Therion against the tide

Christofer Johnsson admits it willingly: Therion’s musical style is no longer fashionable. It could make him bitter, but it only serves to stir up his sense of challenge. One could almost wonder if he doesn’t like this situation better than that of a band with nothing to prove.

Therion remains an important, credible and respected figure of symphonic metal, but that’s not enough. Johnsson wants Therion to remain on everybody’s lips. In order to do that, rather than flooding the Web with content, he wants to take the time to do even crazier things. This is not just about creating buzz, but rather to use overreacting Netsurfers the right way. Johnsson the tease seems to find it funny to challenge them a little.

On the menu, you’ll find updated French chansons that we French people have had the time to get bored with, despite their quality, and a rather ambitious rock opera, which aims at reaching people who don’t even know Therion exists: the mainstream audience.

Johnsson also talks about his decision to release the band’s latest album without a label and insists that said decision doesn’t mar his relationship with them. During this dense, over-45-minute-long interview, he also broaches the subject of alcohol, banned on tour except for the odd exception, so he can do his “dream job” to the best of his abilities.

« The thing is, you’re French, so you’ll never really understand this, because when you look out the window, it’s everyday life, everything’s normal. But for the rest of the world, France is a bit exotic culturally. »

Radio Metal: To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Therion, you chose to record a cover album of old French songs. To do this on the anniversary of the band means that French culture had a crucial role in the career of the band. What is your relationship with French culture?

Christofer Johnsson (guitars): It has more to do with this particular timeline, not French culture in general. I’ve always been very fond of the French pop sound from 1965 to the early 70s. If you know where to look, you can actually hear some influences from that in Therion’s songs. More generally, I like French movies, like Delicatessen, or City Of The Lost Children. Internationally, I think French movies are being regarded as somewhat odd and strange, but I’m attracted by those things. Musically, this time era was very interesting. You had American popular music coming to France, this “chewing-gum pop” that became the origin of the yéyé. Originally, it was just cover versions of American songs with the lyrics translated in French. The interesting thing came when there started to be French compositions, and people started to mix it together with the chanson tradition. It became darker and more tragic somehow, even if it was kind of cute and poppy in appearance. After the yéyé were over, we came to the most interesting part: the French baroque pop, which is the style of most of the covers we have done. It appeared around 1967 and lasted for a couple of years. Victoire Scott, Léonie, even France Gall started to go more towards baroque pop for a while. Since baroque pop has a lot of classical elements, it attracted me quite a lot.

Can you speak French?

No. That’s a blessing when you listen to pop music: you don’t have to listen to the lyrics!

How did your non-French fans react to this album?

Oh, most people like it. When you play this music, people are first like: “Oh, that’s French…” But a lot of people we’ve played this music to have started to like it – everyone from black metal people in Greece to Dragon Rouge people in Sweden. There’s been an underground liking for this type of music. People like the stuff by Victoire Scott more, that’s a famous one. Believe it or not, you can compare it to the tape-trading that was going on in the early days of metal. Today it’s more MP3-trading days, were people exchange music from rare releases. Take Victoire Scott: she never made it to CDs, she only made 7’ EPs with three or four songs. None of it ever got released on CD. So if you want that music, you need to find it on eBay or something. When somebody finds it, they make quality MP3s out of it and exchange it with others. The thing is, you’re French, so you’ll never really understand this, because when you look out the window, it’s everyday life, everything’s normal. But for the rest of the world, France is a bit exotic culturally. Everybody thinks the movies are very dark and strange, hard to understand. French music also has some sort of decadence, drama or melancholy. You think of these songs as regular oldies. But to everybody else, they sound odd, in an interesting way.

On your website and on some shows, you told your fans that your label didn’t want to release this album. On your website you’re saying that this is because it was “a bit too spectacular”. That sounds like a rather strange and blurry reason. What did the label really tell you?

There were a lot of reasons, so we kept it short. We didn’t want to go into the mumbo-jumbo and complicate it for people. For one thing, they didn’t like the record. But that’s not a huge problem, you don’t have to like every record. They didn’t like Theli when we delivered it, and that was a pretty successful record. So it’s not the biggest deal. But of course, if they like it, it helps. The thing is, if you want to make a cover album, there are a lot of complications. You can seek permission individually, because you change the compositions. That’s a lot of work, especially when there are obscure composers who might be 90 years old and don’t speak a word of English. Some composers are dead, and the children haven’t inherited the rights. They don’t know anything about it, so when somebody contacts them and asks if they can use their father’s song, they get scared: “What is this? It could be a lot of money!” All of a sudden, there’s a lot of lawyers and crappy stuff, so we can get permission and they can make money out of us playing their song. A solution to that is to only release the album in the US and import it to Europe. That’s what we’re doing: officially, the album is not released in France, it’s an import. They have different rules here: they just give the money to whoever wrote the song, and that’s it. No mumbo-jumbo involved. But you need to import the record in Europe, it costs extra, and there’s paperwork. It’s not the normal way of doing it. The record labels want business as usual, they don’t want extra trouble and strange things. They just want to press an album and sell it. If they’d liked the record and believed in it, I guess they would have thought it was worth the trouble. But they didn’t believe in it. They thought: “Nobody’s gonna buy this, it’s strange!” It turned out they were wrong, because the album is selling really well and lot of people like it. We’ve had a bit of controversy, some people don’t like it. But all in all, it’s been a successful release, and I didn’t mind going through all this extra trouble to do it. But the label thought it was too complicated. It was actually my suggestion that I buy back the master tape, because I didn’t want to strain our relation with the label. We’ve always had a fantastic relationship; I could always do what I wanted, all the time. I felt we would have to compromise. They wanted to put a best-of CD with it, and I didn’t. So if they don’t believe in it, they don’t like it, they want to add a best-of CD, they see a lot of trouble with all the extra work – why don’t I just buy back the master tape? Then I can do all the crazy stuff I want, and they get it off their desk. The thing is, in the record deal, there’s a clause that says we need to write the songs ourselves. If we don’t, like for a cover album, they don’t have to release it. This is how the legal situation stands. We can negotiate, but they’re not obligated. I just took the chance and thought I’d do it myself. I like to prove that I was right, and the album is selling really well. As it is now, we’re gonna sell more than the last record, even if we don’t have a record label. That’s pretty good.

« I just took the chance and thought I’d do it myself. I like to prove that I was right, and the album is selling really well. […] In the end, financially, I think it will be the same as if I’d released it with a label, or I’ll do better. »

Although you say you have a good relationship with your label, in your live speeches you sound very critical, at least indirectly, towards them. In Lyons, you asked the audience who should make the decisions regarding a band’s musical direction – the band, the label, or the trend. Is it a frustration to you, the fact that they didn’t want to release the album?

No, it’s more in general. I know a lot of bands where the label is interfering, telling them what they should do: “Try to write songs more in this direction”, or: “Why do you need to have this song on the album?” It’s just a general remark. It was more of a rhetorical question: am I doing the right thing, in your opinion? I think releasing it myself became an interesting part of the project. Since the album is doing well, in the end, I think it will probably be a benefit financially as well. I have nothing to be disappointed over. It would have been fun if they had released it. I think they could have reached out to many more people. But there are no regrets there. They’re happy the album is doing well, because we’re a Nuclear Blast band and they’ll release our future stuff. Obviously, it’s good for them as well if this album does well. But as I said, it’s more of a rhetorical question. I know so many bands that are unhappy because they get a lot of interference from their label. Also, I remember something about the trend thing. In the 90s, a music journalist asked Steve Harris, from Iron Maiden, if he thought their music had a future. It’s quite a brutal thing to ask! It was the 90s and they had 2 or 3,000 people in their shows, instead of 10 or 15,000. It has a little bit to do with the fact that symphonic metal is a trend. What should you do, put your finger in the air and see where the wind is blowing, or should you just do the music you like? It was quite a general remark.

You had to take out a loan of about 75,000€ to make this album and release it by yourself. That’s a lot of money! Considering the financial risk you’re taking, do you still think this was a reasonable move?

Yeah, definitely. The thing is, if you sell the record directly to the fans, you have a ratio of 1 to 10 compared to having the record bought by a label. If I sell a record to a fan at a show, I’m the record store, I’m the distributor, I’m the record label, and I’m the artist. Normally, the money is going in every direction. There are so many people and companies who want their share. When you do it alone, you put it all in one basket. That means, if I sell 4,000 copies directly to fans, that’s like selling 40,000 copies under a record deal. Normally, we need 50,000 copies in European sales to break even and cover our costs. Now we only need to sell a small amount of copies to break even. Of course, I spent more money on the way. I put money on three videos, I paid some people to take care of promotion stuff… It’s increasing all the time. But the risk of my not breaking even is basically zero. And then I want to invest money on vinyls. In the end, financially, I think it will be the same as if I’d released it with a label, or I’ll do better. It depends: if the album does even better, then it will be like winning the lottery! But if it keeps on doing like it does now, then it will be like a regular release.

You’ve mentioned the album Theli, which brought a lot of questions at the time, because it was a new way of making metal music. It was a special album, but in the end, the label did release it. Do you think labels are becoming too cautious in regard to what they release? Or maybe even too lazy, since they seem to only want albums that are easy to promote?

As I said, there’s a big difference, because this is a cover album, and a clause in the contract says we need to write the songs ourselves. If it’s a cover album, they don’t have to release it. If it’s a regular album, they either have to drop the band from the label completely or to release the album, obviously. In general, I think labels are not lazy. The whole record industry is going down, and they’re trying very, very hard to keep the sales going. There’s no room for anyone being lazy. They work very hard, and it would be unfair to say they’re lazy.

« I’ve learned something over the years: those who have a negative opinion are always the fastest to write. They always exaggerate, they only complain […] No matter how many adverts you buy in every metal magazine, it cannot create the same amount of promotion as you get from people talking about you. »

In the end, if a band like Therion has to make the albums they want to make without the support of a label and actually succeed at it, isn’t it the sign that somehow labels are becoming less and less useful?

We are a pretty unique case. We’ve built up a trademark over the years. We could never have done this if we’d been around with just a few records. That’s one thing. The other thing is that we may have more loyal fans than regular metal bands. We’re a weird band, and we’ve changed styles so much from record to record. They might be more open-minded than regular metal fans. For most bands, it would be very risky to do something completely different. To Therion fans, it’s like: “Yeah, good! It’s a crazy band that always does something different!” That gives us an advantage over many other bands. Sure, many bands have very loyal fans, but if you consider than many fans have followed our entire career, from when we were a death metal band to where we are now… If they already have fourteen albums by Therion, why wouldn’t they buy the fifteenth? It would have to suck so fucking bad for them not to buy it! In my view, the most important thing was to make the album heard and available. It’s not like we need to push a Therion album upon the fans: either they want it, or they don’t. You just need to expose them to it. Since I didn’t have money left for promotion, I relied on Internet very much. I had a strategy where I made sure there was absolutely no leak. Nobody had the record before, there was no advertisement, and nobody knew anything. There were rumors that there would be a record, but nobody knew for sure what it would be called or when it would be released. Then, a few days before the tour, we announced that it would be sold straight to the fans. Nobody heard it before the first show. When the fans came to the first show, some of them bought the record and put it up on Internet. I’ve learned something over the years: those who have a negative opinion are always the fastest to write. They always exaggerate, they only complain: “It’s like the sky is falling on our heads, the band is doomed! Everything is shit, the members have gone insane!” It got me thinking about the way I reacted to Metallica’s Lulu, which I think is a shit album, by the way. It was like: “It’s Lou Reed with Metallica, so it can’t be good! And it’s called Lulu, for fuck’s sake, this has to be awful!” I read all those negative comments, which said it was the worst singing ever, and it made me curious: “What the fuck? I really need to hear this now, quick!” So I figured, if Therion did a cover album of old French songs, people would buy that, if only because they’d think: “What the fuck? I need to hear this!” With all the doomsters saying: “Oh, no, they finally snapped, this is terrible! It’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard, worst than Metallica’s Lulu!”, everybody on the planet with an Internet connection, even remotely interested in hearing a Therion album, would be like: “Fuck, I need to hear this!” So we used the jungle drums of Internet to reach out quickly to people: “Hey, there’s a record available”. It worked really well. The sales are pretty good, people are buying like fucking nuts over the mail-order, and they’ve bought a lot at the concerts. It wouldn’t work as well for a regular album, a record that wouldn’t make people threaten publicly to commit suicide or something. We wouldn’t get the same jungle-drums effect. It was a way of exploiting all these bitter, negative, exaggerating people on Internet. All the bad reviews and negative writing we’ve had initially were a very good promotion. Of course, in the long run, you want positive comments, you want people to like the record. But when the first thing people read on the Internet is that it’s an absolute catastrophe, they just feel: “I have to hear this myself”. I had arranged to have three videos released on the same day, so it would be a lot of things to watch. People tend to watch videos with images more easily than they listen to the audio. I also made sure the videos were a bit spectacular, so there would be something more to talk about. We just had a very safe method to get free promotion. I don’t know how much money it would have been worth if it’d been a promotional campaign. I think getting people to talk about you is something you cannot really buy. No matter how many adverts you buy in every metal magazine, it cannot create the same amount of promotion as you get from people talking about you. That’s how an underground band can become very big, when they’re on everybody’s lips. Especially a band like Therion, who’s getting a bit old. Our music style is getting a bit out of fashion, so it’s really good if we can get people to talk about us. The worst thing that can happen is if you become some sort of fucking Status Quo band. Sure, people like them, and they’re happy when they see a new album, but nobody really talks about them. We don’t want to sell records only to the most loyal fans, we want to be a band that always challenges the listener. Either people like it or not, at least they have an interest in it.

« The worst thing that can happen is if you become some sort of fucking Status Quo band. Sure, people like them, and they’re happy when they see a new album, but nobody really talks about them. We don’t want to sell records only to the most loyal fans, we want to be a band that always challenges the listener. Either people like it or not, at least they have an interest in it. »

How do you explain that people feel the need to express their opinions in such an exaggerated way on the Internet?

I don’t know. People in general are so much ruder on Internet. They say things to each other that they would never say in real life. A lot of people who behave badly on Internet would get beaten up on a daily basis if they behaved like that towards people they actually meet. I mean, go to a bar, be cocky like that to people, and let them beat you up! I guess it’s because of the anonymity thing. Everybody can pretend to be some sort of expert on anything. In this case, we took advantage of it. If you have a handful of cowshit, you can see it as stinking shit, or you can see it as fertilizer, that will make something useful grow. We just exploited these negative people, turning it into something positive for us this time.

I saw you at the Lyons concert a few weeks ago, and the first thing that surprised me is that it was a very simple live set visually, without any decorations, as we’ve been used to with Therion. Was it on purpose or was it for economical reasons?

One of the things with this project was to test the trademark of the band. How much is a trademark worth? I told our touring agent to book a Therion tour without really knowing what he booked. “So you guys have a new record?” “Yeah, kind of…” “What do you mean, ‘kind of’?” “Well, it’s a record, but not an ordinary record.” “OK, what do you mean?” “I’m not gonna tell you.” “OK… So you want me to call promoters and sell shows without knowing what I’m selling?” “Yeah, exactly! Trust the Therion trademark, see what it’s worth!” It must have been a John Cleese-like sketch, him calling around and saying: “It’s a Therion show, they kind of have a new record, but I don’t know. Do you want to book them or not?” It’s much harder to book a tour when promoters don’t know 100% what they get. They give lower fees. So the economy was a bit more strained on the tour. For a tour like this, we had to look at the costs a little bit more. Therefore, we didn’t want to take any risks and spend a lot in stage scenery. We’d rather focus on the musical part and make sure to make a set with a lot of interesting songs that we’d never performed live before. We wanted it to be an unforgettable musical experience. That’s pretty much how it is: you have certain realities you need to adapt to.

Do you think that, in these circumstances, it was a good challenge to focus solely on the band’s performance and have the members emphasize their own performance?

Yeah, I think it worked out great. I’ve heard people mention that there was less stuff on stage, but I didn’t hear anyone complain. We play a longer set than most bands, and we made sure there’s a great variety. We focus a lot on great musicianship. For myself, I drank three beers on the entire tour. How many artists would go on a tour with unlimited access to alcohol and be sober the whole tour? We take this thing very seriously. Every performance was a good performance, we never had a bad day. We always managed to put a lot of energy in the entire two hours. I think this is something that people notice. You don’t have somebody half drunk on stage, or embarrassing players who get tired after one hour. I think that’s a lot better than having a big stage setting.

Have you ever experienced drunk musicians with Therion?

We have in the past, sure. There used to be alcoholics in the band. When Lars Rosenberg was our bass player, during the Theli era, he was completely fucking drunk every night. And he played like shit. At the time, we also had others who were completely drunk. Even myself, back in 1995, for Lepaca Kliffoth, I was always drunk on stage. During the Theli tour, we recorded a show. I thought it would be great for a live album. We weren’t that drunk, we hadn’t been drinking too much before the show, but when I listened to it, it was a reality shock: “OK, this is what we sound like…” I thought we had a really good night, and it sounded like fucking shit in my ears. After that day, I never again drank before a show. There were still parties in the evening. But if you party every night, even if you’re not hung-over when you wake up, you’re a bit slow in the head, you’re not completely on top. And if it goes on the whole tour, you’re only at 75% of your capacities. I just realized at some point that I couldn’t afford to drink beers. This is my dream job, it’s too fucking important to drink beer, seriously. If we have a day off, I can take a beer, sometimes. But I don’t even get drunk when we have a day off the next day. I see this as a fantastic privilege, especially after 25 years, that I can do what I dreamt about as a kid. I want to do it 100%. I don’t even want 99.9% because of a stupid beer. Everything should be really focused. Now we have a line-up that is just as focused: everybody’s there to play, everybody’s very keen on doing a good job. Nobody’s interested in a rock’n’roll lifestyle or in being a big rock star. Everybody just wants to create a fantastic show, and if people pay to see us, then we’re really happy. Then we get high, much high that you could get by taking substances or alcohol. I think the energy we have now makes us feel that we can do this for another 25 years.

« For myself, I drank three beers on the entire tour. How many artists would go on a tour with unlimited access to alcohol and be sober the whole tour? »

There’s Thomas Vikström’s daughter in the band at the moment, right?

Yes, and she’s doing a great job. She’s only 19. What kind of balls does the girl have to stand on stage and sing alongside really experienced performers like Lori and her father? I’m really impressed by her.

Does the fact that the father is playing with his daughter help the band’s cohesion?

At first we thought it was a bit strange. When you hear somebody in the band say: “Dad, can you come here for a while?”, you’re like: “What?!” But we got used to it. He’s not an ordinary dad, anyway, I think she’s seen quite a lot. It’s pretty cool.

You made an announcement regarding the fact that there won’t be a regular Therion album or a regular tour for a few years because you’re working on a metal rock opera. Aren’t you afraid, in the current world where everything goes so fast, that people will simply forget Therion in the meantime?

On the contrary, I would think. Our music style is becoming out of fashion at the moment. So instead of flooding the market with lots of records that only the die-hard fans are interested in, from a business point of view, I think it’s much smarter to focus on a big project that will create a lot of buzz around it. It’s better to have fewer projects that attract a lot of attention. Eventually, the nostalgic fans will come back anyway. And all of a sudden, you’re paid double and headline all the festivals! (laughs) Everything seems to go in cycles. You can see how it was with heavy metal: in the 80s, it was shit, and all of a sudden, everybody wanted to hear heavy metal again. There was a new generation of bands coming up, like Hammerfall, and all the bands that were big before the 80s played even bigger stadiums. When there’s a new trend, what you’re doing becomes very “un-hip”. The people who still listen to your music are getting older, having families, working at the bank, getting bald, whatever. They may not read metal magazines all the time, go to all the concerts, or buy the record the day it’s released. You have an audience with a lot of capital, which is good. They don’t have to worry that they can’t buy the new record. When you give a concert, you sell the same amount of merchandise, even if you pull half the amount of people. But since you don’t fill the pyramid from underneath, with young people, you get disconnected from the scene a little bit, which is of course the boring part.

What do the current members of Therion think about the fact they won’t have any activity with Therion for a few years, without even knowing exactly how long?

Well, we’ll do festivals in the summer. We might also do some acoustic shows, or something like that. What we said is that we’re not going to make any regular full tour or album. And it’s not true that we won’t have activities: we’re going to work on creating the vocals. That’s going to be a lot of work, and it’s also a great challenge. It’s completely in my philosophy to say: “OK, our music style is going out of fashion, so let’s go even more against the current and do something even more symphonic and ambitious”. It’s a big fuck-off to all those people who tell us we’re out of fashion. I think it’s a great challenge, it gives you much more energy. And I need challenges, otherwise I get bored! I like it when people say: “You can’t do that, it’s never gonna work!”, because then I have to prove that it’s gonna work. Like with all the people who more or less called me an idiot for taking a 75,000€ loan. They’re all quiet now! I like to find good ideas that are unrealistic but not impossible, and make sure they work. That’s what I’ve been doing pretty much my entire career. People probably think I don’t have realistic views on things, or that I have strange ideas. But in the long run, history has always proven me right – so far! You should never take anything for granted. I got away with so much over these 25 years, so I’m optimistic about the upcoming 25.

What are the economic repercussions of such a project and decision?

We’ll always have die-hard fans. But the hang-around type of fans, who don’t have to buy a record by a certain band or go and see them live every time, they will probably go along with the next trend. So we have a core of fans, but it’s not enough to finance such a thing. My plan is to use the mainstream audience to do it. There’s a certain mainstream audience that goes to musicals. They go and see Cats, or Jesus Christ Superstar, that sort of thing. It’s really good if we can tap into that type of audience. We will write the rock opera for our fans and for ourselves, but we will try to use the mainstream audience to finance it. We have very good contacts in Spain, because pretty much half of Therion’s members have been doing this Queen musical that’s touring there. I think it’s the fourth season. They have pretty much become musical stars there. So we have a lot of connections to pull that up. And if somebody makes money out of us in Spain, there will be people in other countries who will be saying: “We want to make money out of Therion as well”. We have good connections in Sweden as well for this. No matter if the times are good or bad, there’s always an upper-middle-class, mainstream audience that needs amusement. If we get their cash, we can do good shows for those who really care. There’s always a plan to solve every kind of problem! Let’s hope it works. We’ll do an interview again in five years and see how it turned out!

« Our music style is becoming out of fashion at the moment. So instead of flooding the market with lots of records that only the die-hard fans are interested in, from a business point of view, I think it’s much smarter to focus on a big project that will create a lot of buzz around it. It’s better to have fewer projects that attract a lot of attention. »

Apparently this is a project you initiated ten years ago. How come you never managed to finish it?

I think I’m damaged by rock music. I’ve written all the highlights of a regular classical opera, but what I cannot write is… You can call it the “boring parts”: the bridge between part A and part B, the music that ties all the important parts together. Sometimes you need to have boring music where you can just have dialogues. If the music’s too interesting, it takes the focus from what’s happening on stage. Sometimes the most important thing is what the characters are telling each other. The music should be more characterless, or whatever you want to call it. And I just can’t write that! It doesn’t work for me. I didn’t write a single note for the opera in the last three years. At some point, I just told myself: “Why is it so fucking important anyway that I should write a classical opera? Is it an ego thing? Not really, so why do I need to do it? If I’m stuck, why not just take the stuff and Therionize it? Make Therion music out of it, do what you’re good at!” I already stole or borrowed a little bit from the opera before. At the end of “Blood Of Kingu”, for example, there’s a theme from the opera, which I arranged for Therion. It worked really great. I have around 40 minutes of classical music for a start, which I just need to Therionize. We’ll just have to write more music. If it’s rock music, it’s easier to write the parts in-between. We will do that all together, so the rest of the band will have the chance to contribute. It’s different when I write regular Therion music. I write the music first. I wrote whatever I wanted, spontaneously, and then we just write the lyrics. It’s supposed to be poetic, so it can fit any way you like. But when you need dialogue and a lot of action, because it’s a play on stage, then things need to fit. Maybe a dialogue is happening too fast, rushing by, so we need more music there to let the scene sink into the viewer. Then you need to adapt the music. That’s something new for me, I never adapted music for anything. I just wrote whatever I wanted, and then we wrote the lyrics. It’s a great challenge for me to adapt music for the scenery, for dialogues and what’s happening on stage. That’s one of the reasons it might take time. We also need to prepare choreographies, design the sceneries, design costumes… There’s a lot of work involved, it’s not just writing music and sketching dialogues. And if we want to succeed with a mainstream crowd, we need to stand up against these very well choreographed musicals being performed. It’s important to remember that, in the metal world, we’re still a big name. We are somebody, we have a status and credibility. But in that mainstream world, we’re nobody! So we need to impress the promoters and show that we really did something that can stand up against what they’re usually playing. But it’s a great challenge, and we like challenges. If we feel we’re getting a bit stuck, we’ll simply take in professionals to help with choreography and that sort of things, and work together with them. We’ve never done this before, so that’s why it’s uncertain. I don’t want to say it will be out in two years and have a lot of questions later if it’s not the case. It’s better to say nothing. We don’t know, we’re working on it. You’ll know when we’re finished.

You said that this would end up being the very first REAL rock opera. By saying this, are you opposing your project to these projects that people call metal operas and that we’ve seen emerging in the past years, like Ayreon and Avantasia?

It’s a matter of what you put behind the words. I kind of object to the words “rock opera”, because it has normally nothing to do with opera. We will do a rock opera in what I think should be the true sense of the expression: we’ll mix opera with rock music. It will be only opera singers. Today, a rock opera can be regular rock music. It’s just that there are different characters singing dialogues. I think it’s a misleading way to describe what a lot of these other bands are doing. I’m not saying they’re doing anything bad, but to me, it’s more rock musicals. We want to create the first true mix between opera and rock music. Sometimes it will be only classical music, sometimes only rock, and sometimes it will be the two together. A bit like Deep Purple with their Concerto for band and orchestra in 1970, except it won’t be so clearly divided. And then of course, we’ll use opera singers. They made it instrumental. Every person who plays a role will be a trained opera singer, that’s the deal.

« For most bands, it would be very risky to do something completely different. To Therion fans, it’s like: ‘Yeah, good! It’s a crazy band that always does something different!’ That gives us an advantage over many other bands. »

What will be the story of the opera? The historical and geographical setting?

This is still under discussion. We only have two things: we have 40 minutes of classical music that I already wrote, and we have the decision to do this. That’s all we have. We have some ideas. There are classical novels that nobody has made into an opera and that we might use. But it’s better not to suggest anything, because then there would be a lot of talk around it. We’ll make the decision next autumn, when we get to work really hard on it. First we’re gonna finish the cover project, then we’ll take some time off and brainstorm, read some of the books we could base it on. We’ll see what ideas we can come up with. If somebody gets cool ideas, they can always record some demos. Then, in the autumn, we’ll sketch up the real deadlines for this. It will also be a period of trial and error. I don’t want to work two or three years on a project and have promoters tell me: “This is great, but it’s too expensive so we can’t stage it”. We’ll have to throw out some hooks to promoters in the early stages to ask what they could do with this. We need to see what we have to work with, instead of working according to our own vision. That’s something that’s completely new to me as well. I’ve never compromised. But we cannot work with a Richard Wagner-sized orchestra, it’s simply not gonna work. When we did a concert with the orchestra before, it cost 100,000€ a night, so it’s commercially impossible. You need to have sponsors, you need money from the country’s cultural department, etc. We need to work with a considerably smaller orchestra. We need to see what’s reasonable, how much money we can put in the sceneries. We must adapt a little bit to what will be estimated to be realistic in terms of budget. I’m used to doing whatever I want and just sending the bill to the record company, so it’s a very big challenge to work that way. But I think it’s useful. It’s good to tackle different challenges and not always take for granted that you can do whatever you want.

Do you have any reference opera for this project?

Maybe Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel when it comes to scenery. But that’s just a vague idea. It could end up being completely different. I saw it twice and was so blown away by it. Musically, Richard Wagner will always be very close to my heart, very bombastic. I was born with very pretentious stuff in my blood! But it also depends on what the other guys think. I can tell you that it’s not going to sound like Italian opera. It will be something more dramatic, more like Russian and German operas. Or even French opera. I really like Samson and Dalila [by Saint-Saëns], it’s very good. We’re gonna see where we land. The music I’ve already written is very much in this direction already.

Interview conducted by phone by Spaceman and Metal’O Phil on November 2012
Introduction by Metal’O Phil
Transcription: Saff’

Therion’s offical website: www.megatherion.com

Album Les Fleurs du Mal out since September, 28th, 2012

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