Advertisement

Ghost frontman Tobias Forge on the band’s 5th album, songwriting and what’s to come

Ghost: Tobias Forge as Cardinal Copia (C) with his backing band, the "Nameless Ghouls," in 2019.
Ghost: Tobias Forge as Cardinal Copia (C) with his backing band, the "Nameless Ghouls," in 2019. Mikael Eriksson / Indoor Recess

In less than a decade, enigmatic rock band Ghost has earned a Grammy, released four albums, two EPs, a live album and its latest double-single, Seven Inches of Satanic Panic, but it has built and continuously expanded upon a deep backstory about the band members themselves — the “Nameless Ghouls.”

Each album cycle welcomes a brand new ringleader/singer, each portrayed by frontman Tobias Forge, who is the founder and sole songwriter of the band. The mythos of Ghost is now massively popular among many of its diehard fans.

Now that the Swedish group has wrapped the final North American leg of its highly extensive Ultimate Tour Named Death tour, they’re gearing up to put out their fifth album — a “heavy” one that Forge promises will be “seminal” in Ghost’s timeline.

So does that mean fans should expect to see a new frontman in the near future? Very likely, but not for a little while. For now, Forge, 38, still portrays Cardinal Copia, a charismatic and theatrical character who adds a tinge of humour to Ghost’s explosive two-hour set.

Story continues below advertisement

WATCH: Rats — the lead single from Ghost’s latest and critically acclaimed album, Prequelle

The Cardinal claimed the throne after the “death” of Forge’s Papa Emeritus III character in 2018. He was the first to break the tradition of Pope singers in the Ghost timeline, and it seems his run will soon come to an end. Or will it? We don’t actually know.

What we do know is that next March, the “Final Gig Named Death” is set to take place in Mexico City. It will wrap the heavy promotional cycle for the band’s latest album, Prequelle (2018) — which kicked off in 2018 with the Pale Tour Named Death.

READ MORE: Lacuna Coil’s Andrea Ferro talks new album ‘Black Anima’ and longevity of band

Prequelle launched the Swedes into mainstream success with its first single, Rats, which spent seven weeks on top of the rock charts. The album also included the unexpected disco-inspired smash-hit, Dance Macabre.

Story continues below advertisement
Tobias Forge aka Cardinal Copia of Ghost performs at Granåsen on July 13, 2019, in Trondheim, Norway.
Tobias Forge aka Cardinal Copia of Ghost performs at Granåsen on July 13, 2019, in Trondheim, Norway. Per Ole Hagen/Redferns

Ahead of the band’s show in Hamilton, Ont., on Oct. 17, Forge/Cardinal Copia spoke with Global News about Ghost’s newest singles, their live spectacle, progress on the upcoming fifth album, and why he doesn’t like to record with heavy metal producers.

Global News: You’ve outdone yourself on the Ultimate Tour Named Death with not only the beautiful stage setup, but the extensive setlist and detailed choreography. It’s very humorous too, yet you still want more. Is it even possible for you to top the current show?
Tobias Forge: I’m certain, yeah. [Laughs] But it’s hard to say that without sounding like I’m soiling the one that we’re currently doing. [Laughs] I am fairly certain that a lot of the things that I have in mind right now, I will be orchestrating about a year from now. It will definitely be a vast and advanced version of what we’re already doing. You have to remember that the even though the show we’re doing right now is our most accomplished one so far, it started with us playing in theatres, and now we’re playing arenas… so the stage setup is still in its Frankenstein phase, meaning that we’re still working with the smaller production we had from first year of this tour. Right now, it’s like we’re repairing an old house, whereas next time we can start something fresh.

READ MORE: The Cult’s Ian Astbury talks Indigenous influence and the evolution of the band

Similar to the production jump that Iron Maiden took from the World Piece Tour to the World Slavery Tour in the ’80s then? [Earlier on, Forge reminisced on touring with the band, which he called one of his “old heroes.”]
TF: That would be a very good analogy for it actually. [Laughs] I compare it a lot to what bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica have done and continue to do. They’ve always done it right, and so will we. Next time we can start from scratch with a production that is purpose-built for our album and tour, whereas this is more of a mixture between the stuff that we did on the last album cycle, too. It’s just extended, right? We’ll build the set from the ground-up.
Did you always know that Ghost would become such a theatrical band?
TF: I definitely always had a picture of there being a stage show, but 10 years ago, I had no idea it was going to be as [vivid] as it is now.
Are we going to be introduced to Ghost’s new frontman at what you’re calling the “Final Gig Named Death” next March? Will we meet Papa Emeritus IV? Or is it possible that Cardinal Copia might live on?
TF: Well, it’s the last show of this touring cycle, so something will definitely happen. I just can’t tell you anything about it. [Laughs] But this tour has been really incredible, it’s just time for us to do something new. As much as I love being here in Canada, I think we picked a great time (and place) to end this tour. I genuinely love being on the road. I love playing the show, and ultimately, I’m feeling very good about the band this year — who are so extremely fluid.
Story continues below advertisement
Overall, everything is working out really well for us, but now it’s like ‘OK, so the restaurant is just running now?’ [Laughs] You start thinking about the next one. It’s just not enough. You go, “I feel like I’ve pretty much done my thing here…” Except of course for coming in and making the infamous carbonara every night; going through the old ancient recipe, you know? [Laughs] My mind is always thinking forward though, and I’m already thinking about the next time we’re coming back here.

READ MORE: Metallica’s Kirk Hammett talks ROM horror exhibit with Alan Cross

WATCH: Ghost’s latest single in the form of a 1969 throwback music video — Kiss the Go-Goat

You actually paid homage to one of Canada’s greatest songwriters recently, Leonard Cohen. What prompted your decision to cover something as iconic as Avalanche for your latest album, Prequelle?
TF: I think it was the one song that right off the bat just felt most Ghost-like.  It would feel weird to cover Take This Waltz or something like that. It just doesn’t fit our script. It isn’t actually my favourite Leonard Cohen song. Intuitively, I’d probably choose one of his prettier songs, but Avalanche felt very Ghost-like.

What about the future of Ghost? With such a busy schedule have you even had time to think about a plan of attack for the fifth album?
TF: Oh, I think about that a lot. Currently, we’re in the planning stages of it all, which means that I’m hamstering all my material as we figure out scheduling and who’s actually going to be producing it. I’m working very hard on it right now, and as much as I often contest ideas by thinking about what I should and shouldn’t do, I know it’s easier to define that just by looking at your previous experiences.

So for example, our last four records. Having said all of that, overall, I have a fairly good idea of where I’m going with this one. I want to create a record that lives up to my lifelong dream of being able to kick-off a touring cycle in arenas, so by that logic, this album needs to be by a band that starts touring cycles in arenas. You know? You just can’t f**k around with that. You really need to be on your absolute top game.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Jack White talks The Raconteurs’ ‘Help Us Stranger,’ phone-free shows and playing in Canada

Is Seven Inches of Satanic Panic a taste of what’s to come for this album?
TF: It’s not a taste of the new record, no. Those songs are like a side note of Ghost — still fitting in the universe, I think — but they’re definitely not close to what I have in mind. [Laughs] The new record will be more in line with the previous four, in the sense that it will feel like part of the whole story. Whereas that of the singles and cover EPs, which are a little bit more tongue-in-cheek. [Laughs] There’s a dichotomy between a lot of the things that we do though, like for example, the records and the live show.
The records are like the script, or Bible, they’re not meant to feel humouristic. Whereas in our live show, we present the ideas in a humorous way. Not in a sense where we are mocking our bible or story, but in the same way that a church might go through rituals with children. Where people are giggling a little because they think it’s silly. “A-ha.” Everybody knows it’s a little stupid, but for some reason, it feels purposeful, because your kid is being baptized or whatever. [Laughs] So that’s that’s what I’m shooting for. I don’t want the records to be too fun or silly, I want them to convey a message and have a clear meaning.
Ghost’s Tobias Forge attending the Kerrang! Awards at Islington Town Hall, in London, England.
Ghost’s Tobias Forge attending the Kerrang! Awards at Islington Town Hall, in London, England. David Parry/PA Images via Getty Images
Your lyrics contain such unique concepts and qualities too. Do you write Ghost’s albums all by yourself? After all, this band is your project.
TF: Usually. But what I’ve learned and cultivated a liking to do in the last few years, is collaborating with outsiders. I’ve always been accused of — especially in my own bands — not being able to work well in a team. People have said I’m just overall bad at teamwork, and that was the fact for a long time. But when I made Meliora, I did so together with a producer named Klas Åhlund — who is both a producer and a songwriter. And that’s when it dawned on me that I can work really well with people, but I need to choose who I work with. It’s like … I like kissing people, but I just want to choose who I kiss. [Laughs]
I’ve been in bands where there’s always someone, or some people, who just f**king crowbar themselves into the process, and that does not work for me at all. That’s unfortunately when I become like a dictator. Whereas if I choose to work with someone, I’m actually quite flexible. Like working with any professional songwriter, you need to establish a little bit of a vibe together. [Laughs] We need to be aiming for a very similar thing. That person needs to have some sort of … hard-on for rock music, or for what we do in Ghost, otherwise, it might be hard if it’s someone who works against that.

READ MORE: New Years Day’s Nikki Misery shares pride in female-fronted band, talks new album ‘Unbreakable’

Do you find that collaborating helps with the songwriting, then?
TF:
Oh yes. You can make incredible progress in your songwriting that way, because all of a sudden you have this person who’s not at all locked into the traps of being in your band; someone who is not the bass player that suddenly wants a bass solo or the drummer who wants to make the album very drummy. If I find those collaborators, it’s like a catalyst for me to write more, write better and ultimately, step up because I want to impress that other person.

In one or two days, I’ll come up with a skeleton of a song and go, “This is my idea, this is the chorus, but I don’t really have a pre-chorus yet. What do you hear? What do you think?” And then once I hear someone else tinkering with it … I become a little bit like a husband who agreed to a wife-swap. In this case, the song would be my partner, and when I see someone else [kissing] her, I’m like, “No! Let me do this.” Then you go and you do it properly, because it wakes you up. [Laughs] It’s really all about just having to impress someone else. If I don’t make the changes right then and there, then the idea is just gonna drift away. It’s a perfect way for me to write, because it really brings me to life.
Story continues below advertisement

You produced Opus Eponymous by yourself, and since then you’ve worked with a completely different producer for each of Ghost’s albums, including Dave Grohl. Do you just not want to do the same thing twice, or are you ultimately trying to find the perfect collaborator?
TF: I believe that there are exceptions to all rules of course, and I believe that a good team truly is a good team. But I also believe that it’s very healthy to make sure that you don’t get stuck in your comfort zone, because it can become too comfortable. I’ve had that in the past with at least a couple of my previous producers, where we’re almost too good of friends; we’ve actually hung out so much, that we’re buddies now. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t always allow for further growth, which is exactly what I want to do. In this case, I have to make our fifth record. I want it to be a seminal record for us. That’s why the process right now is to find that perfectly balanced producer that is gonna make sure that we’re making a rock record — it needs to be a heavy record — but it needs to be someone who understands the factor of, “This needs to be relevant, now.”

READ MORE: Dave Grohl’s mom, Virginia Hanlon Grohl, on what’s it like to raise a rock star

Ghost is unique for a metal band in the sense that you don’t often work with metal producers. Is there a reason for that?
TF:
I’m sure people in the heavy metal sphere might have noticed that too. … And there’s a reason for that: metal producers are very purpose-driven. They do a fantastic job and they know exactly what they’re going for. They’re experts in doing exactly that. And I have nothing against it, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. So I need to be fully aware and completely awake in trying to find the right producer for Ghost in that moment.

WATCH: Ghost’s disco-inspired 2018 smash-hit, Dance Macabre

Klas was perfect for me. His whole professional life, he has been writing pop music and playing in Teddybears and writing records for Robyn and Ellie Goulding. You have all these different artists and this huge variety, but he started off playing prog music. He was a guitar virtuoso playing Yngwie Malmsteen/Ritchie Blackmore-type stuff. So when I came and talked with him about making a rock record, he was just like, “Yes, I’ve wanted to do that for such a long time.” It was perfect for both of us, because we were able to talk about all the common denominators. We could reference things from Euro Disco all the way to Slayer just to explain a simple idea. Whereas if you end up with the typical metal producer, they might say, “Slayer, of course. But everything else you mentioned is just ‘ordinary music.'”

Story continues below advertisement

I’m not saying that every heavy metal producer is like that, I just feel like metal today, as opposed to 1975, is such a defined genre, that people our age and younger have lived their entire lives knowing exactly what heavy metal is. But people who were around when they made Back in Black didn’t really know what that was. There’s so many rules now. It’s too refined. The whole culture breathes a little bit of a puritan-like conservatism. In order to make new records, I think sometimes you need to try not to think too much about all of these rules.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]

READ MORE: The Struts talk ‘Young & Dangerous,’ their origins and touring Canada

Prequelle is available through all major streaming platforms.

Physical copies of the Seven Inches of Satanic Panic double-single and the limited edition Prequelle: Exalted boxset are also available through Loma Vista Recordings — the band’s record label.

Tobias Forge performing as Cardinal Copia of the band Ghost at Barclays Center on Dec. 15, 2018, in New York City.
Tobias Forge performing as Cardinal Copia of the band Ghost at Barclays Center on Dec. 15, 2018, in New York City. Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Ghost will wrap the U.K. and European legs of the extensive Ultimate Tour Named Death on Dec. 19, in Toulouse, France.

Story continues below advertisement

The Final Gig Named Death will take place on March 3, 2020, in Mexico City.

As of this writing, Ghost has no upcoming Canadian tour dates.

All scheduled tour dates, updates and additional information and can be found through the official Ghost website.

adam.wallis@globalnews.ca