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31st October 2010
METAL DISCOVERY: As well as recording ‘Sitra Ahra’ in Sweden, I read you did some stuff in a studio in Ireland – how did that come about?
CHRISTOFER JOHNSSON: : I own an old farmhouse in Ireland. I’m a resident there so I bought it in 2006.
(Christofer Johnsson on the Niemann brothers)
"I miss Kristian and Johan a lot; really cool people but we couldn’t continue. It’s just that we had our best before date. We’d done the best we could together. It would have been downhill from there."
Christofer Johnsson onstage at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, UK, 31st October 2010
Photograph copyright © 2010 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Therion Official Website:
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Of Darkness... (1991)
Lepaca Kliffoth (1995)
Thanks to Nina Potthoff for arranging the interview.
Beyond Sanctorum (1992)
Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas (1993)
Sirius B (2004)
Lemuria (2004)
Gothic Kabbalah (2007)
MD: You live in Ireland?
CJ: Yeah, well, both. Ryanair makes it so cheap so it’s like taking a bus! I’m a resident of Ireland but I have a house in Sweden too.
MD: It was announced in July that Snowy had left Therion and it was rumoured for weeks that he’d joined Dimmu, then it was announced he’d joined Dimmu but left a day later to rejoin Therion…
CJ: I want to stress the fact that we work with a lot of people that are hired people. It’s not the same when some permanent member leaves. He’s never been a permanent member.
MD: I think it was just more about media sensationalism announcing those things.
CJ: But people don’t get it, you know, who is a member and who is not. When we work together with some people, they don’t have the same obligations. That means if they don’t feel like doing a tour, it’s not okay when he gives us the answer so late, that was the problem, but if he just says “guess what, I feel like doing something else” then, you know, that’s how it is. On the other hand, if we say that we feel like we want to work with someone else then that’s how it will be. It means we have a collaboration as long as we’re fine with it. It’s not like he quit, that’s a big different thing. If you leave the band as a permanent member, that’s a very different thing.
MD: Therion have obviously had many members come and go over the years, in terms of session musicians as well, so would you say that’s one contributing factor to the evolution and progression of the music?
CJ: The Niemanns were in the band for nine years. Some bands haven’t been around nine years. Five studio albums and three DVDs with them so I don’t agree with this coming and going. We’ve been around for twenty three years to put it in a time perspective. How many member changes did Uriah Heep or Deep Purple have? You know, all these bands that have been around a long time. So, sure, there has been member changes but, also, a lot of people in the beginning, in a very few years there were really a lot of member changes because we changed music styles. Since we’ve found the style we’ve become known for from ‘Deggial’ and onwards, over a ten year period, I don’t think we’ve had that many changes. Basically, we have drummers coming in the wing. Until the recent lineup changes when the Niemanns left, it’s been pretty stable over that period.
MD: So from all previous members who do you miss playing with the most?
CJ: I miss Kristian and Johan a lot; really cool people but we couldn’t continue. It’s just that we had our best before date. We’d done the best we could together. It would have been downhill from there. I mean, it would’ve been good enough to make records and people would have said “hey, it’s okay”, but our aim has never been to be okay. People may have whatever opinions they want about our records, like “oh, you’re going in the wrong direction” or whatever. Fine, but we must think that we’re going in the right direction. We must make the record that we would like to buy. We don’t say “this is the best we ever did” so how can we expect anybody else to think that?
MD: I heard you wanted Lori Linstruth as replacement guitarist for Therion before she moved to Holland to live with Arjen, of course. Was she ever approached for the job?
CJ: Yes, of course. She had already left for Holland. She had a lot of very hard family related problems so she said that perhaps she’s not ready for a big band. I said “okay, you can do solos on the album as a session musician then.” She said - “No, it’s a great opportunity but don’t have any inspiration with all the things going on in my life. I could play but you wouldn’t get the Lori Linstruth you hire.” I respect that. I said – “The door is open whenever you like.” By far the best female metal guitarist in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
MD: She’s incredible. Have you heard Arjen’s Guilt Machine album?
CJ: I haven’t heard that yet.
MD: Ah, it’s incredible and her guitar playing on there is breathtaking.
CJ: I sent off a MP3 to Kristian Niemann and said “I’m thinking of a replacement with this player, what do you think of this?” He just said “yeah, you couldn’t find a better replacement.”
MD: With such a vast back catalogue of material at this stage in your career, do you find it a struggle now to finalise a setlist for a tour?
CJ: Always a problem for us. We try to rotate the songs so nothing gets stuck too much but we’re like – “Oh yeah, we must play this one”…of course, there are a few tracks that we must play but, the thing is, if you’ve seen a band five times why would you need to see it a sixth time? It’s a good question. If it’s your diehard favourite band then you can see them over and over again…but we want to give the fans a reason why they can see us again and again. That means there’s always gonna be old songs that we haven’t played in ages or that we’ve never ever played before. So if people go “ohhh, they’re not going to play that song”, well, don’t count on it because on one of these tours we’ll be playing it. We change the stage scenery and our whole approach to everything. Every tour we do something new so it makes sense for you to see us again and again. It will be like – “oh fuck, why did I miss that?” This time we have Thomas Vikström playing flute and Lori’s doing the piano on a couple of songs. Next time we’re not gonna do that so if you want to see Thomas play the flute then you’ve got to see this tour. Lori plays the recorder flute as well, very well, but we decided not to do it and maybe save that for the future.
MD: So is a setlist put together with the audience in mind as to what you think they might want to hear or do you play stuff that you want to play as well?
CJ: A mixture. When you make a record, we do it anyway… but the live show is a mixture of the audience and the band. If nobody buys the record then it will still sound the same; we made the record the way we recorded it, but if you make a concert without an audience it’s a rehearsal, so if the audience doesn’t like it, it’s a shit show, so it has to be a mixture of we know what they want to hear and what we want to do.
MD: Finally, what are the immediate plans for Therion when this tour is done?
CJ: Time off, and I guess we’re gonna do Latin America again in June or something – some new places. We didn’t do a concert in Northern Mexico because of civil unrest.
MD: So you’ve just done South America, haven’t you?
CJ: Latin America.
MD: How were those shows?
CJ: Brilliant. We didn’t do three countries there – Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala because too many tours are going on. Like in Bolivia, there’s a market for three shows a year because people can’t afford more. Now a lot of the big bands like Metallica go there…like KISS played Columbia and they’ve never been there before, back in the 70s or any time, so everyone will go and see it, and they spend their money. So, therefore, we couldn’t do these three countries. So we wanna go back and do them in June when there’s nothing else going on.
MD: It’ll be good to see you at a festival in the UK again soon. ProgPower was the last one four years ago. Bloodstock Open Air’s a good one over here, have you heard of that?
CJ: Yeah, I think we’re scheduled to do that.
MD: That’ll be great. Therion at Bloodstock, definitely. Okay, thank you so much for your time.
CJ: A pleasure. Thank you.
Theli (1996)
A'arab Zaraq - Lucid Dreaming (1997)
Deggial (2000)
Vovin (1998)
Crowning of Atlantis (1999)
Secret of the Runes (2001)
Sitra Ahra (2010)