With Ghost, Tobias Forge has turned metal into camp and ghastly ecclesiastical theatre. The Swedish frontman has imagined a cast of ghoulish, sassy characters into life; decapitated anti-popes, squeezed a sassy cardinal into too-tight velvet trousers, and taken their 80s-indebted arena rock into the UK’s biggest venues, while the band’s fifth album, Impera, has given them a Top 3 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Tobias has brought the fun back into heavy music, but with no mitre to hide behind this time, can he handle your questions?
I got into horror movies because of Ghost. What are your favourite horror movies, and what horror movies would you recommend?
“There’s two branches of horror movies for me. There’s old classic slasher films, as in Friday The 13th and stuff like that, but then you have the really good horror films, the ones made by really talented directors who primarily don’t do horror, and do other films as well. The best horror films ever made are The Shining by Stanley Kubrick, Jaws by Steven Spielberg, Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola, The Exorcist, The Omen.
But then, you have classic cult directors. Lucio Fulci was an Italian director who made a lot of films that are entertaining. The House By The Cemetery is a classic one by him. The horror genre is hurt by the fact you have these really heavy-hitters who come in and do these fantastic films, and then unfortunately a lot of the genre is a swamp of really bad films.”
Would you ever play Glastonbury or other ‘mainstream’ festivals?
“We have played a lot of festivals like Pukkelpop, Rock En Seine, Roskilde – a lot of festivals where we are one of the few ‘metal bands’ but the headliner can be Björk, Primal Scream and Drake. We played Coachella and Lollapalooza, lots of festivals like that… except for Glastonbury.”
Hammer: Is Glasto on your bucket list?
“It would be cool of course, but it’s never really been one of my most important ones, so no. I don’t know if this is the same for Glastonbury, this is my interpretation, but at Coachella, if you’re on the bill, you don’t have to play because no one will watch you anyway. Everyone is there for the big hip hop headliner.
When we played Coachella, we went to see Dead Can Dance there and it was a few people in a tent. For fucking Dead Can Dance. Are you kidding me?! That’s why I’m just not generally all for those big pop festivals. I would miss a lot of the camaraderie. If you go to Graspop or Download, you go in there you know everyone, so many people. Whereas if you go to a big pop festival or mixed festival, everyone is in their own little universe.”
Hammer: There are rumours you’re playing Glasto this year - is there anything in those rumours?
“No. Not now at least. That’s more than I know. I might live to regret what I just said!”
How much does writing new music go hand in hand with curating the new designs/‘look’ for new eras?
“They go partly together. It’s always in the front of my head how a song will fit into the show or if there’s anything we can do to turn it into what we call a ‘gag’. Gag songs tend to work better in the sets, so I always have a monocle on for that. For some people who are wondering why we’re not doing songs off the new album already, it’s because there might be a planned gag for them that we haven’t been able to present yet.”
How do you feel knowing that many of your LGBT fans like to personally interpret/depict your characters as gay and/or trans?
“Good. Great. If they find solace or inspiration in what we’re doing, I’m really happy about that.”
Have you ever done a sick in one of your masks onstage, either from a hangover or the smell?
“Once on a South American tour, we had a really bad flu going on with the band and crew. It was absolutely fucking horrible. Day after day, someone new fell apart and people were lying backstage in the foetal position with a cork in the front and a cork in the back, purging. That was not cool.”
What’s your favourite Abba song?
“Right now, I Have A Dream. It involves three chords, and the third chord comes in at such a brilliant moment at the third section of the song. The first two sections are the same two chords, back and forth. Then all of a sudden, the third chord comes in and… they should be getting a Nobel Music prize for that one because it’s so fucking brilliant.”
Back when nobody knew who was behind the mask, what was your favourite rumour that you heard about yourself?
“That I was tall! Especially in the Papa Emeritus attire. In the beginning in underground circles it was a fairly known fact that I was in the band, so I never felt 100% anonymous in the early days.”
Who is your favourite Ghost - fictional or otherwise?
“I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of ghosts in Star Wars. They appear as apparitions that can converse with you. If the Star Wars saga had been written a few hundred years ago, it would have been a religion, it has all the cornerstones of a religion and the idea of the elders and your teachers coming back to teach you from behind the grave is presented really well.”
If you had to wipe one of the following bands from history, which would it be: Iron Maiden, Kiss, Misfits?
“If I had to wipe them out? Oh, that’s a hard one. It’s an easy question, but the answer is hard; I have to be pragmatic. I’m a humongous fan of all three bands. The one band I’d choose to wipe out, and that’s not a diss, what they did was so great, is Misfits.
My control freakishness and my managerial inclinations would love to go back in time and correct a few things they did wrong. Not aesthetically, but business-wise. I would have wished for them to have a better career. I’d love to go back and curate their career because the career of Misfits, Samhain and Danzig put together would have been marvellous.”
What is metal missing in 2022?
“It would be cool if there were newer, young bands regarded as more than a novelty, or an underground treasure. More organic rock bands of 20-year-olds recognised on a little bit more of a… I hate to say mainstream, but above the pub level. I’m all about underground, I come from the underground, and I worship the underground music, but for the resurgence of rock, we need that.
I’d love if there were more bands that went through a similar recognition [channel] to Måneskin, actually. I think they’re really cool. They won Eurovision because they’re great, but they’re one of the few exceptions of it not being the end of their career. That’s usually what happens if you’re a band.”
Hammer: Have you ever considered Eurovision or been asked to do it?
“No, not really, but I wouldn’t want to do it because as I said, it’s usually the end of your career. If you already have an established career, then don’t do it. Although Måneskin proved it could be done. I hope there’s a lot of 14-year-olds out there in Europe and the world who see that as an inspiration and start playing drums, bass and guitar.”
What weird shit do you collect?
“I collect demo tapes. Old death metal demo tapes from the mid-80s to 1992. Black metal. Death metal. Thrash metal. Underground music. If anyone reading this who sits on shit like that… and if you are owners of original stuff that you got directly from the band… please call me!”
Would you ever have a female lead singer?
“Why not? That could happen. Sister Emeritus!”
If you could pick one metal song that changed your life, what would it be?
“I Wanna Rock by Twisted Sister. That is probably the earliest song that I remember being able to sing and rock out to. That came out in 1984 and I was three years old at the time. I was lucky enough to have an older brother and in 1984 he was 16. A lot of who I am, why I am who I am, and my interests, is because of him. That’s my first memory of me thinking, ‘This is who I am.’”
Impera is out now via Loma Vista