Tobias Forge Enlisted Help From Opeth Guitarist on New Ghost Album
Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show. With the new album, Impera, due in March and a co-headlining North American tour with Volbeat about to launch, the visionary spoke about the creative process behind the record and even revealed that he sought help from Opeth guitarist Fredrik Åkesson when it came to recording.
While the pandemic derailed plans for countless bands, it actually didn't impact Ghost much at all at first as Forge had already planned to use most of 2020 to focus on writing a new record. The band is about a year behind schedule and had originally planned to return last year, but uncertainties surrounding touring and the pandemic in general, gave pause.
Forge also relayed how difficult it is to write lyrics the further he gets into his career, with an aim of not repeating phrases and rhymes, which can prove to be quite difficult.
Read the full interview below.
The pandemic afforded musicians time to focus on writing music without the demands of touring. How much of an adjustment was it to be able to work at an actual creative pace?
Creatively, I wasn't really smacked out of sync or anything. In March of 2020, when we did our last show, that was the end of our so-called tour cycle. It was already planned to go out of public view, like a hiatus, and I was basically booked in a writing studio because I'd already started writing material.
When March came, the idea was for spring to be for writing and pre-producing the tracks and then record in the summer 2020 and for there to be some time off after the summer and then start again in March.
A year from then, what ended up happening was that the world turned into this really weird zone of angst and uncertainty and what it gave was me a lot of time to be with my family, and to write more and write for longer. It was something that I hadn't really had in quite some time and that was a little time to marinate on material.
[I didn't marinate on] what to do because I already knew beforehand what the record was going to be about, the semantics of the record and the color scheme — that was already sort of predetermined. What ended up happening was that we pushed everything and we're starting the tour and almost a year later than we had expected.
A lot of my friends and colleagues who to postpone and cancel [tours] and I got off really, really easy which I'm happy about because the record actually got better, I think.
Sometimes I'm a little bit too optimistic and it's like, "Yeah, I can just pull it off in three months," and every time except for the first record was made under stress and even though I write all the time, but the execution of a record was always with of a tour around the corner. That's why we often have ended up mixing very close to touring starting and then we have the record coming out in the midst of a tour and stuff that is not always optimal. That's not how we planned originally. That's usually by mistake.
Your creative process is often to collaborate on songwriting then, in the studio, perform much of it yourself. What's the benefit to working at both ends of that creative spectrum?
It enables me to have something similar to a perspective slightly objective that way because I'm a little bit of a jack of all trades when it comes to actual playing. I'm an able drummer, a bass player, an able guitar player, but I'm not a virtuoso.
This time around, I actually had another guitar player coming in, mounting the massive work of actually redoing everything. I've played guitar all my life, but, unlike most guitar players who are in successful bands, they play as they tour. I am doing a whole slew of other things, so, it almost feels like every time I saw start writing again, and demoing and doing pre-production, I quickly have to go up to par again.
On, tour for example, I mostly play drums, actually, in a rehearsal room in the back that we usually do as a warm up. Part of my daily exercises, I play drums for an hour, but I tend to forget to play guitar. When making this record, the demos dictates what to play — you can always figure that out and there's always ways to redo, undo and piece things together.
But when it came to actually performing, I had a friend of mine, Fredrik Åkesson, the guitar player from Opeth. He's the sort of person who plays five hours every day. He's so amazingly talented. He can play circles around anything that I put on tape and he can do it with flair.
Ghost, "Hunter's Moon" Music Video
What is the benefit is to being the primary songwriter in the band?
The good thing about that is I don't play one role in a band where there's five other egos. It's easier for me to go, "No, you can skip the solo here. I can move this solo around. I can take this little bass part... I can do this little guitar parts on the piano and on the organ." Try saying that to a guitar player. If it's his piece and moment to shine, that's going to cause problems.
From my perspective I can tell people that I bring in for a certain piece that I know that he or she will do better than I can, I just tell them what to do. It's already been predetermined what to do. It's not saying, "Here's free rein, here's five minutes and you can do whatever you want on it." It gives me a little bit more of a director sort of perspective on things, even though I wrote the story. Even when it comes to vocals, I listen to my own vocals and I try to be as objective as I can.
When you're five months into making a record... this always happens... at one point or another all of a sudden my ears get I call 'hearing AIDS.' That's when you ears sort of die — that's morbid and not funny, but that's what happens and all of a sudden I don't like the record anymore. This summer, I came into the studio and my ears just died — I don't like this record anymore.
From then on, it was so much harder because I didn't like it. You get so tired of it and then when you're in the aftermath of having made a record and you occasionally listen to it because you need to you have these moments where it sounds better than you remembered. Then you hear it again a few days later it's like, "Wow, this sucks."
It's a very painful process.
Once you've gone over that little threshold, there's ups and downs and everything has pros and cons. Generally, when a producer or someone comes in and is working with me, usually that person is really happy not to have an opinionated band around. You don't have to deal with someone that doesn't really carry the weight.
I can tell someone I know who is a great keyboard player who can play exactly this little bit that I know what I want. I know what I hear and we can fake it like that. But if we want someone who can actually play like that, we can just call that person and we don't have to rely on our guy or girl to do it. That is not to say that the band that I have isn't able. They're really good at playing anything that I tell them to do, which is fantastic.
Ghost, "Call Me Little Sunshine" Music Video
The stories told by Ghost lyrics are vivid and thematic and often the last thing you write. What's the most challenging aspect of writing lyrics?
It's continuing to tell a story or something new. Most things I've write end up being cynical and kind of dark, which, which makes perfect sense because it's Ghost. But sometimes I really feel like I have a hard time finding a new way to say things. I try not to repeat rhymes or repeat phrases and that becomes a hurdle sometimes because when there's a rhyme and there is someone in the room, usually the producer, they'll ask what the word I'm using is and they'll go, "No, that's pronounced like this."
That has happened to me, not so much nowadays, but in the beginning of my career. There were a few moments where it was something that was mispronounced and I made a rhyme out of mispronouncing something. Sometimes you can make it fun like the Ramones singing, "Texas chainsaw 'mass-a-cree' / They took my baby away from me."
Sometimes, it means that you're one minute from singing the lyrics on the record, so you quickly have to rewrite something or rephrase something that didn't sound good. Sometimes you write poetically, and it looks good on paper, but when you sing it, it doesn't sound very well, like the vowels are wrong or there's something in there.
When you have to rewrite something on the spot, I find it very hard sometimes to compete with my own will not to repeat rhyme.
If you take like two big writers — Bob Dylan or Lord Byron — you look through a ton of their lyrics and their rhymes sound basically the same — a lot of you/blue/new. Their rhymes keep repeating and I'm allergic to that. I really want to use new words all the time and that definitely ends up being a gargantuan task every time. I want to be equally delivering but not predictable. I definitely don't want to fall into you/blue/new sort of trench.
There's a reason for those words and those vowels being repeatedly used in lyrics because they're the best and that screws with your security sometimes. I've set a high bar for English — with English being my second language, I'm not a poet and I'm not a lot of these things that I painted myself into a corner having to do that every time. Every time I'm done with a record, I just want to write 'gender rock' instead. It is so much easier to write about.
Papa Emeritus for is now a character in the gaming world, appearing in Iron Maiden's 'Legacy of the Beast' mobile game. What's more surreal coming to life in a video game or seeing yourself alongside Eddie?
I don't really see it as me being in there. This sort of connects with your previous question about when I mentioned perspective — I don't see myself in the conceptual world of Ghost, visually. As a relatively vain person who had been photographed in character many times, I don't like seeing photographs on myself. That enables me look a little bit more objective.
I'd vomit if we had the same merch and overexposure if it was my face on it. We lent our character to Iron Maiden and that alone is a great honor, but I see that as they liked an extension of my work rather than myself.
What's the most important thing to consider when planning a stage production that needs to match the a esthetic of the music?
Oh, that's a good question. I mean, for every I mean, that is sometimes the hardest and sometimes the easiest way,
When you've established your repertoire over the course of five records and EPs and a few things, you find yourself having to automatically start doing a few nostalgic things in your show that need to be there, which helps because you have that as a guideline.
From like a physical point of view, there's quite a lot of people onstage and they need to fit. They need to have room and there are also practical solutions that we've worked out over the years that you can't really alter that much. You can only improve them, but when once they're solid, that means you can't really change those without risking an unfriendly sort of environment onstage.
Luckily, I think that we still have a lot of cards up our sleeve when it comes to our stage show. I'm not saying that we didn't do well before, but what we've seen is nowhere near the to-do list. This time around, I feel that we were closing in on a new step.
The hardest bit is actually when you're dealing with another band because they have a completely different agenda and their legacy and their repertoire and their tricks and all that. That's a little bit harder because you need to make everything transformable.
Thanks to Tobias Forge for the interview. Pre-order your copy of 'Impera' here and follow Ghost on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.