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Christofer Johnsson –Guitar, Composer for Therion

Date: 11/26/12
Interviewed By: Rich Catino


1. What was the first Therion album where you decided to do more than just death metal style?

CHRIS: Well back then, in the early 90s, things were more orthodox, but even back then when we did the second album, “Beyond Sanctorum” (1992), we used a lot of elements that were not considered death metal, like keyboards, some clean vocals, female, we were considered a death metal band, but not true by most standards. We were doing some weird stuff.

2. With every album each has been different from the rest of the catalogue, yet, there are always certain elements unique to your sound. What are the ingredients to Therion’s sound?

CHRIS: We have very broad tastes, very open minded. We didn’t want to fit in to one style specifically. I listen to a lot of different music, thrash, Venom, Slayer, Iron Maiden, oriental, middle eastern music, classic rock, hippie rock, heavy metal, industrial ideas. Whenever I like something I tried to mix all these elements together but make it cohesive somehow, I’d say that’s what makes Therion unique. There is a lot of opera singing in Therion’s music, and that’s on most of the records. We also have a lot of long songs as well, they are like a long and winding road, we take you on a journey through many different music styles within a song and I don’t think many bands really do that. We combine elements like an accordion, harmonica, acoustic guitars, to like an Abba like piano, to orchestral parts, to Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) inspired bass work, so if you listen to these parts separate and not how they are tied together it wouldn’t sound like the same band. I think that’s our trademarks, at least that’s how I write the songs. The other guys are more consistent in writing.

3. What is the new ingredient(s) on “Les Fleurs du Mal”?

CHRIS: It’s an album of covers of French pop songs from the 60s/70s. I mean the world doesn’t need another album of people covering their favorite songs who influenced them growing up, or of heavy metal covers. It’s fun to do it live, like covering an Accept song at the end of the set, but when making a cover album you should make it one of your own songs. I wanted to make a Therion album written by other artists, and I wanted to pick songs most people wouldn’t know cause you react differently if you know the original or not. When I made the list of songs to cover I realized they were mostly French songs, so why not do it entirely of French music, and something Therion would do, something unexpected. I had this idea for a few years and it was a good idea for the 25th anniversary of the band. Then I had the idea of doing an entire art project around the album, with art in the booklet to reflect the music. I didn’t want to change the music more than necessary to bring them into the world of Therion. One of the aims was to prove that the difference between songs between different music styles are not that big as it may seem. A lot of metal people think that metal music is not getting the recognition it deserves, a lot of people from the mainstream do not take it seriously and don’t realize how skilled the musicians are, that its all noise. The type of feeling how people have towards metal music is not that different than how metal people feel about pop music. I mean there is stupid pop music too, but there is great pop as well, like Abba, the compositions they are world class, a lot of folk music, classical stuff. Same thing with The Beatles, even if you don’t get it you can’t deny their talent. There is even a lot of pop music that’s high quality, especially older stuff. Some of the music in the 80s kinda destroyed some commercial music, and the 90s when we had computer programs, not the grunge thing, but the auto-tune of people vocals who cannot sing and fixing everything in the computer, everything became very sterile and too many people shouldn’t be making music who are. They recycle the same melodies. So I wanted to go back to the older pop music and show there is a lot of good stuff you may not know about, and several of these songs were not changed much, we just played the song. It’s very much how you dress the songs, we spoke the language metal people can understand.

4. What does the album title translate to in English?

CHRIS: Flowers Of Evil. It’s a collection of poetry by Charles Baudelaire. We knew it would be quite controversial, and I thought many people would reject it but the reception has been better than expected. At the time these poems were written the author was brought into court and fined for insulting the public, and they were forbidding six of the poems for offending the entire country. Hey, you have crack pots today, like in the bible belt down south in the US, and they were around back then too. But what fascinated me was this ban on these poems lasted until 1949, and it was still forbidden, and even though the ban was lifted you still could not go into a store and buy the poems until 1968. So as a teenage metalhead I was intrigued by something called Flower of evil that was forbidden. Two poems are about lesbian love, but not vulgar in any way. I don’t know why they received such harsh reactions. The pictures in the cd booklet can relate to these two poems.

5. What are French chansons?

CHRIS: That’s traditional French singing, and only two songs qualify. There are four different categories of songs, chanson – think second world war movie and somebody is singing on stage. Then you have schlager which is German, and it means hit, where hit song comes from, a hit song performed by orchestra performed by a pop or rock singer. ‘Poupée de cire, poupée de son’ is typical schlager. Ye-ye - which is American chewing gum pop of the early 60s exported to France, then French composers started to write their own songs for the artist. And like anything French they made it strange. And later a lot of these artists became Baroque pop, which is something you apply to many artists like the Moody Blues did a couple albums like this. Most of the songs we covered are Baroque pop. See a lot of people mix this up and don’t find it important but its like metal music and all the genres, clearly Metallica are not a black metal band, right. Imagine someone writing that about Metallica, they’d look like an idiot (laughs). It’s actually very nice you asked this type of question.

6. Why did Lori Lewis sing most of the songs on “Les Fleurs de Mal”?

CHRIS: Well she is a permanent singer in Therion, we have Thomas Vikstrom also. Well I wanted to have soprano on most of the songs and she also has French studies as part of her opera education and they have focused pronunciation so she would pronounce every word properly. A lot of these lyrics are also sung by girls and didn’t want to change that. ‘Initials B.B’ is sort of Baroque pop, is the only male artist we covered.

7. How many of these cover songs will you play live?

CHRIS: We did the tour and did three, which is what we usually do from a new album.

8. I read there are plans to do a rock/metal opera. Is that still in the works and how will that differ from previous Therion symphonic, epic, orchestrated albums?

CHRIS: Musically not that much, the whole thing is we want to stage it as an opera. I’ve always disliked the word “rock opera” is kinda misleading. To me, rock operas that have been created are more like rock musicals, sometimes it’s just regular songs instead of regular lyrics they create a story line with different people singing each song, but they don’t stage it. And if they do its more like musicals. I never liked that word. So I wanna make something in the true sense, with opera singers stage it, use an orchestra, combine some rock and metal music together. So musically it will sound like our longer compositions, but the music has to be adapted to what happens on stage. We want to adapt the music for the stage play, choreography. Maybe we will do a studio recording to coincide with the live performance. It’s very expensive to do this production, you need sponsors, in Europe the state contributes to support cultural events, etc. Without those things it would not be possible to do this, and ticket prices would be very expensive without financial support. To do such a thing and to move town to town with this production it would be impossible on our level of popularity. So we need to stage it for a month in one place to make some money. But we also need to attract a mainstream audience as well outside of the metal community. The whole idea is the band writes this for ourselves and the fans, but it will be funded by the mainstream audience. We would need people who normally would see, say Jesus Christ Superstar, to come see our show. It’s a great challenge. Luckily we have good connections in Spain and will try and sell it their first.

Official website: http://www.megatherion.com/en


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