Ghost's Ghoul With No Name: "We want to do that whole Halloween thing with a major twist"
Ghost (due tonight at the Marquis Theater) is a metal band from Sweden that might also be considered a bit of a performance art troupe. With one member dressed as the Satanic counterpart to the Pope and the other five as hooded, essentially faceless acolytes, all decked out in reverse Christian symbolism, Ghost is the kind of band where individual ego has been subsumed for something more collective and symbolic.
Live, Ghost plays shows that are conducted with a solemnity that reinforces an unsettling sense that you might actually be in the presence of people who, whether actual believers or otherwise, have done their homework in presenting a strong image and atmosphere as theater, employing the trappings of ritual the way all religious institutions and figures have across recorded history and beyond.
Musically, this band is less death metal or black metal and more like early heavy metal of the '70s, like Blue Oyster Cult or Deep Purple, with a threading of prog running throughout. We recently spoke with the friendly and witty representative of the band, known only as the Ghoul With No Name about the function of anonymity as it relates to image, inverted symbolism and the false outing of frontman Papa Emeritus.
Westword: Was your costumed anonymity as a band coupled with the theatrical influenced at all by what The Residents have done?
The Ghoul With No Name: I personally am a fan of punk so I definitely appreciate a band like The Residents. But I cannot honestly say they are an influence on the band. Partially, somewhere, probably, but I think, from an image point of view, I'd say Kiss is probably a bigger influence in terms of the anonymity and theatrical aspect of the band.
Do you mean in the way that in Kiss, each was a kind of alter-ego or character?
As opposed to Kiss where they have four different characters and they profile themselves, we have started to put all the profile on one character instead. Sort of like our own Eddie or Vic Rattlehead that's actually singing as well. But still he's a cartoonish figure. He's our own Darth Vader. Actually I think a lot of the anonymity and inaccessibility of the band, or the image, is something that comes from some of us being deeply rooted in the metal scene. Whereas the old pre-Internet scene was based upon reading about bands in fanzines. There wasn't a whole of information. Pictures were often Xeroxed. You couldn't really get to bands. I think that played a major role in what we're trying to achieve with Ghost--that sort of inaccessibility, that mystique thing.
A lot of people seem to believe our anonymity thing is something we chose in order to get famous. Whereas that was basically something we wanted to do in order to make the show better. Or more believable, if you will. My favorite example of something like that is the movie Seven, for example. When it was out, most people didn't know who Kevin Spacey was. That made it very believable in the end when he's actually the serial killer. He's the one. Where if he did the same role nowadays, I would probably be laughing. I know who he is. I connect him with K-PAX. So it's sort of the same strategic move like a director choosing unknown actors because that makes the film stronger. We choose not to profile ourselves individually because that sort of soils the pants that is Ghost.
Although it is visually strong, why the use of appropriated, inverted religious imagery?
Honestly, all of us come from a metal background. Whenever you're into that music, it sort of automatically becomes a strong expression. From a personal point of view, I've always been very, very drawn to whatever is obscure and dark. And The Devil being in very typical form with actual horns, it's a very compelling figure. It's very rebellious. It feels sort of blatant just writing it off being very rebellious and being a very strong expression. But what it all comes down to in the end, I think that as much as it's struck the youngest nerve in myself once, I think it's still there. The Devil and the imagery, the whole sort of inverted liturgy, appeals to the young--not in terms of young, being young, with age but the youngest part of you, it tickles that nerve--and I think what we're doing proves that a little bit.
It has a strong impact on people. Whereas a lot of black metal bands are sort of selling Bibles to priests because they demand so much intellectually. And demand so much in terms being part of the scene that most people that go to shows by certain bands are already so into that that it's not really an experience. Where I think that a lot of people that come to our shows are not very much into other Satanic-oriented bands. So the expression becomes very, very strong. Even though we're a musical band, we're a rock band, of course, we wish to have a more cinematic or theatrical impact on the crowd. Anyone who wants to pay a ticket to see The Omen and be lost in a diabolical for one hour or two, we wish people to do basically the same with us.
What is the most challenging aspect of performing on stage in costume?
Not being able to express yourself in the way that you're used to. Especially amongst ourselves. Usually when you're in a band and you play on stage, a lot of communication happens with miming or doing faces. But a lot of that communication is lost when you can't see each other so playing with Ghost is actually somewhat of a lonely experience. Of course depending a little bit on where you play and what size the venue is, especially the stage, it's sort of like when a blind person loses sight, all the other senses tend to expand and they sort of compensate for whatever you're lacking with sight.
I think that made us a stronger band because we needed to start communicating and believe in each other in a way that a lot of bands don't need to. The end result is the same if you're a good band but I think we needed to sort of build up a different way of finding that. And that's challenging.
It's challenging trying to be anonymous because everything gets a bit more complicated going in and out of the venues, going up on stage, especially when we play these smaller places. Stage access isn't always optimal. When you play any place that's sort of more of a bar than a venue as opposed to a real live venue and the bar is someplace else, there's always bar staff going in and out of the corridors where you're getting ready or the dressing rooms. So it's a lot of people in motion everywhere. Which is, of course, not preferable for a band like us.
But, I mean, that's part of the fun. That makes the experience a lot different for us as well. I think that's very important for every band to have fun. It's supposed to be a challenge. But every now and then you wonder, "Why didn't we just form a three-piece punk band."
In an interview with A.V. Club Toronto this year you rightly deflected criticism of what you do as pretentious and gimmicky by acknowledging and embracing both. Beyond not just wanting to be a bunch of fat guys in t-shirts and all that and creating an atmosphere for the audience, why did you want to do a band like this that obviously has so many complications involved with every show?
I'd say that, a lot of us come from metal and hardcore backgrounds and I think all of us have a mutual love for pop and rock music in general. Popular culture, music and movies and all of that. I have personally found that metal stagnated fifteen years ago. I sort of dropped out of the scene and my personal taste in metal is very, very limited. All of my favorite records are from '82...or I'd say in death metal, everything is from '83, '84, '85 until '89. And after that basically everything is downhill and by '95 everything's shit.
Whereas I find that a lot of pop music gives me equal amounts of feelings but it represents something else. So I'm very much in tune with extremely melodic music that expresses something other than hate. Whereas I go wild when I hear Altars of Madness or Seven Churches. And I'm a movie freak and we are all into a lot of horror and that whole imagery is really compelling. I think what we set out to do, the initial idea of this, was trying to combine those two things. The limitless pop music, obviously it's a metal-oriented rock band, but try not limit ourselves to the usual melody structures that most metal bands hold on to. But be more of a Doors band or a Smiths band and create something limitless in a playful manner.
But in order to be very focused, it should be a thoroughly Satanic band with a horror image just to stay on the carpet in terms of that focus. Other than putting all our wishes and fantasies of horror on to it. On the route that we're going now, we're selling out certain types of venues now, which implies that we can hopefully start selling out slightly bigger venues next time and we see how we want to progress show-wise. I'm not saying what we're doing now is the trailer version but it's a very scaled down version of what we're actually supposed to do. Like in the fall or a year from now when we can play bigger places and when we can bring out more production. That's basically a childhood dream, I guess. Do that whole horror show.
Most people that are musicians or wanting to be musicians have a dream of becoming a big band and playing the big stages. It's that combined with horror and we want to do that whole Halloween thing with a major twist.
In what ways would you say humor plays a role in what you do as a band?
From a religious point of view the whole concept of laughter, humor and satire, it's very much a diabolical thing. I'd say that anybody that sort of accuses the band of not being too serious is very wrong because we're doing the exact opposite thing of being a good Christian. But obviously humor plays a big role in what we're doing. I can't justify it more than saying that it comes with the entertainment part. The occasional laughter or the occasional wink are worth a lot because it goes into the whole thing of being entertained.
I don't know if it's a good analogy but what we're trying to do, we want our shows to be solemn. We want them to feel religious. Most people that have ever been to a wedding or a burial, whenever you come into a church, most people tend to go quiet and most people tend not to choose gum. And everybody is a bit insecure of what you can do. When it comes the ritual, people are not sure of what they can do. "Oh can we sit now? Should we stand?" And everybody's anticipating what's going to happen and everybody's a bit shaky. When anything humorous happens, it's a big relief. I think that's basically what we are incorporating as well. It's supposed to be very, very serious. But whenever there's a humorous element in it, that makes the laughter come in, it's a release and it's a tickle. That drastic tickle is a little bit extra.
Were you aware of the Japanese band Ghost when you came up with the name for this project and has there been any conflict on that issue?
Actually, no, I wasn't. And I'll say that we weren't. Which is kind of arrogant, I guess, because of the Internet. But we already decided we were going to call the band Ghost but when we noticed that there are eighteen more bands called Ghost, I knew it was a conflict but in this day and age you can't really call it for your own. As much as we risk them becoming more commercial or big or another band coming along named Ghost, I'd just say we're arrogant. We think we are entitled to that name now.
For Self-Titled you sent a list of five ways to live life the Ghost way. Is there any autobiographical truth to that list?
That's more or less what we are doing. We are really trying to be anonymous and anybody at home that doesn't need to know, doesn't know. Which can become complicated. For example, if you have a girlfriend and she has friends that aren't immediate friends that you meet every day, but just occasionally, you come to that complicated moment when they say, "Okay, what are you doing nowaways?" If you say "musician" the first thing they are going to say is, "What band are you in?" The first thing that anybody in Sweden asks anybody that has an unusual job, especially musicians, artists or actors, "Okay, so how much money do you make?" Because everybody assumes that anybody that works in that is either very, very, very well known and really rich. Or, you're a complete failure and don't make any money. Which means if you say, "I'm a musician" that means "unemployed bum." A no good loser.
So whenever I'm asked something like this by somebody I'm not sure if they know, you always come to that crossroads where you consider whether you are supposed to make yourself look like an ass and just say, "Well, I just quit my job in order to pursue my career as a musician." Which makes you look like a complete dick. Or you can say what you're actually doing or you can say what you're actually doing but then you risk having somebody telling the next one, and the next one and the next one. Or you can say, "Well, I still work at my old place." Those are some of the quirks that come along with being a band like ours.
Do you have any comments on Noisecreep and Encyclopaedia Metallum outing Papa Emeritus' semi-secret identity as Tobias Forge of Repugnant?
Right. Well, it's sort of funny, the fact that link they refer to is actually the person that wrote the music of the album but it isn't proof of him being the singer. Which is sort of funny. Especially nowadays when people are very critical in terms of source but nobody actually mentions that. They were wrong and they're just implying that that's the case. They have no proof that it is that way. And we're not saying anything. We're not denying and we won't really comment on it. We're just saying that most rumors on the Internet are wrong. Some of them are close, some of them are right but we tend to leave them in confusion because it's more fun that way. For us, personally, it's not important. Sort of the point of this band is that it's supposed to leave something to the imagination. Because we're a band that encourages people to think and believe and feel. And if you explain everything from A to Z there's nothing to explore.
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