It's no secret that Tobias Forge is working on Ghost's next album. He's set to really dig in at the start of 2020 and as a guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program, he offered some insight into what goes into planning a new record and a lot more.
Since first taking the stage almost a decade ago, Ghost have grown increasingly theatrical with each ensuing album and tour. Now taking the leap into the arena level, Forge explains the necessities that come along with sustaining a show designed for such a big stage.
These stage productions are a major factor in the writing process as well. The Ghost mastermind uses each album as an opportunity to bring new ideas to the stage, understanding that writing new music entails a lot more than simply writing a song.
Read the full interview below.
The evolution of Ghost seems almost mythical. How much of what the band has become did you actually envision when it started?
Damn. I's unfathomable looking back years to the embryonic state of Ghost as an idea.
I definitely felt like there was a career there or that there was a forum and that there'd be a crowd that would be a designated audience. I could really feel that already from 2008 when the first demo songs were being played to just a few people. Just the mere reaction of those people hearing it that early, you could tell that there was a vibe that was not really comparable to the current bands that I was in. So, I always had a good feeling about it, but fast forward 10 years and looking at a lot of the success, that was not taken into account at the time.
Headlining an arena tour is an opportunity to take the theatricality of Ghost to an even more elaborate level. How do you present a big show without overshadowing the music?
I don't think that there is such a thing really. It would be kind of miraculous if you've gotten to a level where you're allowed to do a big, spectacular show if you didn't have the songs already that you've built your career upon. I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but I'm just saying that I think that, despite Ghost obviously being a very schticky band, I would never claim that we got to the point where we got to with music only.
Of course, the imagery played a giant part. But I know no bands at all that had a fantastic image but really sucky music that got anywhere. Maybe they, cult wise, got somewhere, but they never really materialized or amounted to grander things that don't have music that moves people. One thing that bands notice if they're ever given the chance of playing really big places is how much effort you need to put in.
Those steps and those measures feel like all of it on paper is almost overkill. Once you get there onstage, and once you do it, you're like, 'Oh, it's just like a normal rock show. It's just what I've seen many times.' I'm not saying repetitive.
One simple example is when you're a small band, you start out with a backdrop of a certain size. It feels like a huge backdrop when you bring it to your first club show. Then all the sudden, a few months later, you might support a bigger band in a theater, and you bring your big backdrop and now that backdrop just takes up a quarter of their big backdrop.
So, you make another big one and it's a really big one that on paper and once you order it, it looks like it's going to be so huge. Then when you play your first outdoor show in a shed or in a festival, it doesn't even look that big now. So every step you take you realize that what seemed inconceivable and almost vulgar in terms of overstating something half a year ago or three years ago, is now industry standards.
When you headline in an arena it has to be this big. It has to have these amount of fire canisters and this, that and the other. If you do it all really well, it's gonna look like an arena band. But my ambitions are bigger than that. There's a lot of things on my to-do list that goes into the future.
Ghost are categorized as metal but there are many other musical nuances throughout the songs as well. What taught you the musical adaptability that's so prevalent to Ghost?
I think it comes from a musical interest — an obsession with music, that actually went a little bit beyond just metal. Throughout my life, I've obsessed about many different bands and many different genres and many different ages of rock. I'm saying rock because it's still, besides my fascination for like classical music or film scores and pop song, everything else has been sort of rock-oriented in some way, be it early '60s with all the Beatles and Kinks and all that stuff.
To prog rock, to punk rock to hard rock, everything has sort of been rock based when it comes to being embracive of bands and artists. Whereas I've always had a very big love for songs in general and of course a lot of that is rooted in listening to radio and pop. But just because I like Nik Kershaw songs, it doesn't mean I'm obsessing over him as an artist at all. The same way that I would over [laughs] The Smiths or The Doors.
But I think, definitely, if I was to credit the diversity of Ghost music it would definitely be my upbringing musically. The fact that I was exposed to so much different music very early on. Absolute obsession for the Rolling Stones, my absolute obsession over The Doors, as well as my absolute obsession over Metallica and Morbid Angel, just to name a few.
Overall Ghost seems tailor-made for a concept album. What would be the positive and negative aspects of that format for you?
I'm often in sort of an inner conflict with myself for the idea of concept albums. My albums are always loosely themed around something particular. Just to draw parallels with other bands, I would say that it is loosely themed in the same way that Metallica's [early albums] or Iron Maiden's album are thematic. They are just based on and idea opposed to The Who's Tommy or King Diamond's records that are a story from start to finish.
I would say that I'm a little bit more like, Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. It's a little bit more like based off of feeling. Wish You Were Here was based on the idea of missing and longing for someone. Everybody thinks it's about Syd Barrett, but it wasn't specifically about him. It was not a record that had to do with him alone.
I am, so far, into the planning stages on the new album right now and am trying to find the balance of how to incorporate songs ideas that I have and tie them in so it's loose enough to feel like what I thought of but clear enough to feel like it's a theme.
I've had this issue or this subject in our agenda for the previous albums as well — to avoid turning it into something like a story? The problem with that is that you're committing, you have to commit, you have to go full-on, completely committed into orchestrating that story. And when you're writing a story all of a sudden, there are dramaturgical needs that a story requires.
I am very, very interested in cinematic theater, so I would have very high demands on that storytelling. I just feel that at least as of right now it feels like that's a little too ambitious for me. At the end of the day, I want to write a record that is filled with good songs that will fit very well into our other pile of songs that we have for an album's worth of material.
To answer your question, I think that is another issue that if you make a rock opera. All of a sudden you have to store them. Like, how does this record fit into the rest of our repertoire?
I know that Pink Floyd solved it by for many years they played the current record. That was sort of act one. So they would go out and they'd play Dark Side of the Moon, and then they would come out after a little intermission they would come out and play like a hip sort of thing. And that's great. I would've loved to see that. [laughs] But it takes commitment and you need to sort of fully embrace that. I am not there right now. I want make a record that is a little more according to what the four albums I've already done.
It's hard to imagine Ghost without the charismatic characters. How do those identities empower you as a performer?
Speaking just for myself, I know that coming out onstage as another character, looking different, acting different, definitely allows for you to act and behave in a way that you wouldn't normally do. This can be both traumatic and also therapeutical in away.
Even though it's been a long time since I practiced any sort of martial arts, I almost feel similar to myself back then, like after karate class. I did all kinds of things. I did Judo, jiu-jitsu, tae kwon do and karate. After you are sort of cleansed from any sort of violent urges that you had. And in a way, I feel that way. Especially now when we play on our regular nights. When we play that long, any inkling that you have of wanting to dance and rock out is sort of over when you come off stage, which is very nice.
One of the luxuries of being able to dress up for it and become a different character is that as soon as I am not that character anymore, no one expects me to behave the way that the character does onstage. No one expects me to be that way offstage. There's been a great handful of rock artists that have had a big problem differentiating themselves from their character onstage. And that leads to a lot of potential problems.
You are tentatively planning to start recording the next Ghost album early next year. What informs or inspires you when you're in creative mode?
Pretty much all the same things that have always inspired me. I just add more things, but luckily I have managed to maintain my little oasis of inspiration or the well that doesn't seem to dry up. For me, I can still go back to films and records and books, a myriad of things. That still keeps me fired up and in awe to the point where I want to do something similar.
We still have months to go of touring and right about now has been the case in previous album cycles. I start to get very antsy about going into the studio. My mind is definitely far up in the new record. But also, making a new record for me nowadays is so much more than producing 40 minutes of music.
It's also hard work thing and a visual presentation first and foremost. Despite my love of making records and wanting to put my vision and musical ideas on to vinyl and wanting to hear that, it's about tours. That's what we do.
Making a record is not only making a record, it's also planning the show. And a lot of things, a lot of gags, a lot of production values that I've had ideas for - for songs that I wanted to do on a live stage that we haven't gotten to do but now are closer to being able to produce — basically a lot of the gags that we haven't been able to do before goes into consideration when making a new record.
It's like what kind of song do we need in order to make the show a year and a half from now all those things that I wanna try to present. So making the record goes in tandem with the existing material as well, from the live point of view. It's important that the songs I'm adding to the repertoire - I don’t know, however many songs we play live, but if it's a good record, maybe you can play seven songs from that new record? Eight songs? I don’t know.
But you want those songs to have relevance. You don't want another "Absolution," you want another song that we don't have. You don't want an exact replica of "He Is." You want another song to sort of perfect the live show. So, yeah, there's a lot to - you have to spend a lot of time thinking about that in order to get that right.