We can confidently say that Ghost became one of the most successful, unavoidable (well, it’s safe to say that actually, you can even meet the band on racetracks), and divisive bands in recent years. Catchy and dark tunes, breathtaking stage designs, and show elements… Ghost is now on tour, promoting the new album, “Impera” – before the Madrid show, we had the opportunity to talk with the man behind Ghost, Tobias Forge.
-How are you? How’s your day and tour going so far?
-It goes really well! We are in Madrid today, and yeah… I mean, since January we only canceled one show, which I’m really happy about so… In these days, when things are very rocky (smiles), to put that way, I’m very happy about every show that happened, and just one show has been canceled out of fifty – I think that’s really good! And you know, we are almost at the end of the first half of the tour, so I feel good, it’s working, that’s great.
-How did you survive the “enforced break” caused by the pandemic?
-For me, it wasn’t all bad, because we’ve already scheduled a year off between March 2020 and March 2021 – I was supposed to make a record during that time. Originally, I was quite stressed.
So, when we ended our tour in March 2020, I was supposed to start working immediately full-time making a record.
And as we saw COVID-19 and everything unfold, we quickly decided that I was just gonna take the pressure off, you know. So, I ended up being home a lot more with my family, and I worked maybe just a few days instead of five days a week. I got a lot of time with my wife and my two children. That was great! I had been on tour for 10 years straight, so I was actually quite happy about that. That was a good feeling. But of course, like everyone else, I felt sorry for all my friends who were suffering, or my parents, my mom who actually sat at home for a year until she could get the vaccine and all. That was hard.
-In 2019 after 10 years you returned to Budapest and gave us a fantastic show – and I’m asking this question in the name of all Hungarian fans: why did we have to wait that long?
-The thing with touring is that you cannot control everything yourself. Everything is depending on opportunities, timing, and all these factors. The simple answer to that would be that the promoter wasn’t asking us to come back.
You know, we are trying to be more frequent, especially in the area where we have been before, like Hungary, where we know that we do have fans,
but in order to make a Hungary show work, ideally, you have to have a full European tour or you have to have shows preferably even further, and that is not always the case. You know, it’s just unfortunate. But we’re trying, I’m really happy that we are actually getting back now as this tour is happening and we managed to get to Budapest because I don’t wanna be as infrequent as we have been.
-I cannot pass the fact that Ghost live shows are breathtaking – do you also take part to design the stage, the show elements, and the costumes?
-I am very-very-very involved with that, yes. If I wasn’t a touring musician myself, I would have wanted to work with stage design, that’s one of my main interests.
-In March Ghost appeared as a sponsor for a NASCAR racer, Bayley Currey. How did the collab actually happen?
-Actually, I’m not a giant motorsport fan. I think it was a “coincidence”, they were reaching out to us and we said, “wow, of course, we wanna do that!” You know, it takes two to tango. You just don’t jump on someone, you need to get the approval first. So they decided that they wanted to do something like that because somehow it also made their profile look cool, or I don’t know. I have no idea why they wanted us. But it was a great thing, looked cool.
-Ghost made a cover for “Enter Sandman” for the Metallica Blacklist compilation. If I know well, James Hetfield himself asked you to make a cover for that classic song.
-The reason why we ended up doing “Enter Sandman” goes back years. In 2018 Metallica got the Polar Music Prize – it’s a Swedish, very honorable, cultural award. So every year a distinguished artist gets that. That year was gonna be Metallica, and we were asked by (I guess) Swedish television or the people behind the award if we wanted to take part in that, and I said yes, of course! I mean I love Metallica, of course, we gonna do that. And they were like “ah okay, great, you should play ‘Enter Sandman'”. I was like “no, can I at least choose myself?” and they were like “no, we want you to open the whole thing up and it needs to be ‘Enter Sandman'”. Alright, wooh.
I just thought about it for a second and I came up with this alternative way of playing the song.
Okay, now I know what to do so of course, of course, we’ll do it. I’ll do it for Metallica. And then, when we’ve done that, we were asked to be part of the Blacklist record and I just figured out the lyrics of “Enter Sandman” – it just sounds a little bit like a lullaby in our version, and I just felt that. We were all also informed that if we gonna partaking this record we need to come up with a charity that we wanna donate the money to.
And I was thinking… I’ve seen a TV program about these transgender camps in America, which were founded by parents, but in order to welcome kids who are afraid of being trans in their normal lives.
So, these camps are the only place where these kids can be themselves. So, I just figured out: well, I really support a cause like that, but I also felt that the lyrics of “Enter Sandman” sounds a little bit like a comforting sort of song for a kid in bed. And then I felt just like “of course, we are gonna do ‘Enter Sandman!'” It feels so natural, and it’s a fucking great song! I think our version is also quite good, so it just felt like a typical no-brainer. We can play it live and every time we play that song live it’s gonna be more money to that. Fantastic! So yeah, it was a great honor to be asked to do it, but it’s also great to do something like that. Just spread some awareness, and support something. You know, I’ve not been great at that before, but hopefully, I can be better at it as we’re going forward.
-The USA could be rocky for European musicians, and Ghost’s satanic theme was also problematic for some groups, especially in the USA. But things are slowly changed in recent years – for example, a few weeks ago Ghost appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! show where you performed “Call Me Little Sunshine”, and the “Impera” album sales are also amazing there.
-Okay, so the thing is that the one country that we’ve been always doing great… has always been America. That was the first country where we started touring and where we’ve been steadily just growing ever since.
Of course, we are not a big, mainstream band, I mean compared to Drake and Kendrick Lamar, but America has always been our sort of main proving ground, where we toured the most. I think it’s actually been more shakey in Europe but like France has always been great, England, Scandinavia… And other places, like Germany, have been harder for us to make things, it’s been slower. Everything changes a little, but… As a growing band sometimes you’re in a weird position, in one country you can sell out like seven-eight-nine thousand seats, and in the country next door, you can do two thousand. Sometimes you know, it’s hard to be balanced that way. It just takes time, it’s just part of it. But America has always been steady, but of course, we’ve become bigger now than we were eight years ago… But I have never seen America as a problem, Europe has been more of a problem then. (laughs)
-You recorded the debut album, “Opus Eponymous” with a session drummer and you played most of the other instruments in addition to vocals. Did the working process change over the years?
-It is changed for each album. The session drummer that I had in the first album yet played on most Ghost records, but not all. It’s a mixed bag, every now and then I change things around and sometimes I like to play everything myself and sometimes I let other people in.
Sometimes it’s also a practical question, because making a record is a lot of work, and if you have to make all that stuff work in six weeks where I have to play bass and sing, and produce, and do all that.
You don’t have time, there’s just not enough time during the day. My fingers can’t play 8 hours a guitar and 3 hours a bass and sing for two hours. No, I just can’t do that… But, on the other hand, when I write a song and make the demos I play almost everything. At some point I have played almost everything you hear, they’ve sort of gone through my hands. So, yeah, it differs, and one day I might make a record again where I’m playing on everything, even on drums – we’ll see. (chuckles)
Special thanks to Live Nation Hungary and Universal Music Hungary
Interview by Péter Tepliczky
Written by Afrodite Szeleczky
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