TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE
Tony Belcher, Tartarean Desire's American Editor, met up with Therion mainman Christofer Johnsson on the band's inaugural U.S. tour in September (16th at the Jaxx in Springfield, VA) 2005. The interview digressed into a discussion about The Great Kat at one point, while also singing the praises of Beyond the Embrace and Blind Guardian in others. Mr. Johnsson also talked about potentially coming back to the U.S., how the shows at Worcester and Edmonton were the lamest, what he thought about rednecks and George W. Bush, and a few other things as well, including the forthcoming 3rd part of a trilogy and the long-awaited Therion DVD. Read on, my friends....
I am the American Editor for Tartarean Desire, which is actually based in Sweden. Perhaps you have heard of it?
I think I did an interview with them in the past...
That's right [back in 2001]. Anyway I wanted to say that it is an honor and a pleasure to speak with you as I've been listening to Therion for at least a decade now.
I prepared for this interview by reading many of your interviews available online. This way I would hopefully avoid asking many of the questions that people have already asked you repeatedly and maybe this way I'll save you some time and energy.
That could make it more interesting for people to read as well instead of reading the same thing [over and over].
That being said, let me start. 2005 sees Therion's first U.S. tour. Period. Congratulations are in order and, I might add, "it's about time!" Some 18 years to be more precise, right?
Yeah. That's a long time.
In previous interviews you stated how "[Therion] doesn't sell so well [in the U.S.]..."
Still don't, hehe.
...and that the band hasn't toured here -- until now because of that reason. What caused this tour to finally happen and was it primarily due to Nuclear Blast's financial support?
It's very funny. We broke up with our old management and the booking agent we swapped to a while ago started to take over part of the management and I do part of the management. Um, and I just talked to him and said "well, I don't think we're ever gonna find a good support tour there" [in the U.S.] because we searched for all these years and either it was ridiculous money or it wasn't a band that was suitable or they were not much bigger than we are. So there were no suitable support tours so I thought "well, maybe you could set up a few shows on the east coast where I know we have most of our fans."
Um, do a few shows there [and] eastern Canada. Do, I don't know, 4 or 5 shows and make us break even [in terms of money]. It would be fun to just go over there for once. And he said, "yeah, I'll look into that." One day later, [it was] all done. And then he rang me up a few days after that [saying] "Yeah, I think we could do something on the west coast as well, fly you over." I said "wow, someone is gonna pay for that? Great, sure we'll do that." And then he just kept on, like "well, we could route you from one side to another with a tour bus, do a couple of redneck shows in between, and whatever...."
Do Texas, haha....
Watch it, man, I am from Texas, actually.
Not from some little redneck town [right?]. Haha.
Hahaha. No, no, I'm from Dallas.
You have houses and electricity, right?
Yeah, that's right. That's right, runnin' water and all that. Hahaha. It's high livin'!
Haha. No, it's more like a joke about the rednecks.
Yeah, I know, I know. I understand completely.
Your President has done some, popular [things].
I'm familiar with that being here in Virginia.
Before that, people would think of Texas like, "hmm, Texas -- barbecue spices, cowboy hats...."
Now people think like redneck mentality.
That can be attributed to our "cowboy President."
In any case, enough about the rednecks.... So, I was surprised that we would be able to do from one side [of the U.S.] to the other and then all of a sudden it was "well, y'know, we could route you back again" and now we routed the 3rd time so we start in the west, go to the east, back to the west, and to the east again. Do the stuff in the middle, even places like Denver and so on, which is cool.
So it was a big surprise and I have no idea why, all of a sudden, but everyone wanted to book us. I think it's because we never played [in the U.S.]. Normally it's "[they have] this amount of record sales, they [will] pull this amount of people" but now [with Therion having] so many records [and] people that really want to see it, [the thought is], this amount of record sales, yeah, it could work. People travel and some people go and see more than one show and so on. However, we had the option of doing, say, 15 to 20 shows. Do the 'safe' ones [at bigger cities where] people would have to travel a bit more and [the shows/venues] would be bigger. Or [we could] do the "full Monty" and do 35 shows and play everywhere, which we decided to do. So we've had to play in lots of really small places, with like 150 people...
But, the thing is I don't want anybody to say "I never had the chance to see Therion." Now everybody has a reasonable chance. We don't play everybody's hometown, but with reasonable car distance, unless you live in Alaska or Hawaii, nobody can say "I didn't have the chance to see Therion." Well, obviously people from New Orleans [can say they didn't have the chance], because of these extraordinary conditions [-- level 5 hurricane Katrina that destroyed much of Louisiana and Mississippi, and parts of Alabama and other nearby areas --]....
Of course that one [tour date] obviously got canceled, but apart from that, we really want to go everywhere and for the future, I suppose we're not going to do headline touring in this way [again]. It will either be some package with some other bands or [the tour cycle/itinerary] has to be much more compact.
Okay. How many total tour dates do you have on this back and forth across the U.S. kind of tour to double-check -- 35?
That's great. Well how has the response been thus far? You said it's been a couple of weeks in already?
Yeah, 2 and a half weeks or something like that. It's been a great response from the fans, very enthusiastic crowds. I think there have been like, 1 or 2 crowds that was a little bit lame, but.... ["Dramatic" pause.] ...that's because the other crowds have [just] been so much cooler.
I mean normally if we would have been at a small place somewhere -- something is stinking, isn't it?
It's the dumpster! Let's go over this way. Hahaha.
[We walked away from the dumpster to the back wall of the venue near a service entrance.]
It's like "Welcome to the U.S.!" You're like "I'm never comin' back again. It stinks." Literally. Haha. This is a little better.
It stinks here, too, but it's better than over there.
Yeah, at least the stench is not fresh off the dumpster.
Well, a friend of mine saw your Massachussetts show a couple of days ago....
Um. Massachussetts, that's uh....
Was that Lowell? Wait, you played the Palladium. That was Worcester.
Worcester -- that was actually the lamest one so far, so, hahahaha.
Is that right?
No! The 2nd lamest. The lamest was Edmonton in [Alberta,] Canada.
There I wondered what the fuck they did at that concert. But at Worcester, there were a few enthusiastic people in the front [of the crowd], but it was a lot of "yeah, I liked the stuff but [we appeared to be] boring [them]." Tea drinkers.
[The sound of the opening act could be heard louder than our voices.]
Alright, this may not work either.
I'll just speak closer to the microphone.
Well, my friend said, and I quote: "Therion was just plain FUCKING AWESOME." So you at least had, y'know, some good fans.
It seems like the minimum level is acceptable, though.
I mean, I don't think we're gonna do any [worse]. Well, you never know, I mean. Damn! I'm getting bit. Fuck!
[Our hero and Therion main man was being attacked by mosquitoes courtesy of the lamp near the service entrance so we found yet another place to continue the interview.]
I think the San Antonio show was going to be under very, very simple conditions. It got moved from White Rabbit to Sanctuary. It's supposed to be very cool people there but for a 10 piece band like us, it's very hard with the technical side of it -- with enough monitors, and so on.
Yeah, I imagine finding all the gear that you guys need would make it hard to travel with all that.
Have there been any moments that have really stood out so far in your mind on this tour?
Chicago at the House of Blues -- the nicest venue I ever saw in my life. Man! There should be some sort of musical dictatorship that [says] everybody on the planet that has a venue must do it exactly like that one. They get a 3-dimensional model and they have to make it exactly like that -- including genetically copying the people that work there.
Hahaha. Good luck with that!
...Then touring would be a dream!
Seriously, we've had a lot of nice places. B.B. King's Blues Club was really nice, too.
That's in New York City, right?
Yeah. And House of Blues - Cleveland was really nice. All the House of Blues venues are supposedly very, very nice. And we met a lot of really cool people at the clubs. Even the few ones where they lost some cash on us because we didn't do that well [in terms of ticket sales], they were still very positive and very happy and [said] "we never had such a professional band or anything like this on the stage and you're more than welcome [to come] back." And, if you don't mind me being brutally honest, superlatives are very common in the U.S. People are always (talking in a really animated voice) "Yeah, it's fantastic, man! It's great!" or whatever...
And then they go around the corner and [say] "Yeah, he's a wanker."
No, that's English. No, "He's a fucker!" you would say [here].
But when people really take the time to explain in detail what they really liked about [the concert], you can see that it's really honest and [they] say "Hey, we will have you back anytime." And many of them, they see it as a build up thing. Like, in Calgary [Alberta, Canada], for instance, I mean the [Warehouse (the Calgary venue)] was not bad, it was okay with people, but we were paid decently there. So they said "Yknow, don't make the mistake of not coming back." They told us [that] and they were the ones losing cash on us. [Again, they said] "Don't make the mistake of not coming back because this is a build up thing. Next time you'll double the people."
...Because those people here never saw anything like it and it sounds, well, probably normal in America, hehe, but very big-mouthed if you're in Europe, to say that the worst review we've had so far is "fabulous."
So we are very overwhelmed. You know, we are very humble and modest people in Europe and not really used to that. I'll give you a great example. I've seen a lot of other bands be like (in that animated voice again) that go "Yeah, yeah, go and buy our t-shirts!" after [they play]. I would never say that on stage.
...I would be so ashamed. I'm not a fucking salesman at some Arabian market [saying] "Hey, buy my oranges!"
Y'know, if you want a t-shirt then buy a t-shirt. If you don't want to buy it, you don't.
Unfortunately there's a lot of that ["buy our shit"] here.
[That's a] big, big mentality difference, I've noticed. But [there are] some very positive things, also, like, in Europe, during my life, at least listening to Metal for, whew, 23, 24 years, I never, ever met a black guy into Metal.
Till you got here...
Here you see black [guys]...
Like, headbanging -- that's so cool! You see Latinos...
And people from all over the world.
It's like, you don't have that in Europe. A few Latinos, maybe, into Metal...
But black people into Metal [in Europe] don't exist. And I've seen a lot of it [here]. That's something that you really notice. It's different and it's really cool. We all really enjoy that you don't have this "Well, if you're that ethnicity you have to listen to this or to that" [kind of mentality].
Just, like, people open their minds and say "What do I like? Ah, I like that!" That's a good thing with the American spirit. It's a bit more open [than in Europe where] you cannot create for yourself what you want in a surrounding.
It's definitely a melting pot here in the U.S., so...
Yeah, that's something we really appreciate.
Cool. Did you have any ideal tour partners in mind prior to starting this tour, or was it just really you and the promoter/management kinda figuring out we can go and do this? 'Cause I think, if I recall correctly, that Beyond the Embrace opened for you in Massachussetts.
They did like 5 or 6 shows [with us]....
They were really cool guys and you could tell the difference that this band has been touring before. A lot of the bands we had, they were like (imitating a statue), looked like they had their spine broken or something. "Don't move! You might break your spine again!"
Maybe they wanted to focus on playing the music right and hit every note -- no feel?
No, more like [they were] nervous and didn't do much on stage....
Oh, okay. They had no experience.
Or just stiff. And some bands, they were good. I mean, they had some good ideas but some of them, they really sucked, I have to say -- like a washing machine with gravel in it.
It's one thing playing Death Metal [and another] thing playing crap.
Um, but we said "We don't want to bring any support acts" because of 2 reasons. 1.) If you bring a support act, they're not getting paid, basically. They have to carry all their expenses, so it's a way of promoting their stuff. And since we don't know how we [in Therion] are gonna do...
It wouldn't be fair to someone else....
We don't want to sell it someone and say "Hey, come over and all our crowd is going to buy your records." In Europe we can say "We pull this, this, and this and you can calculate if you make a good record, that maybe this much your sales will increase," so they can see if [the tour] is a good investment or not. Over here it's a shot in the dark, completely, so we don't want to fool anybody and we said "Let's not bring any support act and the local promoters can put on whoever they like."
So it's completely up to the tour agent. Beyond the Embrace was on a few shows -- we've never heard of them before, but they were cool people. I mean, I wish we would've had them the whole tour. They were really cool people and musically it was right. Um, in eastern Canada we had some cool bands support us as well.
Well, beyond the current tour, if you figured it all out and could come back over, maybe as a support act for someone else, would there be someone like an Iron Maiden or a Judas Priest -- I know that everyone would like to open for them....
I don't think that would help our record sales. I mean, that would be cool being a fan of those bands, but I don't think it would push our record sales too much. The bands that would be cool [to support], they don't tour very often and they don't bring support acts. Like, Pink Floyd, they would never do that.
Yeah! My fiancee (who was there and took a few pictures) has lamented that. She's been saving up, I don't know, 1,000,000 frequent flyer miles and waitin' for the reunion concert so she could fly wherever it is and then when Pink Floyd did that Live8 thing, she was all excited but found out it was only 4 songs and was just going to be televised, no tickets would be available. So, I think we're all waiting on that Pink Floyd tour.... Haha.
But, uh, Blind Guardian, they do a little bit better than we do, and we wouldn't really, like, open up for them, but maybe we could make a package [tour] for them [with] an opening [band] and us taking the 2nd slot....
A co-headlining kind of thing?
Not really co-headlining [because] they are so much bigger [than we are], but, y'know like, a package. They headline the package [tour], we'd be the 2nd slot and then a real support act. So it would make a difference. In Europe you [have a] support [band], then you [have a] support name band, or a very small name [act], or you have a 2nd slot [and] that means you actually pull people to the show and get decently paid for it, and then your headliner is the main attraction. Something like that. I mean, [Blind Guardian and Therion] have the same booking agent, so it would be cool to do that. Because I noticed, in Europe, that there's no other band that has so many, um, t-shirts, band t-shirts, that Blind Guardian do in the Therion crowd. And I personally respect Blind Guardian a lot. That's a great band, great musicians, good songs -- everything, so going with them would, I think, be really cool for the fans and if those guys would be up for it, I think we could have a really cool time.
Alright, maybe we'll make a call to Blind Guardian and see what they can do, haha.
We have the same booking agent, so whenever there's time, they'll have the offer from us, and if they want to pick it up, it would be great. If not, well, we'll figure something else out.
Very cool. This addresses your set-list. How do you choose material to perform live and is it one of those things were one theme can dominate a set-list, say you hit all the middle eastern mythologies at once, for example?
It's a mixture of what people want to hear and what we want to play. Some songs we have to play, obviously, otherwise people would be very upset. If we wouldn't do "Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah"...
Definitely one of my favorites.
Or if we don't do "To Mega-Therion", people would be like, "Hey!" So those songs we have to play.
Any "Desert of Set" in there?
Um, no. I mean, there's so many albums and so many songs...
Since they put on quite a few support acts [locally] -- we were counting on there being 1 local support act...
And there's 3.
There's 3 [here], sometimes there's 2, so there's always a lot of support acts which means that we cut down our set a little bit compared to what we originally thought. Also, we had a lot of problems with singers being ill in the beginning [of the tour] so we were cutting down some of the songs with hard solo parts to save their voices for the whole tour. And now we're in a very long run of the tour without any days off, so, and we also have problems with the bus. By the way, we have a really cool driver. The bus is okay except that....
It's an older bus....
It's just that the air condition thingie is not really working properly. It's bringing in very cold [air] and then it's very hot when you're driving so it really effects the voice. So we had to shorten [the set-list] down. We would have normally played at least a 15 minutes longer set, plus we really wanted to keep the quality until the end. Instead of just blowing it [all out] in the beginning and [then] saying "Sorry" at the end, "Oh, everybody's fucked" -- that's not our style. So we want the very last show to have the same quality of singing and everything [as the first show].
You maintain the integrity that way.
And after this, also, we'll go to Mexico for a few shows, so it's a long run to last. But, if we can do a tour again, we'll remember what we played this time and try to swap to other songs so it'll be a different experience [next time].
Well, you definitely have enough songs to choose from...
It has been a sort of rolling list, though. We have changed a few songs over the time and now it seems like we've found something that's gonna work for a while. But we try to swap different songs and see what the audience would like most. We played before, a song from the 3rd album, a Death Metal song, and reactions were okay, but not overwhelming so we thought, "Okay, let's drop that one and put a new song in" and people seemed to appreciate that more.
Okay, cool. Let's see. This one has a long lead-in to my question. So you've got traditional Persian, Arabic, and Oriental themes have been utilized extremely well in Therion's unique brand of music and the final product has gone from sounding like a choir singing atop a Metal band with an accompanying symphony to the complete incorporation of two formerly thought of as disparate musical categories in true harmony with each other. How do you write such majestic music? I mean do you hear a completed opus in your head or do you compose layer by layer?
Usually I have the whole thing in my head and it's like a little demon singing the song in my ear, um, and then I just need to get it out of my head and down to paper or into the computer, most often some sound sketch or a draft into the computer of the song and then later make a proper demo. And the demo is like a map of the real recording you'll have.
And then you'll flesh it out as you go along?
Yeah. But sometimes I hear a song in my head but I don't manage to get the complete thing out, or some of it, I just don't succeed to make it sound like in my head. So I drop those parts and then elaborate maybe put it together with other parts I did or maybe while trying to rearrange something I get a new idea that prolongs it and so on. And I've also started to co-write with the other people so sometimes they give me something that is half finished and I just play it over and over and over again until I hear the final thing in my head. And uh, we also did it the other way. There was one song on the last record -- "Melek Taus" -- it has some really cool riffs and some things that I really liked but I couldn't make a proper song out of it so I was going to throw it away but then Christian said "Hey, give it to me." I gave it to him and he completed the foundation of the song, gave it back, and then I just orchestrated his parts and we had a song. So I guess I'm a bit more open to these things now because they have gotten synchronized with me. Before, it was always harder for them to write songs because if they would write something, they could say "This sounds like Therion." [I'd say] "Yeah, like Therion yesterday!"
They should always be...
Right. Moving on. And um, now we are musically synchronized in a way that they can write something that don't sound like Therion but it will sound like Therion.
So there's definitely some synergy that's going on from having these guys in the band with you for several years now?
Yeah, we work excellent together.
Very cool. Lyrically are there any mythos out there that you haven't explored yet that you plan to, or is that solely up to your friend and main lyric writer Thomas Karlsson?
Well, we usually brainstorm together and sometimes I get the idea, sometimes he has the ideas but we haven't talked about the lyrical concept for the last -- for the upcoming record -- yet. We have some ideas but we didn't finish the lyrics and normally we don't talk about upcoming products in detail anyway.
Okay. Well, you kinda answered my next question, which was to address the 3rd part of the trilogy started with Lemuria and Sirius B....
Well, I can just roughly say that, since it's no secret there's a [3rd part]. Obviously since the songs were written in the same time frame it will be more linked to these ones and you can say it's more progressive than some of those. When we divided the songs upon these 3 records, we saw some structure in the [grouping of the] songs that felt natural. [It was like we were saying] "Well, this should be the progressive stuff" and that's the coming one. And then Sirius B, that would be the collection of more straightforward, um, more Heavy Metalish, more bombastic stuff more than the others.
Yeah, I was going to say....
And Lemuria is the 3rd one picking up the remaining songs that we wanted to use so that makes Lemuria the most diverse one because of that. A lot of different styles.
Okay, very cool. Any update on the long-awaited Therion DVD?
It's progressing very nicely. March  should be the release date and it's gonna be, without revealing the amount, it's going to be very multi-disc.
I remember reading your stuff where you said you wanted to make sure you get all that you can get into that package instead of turning around 6 months later and saying "Oh, by the way, all you people that just bought it...."
Yeah, I hate that "every month" thing that some bands do. It should be the ultimate DVD, Therion collection. Everything should be in there that people want, that we have done so far. The only thing lacking is the orchestral show that I hoped that we would have done, but since we never pulled it off so far, it's obviously not there. But everything else is really there and it should be the most price worthy thing ever released.
I know you love classical music, particularly opera, but have you listened to Dmitri Shostakovich?
Shostakovich, yeah, sure.
He's one of my favorites and I think his entire body of work is rather rewarding. He's got everything from solo piano to string quartets to opera to full symphonies.
Yeah, his 7th -- Leningrad [Symphony], I consider my favorite. Especially with the build up, it's kind of gentle first and then it gets really....
It's almost violent in the middle.
Yeah. I've done that mistake a few times -- turn on the stereo...
Cranked it up and the violence hits you all of a sudden?
Turned on the stereo at quite a normal level, and then a little bit higher, and then I go away and do something else, then come back and it's like "Whoa! The neighbors are gonna kick me out!"
I have a friend who describes all of my music as being very Metal, even my jazz and classical selections. Shostakovich definitely fits that description and I just wanted to bring that up since I know your appreciation for all things Wagner. Uh, switching gears a little bit, I've seen your comments about other bands that incorporate classical into Metal, but what about Metal interpretations of Classical songs? I'm talking about The Great Kat or Yngwie Malmsteen's "Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra"....
That's pretty good, [Yngwie's "Concerto..."] is pretty good. [Like me,] he's not educated either, in those things. So instead of doing what I do to learn how to note it and stuff, he took the easy way and just played it on the guitar and some guy transcribed it for him.
But you can really hear that he has a good clue on how Classical music works. As I understood it, this guy that transcribed it didn't really help him out with anything except....
He just took what Yngwie did..
Yeah, well maybe he said this needs to be transposed and noted correctly, but basically it should be [and was] Yngwie's idea. I must say that I'm very impressed with that and he certainly has a very good clue on how Classical music works. Obviously he's more into the older stuff, like the Baroque, while I'm more into later stuff, the Romantic type. Richard Wagner and so on. Very late, Beethoven's 7th Symphony and so on.
Have you heard of The Great Kat -- Katherine Thomas? Are you familiar with her?
Yeah, I have her first record, but never took it seriously. Hehe.
But I've heard the stuff that she did later and she's a good player and I read her interview with Guitar Player [magazine], haha, it was a little bit out of line. But I mean, it's an image thing. It's like Manowar. I mean, I love Manowar -- great music....
But they're still caught up in 1983 as far as looking like He-Man....
Yeah! The wimps and posers and so on....
Lookin' like warriors and all....
But I still kind of respect that. They're like AC/DC in the image way.
They created an image and they keep the image. But I really like their records. And I have to say they were very early with their small Classical influences, like they used choir and organ on their 1st record, "Battle Hymns" in '81. And I always liked the epic parts of the Metal bands from the '80s, especially. Y'know, like "Battle Hymns" and the song "Thor" that we covered. Also the cover thing from "Sign of the Hammer."
And with Ozzy Osbourne, he did some epic things, like, "Diary of a Madman" -- the title song, the title track. Things like that. Those parts were always my favorite from these bands. I guess that infected me, also, to go into this direction.
That's cool. Well, I bought all of [The Great Kat's] records and burned all the classical songs onto 1 CD twice and brought a copy of that for you here, so have some road fodder.
She did some Wagner on Methadone or something?
She's covered Wagner, Rossini, Beethoven. "Wagner's War" is the name of one EP she has. And her first one...
Uh, I think it's "Beethoven on Speed...."
I've seen it but never heard it.
Oh, the Classical songs are really good.
That's good, that's good.
Beethoven's 5th [Symphony] is on their twice in two different versions and one of them really sounds like "Master of Puppets" as far as the instrumentation and the way it was transcribed, but anyway, there's something you can listen to on the road.
It would be cool to see her play those things live.
Well you know she's a Julliard School of Music graduate....
Yeah, that means she's a decent player but that doesn't mean you're God.
Well, I'll not tell her that. Hahaha. [Note: The Great Kat considers herself to be teh God of guitar, if not more.]
Seriously, I mean what college did George W. Bush go to and he's still a fucking wanker, so it's like you go to a school because you have influential parents and a lot of money...
And you can pay for it or someone else can....
You might be somebody who doesn't have a dime but you get picked up and get a stipend and you might be the best in the class. You never know. She might totally kick ass as a violin player or she's like, adequate but nothing special.
Um, I don't know if it's on that CD I gave you, but, actually, on that "Beethoven on Speed" record she's got her Julliard violin graduation piece, or whatever, on the record, which is kinda neat.
Where's she from anyway?
I want to say she's an upstate New York girl.
But where is she now?
She's in the U.S. I'd guess she's still in New York.
Ah, stupid [expletive deleted by request]. She should have come to our show. I could have talked to her.
Don't write that. (Sounding very proper:) It's a pity that this wonderful girl -- wonderful woman -- didn't show up to our show. That would have been most pleasant to conversate with her.
Hahahaha! I'm sure. That being said let me keep this kind of brief. Do you have any parting words?
Thank you very much for showing up!
We drove 3+ hours here, but hey, it's not every day Therion is in town.
That's not a long drive -- this is a big country!
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