interview with Christofer Johnsson conducted by Bill Zebub for issue #31 of THE GRIMOIRE OF EXALTED DEEDS magazine
You may not remember this, but many years ago I interviewed you for the first issue of this magazine. Back then it was just a fanzine that was photocopied and stapled in the corner. I will again ask you the very first question that I have ever asked you to see if your answer is different, and then we’ll get on to the serious interview. Are you ready?
If there were a warmth emanating from thy buttocks, what would it be?
Yes! That was the same answer, so now I know that you are an honest person. In the early days there were some cover songs that appeared on albums, like the Judas Priest cover. When I saw your show at BB King’s, one of the encores were Mercyful Fate’s “Black Funeral.” Did you ever record “Black Funeral” in the studio?
We never recorded it.
There was an Orff cover on one of the albums. I was wondering if you were ever tempted to do something in the same vein from Strauss, like “Biem Shlafengehen” or the Commendatore finale song from “Don Giavanni.”
Anybody can do classical covers, but the most interesting thing is to break new ground.
In America there are television commercials for a breakfast cereal simply called “Shredded Wheat.” On one side there’s frosting and on the other side there isn’t. The commercials show that people are divided. Some people like the sugary side and others like the unfrosted side. Same thing with beer. Half of the country supposedly likes it because it tastes great. The other half likes it because it’s less filling. Those people probably like the unfrosted side, but I doubt that people carve their breakfast bits in half. In Therion, I personally prefer the opera over the prog side.
That’s very gay. I caught you.
(In total shock) That’s so funny. You insulted me before I insulted you!
Well I’m gay too. We can go to Denmark and get married. It’s legal there. (pause) But it’s interesting that people in metal actually prefer that side. We make the classical and the opera more accessible because they don’t really have, for lack of better words, the capacity to go deep into all of this musical information that some opera contains. If you listen to a metal album, or rock, or pop, or whatever – there’s a couple of riffs in each song – and it doesn’t really contain much musical information. You can pretty much judge the album by one listening if it’s a regular rock album. If it’s a metal album than you can judge by a few listenings. But even a very short song in opera contains so much more musical data than, let’s say, five or six metal albums. A lot of people don’t really have the energy, or whatever, to actually take the time it requires to penetrate the surface and go deep into this sort of music. So what we do is actually a shortcut that, because we have the rock structure with classical content as well. It’s a shortcut to opera and classical, which is very convenient for people. Maybe they could like a few highlights. They might buy a CD with Ride of the Valkyrie or some highlight part from an Italian opera, but they wouldn’t sit and listen to opera for a few hours. I think that we’re filling a function for people who could be potentially really interested. So we can start stuff with this, and if they get really enthusiastic they could find a way to more sophisticated music.
You are the gateway to opera.
A few people might take the next step.
There was a very irritating record label publicist who said that every band that has female operatic vocals or orchestral instruments is influenced by Celtic Frost because they were the ones who apparently tried that first.
I don’t really think that bands these days pay homage to such distant albums. You shouldn’t underestimate what Celtic Frost did. Into the Pandemonium – you have The Gathering, Therion, Tiamat, Paradise lost – all with Celtic Frost influence. We, in our turn, influenced other bands. So we can say that they (Celtic Frost) are indirectly influencing this whole wave. But on the other hand, what did they get their influences from? Everything comes from somewhere.
Have you heard Elend?
Yeah. A very long time ago somebody made me a cassette. They’re French, aren’t they?
French. Austrian. One of the members of Korovakill is in it. If you heard the right album, it’s a blue album (the re-release with bonus tracks is red). Instead of bringing operatic vocals and orchestral instruments into metal, they brought death metal vocals into opera. But these days they don’t have the death metal vocals anymore.
That’s a brilliant idea. But that’s precisely what I didn’t like about it. (The death metal vocals).
When I listen to opera, I prefer the very dark opera. It’s vary sad. I was always hoping that there would be that sort of opera presence in Therion, and I was wondering if there is any way for that to happen. I know that you are a live band and you like to create a certain mood for that. But could there be a song or two, not meant for live performance, that delves into the realms of sorrow?
There might be. But the thing is, the way that we write songs is very spontaneous. I’m hopelessly trapped with whatever I write. If someone said to me, “I’ll give you five million bucks if you write a ballad. You have a weekend. Here’s a guitar.” I would write ballad, but it would be the most miserable piece of shit ballad you will ever hear in your life. That’s how it works. I cannot shit on command. I write what I write. It’s what I’m stuck with and what everyone else gets.
If there is a way for me to send you some music, hopefully on some level it will influence you.
Actually there is a lot of sad opera that I like. (editor’s note – We discussed opera, which to you would seem like an inside conversation. Rather than make you feel like an outsider, I edited this part out. I now bring you to the last part of that hidden conversation. Christof went on and on to praise a particular soprano opera singer). She is the best singer in the history of recorded music.
Well, by that reasoning, if she can turn shit into gold, and if you force yourself to write a sad opera song and it will be shit, then she should sing on it so that she turns your shit into gold.
(laughs) By the way, have you seen this movie “Holy Mountain?” That describes the modern culture so well. You know the scene – it’s like everybody gets color on their butts and then they put it on paper – it’s mass-produced art.
It’s so strange that you, being the kind of artist that you are, watched a movie by that kind of director.
Naked Lunch would be one of my favorite movies. Brasil too. Along with that I also like Nightmare Before Christmas.
A long time ago I did try to contact you to hopefully be able to send you some music, but the only Email address on the website is for the webmaster. There is some sort of explanation about that along the lines of, if any band member’s Email were to be known, you would get overwhelmed.
That’s true. But it’s usually not a problem for people from the press to get it. ( editor’s update – After this interview, I asked the lazy twat at Nuclear Blast for the Email, and all I received were excuses for her not doing her job. Eventually, the incompetence resulted in my severing ties from the American office of laziness) If I gave my Email out then I would have to get a new one every month. I got so many Emails every day.
Were the Emails about penis enlargement?
I wish it was. It’s more about boring questions like, “When will you come to my town?”
In Sweden is penis size very important?
No. They’re all American companies who Email me.
I had heard that Sweden has even more concern about penis size and that it has spread to veterinary science as well, with penis enlargement programs for dogs and cats.
No. That’ completely wrong. That’s totally American.
I did notice that there’s a tremendous difference between the audience at a Therion show and a crowd that sees any other band, and that difference was the extreme level of respect. It was also your respect toward the fans. I was told that you did not want the usual barricade between the fans and the stage. And the end of the performance was the metal equivalent to a standing ovation. Is that a common reaction throughout the world?
Yeah. We’re very spoiled. But I think that is related to people having bought the records and they had been waiting ever since. They never thought that we would come. For a lot of people it was more than just a concert. It’s something more special. The same thing happens in Europe when we play countries we never had before. Same thing with Latin America. We get an explosive reaction. In many countries they have a really tough life, so when people go to a show they switch off their daily problems for a while. It’s almost like a religion.
Your main opera singer – what is her name? I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but the way she puts on make-up is sort of the mistake that a little girl makes when she puts on make-up for the first time in her life. Is that the look that she was going for?
She’s the only one who’s a trained opera singer so I told her to make something very theatrical.
Oh, so that’s why she walks on stage like she’s a Gestapo officer patrolling the concentration camp.
That is what is turning you on. (laughs) She has nothing to do with metal. She doesn’t listen to metal. She’s just doing her thing to our stuff.
There’s a blonde to the far right, if you have the same set-up every night – I was wondering if you could have her in the front instead.
Well, that’s an idea.
She’s Swedish, right?
She’s Finnish but she lives in Sweden. We’re going to sell tickets on the next tour to the back stage.
Can you let her know that I love her?
Yes, I will do that.
Some people say that Sweden is very conservative and some people say that it is very liberal.
Conservative? Are you fucking kidding? Our conservatives would be condemned as being too liberal. Ralph Nader would call our conservatives liberals.
I learned that when I ask someone about a country, it’s almost like asking someone in America what America is like. It’s not a true representation.
If you ask a communist, of course he will say that we are conservative. But if ask someone who is somehow in the middle, politically, it is hilarious. We had a social democrat ruling this country in the second world war. It’s like a one party state. But you have a one-party state too. You just have two names for it.
Actually, we are owned by Israel. (Editor’s note – for the new readers of this magazine, there is a lot of sarcasm and baiting. I, in real life, know absolutely nothing about politics, and I don’t care. I just use it to evoke.)
We were speaking of parties. Maybe they own the party. That’s maybe your opinion.
No. I don’t know enough about politics to talk about it seriously.
You don’t need to know much. Just know the fact that your choice is like buying Coca Cola or Pepsi. The difference between democrats and republicans is that republicans piss in your face and they say. “Hey, we pissed in your face. We’re happy about that.” Democrats will piss in your face and if you ask them about they’ll say, “No, we never pissed in your face.”
You mentioned Cocoa Cola before. I have not verified this, but I have heard that in France they have passed a law which protects their language. On television they cannot use non-French words, especially slang, and the term “Cocoa Cola” is one of the no-no words. In direct opposite thinking, America, because it is so sales-driven, has allowed the most niggery language to be on TV. People leave out verbs. It’s almost like hearing Tarzan talk. Poor grammar, nigger-slang, and simplified language.
The American version of English is now completely destroyed. We learn Oxford English in school.
Is Sweden protecting its language?
Protect the Swedish language? Are you kidding? That would be racist!
Yes, Snowy Shaw and I had a conversation about how the Swedes are pussies.
Yeah, I read that. Those things you cannot say in Sweden. I showed that interview to a band and they thought that Snowy is joking. If you do that interview in a Swedish magazine then your career is over.
In America it’s very trendy to think of the French as pussies, but I look at them as heroes. The French deserve respect for standing up for their culture.
I’m very conservative when it comes to things like culture. A lot of things are better these days, but I don’t understand why you have to ruin everything from the past. A lot of liberal ideas are very good, like equal rights for women. And in interracial marriage, it’s up to people what they want to do with their lives and if they want to have those kinds of kids. But there comes a point when you fulfill the rights of minorities and start to go in the other way.
We’re in the other end of the swing.
In Sweden we completely crossed that line a long long time ago, and maybe that’s the reason why we went from being #1 to… (editor’s note – I laugh so loudly that I cannot hear the rest of that sentence)
I’m sorry, you made me laugh.
What else can you do about it?
“Lucid Dreaming” was an album that I had to buy because it was at that time that I found out that what I had experienced actually had a term, and that other people had similar dreams. Many years later a girl I know interviewed you and she said that you had out of body experiences. Is that true?
What came first with you, the lucid dreaming or the out of body experiences?
The astral projection came first
Was this something that you learned or something that happened accidentally when you were falling asleep?
It happened accidentally. It has happened to many people who have had their first out of body experiences that they are in their room outside of their bodies. Actually, I didn’t even look at my body. I was looking through the window, and was drawn outside, out over the woods. And I had a very strange feeling that I can’t really explain these colors.
You are able to induce these now.
Did you learn that on your own?
I’ve been a member of the Order of the Dragon for some years now. They collect ideas and develop techniques.
When I found out that my lucid dreams had a name, I discovered a scientist, Stephen LaBerge, and he had developed techniques, and one night I actually had three lucid dreams in a row. It was crazy. But prior to having had experienced lucid dreams, I had thought that out of body experiences were a hoax.
Very easy to think that if you are a rational person and if you never had that.
Right, but there are parallels between lucid dreams and out of body experiences. In fact, lucid dreams are the perfect launch pad to out of body experiences.
That’s actually how I most often do it. I usually find a gate, like a mirror or window, and I project through that.
Lucid dreaming, to me, is a purely mental phenomenon because although I am aware that I am dreaming within the dream and I control everything around me, it is still a dream. Do you think that an out of body an actual phenomenon in which your awareness somehow extends beyond your body, or is it a mental state?
When I thought about the matter, whether it is internal or external, it doesn’t really make a difference. So I haven’t really made up my mind because the experience remains the same.
In Sweden, do you have the Christmas carol “Tis the Season to Be Jolly?”
Yeah, we do. But our main songs are about the yule, which has nothing to do with Christianity.
In the song I asked about, being that you are a musician, I was oping that you could help educate Americans. They are probably the most ignorant people in the world, judging from the interviews I have done with people all over the world. Stupidity is our #1 export.
Your big companies don’t want people to think. They want people to work for minimum wage and to pay taxes and to consume a lot. Here, we pay 33% in taxes but hospitals are free. If you are unemployed you get money that you can actually live on, and so on and so on.
Americans are not interested in the rest of the world, and for those that are interested, they look at the worlds thinking it’s the same as it is here (editor’s note – I meant that Americans generally cannot accept that other people think in different ways and that other cultures have different attitudes).
It’s really bad that your education system is that way because that makes people that much more unable to have opinions about international affairs. There are a lot of similarities with the Roman empire. You can see a lot of degeneration in empires that are falling, but it won’t be a few centuries. Here we are talking about only a few decades, maximum. You import a lot more than you export. And there’s a lot of loans. You consider yourself the richest country on the planet, which is correct on paper, but if all the international investment would be withdrawn from the United States…
Interesting. But if you look at America’s capital city, it looks like a third world country. Washington D.C. But getting back to the “Tis the Season to be Jolly” – the end of that song is “fa la la la la la la la la.” I would like you to tell me the notes of the major scale of C.
I am happily uneducated musician.
Really? It’s C -D -E- F- G- A -B -C.
I’m very thickheaded to learn things unless I am interested. If I am interested I learn very quickly. Notes and stuff like this is like learning Latin.
I will still ask you the question. The scale that I just told you, in other countries is DO- RE- MI- FA- SO- LA- T-I DO.
Your B is called H in Germany.
Getting back to DO RE MI, when you sing the fa la la la la, it should actually be the notes F and A. But they’re not sung as F and A, and I would like to know if this is some sort of conspiracy.
But you can write a song any way you like.
Certain things should not be intentionally misinterpreted. You Wouldn’t have a guitar that is shaped like a swastika, right?
Not on stage, but it would be fun to own one. I‘d like one like a banana, and one with a hammer and a sickle.
But you know what I mean. The swastika is a cool symbol and it meant something else prior to world war two, and now if you see it you cannot remove the associations that define it.
If you were playing India it would be very popular.
It’s really not easy to interview you.
Well, you do not have an easy magazine.
But anyway, if I were to use FA and LA as lyrics, I would make sure that they were sung in the right pitch!
But music doesn’t need to follow rules.
The Alphabet Song must also obey this rule. When you sing A B C D E F G A B, do it in the right pitch. And what happened to that word “god” being in the pledge of allegiance? America is a theocracy! Do you, as a Swede, see America as being too religious?
Yes. In Sweden only 2% of the population consider themselves Christian.
You have heard of moslims (editor’s note – that is the correct speling of the word)who blow themselves up believing that they will be rewarded with virgins. Well first of all, if you’re in the afterlife, you can’t do anything with corporeal things. And even if you could, why would you have sex with virgins. They are not good in bed.
It’s not just a moslim concept. Christians thought they would get rewarded if they died in the Crusade
If you play in Israel, would you go on stage with a backpack that has a lit fuse on the bottom?
That would be a pretty cool effect, but it wouldn’t be worth it.
Getting back to the moslim thing. I don’t think it’s really a good reward to be given virgins. Virgins are terrible lovers.
It’s much better to be a rock star (instead of a suicide bomber) because it’s very easy. You don’t have to blow up yourself. Just learn how to play guitar. But define “terrorism.” According to the term, the United States is a terrorist state. You bombed Iraq while there was no war declaration. If you don’t declare war and bomb the country, you’re a terrorist.
Don’t say “you” – I’m not an American.
Ok, so you’re not responsible then.