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Christofer Johnsson (Therion)

Interview with Christofer Johnsson from Therion
by Elina Papadoyianni at 21 May 2006, 4:53 AM

Therion's definitely one of Metal's most peculiar bands, in more ways than a simple mind could probably conceive. The mesmerizing and mystique aura surrounding this band's existence owes it all to one man who's always been the heart and mind of Therion and knows the secrets of his Sphinx better than anyone else, Christofer Johnsson. At the dawn of a spectacular 4DVDs+2CDs Therion release, titled Celebrators Of Becoming (Nuclear Blast Records), Elina was assigned with the task of asking Christofer a few mind-untangling questions over the phone…

Hello Christopher! How are you?

I’m very well, thank you.

Let’s start with a few words about the new CD/DVD…Or should I say DVD/CD! It’s very rare to see such a large amount of live footage and audio material in general in one release only…  

Well, actually, from the beginning it was supposed to be just one DVD, the idea first was to take place in the year 2001 but then it got delayed and we covered some more material and it ended up as a double. Then we got our live album and everything got delayed again and after that we had material for a triple and this triple DVD was even more delayed and we thought ok, now it is so delayed, it has been so many years, we really need to make something, hopefully special and therefore we started to record the two next records and we did the world tour as well and we did some filming meanwhile and all the film came out as a complete concept.

So we ended up with four DVDs and we thought that the audio from the shows we were filming sounded really good and we wanted to put that in two CDs and have them in a bonus package. Additionally, we wanted to give the fans a good value for money. I don’t know what the price is going to be in Greece but in Germany it’s something like 39 euros and this price is for the luxury edition, ‘cause there is a cheaper version also, I don’t know how much but my guess is around 34-35 euros.

March was all about festivals and live shows. How did it go?

Yes, well it was a bit different… After the festivals that took place in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, we were then more like special events with the drummer singing and we had Sarah Jezebel Deva (Cradle Of Filth, Mortiis), who used to sing for us in the past, as a special guest doing the soprano for the three shows and then we did the final show promoting Lemuria (2004, Nuclear Blast Records) and Sirius B (2004, Nuclear Blast Records) at England’s festival and this was the last show I ever did vocals…

I’m aware of that and I believe that now is a good time to quote the words of Yiannis, our webmaster, a great personality and a fan of Therion, but rather going mental as you will realize…: Promise him Richard Wagner’s bones, sprinkled with gold along with the first vinyl release of ’Der Ring des Nibelungen’ played entirely on spoons if he sings again, next time they visit Greece. Would this help to change your mind in any freaking way…?

Yeah, that’s a good deal!

That’s a good deal? (Laughs) Ok!

Yes, anyone that would desecrate Richard Wagner’s grave should be shot!

(Laughs) So, the proposition is actually tempting…?

Yes, well, I know there are some people that are going to miss it; in some countries they will miss it more, in some countries they will miss it less, but the thing is we have 13 albums, we are working on our 13th album now, and we cannot really play songs from every record anymore, it just doesn’t work. Then we will become like one of these bands that you know exactly what songs they are going to play on every tour, you know?

Yes, I also read the reasons posted on your official website as well as why you are stepping off the Demonoid project.

It was more honest to do that. First of all, it has always been Kristian’s \[Niemann - guitar] and Johan’s \[Niemann - bass] project, I mean I helped them with their project and they have bigger ambitions than I do. They want to play live, they want to tour and I never wanted to do that. Another thing is time; I mean I never thought it wasn’t ok to do another review.asp?id=535 album, it was fun doing it, but the thing is that Therion is taking more and more time and if I have a couple of months free then I’m like yes! I have a few months free, wonderful, I can do something else, you know.

Johan is much younger and Kristian is actually one year older, but they are much younger both of them in experience. I’ve done over twenty albums with different bands and projects and so on and for them it is like they are still very hungry to do new projects and stuff so, if they have a couple of months free then they are like yes! now we have some time free, lets do, Demonoid or do some project, so we have a different perspective. It’s a pity if I’m holding them back with Demonoid because it’s their project, they wanted to do something for a long time and tried to put it together but it never worked, so then I told them hey, fix the songs and I’m going to write lyrics for them and I will record vocals for it and I’ll make sure we will get the record deal.

So it happened, because for years they were trying to put something good together. I mean, they are very good in writing music but it’s like a lot of musicians, they are very talented people when it comes to playing an instrument or creating songs, but they are hopeless when it comes to organizing something in order to make it happen. Well, maybe not hopeless, they are somewhere in between, but you know some musicians I’ve been working with cannot even fix a rehearsal room, they are completely hopeless! In this case, they are very good in those type of things but they don’t really have any contacts with record labels and also money, because we wanted to record the album first and then have it released instead of signing with somebody first, so I financed the album from my private money and it was very easy for me to make it happen. I may have written a few guitar riffs, but basically everything was written by them.

Do you believe that you have found a permanent vocalist? I mean, after Mats Levin’s fantastic debut with the band?

No, we don’t have any permanent vocalist. We had a lot of fun working together on the last tour and it was great on the last record as well, so we decided that it’s a good idea to make another record together and make another world tour, but we’ll see after that. I mean, it depends on what he thinks, if he wants to do something else or if we want to try somebody else. Therion has always been a project with a few permanent members and with a lot of different people circulating around it and one of the unique things with Therion is that we do not have a singer! I mean, who is the singer of Iron Maiden? Bruce Dickinson, who is the singer of Therion?, silence… There is no singer; there are a lot of different singers.

I also think that one of the unique things of Therion is that nobody finds strange the fact that we have different people performing on the record and performing live. It’s a little bit like when you write classical music, you write a symphony and then it can be played by a lot of different orchestras. So, we would never lock ourselves by having a permanent singer, it would be very limiting. As long as it is good for the music and as long as it is fun, then we could use the same singer but it would be very limiting to say ok, that is a permanent member that we have to use. But at least one more record and one more world tour, that’s for sure.

I remember reading a question of a fan who asked whether you are going to switch back to the Theli (1996, Nuclear Blast Records) sound again and you answered Therion will never do the same album twice. How easy is that? Not to fall into the loop of recreating the same sound?

I think it is convenient for most bands to do that. They get successful with the sound and they try to stick to that. Therion have been changing from the first album, long before we had success, so we already had a tradition of changing. When we had our big success, it was on our fifth album and if you listen to the five first records, you can see that there are big changes. So, for me it would have been completely wasted years if I had gone for nine years on my own way doing different things and then when I had the success, I’d try to copy it!

For me it’s natural to say ok, I’m very happy I sold records but I’m going to continue to do the music I want. It’s like filling a gap in the record store; there is a record missing there and nobody else is making it, so I’ll have to make it. It’s like Operation Mindcrime by Queensryche. They did one and they can never do it again. Now they did a sequel and tried hard to make it sound similar and although it’s not a bad album and is probably better than most of the stuff they did in a very long time, but it could never create the same feeling again. Therefore, it’s better to go another way.

I couldn’t agree more…

Everybody thinks that they know exactly which was the most successful and best selling Therion album. Theli is special because it was the first time for us to do such an album and it was a big shock to the music world but the best selling album by far is Vovin (1998, Nuclear Blast Records)! Back then it doubled the sales of Theli and it’s still, until today, the best selling Therion record. So, commercially, it’s the Vovin album we should have copied. An album that sold less than a lot of other records is Secret Of The Runes (2001, Nuclear Blast Records)! And if you ask many of the diehard Therion fans which is the best record, then most of them will say Secret of the Runes! And that’s because it appeals to them more, it’s a complicated record.

So, it completely depends on who you’re asking. Also, Therion have a lot of different types of people listening to the band. The people that you notice the most are the Metal people but there are a lot of people who normally do not buy Metal records but actually buy Therion. People that listen to the 70’s prog music and symphonic Rock. This may not be a big group but Therion are popular there as well. Moreover, something that was very surprising at the beginning and now is an everyday situation, is that fans keep telling me oh, my mom and my father loved your records as well! Probably a few of them, when the kids leave home, take a Therion album and listen to it.

Quality music doesn’t concern necessarily just one specific group of people…

And the thing is, if Therion were on a major label and they put a couple of million euros into promoting us, I think that we could sell probably a few million of albums like Vovin, because there’s a quite polished sound production and Vovin ain’t so difficult in terms of songs; it’s easy to get into and catchy. Even though we don’t have a major label, our music finds its way out to these kinds of people.

And it’s rather misleading to see who our Therion fans are just by looking at our live shows or at the forum on our website. I mean, if your father bought a Therion album, do you think that he would post on the Therion forum?

Laughs] That would be among the weirdest things I could ever see!

(Laughs) Probably not then; most fathers don’t do that! Middle-aged people that have a family, do not go to Metal shows and they don’t have time to post on forums. But the good thing is that Therion have a very stable crowd. Ok, our sales go a little bit up and down, but even when they go down, they are still very good. Secret Of The Runes sold over 60,000 copies in Europe and that’s our down level! We are very secure in that and I think that’s the reason why Therion will survive the trends.

Imagine how Heavy Metal was in 1992 - 1993. Many of the big bands were split up, like Accept, or they had shitty singers like Iron Maiden, or a good singer but not allowed to do something like Judas Priest - actually that was in the year 1996 but anyway. So the big Heavy Metal acts were basically gone, but big bands like Manowar and Motorhead that were really huge in the 80’s, in the 90’s nobody was interested anymore. Trends will always come and go and in a few years from now it’s gonna be exactly the same thing with Gothic Metal or Symphonic Metal. People are going to be sick of hearing it. There will be very few bands that will actually survive and Therion is going to be one of them because we have a fan base which is not the trendy youth.

Which of the recent, upcoming bands do you consider as the most promising ones?

I don’t really hear many new bands. I sometimes get the German Metal Hammer magazine and the Swedish Swede n’ Rock, and they have these compilation CDs… That’s all I hear and of course I get CDs from Nuclear Blast Records as well. Besides that, I don’t really hear any new music. I follow old bands that I still like; I’m pretty much stuck in the past. I like 80’s and 70’s Hard Rock bands, progressive and symphonic Rock from the 70’s, as well as classical music and opera. There were a few bands that survived into the 90’s and the new millennium that I enjoy and Voivod is one of them, although I guess that they won’t be around for much long now that the guitar player is dead. Generally, old Heavy Metal bands that still manage to make records like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, I still buy that.

Do you have any plans about coming to Greece in the near future?

We are not going to have any shows at all for the rest of the year. We are going to finish the record, have it released and go on tour in 2007. In every place where we are popular and people want to arrange a concert, we will go, so I guess that means Greece as well.

Great! Final question: if there was a proposition about creating a split CD, which band would you choose as the second one?

Normally I would never do a split CD but I would have to say that I’d like that with Ulrich Roth, the old Scorpions guitar player.

That’s all then, unless there is anything last you’d like to add?

We’ll try to finish the recordings of the new album before the summer and then we are going to take a vacation during the summer and after that we will start with the mixing in September. But this is just an idea, we have no plans. Hopefully, if this plan works out, we will have the new record out before Christmas.

Thank you very much for your time!

My pleasure!


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