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Het Canadese hyperblast ensemble Kataklysm komt op de eerste dag van juni met het overweldigende nieuwe studio album ’Meditations’, een schoolvoorbeeld van opgekropte energie en rigoureuze death metal. Natuurlijk wilden we ook deze opvolger van ’Of Ghosts And Gods’ extra in de bloemetjes zetten en daarom hadden we een leuk gesprek met gitarist/componist en producer J-F Dagenais.

Door: Vera | Archiveer onder death metal / grindcore

Good morning, because in Texas it is still morning, I guess…
Yes, but right now I am in Canada to visit my mom and we also have rehearsals for the Ex Deo tour. I had two coffees and made some eggs and now I am ready to rock (laughs).

First of all, congratulations with the new album ‘Meditations’. It is amazing!
Thank you! It is always nice to hear that someone likes it. We were so happy with the results. We put so much work into it. But we have a lot of positive comments and feedback so far and that’s nice to hear.

After all these years you must be getting used to comments…
Yes, but you never know, sometimes the comments are like: it is not as good as the former one or that they prefer the works from the past. Then I think: ‘shit!’

How do you personally look back at the making of the new album?
It was a good experience, because it was really spontaneous. It was the first time in a long time that all of us were in the same room all together writing. A few albums were made from a distance, because we all live in different cities. We worked in our home studios and used Skype. This time we actually took the time to be in the same room and write the new album together and I think you can hear that in the songs. We could easily go back and forth and other people could bring in ideas. It was very creative and I hope we can work this way from now on, on the next albums as well. It was a great chemistry, a great energy. I am really happy about that.

You as producer of the albums, I think you have found a new buddy in drummer Oli Beaudoin to assist you in production work, isn’t it?
Yes, because he is also very good in that kind of stuff. It is great, because now I feel that I can share my duties a bit, with all the production work and the recordings and I think it allows me to even be more creative, because it is great to have a second opinion and fresh ideas, new ideas. Of course I have my style and the ideas I know, but somebody else coming in and helping me with this kind of work opens a new world for me with new possibilities and I really appreciate that.

How did you get into that production work? Was it just slowly rolling into the process of learning or did you do something else to get so skilled in it?
I started doing studio work when I was really young. It was actually a band from Montreal, Dark Supremacy, and they asked me to record their demo. I did not know anything about sound or techniques, but why not? (chuckles). I even did not know how to put the tape in the tape machine. Well, we did it and it sounded pretty good. I guess I got lucky and I started to get called for production work for other local bands. They said: ‘ah you are recording demos.’ ‘Eh no, well yes…’ I started getting work for it and I think from doing it regularly and having a kind of small clientele of bands that hired me, I learned to do it and got better through the years. Of course I learned as well from meeting other producers and all the people we worked with for Kataklysm. Every time I exchanged ideas and skills in order to get better and of course now, after twenty five years I feel very accomplished as a music producer and mixer. I think with the years, my favourite part became mixing and mastering, so I try to do this as much as possible for other bands in my studio in Texas. Recently I mixed a band for Napalm, called Thy Antichrist. That turned out really well. I keep doing production work for other labels and other bands when I am not on tour or working for Kataklysm. It is a problem to find time sometimes, but I love it so much that I like to keep myself busy with it.

When and why did you move to Texas?
It is already eight years that I am living in Texas and the reason is very simple. It is because my wife is from there. Ten years ago she was living with me in Canada, but we are from the French speaking part and she does not speak French. It made more sense for me to move to her place. I like Texas, good people there, always sunny, it is quite cheap to live. Now we have a daughter, she was born here, It has been good to me, so far I do not regret it. It gets scorching hot in the summer, but that’s nothing I cannot handle. I like the heat, so no problem.

But then you had to move your studio too?
Indeed. We bought a house and we converted the whole garage into a recording studio. I like the idea having the studio right in my home. Whenever I have an idea, I can run to the studio and record it. The acoustic is great. The equipment is upgraded. I like that. It increases the productivity.

What was the most difficult song to write on this album?
The two songs we worked the longest time on, on this album, were ‘In Limbic Resonance’ and the last one ‘Achilles Heel’. We wanted to make them really epic and a little bit longer than the others. We wanted to make sure that the arrangements were right and sometimes we did not want to overdo some stuff, always asking questions like: aren’t the songs too long? Shall we make them shorter? Finally we took the decision to leave them that way, because this is what these songs need. It is great because they have more different colours and textures than some other stuff we wrote. Even Oli came up with some guitar ideas. Other songs were more spontaneous, like ‘Guillotine’ and ‘Outsider’. They came in like magic in a day and we had a song.

I like it that there is diversity on the album, like you said the epic, longer tracks versus the short brutal ones…
I think this album for us has a lot more to offer qua diversity, but in the grand scheme of things, it all makes sense together when you look at the big picture, because we were thinking that some of the songs would not fit on the album, because of that diversity, but I think as a whole, as an album, it is very complete. I am very happy that everything finally fits together as a puzzle in the end. When you play it from the beginning till the end, all songs make sense.

’Achilles Heel’ is a mighty epic closing track…
I think it is a very good closure, almost like an outro and I think it makes you want to listen to the whole thing again. I feel like that track sums it up. The essence of the sound.

It is funny that a brutal album like that is called ‘Meditations’…
(laughs) The reason for it is as follow: Some people do different things to relax and meditate, but for us, we listen to music. We play music, that is our relief. That’s why we picked that title. Metal music in general is our meditation, to release our energy.

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How did you actually meet Maurizio in your youth?
It was a funny story. I was going to high school. I was a bit a problem student back in the days and often sent to detention after school. In that detention room I always met that same guy. It was Fabio, Maurizio’s cousin. He was also into metal and told me that his cousin wanted to start a band. I said I wanted to join that band and ended up meeting with Maurizio that way. We started the first practices and I am glad I did. I think it was a good thing in my life.

Indeed, it determined your future. So, like one of the songs says: you were an outsider…
Exactly, that is one of the reasons why we wrote that song. My whole life I have always lived somewhat inside my own world, with my own rules and terms. Same with Kataklysm. We do not obey rules or follow trends. We have always been ourselves. We have always been a bit different from other bands, but still we are a metal band, but we felt we always were outsiders through all the trends going on in music in general. That’s what this song is about, we might be outsiders, but we see it as a good thing. Some people might say otherwise, but I think it is the best place to be in life.

I applaud that, because I feel like an outsider my whole life too, but I am glad with it…
You did what felt good to you, that’s all that matters in the end. I really believe music helps in everyday life. It gives you something to look forward to. Its drive, its energy. It keeps you pushing forward in life.

You as experienced producer, called the help from other producers for mix and mastering. Why?
Yes, we worked with Jay Ruston. We wanted to have a different sound a little bit on this album, because we like to try different things and we don’t want any of our records to sound exactly like the previous one. So we were looking for a different option and we were driving in a van, supporting In Flames in the US, and listening to a lot of music on the radio and then this song from Anthrax came along, from the last album, and we were blow away by the production. We looked it up who did it and that was Jay Ruston, living in LA. So why not asking him if he wants to do it? We gave him a call and it turned out that he is Canadian as well. He was excited about it. It was a challenge as well, because he is used to work with classic heavy metal and rock stuff. Stone Sour and things like that. It was a bit of a challenge, but we decided to take the gamble and go for it. It turned out to be a great thing, because when we got the first mixes, we were amazed. Me and Oli, we worked really hard to get the recordings right and we sent it to Jay and he brought it to a whole new level sonically. We were really happy with it. The mastering engineer is another guy who is usually working with Jay on his productions. That is Paul Logus, he lives in Hollywood. He is a guy who worked on Pantera records and other big stuff and that also helps to bring the sound even further up. The whole crew and the whole production team made this an amazing adventure for us.

As musician and producer it must be fine to meet congenial souls and see how they do the job…
Exactly, it is like a meeting of the minds. There are so many options you can do, always, about everything, but it is good to have a different guy sometimes with different ideas. It is really cool to get this different types of inputs.

Today I found out that you just wrapped up another video shoot. Can you tell a bit more about that?
Yes, that is another experiment (chuckles). We went to Hollywood this time. We worked with this guy Robert J. Sexton, which is like an Emmy award type of producer. He worked on a lot of big stuff, so we came up with crazy concepts for two videos. I don’t want to talk too much and reveal the main punch-line. All I can say is that the ideas are great, it looks great from what I have seen and it was again a little bit different for us, but I think it brings the band and the things we do to another level of quality. I am very excited about those videos. We are going to release them in the next couple of months, near the release date when the album comes into the stores.

For which songs are the videos?
The first one will be a lyric video for the first song ‘Guillotine’. Few weeks later the real videos are going to come in. The first one will be ‘Narcissist’ and the second one is ‘Outsider’.

Tell me a bit about the touring with Ex Deo please…
It made sense to start in Montreal. We wanted to tour with Ex Deo for the last album, but we did not get the opportunity to do so, because our schedule is so crazy. When we got the offer with Ensiferum, it made sense, because the timing was perfect. It is right before Kataklysm comes out, so without interfering the big campaign for it. So we booked the tour in Europe with Ensiferum and we booked the Montreal show as a kind of rehearsal before the tour hehe. So many people in Montreal wanted a headline show of Ex Deo, so it made sense. There’s a lot of tickets sold, so I am very happy. I am looking forward to the tour, because with Ex Deo we can experiment a bit with more musical diversity. It brings myself to another place when I play those songs. We are rehearsing every day and we are ready to strike (laughs). I am looking forward to start. Friday is the big day to start in Montreal.

You are booked for several festivals, in Belgium Graspop for instance with Kataklysm…
That will be exciting as well, because we haven’t played at Graspop since… I think 2015. We love to come back now that the new album is done, because we love that festival. The offer came in not long ago. In the Fall we are going to kick-start a world tour for the new album. In mid October till mid November we are going to be in Europe. Then we are going to do the States right after that, and South America and Asia. We are going to be all over the place again. It is good, because we have to promote the new songs. I do enjoy the travelling. I still enjoy going to other countries and see all those different cultures. To me it is part of the experience of being a musician. It is the flame that keeps me alive. It is part of my life.

What are actually your roots? Which musicians influenced you as a guitarist?
Well, when I started I admired Iron Maiden, Metallica, the eighties metal. It was very influential for me. That’s where I learned my instinct for guitar melodies. As it progressed I got into heavier stuff, like the thrash thing with Testament, Exodus, Slayer… all these bands… For death metal it was more the British scene, like early Carcass, Bolt Thrower,… They brought me into the heavier side of things, but I tried to make my own personality as a guitar player along the way. Nowadays I am so open minded with music. I like everything. Going from metal to all kinds of music. I am a big fan of Radiohead, I like country, I like so much different types of music, but heavy metal is still number one for me.

And that’s the perfect final words to occlude our nice conversation…
Indeed, thanks a lot Vera, Nice to talk to you.

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