Ghost’s Tobias Forge Calls on New Rock Bands to ‘Step Up’
Ghost leader Tobias Forge was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's radio program. He spoke about no longer being anonymous, his longterm plans for Ghost, the breadth of different styles tackled on the new album, Prequelle, and how new rock bands need to fill the void left by death and retirement.
Ghost are more than music, it's an ongoing storyline. Tobias, how much of the long-term plot already exists in your imagination?
I mean, I always like having a plan to look forward [to]. To know where you’re going you need to have some sort of compass that tells you if you’re going north or south I guess. But then as you’re going and on the excursion, you might bump into changes and it’s always like a little bit of a force majeure, you know?
A lot of the things that we’re doing are definitely planned out in advance and have been in the process of being forged in some way or form but it never really ends up the way —when I look back and everything that we’re doing It’s like just half measures, failures of the idea that I actually had. So, you have to end up being quite loose — you have to roll with a lot of punches. Even in the instance that [they] actually turn out quite well it’s usually something that sort of shifts or changes.
I have a five-year plan looking forward but, I think I try to get a little better at it every year. I also learn how to not to stick too hard to the plan. It was easier to plan things out to the finest detail when you didn’t have a rock career because there were no obstacles. In the dream, there were no obstacles.
Whereas I know now there’s constantly things shifting and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that there’s a lot of minds involved in the career, let alone all the people that work with it but fans, and weather, and market, and presidencies or whatever, it’s like there’s so many things that you cannot plan so you just try to do it at the best you can and sooner or later you might look back at a good career.
The introduction of the Cardinal Copia character sets the stage for inexperience and youth versus older establishment. Is that meant to reflect contemporary society?
I think it’s important to shine a light on the idea that things have a time and place. We obviously know this already but, I think that there’s a general over-belief in the youth today just because a lot of the rules in the modern today technology have been dictated by 20-year-olds. Which is true in terms of technical advancement and magical apps that you can sell for $500 million and all that.
Yeah, I guess it is predominantly young people doing that but I definitely think there’s something to be learned from elders and how things have been. I think there’s a general disregard for the circulation of things. We have a tendency to become almost more linear with time whereas I sincerely, sincerely believe that the ways of the world... and if you want to sort of touch upon the idea of there being an afterlife... philosophically speaking, I think I believe in circulation. I believe there’s a circular path rather than a linear and that’s one important aspect of this album.
It’s about mortality and survival through an ordeal that might question your immortality but you know, also try to do the best with the time that you have. Then [there's] the idea of the master and the apprentice. The apprentice learning and as most apprentices and most prodigies, there’s definitely a time when they think that they are ready for the power and that’s exactly when they’re not ready for the power because the day that you usually get that power is usually the day when you don’t even want it anymore.
It's usually the way of a fruitful master and apprentice relationship, I think. I'm ranting right now. I'm not really sure where I'm going but yeah, I think it's not only an important concept in this record, and I'm just sort of shining a light on it, I think its important for all of us to acknowledge circulation, learning from elders, and having respect towards the idea that things might be [in] circulation. Things might not die with you.
The passing of so many larger than life rock stars like David Bowie and Lemmy Kilmister, for example, has left a void in the mystique of rock 'n' roll. How has that void motivated Ghost?
I can give two different answers. One is from a personal point of view where I am a big appreciator of many of these peoples' work and I, like most others, have spent, most of my life just taking them for granted, that they were going to be there forever. Now when it's clearly showing that might not be the case, I think that that stirs up a lot of angst in, at least speaking for myself, I'm saddened by knowing that obviously, these people have already passed, but just checking a festival poster and knowing that in ten years these guys will not be there.
From a professional point of view, I think it means that rock music needs to step up. We need to have new, bigger bands. Bands need to step up and try to fill these spots. I definitely don't think that rock is dead in any way. But I think that there has been a lack of new talent or new ambition. It’s hard to really put my finger on what has happened. But I think that rock, in general, has been extremely dominated by bands that are thirty, forty years old, which there's nothing wrong with it, but now as they are disappearing, you can truly tell that there's a big gap between the big bands and the ones underneath and the one on the bottom.
And that's alarming. I think that other music styles, other music genres have been better to fill their new, up and coming artists that get a lot of recognition. And, you know, I don't want to compare rock and hip-hop in any way. I'm a rock guy. I'm not a hip-hop guy in any way, but the hip-hop scene has been way better at bringing up new talent where, you know, artists and management that weren't around ten years ago, are now filling arenas and stadiums and are hugely successful.
I think that rock, if it's going to survive and if it's going to be a big thing, and I definitely think it's going to be a bigger thing again, but I don't think that the bands that are in the bills right now and the one has been waiting around for twenty years on the bill, on the middle part of the bill there, they are not the ones that's going to, you know, rise to the top part. I think it's going to be new bands that we don't know about right now. fifteen-year-olds that maybe are listening to this show right now. You are the ones that need to create these new bands. You are the ones that are going to be the big band ten years from now. So yeah, there you go. Again, you have to face the fact that things are changing and things are circulating.
Ghost has interjected a much wider range of musical styles into heavy metal. What's been the biggest benefit to not having any musical constraints?
As a songwriter, I am very happy that in that I feel quite liberated in terms of not having to stick with a certain style or anything. I can, in many ways, ad lib writing, which is a great luxury. On the other hand, it also makes things harder because it's like, if you're a comedian, you have to come up with new jokes all the time. When I wrote Opus Eponymous, there was this big question, I guess, in the underground circuit. Like: was it a fad? Was it just a one time only?
I said immediately, I'm not gonna write Opus again. I want to write something else because I knew that the biggest sell-out move anyways would be if I try to just replicate what worked and then it would stagnate. And ever since Infestissumam and going onwards, I've always tried to write the record that we don't have. I always want to write the songs that we don't have, but as I now feel that I've done that a fourth time, it definitely raises the bar going into a fifth record.
Because you don't really know exactly what made it and as you not only grow older, but you get wiser and you have more at stake because of it. There is always the risk that you start over-complicating things in your head. I'm really trying not to do that, going into Prequelle is definitely one of those where I had to try not to think about what's at stake on this record. Try not to think about that. Try just to think about what makes you happy. Try to just to think about the music that you like.
Try not to think about the people that are waiting just to go out on tour and that are - whose livelihoods are depending on this - you can't start thinking about those things. It's hard not to. The further out you swim, sooner or later you will start to think about how deep it is. But you can still swim, it doesn't matter. You can swim in one-meter depth and you can swim in 2000 meters, it doesn't matter. Don't think about it too much, just keep on swimming.
Up until a year ago, Ghost were shrouded in total anonymity. What changed most once you became known and how did you prepare yourself for that eventually happening?
Honestly, I haven't felt anonymous in many, many years. So things haven't changed for me much on a practical level, and the only real difference is how I'm being presented in media. But all these years I've always made sure that any time we were doing interviews and as long as media itself was not filmed, I always did it face to face because I wanted there to be - you know - the nuances that you have, looking people in the eye and reading facial expressions. I still wanted to sort of be able to communicate to further - at lengths - about what I was trying to achieve.
The only difference is now you can tell me about it. You can write or communicate about how this came about, whereas in the past we had this agreement with journalists that they had to write "Nameless Ghoul" and come up with some shit about how you were led to these chambers, or whatever. [laughs] But practically I don't feel a big difference. And not because of a lack of anonymity at least.
Prequelle is thematic — it's bombastic and cinematic. What first inspired your interest in such grand music when you were younger?
I've always listened to lots of music and since I grew up in a home with my mom and my older brother, he was a teenager when I was born. There was, I would say, a great influx of teenage culture around me. My mom was also interested in music and listened to lots of '60s music. She is very open, very liberal.
There was no wall. There were no walls that shielded me off from grown-up culture. There was punk rock. There was radio. There was hard rock and pop music, there was stoner '60s [music]. It's definitely what I'm channeling through my past into Ghost. It's very much a childhood thing, even though I always tried to have a distance between myself, my persona and me personally, I think it's crazy how much of my childhood is actually [laughs] smeared all over this - it's just sort of reliving my childhood in a way.
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