How important is anonymity to you? Or is it more about creating theater or spectacle?
“Originally, the idea of being anonymous was a great idea on paper. And then I think that sort of gradually disappeared as we started touring and as we were getting bigger.
“I never really felt anonymous. I wasn’t even anonymous before Ghost even though in a petite band and my following wasn’t big.
“I would get recognized at some point by people I don’t know, so I like being able to step in and out of recognition even know when I’m not necessarily hiding my face 100% of the time.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot that I can do to expose myself in a way that would ever match the amount of exposure that I’ve gotten in character.”
For me, and perhaps many fans, it’s impossible to separate Tobias from Papa or Cardinal, and the idea or concept and image of Ghost. It made me wonder about why that element of theater is so important to you.
“The idea is the same, the inclination to transform from whoever you are that feels maybe not as exciting to something that is exciting. I’ve always had that; I never really felt comfortable being in a just a t-shirt band.
“From an art point of view, the experience that I want to convey is based on some sort of over-the-top supernatural, it’s of that nature.”
It seems that there are parallels emerging between the two of you [Tobias and Alice Cooper]. Do you feel like you’re becoming an Alice Cooper-like character?
“I do, absolutely, but essentially I think that the idea of being a Vincent Furnier [Alice’s birth name] and at one point in transforming into Alice Cooper and along the way having that grey sown in between sort of diluted is something that I’ve definitely experienced.
“You need to choose at some point whether or not you’re here working, getting people happy, or if you’re doing it just for yourself.”
I guess that’s the key, right? We talked about in the film, if the character starts to take over there can be risks I suppose?
“Absolutely. I think that even people that I know, who are closer in the resemblance between what they look like offstage and what they look onstage, even they are experiencing more of a problem being out because people expect them to be closer to their onstage persona.”
It also got me thinking about another band that we’ve spent some time with, which is Iron Maiden. Maiden have long said that Eddie for them was the perfect vessel. They could put all of that stuff they didn’t have themselves in this character Eddie so they didn’t have to be it. I guess there must be an element of that for you as well?
“Absolutely. Many times I’ve referenced different Papas as our Eddie, but he [Papa] just happened to be singing as well. The idea of interviewing the Cardinal or Papa Emeritus has been off the table because you’d never interview Han Solo, right? You get an interview with Harrison Ford.
“Papa Emeritus or Cardinal Copia is our Eddie. You don’t interview Eddie, you interview Steve Harris.”
I’d like to shift gears and talk about another figure that looms large in your music and your imagery, and that’s Satan. I’ve read about your upbringing and your experiences with family and religion growing up and I was wondering, what is Satan to you?
“I think it’s important to differentiate between the biblical Satan and the pop-cultural Satan.
“Even though I am very very fascinated with religion, in many ways I’m sort of staying in the pop-cultural world when it comes to referencing the devil, and especially when I’m talking about my relationship with him, because he appeared in my life through rock music, through films.
“I’ve been dressing myself with pentagrams and upside-down crosses ever since I was 11 years old and was looking horror films and listening to music about Satan’s way before that.
“That’s the difference between musicians born in the ’40s that added the devil as the hip thing in 1968, 1969 to their musical movement. Me and a lot of my friends who grew up in black metal bands, that’s part of our blood basically.”
A band that is also in this lineage of the Satanic panic is, of course, Black Sabbath. I wanted to talk to you about the influences you’ve taken from Sabbath because you’ve taken them from the much less trodden part of the catalog. It’s almost heresy in the metal community to say, ‘It’s not about the first three albums.’ Why do you love their records?
“I love the fact that they’re extremely good, well-crafted records. I think that they are brave and they explored the studio and the techniques, they explored music in a way that I don’t think that they did on the first three records.
“That does not make their first three records in any way bad – I love ‘Master of Reality,’ ‘Paranoid,’ and ‘Black Sabbath.’ I fell in love with ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ at the same time when I started playing guitar.
“I was about 7-8 years old and at the time, I was very much in awe of the first two Pink Floyd records, and ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ was a sort of a record that fit very well in there.
“For the same reason, I love Queen. Their records start one way and just finish another way, and in between, there’s all sort of stuff – up, down, sideways – it’s great. I think that Sabbath gets a lot of accolades and a lot of superlatives for a lot of things, but I think that one thing that they get less of is the credit for being so brave.”
On the topic of the future of rock…?
“I think that we could be one band for the future, there needs to be several, and it will solve itself.
“Right now, obviously, the mainstream is dominated by hip-hop; it wasn’t 10 years ago, 10 years from now it won’t be, everything comes and goes and there will be a new rock wave.”
Speaking of hip-hop, you had mentioned, you know, where we are right now and that in rock and metal we’re perhaps not doing a good job as we should of supporting the next generation.
“You get new hip-hop acts coming out two-three years ago, and they’re now like the biggest shit on the planet. The curve, the trajectory is closer to what rock was.
“Look at Maiden, they toured a lot – I’m not saying anything, but their journey from playing their first show in America to headlining Madison Square Garden was just a few years.
“‘Powerslave,’ that gigantic tour of America was just three-four years into their career, whereas nowadays, we’re still sort-of being sometimes mentioned as, ‘Wow, you’re a new band?’. It’s, like, eight years ago from the first record.
“I know in the greater scheme of rock ‘n’ roll, eight years is nothing; we’re still total newbies, but eight years is still… Even in the Metallica world, the first record came out in ’83, we’re at the ‘Black Album’ in terms of time. In the past, rock ‘n’ roll was dictated by teenagers and 20-year olds…
“I think that’s an unavoidable thing – I think that we need to realize that the future of rock might be dictated by people who might not be 20 years old at this point.”
Thanks to Ultimate Guitar for transcribing.