Masked Balls And Papal Bull: Ghost B.C. Interviewed
, April 29th, 2013 13:08
Toby Cook talks to a Nameless Ghoul from the none-more-entertaining Ghost B.C.
Do you exist? Do any of us really exist? Sure, we think, we have a tangible physical presence, and therefore we ‘are’, right? But what about those things with a less tangible or constantly shifting physical presence? What about those entities with no physical mass whatsoever? Sound; Batman;
Am I going fucking crazy?
And what about secretive Swedish enigma Ghost B.C. – do they exist? Physically, yes, they exist – five men in masked and hooded habits (the Nameless Ghouls) and one decrepit papal figure who looks like a cross between Skeletor and the Pope (Papa Emeritus II). But who’s behind the masks? Do we know; will we ever know and should it even matter? In a world where everything from a person’s address and date of birth, to their holiday pictures to their darkest secrets to their most trivial, insignificant thoughts are willingly published online - don’t we need a bit of mystery, a bit of theatre and cryptic escapism?
First appearing on Fenriz of Darkthrone’s legendary Band Of The Week blog, Ghost emerged from the darkest pits of hell (well, Rise Above Records) to become one of the most admired and talked about bands in rock back in 2010 with the release of the stunning Opus Eponymous. It was a record that masterfully coalesced the Hammer Horror-like theatrics of an Alice Cooper show with the riffs of Blue Öyster Cult and Blue Cheer and the sort of melodies The Beatles would’ve been proud of. And it’s perhaps their staunch commitment to anonymity and mystery that has helped the band achieve the unexpected success they’re currently enjoying – not to mention garnering them gushing praise from the likes of Phil Anselmo and James Hetfield.
Regardless of what sense they may or may not actually exist in, interviews with the band are tricky things; they are conducted in costume and with their voices disguised. Nonetheless after the release of Opus Eponymous’s grand yet gothic follow up, Infestissumam, The Quietus though it high time we caught up with one of the Nameless Ghouls to get some answers. Although, in true Ghost B.C. fashion, the start of our interview is somewhat delayed…
Nameless Ghoul: Sorry to keep you waiting, we have had ritual chores to attend to.
No problem. Y’know, it’s funny you say that; as we speak tonight they have announced a new pope, Pope Francis I think – what are your thoughts on that? I suppose as sons of Satan you’ve been following the story pretty closely?
NG: Yeah, well, obviously we had a candidate in-house here who has not really been himself for the last month or so – basically because he had signed up to do the job with us but upon hearing that there was a vacancy he was having second and probably third thoughts as well. So now it’s sort of over and he has accepted that he needs to commit to what we’re doing, everything is pretty much proceeding as normal again; we’re sort of relieved.
And I suppose Papa Emeritus would really have been perfect – he’s already somewhat of a papal figure – I’m sure you’re happy to have him still in the band but surely he could’ve brought a lot to the Catholic Church that has been missing?
NG: Probably, sometimes it’s actually frightening how similar we are [laughs]! We’re singing about doom, preaching about mean things and overall just being a little bit unpleasant. And yeah, with his authoritative nature and machismo, yeah, he would’ve been perfect! He would have been a very colourful addition to the Vatican, I’m sure.
I’ve no doubt – and they have something of a track record for hiring guys who are pretty decrepit and Papa is basically a corpse!
NG: Ah, well you’re probably thinking about Papa I, he was slightly older and a bit more decrepit, as you say, whereas Papa II is slightly younger and he’s a little bit more, err, limber [laughs].
And I suppose the irony is, without wanting to get too deep, is that that as evil as Ghost are – and Papa I and II are – there are a great many evils perpetrated by the Catholic Church that are even worse.
NG: Well yeah, it is very ironic in many ways. But that’s the thing, many people have this concept of Ghost as being like a complete inversion of the church, whereas what we’ve actually done is just taken the church and painted a moustache on it [laughs]. We’re basically doing the same thing that they have been for aeons; we’re saying the same thing, just without a filter – the basic content is more or less the same.
Just with better guitar work…
NG: Exactly, exactly like that. But that’s the only difference!
As I understand it there was a pretty lengthy gestation period with Ghost, where you created the image and the ethos etc, but certainly to most of the outside world you seemed to appear overnight – how much pressure, if any, did that level of fame effect the band when creating the new record?
NG: Well, writing the new record was actually relatively painless because most of it was written between the release of the first record – although a very little bit was written even before the first record – but mostly it was written between the release of the first record and probably September 2011, because before we went on our first European tour – the big one between November and December 2011 – we had demoed all the tracks for the record, except for one song which was a sort of late addition, before recording the ‘real’ album almost a year later.
So at that point we were still on Rise Above and we had the intention of recording the album as soon as possible, just after the European tour which would probably have been over the shift of the year 2011 to 2012. But because we then did a north American tour, and then upon coming back we were offered a second one, that made us spend almost the first half of the year in the US, touring. And then later management, the old label and ourselves were pretty much in agreement that if we were going to do this maybe it would be wise to seek out a new home for the band – and that took time so the whole recording was sort of postponed and when the time came to actually record, which was in October last year, the material had been with us for almost a year. Obviously we knew about the pressure of creating a record that had to live up to 'x' amount of expectations, but we weren’t staring at a blank piece of paper – we knew what this record was going to be about and we knew that the content was this. But this thing is that also, as with the visual aesthetic of the band and all that, we have a sort of cinematic, theatrical conceptual idea of our releases. So it was easier to look at the release in more of a conceptual way; regardless if we had other ideas in the meantime that could go on album number three we had album number two sort of finalised in terms of knowing which direction we wanted to head in.
You had quite a big promotional push behind the track ‘Secular Haze’, with the dedicated web page releasing individual parts of the song at a time, etc – how upset or disappointed were you at the comparatively lukewarm reception it got?
NG: Not at all really. As far as people are interested in hearing a ‘hit’, we knew that ‘Secular Haze’ is not what you would call a radio track…
Well yeah, I mean, it’s quite a daring idea to write a metal tune in a waltz time.
NG: Yeah, I guess so! But I mean, we weren’t really thinking about that, all we knew was that we were most likely going to be in a position where the only addition we could make to our set for a few months was this song; so we wanted to present a song from the new record that sort of stood on its own but without being too far off from the first record – although neither did we want it to sound too much like a song off the first record. So it wasn’t like we chose the most ritual sounding song from the record that we hoped to be the big radio song, we chose a song that was sort of compelling in the set that we had – we felt that ‘Secular Haze’ was a good song to sort of be presented, without being safe; basically we didn’t want to present something that was ‘safe’, it would have been much safer to present one of the other songs from the new record. Have you heard the record?
Yes, although I only got it this morning – it certainly is one that stands out, especially being in waltz time. But that wasn’t a particular goal when you were writing the track then?
NG: Well, again, both ‘Con Clavi Con Dio’ and ‘Genesis’ from the first record are also waltzes, they’re just speeded up! So it’s not that far off, we just slowed it down this time – we didn’t think of it as something that was completely weird. But then again we are hiding in the comfort of the darkness of our ministerial cave here, so what do we know!
We mentioned it briefly that Papa I has been replaced by Papa II – what’s the story there, was it just time for Papa I to be getting his bus pass?
NG: Yeah, his golden clock – and off he went! But yeah, actually, that was more or less it – we have a succession thing going and his time was up. A new era has begun, so enter a new Pope. And yes, that will happen again.
There are those who seem intent on unmasking you – what do you think of those people, does it aggravate you? And isn’t it missing the point of what the band are trying to do?
NG: No, I mean we are in the lucky position of being a band who try to go somewhere and we have a lot of reactions to most of the things what we do – even if people are deliberately trying to dismantle the band, they invest a lot of time and do it in public. This just adds to the benefit to us in many ways. I mean, in every discussion about the band there are a lot of naysayers who are adamant in expressing their disbelief in the band and that just proves that we mean more to them than they mean to us; it’s just the nature of it. In the sense that people want to unmask the band, we know that it cannot and won’t last – not that the anonymity thing won’t last, but the band won’t last forever. We can never expect anything to be solid and nowadays when the media and the viral world works the way it does, where everybody needs to know everything all the time and first hand, it’s just a matter of time, especially for a band like us – we’re an anonymous band but we’re rising above the radar, or however you might want to put it, we’re succeeding at becoming a bigger band, so we know it’s just a question of time before somebody fucks us up!
Do you ever contemplate, a long way down the road, that if you see that someone has successfully worked out who’s who in the band, unmasking yourselves – like when KISS dropped the makeup? Or even going the other way and coming good on your idea to unmask Paul McCartney as Papa when you play ‘Here Comes The Sun’?
NG: In the sense of putting someone else underneath the mask and the unveiling that person? Yes, we’ve thought of that, obviously, that’s funny, and that’s the nature of what we’re doing. Having said that though I assume it would be a lot more fun if we could remain anonymous. But I think that in the event that somebody made a sort of ‘reliable exposure’ of the band, or exposé, I still think that it doesn’t really matter that much. It would be way worse if we came out by calling you [the media] to say, "hey, you want a scoop?" And then we co-operated on a story, saying, "yeah, ok, it’s us behind the masks." That would be weak. That would be very, very poor. Whereas if it becomes more commonly known who we are under our masks without us revealing it… as long as we don’t change the show I don’t think it’s a huge deal. But if it went from what we’re doing live now to all of a sudden us unmasked and drinking beers on stage and making tits and ass jokes between the songs, that would suck. I can’t see us ever ‘doing a KISS’, no. I simply can't picture Ghost as a band performing without the imagery because that is how we always envisioned the band. That’s the vision and that’s what the songs sort of ‘told us’, if you like. That’s also what spawned the whole idea of the band in the first place. We had a group of songs, and in order to make those songs believable we saw this horror rock show and within that context everything in that box became real. Without that sort of veil over it it’s not real, it’s not magical. So I see no reason for us to do anything in a Ghost context, at least performance wise, in any other context than what we’re doing now – then if people know who the actors or musicians are under the masks then I don’t think it’s that important. I mean, do you know who played Darth Maul? Do you know that person? It’s the same thing. Same with Darth Vader. Darth Vader is one guy in a suit, and the voice is James Earl Jones; he isn’t real, but he is – both you and I know who he is, he exists but he isn’t real.
You’ve produced some pretty unique cover versions – The Beatles’ ‘Here Come The Sun’ and Abba’s ‘I’m A Marionette’ particularly. How do you select the tracks that you are going to cover, and how do you manage it pull it off without it veering in to wackiness, like Alien Ant Farm’s ‘Smooth Criminal’, for example?
NG: That’s a good question. And it’s a hard one to answer because I’m obviously not impartial; I’d like to believe that with both our covers, but especially with ‘Here Comes The Sun’, there’s a nakedness to it and there’s almost a frailty that sort of justifies things that, were they presented in a different way might come across as too humorous or not serious. Obviously a lot of things we do, in general, are very tongue in cheek, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not real, or that it doesn’t have a deeper meaning. And I’m just glad that that shines through in a way that people don’t feel that we’re taking the piss out of these songs – they’re very much a tribute to them, we just happened to have made a sport out of finding, well, they’re two very well known songs, but finding an angle and sort of pastiche that makes them absurd in a way.
The track ‘I’m A Marionette’ almost feels more like a Ghost song than an ABBA song; at the risk of sounding clichéd you’ve really made it your own. I think if people didn’t know ABBA it would be easy to mistake it for one of your own rather than a Swedish pop tune. Did that come into your thinking? What’s the song selection process like?
NG: Now, as we’ve recorded a bunch of songs that are covers – and there are even more songs that will be out in the future – we have sort of found a modus operandi for working with that type of material and a few of the prerequisites we like. I’m not saying these are guidelines to be followed strictly to the letter, but first of all it has to be a great song that allows us to find another way to create, one way or another, an amendment or enhancement – which does not necessarily make it better, but it has to have some sort of its own identity. I mean, hearing another punk band do ‘Sonic Seducer’ in a rocky, distorted way, or ‘Search And Destroy’, it will just sound like another version of that song, so we’re really trying to add another identity to the song as if it were one of ours to begin with. And obviously it has to have a lyrical theme that would somehow fit into what Papa is. I’ll give you an example of a song that nobody has heard us do yet, and you won’t hear us do for a while: do you remember the band Army Of Lovers? Do you remember a song called ‘Crucified’? If not, after we’re done, Google it; we’ve done a cover of that.
It’s interesting that you talk about the commercial aspect of the band because in a pretty short space of time you gained some pretty notable and influential fans – Phil Anselmo and James Hetfield to name two – how weird was it to hear such praise coming from people like that? And I suppose, with the greatest of respect, it probably didn’t hurt your popularity either did it.
NG: Well, the popularity of this band is pretty much based on having advocates like that – the first one being Fenriz of course, who pushed the band from nothing to something; Phil Anselmo has been like a general, keeping all the troops moving and I guess James is probably the King who gave us the keys to the kingdom – and there have been a handful of others too… I feel bad about forgetting a lot of other people, but looking back on our short career so far we’re amazed by how lucky we are that it’s come to this point, because if it wasn’t for these people adopting us and pushing us up the ladder I think it would have been extremely hard to get to the place that we’ve gotten to because, well, frankly, we weren’t on a major label when we released our first album. I’m not saying that being on a major label is the only way to success, but considering how things look today and how over-saturated the market is, it’s close to completely impossible to break through. And there were a lot of stars – no pun intended – that aligned for us to get from wherever we were to wherever we are now and hopefully to catapult us to wherever we’re going – and that makes us humble.
And just how evil are you anyway?
NG: On a scale between three and 16 our evil is probably around 7 – and that’s the worst, that’s when it gets really bad. We’re the baddest, evilest motherfuckers who ever fucked a mother.
Infestissumam is out now on Island