DATE OF INTERVIEW:
9th February 2018
METAL DISCOVERY: Everybody’s been calling it a “rock opera”… I guess because that’s what went out in the press release, but I gather it’s not your favoured term… you prefer “operatic rock/metal musical” or something like that?
CHRISTOFER: Yeah, it was my fault; I said “rock opera” to the record label and then they wrote “rock opera” in the press release. So, I’m to blame for that. But, I was a little naïve. I thought you could explain things, like the first rock opera in the true sense of the word, like rock and opera. But, all of that in the explanation gets lost in translation. It remains “rock opera”, and then people think it’s a concept album. So, yeah, “rock/metal musical with opera vocals” would be, in a terminological way, correct, I guess. That’s why I usually compare it to ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, even though it doesn’t sound anything like that… but then people get it, what we’re trying to do.
(Christofer Johnsson on working at his best when under pressure)
"...I have to admit that we’re masochists, you know. We work better with a knife against the throat. When there’s a big chance of blowing everything, and destroying everything, making a fool out of ourselves, an economic disaster… that’s when we push ourselves to do even better."
Christofer Johnsson on his tour bus, 9th February 2018
Photograph copyright © 2018 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Official Therion Website:
Thanks to Claire Harris for arranging the interview
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MD: I read your initial blog from this tour and I was quite intrigued that you’ve brought a couple of your old guitars out of retirement… a couple of your old Les Pauls from the ‘Theli’ and ‘Vovin’ era.
CHRISTOFER: They both have a broken neck, like me!
CHRISTOFER: They’re retired and have been glued…
MD: But you’re using them on stage?
CHRISTOFER: Yeah, for a few songs. We have five different tunings in the rock opera because, one of the challenges when you write so much music, besides having music that fits to the scenes, is the variation. Of course, you try to vary the tempos but you need to vary the keys. It’s absolutely essential. You can’t write everything in E and A minor… well, if you tuned down, it would be a different key, but it’s basically everybody writes two keys for half of a record.
MD: Like, if you’re Iron Maiden, then most of a record will be E minor, C, D!
CHRISTOFER: Fair enough if you make ten songs of heavy metal but if you’re gonna make three and a half hours of music or more, you need to vary the key. So, we play a lot of keys that are very odd. I think I never wrote a song in G before, or G sharp, or F… which is very uncomfortable to play on the guitar. So, we play in five different tunings so we would have open strings in every key, to be able to really vary it. And that means, if you perform these songs live, then we need a lot of guitars. Actually, it’s not good for me to play a Les Paul, because they’re too heavy… but, yeah, I thought I’d bring the ‘Vovin’ guitar because it’s a Les Paul that’s not so heavy. I used it for the ‘Vovin’ tour and the ‘Vovin’ recording. And the old ‘Theli’ guitar… it’s a little bit heavier but it sounds really good for the lower keys, for C, you know.
MD: Was that used on the ‘Theli’ album, too?
CHRISTOFER: Erm… did we use that one?... yes, we did.
MD: That’s a big bit of metal history right there, those two guitars, considering how big and influential those albums were and are. Obviously, those two albums were game changers at the time, so do you think ‘Beloved Antichrist’ will be another game changer?
CHRISTOFER: I don’t know. I feel like I shouldn’t be too hopeful. I’ll just roll the dice and see what happens with it. Right now, I’m just happy to be out of the recordings. I mean, to put things in perspective – when you record ten or twelve drum tracks, you’re pretty fed up with drums. When you record over fifty tracks, you’re clinically insane and need help afterwards!
CHRISTOFER: And then, the drummer would sod off and I continue, you know, me and the engineer. And then we do bass and guitar and…
MD: You tracked a load of guitars, I read, as well… something like eighteen tracks, I think I read?
CHRISTOFER: Eighteen tracks… it’s an old trick from the eighties, that you bring down the distortion to nothing, and then you build on the layers with multiple overdubbing, and then it will sound like a regular guitar, but much cleaner. So, if you have a lot of things going on in your production, it’s easier to fit it in. Because the classic thing is somebody wants something louder and then you don’t hear something else, so you bring that up and then you bring a third thing up and then, in the end, you’ve brought everything up and you’re back where you started, except everything’s louder.
So, what you need to do is to make a puzzle… to lay pieces of a puzzle with the frequencies and to make things clean, and to make things fit in where they should be. One way of doing it is to make everything sound very unnatural. That’s why drums don’t sound like drums, anymore… they sound all clicky, you know, and metallic. And the bass guitar is only the lowest frequencies because modern guitars are taking up so much space in the bass frequencies. So, we tried to do everything by making it sound, maybe, a bit old fashioned, but make things fit in a natural way. And, with the overdubbing, we get the guitar even more streamlined. But, to get those eighteen takes, it’s not like we are wizards and just take the guitar and nail every take. So, we had to record, maybe, fifty or sixty takes to get those eighteen. So, three and a half hours of guitar recording, fifty of sixty times.
MD: It’s like you made it as hard for yourself as you could do!
CHRISTOFER: Yeah, that was probably the best and the worst idea I’ve ever had in my life at the same time!
CHRISTOFER: It really helped the production. Some people may complain the guitar is not so super heavy…
MD: But it sounds amazing, though. And the album’s not necessarily all about heaviness.
CHRISTOFER: You need to hear everything.
MD: Can we expect anything else from Luciferian Light Orchestra in the future? The last EP was out in 2016, I believe, on Svart Records. A great EP, I have to say. Anything else in the pipeline?
CHRISTOFER: There are six or seven decent songs. There’s definitely one more record because the seventies, that’s me. I always sneaked a lot of seventies into Therion, but I always hid it and fooled people into thinking we were making modern music. Whereas, in reality, I recycled a lot of old stuff, like Uriah Heep and that kind of stuff is my cup of tea. But, with Luciferian Light Orchestra, I can just do it as I feel it should be. So, definitely one more record, but it’s always a time problem. It’s also a financial thing because I really don’t earn anything on Luciferian Light Orchestra so, if I’m gonna take a few months off to record and promote, I need to have a good financial situation that I can afford to take, basically, a vacation from Therion for half a year. But, we’ll work it out sooner or later.
MD: The final thing I was going to ask – you’ve fulfilled your lifelong ambition with ‘Beloved Antichrist’, but where do you go from here?
CHRISTOFER: I ask myself the same question… everything’s just empty! We can’t make anything bigger… at least not if we’re going to survive it… or if anybody’s going to be interested in listening to it. So, I don’t know… I’ve really no idea. Maybe we would make a challenge in making a guitar based album. That would be a big challenge. Minimalism. I’m a huge AC/DC fan. I love a lot of meat and potato rock ‘n’ roll. I’m a huge Beatles fan.
MD: You could surprise everybody and do a whole album of ABBA covers!
CHRISTOFER: ABBA… we already did one.
MD: ‘Summer Night City’… which, I have to say, is one of the best ABBA covers, ever. I think that, and Portishead did a version of ‘SOS’, which was featured in a film from a couple of years ago.
CHRISTOFER: I like Portishead.
MD: Listen to their cover of ‘SOS’, it’s incredible. That and ‘Summer Night City’ are the two best ABBA covers ever, I think.
CHRISTOFER: I have the two first albums… I forgot about them… are they still around?
MD: I believe so, as they did this cover a couple of years back.
CHRISTOFER: I’m gonna check that out, for sure.
MD: You’ve never been tempted to cover another ABBA song?
CHRISTOFER: I tend to go with the flow. I never really know what to do in advance. That’s the charm of it… I don’t know what’s around the corner, so we’ll see what happens.
MD: Which is part of the joy of being a Therion fan in that you never know what’s going to happen next.
CHRISTOFER: It’s part of the joy of being in the band, because everything is very unpredictable! And, somehow, I think I have to admit that we’re masochists, you know. We work better with a knife against the throat. When there’s a big chance of blowing everything, and destroying everything, making a fool out of ourselves, an economic disaster… that’s when we push ourselves to do even better.
MD: That’s when you thrive.
CHRISTOFER: Yeah, if things are too easy, then it’s not good. I think Motörhead… I read an interview with Lemmy, bless him, that they preferred to record in the night. In the beginning, it was because of a money thing, and it was cheaper to record in the night… you could rent a studio cheaply. The first Judas Priest albums were recorded in the middle of the night. The producer who recorded ‘Rocka Rolla’ fell asleep because of that! But then, of course, he was a speed freak, Lemmy, it’s better to be hungry and tired and worn out and record in the night… that’s when you create this magical, dirty rock ‘n’ roll – that’s their version of it. Our version is to blow up some project that scares the shit out of us. Like, “Shit, what should we do now?”, you know. Like going to Czech Republic with a paper bag and just hope for the best. Or things just blow up like this and, all of a sudden, “Guess what guys, we have three and a half hours to record, let’s start at the beginning and go on until the end.”
MD: And fine results. It’s an amazing album.
CHRISTOFER: I hope people think so.
MD: I hope so, too, it deserves it. And I’ll look forward to seeing the big theatre production… in the West End… when it’s been franchised out to whoever.
CHRISTOFER: And, actually, it’s not necessary for us to play in that. I mean, if you see ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, nobody will say, “Oh, where’s Ian Gillan?”… just because he sang on the album in 1970 or whenever it was. And this mainstream audience, they don’t know who Therion are and, in all honesty, they don’t give a shit who Therion are. For them, it’s an evening of entertainment, like going to see a movie at the cinema. I don’t feel that it has to be me sitting in an orchestral pit in front of the stage, hidden there on the chair, playing for three hours. I think I would enjoy more co-directing it, with a glass of wine, sitting in the first row and enjoying it, instead!
CHRISTOFER: So, it’s not sure whether we will perform it ourselves.
CHRISTOFER: In a way, maybe, it’s more like my personal project that I got Therion to help me realise. They wrote around twenty per cent of it and we recorded it together. Thomas [Vikström], I think, would really like to perform it and probably Chiara [Malvestiti], also. I’m not sure any of the musicians would look forward to sit and play for three hours, the same thing every night, for two seasons, you know, if it would work out and become famous. I think everybody would think it would be fun to do it for a one-off show or two shows, but not like, “Okay, now we contract you for three seasons in London.” Everybody moves to London and plays the same thing every night for one and a half years. And, also, if it’s limited to us, it would be just one production. I’d like to see this is New York, in Paris, in London, in Vienna… everywhere.
MD: Let’s hope so.
CHRISTOFER: And I’m thinking, do we need to have musicians play all the time? I saw ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ with my mum, when she brought me there many, many years ago, and the music was playback. You know, the singers were performing, but the music was playback. And that would make it more scalable, you know. Instead of being tied to very big places, we could also make smaller productions. The challenge for me is to make something that would work in the real world, outside the metal community because we’re a subculture… which is the best market on the planet, because there’s no more loyal audience ever. It’s like a brother/sisterhood all over the planet, which is really awesome. But it’s also, in a way, a little bit easier because they’re very loyal. Once you’re already established, it’s quite easy, but to go out to a more mainstream audience and convince them to like this…
MD: Unchartered territory, for you.
CHRISTOFER: Yes, because we’re nobody out there.
MD: Interesting. Let’s see what happens! Great things, hopefully.
CHRISTOFER: Yeah, I hope so.
MD: Thank you so much for the interview… that was really interesting.
CHRISTOFER: Thank you for your time.