record we mostly wanted to talk about the connection – say the debate between spiritual religions and science. We're not really religious or even believers, but we wanted to share our point of view on the whole issue. We're talking history, corruption, the conspiracy theories from the church and how religion controls people through it and the money making behind it too. With all the trips we've been doing around the world, it's something very common we've observed. Rich countries, poorer countries – they all seem to have these recurring themes and problems. We like talking about things that strike an interest for us. We're not that into serial killers or orgies and Satan, like most bands surrounding us. We like talking about things that touch us more personally. There's a song called ''Dying Insect'', its the last one on the record. It talks about the relation between humans and insect. Maybe after all we're just parasites squatting the earth, consuming all the resources, reproducing ourselves… It's a completely different point of view on humanity, completely anti-religious and spirituality, but maybe that's it. The last record (''Waiting for the End to Come'') focused a lot on death and how it can make us realize some things, but this time we took it to another level, something more spiritual.

But it's also a critic. You seem to be denouncing the effect of religion on the human spirit and mind, and of course the classic inside jobs and the whole corruption.

Totally. I respect the opinion and beliefs of all, I can understand it's part of peoples culture and personal experiences… But, you know, for me it's something else. We're just trying to add our grain of salt to the whole debate. We thought it was important to talk about it.

You guys are planning on touring a lot during the summer, mostly festivals. Greece, Spain, Germany, France… Would you say you prefer the big crowds and the outdoor ambiance that comes with it?

Yes and no, really. I enjoy festivals because they're like realizing the dreams you had as a kid. I mean, 80 thousand people cheering for you has got to be something. It's the kind of situation I never believed would happen. The ambiance is great. It's just that you don't always have time to fully enjoy it. With all the shows going on, people on the outside don't always realize how many flights we need to catch and all. Most of the time, we get to the hotel for a quick sleep and then we're up again for new flights and destinations. You need to keep your energy for the show. Yeah of course you get to meet up with some people, but it's mostly always the concert and the interviews that follow up. Time flies pretty fast when you're always between two flights. I think tours on the road, where you're actually in a tour bus, are better for that. I prefer having time to explore a bit and maybe drink a beer somewhere before getting it on with the show and then having to crash in the bus for the night. I like to wander around, and I think normal tours offer you that opportunity more. For sure I enjoy the shows. I mean, like I said earlier, big crowds always give you this unique energy. It's the moment I look forward to the most when touring, it's just the rest of it that's mentally draining. A lot of musicians start drinking because of it. You never have time to do anything but drink and play, then switch cities. I try to stay away from those traps. I made many friends around the world with the years, so I always try to catch up with them when touring.

Exactly. So you say you prefer the moment you get on stage and play the show. But would you say you rather that big, wild crowd or the jammed-up bar where there is actual intimacy between the public and the band?

Every gig is different. It's like if some nights the crowd is electrified and very receptive, while other crowds seem bored out. And that always changes, whether we're talking huge or small gig. It can be very explosive sometimes and that's why I can't pick sides. It doesn't matter how big the crowd is, it's more about how crazy it is. Those are the shows I prefer. They give me life and energy. Some nights, I feel I've perfectly played the set but for whatever reason it's like there is no magic between the crowd and us. For sure I'm thankful, because they give us the chance to perform our art, but it's just not as memorable. After a tour, there are some nights you definitely look back to and smile, you remember them more than others. And most of the time, we go to these same cities after a while, hoping it will be the same, but the energy has changed. It's always random and unique and that's why you need to take the time to live the moment and enjoy it.

And you guys have toured a lot since the 90s, you've travelled many cities in the world. Do you have the impression some particular cities welcome you better? Like if some crowds, depending on the city, had more enthusiasm?

Well that's a tricky question because the metal community, in general, is very passionate. We all share the same interest for music. Sure, metal is popular worldwide, but European cities like Germany and Sweden share a keen interest for it I'll admit. So of course, when you get there, you automatically feel that vibe. There's a special energy and the crowds get bigger and so you always feel very appreciated when playing there. But you know, sometimes we'll play in small bars in America and the crowds are still very devoted. We have a lot of chance here in Montreal, too. The metal scene is very active. Montreal, Toronto, Quebec, always nice cities to play in – always powerful moments in the tour. I'm really lucky to have grown in Montreal, I've been exposed to the scene.

Do you guys enjoy playing in your home town? Is there any particular or different feelings then when you're playing elsewhere?

I've always enjoyed it, it's definitely cool for some obvious reasons. We got some friends coming up to the gig and all, so it's always a blast. I've been living in Dallas, Texas for six years now so it's always comforting and fun when I get back to my old town, I feel at home. I gather up with some old friends, we'll hit different pubs all over town – By the time I get to the show I'm a bit tipsy. It's always a nice day and an explosive night. I also get to see my family after the show. I'll catch up with my mother and my sisters, so that's always great too.

But considering you're origins, would you say the cultures you've discovered during the different tours have influenced, in any way, the music of Kataklysm?

Well I want to say there is one thing that influenced us a lot. I think, in Montreal, we have this sort of hybrid of genres that doesn't exist elsewhere. We draw inspiration from the European culture, but we also merge it with the American culture. Musically, it's a very interesting combination. You don't hear that everywhere. My range of interests goes from Europe to North America, I really find a passion for all of it. I like how bands in Montreal use that fusion to their advantage. We're really lucky for that cultural wealth and diversity. It's inspiring. I mean, I often just jam for fun on my patio – and it's 40 degrees and all and I'm just enjoying a beer. I guess the feeling of living elsewhere inspires me in a different way then if I was home in Montreal. Like for the new album. We recorded it in many different places. See, Oli (Beaudoin) lives at the far end of the woods in the region of Saguenay and so we gathered up at his place, installed a studio, and let ourselves be inspired by the difference. With the forest surrounding us and all, it just felt right you know.

Does Kataklysm have a ritual or a running gag you must do before every show?

Oh yeah that's some random bullshit we got there. Steph (Barbe) and I always joke about who goes up on stage first. Some clubs you got to enter from the right side and others from the left side, so we never know who'll be going first. Technically, my gear is set on the right side of the stage so when we're getting in by the right side, I'm the last one to go. So every night it's just about joking around and kidding the others about who gets to go first. But you know, other than that we don't really have any other traditions. We try to have as much fun as possible and we always want to give our best. We love getting on stage to play some music. There used to be a nervous feeling I couldn't shake, but with time I've became completely comfortable. Every scenario possible has happened at least once, there isn't something we haven't been through, so I guess that reassures you in a way. If something weird happens, it just becomes a funny story with time. Fire alarms have interrupted our shows, amplifiers have fallen, we've tripped over our own cords. One time, a spotlight actually fell from the ceiling. Not on any one of us at least, but we still had to stop the show for 15 minutes. You never know what will happen. Sometimes you're playing and someone unplugs your instrument by accident. It's rock n' roll, it's part of the game.

Well you guys are going to Wacken Open Air this summer. You don't feel stressed at all about playing for such considerable crowds?

Not really. A gig is a gig to me. You get to a point where you don't even see the difference between 80 thousand people and 20 thousand. You get on stage, ready to kill it, and all you see is an ocean of people going batshit insane. To me, it's no stress any more. What's important is to give a good performance. Last time we played at Wacken was real cool, we had a bunch of crowd surfers coming at us. People were falling and all, the view we had of it was quite funny. It's our third time playing Wacken this year, we're as excited as we used to be. Plus, it's the same night as our release party for the record, so it'll definitely be memorable.

About your projects for this year, I hear you are going to produce a Belgian beer – the St. Tabarnak – where did the idea come from?

We had quite a few ideas like that this year, many fun projects. We had the hot sauces too, but I think the beer is a bit more of an interesting project because we all love beer, but we felt we needed a quality one. One that we could fully enjoy and share with the fans. We talked about it to the company, we wanted a tasty recipe… And you know, the name also came out as a joke. But really, St. Tabarnak is a very representative name for us and it captures our humour too. Even if we live in different cities and countries now, Quebec will always stay our main roots. So yeah, basically the brewer also enjoyed the idea, he thought promoting it in France would be nice too. We're going to distribute it in Europe first, but we already got a whole crew interested in distributing it here in Canada. We don't really know yet where the project is heading, but for now we've really gotten some good responses.

Are you guys thinking about producing a whole range eventually?

For not it's more of a personal project. We don't have any particular goals for it and especially not financial ones. It's really only something cool to do and a good way of promoting the new record. In 2015, what's important is to attract the attention on the band and create opportunities for people to talk about it.

Well thank you for your time Jean-François, take care.

Thanks to you, have a nice evening.


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