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Interviews Therion

Interview with Christofer Johnsson (Guitar)

Interview conducted by Barbara Williams (Crowley)

Date online: February 22, 2003

From the research I have done, you presently have Christofer, Kristian, and Johan in your band. Is this your current line-up or will you be looking for a drummer?

Sami (our old drummer) got us a replacement as he decided to leave, so we never had to be without a drummer. The new guy is called Richard and heís totally killer! Can't wait to record the next album with him!

You started out as Blitzkrieg. Why the name-change to Therion? (I like it; just curious)

We changed our music style from being old Metallica- (first two albums), Motorhead- and Venom- sounding to death metal. It felt natural to change the name, especially as I also changed instrument from bass to guitar. It was also very much due to that we found out that there already was a band with that name who had a record out.

You got signed on fairly quickly after your demo came out; what do you think is it about your sound that did that for you?

Well, not really. We made actually two demos back in 1989 and then there was a local record store that pressed our third demo (recorded late '98) on vinyl the year after. Then we got offered our first proper deal, which resulted in the debut album released 1991. I think we were a rather original band back then. From todayís perspective, the music might sound like standard death metal, being used to the progressive metal bands re-leasing records in the following decade. But back then we were regarded as new thinking in a metal scene where most bands tried to copy each other or the established bands like Morbid Angel and Carcass.

How do you write your music? Is there a set guideline or do you write what you feel as you go along?

It's a completely spontaneous thing. I just hear music in my head and record it before I forget it. Then, of course, I spend much time in rearranging it afterwards. I always work with digital recordings (on my Macintosh). It makes it easy to re-arrange things quickly and allows rather good quality on a home recording system. Especially on tour is it perfect to be able to record on my PowerBook. Nowadays you can not only have samplers, synthesizers and drum machines as software; there are even (for demos) usable virtual guitar amplifiers. "All in one"! In the end nothing compares to analogue and the real stuff, but for simple demos it is good, and that has enabled me to be very flexible with song-writing. When I'm on vacation in the mountains or on tour, I can still record an idea I get on my PowerBook (Macintosh Lap top) instead of having tons of stuff with me (or letting the idea escape, unrecorded.)

How do you get the inspiration for writing your lyrics?

I don't write any of the lyrics anymore. But in the past, when I wrote them, I got inspiration from reading books or through personal experiences.

The music scene really changed between the 70's, 80's and 90's. What would you say has been your strongest influence?

It was the 80's that got us started, and the 80's heavy metal still means a lot to us. But for the more symphonic turn that Therion took in the middle of the 90's, I'd say it was bands of the 70's that influenced us the strongest. That decade was more open-minded and less commercialized, so more bands with weird and new ideas would get signed and get known by the masses.

Any plans to go on tour? If so, when and where?

We won't tour before we have a new album out again. Around this time next year, I suppose we'll be on the road again. It's a shame we never toured the US so far, but it was and still is a monetary issue. We're not greedy, but we are beyond those times when we play and lose money just for the promotion. As soon as we get offers that enable us to tour the US and Canada and at least break even, we will be there for you. If that won't work, you guys in the South of Texas can always go and see us in northern Mexico. We will play there for sure.

How do you compare the Death and Black metal scene here in the States and in Europe?

To be totally honest, I'm not really into that kind of stuff, so I wouldn't have much of a clue. If I ever listen to Black metal, it is something damn old like the Bathory albums from the 80's. The same goes for death metal; the few times it's in my CD player these days, it is always something like Celtic Frost, Autopsy or something else from the late 80's or early 90's.

Have you gotten any gifts from fans? Which would you say would be the coolest or weirdest?

It has happened a few times. The coolest stuff I've had have been extraordinarily old and fine bottles of wine and Cognac from France. Some fans there heard that I'm a big fan of it. In Bolivia (South America) I once received a silver plate with a Therion garniture on it; that one was also awesome (hangs on my wall). The weirdest would definitely be the handmade clay ash tray that a punk guy gave me in Mexico 1993. He used his own head as a model and the name of his punk band "Pig piss" (in Spanish) was written on it. Still have it... =)

Who designs your CD artwork and who has the final word on what actually goes on the album cover?

It's usually me and the graphic artist who make the decisions, but our manager also has good taste, and in some cases he has also had a small influence on it. We always tried to find new and young designers, as they are full of ideas and are hungry to prove themselves. I try to give them a few guidelines and then let them have free hands as much as possible until the final decisions have been made. The last time we worked with a German guy called Thomas and I was so amazed by the work he did on Secret of the Runes that I'm not even considering to look for anyone else other for the next album.

You are using some pretty good equipment (Gibson Les Paul, etc). How do you pick your instruments? Do you have endorsements?

We get very good deals through Germany, but except for Sami, no one ever had a real endorsement. That's because Gibson is very hard to get that way. They don't care to endorse bands in the independent scene (at least not in Europe). A problem is that we're also not totally big in one country. We sell very well in many countries and, all in all, we have very satisfying sales. The problem is that if you go to someone and ask to be endorsed, they only check what you sell in the country you're asking. And as we don't do that well in Sweden, which is the natural country for a Swedish band to get endorsed in, we can totally forget about it. I assume we could get endorsement from brands like Ibanez and such, but personally I rather pay for a Gibson than play Ibanez for free.

Which element do you think makes Therion's music different from the rest of the bands?

We're up to this date the only band that has repelled the concept of having a lead singer in the band with choir and various opera soloists. There are plenty of bands that have jumped on the band wagon now with getting symphonic and classic, but so far they are all metal bands with classic influences--no real fusion between those two elements, like Therion who is a fusion between metal, opera and progressive 70's rock.

Will you have another CD coming out soon??? (I hope)

We have written over fifty new songs, so there is enough material already. But we're not in a hurry, so we'll start making pre-production some time next year (That's 2003-Ed.), and I expect a finished recording at least before the next summer.

Could you tell us a little about the lyrical concept for a new album? That's not decided yet. We have a few ideas, but that's something we will start dealing with when we do the pre-production.

You have done a lot of shows over the years. How do you feel about playing live? Are there any particular memories from the touring you would like to mention?

Playing live is the opportunity to meet the people who already know us through what we have released on CD. The emotions we put on this round piece of plastic is something very personal and the fact that so many people share our musical visions is wonderful and that makes it so special to play live. Itís an event with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people sharing this vision having a big party with the music in focus! When we make a CD we do it for us; it's something we do to please ourselves. The fact that many people also like it is extremely nice, but the essence is that we do whatever we like ourselves without paying attention to what reactions we may get. In other words, we make the CD we'd like to buy ourselves. But when we play live, we do it half because it pleases our selves and half to please others. This is why we play the songs that people want to hear live instead of playing only the ones we prefer our selves. The concert is where the bands and the fans meet on almost equal basis. I mean, if the audience is sleepy and few in numbers, there won't be a good show, no matter how good the bands play. A record can be good even if no one buys it and most people who hear it dislike it, but a show with almost no people or a displeased audience, will likely never turn out to be something positively memorable. Playing South America last year was totally unforgettable. It was totally hysteric and in countries like Columbia, we had military protection at the shows.

What albums or bands do you believe have had the greatest impact on the history of metal?

I know it's a cliché to say it, but Black Sabbath is for sure the band that started the whole thing and, without doubt, the heavy guitar based music of today would have sounded different without them. As for the pure heavy metal, I'd say Judas Priest were the creators of it. On their Sin After Sin(1976) album they already had songs that were real heavy metal. It had a 70's production, but when hearing it on Unleashed in the East ("Sinner" for example) or imagining songs like "Call for the Priest" being re-recorded in the 80's, one has to realize that what they did back then was often the same type of heavy metal as they were known for in the 80's--not to mention, a song like "Exciter" from 1977! As for the development of the 90's gothic and symphonic wave of bands, I'd say Celtic Frost's Into the Pandemonium had a key role. Neither Therion nor Paradise Lost (two of the pioneers) would have sounded they way we did without Celtic Frost.

What, in your opinion, separates a good death or black metal band from a bad one? How would you classify your music?

A good metal band (no matter what category of metal) is a band that knows how to forge their influences of earlier bands into something new and develop a sound of their own. We all have our influences, but only a certain percentage of the bands know how to create their own identity.

How do you see yourself as a role model (or idol) to many young people who listen to and who get into your music?

I never really thought much of that. I just make the albums I'd like to hear myself, and am happy that so many younger people share my taste and like the records of Therion.

Now that you have become a success in the musical world, your hard work is certainly paying off. Have your friends and family always been supportive of your ambitions?

Friends have always been very supportive. The family was in the very beginning also supportive as they thought of it as a good hobby. But when they realized I was dead serious and sacrificed the possibilities of good jobs and higher education in order to make music, they were less happy about it. My parents also never understood the death metal music we played in the beginning. But later, when we started to get some success and do some touring abroad, they were very supportive and realized I had made the right choice. And when we released Lepaca Kliffoth, they even started to appreciate the music we do. Today, I'd say, they are really big supporters and appreciate the music a lot.

Anything else you would like to add that I may not have known to ask?

Stay metal and kick your local concert promotersí asses to get us over there to play!

Other information about Therion on this site
Review: Secret of the Runes
Review: Secret of the Runes
Review: Lemuria
Review: Sirius B
Review: Beyond Sanctorum
Review: Celebrators of Becoming
Review: Gothic Kabbalah
Review: Leviathan
Review: Theli
Review: Vovin
Review: Deggial
Review: Leviathan II
Review: Leviathan III

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