Interview

THERION (2018 - English Version) - Christofer Johnsson (Guitars, Orchestrations)

It's been a while... almost five years. But they are back. THERION is back with a huge gift: "Beloved Antichrist". A true three hours opera. Rich and complex is this work and Christofer, the mastermind behind it, is kindly Ok to discuss about it. To many questions, so few time. Let's go!

SBM: Hello Christofer! Thank you for your time! It's really been a while!
And first of all congratulation for your chart position.


Christofer: Yeah that was not expected!

You werenít expecting it at all?

Not that we would be charted higher than ever, no. Actually I donít really care about these charts. They just show how much better or worse youíve been in relation to other releases that week.
I care about how the sales look like half a year after the release, but itís an indicator. If you donít go on the charts at all that probably means your sales are not going to be that great. But if you chart higher than you ever did, that shows a bigger interest than usual.

Yeah and itís more impressive because itís not a ďregularĒ album, itís a three and a half hours masterpiece! And apparently it was a long time dream for you, so how did you feel when you wrote or recorded the last note?

Just relievedÖ Because it was so much workÖ Just to give you an example: the guitars. Every time you hear a guitar rhythm, thereís actually eighteen guitars. Itís a trick from the 80s when you pull down the distortion from extreme to nothing and then you can mix different guitars, different amplifiers and create a new sound.
And even if weíre a professional band, that doesnít mean the first take we do is perfect. So to get those eighteen takes you miss a few times so itís maybe fifty to sixty takes for those eighteen. Thatís quite massive, so of course it was an extremely heavy work and once that weíre done with the guitars I had to continue again with the vocals. Thereís fifteen vocalists and you start from scratch, you have to set everything up, telling them the story, making them getting into their role, you need half an hour before they start singing good and again and again with fifteen singers.
And then itís bass, drums and the orchestration, but we never planned it to be this long, it just grew: the story needed more music to be told and suddenly we had four hours. But I realized we could never record four hours, so we recorded three and a half hour but the final release is just three hours and four minutes; we had to cut it down more, thereís a lot of unreleased material.
So well Iím just happy to get out of here alive, Iím so exhausted that I didnít feel happy or anything, just relieved.

You just need a few time to process all this and finally see how people react to the songs.

Weíve had good reactions to the new songs. This is so typical: if you look on comments on the history of internet, since about 2001, it would appear like we never released a successful album. Because people who are unhappy are more likely to express themselves then people who just liked it.
Somebody who like it would not feel the urge to just write ďgreatĒ, but the ones who donít like it have some sort of forced behaviour, they must write ďOh I donít like itĒ (Heís talking with a funny voice).
So when we posted the pre songs on YouTube, 90% of people would click that they liked it, but 50% of the comments would be negative. So itís quite symptomatic, if you would read on internet youíd say ďOh nobody likes it!Ē but then we chart higher than ever soÖ typical from our times.

Those previews of the record you posted on You Tube; did you choose to do it or was it a request from the record company? Because actually I think it doesnít make really sense to give ten minutes of music when the album lasts three hours.

It was the company. They wanted little singles and we didnít have anything against it. But unfortunately we didnít have time to make a video so we just got a few amount of money and they sent it to a guy who did it. We did anÖ iphone action game. We thought ďLetís do it like that, people will talkĒ.

And you chose a very good song, itís a perfect epic ending to the story!

And itís a song that make sense to be taken separately because itís the theme of Antichrist, so itís kind ofÖ not related to the story, itís something that comes afterwards. Itís like when the subtitles go down in a movie or in an opera when all the actors come back on stage, itís more like ďYeah weíre the guys who did the operaĒ.
Itís weird anyway to release the audio version first, because itís not an album, itís like ďJesus Christ SuperstarĒ, you can buy it on CD but nobody would say ďJesus Christ SuperstarĒ is an album. Normally you make the stage play first and so if they like it and say ďOh Iíd like to listen to it at homeĒ they can buy the CD as well. Now weíre releasing the soundtrack first and the movie later (Laugh).
Economically it makes sense because in order to sell the stage production we need to show how the music sounds like and I donít have 100,000 Ä out of my pocket so we need the record company and if they pay for it they need a product they can sell.

That seems fair, itís a good deal. Even though I was intrigued the first time I saw the title of the opera: ďBeloved AntichristĒ because THERION has always written about different mythologies or cultures so why have you chosen Christianity and the text of Vladimir Soloviev to settle you story.

An opera needs to have a good story. If weíd make a weird holocaust opera would your mother go to see it?

Probably not thatís sure!

Exactly. People donít want to see something abstract. If you make a movie, sure. We can make a movie like ďHoly MountainĒ, itís one of my favourite movie, we can make some really obscure subcultural movie where lots of people would say ďWow itís the bestĒ. But if you want to make a movie, it needs to be big, it needs a story that people can understand. And in the same way if you want to make a rock musical it needs to be comprehensible, you canít make a jazz album, you canít be too heavy, it needs to have a lot of variations in the keys, to not be too extreme and you need to have a story otherwise we can make some rock opera the THERION fans would masturbate over in the comments on YouTube but it would never see the stage.
People usually donít understand how much money you need for a production, we could never do it ourselves, weíve needed 100,000 Ä just for the recording. For the stage weíd probably need a million from investors and if one comes with one million euros he or she needs a product he can sell. Nobodyís doing charity just so a couple of fans can be happy on the internet, itís a capitalistic world and things have to be done realistically and my goal was to create a rock musical that can, in theory, be as popular as some of the big ones.
Iím not saying I believe it will but at least itís theoretically possible, itís a little bit longer, itís very demanding. Maybe weíll do another cut-down version, this release is a directorís cut version, maybe weíll shorten it down another half an hour so our mothers can watch it.

Youíve already done a great job musically I have to say, even though Iím still processingÖ And you also did a great job rewriting the story which is dark, heavy, close and without any woman.

Yeah the first thing I noticed is that it would be a very boring opera without female voices. And an opera needs to have love and an intrigue. The story in the book is a good story but itís made by a religious person who really thinks heís telling the real prophecy. So even though we owe our story entirely to Soloviev, itís more of an inspiration, we took his Antichrist, a few characters. But the beginning for instance would be very difficult to make in an opera with also the geopolitical situation they had in 1800, itís not really interesting today.

Yeah itís totally boring in the beginning of the book, with the Pan-Mongolism, wars, I was thinking ďPlease bring me the Antichrist!!Ē (Laugh)

It could maybe if you make a big epic movie with an altered reality or whatever, but for an opera it doesnít make sense and so is the end. You think ďWhat the fuck?Ē. In opera if you die itís like ďIím dying ! Iím dying...Ē. Youíre dying for fifteen minutes and you sing about how youíre dying, you pain, your agony, and people will remember you when youíll go to heaven or hell or whatever. So you need a long epic ending, so his ending was bad for a book and catastrophic for an opera.

Exactly! An earthquake with volcanoes, everybody die!? Come on you canít end like this!

Yeah that was impossible. An also to give Antichrist a wife makes him more human.

And thatís what I love in your version of the story.

And what I really like also in this story is that Antichrist wasnít born Antichrist. He accepts the dark gift, which is a different concept, he is a very peculiar religious man who can speaks right to God and Jesus. So he is the superhuman as said in the book but itís not Antichrist, he had a choice, he could have said ďNo I donít want to be AntichristĒ.
So he accepts it but his humanity is still preserved and at the end of Act 1 he doubts himself a little bit, ďWhat did I really become?Ē. He is in love with his wife and heís not really sure of what he has become or what to do next and then the devil sends Apollonius in the beginning of Act 2, to keep him on track and so on.
And when his wife dies late he really loses his last part of humanity and his mind is completely black.

Yeah but in that way it makes sense. In the book he is mad, megalomaniac, corrupted by his power, he is like that since the beginning. And this is what I loved in your story, his madness comes from sadness and dramatic things like that are perfect for an opera.

Yeah of course. If your wife dies or your child dies, every man would change. But at the death scene, itís like all these things that happen donít matter, he becomes a human again, he was born as a human, he becomes the Antichrist and he dies as a human.
And also Johanna who was a fanatic, so sure about her things starts doubting herself when they lie and die. They die as two humans and I like the ending because you donít really know what happen: did they go to heaven or hell? Thereís no answers. Itís not a happy ending, itís not an unhappy ending or equally unhappy for everybody, no side is winning.
This is not because we want to make a part 2, that would be terrible I hate sequels, theyíre never has good as the first one. Look at ďMatrixĒ: everybody loved the first movie.

And the second one is pretty bad.

Yeah especially the second one but also the third one, nobody had the same felling that after the first one. Itís good only if you have a long story from the beginning like ďThe Lord of The RingsĒ or ďHarry PotterĒ which have a natural continuation. But to just invented for making people happy or earning more money is not good. Better write something else.

I couldnít agree more. The story of Soloviev has a moral which is told in the end: ďAll that glitters is not goldĒ. What moral have you wanted to express?

Thereís no moral, I just wanted entertainment. A Christian, a Satanist, an Atheist can go together and watch this, theyíll have their own thoughts about things and nobody, unless youíre an idiot fanatic will be offended.
Of course you have those Christians fanatic that will be offended by the fact that we changed the story like ďOh this is his prophecy and you make a commercial act out of itĒ. Sure. You can always step somebody on the foot but itís like the Islamists: if itís not exactly how they wanted itís devil work and everybody has to die. So if you exclude the few crackpots that are not possible to discuss with I would say that 99% of the Christians of the world will have no problems with this.

As a moral he raises the question of ďdivine values or material values, which one is most worth?Ē. If you buy the Christian concept then youíll get your reward in heaven. Is that more worth than having a good life on Earth?
Antichrist really created the perfect world in a material sense but he is the son of the Devil. So is it better that your children are eating, donít have any diseases and donít have to worry about war; or is it better to have everything fucked up as it is and have a reward in heaven?
You can ask yourself ďWhatís the point of living this life?Ē. Christians say itís a test but thatís my main problem with Christianity: itís just invented to control people, like most religions.

Keeping people blind. Thatís why I hate religions. Do you have one? Or any beliefs?

No but Iíd probably be a Buddhist if I would had chosen a religion. I believe in personal responsibilities for your actions. And thatís the other problem with Christianity: you could ask for forgiveness, you can be a mass murderer and realize what a terrible person youíve been and you repent, become a good person and you go to heaven. In Buddhism: youíre shit, you create shit, well sorry youíll be reborn as an ant and maybe somebody will step on you because you donít deserve anything. And if youíre a good person you reborn as a human again.
Iím not a Buddhist but at least itís a religion that I find appealing.

I quite agree with you.

I donít like organized religion at all, Iím spiritual but not religious we could say. Christianity and Islam have a problem: the more a religion is affecting how people live in a material life, the less I like it. Islam has a lot a rules about how to live and also Judaism if youíre a very orthodox Jew like everything has to be kosher, you must not mix the milk and the meat, itís superstitious mumbo-jumbo.
If people want to live their lives that way itís their problem, Iím not criticizing them as long as they donít affect the society I live in. Concerning Christianity for example in the medieval times if you wouldnít go to church you would be basically excluded from society, thereís also witch burning obviously. All those three religions have blood on their hands.

Thatís why I hate them.

It just corrupt the mind of mankind with some unproven abstract idea of going to heaven.

Some people are ready to blindly believe in it.

I can understand that in the old times when some people had nothing and they ask themselves ďWhy are we here? Why do I live? Because life is so badĒ; I can understand that it could give some hope, like a sort of test. It probably had a social function before for Christianity and maybe also Islam. But in modern society itís just a waste of everybodyís intellectual capacities.

I like your thinking. Truly! Iíd like to talk more about that but it seems that time flies by. Before we end this interview Iíd like to ask you about the plans for THERION in the future. A new album in a few years?

No not nowÖ I want vacation.

Well it would be well deserved!

And then Iíll try to sell the production even if it may not be THERION performing it. Letís be honest now: if you have an audience which will be 90% not THERION fans, why is it so important that Iím sitting in an orchestra and play chords for three hours? Everybody will look at the actors on stage.

Yeah sure, unless you personally want to do this.

No, the first five minutes it would be ďHey down there the band is playing!Ē and then they would just see what happens on stage, it could be anybody playing guitar. Iíd love to seat in the first row with a glass of red wine and enjoy it.
I would love to co-direct it, not entirely itís too much responsibilities and I donít have any knowledge. But co-direct it so I can somehow make sure they donít complex the story up.

Of course, I meanÖ This is your story now, so you have to keep an eye on it.

Iím very open to different versions, they can perform it with a rock vocalist instead of an opera vocalist, they can absolutely do their own interpretation. The only thing I donít want is that it should not be a political twist or a religious twist. No religious moral, it should be entertainment for everybody and as long as they keep it in this frame they can do all sorts of versions.
It would also sold a problem for me, because I would be responsible for finding sponsors and I donít even know exactly what we would need or how much it would cost. It would take me months of research to make a budget and then to try to make the production.
I would rather go the production company: they have the experience, they have the staff, they know what to do and they just make this to the next production. So they buy the production, in best case I can co-direct, my main thing is that it gets staged, thatís why it was written. If this doesnít get staged it would be my biggest personal failure ever, thatís why I spend all my time on it.

Well I really hope that you could do it. Truly.

Iím sure it will! We have a good story and the music is great.

Thatís for sure!
As I said I sadly have to end. So I leave you the final words if you want to say something to the French fans after being absent such a long time.


Itís always nice to come to France, thereís good food, nice people, warm audience, very enthusiastic. We had an amazing show in Paris two days ago and also yesterday in Pratteln where a big part of the audience comes from France and that was the best two shows of the tour so far.

So I hope Lyon will be one of them tonight!

Lyon is good, we never had a bad show.

Letís not disappoint you then! Thank you very much Christofer and see you on stage tonight!

Thank you very much.
 
Critique : SBM
Vues : 46 fois