Q & A with Ghost's Tobias Forge

By Mike Sorensen
Posted: Sep. 24, 2019 3:41 pm Updated: Sep. 25, 2019 3:04 pm

Depending on who you ask, Ghost has been on the hard rock scene since 2006, or for more than half a century, with occult roots stretching back even further. The current frontman, known as Cardinal Copia, is the fourth embodiment of the band to lead the charge at the front of the stage as well as vocally. The band itself has grown, also, with the ranks of the Nameless Ghouls – the masked, black-clad musicians playing and singing behind the Cardinal, has swelled to include new members, including the Ghoulettes, and has occasional appearances by the original band leader, Papa Nihil. No one is quite certain who any of these musicians are, or even if they're the same from show to show, but they put out incredible music and assemble to bring amazing live shows to the stage. 

The answer to the questions surrounding the Swedish rockers may be hard to nail down, but the music they make is easy to find. Just in the past year, Ghost's fourth album, “Prequelle,” landed in the number 3 spot on Billboard, has spawned two number one singles, two Grammy nominations, and a live show that's only gotten bigger. Their online following includes over a million fans following them on Facebook, and over 200 million streams of this latest album.

Following last year's “A Pale Tour Named Death” run, primarily in theatres throughout the US, Ghost joined Metallica in the opening slot for that band's WorldWired European run, playing stadiums all across Europe. After captivating audiences across the pond over the last four months, Ghost is ready to invade the US and Canada once again, this time bringing their entire, full-scale production to arenas in every corner of the continent. 

Last week, the creative force behind the band, Tobias Forge, took a few minutes out of his schedule to talk about the personas on stage, the new tour, and the future of Ghost.

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Mike Sorensen: I know in the past, you've talked about your influences, and anybody can see influences like KISS and Alice Cooper if they just look at the band. But with Ghost, you've taken the mythology side, and taken it to an entirely different level than any of those bands have that I've seen. Was that something that you've done consciously, or has that just felt like something natural as you've continued to build the band?

Tobias Forge: A little bit of both. I mean, it was always intended to be theatrical and have some sort of...I guess, in the beginning, you could call it some sort of vague narrative, because it was supposed to be more clandestine. And then as the public interest seemed to be a little bigger than I had anticipated, it ended up being a little more outlined than I had probably predicted ten years ago. So, you know, you continue working with it as it's grown. But you sort of build where you stand, as well. Fortunately, it sort of grows quite organically, and it sort of ties in. I guess the biggest steps of the narrative is just to be seen, which is kind of exciting, I think!

MS: I know you've been building the stories with the video shots, the rise of Cardinal Copia, or maybe the fall of Papa, depending on how you look at it. Have you, or are you, if you want to tell, considering something closer to a more traditional film? Maybe your “Ghost Meets the Phantom of the Park?”

TF: I hope that what we're doing is slightly better! But I guess in the context of a rock band trying to tell a story, you can't have too high of hopes of it being a blockbuster success! Hahaha! We're still a rock band, and it's there for fun. But yeah, the intention is to, in one way or form, tell that story, and if it becomes a film one day, potentially...but there is definitely other ways to tell the story, as well. And it might come out in paper form.

MS: That's a nice tease, and from a fan point of view, now I'm really excited to see where you're going to go with it! 

TF: Good!

MS: Sticking for just one more moment with the mythology part of it, in past interviews, you've said that introducing the Cardinal, you've referred to him as an underdog character that some people may not like. Do you think that's proven to be the case, and do have –  it may be like picking a favorite child if you have more than one child – do you have a particular Papa that you've enjoyed more than the others? 

TF: No, not really. That would be Cardinal in this case, actually. I think he's the most accomplished so far, also because I see the potential. This album cycle was always meant as a...a sort of a cleansing of the palette, in a way? The Cardinal was meant to be a little bit uphill, and he has been for me, as well, but I definitely see the potential of him, potentially rise to an exalted place where he gets all the attributes of the previous Papas. That is, IF he gets to be Papa!

MS: It's a fun journey, and I'm grateful that you're taking us all along for the ride! 

TF: I'm very happy that you guys want to be on the ride!

MS: With the tour just kicking off, you've just wrapped up the stadium run in Europe with Metallica, you've done other headlining tours in the US before, but this is the first full headlining run for arenas in the US. You've had a handful of shows that have started off the tour now, how does feel being out there doing these headlining shows in arenas now?

TF: My main focus has always been that I wanted to take the same production to anyone, regardless if you live in big, metropolitan, hipster cities, or if you live in a slightly more rural town. I didn't want to segregate anyone, and that has taken a long time. Usually bands don't do that because of spite or out of malice, it's just that economically most bands do not have the means to take the same show to everyone. So there's always a little bit of weeding out, which I've always been uncomfortable partaking in! And finally, now, we've come to a point where the opportunity was to take the same full production to everyone, and that's the main focus of this tour. What it meant was that we needed to go into venues that could house our production. And that is predominately arenas, or smaller arenas, that can swallow a full-production show. My main focus now, I'm not trying to think so much about it being arenas, because it's our first steps into it, and the point that I want to prove is for, in this case, the American and the Canadian people, if you go to see a Ghost show, you can count on us giving you the same thing you saw from that clip in New York. 

TF: For me that's a great accomplishment, to even be able to try to prove that to people! If we manage to prove that? We'll see, but it feels good, and there's people coming out, the tour just started, it's been going very good so far! We're three shows into it, so we're still getting there, a few kinks, mechanically and technically, you always sort of end up with a little bit of push-and-pull in the beginning. But throughout the tour, we get into a vibe pretty quickly.

MS: Speaking from one of the more rural areas that you spoke about, I can say that I'm glad you're looking at it that way, because that means we get to have those shows where we might normally get a more scaled-down version, so I appreciate that as well.

TF: That's what I was thinking! 

MS: With your shows, and with Ghost's music overall, you walk a really fine tight-rope between the darker imagery and the lyrics, but you have a lot of fun and humour in the shows that I think would surprise a lot of people that haven't seen it before. How do you manage to keep that balance without tipping into too dark, or being a parody?

TF: That's hard to answer. I can't exactly tell you how that...you know, you have a hunch, right? You just have to have timing, and I think so far, we've had that. That's also a little bit of trial and error. I think the tour that we did a year ago? [2018's “A Pale Tour Named Death” US Tour] that covered a big portion of America, from a technical standpoint, it was a little annoying, because – since we were doing theaters and arenas – we had to do a little bit of that segregation thing that I told you about before, that we're trying to avoid now. But it was also “An Evening With...” so we did a two-and-a-half-hour long show, out of which a great deal of that was sort of talking! And that was fun, I don't think that did us any harm, but I definitely wanted to do a different show this time around.

So it's way more to the point. We have a support act, which is different, and I wanted it to be more to the point. Scale off a bit of that talking, scale off a few songs that weren't really...I wouldn't say up to snuff, but that took a little more patience, if you want. Where this set is constructed to be a little more overwhelming, a little more for getting, and I like that, as well. I mean, I like the drawn out stuff as well, but I like the quick stuff. This tour is definitely way more to the point.  

And also thinking that, when you're playing small clubs, playing to 300-500 people, you're most likely playing to...you're selling Bibles to preachers, because everyone already knows all your songs, and people are really, really into it. You get so many diehards at shows like that. As soon as you, sort of, grow out of the clubs, you will have a lot of people coming that are fans, but that might not know every song that you have, and they're not diehard, know every detail of your band...they're there for the spectacle, to be entertained. And there's nothing wrong with that sort of fandom, it's just that you have to take that into consideration when you're playing. So there is a certain amount of recapping that you have to do, in order to kind of explain to people what you're about. I think that's even more true when you're coming up to arenas or even more so when you're playing stadiums.

We've just done a four-month tour with Metallica, doing stadiums in Europe. You could tell that most people, maybe 25,000 of the 50,000 that was average [show attendance], they knew all the Metallica songs. But 50,000 knew “Enter Sandman.” The people come for the spectacle. They don't know every song! The might have heard them, but they don't know every song. You have to treat it, not like a showcase, but a little. You have to stick with the best thing that you have, and get people to understand. You have to win everyone over every night. You cannot think that all of these people are already 100% sold, you have to win them over.

I think that is very important also in trying to figure out the measurement of slapstick and humour. And in this case, you were talking about the episodes. We cannot assume that 100% of everyone in the hall has seen the episodes. Some people are there because their friend at work told them this is a kick-ass rock show and you should come because you like KISS or whatever, and they haven't seen the episodes. So we cannot assume that everyone has seen it. So the bigger you get, the more you have to be attentive to things like that, I believe.

MS: With the new tour, you've also had the new songs that have just been released, and I've noticed a lot of talk going on with those. Did you have a particular inspiration for those new songs, or a particular sound that you were going for with those new tracks?

TF: What? No, those are 50 years old!

MS: The newly released tracks! 

TF: The newly released tracks, yeah, yeah! Well, I mean, they were written 50 years ago, and I'm only 38, so I can't really say! 

MS: So, they were the Ghost of the time, their attempt to try to get on the stage at Woodstock. 

TF: I guess, right! They were trying to do the most exciting rock you could do at the time. A little bit like if Phil Spector had produced The Stooges. Something like that. 

MS: For this year, you have this tour that's just getting started in the US, and then back to Europe. Do you have plans for what's going to happen next year already? 

TF: Yes. There will be very little touring. To be specific, it's going to be absolutely zero touring in 2020. We have one show in February, and that's going be in a country that to the south of the US, and that will be it, that's the only show we're doing, and that's going to be the wrap-up of this tour cycle. The year is going to be spent making a new record, a new record that will come out in 2021, the beginning of 2021, and then we're looking at eighteen months of touring again. Next year is going to be, at least from a touring point of view, off. But there's going to be a lot of other things happening, so be sure that you're going to see plenty from Ghost next year.

MS: Definitely no rest for the wicked! 

TF: No rest for the wicked!

MS: Was there anything else you wanted to add before I let you go to get ready for tonight's show?

TF: We're really looking forward to coming to Moline, and I'm very, very happy to be able to tell people that we're coming with all the bells and whistles. 

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 Ghost is one of the most dynamic bands performing around the world right now. From their heavy-grooved, melodic music to their engaging, bombastic live shows, to the mystique surrounding who's under the masks and make-up, they continue to build up steam on the way to complete world domination. If you aren't sure, see for yourself. You can go to ghost-official.com to get your own tickets, then slip up the road a little ways on October the 8th to Moline and join the party.