Ghost’s Tobias Forge talked to UG about his life with Ghost and much more (read here the full interview). Read here some excerts:
You actually started out as a guitar player. Is that really what you wanted to be?
My self-image as a guitar player of Ghost was pretty much intact until May or June 2010. My intention for the first four years writing the songs and even beginning to record the first album was to be just the guitar player and write backing vocals.
We couldn’t find a singer. Towards the end of August when the record [debut album ‘Opus Eponymous’] was due to be mixed, that’s when I sort of accepted, “Well, OK, my vocals on the records will stay.” It was also encouraged by Rise Above, the label at the time who said, “Well, we signed you largely because of the sound and a large part of that sound were your vocals.” I said, “Yeah, I guess so but that’s now how I pictured it.”
So you really didn’t have a choice but to become the singer for Ghost?
After the record was recorded, that’s when I asked the engineer [Simon Söderberg] in the studio where we tracked most of the record if he could play my guitar. That’s when I stepped back as a live guitarist.
Still, you play keyboards, write, sing and do everything else in Ghost.
I definitely see myself more as a guitar player. I would feel more sure of myself filling in as a guitar player in band rather being asked to sing with another band. I’m not a singer who can just jump into bands. I’m no Ronnie James Dio.
You never saw yourself playing guitar and singing?
I have been in all my previous bands [Repugnant, Crash Diet, et al] but that was also because no one could sing it the way I wanted to. In my first death-metal band or the first one that really got anywhere, I was very old-school in my thinking.
In what way?
I wrote songs that sounded like a mixture between Slayer, Death, Possessed and Morbid Angel. I wanted the singer of my band to sound like a mixture between Chuck Schuldiner, Jeff Becerra, and David Vincent. Since the singer we had who was also the bass player didn’t sing like that at all but sounded like Chris Barnes I was like, “Give me that. I need to sing.”
You had a really clear picture in your head of what you wanted the band to sound like?
I wanted it to have a certain rrrgghh [mimics growl] way of singing that people gave up in 1987. So it’s more like default but I wanted to be the guitar player. That’s my dream. I just wanna play guitar [laughs] and sing backup vocals. I wanna be like John Frusciante and sing backgrounds and harmonies and play guitar.
You play guitars on the albums obviously?
Yeah. I tell the other guitar player that he can play the guitar if he wants to just as long as he plays exactly what I did on the demo. So technically on a few records, there are guitar tracks not necessarily done by myself but everything that is being played has been played by myself at some point.
All the guitars on ‘Opus Eponymous,’ all the guitars on ‘Prequelle,’ all solos on Infestissumam and a lot of the guitars and solos on ‘Meliora’ [were played by another guitar player] but there’s not one track that hasn’t been made by me.
Which goes all the way back to “Stand By Him” where you said it was “Probably the most heavy-metal riff that has ever existed.” Did you know you had something when you wrote this?
Oh, absolutely. “Stand By Him” was the key that opened up the entire plan, that rampage that became Ghost because it was such a weirdly-written song. That riff I was talking about was definitely not the heaviest riff in the world. What I was joking about at the time was that it had such a quintessential, grassroots, “This is how you write an evil, basic rock riff.”
Which is what fans probably thought you meant.
The combination of something that was sort of adolescent combined with that chorus, which had more of a mature AOR sound was something that deeply struck a chord in me. I’ve always been very, very fond of for lack of a better word anthem rock in pop music but also a lot of gnarly, underground horror-esque metal.
“Stand By Him” had all those things in there for you?
Knowing that, “Wow, you can combine those things in quite a nice way.” What I felt was also, I knew a few image bands that people reading this possibly might know of. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus either but the lesser known horror bands back then possessed a really cool image but didn’t necessarily sound very cool.
That makes sense.
I collect records and I have a lot of weird prog records and horror and quote-unquote ‘satanic’ records. When you look at the sleeve it’s like, “Wow, this must be great” and when you listen to it it’s like, “This is f*cking crap.” There’s no musical journey whatsoever but just people standing in the rain and chanting and it’s not enticing.
So you wanted Ghost to bring together the perfect image with the perfect music?
Yeah, basically. I thought, “What would a record like that sound like if it was how I wanted it to sound?” It would be like a record from 1976 and they would all be super musical and everything would be hi-fi as well. A lot of that sludge and doom we were originally associated with and I think so many bands and especially nowadays completely just embrace the lo-fi of the ‘70s. They disregard the hi-fi qualities of it.
You’re talking about that kind of washy sound a lot of current metal records have?
Just generally staying in one register. When they say they’re influenced by Black Sabbath it’s usually just by certain songs. Just the heavy stuff and never the orchestral stuff and never the ballads. I had very high hopes for it to be something different.
Can you talk about any bands in particular?
To give you a clearer example. I love both bands but I wish Demon, the UK band, when they were at their best around the record ‘Night of the Demon,’ had the image of Death SS, the Italian horror rock band or the other way around. I really wish Death SS when they looked the coolest sounded like Demon because that would have been a f*cking slam dunk but neither of them did.
You didn’t want people looking at Ghost and then hearing them think that way?
That’s what I wanted Ghost to be – a band that sounded and looked really cool.