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Interviews   

Ghost : the Divine Comedy of a Nameless Ghoul


Chatting with one of Ghost’s “Nameless Ghouls” is bound to be an unusual experience. Even though Ghost are not the first band whose members hide behind costumes, talking to a person whose eyes and lips you can’t see is extremely strange. Also, Ghost are not the first band to offer a musical world like the one they evolve in – a world filled with influences from the 60s and 70s, with typical doom elements and popish melodies you’d swear you’ve heard before. But the way they mix and present all these elements is highly original, and that’s probably one of the reasons the band is currently gaining success.

One of the things that seems clear when you listen to this Nameless Ghoul (who confessed to being a guitarist) is that Ghost are determined to do all they can to offer the audience the full version of the show they have in mind one day. And they’re not exactly short on ideas. The financial means they’ve gained thanks to the success of their first two albums and of their tours should allow them to present a show that will live up to their ambition – that is to say, something substantial. We also wanted to know how anonymity was lived on the other side of the mask, and whether the French audience will ever have the opportunity to see the band as a headliner. Not everything will be unveiled, and that’s good, for knowing what is hiding behind Ghost’s magic could break the spell. And who would want that, really?

« But still what we do now, when we do our optimal show, it’s just ten percent of the entire idea we want to do in the future. »

Radio Metal: Today you have played at Sonisphere during the day and with a sunny weather. It’s very different from the very dark atmosphere you usually set up. How did you live this?

Nameless Ghoul (guitar): We’ve done this for a couple of years now, playing daytime. It’s basically just a presentation of what we do, one of the necessary evils that we have to do. It’s not ideal, but we have to do that. We have to deal with it.

With this second album you went from Rise Above label to Universal, were you surprised to draw quickly such big attention?

We had a feeling that we were able to move people and that we might have some sort of success. But when we released the first record we had no idea that there was going to be a major label interested in working with us. So yes, we were surprised. But as everything progressed, now it feels natural to do what we do. In order to get where we want to go, we need to take big steps.

At the beginning, musically speaking, did you have a clear idea of what would become the sound of Ghost?

I think so. The whole band started as a project with just a few songs and a name. And when we listened to the music, it was already very clear that this was going to be a theatrical band with a very extreme presentation. I think that we were aware of the formula already after three songs. We can probably come out with a lot of stuff that would feel the same without sounding exactly alike. Now that we have twenty or so songs, I think that we still can manage to make another ten songs that would feel different.

So for the future, it means that you have a clearer idea of how Ghost will evolve musically?

I think so. We are into the process of making a third record and as far as material goes, we know where we want to take it in terms of visuals, of what it’s going to look like, we know what the title of the next record is… we know where we want to go. So I just know right now that if we manage to take those steps up, we will definitely do something that is very exciting and it’s going to feel like a worked version of what we do now.

For the last record, you worked with Nick Raskulinecz as a producer. How did he influence your work on this album?

The material for this record was already written and recorded once when we recorded with him, because everything was recorded as a demo. So there wasn’t a whole lot of things that changed. Arrangements wise there was only one thing that he wanted to change because there was a song on which he wanted us to repeat one thing. Apart from that, it was basically just the sound that he changed a little bit, he made a bigger and better sounding drum kit, he made everything sound deeper. I think that he – when we work together at least – he’s focusing more on the performance rather than the songs. We are good at making songs. But, as any band, you turn to go sloppy, you record your part and that’s it. But he’s like: No, no, no, you’re not done. You have to redo that again, you have to retune the guitar and you have to do that. All those things that is very hard to motivate yourself to do, constantly push for a better take. He was very good at doing this.

« Our band is really not all that young, to the contrary to what most people expect. We differ from 27 to 56: it’s a great span of ages. »

This second album includes more church or religious choir, like you did on the first album with “Con Clavi Con Dio”. Is it the work done with this particular song that motivated you to go further with these elements?

No. I think with the next record, we will go even more elaborated with choirs and do a lot of strings… The first record was just trying; we felt the water a little bit… On the second one, we got a little bit more means to do the record, so we tried a little bit more. Once you get sort of comfortable in making records, I think you tend to elaborate more. Who knows, in the future, we might make a big symphonic record or… we might make no symphony at all, just rock guitars. I think that we can basically go both ways.

There is still a contrast between your very dark image and your music, which is very melodic and sometimes even pop-oriented. Do you use your image to fascinate people, or is it something different?

I would say yes. We have our own imagery and aesthetics that we use visually in order to create a certain mood that we just find appealing to ourselves. We basically do what we want to see ourselves. So yes, I think it goes very much hand in hand.

Do you plan to make the Ghost shows evolve, by bringing more visual elements on stage, for example?

Oh, definitely. Now, the nature of this tour is very limited because we do a few headline shows, a lot of festival shows, so we cannot be consistent. We don’t have the ability to be consistent, because we have to change from playing daytime on a big stage to playing nighttime in smaller environments. So it’s hard to be consistent. That’s also why we want to do our own tour of Europe at some point. Especially now and on this show where we have our church and do all these theatrics to show the entire presentation. But still what we do now, when we do our optimal show, it’s just ten percent of the entire idea we want to do in the future. We need to do something really elaborated; we need to do big places… We have a long, long, long list of ideas that we hope to achieve.

The American audience is very enthusiastic about the band. Almost all the shows were sold out during last American tour and you’ll go back there soon for a new tour. How do you feel about this success in North America?

We love touring in the US, it’s a very rewarding place to be. We like touring Europe as well, but we haven’t done it to the same extent. We’ve done a lot of festivals in Europe, but we haven’t done… we have never headlined a show in France for example! So we haven’t started our relationship yet, we’ve just had one night stands! (laughs) So in order to build a proper relationship with the crowd, you need to headline, to build your own little plateau for that relationship to stand on. In the US we’ve toured way more, so we’ve managed to sort of get comfortable, in the sense that we’ve played New York four times, we’ve played Los Angeles three times… You get to know the crowd; people are coming back with more friends each time… A lot of the growth of the band has been on American soil.

« We can bump into people that are just trying to screw things up, that “accidentally” fall into our dressing room with a camera.. »

So, does it mean you’re soon going to come to France for headlining a show?

We really hope so. Right now we don’t know, because we are in the middle of choosing between two different things. We haven’t really decided. But there’s going to be something by the end of the year and hopefully we’ll headline. We will see.

Taking into account the strong Satanist imagery you put forward, are there countries you don’t imagine playing in whereas you’d like to?

I know that we cannot play in Singapore. A lot of Asian countries are closed to bands like us, which is very, very sad. From a political point of view it’s sad that they censor something that is essentially art. It’s sad in the sense that in Singapore, for example, we have a lot of fans! We probably could make good shows there; it would be a good night! But we can’t. We’re not allowed to come. In China as well… I remember Slayer playing there a few years ago, they got a list of songs from the government, a kind of governmental art censor, like (he mimes a Chinese officer): “You’re very welcomed to play here, but you cannot play these songs!” And that was actually anything that regarded religion or blood… They went out there and played random songs that didn’t include all these things, so what’s the use? All our songs are about some sort of blasphemy, we can’t just go out and play gigolo, that won’t make a show.

You’re part of a very active rock and metal Scandinavian scene. Are there some Scandinavian bands you would feel close to, musically or mentally speaking?

There are several. I think that one of the obvious bands is Watain, because we are friends and they have a similar approach to what we do, in the sense that they understand that as radical as their art is, if you want to expand it and go beyond the cellars, you have to sort of step it up. And you try to find that fine balance between artful integrity and accessibility for the purpose of making your art explode to something better. So we are similar in that sense artistically and from an outside point of view I think, even though what they’re doing is sort of fleshy, earthy… It’s way more nasty than what we do. In comparison to them, what we do is very cartoonish and sort of gimmicky. I definitely think that we are sort of similar, we are two different versions of the same thing. Then, I feel very affiliated or associated to a band like Opeth, that has this sort of progressive sense, of trying not to think too much of what people think. We do music and in order to keep it interesting, we need to have an open mind, to just let it flow. There are so many Scandinavian bands that have formed me personally or what the band is, everything from Bathory and Abba, Mayhem or Candlemass… It’s endless! There are so many bands…

How hard is it to keep the band members anonymous? Do you see some people trying to find out who you are behind the masks? Do you have some anecdotes about that?

I think that most people that are trying to find out who we are… it depends a little bit. When we are playing a festival like this, if it’s a slightly bigger festival, when there are bands that we do not know, there are usually people going around, trying to find our dressing room… but our dressing room doesn’t say Ghost, so… But then we can bump into people that are just trying to screw things up, that “accidentally” fall into our dressing room with a camera. But when we do our headlining tours, there are usually people around the bus waiting for us to come. They’re not there to destroy anything. They’re there because they want to get an autograph or just to meet us. We just rationalize and just say: if you want to see us, fine, it’s your loss. As long as it doesn’t change anything for the others, we have no problem with it. We’re not anonymous because we’re shy. We’re not anonymous because we can’t stand for what we’re doing. We’re anonymous or we’re masked in order for us to be able to present a show that is interesting for anybody who wants to see it.

It’s like trying to know how to solve a magic trick…

Exactly.

How long do you think the band will be able to remain anonymous?

I don’t think it’ll be that long. There’ll definitely be a time in our career when people might know who we are. But as long as the pictures in the magazines and online are showing the band in our characters, I don’t think that the pictures on the side that may show us how we look off stage will break anything. I don’t think they will recognize us anyway. Because, in order for people to recognize a famous person, there needs to be a continuous flow of pictures all the time, from every angle. That’s why you know exactly how Brad Pitt looks like: because you see him all the time. But who knows how the bass player in some band looks like: you don’t care, unless he’s playing the bass in Metallica. So, I don’t think it’d be the end of the world if there were pictures of us somewhere. I hope that what we’re trying to achieve artistically and conceptually is way more important than how we look like.

You refer a lot to old bands from the 60’s and 70’s, where does this come from? Because you seem to be young people…

I think that we just have big record collections (laughs). And everything was better in the past, basically. Most things were better back then, from what I’ve heard. But our band is really not all that young, to the contrary to what most people expect. We differ from 27 to 56: it’s a great span of ages.

Interview conducted face-to-face on June, 9th, 2013 during the Sonisphere France festival.
Transcription : Amphisbaena

Ghost’s official website: ghost-official.com

Album Infestissumam, out since April 16th, 2013 via Loma Vista Recordings



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