I’d like to welcome you to Glauchau today. Therion is touring across Europe since two weeks, right? How have you experienced the previous shows, how is the tour going on so far?
Really well, I mean it is a tough time for any band touring now; basically nobody makes money with CD sales anymore so everybody go on tour, they cannot flop the touring. Some guys don’t have much money so they can’t see all the bands, but I think we did fairly well, especially because we didn’t promote hard. We haven’t a record label buying adverts, so it is very little promoted. But the whole point with this was, anyway, to have the Die Hard-Fans at the shows, that’s why I am also staying at the merchandise a lot, to talk with people who bought tickets for a tour without even knowing what they bought it for. I heard from a lot of colleagues that they have cancelled such shows because of low ticket sales; we had a pre-sale of 200 and this is not bad.
You are also celebrating your 25-years-anniversary. Please Imagine: If someone had told you at the beginning of the band’s history what direction Therion would take and how all of this would develop, what would you have answered to him?
Oh, I would have been speechless! A few people had told me when I formed the band that it was quite incredible to do an international tour or a record deal. Therion is my first band actually, normally you form a band and it fails because it sucks, and then you try another one and another one and after a while may you succeed. I was the bass player in the beginning, for three months, so I jammed with two other “beginners”, we didn’t have songs, and then I thought: Let’s start a real band, write real songs. After playing three months! And that made the beginning of Therion. We were called “Blitzkrieg” in the beginning, it was very noisy like Motörhead, or like Venom meets Metallica’s “Kill ’em all”, very chaotic. I changed to guitar and we started a better playing, we went more into a Death Metal direction after changing the band’s name to Therion. If you would have asked me in 1989 how I would look on the future, I think I would have predicted that we would have been experimental; because we were always considered different. If you listen to our early stuff today, you may say: Oh, standard Death Metal! But back then it was not, because it was very original and quite strange even. Death Metal was a reaction against the Metal that was earlier, and Trash Metal was a kind of a bridge: Everybody wears a T-Shirt and Jeans, like a reaction to this Glam-Hair-Thing, everybody had to look like the fans, just Kick-Ass and play the songs. Instead of the bands being big stars everybody was just a friend; if you had three bands playing, everyone would have been banging to each other. And Death Metal was a kind of a continuation of that, just like Punk: You rebel against something, you still create a new set of rules. Like: Oh, you have to look in a certain way, and you should not have strange clothes. Therion’s first album were old songs written in the 80’ies, there is a Jimi Hendrix influence in a song called “Megalomaniac”, and we used some keyboards – not much, but some people thought: Keyboard and Death Metal?? My main aim for this was Celtic Frost, they were a guiding star for many years.
During the tour your new album is sold, this time it contains only covers of French chansons, some of the originals are really old songs I saw. Are you a big fan of such kind of music?
I wouldn’t say they are chansons, some of them are just old “Schlager”, some of them are “Baroque-Pop”, and some of them are not very commercial songs. You have to find them on old vinyls. It is not so different from our tape trading in our Death Metal days, because an underground scene for French Baroque-Pop would be completely crazy! But Baroque-Pop was a great inspiration, definitely. You can hear a lot of influences if you know where to look, and Therion was always a band that took very strange influences. When we covered ABBA, people asked: You like this? Yes, ABBA is one of my favourite bands! And you can definitely hear ABBA in some songs. But the thing is: Music is being about repacking stuff, and in the Metal scene it is really important that things are “true” – like a stamp, a proof that says: You can listen to it. I give you a great example, Sabaton for instance. A good band! They are playing melodic hard rock, almost like AOR technically, but their singer sings more brutal, they have lyrics about wars and battles, so therefore: A proof, you can listen to this, it’s cool. If they would not have that, if they had a more regular singer, people would say: What is this joke?? Or take Manowar. I listened to “Carry on” from the “Fighting the World”-Album, it is total radio Pop with guitars. But it’s Manowar, hey, it’s cool! A lot of music could actually been enjoyed by a lot of Metal crowds, but it doesn’t have this proof stamp. What we tried to do with this record is an art project with many angles. One out of this many angles is to show that it is not so far from us as you may think. Some of this covers are very close to the originals - but you wouldn’t buy the originals. You Germans and the French never had a good understanding in culture: You think they are powdered and drink too much red wine, and they think you eat sausages and drink too much beer and have to proof everything. But on the other hand, if Rammstein would sing in French, may Germans would like the album! (laughing) If somebody would have sent a Rammstein demotape to a French record label before they got signed, they would have answered: You must been fucking joking! It is a German band that sings in German, singing sounds like an angry Hitler, do you think we can sell this in France?? – It was out of their mind, and now they fill stadiums, even in England. Everything is about timing and packaging. Another example: If Marilyn Manson was fat and ugly with thick glasses and short hair, wearing a pink T-Shirt, he wouldn’t have sold more than five records. Everything is about styling, look at the German Goth scene. They like Baudelaire, but the traditional German metalheads say: Jesus Christ, what is this? I have been quite surprised how positive the reactions have been. From the very beginning it was like fifty-fifty, some very negative reactions and some positive ones, but with the time there have been 75-80 per cent positive reactions. Strange enough, the most negative reactions were from France. You would think that most of them were from Germany.
Didn’t you fear that maybe some fans will not understand this movement to French covers?
Of course, it is a part of the art project that some people should be displeased, their reactions are a part of the project. The art project is continuing to the end of the year, the album is of course a main part of it. After the tour the remaining part will be conducted. Some of them are more internal things that you may not notice that much, and some of them will be more public. The end of the art project probably sum up, for the public maybe not so understandable. But it is a part of it that we not explain things, like the video clips we released. Originally I decided to release them and let them be for a week without explanations, and then I would explain them. But some reactions were so invaluable that I decided to wait another week.
Were there even other songs you wanted to cover? And if yes, which criteria did you have while choosing the songs for the album?
They are just my favourite songs. That’s the thing: Anybody can shock with anything, anybody can do a stupid idiotic thing and shock the world; it is not very hard. If you are gonna do something with style, that a lot of people can like, you can still shock people. Like WASP did it in the 80’ies with their first album. Everybody loved it, it was a fantastic record, but they were forbidden to play in some places. That’s the Baudelairian spirit. He didn’t think publishing a poem that shocks people is right, he wrote but he failed. He was a completely disturbed person in his own times, and he just exposed himself. I would say the link to Baudelaire is not so much his poems itself or him as a poet, it’s more the reactions from the people around that fascinated me, that there were six poems forbidden; three because they were insulting religion, and three because of lesbian love, which is strange in a country where liberalism was born. Baudelaire had to pay money when brought to court for insulting the entire nation, for insulting the people of France by writing his poems and making them available. It is not like he put them on posters in town, they were just being offered in a book, for that he had to pay a lot of money and were banned. The interesting thing is that he was banned until 1949, then the ban was lifted. But even when he was not illegal anymore, he was delayed in a lot of things until 1986, until you could actually buy a complete collection of “Les fleurs du mal” in the store, what I found very fascinating. So this is how I wanted to provoke a bit. I did it because I wanted it, this is one reason, but also to create an art project in order to provoke. How do you provoke the metal scene? You can’t have more blood, you can’t have more devils, so what should you do? Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll? Fist-Fucking crocodiles? We had this all. The only thing left would be like a pedophile album, but this is tasteless! (laughing). I realized that you can provoke people by breaking unwritten laws, this is why I told you this about Death Metal earlier. We broke those laws by using keyboards, meeting eastern music. When met it first, people thought that in the best case it would be very experimental, in worst case completely lunatic. When we made “Theli”, Nuclear Blast didn’t like it, everybody thought it was strange, but then we sold our records! I thought, to do this in a way today would be to take old Pop songs that really push the people: “Why French, why Pop songs?!” The art project is mainly focused on France, so you can call it a French project, and especially there a lot of people will be provoked. It is like we would have made Heino-Songs and such other stuff in German! But we still make listenable music, of course not everybody like it, but it sounds like songs from Therion in most cases. The album has 16 songs if you buy the one with bonus track, and I would say at least sounds as much as Therion, that our old drummer thought I have written the songs, he didn’t realize that they were covered. One journalist recognized one of the songs as a cover, but most of them also thought I had written the songs. There are a lot of angles in this art project to take something that people think normally would be useless, but also for the people who know what it is, to provoke them and to have their reactions. It is a 25 years anniversary project instead of doing something boring like a best-of album, like Nuclear Blast wanted it. This is boring that it makes me falling into coma. The only thing that could be worse than a best-of album would be rerecording some old songs, like Running Wild or Twisted Sister did. Who wants that seriously? It is just wasted money and studio time.
In a letter you published on the band’s website, you wrote that the album is financed by you because you thought it would be too special for Nuclear Blast, is that right?
I didn’t think so, they rejected it. I didn’t have a possibility. They were offered a master tape and they rejected it. It’s because the cover songs, they don’t have to release it, that’s a clause in the contract that I have to write the songs myself. We are still signed to Nuclear Blast, but for this record they don’t have to do it, and if they don’t like it, it is better they don’t do. But I don’t wanna go to another label because we are a Nuclear Blast artist and we had extremely good relations over the years, I don’t wanna destroy that by stepping on anybody’s toes. I thought the best thing is to release it by myself, it feels better in every aspect. Also I saw the opportunity to try a new concept, always get those typical questions: Do we really need the record labels these days, Facebook here and Spotify there? I really think we need record labels because there is so much they do that people just don’t realize; when you don’t have them, it is a difference. But at the same time, if you develop the very strong brand like Therion did over these years, you can obviously book a tour without telling any album information. So far we had one out of two people who bought the CD, one out of two concert visitors went home with the new album. That is so much more than people told me about their dreaming of selling 50 copies a show, so far we sell hundreds each show. I am gonna probably break even by the end of the tour. It is a risky thing, but not as stupid as people thought. I am very happy with Nuclear Blast and we have many albums left in the contract, but it is good to know this possibility exists. Another part of the art project was to test the brand of Therion. What is Therion worth in terms of trust? Like you buy a new iPhone, you don’t need to test it first, because it’s a new iPhone and good, you buy because you trust and because you had good experiences before. When I told the booking agent to book a tour, he was asking if we had a new record. “Oh, a sort of.” Okay, what do you mean with sort of? “I can’t tell you now”, I answered. Maybe you can imagine when I got in contact with the booking agent it sounded like a scetch. So obviously it was much harder to put together a tour in that way, but with this we tested what Therion is really worth, and how much do they trust Therion that they do this and hope that it’s gonna work. Also with the fans who bought a ticket and don’t know what they bought it for. How many people buy a ticket for a concert just because it’s Therion? Of course now we are into the tour and you have internet, so the things have spread and people know more what they get. But in the beginning, like Belgium or the first France shows, nobody knew what he is buying a ticket for, they just thought: Therion is doing something, they are talking about a new record or whatever but we heard nothing; well anyway I buy a ticket! This is what I wanted to see, how many fans do we have at this level. And this make you understand the art project better, it is a lot of social behavior experimentation involved. Also with you journalists, you are used to get a promo in advance. If we send out promos, the cat is out of the bag and everybody knows it. But I wanted to keep the secret. I have a full understanding that labels felt like I’m stepping into their field and starting to say how we should do things, but it is a 25 year anniversary. Music journalists like you get tons of CDs every month, sometimes you don’t even get a CD but a download, and a lot of bands suck, obviously, but you have to listen through all this stuff. It is like you get bombed with famous bands telling things like: “Hello everybody, wake up, we are different!” So I want to do things different for music journalists, first of all I would like to give you personally a signed copy of the record instead of this stupid promo in a paper folder without lyrics, or a download. And secondly I want you to have it on the same terms as the fans, because you started doing what you do as a fan! It is a 25 years celebration and not just another record. This is our 15th Therion album and I don’t want it to be some fucking Status Quo album, you know, some old men who just pump out records. The worst thing that can happen is that you release a new record and people don’t talk about you anymore, then you are a dinosaur playing for middle-aged people working at banks. Which can be cool if you are AC/DC and fill stadiums, otherwise, I don’t know, I just want some fire in Therion and I want people to talk about what we do. Even if they don’t like it, I just want the reactions. That is what Therion has always been about, to break new ground and have people to be interested. If it is just another record, it’s boring, there has to be fire.
You also spoke about your enthusiastic goal to write a metal opera. If we have a look at the development of Therion it seems to be the next consistent and logical step, isn’t it?
Fashions come and go. Right now AOR music is becoming very out of fashion, it’s like Heavy Metal when the 90’ies came. There are still people who liked Metal, but a band like Iron Maiden got a question from music journalists like “Do you think your music has a future?” Asked to the guy playing in the biggest Heavy Metal band on the planet. I don’t think it’s gonna be that bad, because Therion is a bit outside the trends, we will always have our fan base, and we are gonna make unfashionable music in a couple of years. My feeling is: This is what I wanted to do even bigger, completely be against the stream. It is good we did it 25 years, and I expect we will do another 25 years; and instead of just making recording, promotion, release tours, this wheel just go on and on. It’s interesting to try a new way of working – we never made choreography, we never made stage scenery or draw costumes, wrote dialogues and synopsis. To do all of this is a great challenge. Right now, if I think of making a new record, I don’t really have a vision, I want to have a challenge. Something we have never done before. It could go terribly wrong, but it is the best way for Therion to work, to have a knive against the throat. If it could be terribly wrong, and then we work great, that’s when we have our finest moments. Also it would be interesting to attract people that were not our fans, to bring some quality music into the mainstream. But that also means that it could go on for quite a while. There’s a musical right now in Spain where Thomas Vikström (voc.) and Christian Vidal (git.) has been working on, they did ten shows in Madrid only. They put it on for a month, like a movie, and then it’s over and you do it in another city. So if that works, it could be that we staged for a few years, and it could be an interesting different experience. After this few years, we are gonna be so hungry to make a regular album again so that you will see an incredible fire. This is what I want, always to keep the hunger, to challenge ourselves and the listeners.
Okay, then I thank you very much for spending your time with this interview, I wish you all the best for the concert, and the remaining shows on the next days!
It’s my pleasure!
--- Vor dem Gig in Glauchau hatte unser Laughing Moon/Basti
mit Christopher (Gesang/Gitarre) das Vergnügen. Basti ist somit für den Inhalt verantwortlich.-----
Quelle der Promo-/Bandpics: focusion.de und Basti/LaughingMoon