Therion - Christofer Johnsson Interview

By Elric on 7:56 PM 22 February 2007

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Metal Express contacted the following interview with Christofer Johnsson of Therion. Here it is:

How were the sales of your latest DVD package?

I don’t have any figures in my hands, but it was a little bit less than expected, actually. I think a lot of the young people thought it was too expensive. I mean everybody who bought it was very happy with it because got so much value for their money, but if you don’t have the money it doesn’t matter how much value you get (laughs). It’s not really bad, but it’s just a little bit less than we expected.

Was it a limited or a regular edition with the six discs?

It’s a regular release, and it’s never going to be limited. This is a milestone release for the band, one of those historic releases and like this it should always be available. I’m sure people will be interested in it in 5 or 10 years from now even if we continue putting out releases. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up doing a historical release part two or something like that in the future. But again, there are not that many big changes in the band like there was before when the whole band changed new guitar players all the time and we were playing exotic places for the first time. There still would be a few things like that, like maybe we’re going to Japan for the first time on this upcoming tour, but it cannot be compared to the first time playing in Mexico and stuff like that, because that was such a big thing for us, for a young band that wasn’t really that successful.

Your promo photos feature all the singers that participated on the album. Do you consider them as permanent members now?

No, no. That’s the unique thing with Therion. We don’t have a singer. We never had a permanent singer since I was the main vocalist and I stopped doing that in ’95. We continue the way we do now and it’s just that we form a co-operation. I think with this record the unique thing is that we did a complete concept. We said, “Okay, let’s do the record together and the tour.” Normally we’d just record the album and then find singers for the tour. This time we decided to do both the record and the tour together. That’s why we put the main singers on the photo sessions. This is the only difference from how we used to work in the past. And also, they were allowed to contribute to some of the songs. Snowy Show was doing a few small things on some songs, but Mats Leven was writing a song on his own and also made some additions to some other songs, which is something we normally wouldn’t allow, but it was an experiment and I think it was a successful one. We always like to try something new with each record and hope that people will like it. I think that’s the whole formula for Therion being such an artistically successful band after so many records. If you look at most bands that made 13 studio albums, like Saxon, Iron Maiden ... they all had their artistic peaks and they live out of their classics. You won’t find any bands that would say that their latest album is their best one. Nobody would say that, not even the bands themselves. So, I think one of the keys for Therion for being artistically successful is that we have the ability to change. We would, of course, have the same situation if we would stick to one style. But, there’s a limit of how many times you can write riffs in the same style with one vocalist being in the band before you get stuck with what you do. What makes it easier for Therion is that we developed this attitude that you should have something new. Of course, we lose fans when we do different stuff from what we did before, but on the other hand we gain new fans as well. There’s a little bit of rotation of fans and then you have a core of diehard fans that manage to follow the development. I don’t know how many other bands are like that. It actually makes it much easier to compose because if you get fed up with something you can do something totally different.

Is there any musical challenge that you wouldn’t embrace with Therion?

There’s nothing I can say I wouldn’t do, but the only rule is that I’ll have to like it. I would never ever record a song on a record that I don’t like even if the entire band would love the song. But, apart from that, I don’t see any limitations. For example, you can see that it’s the drummer writing half the lyrics on this record. I’ve always said that it doesn’t matter who’s writing the songs as long as I choose them and I like them. And, I never had any chauvinism towards other’s compositions. I just listen to the songs and I pick the best ones. Of course, it’s a very subjective matter, but since it’s very hard to define what Therion is, it has to be me. But, that doesn’t mean that I’m deciding everything. It happens many times that when it comes to arrangements they tell me that “we should do this or do that” and I’m fine with that if it’s the right way. But, when it comes to the overall strategy like which direction to go, what songs to use, then I have a veto there, but it’s very seldomly used.

It’s basically your band and you still let other people write, and also you didn’t mind admitting that your second guitarist is better than you and all that stuff ... quite admirable, actually!

I stopped practicing guitar in ’95 and it’s just fine by me to be playing small parts on the record just for the fun of it. I’m playing live and that’s fun, but on the record I just care about the result. And I have a lot of other things to do in the studio. I think we’re doing it the right way. In a way you can say that I’m a little bit egoistic, because I do what's best artistically. I mean I do what I like. For me, it’s not fun to play a lot of guitars in the studio anyway. It’s just boring (laughs). It’s fun to play guitar live but not in the studio. It’s just something that needs to be done, and I don’t have this stupid pride that some musicians have that always have to be like this or that just for the sake of being this or that. For instance, Mercyful Fate have this songwriting thing for every record. I mean King Diamond wrote four songs, Mike wrote two songs, and Shermann wrote four songs. It was decided beforehand how many songs each members should write. And when they had a new member coming into the band he couldn’t write. It’s like when Ripper Owens joined Judas Priest, it didn’t matter if he wrote a killer song, because he wasn’t allowed to add his ideas.

That’s how they ended up recording two shitty albums ...

Yeah, very shitty albums actually. And, I mean, I’m a big Priest fan, but that was a huge disappointment. They had a great singer that wasn’t allowed to write and sing using his real voice. I think it’s mainly based on economical reasons, surely it was in the case of Mercyful Fate, as a lot of money comes from songwriting, which I think is stupid. What if Mike would write three songs instead of two and these three songs would be the best fucking three songs Mercyful Fate has ever written? But, then you’d say, “No, that’s too much, because you already filled your quota with two songs” and maybe you’d have some fillers by Shermann or King Diamond. I think that’s so stupid. You should put the best songs on the record. I’ve done this for 20 years now and we never had a creative peak. Of course, fans can have a different favorite but no one can say that times were passed over us and that we’re not a relevant band anymore. I think this is very unique and this is nothing I’m going to lose because of ego problems. I’m always doing what is artistically best for Therion at the moment. When picking the songs I’m trying not to think of who wrote it. Of course, it’s easy to like your own songs, but the most important thing is to think about what songs would fit the album the best.

Did you already look for reviews and opinions about Gothic Kabbalah on the Internet?

I’ve seen a few reviews and they’ve been positive or very positive. I haven’t seen any bad reviews so far on the Internet. I think the worst was 3.5 out of 5. I don’t read much on forums and message boards because so many people don’t have a clue anyway and they write a lot of crap. I just checked once or twice to see a little bit of reaction, which really annoys me. I don’t want to know what people think about the new record one and a half months before it is released. That is something I hate about this downloading stuff. It’s not the matter of the morality or if they will buy the record or not. I think if they like the record they’ll buy it anyway. But, I don’t want people to know how the record sounds like one and a half months before it’s out. And this disturbs me. I think the record should be explored in its full. If people want to hear it before buying it they should go to a record store where they can look at the cover and listen to the music on headphones and if they don’t like it, fine, don’t buy it, and if you like it, buy it. But anyway, back to the reactions ... it’s like with every Therion record. Some people say it’s the absolute worst we ever did, and some people say it’s the absolute best we ever did. It’s the same thing with every fucking record we ever did. Even with Theli ... when we released Theli, we got so many complaints from old fans. Even with Vovin, whicy doubled the sales, we got a lot of “Oh, it’s too commercial. Oh, it’s too clean” sort of comments. But, most of the fans were praising it. Then with Deggial we lost some sales compared to Vovin and got a lot of complaints as well: “Ah, there’s no progress, it sounds exactly the same as before” No fan today would understand that because there’s such a big difference from what we did before. Then we had Secret of the Runes where we lost a bit of sales again. It got the biggest complaints saying that it was boring and had no strong songs and Therion lost their creativity, blahblahblah. And if you check some forums today, many people would say that Secret Of The Runes was our best one. Back then, we got a complaints because there were no Rock or Metal vocals on it, only Classical vocals. Then, what happened when we released Lemuria and Sirius B? We got complaints that the Rock vocals are back again (laughs). That it wasn't Classical enough. It’s easier to make peace in the Middle East than making a Therion album that every fan would like (laughs). So, we don’t really care. We know that there’ll always be fans, mostly younger ones complaining if we’re not going in the direction they expect us to go, like if we could be some sort of “write on demand” sort of thing (laughs). So, we just ignore that. We know that every time there will be 10-15% saying that it’s the worst fucking crap they could imagine. But, fact remains: we still have very good sales, so most people like it. And honestly, it isn’t important what people say about it as we make the record for our own sake. We write the songs and record the albums that we would like to buy in a record store, but no one else is making.

Did you do the recording a different way this time?

For the album we wanted something exceptionally good. We spent over a 100,000 euros on this record, which is more than the double of any of the last three albums. The last three albums were like 50,000 euros each. I asked Stefan Glaumann who was making the record, “Who is the best on the planet no matter what it costs? If you were responsible for an album you could choose where to master it and somebody else paid the bill, who would you choose?” He said, “Okay, Sterling Sound in New York,” which is the biggest mastering studio on the planet and he added “George Marino.” Well, we paid three times as much as for a regular mastering, but I have to say it was worth it. It really made a great difference. Here, everything sounds clear and you hear every detail much better, and it’s something in the stomach that I cannot really explain; I just have a good feeling about it.

How come you put this out on two discs?

Actually it’s one album that is distributed on two discs. The whole thing is 85 minutes long. If you see this as two CDs, they are not long enough to be independent releases. Everybody would complain if you’d release a 39 minute CD today. In the vinyl time it was okay, but nowadays if you don’t release at least 45 minutes of music people think it’s too short. We always have 11 songs on the record and this time since we had so many songs we thought about recording 15 and choosing the 11 best and then we would have somesongs as bonuses or maybe we would do a CD single. But then, when we finished it there was only one song that we could think of removing. And this song was not so long that still it wouldn’t have fit on one disc. So, we would have had to remove another song except this one, or two songs in order to fit the whole thing on one disc. We were talking about it and we decided to release them all. And it’s a concept album about the Gothic Kabbalah, which contains 15 runes. It was more suitable anyway to have 15 songs to have a song for each rune.

What is the song that you originally wanted to remove?

The Falling Stone.” We thought about that one, but it was not long enough. We should have a song removed that is at least six minutes long. If I would have removed two songs, maybe “Trul” was the one I would have chosen. But, on the other hand, the other guys wanted to keep that song (laughs). “The Falling Stone” was the only one that we could kind of agree on. But, we thought that the song was needed because it’s an uptempo song that fit the record where it is now. It’s not that we didn’t like it, but we just thought about which one we could remove in order to shorten the album.

The guys at Nuclear Blast were probably scratching their heads when you told them about your idea of two CDs ...

They already know that there will always funny things going on when Therion is releasing a new album, so they just asked, “Okay, what should we do?” We already warned them about that. Before we recorded anything, we said to them that the record was too long and we asked them for two discs if that would be possible. Everything is possible with Nuclear Blast if you have a good relationship. They are really good people. Therion and Nuclear Blast have a very special relationship. I don’t think there’s any other band where they interfere so little. They pay out a 100,000 euros and almost a year later it’s like “Here, we have a record for you.” They never ask about how it's going and they never get worried that they spent a lot of money on it. They know that we take our time and that we work as quick as we can while still keeping the quality up. They never demand to hear something in advance. They just give us total artistic freedom and they trust us. On the other hand, we know that they’re very good at selling records, so we don’t try to tell them how to advertise and promote the band. That’s their job. So, it’s been a very successful relationship. We had a lot of problems when success first came in ’97 because there were a lot of things that were strange in the contract, but ever since that it’s been a really perfect relationship.

Are you going to concentrate on the songs from the new album once you get out on tour?

No, I think we’ll play songs from almost every record. We don’t play any songs from the first four albums because I stopped doing vocals. But, otherwise we’ll go at it like usual: play a bunch of new songs and then we’re going to play the classics that everyone wants to hear. Also, we’ll try to vary the set and play some songs that we didn’t play for many years, and even songs that we never played. For instance, we’re gonna play “Arrow …” from the Lemuria album. We’re gonna play songs that we haven’t played for ten years. Normally we used to play 4 or 5 new songs, but this time we rehearsed 6 or 7 new ones. We’re not going to play them all each night, but we’re going to vary the set from one night to another. Also, we’ll adjust our set to the audience. This time we’re going to play with Grave Digger and they pull a different crowd. They pull the most fans in Germany and Austria, so there’ll be a lot of other kinds of Metalheads there, so maybe we’ll play a little bit heavier set there that catches the attention of some of them. That’s always a challenge, but Therion is so diverse musically that we can fit into any package. I mean if we would do a tour with The Gathering, we could do a lot of kind of Poppy songs. If we’d go with a Heavy Metal band like HammerFall or Grave Digger, we have a lot of songs that are Heavy Metalish.

Will you have the same four singers on tour that you had on the album?

Except for Hannah, because she couldn’t do it mainly because of management issues. I’m not going to get much into that, but we were really counting on her doing it. She is a very nice girl and she wanted to do it, but ... I don’t know. If you ask me, she has very bad management. We’re not the first people having problems with her management. So, then we needed to have a replacement for her and that’s gonna be Lori Lewis from the USA. Actually, we put an advertisement on our web page. It was a crazy thing. I mean I have a lot of contacts for singers, but most of them are not so happy to go out on tour with a Rock band. If you are a good Opera singer, then you have a good job already and you’re singing in an Opera house. You can’t just say that “Oh, I’ll take a vacation of one month and go on tour with a Rock band.” It doesn’t work like that. And, they think it’s very cool to sing on the record, but living for a month or two on a tourbus is not their type of life. That’s why they became Opera singers. Out of the girls who applied, Lori was the one that managed to do it better than anybody else. We got a lot of very good applications, but they all were good mainly in one thing, but she managed to be the best all-round one, and that’s a very important thing -- that you’re very flexible.

So, you won’t bring more singers to do the background vocals?

No, because they all have such strong voices. When you have choir singers, their voice is not nearly as strong as soloists. If you listen to, for instance, Secret Of The Runes, a lot of people don’t know why they like the choirs so much on that record, and that’s because it’s not a choir. It’s a soloist ensemble. They all have such strong voices that you don’t need as many. If you listen to Lemuria and Sirius B, we used a huge choir, and still it doesn’t sound more powerful because they are choir singers and that’s not as strong. So, I think four people will be very good. We have the drummer that is actually a very good singer, so actually we have five singers. He may fill in at places where necessary.

Are you going to make a stage set up for these four? What is your plan?

That is a good question. It’s going to be completely different from before. Of course, they cannot stand on the podium somewhere, because they are soloists, so they’re gonna behave like soloists. Normally, you have the speakers and monitors on stage, which means that you’re dependant on some certain spots where you can hear yourself. For instance, if I play a guitar solo, I have to stand at a certain point to hear myself. It doesn’t matter if you play some rhythm guitar and you walk around, because that’s so simple. With singing, it’s different because you have to hear yourself well, therefore there’s a few spots where you have to be on. But, if you have an in-ear system, you can be anywhere. So we built up very nice stage scenery, which we spent a lot of money on, and we’ll have an in-ear monitor system for everybody, so there’s gonna be more of a show on stage. We’ll have eight people on stage and everybody except for the drummer is very flexible to move around.

So, is it going to be a headlining tour for Therion or co-headlining for both bands?

Therion will always be the last band on stage. Therion could tour as headliner in any of these countries and Grave Digger could now too. In my point of view, we just do what we always do. We play the same set length each night. We don’t make any compromises anymore. Grave Digger will play their full set in Germany and they will play shorter sets in other places. In Germany, you can say it’s co-headline because we have both headline crowds. But when we go to elsewhere, I don’t know what Grave Digger would pull, but probably they’d play in a small club and we'd play in a hall, so you can’t say it’s a co-headlining tour in that sense.

Will you have an opening act as well?

Yeah. Sabaton. They’re a Swedish Heavy Metal band. Haven’t heard much of them, to be honest with you. I think I’ve heard one song, but that type of music is not my cup of tea anyway, so I wouldn’t be the right person to say if it’s good or not. I’m not into Grave Digger, as well. I respect them for being one of the old bands, but it’s not the kind of music that I listen to. If I listen to Heavy Metal it’s more like Accept and Iron Maiden and typical eighties bands. Most of the new Heavy Metal bands like HammerFall and whatever ... I’ve got nothing against them, but it’s just doesn’t light my fire.

1 comments for this post

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