This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Swedish metal band Ghost will be playing the Rockwell room at The Complex in Salt Lake City this Saturday night. One of the band's Nameless Ghouls (who knows which one they're anonymous, remember? Though he did identify himself as "the main spokesman Ghoul") called from the St. Louis stop on the Popestar Tour to discuss such things as the band's Satanic reputation, their surprisingly melodic sound, their growing acceptance in the United States, and how long they intend to continue their "gimmick."
Part of Ghost's backstory is that you're a group of Satan worshipers; obviously, many of your songs have a Satanic theme to them, so to what extent is that a legitimate worldview, and to what extent is it just effective marketing?
[Laughs] So there's no middle ground?! … I think that a lot of the things that we do and a lot of the things that we say and a lot of the things that we illustrate a certain way is not to be taken too literal. It's more symbolic and more for entertainment purposes, in order to further enhance the message where it doesn't necessarily deal with the idea of criticizing God or anything like that; it's more of a critique against mankind and how mankind is using to a certain degree fables in order to be mean to each other and to trick each other.
Over the course of your three studio albums, the first dealt with the rise and the coming of the antichrist, the second more with his arrival; what was the theme you were going for with your latest one, "Meliora?"
It's about the absence of God. A modern sort of dystopia/utopia depending how you see it. It was supposed to sort of illustrate the modern world without God, and how that absence or that lack of a deity also poses another set of problems for the singular person.
Ghost has been predominantly labeled as doom metal or black metal, but in listening to your music, you don't seem to fit the typical definition of a metal band. How would you describe Ghost's music and sound?
It's a mix between many different things. I mean obviously it's heavily leaning towards heavier rock. And there are metal and extreme-metal elements in there. There's a certain type of riffing and there's a certain type of technique that we use that most metal or, like, a hard-rock band from the 1970s or before would not have used. And therefore it sort of is a little bit more inspired by the sounds that was probably 10 years later, in the mid-'80s. But still, it's melodic in a way that most trash-metal bands were not. It is very much a combination of the big rock bands of the '60s and cock-rock bands, and the heavy bands of the '70s, and prog bands, and film music. It's a little bit of everything. I'm very inspired by just classic pop writing. Just pop songs top-40, normal karaoke music. That plays a big part.
On a song such as "Square Hammer," where you have the heaviness of the theme coming together with a melodic, poppy sound, there's a sort of cognitive dissonance there. Is that an intentional thing you're doing for an audience, or is that just a product of the songwriting headspace you happen to be occupying at the time?
[Laughs] I don't know I think I probably do that a lot. I hear people saying many similar things about many of our songs. But there is a dissonance or there is something in there that provides a spooky, eerie feel, that makes it sound slightly skewed. I don't even know if I'm able to write it in any other way. I think that that is basically my thing.
You've said in the past that your Satanic reputation maybe contributed to difficulty in breaking through here in America. In the last year, you've made your first TV appearance, on Stephen Colbert's show; today it was announced that the "Popestar EP" was No. 1 on Billboard's Top Rock Albums chart. To what do you attribute your growing acceptance here?
It's because of Satan, of course! [Laughs] We have him on our side. I think that, with the test of time, we were able to embroider a somewhat multifaceted palette a little in order for people to sort of get the fact that we're not necessarily, as I said, as black and white as people might have thought of us a few years ago.
Back then, it was never really an issue of breaking through in America from a commercial point of view. Because, to begin with, it was never on the agenda at all. Of course we wanted to tour America, but it was never on the agenda to be part of any establishment or any part of radio culture, let alone be given the opportunity to be nominated for Grammys and stuff like that.
I think that it might be also a question of the cultural climate, the theological climate. I know some people who work in certain places where they might have shunned away from us in the past, they say right out, "Well, first of all, we thought you were a Cookie Monster band, and then we thought you were all Satanic, but then I noticed that you're theater! So that's fun, that's entertainment!" You know, call it what you will.
It doesn't necessarily have to be anything offensive, because you can just see it as theater. And I think that that's probably the one thing that might set us apart a little from a lot of the more classical, you know, historical bands that had a Satanic album or a Satanic image, where it was basically a person in that band telling the world to do this or that. Whereas we've tried to stay away from saying outrageous things. We don't want people to f-ing commit suicide! We don't want people to do anything stupid or do anything offensive to anyone. We're telling people to be nice. We're telling people to be happy. We want people to come out of our shows with a big smile on their face.
Maybe it took a few years of touring and maybe a little bit of a reputation for people to understand that. Whereas a lot of the other bands from what was originally our genre are a little bit more leaning towards making people you know, they have a little bit more harmful sort of approach to their shows. But they're mostly the sort of band that we're lumped together with, I guess, from an outsider point of view the sort of bands that are way, way, way, way more metal and have a predominantly male crowd that likes stomping each other on the toes and knock each other's faces out and smear themselves in blood, just headbang and stagedive. Whereas our crowd is way more diverse and way more colorful, in a way, both in ages and liking different genres, coming from different places in both age and life and on the map. It's a completely different vibe at our show than you'd expect from a black metal band show.
I want to touch upon the theater that you referenced. While it certainly helped generate interest in your band, you'd said all along that the purpose of performing as you do with the masks and the outfits was to keep the focus on the music rather than the individuals. Do you feel like you're finally at that point where there's more attention being paid to your musical performance rather than the spectacle or the gimmick, if you will?
Yes, I think that, finally for the most part, has been the case. It's just viewing it from a perspective where, let's say we have 1,500 people at our show not all of them are waiting outside when we're done. There's not 1,500 people standing by our bus. It might be a hundred. And I would assume that those hundred people standing by our bus waiting for their records to get signed or a chance to say hi or something is representative of how many are actually interested in that way. So I would assume that the majority of people are not necessarily super-keen on knowing who we are, or they don't have to fully devour every aspect of the band, as is customary when it comes to classic rock and roll idolizing. It's something that I do with other bands, you know. I wanna know everything, I've read everything about most bands that I like. I know about all there is to know without knowing that person. Or sometimes even knowing that person. [Laughs]
But yeah, we try to stray from that sort of relationship with your crowd, but it's impossible there will always be people. We do 43 shows on this tour, I think it is, and if there's a hundred people in every place, or 50 to 100 people, it adds up. So there's always thousands of people who are very keen on knowing everything about everyone in our band. They have their favorites, they may have their least-favorite! They're very opinionated. But it's natural, it's fine I don't have a problem understanding that.
Everybody has to understand that Ghost was started with the intention of maybe having a thousand fans in total. It wasn't meant to be this big. And therefore, a lot of the things we have to live with now, a lot of the decisions, when it comes to the imagery and the anonymity, it sounded great when we spoke of it in theory in 2009, before we had even played a show. There's many times where you look at stuff in the mirror and you're like, "F-! I just want to be in a normal band." [Laughs] Because it's so much extra sort of things. But on the other hand, it's phenomenal, it's really fun, and I love doing it this way as well. But it's Ghost. Ghost is like that. And I'm sure there will be plenty of time to contemplate on that one day when Ghost is no longer going and we can do other things.
Expounding upon what you were just saying, fans are going to investigate everything that they want to. You've tried as much as you can to preserve your anonymity; if and when we get to a point of it being widely known who everyone in Ghost is, do you still intend to carry on performing in the masks and the outfits? And if so, what's the reason for that? Is it just that that's who Ghost is at this point?
Yeah, just because it's something that you can find on Wikipedia, who's playing this or that instrument, doesn't mean that we would change anything. The same way that if I read the program to a Broadway musical, and I all of a sudden know who's playing Grizabella tonight doesn't mean that she will come out without her catsuit. So … no! You have to regard this as theater. What you're seeing on stage is the characters being played. And you might know the actor, you might know who's playing that instrument, the same way that when we do changes, it isn't necessarily something that we go out like anybody else, like any other band, saying, "Oh, we're changing a member." That's not what you do in theater, either. You might have the understudy tonight, and it might not be the main actor singing. So, no, I don't see it as a problem. Even if you knew who were in the band. I don't see that as a problem so long as we keep doing our thing aesthetically. And it defies logic if we think that we're gonna continue growing as a band and not be somewhat recognized or have the information out there somewhere.
With Marissa Nadler
When • Saturday; doors at 7 p.m.
Where • The Complex (Rockwell): 536 W. 100 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $31.75 advance, $37.25 day of; Showclix, Smith's Tix, Graywhale, Complex box office