Interview: Katatonia’s Drummer Mojjo Discusses the Brilliant Sky Void of Stars
When Katatonia’s newest masterpiece, Sky Void of Stars, drops on January 20, it will prove that musical genius still exists. This majestic, dreamlike journey seizes you with the gripping intensity of a death sequence; it is an impossibly blissful experience that fills you with dread and desire. Sky Void of Stars combines poetic elegance with stellar musicianship. Every time you listen to this titillating album, it will stun you with its originality and beautiful nuances. This curmudgeon over here simply cannot praise this offering enough. That said, we must admit that we did go into this record expecting the very best. The pioneering legends who are Katatonia never fail to leave us spellbound; they are arguably the greatest drug around.
Katatonia’s drummer, Mojjo, certainly dazzled us with his hypnotic touch on Sky Void of Stars. His terribly unique drums were perfect for this all-around phenomenal album! Mojjo has been involved with so many incredible projects. The fantastic musician has long been a member of Runemagick. You might have heard that his band Heavydeath changed their name in 2019 to Den Tunga Döden, which means the same thing in Swedish with the addition of a definite article. We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to speak with Mojjo himself about Sky Void of Stars!
Congratulations on the upcoming release of Sky Void of Stars! I love this album! It’s so addictive. So, I was wondering how you personally would describe Sky Void of Stars to those who haven’t heard it yet.
I would describe the new Katatonia album as a mopey rock album with metal influences.
What was your initial reaction to hearing the Sky Void of Stars material?
I was immediately taken by how direct it was compared to City Burials , which was more ambient and electronic in a way and also more progressive and technical. So, hearing the demo for Sky Void of Stars immediately sent me to some sort of stage mode. These are songs that are meant to be performed live. And the whole album has that feeling of being on tour almost, for me, in the band. It’s dark and bleak but very intense and forward.
How did you make Jonas Renkse’s compositions your own?
Jonas and Anders [Nyström], when they write, they pretty much write their songs to a ninety-percent finished state. So, when I get the songs, they’re pretty much there with all the drum patterns and all the guitars and the vocal lines and everything. So, my job is to basically take their ideas and make them mine in the concept that is Katatonia. And it’s how I approach it with timing and groove and the sounds I decide to use. So, hearing the demos — hearing another drummer play the same things could sound vastly different. I just take the ideas, take the songs, live and breathe them for a while and make them my own by just working through them.
What was the most difficult thing for you about making the record?
Probably just waiting to record it. I had heard almost all of the songs demoed months before we entered the studio. So, logistically, the most difficult thing was just waiting around to be able to record them. And playing-wise, it’s always a new challenge with every new album because the guys write songs in a way that I’ve never experienced before with other musicians. They approach the material in a different way. They build the structure of the songs in a different way and obviously also write the drum patterns differently than I’ve ever come against. So, every new album with Katatonia has its technical challenges playing-wise.
I hate to ask you this because each song is so mind-blowing, but are there any moments on the album that you’re most proud of?
I’m pretty much proud of my work on the entire album, but if I’m going into my own playing and details, there are songs and moments that I feel are pretty much “peak me” for that purpose like the song “Impermanence.” How heavy it is and how groovy it still is — that’s something I’m really happy about being able to bring into the song… not make it as squarishly slow but also make it epic in a way. And then, there’s other technical stuff, of course… I remember recording it felt more organic and more live than it has felt before. It was more efficient… It was more just going into the studio and bam-bam-bam — putting the songs on tape and making that feel organic instead of it being a studio process in a way. And I’m very happy about that.
Sky Void of Stars feels very cinematic. Do you know if there were any movie influences?
I don’t know that actually. I haven’t heard anything, but also, we seldom talk about what has influenced the album because Jonas started to write this album as soon as City Burials was finished. He’s been working on this for a while and also incorporated older ideas. I know that there’s stuff in “Birds” inspiration-wise that goes back years and years. So, inspiration-wise, I think he’s just leaning on himself mostly.
That makes sense! I guess that’s maybe why the album has such an auteur feel. It’s obviously completely one-of-a-kind… So, what was the greatest part about working on Sky Void of Stars for you?
The greatest part I would say was realizing that… The first time I heard the songs, I immediately felt like they should be performed! And while recording it! … I was also present for some of the guitar recordings, and I had some opinions on those parts as well. We all approached the making of the album like we approach going onstage in a way. It’s a breath of fresh air almost. It’s a we’re-back-with-a-vengeance kind of feel, especially after the pandemic and being cooped inside for a couple of years… just very efficiently recording our stuff with like a live stage tour attitude. We just wanted to play rock music, and having that feeling go through all of our contributions — that’s amazing.
You mentioned the pandemic. Do you think that in a way that’s helped your art because it’s maybe given you more need to create?
I think it’s maybe a cliché, but yes! — because we did release City Burials right when we started locking down. And obviously, we couldn’t tour for that. We had no shows. City Burials was a quite fitting album for that period. And that, I think, in a way birthed Sky Void of Stars and gave life to that attitude of being a live-friendly rock album instead of a progressive gold-medal album as maybe City Burials was. So, in a way, the whole experience made Sky Void of Stars more direct. I do think that it would have come out pretty much the same way even without the pandemic, but it’s easy enough to speculate.
How would you describe your arc with Katatonia from the time you were asked to join until now?
I mean, it’s been an illusion for sure. It’s so difficult to see it on the outside because I’m so involved with it. It’s pretty much my life and world! And both the musicianship and being in the band personally with these people — it’s almost like time standing still in a way. It’s too hard to see my own [… place] in it.
Based on some pictures that I saw, it looks like you’re the life of the band, the fun one. Is that true?
I don’t know. I mean, we’re an equally fun and mopey bunch of people. I try to be a hoot, I guess. Sometimes I succeed. I don’t know. But I wouldn’t say I’m the fun one in the band. That would be very unhumble of me.
This is a bit of an offbeat question, but do you have a favorite cover version of a Katatonia song…? Like when Shining took on “For My Demons”?
I think I’ve only heard that one. I don’t remember hearing a lot of covers of Katatonia songs. But yeah, obviously Niklas [Kvarforth] grew up with the same kind of big stuff that Jonas and Anders did, so it does make sense. He both makes it his own and he does honor the original. So… yeah. I wish I could hear more cover songs with that approach. But also, I rarely listen to music, so there’s that.
You’ve been involved in so many amazing projects, but I was wondering in particular what it was like to participate in Craft’s White Noise and Black Metal ?
That was an interesting experience. I’ve been a fan of the band since the first album, I think, around that time. I didn’t know the guys even though we have a bunch of connections in the scene. I met the guys through Jonas because he knows them. Jonas basically asked me if I would be up for doing it and if I would be able. And seeing as I’m so humble of a human being, I just said: “Yeah, sure!” So, it was an interesting task… We also have many of the same influences, specifically from the Swedish BM scene, and we kind of grew up in it. We’re basically the same age, so we have lots of things to talk about I’d say. It was a good connection!
I love that album! And again, I love Sky Void of Stars too, obviously! I can’t wait to hear what Katatonia does next! Mojjo — thank you so much for your music and for your time!
(Pre-order Katatonia’s Sky Void of Stars now via Napalm Records here.)