Since the release of their debut effort, Opus Eponymous, in 2010, Ghost have been steadily accreting power and influence. Known for their curiously upbeat and deliberately retro sound that often belies their grimly Satanic lyrics and concepts (they sound downright cheerful while singing of the bloody crimes of serial murderer Elizabeth Bathory), Ghost combine elements of '70s occult rock, dark psychedelia, classic heavy metal and even surf rock. Their latest effort, Infestissumam, does not change their signature sound in terms of concept or technique, but it does represent a refinement of their aesthetic. The sound is broader and deeper, more theatrical and bombastic than before, which also reflects the fact that their live shows are dramatic performative experiences, complete with massive sets and lighting, makeup and costumes. With a more grand sound and richer production values, with Infestissumam, Ghost are inching closer to capturing the energy of their live performance. Their continued rise in fame has not come without challenges, however, as they were recently forced to change their name to "Ghost B.C." in the United States due to legal concerns, though they firmly refuse to look at the change as anything but a necessary concession, thinking of the suffix as silent. Exclaim! was able to catch up with one of Ghost's deliberately anonymous Nameless Ghouls.
So, what is it like to be a Nameless Ghoul? Would it be comparable to being a henchman to a supervillain?
Ha! Yeah, I guess, it is a little bit weird. We have some sort of distance to everything that we're doing, that I think very very few members of semi-successful bands can enjoy, which adds both pros and cons. Pros are obviously that you can look at things in a more sober manner, look at what you're doing and distance yourself from it. Obviously everybody has their own delusions of grandeur, but when you're not stuck in the midst of it and you're not seeing yourself in everything that you do, you tend to more easily judge what you are doing, and look at things from outside yourself. This allows us to be a bit more conceptual and, for lack of a better phrase, true to our art.
So there is some comfort in anonymity, which allows you to focus less on the people making the art and more on the art that you are creating. This way the focus can be on the music and the record, and not on the characters of the artists.
Does this give you an extra level of control?
Yes, very much so.
I'm curious if the hierarchy of the characters you have constructed has anything to do with the way the band and your writing process operates. Because Papa Emeritus is the figurehead of the band in stage, does that mean he also controls the writing or organizational process?
From an aesthetic point of view, most of the material comes from one source, that one source being spread between a few members. We aren't really the type of band that jams out material.
So you have a few principal songwriters in the band?
Yes, and in our case, I think it's very important because it's a highly conceptual band, and especially since we're a playful group, the music is supposed to be playful, but if there are too many cooks then it might really get confusing.
You have a very spare and stripped down aesthetic, a sound that is very precise. Do you think that this writing style serves that?
Yeah, and I think that as much as everybody is very good at handling their instruments, a lot of the sound comes from the concept of knowing sort of how to handle an instrumentalist, whereas there are many, especially a lot of hard rock bands, that suffer from "Guitarist's Disease." It's very evident in many cases that the songs are written on a guitar only and then on top of that there are drums and vocals, and they have to [make] do with whatever space is left, that the guitar player hasn't already eaten up. Our modus operandi is different, where the song is sort of written in its acoustic, skeletal version first, and then its imbued with all the instruments underneath that. Obviously there is some guitar in there, but it is not a guitar hero exercise throughout the entire repertoire. It's supposed to sound like a group that really knows how to handle their instruments.
So one of the deliberate choices that Ghost makes is to have everything orchestrated in balance.
I have a question about pressure. Because your debut Opus Eponymous was so successful, garnering a lot of positive critical attention and getting you placed on some enviable tour slots. Did you find that you places any additional pressure on yourselves to follow up on this success with Infestissumam?
To fully paint a picture of my answer, I need to give you some background information. The [new] album, apart from one song, was already written and recorded once as demos already in 2011, which was before we actually started touring. We had toured, but the heavy artillery of touring and support tours and our first U.S. tour was still ahead of us at that point. There was a brief point in time in the end of the summer in 2011 where we were just about to go to the U.S. for our first U.S. tour, which was a support tour for a Norwegian band called Enslaved, and we found a little space and time where we quickly went into the studio, recorded everything, as a demo, just in order to do what you would probably refer to as pre-production, for us to be able to quickly record the album after the tour.
At that point we were obviously still singed to Rise Above, back in that old camp. That Enslaved tour was cancelled for us and we had to postpone everything, which turned out to be a headlining tour in the beginning of 2012. In the meantime, we came to the conclusion with Rise Above that it might even be more fruitful for both parties if we had the new album released by someone else. That and our extended touring and everything got prolonged and pushed back. So, by the time that we actually did record the album it was over a year old in our book. It was very much just going back to the demos and recreating that once more.
So we really never felt that pressure. We felt more probably a time pressure, because with most bands, and especially if you only have one album out, you suffer from the fear of... I know it might sound kind of funny now because obviously nothing really changed for us, or if it did change it changed for the better, but we were afraid back in 2011 that people would forget about us. We were very very stressed. We really wanted to just go into the studio and hammer out a new record, and just have it out so that we could start headlining. There have been many occasions where we have been headlining, we headlined one U.S. tour and we got slots on European festivals that were one hour and 15 minutes, and we had one hour of material. We can barely fill 50 minutes! And people complained that we didn't surprise them. Are you fucking kidding? What do you expect, a two-hour show? We didn't have two hours!
But, after August 2011 we had more material, so already by the first tour we played in the U.S. we could have played for one and a half hours. So we felt that we really needed to get into the studio, we really need to get this album out now, or everyone will get tired of us. That was just the creative mind, because for us everything is older. Even on the first album, those songs are from 2007, 2008.
So that means that Infestissumam was free from a lot of the external pressure that a lot of bands feel about their sophomore album, where they need to meet and surpass their previous success.
Yeah. Right now, as we are facing the release and we are here, it feels good, but now it's been another year, and we're planning album number three instead. We're constantly late with everything, it feels. But it's fun, and I'm glad now that it took so much time, because there was a lot of things that we wouldn't have accumulated had we released the album on January 2012. Obviously we wouldn't have the same machinery behind us, which helps.
I have to ask about the same change, the alternation of your band name from Ghost to Ghost B.C.. Why did you choose the suffix B.C.?
It was just an amendment that we needed to do in order to have the record released. For us it means nothing more than adding LLC or something. We are Ghost only, we will never refer to ourselves as anything else. As soon as we don't have to use that we will eliminate that.
And the name change is only necessary in the United States, is that correct?
Yeah, that's the only place where it was necessary. The label sort of freaked out a little bit because they don't want to promote a band that has one name in one territory and another name in another. So, In guess it falls back on each and every territory, whether they want to release it as Ghost or Ghost B.C.. Frankly, I wouldn't say that we don't care, but to each territory its own. We are Ghost, and if they want to promote Ghost B.C. that's their loss. We are Ghost, we will never call ourselves anything other than Ghost. And it's just in their concept, in their frame, that we're calling ourselves B.C.
So the change was simply a gesture to change the name as little as possible while still entirely retaining your identity.
Exactly. We felt that the most important component of our DNA apart from the music is the visual part of it and the logo. As long as the logo was intact, it felt like a minor concession.
How did the performative, theatrical and visual aspect of Ghost come to be as important a part of the band's identity and the live show experience as it is?
Very early on, when the material came together in the project phase before it was actually a band, when it was a logo and a couple of songs, it came together by itself because the material and the lyrics sort of screamed a over-the-top commitment to the dark side. It is hard to make that credible and really eerie. What we thought of when we heard the songs is basically a band that looks the way we do now. We wanted that to become this big horror, out of the old school. When that dawned upon us, we thought okay, let's spend the time that we need to refine this and that took a few years before we got to the point where we were able to perform something that had a mere molecule of our idea. Obviously looking back now, it's really nothing in comparison to where we are now, and that's still just in a stage of becoming what we have in mind.
So you see yourselves becoming increasingly theatrical and visual as time goes on?
Oh yeah. We are a theatrical band, and it makes sense that we would expand to the point where we can do a great deal of damage. A big show, basically, and it's supposed to be something that people want to see. A spectacle.