Interview mit Jean-François Dagenais von Kataklysm/Ex Deo

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Interviews are usually done during the promotional stage of an album or a tour – and then they centre around these topics. However, albums and shows wouldn’t exist if the interview partners weren’t such enthusiastic instrumentalists. In our series „Saitengespräche“ (pun: „string talks“/“side conversations“) we want to take this into account – with interviews that focus entirely on instruments, amplifiers, effects, and other tech stuff. From gear nerds for gear nerds – and for those who aspire to be.

In this part of the series we talk to Jean-François Dagenais, the guitarist of KATAKLYSM und EX DEO.

Hello and thanks for taking the time for this interview. How are you doing?
Hi, thank you for reaching out. I’m doing awesome at the moment despite these crazy times we live in. Most shows are getting postponed to next year but my schedule keeps getting busier then ever at the studio. Turns out a lot of bands are using the downtime to work on music and I’m getting lots of calls to mix and master albums so I’m doing that a lot, and working on writing new music for both my bands KATAKLYSM and EX DEO.

When did you start playing guitar?
I got an early start when I was 12 years old. I was a big Iron Maiden fan already at that age and my badass grandmother offered me a guitar for my birthday.

What made you want to learn guitar back then?
I saw the light early! (laughs) Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and James Hetfeild were my heroes back then, I wanted to play like them and express myself musically as well. It was boiling like a storm inside. I was so intrigued by that world I was discovering and wanted to experience it for myself.

Have you already learned (had to learn) another instrument before?
No, guitar was my first instrument.

Do you remember which model was your first guitar?
It was an original Gibson black Flying V with a white pick guard. I ended up donating it to Marcus Staiger at Nuclear Blast Records in Germany to display in the office as a thank you for all the work they did for my band. I’ve favored Flying Vs ever since, they feel natural to play on.

How many guitars do you own?
A lot! (laughs) Probably over 20 guitars at some point but I ended up selling a lot of them last year because some of those guitars were just sitting in my closet collecting dust. I figured some people might enjoy and use them. Now I own about ten guitars, mostly ESPs. I use to believe one can“t have to many guitars but I’ve realised I’m mostly always playing the same ones, some of those become your favorite or go to guitar because of how they feel or how they sound. I’m not the materialist type of person so it’s plenty for me.

Do the instruments have different uses for you, so do you have different ones for different bands or occasions, like studio, live gigs and holidays?
Yes, I always keep a couple guitars strictly for studio recording, I’m really anal about how a guitar is setup in the studio. Those guitars I bring on the road with me take a real beating. So many airplane trips, the trailer on the tourbus, the different weather conditions … they go through hell and back. Steven, my guitar tech, is a real magician with them. I use 6 and 7 strings depending on the tuning. The new KATAKLYSM album about to come out is strictly recorded on 7 strings.

What do you attach particular importance to from a technical point of view, what criteria must an instrument meet for you to be satisfied with it?
First and foremost it has to hold the tuning, thats so important to me. Then of course the way it feels when you play, the sound that comes out of it. I’m not too much a cosmetic guy, the look of the instrument is purely superficial to me. I’m lucky that ESP built a bunch of custom models for me but they are very simplistic in the way they look. A lot of black paint and parts! (laughs)

You often hear about musicians who seem to have a special connection to their instrument. Do you feel the same way? Do you have a favourite instrument?
When I tour a long time with the same guitar and go through so many great shows and festivals with it, I do get attached or feel some sort of connection for sure. I wouldn’t say its anything on a spiritual level but the fact that it served you well all these years and never fails you. Its more of a trust relationship you built with the instrument. I know that whatever happens at the show, it wont fail me sort of thing. Or when you write a song that ends up doing really well, I do feel the connection. Like: hey I wrote this song with you!

Can you tell us the technical details of your custom model?
Yes of course. It is a mahogany neck thru with plain maple top material, 27“ Baritone with extra jumbo fret size, thin U-neck shape equipped with Fishman Fluence pickups.

Is there a model, such as the instrument of a great role model, that you would like to play one day?
Dave Murray’s classic strat would rock! (laughs) This is the 12 year old kid in me talking.

Which type of guitar picks do you use – and why this type?
0.88 nylon guitar picks. They sound the best to me, I love the attack sound it gives me when I dig into the strings. Thats what I play with, there is a company that made me Kataklysm costum picks I give to fans but I don‘t play with those, I prefer the nylon ones.

Amps are often leased for tours – is that okay with you or do you have your own amp with you? Which model do you play?
I always make sure to get cabs onstage for monitoring because I love to feel the power of the guitar sound when I play with the boys, but I use a Kemper profiler to carry my tone around. The signal is sent straight to FOH. If you are standing in the crowd, what you hear is the Kemper. My tone is a profile of my Peavey 5150 head, a maxon 808 Tube Screamer and a oversize Mesa cab I created in my studio. I love that I can just bring that sound everywhere with me around the world and it sounds consistent every night.

Besides the instrument and the amplifier, sound effects play an important role in the sound. Do you rely on single pedal mines, a multi-effect board or a combination?
My setup is pretty simple. I use one tone for the whole show. I do like delays and verbs on some parts, but I trust our sound engineer to add those effects from the mixing board when its needed in the songs.

Let’s go into detail: Please explain the elements of your effect loop. Which devices do you use, in which order and why?
I can’t really awnser that question in a interesting way. (laughs) There is nothing on my effect loop, sometimes I’ll use the loop return to power my Kemper onstage in a situation I need to use a real amp.

Mind game: You are only allowed to take one single (!) effect on stage – which one do you choose? Which effect pedal makes up your sound?
Definatly the 808 Tube Screamer, I use it for an extra layer of gain as well as cleaning up a bit the lower mid section. This said, I’m all about lots of gain and mids in my tone. I love tight and sharp creamy metal sounds. If I can use such a term. I never liked the classic V shaped smiley-eq. (laughs)

Do you have an effect that you use in a completely different way than originally intended, or that you have perhaps even (re)built yourself?
In my studio, I own a lot of different pedals and effects, I love to play with all of them to create new sounds and tones that I use in my mixes and production. I’m all about pushing things to extremes just to see how that could sound. I love that, sometimes interesting things happen when you do things against the rules.

Do you use a noise gate – why (not)?
Absolutely, I use it pretty tight. It‘s important to me because we are pretty loud on stage – I need a heavy gate to compensate for how loud things are in the monitors. We aren’t as loud as Motörhead used to be but I’ve been told we are pretty loud. (laughs)

Is your effect board „ready“ or in constant change?
My setup is always easy, compact and ready to rock, I’m always trying to find ways to improve my sounds, but I do that type of sonic experimentation at home or specially when we work on recording new music. I go through great lenghts to make sure it‘s always the best it could be. The eternal quest of my life! (laughs)

Finally, do you have a tip for beginning musicians?
Do it because you love it, explore your passion, channel your emotions through your music, let the fire carry you through unexplored uncharted new territories. Don’t play music to become famous, do it out of love for the art and push your on limits beyond what you thought to be possible. I try to live by those rules and stay true to myself.

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