Ghost: from the pit to the pinnacle

Nameless Ghoul - GhostIn 2016 as in 2015, Ghost has established itself as one of the bands most exposed to the spotlight. They are part of the minority of bands who, from their beginning, have known exactly where they wanted to go, and how it should be done, while being as ambitious as possible. When we first met with them, almost three years ago, they showed a strong determination to succeed. Today, their third album, Meliora, gives them a massive and recognized force to continue the spread of their music worldwide.

This new interview with one of the Ghouls, a guitarist and keeper of the keys to the mysterious world of Ghost, attests to their immense appetite: they don’t want to rest on their laurels and would rather follow in the wake of the greatest bands, which they have done, for example, by getting a Grammy (best metal performance of the year), just a few days after our interview, which is a notable and rare feat for a Swedish band.

This interview was also an opportunity to address with them one of the most difficult moments in rock history and just in our history: the terrorist attacks of November 13th that occurred right in the middle the first stage of the Meliora tour, knowing that Ghost was expected to play in Paris two weeks later. Feeling that the threat had passed close to them, these tragic events have reinforced their beliefs, highlighting their subtle message about religion, although without turning them into preachers. After all, their main objective has always been to give their ever more faithful audience a good time.

Ghost - 24/11/2015

« How do I say this without sounding like I’m full of shit? But I definitely think that we, as a band, with what we do, with what we are good at, could potentially grow into a really big band. […] Just to give a contemporary example: we could be the next Rammstein. »

Our interview starts informally, with our interlocutor mentioning the quality of concert venues in France.

Nameless Ghoul (guitar): [Touring here] is a huge difference because in most other countries, in the general standard, like across the board in the world, these venues that have about a thousand capacity is usually not very good. The smaller you get the worse it gets and the bigger is obviously the better. But here in France, Belgium, Holland, some in Germany, it’s just insane! You can play in a place that holds like eight hundred people and it’s build with a stage as big as if you played at Wembley. It’s extremely big, you can park your truck right next to it and it just works, it’s just smart, it’s clever and it has catering… Life is good then! It makes everybody happy.

Radio Metal: From an observer perspective, Meliora has definitely given a new status to Ghost. A lot of recognition for your work was already gained with Infestissusmam and Opus Eponymous, but this last record enlarged the audience and attracted more people from the metal scene. Do you, inside the band, already consider Meliora as a success in that sense?

Yeah, I mean, of course it’s already bigger than our previous ones, so for that we need to regard it as a success. However, we are not done for the record yet, we’re still working it, so I guess that’s a way to say that we don’t really know yet the significance that it has had. Because, as we know, looking back at another bands, traditionally, a success is very time consuming, not only the effort that you put into it but also what it means to people over a longer period of time. Because, sometime you can create a very contemporary effect that people like, which sometimes can be even more of a risk if you are doing what we have achieved with this record – like all of the sudden we are on the radio and we’re present that way – because it’s important that you don’t become one song, that you don’t become that single hit song that people… They know that song but they don’t know the band. There are many bands in the History that have had that but luckily we have a background to stand on and we tour a lot. So, to answer your questions, yes we feel like we’re growing and it’s a success in that way, instead of stagnating.

Do you think that Ghost can still grow, become more and more popular, get more exposition on TVs, radios, web, etc. and at the same time keeping its alternative basis, being set up in the metal and rock sub-cultures?

I think that we can… [Chuckles] How do I say this without sounding like I’m full of shit? But I definitely think that we, as a band, with what we do, with what we are good at, could potentially grow into a really big band. In the sense that I know that we are good for a good outdoor show with a big build stage, just give us time and we will do that. That’s what I believe, in the sense that I believe our thing to be as entertaining, and it will be as entertaining, that we could become… Just to give a contemporary example: we could be the next Rammstein, without saying: « Oh, we want to be AC/DC or we want to be Metallica. » But we can be the next Rammstein. But if that means having commercial or mainstream success, I don’t really know what to tell you because so far, I’ve got the impression that having a song like « He Is » on European radio or having a song like « Cirice » on an American radio hasn’t damaged our credibility in the world where it’s like underground versus mainstreaming and you cannot combine that. It seems like the people that liked us for years don’t have a problem with it. The ones that have a problem with us being mainstream, they reacted already two albums ago, when they thought that we sold out. But for me, those are almost two different things. If we ever come to a point where we can play Bercy in Paris, or [with a funny voice] “AccorHotel Arena”, which is our goal obviously… Hell, we want to play Stade de France! That is not necessarily the same thing in my world as being on the radio all the time or selling a million copies of the record. For me that’s almost two different things. That is the most important for me. I want Ghost to be something that is synonymous with a fantastic evening. Let’s go there, you’ll leave the hall, the stadium, the arena or whatever, smiling, full of energy and if you own a record on top of that or a shirt, fantastic but that is not the most important.

What emerged in Meliora and that already existed on Infestissusmam is the capacity of the band to make great melodies, great catchy choruses, etc. Is it a will to make something out of pop music, in the true popular sense, or is it also a way to federate people during a concert, like psalms would do during a ritual?

[Chuckles] Well, the basic plot of the story that we’re trying to sell on stage is that we are re-enacting or emulating the idea of organize religion, mass, in a way similar to whatever has been going on in every cathedral for a thousand years, with the vision of a big building. Back in those days the churches were the biggest buildings in town, and still are in many ways. They must have been greatly imposing for the small people that came in there and that was probably also one of a few places in their world that was clean. Everything else was dirty and falling apart in wood, and that was stone, clean. The priest came out with ornate clothes, with vision, smell, sound and words. They got mankind and the people who came in there to feel a certain way. Most of the time they made them feel shitty, repent, guilty and afraid. Whereas, we’re trying to take all of that and build something that is evenditly something that is supposed to look imposing or something that you should be afraid of but also makes you feel as one with it and positive about it. So you leave feeling you almost have like a divine presence touching you, so that you go away happy.

So the catchy choruses are playing that role?

Well, I mean, first of all, I’m interested in writing good music that I like but of course it has that positive bonus that it makes a scenario for what you’re experiencing.

Ghost - 28/08/2015

« We have two nuns now coming in, maybe in the future we will have thirty and children’s choirs and… You know, the sky’s the limit! [Laughs] Ironically. »

As you said many times, your time on stage is special: you want every song to be an act of a grand scheme, beginning before the show begins and ending a bit later than the show should end. What are the next steps for your stage appearances? Should we expect more ideas coming in for enhancing or even extending a Ghost concert experience?

In my world we’re doing about ten per cent, right now, of all the things that we could have done or could do or will do. The big picture that we have, of what we want to become in terms of the show and all that, is way more theatrical and way more advanced. But at this point in time and given these circumstances that we have here, there is a limit. Whereas if we become that band, where we can bring our own stage in a place where there’s like a limitless space, then we can definitely build something that will be way bigger and we can change acts, etc. I mean, we have two nuns now coming in, maybe in the future we will have thirty and children’s choirs and… You know, the sky’s the limit! [Laughs] Ironically.

On another hand, there is now an acoustic part during your shows, which actually brings the audience closer to you, in a way. Are there any plans to develop this acoustic approach to your music, for future recordings?

Why not? I don’t know. We haven’t really decided to capitalize on it, to use this foul word, but I know that management and everybody involved are very interesting in us developing that part, just because it requires fewer people and it makes this a little bit more flexible. Whereas now we are pretty much a [rigid] sort of thing that: « Oh, it doesn’t work, we can’t. » But also I think it’s important, if you do things like that, it needs to have a very, very high level. And I think that right now, what people expect is what we do on stage and if people all the sudden asked to pay money to see us to do something different, then we need to do that for an hour and half really well and I don’t think that format holds for that long, as it is right now. But ask me again in two records from now and maybe we’ll have more material that sort of fits into that category. But we have certain songs now on our set list that wouldn’t translate very well into an acoustic version, because it’s too riffy or just because it doesn’t sound right.

There’s now a second outfit of Papa Emeritus on stage too, a much lighter one. Is it a way to give him some relief and an opportunity to breathe or is it simply to present another aspect of the character?

Yes, both are equally important. Already on the Infestissusmam tour, when we started headlining a lot, we felt that… You know, Papa is a funny character, Papa II was fun but when it stretches over an hour and it’s like one hour and twenty minutes, one hour and a half hour, it gets a little boring after a while, nothing really happens. It was just the same and as much as that Papa was also burden by the fact that it’s a heavy costume, by the end it was really like “ugh”; the shoulders were down and it was tiresome. We felt that’s probably something that reflects on the crowd too, so when we get the new Papa, we might as well have someone who brings another level of energy, not in the beginning but half way, that makes everything jump up a little. We were nervous about it, actually, in the beginning, right before we did it because we didn’t know. We thought maybe people will react badly because they are expecting Papa to be Papa the Papal Pope sort of person and might not at all like this slapstick clown. But it worked very well and now, I think that our shows are way better. Because it really starts here, then it goes down a little and here it’s dark and then it’s just like “rahh!” So in all the theatrical elements of our show, where we want to be perceived more as a theatre, we have added a lot of rock’ n’ roll to it now but it works, because there is something dramaturgical that just makes for people to understand it, and ourselves to understand it, we feel that we all get a little shot half way through the show rather than start here and just « ugh ».

Playing “Monstrance Clock” at the end of the show has become a classic ending from the band, like most of the rock bands are doing; it’s a kind of trick to bring the audience together. Would you see another song playing that role or is it just the perfect ending song?

The good thing is that it ends on a positive note, whereas people are asking about « Deus In Absentia » that we’re not playing. I won’t bore you with all the details about why we’re not playing it but I can tell you why we’re not playing it as the last song, which people think that we should end our sets with « Deus In Absentia ». The problem with that song is that it’s the ultimate I-want-go-to-hang-myself sort of song. It’s not ending on a positive note. It ends on a lamenting sort of note, which I love, I myself am a sucker for tragic endings, I love that, everything from Dracula up to [Guillermo] Del Toro films that are also the same things; you don’t know if you want to cry or commit suicide but it’s still beautiful because de perpetrator, throughout the whole film, is actually the one you feel sorry for. I love that but it’s just that « Monstrance Clock » has a very positive ending, which I think we’re sticking with. That is not to say that we’re never going to play « Deus In Absentia », though, but we’re not going to play it the last thing we do, I think.

Ghost - 10/02/2016

« It felt nauseating treading a stage at that point [after Paris attack] but because we are what we are, and our image is what it is and our message is what it is, I felt a stronger conviction in everything that we do and everything that we’re saying, after that. »

Speaking of dramatic things, some terrible events happened in Paris last November, especially in the Bataclan. You were on tour in Europe at that time and you came to Paris only a few weeks after. You had all the reasons in the world to feel close to these events because you are a rock band, you were on tour at the same moment and also because the images used by the band touch on topics such as religion that are amongst sensitive topics nowadays. How did you see and feel those events?

As a person, being in an entourage of people that in essence go around the world and play rock music at venues, of course, it was very, very close to home. It felt very violating, for the lack of better word. I sort of lack negative superlatives to explain, obviously, the feeling about that whole… event but of course it felt more at home for anybody in the rock business than it would for everybody in the, I don’t know, construction business, and also because obviously there were personal connections in there and it drastically altered how you view things, especially exactly when it happened because as you said, we were on tour. On the 14th no one knew anything and everything was potential… It felt like September 12th when you knew nothing. Of course, it felt nauseating treading a stage at that point but because we are what we are, and our image is what it is and our message is what it is, I felt a stronger conviction in everything that we do and everything that we’re saying, after that. Because what we’re saying is contemporary. What we’re saying is not just sci-fi, fantasy shit. I think that what we’re saying is very relevant. But ironically, we’re not going to preach. You can make whatever you want out of our message. We’re not telling anybody to revert, convert or do anything. If you want us to be an entertainment act and you just want to go to see our show to forget everything, fine that’s exactly what we are, also. But what we are saying in between the lines is very commenting on the current turbulence that is religion and how we treat each other because of what we think about what’s going to happen after we die.

You’ve been using and diverting the codes of the Christian world. Would it be even thinkable now to use the codes from other religions, such as Islam?

Of course not [chuckles]. So officially we are only singing about Christianity but anybody with a brain can understand why that is.

As a rock concert has been for the first time the aim of some terrorist attacks, do you now feel any fear or worry before going on stage that didn’t exist before?

Of course, you’re aware of it now. And, obviously, we cannot exclude the idea of Christian terrorists, even though that’s historically very, very rare [chuckles], or Hebrew terrorists, who knows? But again, since what we are singing and what we are representing is something else – we are not singing about their world -, I’m assuming it’s not applying to the same thing because we sing about what’s happening in the Western World and Christianity in a round the world, we’re not singing about the flat earth, so it might be different. I think that there are way worse, more obvious targets than we are and if we are focusing on people that would be offended by the anti-Christian elements of what we’re doing, as us being offenders and the Christians being offenses, I also think that, for the offenses, in a way, we are not the worst band on the earth. It’s easier to target bands like Watain, Behemoth, Marduk or any other band. Back in the days when there was a big controversy about satanic rock being harmful or dangerous, you had Glen Benton being a twenty-two years old Italian guy, with an invented crucifix, saying that he wanted people to commit suicide. I’m not twenty-two, I don’t have an inverted crucifix on my forehead and I’m not telling people to commit suicide. In essence, we’re not asking people to do anything that is harmful and therefore, I don’t think that we are on the radar at that point. As much as we are a shock rock act saying funny things or things that has a lot of value, it’s not offensive in the way that we’re asking people to sacrifice goats or rape virgins or stone people to death [chuckles]. We’re just asking people to be nice, we want people to be nice to each other, we want people to think and fuck each other [chuckles].

Ghost - 24/11/2015

« In essence, we’re not asking people to do anything that is harmful […] We’re just asking people to be nice, we want people to be nice to each other, we want people to think and fuck each other [chuckles].

On a more positive subject, you’ve been nominated for next Grammy Awards ceremony for the Best Metal Performance Category for “Cirice”. We saw some promotion been made with the #dontbesilenced hash tag, ads in Billboard Magazine or videos on the web, all of that with this very specific sense of humour that characterizes the band. Where did the idea of this campaign come?

It was a collaboration; I’m not alone in that. Basically, there was an idea of having a disturbing image that sometimes… You’ve seen Spinal Tap. It’s kind of that Smell The Glove rhetoric where it’s a fine line between being sexy and being sexist but, obviously, Spinal Tap doesn’t understand that [chuckles]. As a person, when I saw the pictures, I was like « whew! » But I knew that the whole campaign is about awareness, it was meant to make people react and basically, as far as I know, it’s just a campaign that was targeted in Billboard Magazine, and Billboard Magazine is predominantly read by people in the American entertainment industry and the people that vote for Grammys are not people in the street, it’s people in the music industry. It was a targeted ad towards the American entertainment industry to make them aware of our band, because how usually the Grammy voting [works] is, basically, people vote for what they know. So, if Dave Grohl is nominated for something, they will vote for him because everybody knows him and everybody likes him, so everybody will vote for him. Whereas if you have someone on the bill or the nominee ballot that is greatly unpopular, he or she will mostly likely not win because people vote for what they like. And we’re a Swedish band in a category in a Grammy or in a reward form where most of the artists are Americans or British; most other countries are excluded, in a way. It’s English speaking or Latin speaking, but then it’s obviously Latin American or Afro-American. That was basically an awareness campaign, so it’s wasn’t necessarily targeted to people “here”, but obviously nowadays when you do something it’s never an isolated event. It’s like: « Look at what they have done! » And everybody believes that it’s something that is meant for everybody but it’s not.

So is it for global recognition that it will be important for the band to get this Grammy?

Of course, it means a lot. Even if you’re just nominated, it’s a title that people pay attention to. Especially, if you win a Grammy, that’s something that you can carry with you for the rest of your life. Well, not in your pocket, that’s a little impractical but it means a lot for anybody that you meet in the music industry, it’s a title. And it looks great. Anybody who says that they’re not interested in wining rewards they are fucking lying [laugh]!

Papa Emeritus didn’t give any interview for a long time now, since first album, I think…

Right, and that was once!

He almost never appear publicly outside live appearances. What is the main reason behind this?

He has better things to do! He’s busy in his harem [chuckles]. Also, one of my favourite analogies when press and journalists ask to do interviews with Papa, it’s a little bit like this fall, before the Star Wars film came, would you ask an interview with Han Solo? No? I mean, you’re not gonna get one! Or you can’t interview R2-D2. This is a little bit the same things, you can’t really interview him. He’s not here, he is in a Galaxy far, far way!

Where are you with the covers EP project? Last time we spoke, you mentioned possible covers of Leonard Cohen or from Swedish band Imperiet…

Right now, we are just trying to figure out in what time frame we can do it because right now the touring is like… You know, we weren’t really aware when we booked our first European tour – the November/December one – that we were going to have such a demand to come back. So all of the sudden we are doing one more European tour directly after one, which is like, all in all, ten weeks of touring Europe, which is quite extensive. So we’re trying to figure out when can we do this and how can we block that and that, in order to make time to do the EP really good. Because that’s the thing, we need the tour and record at the same time, which is hard. We’re most likely going to record between now and May, somewhere, sometime there. Then it’s going to be out in a fall, to sort of re-energize whatever tours we’re doing at that point.

Interview conducted 5th, february 2016 in Rouen (France) by Julien Peschaux.
Transcription: Céline Hern.
Pics: Claudia Mollard (1 & 4), Nicolas Gricourt (2 & 5), Lost (3)

Ghost official website: ghost-official.com.

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