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Interview with Christofer Johnsson (Therion)

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Last Updated on 10:54 AM by Giorgos Tsekas

Sweden has given birth to tons of legendary metal bands, coming from almost every genre. It should be however a little more proud since in 1987, the first symphonic metal band ever came from this land. Therion were never fond of labels though, while they have created some unique pieces of acoustic art, covering up the entire metal spectrum. Due to their live appearances in Greece, Christofer Johnsson spoke on Metal Invader.

Hello Christofer, welcome to Metal Invader, it’s a pleasure to have you here! We just heard you had an accident right now, is everything ok?

We’re in England, it’s snowing and the car engine caught fire. The worst bus in the history of mankind. The first day, the heat didn’t work. The second day, the heat was repaired but we had like 40 degrees in the bus and we had to sleep in our underwear, like we were after some reckless running. Then on the third day, the driver didn’t lock the front door and we had to leave in our underwear! Nobody was hurt and nothing’s wrong with the equipment. It was supposed to be a day off but ok…

“Beloved Antichrist” is due to be released in a few days. I just listened to it and I have to say I’m speechless, congratulations. What are your expectations and feelings now that you managed to do this rock opera you’ve always wanted to? Are you satisfied with the outcome?

Yeah, actually I think that the term rock opera is wrong, it was a label for promotional uses only. It’s mainly a CD with a storyline, a rock musical with various vocals. The theatrical staging is the main purpose of it. “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a rock opera, it is also released on a CD, you know. We decided to release the CD in the first place for financial purposes, then do the tour and the theatrical show, it works better I think for the fans.

Weren’t you worried that some people must find a three hour long album exhausting?

Well, you don’t have to listen to all three at once. You can listen to it one at a time.

It has been 27 years since “Of Darkness” was released. What were your influences back then? What was that got you to create a death metal band at the time?

Celtic Frost mainly, we were also by Slayer’s first albums and I guess a little bit of Carcass and the late 80’s death metal bands. But it was Celtic Frost in the first place.

After the “Symphony Masses…” of 1993, the band’s style transformed into symphonic metal and since then, Therion is considered the pioneers of the genre. Would you ever consider taking Therion back to their death metal roots?

No, never. I don’t want to be disrespectful to today’s death metal bands, if they are happy with what they’re doing but for me personally. Death metal was for me when I was very young, in my teenage years, when there was this frustration I needed to get out. Now that we have grown and have a family, money in the bank and a house, I don’t think death metal would be right.

Let’s get back to the Beloved Antichrist album. You were majorly influenced by Vladimir Solovyov’s “A Short Tale Of The Antichrist”, a book based on religion. How important is religion for you? You have been using various religious symbols on your albums…

I was never a religious person, I was always a spiritual person but have been always fascinated by religion. I never really understood the worshiping part, I was always for the mysticism and the entire questioning over creation and divinity. It was a good base for the album. They way we have done it, you can see how it was created. It’s just for the entertainment, we’re trying to make high quality entertainment.

Symphonic metal is nowadays a usually confusing term, since many gothic metal bands with female, operatic vocals use the term to describe their music. How do you feel about that?

I don’t care that much about label, we were always the band people could not label. Sometimes people are like “You were a death metal band”. Actually back then yeah, we did an album but then we started changing, especially in the second album. By the third one, people were like “Oh, they completely lost it”. There was no such thing as opera metal when we started doing it, it was just Therion. And then came other,many bands that people put labels on. I don’t care, we play just metal. And if you ever need a name, we’re Therion, just Therion. We have heavy metal influences, folk influences , classical, operatic influences and many different things. Our record company says we have a big variety of sounds. But I really don’t care about stuff like that.

Are there any other symphonic metal bands you enjoy? Can you name some of those?

Well, Nightwish obviously! They are fantastic!

Being in a band like Therion, active since 1988 and having so many musicians come and go must be really hard. Have there been hard times for the band?

Not actually. We have been active since 1987. In the beginning, we were a bunch of guys who wanted to play music together. In the beginning there was no money and nothing to make an album, so we were always in hard condition. We didn’t have money to eat, we were only drinking tap water because we had nothing else, I was sleeping under a carpet, on the floor. We had a small tour in Sweden, seven shows and we didn’t even have a shower. Crazy stuff. Most people they don’t take it for too long, they were like “it was a fun ride, ok”. It was always me who wanted to go forward because it was my band, I was writing the songs. Then, there were people who thought that everything was easy, so then after a tour they think that they have already been everywhere. They just fuck up their career. Look at Kristian Niemann today. What is he doing? He sold some copies with his new band during on tour. There’s nothing wrong about that but he could have done so much more with Therion now, albums, tours. Our previous drummer with whom we got to write Gothic Kabbalah didn’t even get a record deal. It’s not so fucking easy. I work hard for it. There are people that cannot handle money. That’s why bands get ripped off sometimes, cause they are dumb. I’m just saying that there are so many things when you create a band you need to do. We never had any arguments. Just wrong people in the wrong place. When they felt like they are not available they left to do their own thing and later try to come back like “Hey Chris can I come back?”

It’s really hard to be in a band…

The music business is getting harder and harder. There’s a lot of support needed. 90’s was a golden era for music. We had CDs and vinyls coming and the prices were different; cheaper distributors and everything. There were smaller labels like Century Media that bands started their career from. It was a golden age, the digital recording was a thing. Now with Spotify and iTunes you don’t need record labels but makes things harder, it’s hard to promote an album when a record label is not in charge. A lot of bands don’t need a record now. Because nobody buys CDs from new bands anymore.

There’s always the economical crisis that doesn’t allow people to buy CDs…

Yes but you know a CD used to cost as much as three beers in Sweden back then. They could have five beers a weekend. Or ten beers if you’re a heavy drinker. But then you piss out and the beer’s gone. But if you really want a CD, 15 euros are not that hard to argue about. I don’t know about the CD prizes there. But when I grew up I always wanted to listen to new bands. I read interviews, I saw the covers and when I thought that something was really cool I tried to get it. If people want to drink 5 beers then it’s ok but they shouldn’t complain about the quality dropping.

What about the highlights?

It was in 1989 when a guy got our first demo, came to me and said “I really liked you guys”. It was the first time I was heard somewhere. And the first time I saw a guy with a Therion T-shirt. When “Theli” came out, we did what we were fighting for, it was like a fuck you album to the world. We did tour where we were treated like dogs and with Theli things changed. Then the record album called me and were like “it’s selling like hot cakes in Europe” and we thought like wow!

For which Therion album are you mostly proud of?

It’s like your children, you can’t say just one. The first ones were really low budget and not that good played, not even Theli. Vovin is a great one, it was just me and Tommy. Lemuria and Sirius B are great.

You’re preparing a tour now supporting the album, and according to the concept the production must be massive. What should we expect from your upcoming shows?

We’re making a regular Therion tour because no one actually wanted an opera. We will do a few old songs, a couple of new songs. That’s what the fans want. They don’t want a rock opera, they want to see a band play a rock/metal concert, old songs and new songs. Then, at the end of the year we will do the theatrical version and to do that we have to have the money first. You need a big venue and many, regular people to do that. It’s an entirely different way of promoting the album. I mean, in a theatrical version people don’t give a shit on who’s playing the bass, they are focusing on the singers , the actors. So now the musicians have to be somewhere on a different level. I don’t know. People are watching such shows for entertaining purposes, such as watching a movie. It would be a relief for me if we could sell this production to a musical company. Then you need investors and stuff, I don’t know, you need people to create the stage, to produce the show, design costumes to direct and such.

Is there anything you would love to say to your fans in Greece anticipating your shows? The epilogue’s on you! I hope to catch you on one of your appearances here, thank you for your time!

I’m looking forward to play in Greece again, it always has such warm audiences and excitement. Thank you!

 

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