UTG INTERVIEW: Ghost – Conversation With A Nameless Ghoul

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Without question, Ghost (aka Ghost B.C) are one of modern music’s most interesting acts. An anonymous band operating within a culture obsessed with celebrity, the Swedish quintet have managed to obtain a level of crossover success that most bands in their genre could only ever dream about, while remaining steadfastly cloaked in mystery. More an immersive artistic experiment than just a metal band, Ghost are an utterly compelling watch in a live environment, with the costumes, lighting, and stage banter all coming together in a carefully choreographed yet utterly chaotic manner to deliver a truly memorable experience.

None of this would work of course without the music, which is in itself some of the most accomplished, technically proficient and outright haunting metal produced in recent memory. The combination of all these elements has enabled Papa Emeritus II and his band of Nameless Ghouls to etch out a unique place in the heavy music realm, in which they are heralded by other musicians (including Phil Anselmo and Dave Grohl), loved by critics and adored by a dedicated legion of fans, all while keeping their identities a deeply protected secret.

Currently touring Australia in support of their excellent sophomore album, Infestissumam, and their Dave Grohl-produced covers EP If You Have…, we sat down with one of the improbably polite and fully costumed Nameless Ghouls backstage at the Big Day Out festival in Sydney to discuss all things Ghost, and as it turned out, a whole lot of theology.

UTG: As a band of anonymous musicians, you’ve been pretty successful and have reached a level of notoriety and critical acclaim that other bands in your genre might be envious of, all the while maintaining absolute anonymity — how does that feel?

It is a special experience because you are in a relatively well known band that travels everywhere but you see very little of the usual ‘results’ of it for want of a better term and I think it’s overwhelmingly a positive thing. It allows a very nice way of seeing the world, and keeps the experience very sober and clear, at least in a philosophical sense anyway, as all of your interactions with people outside of the band are the same as they would be for any other unknown tourist and people’s reactions and interactions with you on a personal level aren’t influenced by their knowledge of you as a musician, or how you’ve been perceived in the press, but rather just by what’s occurring in the moment. I think there’s a lot of other bands where that notion of celebrity and notoriety and individual prestige can overtake their ability to actually engage with their audience and with the world, and that can lead to dysfunction for them as a band and can create an issue in the creative process. For us, we are in a position that is so much its own entity that we are at least for now still very much able to regard our creation from an outsider’s point of view, which I think a majority of other bands of a similar level or higher have lost the ability to do.

UTG: As an outsider it seems to be a very holistic and immersive artistic and creative experience that you get to embrace and obviously that comes across in your live show which is essentially a live re-imagining of a horror movie on stage. How have audiences been reacting to that here at the Big Day Out festival and on your own sideshows in Australia so far?

They’ve been reacting very well I think. One of the little quirks is that we happen to collide with both headliners, which means that there are not a huge amount of people who are not already into us, watching our sets. However, in Auckland for example, we played on a twin-stage, outdoors immediately before Snoop Dogg, which meant we played in front of Snoop Dogg’s entire crowd, and then it made sense, because those are people that would never go to the effort of crossing the entire festival over to a smaller side-stage to see us, and surprisingly a large portion of them got into it really very well and that’s the kind of exposure that you really want as a band when you do these kind of festivals. While our slot right now, it is good because it’s fairly late in the evening and on one of the better stages for our kind of set-up. The fact it clashes with the two headliners means there’s not a lot of Pearl Jam or Snoop Dogg fans accidentally listening to us for instance.

On the flip side, one of the reasons we took this slot on this festival was the opportunity to play sideshows, which we didn’t have the chance to do last time we were here a year ago, so that’s been really cool.

UTG: Obviously there’s been people choosing to actively seek out your sets and skip the headliners though which has to be a positive thing, at least for your own egos, which leads me to ask, are we likely to see the recreation of the front row of women willing to do anything to please Papa Emeritus II tonight?

Usually we end up on these shows as well with a little string of insinuating women, and men probably too. We have a good crowd- let’s just say I am very glad that a lot of the people that you would probably expect to go see Pearl Jam, are actually turning up at our show, which is wild.

As I mentioned before, one of the reasons we decided to do this tour was the opportunity to play our own shows and we’ve found that a lot of people that came across us at the festival are turning up at those, so in that sense it’s almost the perfect opportunity for us as a band, as our fans get a chance to have the true Ghost live experience in a smaller venue, and we get some added exposure as well. Not to mention we get to see a lot of your lovely country.

UTG: Thematically the first record seems to concentrate on foretelling the arrival of the anti-Christ and the second record seems to concentrate thematically on heralding his arrival, which leads me to two questions: The first is, is that meant to mirror your career path? The second is, what comes next?

In a way it is mirror-reflecting the status of the band I think and that might actually be even more clear and apparent in the future with the third record. This record now is about the presence of Satan and the anti-Christ in its various forms, whereas the next record will be about the absence of God, and that’s all I’ll tell you for now, as there is a fourth record planned, but I’ll let you absorb the next one first before I spoil the one following for you. Just know that the absence of God and how people respond to that as a species and as individuals will very much shape what’s to come.

UTG: Infamously you ran into some issues with censorship in the USA, particularly in the more conservative states, and I really thought the way that you embraced those issues, by choosing to record your album heralding the arrival of the anti-Christ in devoutly Christian Nashville, Tennessee was a really thought-provoking move artistically. How did those issues and that town impact the sound of the record? Did it help to add authenticity to the linear religious critiquing present on the record?

In a way I guess. I mean we had wanted to make our big, commercial, sell-out record, and the content was supposed to be profoundly religious, so we figured what better place to record it than in Nashville, the home of very Christian and very commercial sounding music [laughs].

No, in all seriousness though, apart from our little choir incident, there wasn’t really that much about Nashville that had a negative impact on the record. Nashville city, is nowhere near as, you know, KKK, as the rest of the state. We played two shows in Knoxville for example, which is amazing. For every place that you go to, even though the states and the surroundings might be conservative, there is always an artistic, bohemian community in the urban centre of it that is the exact opposite and is really left-wing and really open minded and cool, and obviously in Nashville there is an awful lot of musicians and they bring with them a diverse array of creative outputs, viewpoints and experiences and it was that as much as the conservative aspects that influenced the record, and I think that’d be true of any city that you went to around the world with an artistic community.

UTG: Regarding the lyrical content of Infestissumam, one song that stood out to me was “Body and Blood.” As a person who was raised Catholic, the undercurrent of cannibalism present in the celebration of the Eucharist always seemed to be rather inherently messed up. Which lead me to wonder if the critique of contemporary linear religion is more so the point of the band theologically rather than the actual glorification of Satanism?

I think that the glorification of Satan and all that is dark is present from more of a preference for that kind of aesthetic; artistically speaking that is what speaks to us as individuals and as a band.

As far as the lyrical aspect of the band goes, it is definitely a critique of religion, and the idea of people choosing to trade away their rights in the belief of supposed truths and essentially waste their lives blindly following what are essentially just stories that people made up due to a need to control the actions of others. Personally, and as a band, we just find that an interesting phenomenon and it is such a vast subject that we can’t possibly cover it all in the space of one album or even one career. So we focus upon and are inspired by Christianity, or at least Christianity as it was in the past anyhow — obviously some sections of Christianity have evolved and changed with the times out of necessity; as the old systems stopped appealing to their own believers, but it’s change made for the most part out of the desire to maintain control.

Christianity in itself was created to control the stream of the underground Christian movement, that’s why they created the churches, and the rituals and the formalities. Nowadays it is a religion that can be manipulated to placate and pander to the audience it is trying to control the opinions of.

UTG: I’m getting the wind-up from your lovely publicist, so I will let you go and get ready to perform and glorify Satanism, free-thought, and critique theology and I’ll go and find myself a prime spot front of stage to partake in the ritual. Love your Grucifix!

Thank you for taking the time to speak to us, we’ll see you later for our show.

 

Less than an hour after this interview took place, I was fortunate enough to find myself front and centre for Ghost’s set. What followed is perhaps best described as a demonic mass. As Papa Emeritus II spoke with the grace of a pontiff in between songs, people responded much like Catholics in the Vatican, and when the music began, the movements of the Nameless Ghouls and the actions of the crowd, coupled with the dark nature of the music, the lighting, the smoke and the detailed costumes created the feeling of one being amidst a ritual taking place. A ritual that glorified not only Satanism, free-thought and sexual promiscuity, but also true artistic expression. As I walked away from stage I felt like I had experienced something completely unique, and surely is the greatest compliment one can pay any artist. Perhaps it is as Rocky Erickson sang all those years ago… “If you have Ghost then you have everything.”

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  • I remember those shows, they were pretty good.

  • Anabell Lamp

    Great interview. I like the way they think, so critical, so clever and their sublime music. Perfect band to me. I translated this into Spanish. Thank you. http://ghostscriptum.tumblr.com/post/75733953210/under-the-gun-ghost-entrevista-con-un-nameless-ghoul

  • Brenton Harris

    Thank you Annabell! That is a thrill for me, as was the interview. – Brenton

  • Brenton Harris

    They were mmagnificent emeritus

  • Emily Hill

    Love this interview <3 I'm looking forward to seeing Ghost this year in Toronto.