Interview with Therion 1

Source: Lords of Metal
Issue 20 - November 2002

Dutch:
Vijftien vragen van Horst. Een nieuwe rubriek in Lords Of Metal waarin we de heren (of dames) artiesten eens een keer wat anders vragen dan de geijkte zaken ontrent nieuw plaatwerk en optredens. De spelregels: Op mijn lijstje staan 50 vragen. Daaruit heb ik er zelf 15 geselecteerd die de artiest in kwestie mag beantwoorden. Hij/zij mag echter ook gewoon op goed geluk 15 cijfers tussen de 1 en de 50 roepen en de daarbij behorende vraag beantwoorden. Deze maand was Christofer Johnsson, de grote man achter Therion, aan de beurt. Hij ging voor de vragen die ik had uitgezocht...

English:
Fifteen questions from Horst. A new and exciting column on Lords Of Metal in which we ask the Metal artists something else for a change than the cliché things about new albums and tours. Rules of the game: I’ve got a list with 50 questions. For each different artist I personally select 15 of ‘m which they may answer. It’s also possible to ignore my list, and just ad random choose 15 numbers ranging from 1 to 50, and answer the questions under those particular numbers. Victim this month was Therion’s Christofer Johnsson. He went for the questions I selected...



Text: Horst





1. If you are allowed to chose another job, what would it be?

Another job…that is a tough question… Pimp? I do not know really, but it would be something that has to do with music I think. Maybe I would have been a sound engineer or something. Or maybe even be a guitar tech you know, and touring with bands. I have had one job before I started my musical career though, and that was in a printing office, and that was not really a job I could imagine doing for another ten years. In that time I kinda set up a record label. That was doing pretty good, but when Therion was doing better and better I had to make a choice, and that was Therion. If it has to be something completely outside the music scene it is a very tricky question. When I was really small I wanted to be a battle pilot, like every other little boy. My father was an airplane mechanic in the military when he was young, and later when I was a kid he worked as a mechanic for the SAS. He always told me stories about fighter jets, and we had a summer house near a military base so I saw a lot of jets flying over our house, and I thought it would be great to fly such a machine myself one day. Later I realized that a good physical condition was needed, you had to be some kind of an elite sportsman, no problems with eyes, everything had to be perfect…well, it was too tricky. My eyesight is far from perfect, and I hated sports hahaha…

2. What would you never throw away?

A CD with music, no matter how bad it is. I really have something against throwing away CD’s, because someone believed in it while making it, it was a part of their wishes and desires. It feels very arrogant to throw such away, even if it sucks completely in my opinion. If someone would give me a bunch of CD’s from some useless bands I still could not throw them away. Maybe give them to someone else, but my principal is never to throw it away.

I guess you’ve got a large CD collection at home then?

Yeah, well, I’ve got about thousand CD’s, and about 700 vinyl’s.

3. Which piece of art (book, painting, sculpture, song, CD) would you like to have made?

I guess Richard Wagner’s ‘Nibelungen Ring’. The best piece of music ever done in history. It was the best Wagner ever composed, and with it he changed the entire opera scene in his time. In the old times opera was someone who was standing and singing, they were not very good actors. Wagner wanted to have everything. He wanted to have a very good scenery, he wanted a very good story – a real good theater play, not some ridiculous love-story where they always die at the end – and he wanted to have real good actors who could sing and move well. Also he was the one who brought the symphonic orchestra into opera. Before they were only playing some background stuff, and the singing was the most important. Wagner came up with long musical passages, always very long overtures, a strong ‘leitmotiv’, and the quality of the play was much better. I visited Bayreuth this year, where they have the ‘Wagner Festspiele’, and that was amazing. I’ve seen four opera’s there. They really have the best place and singers, and the acoustics there are the best in the world. The guy even built his own opera-house just be sure he had the right environment and acoustics for his opera ‘Nibelungen Ring’. He also invented instruments like the ‘Wagner Tuba’, an instrument especially designed for his own opera’s, and it is very rarely used by other composers, only Richard Strauss I believe used it once or twice.



4. Of which company or ....would you like to be general-manager?

Microsoft…so I could make sure that it go bankrupt. You know, you’ve got Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and all these other mass-murderers and than you have Bill Gates to slay humanity.

You really hate that guy right?

Yes. I use Mac only. I mean, nothing works in that Microsoft shit anyway. I mean, after ten years finally they get something to work but it’s like it is a big security risk. I hate this kind of monopoly. I would be like someone would say: ‘Unless you have a Volvo you can’t drive a car.’ That is bizarre. Microsoft used a lot of gangster methods to get rid of the competition. I’m a very hybrid person when it comes to this marketing thing. I believe in a development where even someone with empty hands and almost empty pockets cab come with a very good idea and realize it. Like as a musician, you save some money, buy your first guitar, follow your dreams and built something up. I don’t like when you have this huge companies who buy out people or other companies who come up with great ideas. Or even worse: buy out the great ideas just to put it away somewhere thus to ensure they can continue selling their own shit. So, Microsoft is actually the image of plain vulgar capitalism.

5. If you suddenly weren't afraid of anything anymore, what would you do first?

I’m not really an afraid person, but ehmm…maybe diving. Not that I am afraid of water, but I have a lot of respect for it. It should be a really fascinating experience for me to dive in a tropical sea. That would be really amazing. I think I would not do it right now, for there are sharks and stuff…but maybe when I am completely fearless I would eventually do it, though I would never get to the point of actually doing it.

6. What is your worst habit?

Too much work on my back combined with bad planning. I am always too optimistic with things and in the end things always take twice as much as time as I expected. It is something that is incurable. A typical example is when we made the album ‘The Secret Of The Runes’. We had this idea to build our own studio, and reckoned it would take us two months or so…well, in the end it took us six months… we literally had problems with everything.

I guess it was easier to do the live album?

That wasn’t easy either. We went like: ‘Yeah, let us record some stuff on different shows and mix it ourselves, should be great.’ Well, it took us six months to mix it… But to be honest, we took it easy, we did not work hard at all. We just tried some different things, and did not really had a deadline or something. The whole idea with the last tour was like…we played two hours and twenty minutes…for there were songs that have to be in a Therion show, but after one gig you realize it is pretty long.

Well, about the new live album, I kinda miss one song: the Iron Maiden cover ‘Revelations’ you always play at the end of the show, at least here in Holland. Instead you recorded Accept’s ‘Seawinds’ and Abba’s ‘Summernight City’.

We don’t play it always, we sometimes do Accept’s ‘Balls To The Wall’, like on the last tour. With former tours we gave people a choice between a Maiden song or a Judas Priest tune, but on the last tour we didn’t offer the public a choice, we just did the Accept song.



I remember you guys playing the Maiden tune, the crowd went absolutely berserk…

Yeah, it is wonderful to play that song. The audience really gets going from it, but it also one of my favorite songs from the days I was a kid. I dreamed about going to be a Heavy Metal musician. I had tons of posters on the wall, listened to Heavy Metal songs like ‘Revelations’ and ‘Balls To The Wall’ (which was my real first encounter with Metal), and now the boy dream has come true. Anyway, we have so many covers in the set, and I think we will never gonna play the Abba cover live again, that was a one-off thing. Christian insisted on playing it, so we agreed. It isn’t really the best Abba song, but it was fun to play it. The ‘Seawinds’ cover we didn’t play for all these years, but a lot of fans were asking for it so we decided to play it again this tour, and who knows we might play it again some time. I do know that we will continue doing Maiden and Accept covers when playing live.

7. On which do you spend most of your money?

CD’s and books.

Well, CD’s…that is kind of obvious, but when it comes to books, what writer or genre has your interest?

I very interested in esoteric and occult literature. I’m also very much into historical literature, because you can learn so much of mankind’s history. Unfortunately too little people have discovered this, because history is repeating itself all of the time. I also love to read books about Wagner, and stuff that Wagner was writing himself. He did not write text as good as he wrote music, but it is interesting to have it. Besides this I like Russian literature from guys like Solojev and stuff like that. I don’t have time to read as much as I would like, but I’m doing the best I can to catch up with that kind of literature. And I read a lot from Herman Hesse.

Sometimes I indulge myself even in political literature from guys like Komski. Normally I am not really that left-wing type of guy. I would say I am very varied in my political opinions. It depends on what topic is discussed, I think it is bad to say up front that I am this or that. It is better to use the head, to read a lot and know what you are talking about. Use the head, think in every situation and be open minded for another one’s opinion. Things both left and right can be interesting. The fact that I read Komski and that I am very much into protecting the environment doesn’t automatically mean that I’m a lefty, like a lot of people assume instantly. When it comes to culture I am completely the opposite. I hate these modern version of classic things, I am super conservative. I want stuff to be exactly like when Wagner wrote it, or whoever wrote an opera. I don’t want it to be changed, not on one single point.

So like an alternative version of an ancient opera or stuff like that is out of the question?

Not in the opera house! I mean, if you make a cover version, and you make your thing additional on top of the other stuff, it is okay. But if I go to the opera house I want to see the real deal, not some horrible modern version. I attended a modern version from a Verdi Opera once, and his ‘pleasure girls’ were played by transvestites…Verdi would have hated that! It is a kind of sacrilege to the guy who wrote it. This is just a typical example of too much pot-smoking left-wing types saying: ‘Ooohh, what a great idea, let us make them transvestites.’

So, for example, if someone takes a Therion song and twists it into like a Punkrock song, or a Nu-Metal song, you would oppose to it.

No, not really, because although it is something different, and the real thought is still there, and you still have a choice of either listening to the fucked-up Nu-Metal version or the real Therion thing. But with the opera you don’t have the choice. The composer is dead, so he cannot conduct it anymore, and other people have to make an interpretation. If you only got these vulgar versions to choose from… I mean, if you have this transvestite version but also a different one, a normal one so to speak, then you have a choice, and that would be fine by me. But when you have an opera ‘boss’ who only makes opera’s in this weird ultra-modern versions you don’t have a choice. I mean, what should I do? Should I fly down to Germany every time I want to see a good opera? No, I want to see a good opera here in Stockholm were I live. But if you have a bad opera boss it ruins everything. No wonder that less and less people go the opera.

True, people expect to see the real thing, but instead are given something they do not desire. It’s like going to a Metal gig and be confronted with a House-DJ.

Right. I remember the opening of a new stage, and they invited Entombed to play there. Now I’ve got nothing against Entombed, they’re a good band and did a good job, but why should a Death Metal band play in the opera house? They added some ballet to it, but it was completely fucked-up. I mean, the people in the ballet had not got a clue about what was happening, no clue at all. If they had understood it I would have said like that it wasn’t really my cup of tea and that they should have done it somewhere else than in the opera house, but now it was a disaster. Though there were people actually applauding and saying like that it was great, a new way of thinking, just like the comments a day later in all those left-wing newspapers. They all wrote it was so great… Come on! What’s so great about it? The orchestra played one song, than they were lifted out of sight (the floor can move) so only Entombed was left to play one song. The inventors defended it by saying like: ‘Yeah, but this is forbidden, and we have to do what is forbidden’. Well, why not piss on the floor then, that is also forbidden. But is that good art? To give you an example, the same people who came up with this idea earlier traveled around in Sweden, reading classical poetry to cows…. Probably they have rich parents and never had to work in their lives, don’t know what to do with it… I mean, I am very liberal when it comes to drugs, but some people just look too deep into the pipe.

So I guess you can imagine now that I am a super-conservative when it comes to art, but on the other hand you have to let the new stuff come. Wagner for instance, he was a rebel of his time. He completely changed the opera, and he had a lot of conservative forces against him. So, it is important to preserve the old in a good way but also be open for the next generation. I mean, the music has to develop, and that’s where Therion comes in one way. A lot of young people are not interested in opera anymore, so we do something they can understand. I really hope that we brought some people into discovering classical music.



8. Which TV show should be removed immediately from the screen?

Bingo-Lotto! That is the worst plague since the Black Death haunted Europe. This is really the symbol of braindead TV watching. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with TV as an invention, but the problem is all the crap there is been broadcasted. The really sad thing is that people actually admit that it is only crap on TV, but they are still watching it, because they have nothing better to do but zapping between channels to look for the least shitty one. What kind of live is that? Watching shit for the sole reason that it’s less shitty than the other shit? Whatever happened to hang around with friends and talk over some beers? Or read a good book or whatever? It’s very sad, and I think Bingo-Lotto really symbolizes this, because it has this really bad entertainment program plus the hopes of people to earn some money. I think it is so sad that people don’t have any other goals. Sure, money isn’t bad, you can fulfill not all but quite a few of your dreams with money, but if people don’t have any other goals than spending their hard earned money on and watching Bingo Lotto…it is pathetic. Julius Caesar was right: ‘Food and play for the people’. As long as people have food in their stomach and see Bingo-Lotto on the telly they are kind of happy. At least happy enough to don’t make some revolution or whatever.

9. Which part of your character would you be liked to remembered for?

Being an open-minded musician. If you look on the history of what we did, we never sold much records in the beginning. We did very weird records that very few people bought, but we never stopped believing in what we did. Once we started to sell records we continued to change, instead of saying: ‘Oh, this is constant work, let’s copy this album to preserve the success.’ I would like to be remembered as the musician and composer who always did his own thing.

10. What would you like to do better?

There are plenty of things I could have done better, but you always have to see it from the perspective where you once stood. We did the best we could in every situation, but if I could go back in time with the knowledge of today I could improve every album. No matter how experienced you are, you will always make mistakes, and one year later when you listen to a record and go like: ‘Fuck, I should have done this or that.’ I mean, it’s less today but if you listen to our second album for instance… I like the songs on the second album better than those on the first album, but as a whole I like the second album least of all the records we did, because the mix was so fucked-up. When we recorded the first album had no experience going into a real studio, and the producer we had always did things his own way. We suggested enough ideas, but he wasn’t really the open-minded type of guy, so everything was done his way, just to make sure everything went okay. Sometimes that is good with inexperienced bands, and I guess for us also. When we recorded the second album we where in a studio with a guy who was really a sound-engineer, not really the type to produce, and when we said like to this and do that he did it, literally. Looking back I don’t think we where ready for that yet. He had a very good ear actually, but he didn’t understand the sound character of Death Metal.



11. Who do you admire (besides Wagner)?

Well, there a lot of people I admire, but not to the same extend as Wagner. I can’t think of any that influenced me in a similar way. Maybe Michael Bulkakov and Herman Hesse, they are very interesting persons, not only for what they write, they are also interesting as persons as well.

12. What was your worst ever made decision?

I guess signing our first record deal. That was really the shittiest deal one could have. Okay, it was only for one record, but it caused so many problems for our career. In fact, we still have problems with it, because they licensed the rights to Nuclear Blast and still don’t pay us. It’s like, you either need to go there with a hammer or with a lawyer to get anything out of it. I really don’t understand some people from record labels. I mean, they know they have to pay up in the end anyway, so why make so much fucking problems over it, it’s peanuts for them anyway. And this time it is really peanuts money, it’s just a matter of principal. I think if we had signed with Nuclear Blast in the beginning it would have saved us so much troubles. We changed record labels for every record until the fourth album when we signed with Nuclear Blast. I mean, we have had our troubles with them also, but always solved it in a civilized way. They realized that we are musicians and we need freedom and resources and a lot of this and that, and we realized that they are a company who needs to make a profit. You once have to sit down and see what’s realistic, and in they end we made solutions both party’s could live with, and over the years we became personal friends.

13. What is the biggest frustration in your work?

Well, nowadays we are doing quite fine, but in the old days we always had problems with the budget. It was just like feeding a baby bird. No matter what you feed it, it still has its mouth open. Budgets could not be big enough, but now we have found a good way of working. Our budget has been increased of course, we will get 75.000 Euro for the next production, and we are going to record the orchestration and choir in Russia I think, which means more value for money, so we can triple the size of the orchestra and at least double the size of the choir. So money isn’t really a problem anymore, like it was in the old days. Back then I could have a vision of what I wanted to do, but I was limited to what was possible financially. That was the frustrating thing. It is like you are a painter, you have a vision to paint this or that in green, but the only available paint is blue…you can’t use such crap as an artist, but unfortunately that is the way the world works. Everything costs money.

14. What has been your most frightening experience?

I think that was the time I cut up my left hand. I was afraid I was never able to play an instrument again. It was that time I just was beginning to learn to play the bass. I wanted to play Heavy Metal, and the first instrument I picked up was the bass, but then I smashed my hand into a window. I cut some major muscles in my hand, and the doctors had to sew it back together (still got a big scar there). I honestly sat their just kissing my musical career goodbye you know.

15. Would you rather be blind or deaf?

To go deaf is probably my biggest fear. I’d rather go blind than deaf. If you turn blind your life becomes pretty difficult, but if you turn deaf… It means no music anymore, and I think I’d probably buy a gun and shoot myself. For me there is no life without music, it would be so frustrating…not being able to write it or listening to it. I’m just too much of a music-aholic for that.



http://www.megatherion.com/

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