"This new record is about mortality. It’s about survival and persistence" - hmv.com talks to Ghost...
Ghost aren’t the first Swedish metallers to add a large dose of theatricality to their act, but it’s fair to say they’ve taken it to new extremes.
First formed in 2006, five of the group's six members are known as the 'Nameless Ghouls,' dressed in virtually identical, face-concealing costumes, while frontman Tobias Forge played Papa Emeritus, a kind of demonic anti-pope. Over the course of their career, they’ve released three acclaimed albums, combining their taste for theatricality with the sludgy riffs of Black Sabbath and the power of Judas Priest. Along the way, they’ve also picked up a Grammy and become a band who can fill arenas all over the world.
The journey to this new album has also been marred by personal difficulties. Forge had always vowed to keep his identity a secret, but it became public knowledge when he was sued by former Ghost members Simon Söderberg, Mauro Rubino, Martin Hjertstedt, and Henrik Palm as part of a royalties dispute and named in court documents.
The four, who left Ghost in 2016, accused Forge, of withholding information and royalties, while Forge said in response that as far as he was convinced Ghost was a solo project and the other members just nameless session players.
The repercussions of that fallout are felt strongly on new album Prequelle. As well as boasting a new line-up, Papa Emeritus is no more and instead, we have Cardinal Copia. A new demon in black cardinal’s robes who Forge will portray for the next five years. You can watch him being introduced below:
Prequelle was recorded in Sweden and Los Angeles with Skunk Anansie/Royal Blood producer Tom Dalgety and features guest appearances from Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt and eccentric synth man Steve Moore. It is an album inspired, unsurprisingly, by death and doom.
With the album now on shelves, we spoke to Forge about the making of Prequelle and why he learned the hard way about life in a band…
What did you want to do differently on this album?
“I had no burning desire to change radically, but I want each new record to be different from the others. There are always things that you leave a record with that you want to change, you always end up wasting time and taking wrong turns. I wanted to strike a fresh note, I don’t want to write ‘Square Hammer’ again, I don’t want to write ‘Death Knell’ again. A lot of hard rock bands, they write the same songs over and over again, you find a pattern and you regurgitate.”
“I want to be more like Queen, I want to write ‘Radio Gaga’ and ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, they were masters at that, coming up with all these songs that sound like nothing else. That’s my ambition, I want to have a very rich repertoire of songs, all of which fit into this world, our world.”
Where did the character of Cardinal Copia come from?
“That was about three or four years ago now. We’ve had Papa 1, Papa 2 and then Papa 3 and it was becoming predictable. I knew something needed to shift.”
Where did the concept come from?
“People are always asking about his background, where he comes from, what’s his story. He doesn’t have one, he’s from nowhere, he comes from beyond. Everybody is dying from there to be a story and originally there wasn’t one, I wanted an enigma, but people can’t handle an enigma. Leatherface is probably an inbred loser with this fetish, but I didn’t need a story analysing everything about him. This project came from nowhere and suddenly we have to deal with all this intrigue and it's all basically because I didn’t want to talk about myself.”
Did the character inspire the record’s themes?
“This new record is about mortality. It’s about survival and persistence. It’s also inspired by the idea of the master and the apprentice. I thought a lot about that, how the apprentice always believes they are one step away from being the master, but if that’s how you feel then you probably aren’t ready for the role. That’s the concept with the Cardinal, he’s not there yet and it’ll take him time and effort and some sort of big sacrifice to get there. Whatever you do, whenever you master it and achieve what you want to, you are too old to put it to good use. That’s what I’m struggling with, not being where I want to be, this is my therapy.”
When you’re collecting lyrics for the record, how does it work? Do you need a melody to work to? Or are you writing all the time?
“I work very chaotically. I work on phones, on papers, on my laptop, in my head. I’ve got bits and pieces of things everywhere. At the beginning of 2020 that will be a big enough pile to start going through, picking up words, choruses, ideas and deciding what to write. They’re just fragments, but I know what to do with it in my head, I’m always collecting seeds to grow into bushes and trees. As soon as I plant them, they grow quite quickly. Mostly I collect melodies, I don’t sit on lots and lots of guitar riffs, I work to melody. But it’s always chaotic, I pile and pile and pile.”
Who is the first person who gets to hear the ideas?
“The producer. In this case that was Tom (Dalgety). We had a lot of camaraderie and very similar taste in music. That helps a lot because I have a very wide musical palette and if I’m explaining my influences and references I can go straight from Venom to Basement Jaxx. So if I’m working with just a metal guy or a hard rock guy a lot of it will go over your head. Tom and I are very similar there, we’re focused on rock, but we go right across music. We were striving towards making a classic rock record. We wanted it to be equally cool and accessible and dreamy. I wanted this record to be a record that had come out in 1976 and had been completely forgotten.”
When did you decide what the album was going to be called?
“It went through a few different titles. I always struggle with titles, I always seem to give records names that no one can pronounce. I thought Meliora was smart and easy, but I got Melora and Mellara and all kinds. I didn’t understand why it was so hard. I was toying with the idea of using an English word, but it felt flat and it didn’t measure up with the others.”
“Prequelle has multiple meetings. We’ve gone back in time, Meliora is set in this futuristic, 1920s, Prequelle is back to Medieval times. I also felt, personally, like I was back in time. The record’s themes are life and death and the circle of it all.”
You’re four records deep now, how’s your live set coming together? You can’t play everything anymore…
“I’ve always wanted to have that back catalogue. It’s like having a black belt, you feel very satisfied in having those choices. On our last tour we did over two hours and we still had songs I know people love in reserve.”
What kind of production will you be bringing on tour? Lots of fire and stage visuals?
“It’ll depend on when you see us. We’re scaling up at the moment, but it’s still in the embryonic stage. We’ve been doing theatres and performance centres and you can’t use much pyro, that will step up in the fall. We are moving into arenas and a bigger show with extra everything. I want that to be the norm by the end of this cycle, the idea is to have a big, big show...”
Finally, how are things with the rest of your band? Is everybody settled and happy?
“It’s way more relaxed and balanced now, more than ever before. I, as many rock musicians have, always nurtured the idea of having a gang as well as a band. Those two things do not combine very well, there are very few bands who can do both. Either you go through your career hating your job and everybody else in the band or you can choose to stop. You usually have to learn the hard way and I did. I had to pull the plug on the old set-up. It was either that or stop and that wasn’t an option for me. I’m not going to give this up because someone else had some sort of idea of what they thought they were doing. Now it’s more balanced. You want the gang, but you can’t always get what you want…”