Ghost is much more than a gimmick, even though the band members themselves acknowledge the gimmick has gone a long way toward establishing its broad fan base. The Swedish group’s recently released third album, “Meliora,” borders on masterpiece quality, a musical statement more powerful than the macabre appearance of “new” frontman Papa Emeritus III and the masked Nameless Ghouls that make up the band. After Ghost wrapped its short “Unholy/Unplugged” tour of record stores in the United States and as it prepared to launch its North American “Black to the Future” tour on Sept. 22 at the Fillmore Silver Spring in Silver Spring, Maryland, one of the Nameless Ghouls called to chat with Live Metal’s Greg Maki.
2018 UPDATE: After Tobias Forge revealed himself as the man behind the mask, we realized we had talked to the Ghost mastermind himself in 2015, not a Nameless Ghoul as we were told at the time.
LIVE METAL: Which Nameless Ghoul am I talking to? What do you do in the band?
A NAMELESS GHOUL (TOBIAS FORGE): I play guitar, compose and pose.
Stage left or stage right in concert?
I usually sport a white guitar.
So a couple weeks ago, I was in Baltimore for the acoustic performance you did there, and I thought that was a lot of fun. What was it like for you to kind of let your hair down—literally, in Papa’s case—and show a different side of the band?
We really enjoyed it. It was nice. Sometimes, when we do our regular tours and we do our regular shows, there’s a lot of things sort of synced together. It’s very orchestrated. Obviously, we’re six people onstage, and then we’re seven people traveling with us. So we’re a lot of people everywhere. And music is synced to lights, and there’s not a whole lot of room for improvisation.
The form of ad libbing that acoustic shows granted was very relieving. To have that sort of spontaneity in there or the possibility of being spontaneous, it actually opened up a lot of thoughts for us going into the future that I won’t bore you with right now. It was a good thing. It was nice to be able to show people that Ghost can be more than that; it can also be this.
I noticed there—I’ve noticed before, too, but especially there—that the fan base for the band has become very diverse—male and female, and a lot of small children, too. What do you think it is that gives you such a wide appeal?
I’d love to say that we’re just a good band. (laughs) I think there are several ingredients that allow people from different places to sort of gravitate towards the band. And I think, actually, part of it is our image. Obviously, you have to have some sort of attraction to, I guess, theatrical shows or horror or musicals or something like that, where someone who might like grassrooty, sort of real, earthy—very real people might think that anything theatrical is just classic and sort of premeditated. Obviously, someone like that might not like our band, just because he or she does not like things that are gimmicky.
But I also think that the gimmick works in our favor because we’re not asking our fans to become like us visually in a way that I think most other bands do. People usually are drawn to the artists that look either like them or how they want to look. (laughs) It’s got me thinking of this quite nasty quote. I’m quoting here, so don’t shoot the messenger. But I think David Lee Roth said once, the reason why David Lee Roth or Van Halen gets bad reviews and Elvis Costello doesn’t is because Elvis Costello looks like a journalist. Which is a sidetrack, but also, it’s very much so when you talk to friends you know. Sometimes it’s funny—your friend looking like that, and “Oh, I have a new band,” and it’s this band. “You like them just because he or she is wearing glasses.”
You sort of reflect yourself in the artist. I, myself, am similar—very similar. There are tons of artists that you feel drawn to because he or she is singing or has a feature or something that you can relate to. So there’s nothing wrong with it. But I also think that that is one of the reasons why we can sort of cross over a little, because normally people from a certain group of clientele might normally not like a band that looks like their complete opposite. A band looking like jocks are normally not appreciated by someone who looks like a nerd or vice versa, to be harsh.
People generally don’t have a fucking clue what we look like, so we can be whatever you like. If you like tall, dark men, maybe we are. If you like skinny, blonde dudes, maybe we are. So we can be whatever you want, and I think that is one reason. We are playing with your imagination. You can actually invest your imagination in our band, whereas there’s very little to imagine about most other bands nowadays, because you get fucking their shit rubbed in your face every fucking day.
The new album came out last month. I’ve listened to it a lot, and to me, it definitely seems heavier than the previous album with a bigger emphasis on both riffs and hooks in the choruses. Musically speaking, what did you set out to accomplish with this album?
We wanted the record to have a bit more bite. We felt as though our two first records—albeit we liked them, and we think that they turned out really good—there was a stiffness to them that we wanted to investigate and change. Our theory was that the drums are too orchestrated. They are way too held back and way too metronomical. And that is true, because the drums were arranged by—you’re not necessarily in a live milieu doing them. You’re sitting in composition and you create the drum pattern in a computer, and then you add all the music to that, and you add all the orchestration on there. It’s well played, but also, it sounds a little bit too stiff.
We really invested a lot of time into breaking a lot of those drums up. Obviously, they were arranged, but we tried to add a spontaneous and a live feel to them, because we knew that if we get a really, really powerful and sort of temperamental drum track, all of us have to step up when it comes to adding our instruments on to it, because all of a sudden, it’s not metronomical anymore. You have to follow whatever the drummer’s doing.
Yeah, I like to say that we turned up the drums a lot, and all of us had to step up a notch or two, and the sum of all those steps together made a giant leap, basically, because all of a sudden, you have this record which sounded way more alive and way more temperamental.
Yeah, it has a huge sound to it.
Yeah. And then there are a few sonic choices. We worked with Andy Wallace. He is the master of mixing a big, heavy record.
From a thematic perspective, what is going on with this album?
Thematically, the word that we used was “futuristic.” And we wanted it to, as opposed to our previous albums, be a little bit more—you have to take it with a pinch of salt—vaguely contemporary in its issues and not to lean on the more traditional, sort of gothic horror elements that usually is occult-oriented rock. Which, obviously, is a large part of what we are, and we will possibly return to more classic times in terms of thematically next time or the time after that. This time, we wanted it to be very far from the ground—high up in a building and very modern and searchlights and urban—to sort of go hand in hand with our listeners and our contemporary state of ourselves.
Does it go along with that theme that there are no specific mentions of Satan or any other names for him?
Well, there is one “Satan” in the lyrics. But obviously, he is ever present. In most of the songs, there is a presence of a rebellious beast.
This album flows from one song to the next so well. Would you consider playing it live front to back?
Oh, why not? We pride ourselves right now on the fact that just because we are a new band and we play, obviously, very often with bands we do love, but sometimes it’s almost sad that some bands that have done tens of records—they’ve done so many records that it’s crazy, and they’ve been around for such a long time—they put a lot of time into making new records. And still, at the end of the day, you see them one year later, and they actually only play one new song because everybody wants to hear the old stuff.
Right now, we’re just happy that we haven’t sort of transgressed to—sooner or later, if we continue, it’s going to happen to us, too, because that’s just part of aging; you become more of what they call a heritage band, I guess. All of a sudden, people become more interested in hearing the old classics than hearing new stuff.
Some bands miraculously still make records that are very relevant. Iron Maiden, for example, they did a tour a couple years ago where they played their whole new album front to back and got away with it, which is really cool. That is very brave. I really think that is fantastic. But for us, obviously, we’re still in the making. We’re still making our future past. On this tour, we’re playing eight or nine songs from the new record, which feels really good. So right now, we don’t feel at all poised to play the record from front to back.
Because you’re playing most of it anyway.
We play most of it, but we play it mixed in with a lot of old material from the first two records, which feels very cool, because a lot of the material, especially from our second record, actually gets bigger and better now, because it has a better flow mixed up with the rest of the material that maybe wasn’t completely obvious on the actual record that it’s on. Obviously, that’s not for us to say, but we think so.
In less than two weeks, you’re starting the North American headline tour. Aside from the songs that you just talked about, what can we expect to see?
It’s gonna be a little bit different, because, as I was saying, we have a whole new patois of material to choose from, so it’s gonna be a lot of songs that you’ve never heard. We’re mixing it up in a way that we haven’t really done before. There’s gonna be a little bit more of an act one, act two, act three sort of change onstage. We’re bringing a little bit more of a production this time than we have in the past, which definitely adds a lot more progression rather than here’s the band, here’s the band, here’s the band, and you do that for one and half hours. It’s a little bit more dramaturgical and putting emphasis on certain things at certain times. It’s closer to the actual, original idea.
What is like performing in those new masks? They look pretty unforgiving as far as breathing and drinking and things like that.
Well, yeah, breathing and drinking—no. No breathing. No, it’s absolutely the dumbest move ever. Very uncomfortable and stupid, but they look very cool. You have to sacrifice for rock ‘n’ roll. Come see us die!