CHRISTOFER JOHNSSON: There’s not much to say about Christofer Johnsson. His music says it all. A man that loves to transform his ideas, his dreams, his visions into reality. At any cost. He defines himself as a shy person. I met him and I agree on this, but I tell you, when he opens up and is willing to talk, you’re in front of one of the most honest human beings around. He leads a successful band, known worldwide. But, when he answered my questions, he sounded everything but a star. So real. So human. A true man speaking the truth. Ladies and gentlemen: Christoffer Johnsson with all the answers. He shows you how hard is to get there. How real it is. And in a very crystal clear form. Making the whole emotion even purer. The answers to my questions are all but obvious ones. It confirms that beyond this band there’s a whole plan, and it simply is whatever Christofer decides to bring to life. I wanted to get in touch with Therion’s mind. I got in touch with a great man. [versione italiana QUI]
Hi Christofer! Thanks so much this chance! I know you’re busy with every detail related to the new album and the tour you just did, so really thank you, this is really kind from you. I just reviewed your last effort, loved it, and I really think, given also your latest announcement, this is the perfect time to ask you some questions.
I reviewed HERE “Les Fleurs Du Mal” and gave it the highest score I ever gave, a flat out 10/10. But I had to understand it to get there. When I found out the album was a cover album about older french songs, I saw the genius in it, the ability to make that stuff sound so modern, so metal,so damn Therion. How came into your mind to choose those songs, how did you choose each single one to make end into the album?
Thanx! (He smiles. Editor’s note)
I was thinking for many years to do a cover album and when we were about to celebrate 25 years, I thought it was a good opportunity to do it. When I made a list of what songs I wanted to do, half of them were old french songs, so from there came the idea to go all the way and make it completely french. It’s more Therion somehow to make something crazy and unexpected.
I simply picked my favourite songs from that era and we did 21 demo versions of them. Then we picked the 15 songs that made most sense for the album out of that and recorded them for real.
It looks like many didn’t really get that these were french songs covers. That is an important point, I believe, as it moves the album from a “regular Therion album with shorter songs” to “an absolutely great opera” (this is what I think at least). Why didn’t you clearly tell people what that was about? Or were you hoping for a smarter audience that can actually understand it?
I wanted spontaneous reactions and give people something to talk about. It’s a part of the promotion of it. The day people stop talking about you and your band, then you’re a dinosaur.
I’ve an opinion: The fact that you took these songs, that are like the furthest thing from heavy metal, “Therionized” them all and made us like them, well, it means that music is a stream of notes,emotions, sounds. It’s the way you propose these elements, the way you play these sounds that creates trends, music genres and audience. I think this is fantastic, and shows you are always on the next level. What can you say about it?
I don’t always think so much about things, I just do what feels right at the moment. Musically speaking.However, with this being an art project, I wanted to show people that songs between music styles are not necessarily as different in it’s foundation as people may think. So I wanted to use old pop songs with high artistic value and turn them into something that our listeners could relate to.
You didn’t provide any press kit to have press reviews about “Les Fleurs Du Mal”. Apparently no magazine received anything but the announcement that showed up on Therion web site (which I translated in a detailed way to make fans get it clear HERE). I had to buy my copy out of Therion store to review it (I would have done that anyway). Why this unusual, anti-marketing, choice?
I wanted the journalists to remember where they came from. Just like famous musicians once where young kids with cheap instrument learning how to play and dreaming of a record deal, also journalists from the biggest mags once where spotty teenagers making a crappy black and white fanzine, dreaming of one day write for Metal Hammer. So I wanted them to discover the album in the same way as the fans. Kind of let’s all just be apart of this together like a big happy family.
I see three big steps in Therion career: The earliest evolutions, “Theli” and “Les Fleurs Du Mal”. What do you think? Also,when you changed direction, and started to walk the “Theli” way… was it a plan going around in your mind already, or was it an evolution process that took you realizing this could actually be done?
I wouldn’t say “Les Fleurs du Mal” is a part in the evolution. It’s a project we are doing and should not be put in the album chronology just like any other album. It has to be looked upon like something completely separate. I think the next big evolution is the upcoming rock opera. We’ll see when we get there if we blow it or not. (He laughs. Editor’s note).
About one year ago you confirmed Lori Lewis a permanent band member. I absolutely agree with that! How did you meet her in the beginning, how did it develop to the permanent status, and how did she took part on the new album creation?
It was John (John Prassas. Editor’s note), the guitarist of Aesma Daeva that recommended her when I was contacting him to get hold of another soprano he had worked with earlier. She did an audition via Mp3 and we got sold on her right away!
I could have offered her official status long ago, but as she lives in the USA it felt she would not be able to take part in the creative process. But after these years it simply felt we could not think of the band without her and my house was ready, so I could have several guests living here for longer periods of creative work preparing and recording.
She was mainly focused on the translation of the parts of the original songs that we wanted to keep. It’s to me a very boring job to listen to the original and the record for example orchestration on the demos. I’m impatient and wants to get going asap with the stuff that should be changed, to experiment with things. But she loves doing that, so we’re a perfect team.
Therion were always built around you. Line up was often made by not permanent members, and changed, anyway, a lot of times. How do you manage to keep Therion on the rails, having to deal with so many people,often new, every time?
I just be my self and offer interesting people to be a part of what I am doing. Sometimes it can be a bumpy ride with all my new crazy ideas, but often I manage to fool people into believing in me and in the end I always tend to get away with almost everything. And what seemed to be almost insane at the time of me telling the idea turns out to be pretty logic some time after.
It’s in the nature of being a session member that nothing last forever and just like you want to change your sound on guitar and other instruments, I need new blood from time to time.
In the perspective of 25 years and the radical changes of the music, I don’t think there has been that many permanent members changed. Only two guys were fired, the rest left when they felt out of sync with what the band were doing.
How did you manage making all singers sing in French? I mean, none of the lead singers is french… and that isn’t like saying “hey, sing in english”, which is a pretty common thing in rock ‘n’ roll.
Lori and Mari Paul (Singer on “Mon Amour, Mon Ami”. Editor’s note) has studied french. Johanna Najla (Singer on “Initials B.B.”. Editor’s note) is arabic, but lives in France. For Thomas we had a speech pedagogue listening to every word he sang and correcting him. That was a total nightmare for all of us and was a really slow process. With Snowy I had pre-recorded spoken words that he tried to copy. We put the program on loop recording and took a few hundred takes and then I had to cut them all together into single takes, listening word by word what worked or not.
Snowy Shaw: being him a very talented singer and an absolutely great front man, now that he is no more on board, how did you replace his charismatic presence, especially on stage?
I think “replace” is the wrong word. Both Snowy and our previous female singer Kat have very strong characters and they are unique. Like King Diamond or something like that. You could never replace him with another singer in Merciful Fate for example. So we rather do something different than trying to stay on a similar track and replace characters with new ones doing the same type of role.
Nuclear Blast didn’t trust that “Les Fleur Du Mal” could be successful. How are sales going so far?
They are going really well! Financially it was really stupid of NB to reject the album. I’m selling on a similar level like Sitra Ahra, even though I am just having a one man company with next to no promotion (by traditional means). It’s selling purely out of the word of mouth among people.
You declared that a CD sold directly by the band is worth, for the band itself, like 10 CDs sold at the store down town. I strongly believe that often labels are evil, because they make a lot of money on artist’s art (and your statement clearly confirms that bands are getting one tenth or about of the deal). Now that you’re free, and on your own, how do you see the future of music business, music industry and art?
People sometimes forget that there are also distributors and stores as well, not only labels. So together with the musicians and song writers, there are 5 different partners that needs a share of the pie. And then the sales tax (VAT) as well into the store price, so you could say the state is a sixth “partner” wanting his share.
I see nothing wrong by principle in this, it’s just that the artists are getting less paid than the other parts. Every other partner in this chain is making more money of an album than you as an artist do. That’s a bit of an odd thing. You make the music and the recording that makes a CD valuable and not just a piece of plastic and you are the one getting the smallest pay and everyone in between you and the fan wanting the CD makes more.
All sales are moving towards downloads and streams and if you have a good deal, at least the legal downloads is making the deal between label and band more fair and the distributors are actually totally left out. No one really knows how the future will look like, but at least the upcoming 5 years will for sure just continue this direction and the CD is facing a similar fate as vinyl did in the first half of the 90’s. Ironically the vinyl is having a bit of a revival now.
When an album gets released, gets taken to the street… how much of it is still pure art from the artist’s creativity, and how much of it is turned down to business level decisions about what shall be taken to the street, or shall not?
This vary between bands. For Therion it’s all totally genuine. Nuclear Blast have always been super cool with us and let us do pretty much what we wanted to do and there were never any business stepping on the creativity. That is one of the reasons I offered to release this record my self. I didn’t want to break this great tradition now when they were not up to what I wanted to do.
Back to the album. “Les Fleur Du Mal” gives the feeling that it could be performed in a theatre way, with actors, not only played like a band. Will this ever happen?
If it go really well in France, I would have some cool ideas for that. But it would really need to go much more than just well, it would have to do fantastic.
Maybe my former question could have been: “Les Fleur Du Mal” is like the roots of the future complete rock opera, the full music performance, with a full visual performance. Can you tell me more about this project of yours?
We will start working on it next autumn. At this moment we only have the idea, the decision to do it and around 40 min of classical music that I wrote for an attempt of writing a classical opera.
I tell you a story. My mother in law, french background, fluent french speaking listens to those original songs. I emailed her the link to Therion youtube page and that blew her off. She loved it. She would have loved to come to the show! She couldn’t so I bought her another CD (and you signed it, with personal words for her!). She is 73. I am on my fourth decade, and many fans of yours are on their twenties or less. A fans age range wider than 50 years. Surprised?
Aww, that’s so sweet! (He laughs. Editor’s note) I know we have a bunch of older fans, we can see it at many concerts and often fans are telling me “My mom loves your records as well!”, thinking their mom is the only one. There’s been quite a bunch of CD’s dedicated for people’s moms over the years actually and I am both very proud and genuinely happy for that. Music that builds bridges over generations is always very cool.
No albums and no tours for a while, this is what you claimed. How will Therion survive without doing what a band is supposed todo for a living? Everyone except me are doing other things as well. Day time jobs or taking various musical mercenary assignments.
For me it won’t be a problem as “Les Fleurs Du Mal” is selling very well and I now own the record company releasing it. In January I’ll break even and after that there will be profit from the sales. I also just did a tour and we will be doing festivals each summer, so it’s gonna work fine. I also once invested in a house that I am renting to a guy and make some cash each month.
You said you wanted to do those not organized meeting with fans, simply standing at the merchandise booth, signing CDs and stuff. How did it go so far? Didn’t it lead to a mess of screaming fans trying to reach you?
Not in Europe. People are quite disciplined and polite here. It worked out great, except the pressure on the merch was so hard due to selling hundreds of CD’s plus we had a lot of old designs (in total 16 designs from the beginning of the tour), so for the first few shows I was rather working as a second merchandiser than just hanging talking to people as planned. After Paris we had got rid of many of the old designs (we just had a limited number left from earlier touring) and things started to become more regular.
Is there a limit to the next level, you, apparently, always seem to reach before everybody else?
I have no idea what’s on the other side of the hill, it’s just as big surprise to me as anyone else. I just go with my inner flow and see where we land.
Can you close this interview with a message to Italian fans and METALHEAD.IT loyal readers?
Thanx for reading and an extra cheers to those of you showing your support coming to the concert and/or purchasing “Les Fleurs du Mal”.