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Christofer Johnsson (Therion)

Interview with Christofer Johnsson from Therion
by Yiannis Mitsakos at 01 May 2004, 10:42 PM

If the Buddhists are right and reincarnation is a fact of life, then Richard Wagner was born again in the form of Christofer Johnsson and proved my theory that if all the major classic composers were alive today, they would be into the metal business.
The new double album Lemuria / Sirius B will be out soon and Chris was kind enough to answer our questions, about the past, present and future of Therion and himself.

Last time we talked, you told me that because each Therion album should be greater than the previous one, you’d naturally reach the point of no return; the point where it wouldn’t be possible and perhaps economically viable to produce a new album. In this double album you managed to gather more than 150 musicians and singers to help you create your vision. Have you reached the top of your standards or should we expect to see an even more massive gathering of artists in your next album?

As we already have the songs ready for the next album, it’s easy for me to say that we will be able to make something even better next time. After that I don’t know. But my experience is that there are always possibilities of developing something beyond what we thought were possible earlier.

The new double album is called Lemuria / Sirius B. A civilization said to exist before and during Atlantis and a star with recorded position from the ancient times but only recently discovered with modern technology. It’s obvious that there is a link between the two albums, perhaps something that has to do with our true origins. So, what is the concept that drives your new work?

There’s actually no link that we thought of, but as you mentioned it now, I actually think that it is not a strange idea at all, if the mythos around Sirius B is genuine history of mankind, then Lemuria should have pretty good chances of being that too as well. And then I guess it’s reasonable to say that there must be a link as the origin of mankind then comes from Lemuria  (land of Mu) and the other ancient civilizations are former colonies of Lemuria.

In other interviews you have mentioned that you don’t write the lyrics anymore. Are you now devoted entirely to what you love the most; music? Who wrote the lyrics? Whose idea was the Lemuria / Sirius B concept?

My good friend Thomas Karlsson is writing the lyrics (as he has also done the last few records). The idea of the album titles and those song themes were mine though.

Many times we see mythologies from different civilizations having many things in common with each other, even between great distances. The new album is also based on ancient legends and history. Should we expect to find any references to the concepts used in your previous albums?

Sometimes there is. Uthark Runa is an example; it is the quintessence of the concept of the last album Secret of the Runes

With every new album, there are certain steps of evolution in your sound and compositions. How big was the step this time?

Quite big. We tried a lot of different new things. New instruments like Balalaikas, Domras, Mandolins, Church organ, 5 string Contrabasses, Alt- and Bass-trombones, real Grand Piano and Harpsichord.  We also used a huge choir instead of an opera choir; more this type of choir that sings masses and requiems, which gave a different character to the recording.

We also worked with a lot of ambience in the recording instead of having the instruments very close in the production. Due to this we chose to record the entire orchestra at once instead of recording string, wood wind and brass sections separately.

Then there are of course also new innovations with the guitars you can hear some stuff at the end of Abraxas and The wondrous world of Punt that sounds like a 70’s keyboard, but this is actually a guitar.

We also experimented with effects on some of the opera soloist and some other choir arrangements. I suppose we’re the only people on the planet so far that have been putting the choir recording through a guitar leslie with tubes from the 70’s.

  Have you got any particular guest singers or musicians from the metal scene that you would like to mention?

Mats Levén is singing on many of the songs. He’s known mostly for singing in Yngwie Malmsteens Facing the animal I guess, but some people might also know him from bands like At Vance, Krux and Abstract Algebra (fucking great band by the way).  He did an awesome job and he will also go with us on tour, which is very cool, normally we have different people singing on the albums and live.

Piotr is also singing some songs; I know a lot of fans have been hoping for that for a long time.

Do you have a drummer that you can finally call a band member?

Yes, he is called Petter Karlsson and is 25 years old. He didn’t play in any famous band earlier. The last one he was in was called Master Massive and they did two self released CD’s. They had some local success here in Stockholm.

From my personal experience, Therion is an absolutely amazing band to see live. I’ve been to a great number of live gigs in my life, and the Therion one is the most awe inspiring I’ve ever been to. So the question for a live DVD comes naturally to my mind. I am sure that you’d rather do that with an entire live orchestra, yet you have proven that just a six member choir and the rest of the band is enough to give someone the chills. So, are there any plans for a DVD in the future and what should we expect to see in it?

There will be a DVD put together when we have finished the touring of these new albums. We hope that it will contain also a show with orchestra, and then it will be a double DVD. I don’t want to give any release date as we have pushed the release forward so many times already. Whenever we’re ready it will be out.

In September you begin the European tour and right now only Turkey is announced as the beginning of it. In what other countries should we expect to see you?

It’s not sure if we will start the European tour in September or if we will go to USA then. Turkey and Greece are shows that are made separate from the rest of the European tour, as it’s too tricky to drive there with the tour bus (we always fly to these shows). As for Greece we have planned to play there the 2nd and 3rd of October (Thessalonica and Athens).

As far as I know you are inspired by Richard Wagner and you will compose classical music when the Therion era will end. I am sure that there is already a stack of your compositions stored in your laptop. Have you ever had the urge to end Therion to get into classical music sooner, or perhaps to release a side project?

I’m composing for my first opera already. I guess it will take some years, as I don’t plan to end my work with Therion in the near future. As long as there are more progressions possible and as long as it is very fun, I will continue Therion. Meanwhile I will continue to write on the opera in my spare time. Might take 10 years to complete it, but I have no rush with that.

Judging from the frequent updates in your site and your Powerbook being always there for you, you and technology are really close friends. Do you think that digital technology will ever advance enough to reach the perfection (or to put it better the perfectly natural imperfection) of a true musical instrument? Were you ever tempted to replace certain instruments with their digital counterparts?

Computers are only tools. They are nothing without the people that handle the tools behind them. And the digital sounds you use for an orchestra with a computer are samples. What is a sample?  It is a digital recording of a real instrument!  So without the real instrument there would be no sample. Completely synthesizer made sounds do not sound at all like a real instrument, so it is never an option for people like me. However, I would not like to use samples even if they would sound almost as good anyway, as the human factor – small little errors and unexpected variations in the playing, make the sound richer and nicer.  

Do you think that the Internet has hurt the music industry? If not who’s really the one to blame for the sales drop? Does this drop stand for the metal genre too?

It has definitely hurt the commercial music industry. Those people who buy Absolute Music compilations and Britney Spears and stuff like that are also the type of people who say I don’t hear any quality difference between mp3’s and CD’s. Metal people are usually more aware of the quality in sounds and music, so only those who really don’t have the money would be satisfied with an mp3 instead of a CD.

CD burning is another thing, this has already started to affect also the metal music market a bit. Especially there is this younger generation of listeners that has grown up with CD burners and here I see a bit of a threat. If they grow up with knowing they can get the same quality of music burned for free, there is a risk of them choosing to put their money on other things than original CD’s and that will of course in the long run be very bad for the metal music market too. You can actually notice a little already today that it is so much harder to establish new bands, people are buying the big bands that they already have some original CD’s from, but they find it ok to have a burned copy of some new band.

The record companies are always eager to promote bands just because they are favored by the MTV viewers even when bad quality results (not in terms of production but aesthetic ones) like Metallica’s S&M happen and next thing you know we’ll be seeing a Limp Bizkit & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra project. How do you feel when you see bands that obviously have nothing to do with classical music being eagerly funded just because symphony & metal is cool, when you have to struggle with every new album to produce a portion of your dreams?

Big commercial bands that jump on any trend available in order to stay hip and sell more records have always been (and will be) around. You just mentioned a sad example. Also smaller bands have jumped on the bandwagon and tried to find a bit of extra success using orchestra lately, but they will return to play normal music again when the trend is gone and there’s nothing left to win from it. When the masses are bored with symphonic sounding bands and want something new, Therion will still be there to deliver true symphonic music for those who really like this and don’t just see it as a cool thing that is trendy at the moment. Just like there were still some heavy metal bands around in the first half of the 90’s when the masses only wanted to hear grunge and the underground metal scene were dedicated to thrash and death metal.

Finally I’d like to know which ones where your favorite metal and non-metal albums for the past year.

Uli Jon Roths Metamorphosis is actually the only release from 2004 that I’ve bought so far. I’m pretty much trapped in the past (the 70’s and the 80’s) when it comes to metal and hard rock bands.

That’s all, thanks for your time and I wish you the best for your new release and my wishes for many years of Therion to come. Hope we’ll see you in Greece soon!

Thanks a lot and see you in October!


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