Johanna Sadonis makes a pact with Lucifer

Johanna Sadonis - LuciferEvery misfortune can turn out to have a silver lining. That’s the kind of twist life sometimes has in store for us – and it’s precisely what singer Johanna Sadonis went through in the space of just one year. 2014 saw the release of the first album of her band The Oath, as well as said band’s demise. Johanna’s effervescent duo with Linnéa Olsson was full of promises, but as the singer confesses, it ended bitterly. But wallowing in sorrow is useless, and that same year, Johanna founded Lucifer with guitarist Gary Jennings, one of doom and stoner rock’s masters of riffs, renowned for his work with one of the kings of the genre, Cathedral.

Speaking of the devil, it was Lee Dorian, Cathedral’s former vocalist (they called it quits in 2013) and Rise Above Records’ current boss, who knocked at our digital door, explaining that Lucifer is now one of his label’s priority. The man has a good intuition for that sort of things (he was after all the one who discovered and signed Ghost, a band that offers retro music as well and has everyone talking about them now), and it’s obvious when you listen to the combo’s first record, soberly titled Lucifer I, that he was right once again.

Without a second thought, we picked up the phone to call Johanna, who told us about all this and more.

Lucifer by Ester Segarra

« [Gary Jennings] is crazy, you know, when I say “hey can you do something like this?”, then he sends me a million riffs [chuckles]! So I had to sort through everything. »

Radio Metal: First of all, can you tell us what happened to The Oath that disbanded last year?

Johanna Sadonis (vocals): Yes, that is a question I get with every interview right now [laughs]. Well, you know, I can put it like this: The Oath was kind of a very fast and furious love affair which ended as fast as it came. It was unfortunate. I was actually devastated when The Oath died but it opened the door for Lucifer. If you look at it that way, I think sometimes maybe things happen for a reason. I think it’s actually a very fortunate twist of events now, in the end, even though it was very unfortunate at the time. But yes, we had some differences but I’m still very proud of The Oath’s album. But I am even prouder of Lucifer.

That was actually surprising as Linnéa and you seemed to have a great creative, and even personal, relationship…

Yes, we had a very intense relationship and a really great friend ship. We were really good together writing music but there were also a lot of friction, so unfortunately it just didn’t work out.

Was it important for you to quickly form a new band after The Oath’s demise?

Yeah. I formed the band right after because I had so many big plans for The Oath and I was devastated that The Oath was over before it even took off. So, I had all this energy and I thought the wrong thing to do was to sit down and cry about it. The best thing I could do was to take all this energy and make something new right away and just move on.

Andy Prestidge was The Oath’s drummer and Dino Gollnick was about to play with The Oath before the band’s split. Both play within Lucifer now. Did you want this band to be some sort of a continuation of The Oath’s work?

No, not really. Lucifer is a new band for me and I did want to make a new concept for it. However, I think Andy Prestidge is a really good drummer and I did want to play with Dino as well. Because they’re both so good, I asked them if they wanna be part of Lucifer. Because we all had really big plans for The Oath back then, they were fire and flame when I asked them if they wanna join Lucifer. It was clear that they would play with me. However, it is a different band. The original idea was different because I was writing the songs in The Oath with Linnéa and she had a different style of guitar playing, you know, it was much rawer, punky and kind of Motörhead style riffs, and we had like a heavy weight on the new wave of British heavy metal. It was much more metal in that band than Lucifer. Lucifer is more a heavy rock band, I wanted to cut out that new wave of british heavy metal stuff. It was great for The Oath but it was a different band. I don’t see Lucifer as a continuation. I thought there was no point in making the same thing again. And since I’m writing with a different guitar player now, who has a very different style of playing too, it’s a whole new different chemistry anyways.

You co-wrote the album with Gary Jennings known for his work with Cathedral, but how did you two meet in the first place?

Actually, I’ve been a Cathedral fan since I was a teenager but we’ve met for the first time in person when we played with The Oath at the Rise Above anniversary label fest and he said to me that he was actually one of the people who said to Lee Dorian: “Hey, you should sign this band!” So he presented himself a little bit like a The Oath fan. That’s how we met and, when The Oath died, I said to Lee: “I wanna do something new but I need a guitar player. I’m looking for a guitar player.” And he said: “Well, how about you ask Gary Jennings, because he is writing riffs non-stop! And he doesn’t have Cathedral anymore and he has a lot of time.” So I asked him and he was really excited and agreed right away to do it. That was really cool for me because I love the way he plays from Cathedral.

In The Oath Linnéa wrote the riffs and you brought the vocal melodies and lyrics. Do you have the same kind of working relationship now with Gary?

No. With The Oath we were actually jamming in the rehearsal room, it was more on the spot. With Lucifer it was more I said exactly how I want the music to sound and he asked me: “Well, can you give me references?” And I said: “Okay, well, how about we start writing a few songs? Let’s make one that’s sounds like Black Sabbath on the Technical Ecstasy album – which him and I both really loved -, like the song “You Won’t Change Me” . And how about we make another one that’s kind of like 1970 Scorpions, “In Trance” kind of ballad? And how about we make one that sounds like an old Pentagram song, like “Be Forewarned” or something?” So then he would take these ideas and we would sit down and write riffs. Then he would send me all these riffs to me. He’s crazy, you know, when I say “hey can you do something like this?”, then he sends me a million riffs [chuckles]! So I had to sort through everything. Then we arranged them together to make songs and then he would rerecord them in the right structures that we both agreed on. Then I would sit down at home in Berlin – because he’s in London -, in my little home studio, and write the lyrics and the vocal melodies for it. So, the whole writing process was between Gary and me. Then we had these demo songs and I would send them to the other guys, Dino the bass player and Andy the drummer. And then, one week before we went into the studio to record the album, we met in Berlin to rehearse the songs as a real band, brought them to life and then took them to the studio to record them.

Actually Gary isn’t present on the promo photos. How comes?

Yes, because the thing is that he still has another band, Death Penalty. And we’ve first said that we was gonna write these songs with me and go to the studio with us, and we said: “Well, we don’t want to steal you from the other band. We will find live guitar players to play the songs.” So we took the pictures as a three piece. But then we started booking the first gigs and we couldn’t find anybody who was as good as him to play the songs! So I asked him: “Will you play these shows live with us?” And he said yes, he would love to. So he played the first few shows with us and now it continues because we just got a big tour offered. I can’t speak about the details but again, I couldn’t find a guitar player yet that is so good. So I said to him: “Would you actually enjoy playing that big tour with us?” And he said yes! So I think and I hope that when I’ll ask him “do you wanna be a permanent member on all levels?” that he will say yes.

Lucifer I

« It’s now or never. If it’s not Lucifer, it won’t be anything. »

So it’s not settle, he can’t be considered a permanent member yet, right?

Yeah, he is not… Yeah, I haven’t popped the question, you know [chuckles]. It’s like when you propose somebody to marry you… Because we wanna do a lot with Lucifer, so it is quite a commitment. But I will ask him very soon [laughs]!

But what will you do if he can’t be a permanent member?

Well, it looks like he wants to be [chuckles].

The album is called Lucifer I. Could this be a reference or in the tradition to some 70’s or old heavy bands that gave numbers to their albums?

Yes, that’s part of it but it’s also, I think… Because with The Oath, you know, I only had one album and I wanted to set a mark for myself. When I named this album Lucifer I, that means there will be a Lucifer II and hopefully a Lucifer III and so on. I did this for myself, just like a magic, like when you wish for something or you wanna conjure something and then hopefully that will happen [chuckles]. It’s like an omen that I made for myself.

You released a first single called “Anubis” earlier this year. Thanks to that, there has been a significant buzz generated around Lucifer. Launching a new project can be stressful. Did this bring you the confidence you needed or, on the contrary, did it make you feel some pressure for the release of the album?

No, not really because I’m actually really excited! I feel like I’m on a roll right now. I have other stuff inside of me that I need to put out. I do care what people think but I kind of do this for myself. Because I’ve been working for Gary, and he’s such a great guitar player, I have so much confidence in the material that I thought I wanna do this! It’s now or never. If it’s not Lucifer, it won’t be anything. I think you just have to look ahead without fear and go for it.

Your music has a very old school feel. Apparently you grew up playing in black metal and death metal bands, so how did you end up playing this old school kind of heavy music? Did you feel like going back to the source, so to speak?

It’s actually kind of a return to the roots because my parents listened to a lot of heavy rock stuff, like Deep Purple and so on. So when I was a teenager I thought that’s really uncool. So my rebellion was to start listening to black and death metal, but then over the years you kind of expand your horizon and you open your eyes more. I listen to so much different music, you know, a lot of old rock n’ roll and sixties and seventies stuff. I think the older you get, the more you start digging in the past and you wanna find out more about music history where all these sub-branches are actually rooting from. I just have to say for myself now: now I know why these classic rock things are classic rock, because they’re so amazingly crafted and it’s been around all these bands I reference to, like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Aphrodite’s Child, Blue Öyster Cult and so on. I mean, these bands have been around forever and there’s a reason for it because the music is really amazing. But I think as a teenager obviously you go through phases and for me it was like very dark and heavy metal stuff. I still love that stuff as well but I think I mainly have the music tastes of an old man right now [laughs].

So does that mean you don’t listen to more modern and contemporary music?

Yes I do. I listen to all kinds of stuff, absolutely, but I listen to a majority of music from the seventies and the sixties, yeah.

On the promotional biography provided with the album, it is written that you guys play “magic rock”. Do you agree with that term? What do you put behind those words?

Yeah, I made that term [laughs]! I was just tired of that label of cult rock, you know, because it’s used a little bit nowadays like an insult. I didn’t know what to label the band, I didn’t want to write that we’re doom band or this or that. We’re heavy rock/doom with a lot of magical content and I’m a very spiritual person, the music is very laden with spirituality and magic is like a central topic in the music, whether it being in the lyrics or how I present everything, the whole visual stuff but also numbers. There’s a meaning behind every number that somehow appears in the music and so on. So yeah, I had to start magic rock. That’s a cool label for that kind of stuff.

You mentioned the meaning of numbers in your art, do you have examples of that?

Yes, you find number magic within the lyrics. I’m very attached to the number seven and Lucifer, the name, has exactly seven letters. There’s the All-Seeing Eye on the record cover, behind Lucifer, and that eye is shining seven beams down the logo. It’s just small things like that. I know I’m not the only one who’s putting weight on these kinds of things but I do like to do things with meanings and purposes, like little details like that, just for me. That’s like part of the ritual, I guess. If you look at my name, Johanna Claudia Sadonis, it’s seven letters each; seven, seven, seven [chuckles]. Also my birthday: twenty-one, it’s seven times three. It just keeps reappearing in my life, you know! It’s kind of crazy. That number seven, seven, seven is following me. And it’s very funny because there used to be a Danzig song called “777” where he sings “777 is my name” but it’s actually my name [laughs].

You said that you were a very spiritual person. Can you tell me more about your spirituality?

I would say that I’m not part of any group or religious organization but I’m very hungry for knowledge and I think you can draw from any religion, philosophy or angle on how to look at life and so on. As an individual, you can pull the important information that applies to you, and that’s different with every person, to kind of understand life, death and everything beyond. So, I’m constantly reading and opening my eyes, trying to understand the world that I live in, my life, having to die and all that stuff. I’m trying to just walk around with open eyes. I do apply a lot of different philosophies but that changes with time. I think you should never stop searching and trying to understand, looking at different perspectives of how people try to explain these things and how to deal with them.

Lucifer by Ester Segarra

« Open your eyes! Try to understand and don’t be ignorant in your life. I think there’s much more beauty when you actually try to see it. »

You seem to be very attached to understanding the world and finding meanings. Do you see this as a necessity to better live your life?

Yeah, well, the thing is I’m very emotional and life is very overwhelming for me with beautiful but also very sad things. I think I’ve had a quite extreme life, I had a lot of close people dying and things like that. When you go through a lot of horrible things in your life, maybe you look a little bit beyond the day to day problem, you try to see more the bigger picture. But I was like that since I was a young teenager, I would be thinking about death much more than other teenagers of my age. You just try to find tools to make sense of it all because thing can get really heavy.

You said in an interview that the duality between darkness and light is what interested you the most. Do you think both are linked, that without light, you can’t have darkness and vice versa, and therefore we should embrace both?

Absolutely, yeah! It’s always about the duality of things and that’s a principle that you find in any religion actually. You know, you have the Yin and Yang sides, with the black and white, or you have the star of David with the two triangles, one pointing up and the other pointing down, and that’s actually an occultism, a magical principal, “as above so below”. So you cannot have one without the other. This duality is what I apply as a mirror in Lucifer a lot. You know, people sometimes ask me: “Oh, Lucifer, the devil…” But he’s not the devil, that’s actually a confusion people have, a misunderstanding of the figure. But yeah, you need both: one cannot exist without the other.

If there’s a message behind your art, what would it be?

If I knew that… [Chuckles] I don’t think I’m wise enough to have a wise answer for people because I’m just looking at myself. But all I can say is: open your eyes! Try to understand and don’t be ignorant in your life. I think there’s much more beauty when you actually try to see it.

In your music, you employ a vocabulary linked to occultism that could be seen little bit as cliché, with words like “Abracadabra” or “Sabbath”, and above all the name of the band “Lucifer”. What do these words and themes represent to you?

Yeah, people could say it’s a cliché but it’s not like I just started knowing about this yesterday. The thing is that I’ve been actually into that kind of music for – let me calculate [chuckles] – maybe twenty three or twenty four years. I went to my first metal show when I was thirteen and I’m thirty-two and, you know, occultism has always been a part of rock n’ roll and of rock and metal music, so it’s nothing new and therefore it can’t be a cliché for me. But what it represents to me, in the lyrics and the song titles, I use these figures or metaphors very often… Well, of course they mean what they’re supposed to mean but also they intertwine with personal stories. For example, “Anubis”, he’s the god of the dead in the Egyptian Book of the Dead and he stands for that in the lyrics, but he also stands for a figure in my life, for a person. There are always metaphors for personal stories. You know, things that happened to me in my life, I just wrap them into a different costume. And I use these figures and images to just translate it into a song. So then nobody understands anymore but I know what it means.

Do you think that these rather simple terms or ideas that can be seen as clichés or maybe superficial by some people can actually be very good metaphors for more profound ideas?

Yeah, absolutely. For example, the demons, you can have your own demons, you know, the dark side of you, things that you do and you’re not proud of. Or if you did something stupid some night or whatever that could have been the devil in you. You know, you just say these kinds of things. I mean, I don’t really care if… Because, the people that know me as a person, they know how I mean it. The others just have to use their imagination [laughs].

Sometimes the way you sing and the psychedelic atmosphere can remind of the band The Devil’s Blood. Do you feel close to this band, their music and imagery?

Yes, actually I was friends with Selim [Lemouchi] and I’m friends Farida [Lemouchi], the singer. I just actually met her at Roadburn and she gave me a big kiss on the cheek [laughs]. Yes, I love that band. I’m not trying to do what they’ve been trying to do, I just think we have the same or similar influences. I know she listens and Selim listened to a lot of stuff that I’m listening to. So it’s not like I try to copy something with Lucifer. We just happened to have the same influences. I mean, it’s still a different band, it is a different style of music but I can see what you’re saying. But I don’t mind it either because I was a fan of The Devil’s Blood and loved their stuff, and I thought Selim was a very gifted songwriter and Farida’s a great singer. It is a shame what happened, you know, it was really horrible when Selim died. He actually wrote to me ten days before he died. He wrote me an email saying that he wishes me a lot of luck for my band and I never had the chance to respond because, you know, I’m sometimes lazy and I think: “Oh, I’m gonna write tomorrow!” And time passes and all of a sudden he’s gone and I never had a chance to respond. So that was very sad. It is a regret but then, I guess, what happened with him was maybe not so surprising to a lot of people. I can’t go too much into details because it’s very personal but, yeah, there were things leading up to what he did.

With The Oath it was mainly you and Linnéa and the rest of the line-up wasn’t really stable. Do you think you have more of a band with Lucifer?

Yes, absolutely. I know that the other guys in the band are really into it. We all know that Lucifer will probably need a lot of effort and time. The thing is that the other guys are playing in other bands as well. That also mean sacrifices if we’re gonna plan like longer tours and so on, and then you have to see where your priorities are and I have a good feeling with the other ones. I think everybody in the band right now is really excited about it.

Lucifer by Ester Segarra

« If I look at a band like Led Zeppelin or Kiss, they show their fucking chest hair and they’re prancing around on stage, being like sex symbols and so on! (So) i think it’s okay for women to try to look good if the musicianship is good. »

Lee Dorian actually mentioned you guys as a priority band…

Yeah, the pressure is on! [Laughs]

Maybe you’ll be the next Ghost, a band that he signed for their first album and then went big now…

Yeah [laughs]. Ghost is a great band. We toured with them once, with The Oath, three years ago. Yeah, they’re friends of mine. Cool band! I’m really curious to see what they do with they’re next album. I hope they go back to the roots of the first album, with that more old school kind of sound. I really like that.

You didn’t like the second album?

Yeah, I liked it songwriting wise but I think, I have to stay honest, the production was a bit too slick and too modern for me. I like the production of the first album better. But it was a cool album. I have it. I actually even bought it, I didn’t ask for one [laughs]!

I’ve read something pretty surprising about you: you actually prefer to be in the studio rather than playing live. How can you explain that, as most of the rock and metal musicians we talk to usually say the opposite?

Yeah, that has something to do with… Maybe it doesn’t seem like it but I’m quite shy. I do love being in the studio and making music, creating it and singing but when you’re on stage and you don’t have a guitar or a drum kit to hide behind, because I’m kind of shy, it’s really horrible for me to be the clown on stage. You know that people are staring at you and they expect you to do something. Not that I would ever compare myself to Jim Morrison but I know that he was really shy and used to play with the back to the audience in the beginning. But I must say that we just played Roadburn and before that I had four little warm up shows booked, and that was actually so much fun, especially the Roadburn show, that I think I changed my mind now [laughs]! I really enjoyed so much these past few shows with Lucifer that I’m actually looking forward to the next shows, which used to not always been the case in my life. So maybe that’s changing now, hopefully!

Reading some interview of yours I noticed how you were a bit mad at how girls were often considered more for their physique rather than for being musicians. Do you think this is something that’s evolving now?

[Hesitating] I hope so. The thing is… Well, I’m sure you can understand it. If you were a guy in a band and people would keep asking you: “How does it feel to be a man in a band?” [Laughs] It is kind of annoying, you know. But then again, when you grow up as a girl in the metal scene, you’re kind of used to it and I think it is getting better. The thing is that there have always been women in rock and heavy metal but I have a feeling that right now there’s a little bit more of them, because I think this kind of issue or topic is being brought up right now a lot in the media. For example, I think it was the singer of Arch Enemy, she said something like: “Well, what the fuck? That is no genre to be ‘female fronted metal’!” That is no genre, that doesn’t say anything, if you play doom or rock n’ roll or whatever. It doesn’t say anything about the music just because you have tits or whatever! And it’s true. But I because people are talking about it more, I think it’s becoming less an issue, I hope.

But couldn’t this also be because of some girls playing with a kind of superficial image more than presenting themselves as musicians?

Yeah but not all of them. I mean, yeah, okay, if a girl is doing that then, okay, it’s your own fucking problem. But I think that if you present yourself as a musician… For example, with The Oath cover, both Linnéa and I had these leather suits on, so I would read stupid comments like: “Oh, if I look at the two blond chicks on the cover, I don’t even need to listen to the music to know that they probably suck!” [Chuckles] And I would think that’s so unfair! Well, do I have to dress like a guy because of that? I don’t think so! If I look at a band like Led Zeppelin or Kiss, they show their fucking chest hair and they’re prancing around on stage, being like sex symbols and so on! It is okay I think, to a certain extent… I mean, of course there’s a line everywhere. If I run around with silicon boobs… It depends how you sell it but I think it should be okay to… I think the visual aspects of a band are really important. When I go to a concert, I don’t wanna see the band in blue jeans and yellow H&M t-shirts. I like the presentation of the band and I think it’s part of the ritual to kind of bring across the message of the music. It’s meant for all senses, for your brain, for your ears, for your eyes, everything. So I think it is okay to sell yourself. Of course if you play the stupid little Lolita, then that’s a whole different story. But I think it’s okay for women to try to look good if the musicianship is good. Of course the number one thing that has to be right is the music.

Interview conducted by phone 29th, april 2015 by Nicolas Gricourt.
Retranscription: Nicolas Gricourt.
Promo Pics: Ester Segarra.

Lucifer Official Facebook page: www.facebook.com/luciferofficial.

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