Interview || The One With Christofer Johnsson of Therion

Therion has embarked on one of their most ambitious projects, the release of the "Leviathan" trilogy, three albums that draw elements from the band's discography. While preparing for their show in Athens on January 15th, we caught up with mainman Christofer Johnsson, who detailed the inception of the trilogy and managing expectations.


U: Hi Christofer and welcome to Unraveled, it’s a pleasure to have you here. Album number 18, “Leviathan II”, was released just a couple of months ago. How’s the reception been so far?

Christofer Johnsson: It’s been great. The ”boom” around it has been less than for "Leviathan I", but I guess that’s normal when the entire trilogy concept and all was presented along with the first one. It’s too early to say which one is more popular though. 

U: After being active for 30 years, what was about the timing in Therion’s career that prompted  the conception of the “Leviathan” trilogy?

C.J.: 35 years actually. We just felt we had done everything we wanted, so we needed a new type of challenge and trying to give the fans what they wanted was that challenge. Thankfully it seems like we succeeded. At least ”Leviathan I” did really well. 

U: For the trilogy, you drew inspiration from the band’s back catalog and crafted about 40 songs. What factor determined which song would be more suitable for each release?

C.J.: What we did was to study the most popular songs of the band and then try to figure out why specifically those songs were the most popular ones - because they all had quite different styles. Like what the secret sauce used in them would be. And then try to make more songs with that sauce, without copying any of the previous songs. 

U: In the press release, you state that “[you] have decided to give the people what they kept asking for”. While I was giddy to read that, being an old fan myself, I couldn’t help but wonder about the possible caveats in the situation. If this statement builds a precedent, how would you manoeuvre the risk of sacrificing your creative freedom in the future to satisfy the fans’ needs/wants?

C.J.: First of all, it was my creative freedom to choose to do this. For each record I always tried to challenge my self as a song writer and this time was the challenge to try to do this. But for sure it had a lot of risks doing this. But the risk was if we fail in the eyes of the crowd. This was the first time we promised the fans something, earlier it was always ”what you get is what you get”. In our catalogue there has been some more and some less successful albums. But the fans always knew Therion is a bumpy ride and they may not like everything we do equally much. ”Therion’s worst album” is often the fave Therion album to some other fan. And records that were considered a flop in its time tend to get classic status with time. The best example is "Secret of the Runes", which sold only half of what "Vovin" had sold and got a lot of complaints. But 10 years later we were paid extra money to play the entire album live on a tour…

So in conclusion, if an album is less popular it was usually because it was ”more difficult” than other albums. For each complaint on internet, there would be someone defending it as the best. Not every album is for everyone. So when we said ”We will make an album for pretty much everyone”, it’s a pretty risky thing. Now, because we had so much inspiration for this challenge, we wrote enough good material for 3 albums and decided to give each album a direction it meant we would aim at different categories of fans. So then of course there would as usual be mixed opinions of each album - but as long as the majority of the fans find ”their” Leviathan in the trilogy, it’s mission accomplished.

It’s also kind of ironic how people write ”Please make a new this or that album or songs like this or that” over the years when we did something not in their liking - and then when we finally try to give people what they want (even without being cheap and bluntly try to copy old songs/albums that they suggested) you still get dumb comments about the new material not being ”honest” and stuff like that.  Fact is that the way we wrote the Leviathan albums is the way that MOST bands write their songs. It’s the NORMAL way of writing music. To consciously trying to write in a certain direction. This is how most of the biggest hits of metal was composed. "Ace of Spades", "Run to the Hills" and "Breaking the Law" weren’t written in attempt of trying to be original or finding the inner self musically, they were written to be hit songs. What matters is - are they GOOD songs and did the band love them too (though you can of course get tired of songs that has been in your live set for 30+ years)? And that’s the core of honest, passionate and good song writing. When Priest (to exemplify with one of my old heroes that still mean a lot to me) listened though the mix of "British Steel", I imagine them being as thrilled about "Breaking the Law" as the fans would be, not sitting and thinking ”Oh, it’s crap, but will probably sell”. Listen to their "Point of Entry" album, there they intentionally tried to write more commercial than they wanted (to please the record company) - and the result overall rather toothless and even a bit boring for being a Priest album. It’s absolutely not useless (it has a song or two that is popular), but it’s for sure no ones fave Priest record. And especially not for the band. But it’s sad if some fans really can’t tell the difference between hits songs that the artist loves and is proud of and factory made songs done without passion. 

U: Further to that, the trilogy is undoubtedly a very ambitious effort. How do you manage the expectations it created and how do you measure its success?

C.J.: These days of streaming, it’s easier to measure success. I’m a huge fan of Iron Maiden, so I bought also the two albums with Blaze. The first one was OK and I listened some to it, the second one, ”Virtual XI” I didn’t like at all, so I played it maybe 3-4 times + maybe another spin or two over the years to see if it ”was really that bad”. As back then you couldn’t pre-listen, you’d instead find out after you bought the record if it was good or bad. Unless you wanted to wait for some friend to buy it first and listen there. But wtf wants to wait some weeks when one of your fave bands make a new record?? So they sold a record to me no matter if I listen to it one or a million times, they can’t tell the difference. Many bands back in the days also sold a weak follow up on the back of the successful album before. Like when me and everyone I know bought Slayer’s "Divine Intervention" because the three previous albums had totally blown us away. So that album sold like hell and charted high because we all bought it unheard. But later it turned out to be their incomparably least popular album among the fans. So record sales back then wasn’t always an indicator of popularity, it could also be of expectations. 

With streaming, you get a lot of streams initially from people checking out the album, but if it’s not in the liking of the fans, the streaming will very soon die out. And also for fans who still buy CD/vinyl every changed. There are usually 2-3 songs released as digital singles that they can pre-listen to (on YT if they don’t have a streaming app installed) and they can listen to the entire album on the release date and decide if they want the CD/LP or not. So by that also the physical sales becomes a way to determine the success in a more fair way these days. It’s not possible to compare todays sales with the old albums, because many of the old fans don’t buy physical albums anymore. But you can compare the sales between different streaming er albums and of course with other bands releasing albums now. 

U: For you as the songwriter, what elements must a song have to qualify as a “Therion hit”?

C.J.: It’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t a songwriter or at least a musician. There are of course obvious things that goes for any bands hit songs, like strong melodies and to ”get to the point” in the song without too much hazzle around in between. Specifically for Therion it seems also to be certain moods that are hard to describe to ”civilians”. 

U: With the pandemic and the members of the band living in different countries, how did you approach the recordings and how did this situation influence the overall songwriting process?

C.J.: Songwriting we did the same way as always. We send files to each other. Recording had to be done on distance, which was new to us, but it has both advantages and disadvantages. 

U: As always, there’s a multitude of guest singers on these releases, including Mats Leven, Snowy Shaw, Noa Gruman and Marco Hietala. How do you choose the guests for each album, and how did it feel to work with Mats and Snowy again?

C.J.: It’s usually a spontaneous though when it comes to singer. You hear in your head what kind of voice you need and then think of who you know who sing that way. 

I asked Snowy to play drums because we didn’t have a drummer at the time. Sadly he didn’t do a good job, so half of the songs required heavy editing and the other half we had to re-record. 

U: On January 15th Therion will return to Athens. Do you have any memories that stick out from your previous performances? What should fans expect?

C.J: Athens is always great. A memory that sticks out is first timer we played Rodon Club some 25 years ago, it was our first time playing Greece and it was a very explosive experience. 

Therion returns to Athens on January 15th at Piraeus Club Academy | LOULOU is Present.

Presale: €25
VIP (Limited seating): €30

Presale points:
Phone reservations: 11876
Viva spots (Wind, Public, Media Markt, Evripidis, Technopolis)

Share on Google Plus

0 σχόλια :

Post a Comment