Ghost’s Tobias Forge Reveals Other Music Job He Might Have Taken if He Wasn’t a Musician
Within the chat, Tobias and Jackie speak about walking the fine line between entertainment and social commentary, what roles musicians play as social influencers and he digs in by pulling back the curtain on his creative process.
In addition, Tobias shares one aspect of the music industry that he feels might have been an alternate job had he never achieved his goals as a musician. What is it? Read on to find out:
On the show with us is Tobias Forge from Ghost. Let's talk about the track “Jesus He Knows Me," your Genesis cover on the new Phantomime EP. It's smartly relevant. Tobias, how thin should the line between entertainment and social commentary be for Ghost?
I think it's always been important. Even on the first record, that is slightly more fantasy, I guess, a little bit more classic occult rock with black metal lyrics. There are hints of social commentary in that as well. “Stand by Him," that was the first song I ever wrote for Ghost that deals with the whole concept of witches, not from a supernatural point of view, but more from males accusing females of being witches because they're not doing what they want or that whole dilemma.
From the first album to the second, there was definitely a shift where I started writing. I needed more substance and I ended up sort of creating that more realistic but sort of wrapped in linguistic treatment that sort of made it appear as occult, but it has multiple meanings though.
So yeah, of course it's important. I think that there's this myth and there's a wish especially nowadays for a lot of how rock music in so many ways started as this big rebellion now it's just because of the age span and its history, it's obviously covering and embracing several generations and so there's a great deal of conservatism within the rock music community and I think that there is this wish for "Never talk politics, don't talk about that." It's sometimes uncomfortable but it's interesting how rock started as a rebellion and nowadays in some circles the most provocative thing you can do within rock is to talk about real [shit] [laughs], so, it's full circle.
Ghost, "Jesus He Knows Me" (Genesis Cover)
People act in accordance with religion and politics. Even for entertainers like yourself, what responsibility should come with being a social influencer?
If you're a rock musician, I think your responsibility is to entertain. I don't have a responsibility to be telling you how to live your life or what to think. But as a writer, I think that even if you have half a brain, you will write about what you see and what you hear and what you feel and that's how things have always been within rock music and I think it went up and down with the times a little depending on what the state of the world was at that point and sometimes, when you write really, you're fantasizing lyrics about Dungeons and Dragons and stuff. That's more of an escapism, which I'm all for.
Look at us. Obviously it's very much about escapism, but I think that most people cannot help but to get influenced by what is occupying their mind. I see that in a lot of music that I have listened to throughout the ages and even when you listen to Morbid Angel, a lot of Dave Vincent's lyrics back on the classic records, Altars of Madness, Blessed Are the Sick, Covenant, there's a lot of commentary in there. It's just that it's sort of mired in this mist of sort of occult language. There's a lot of that in a lot of music that I like. So, I try to just go in that tradition.
You hear about the world and it's different beings and it's errors and what to sing about if you're not talking about the state of the world. It's just happens to be right now be a very tumultuous time where a lot of these different subjects has come to the crossroads where it's very unclear what is good and what is evil. But that's what makes it interesting as well, I think. To revert back to your question, my responsibility, my job is to entertain people. I want people to have fun and I want people to come to our shows and feel good about themselves and have fun with their friends and you don't have to think about anything, I just want you to feel good.
Unlike Impera, which was crafted and meticulous, this new covers EP Phantomime seems purely intuitive, maybe even a bit impetuous. Why is that creative recalibration necessary, particularly now?
At the time, I had just come from the recording of Impera feeling not burnt out, but it was just that Impera was an intense period. When you're writing a record the way that I want to make records, which is meant to be this sort of rollercoaster of feelings and different tastes. If you compare it to the cullinaric world of being a chef, it's kind of like making a record.
For me, it's kind of like starting a new restaurant with a 10-course tasting menu. It's supposed to be the sort of thrill and this journey and when you've done that, sometimes you just want to have a barbecue and make hot dogs and beef and that's what I felt I wanted to just recalibrate a little and just make a rock EP of a different sort than the record just to go back to simpler form. Because obviously, sooner or later, I have to make a new record and I always make records influenced practically from by previous productions and what I feel right now is that making a new record would probably leave some place in the middle of those two, a little bit of the Phantomime process would mix with a little bit of the Impera process but in a new way.
Ghost, "Phantom of the Opera" (Iron Maiden Cover)
Ghost are functionally diverse, pulling from many different musical reference points. Whether you're creating or just listening, what triggers what your musical tastes will be on any given day?
Oh, good question. I can just like a schizo jump between black metal and Motown. But of course, you get influenced and something sort of throws you in another way. If I don't listen to music, I have music in my head anyway and that can be anything from very, very non-melodic, sort of more rhythmic rhythms to something super poppy melodic and there's no rhyme or reason. it's just hooks. I just like good music.
Then, as I'm looking through my record collection, I guess that most of it is rock, pop-rock leaning. But I've spent a lot of time in my life, even when I was kid listening to classical music and I think that in many ways that colored listening to lots of classical music, which obviously is different from modern music in so many ways. It's not based on the same rhythms. It's not based on the same measurements and bars.
Also, when I started learning to play guitar, I listened to the first Pink Floyd record, which is also very bassy and froggy and weird and I listened to The Doors, which completely opened [me] up.It made the box of reference very elastic, because there was very little rules as to how to put chords next to each other and what melodies he could have, which -coming from that sort of background and that sort of threw me into ... my adolescence was completely in the extreme metal scene where you end up in some sort of mixture between rock and then I guess classical music in terms of unorthodox writing. Of course my perception on what a good tune is, is slightly different from your bebop, sort of '60s person, who learned how to just play the 12-bar blues and that quite straight sort of music but I like everything in between.
Ghost started with an eerie, very clandestine quality before morphing into a big extravagant production. What aspects of that evolution from beginning to now were actually pre-planned all along?
A lot of the things that I'm doing now are things that I spent half of my life planning or preparing for. I was always under the impression that I was going to be in a band. I’ve never really wanted to do anything else. Even when I was playing in a death metal band that, obviously, at the end of the day didn't really have much prospects of becoming a big band, I still thought that we were going to become at least a functioning band in terms of touring and living off of playing music. So, in my mind, it was always a given, I'm going to be a musician, I'm going to be touring. This is what I do, this is what I want to do and so when Ghost started off as a project of mine, it was a project that I had. One of many, and that ended up being the one that was going to mean that I don't have to go to a job, or to workplace.
A lot of the things that I had planned in my head and a lot of the ambition that I've had for wanting to be in an arena rock band sort of got put into the Ghost projects, because that is apparently what I'm best at and that's what happened. So, over the years and more from, in the beginning, and the first record, when that came out, I was kind of accepting that maybe this is going to be my art project, maybe this is going to be the band that I can do a show here and there with and it's going to be a fun, cool thing. But then it ended up being something that put me out on the road for a long time and as things grew, and we were playing in front of larger and larger audiences, all of a sudden, comes that question like, we need production, we need this and that. Now it's the time to take out all the notebooks that I've had, and that I've sort of done a million drawings of and, ever since I was a kid, I've been doing that forever.
One of my big loves when I was a kid, I was watching, and this is late '80s so there wasn't a whole ton of them, but there were a few concert films back then, some bands that had really, really big stage productions. And late '80s was also the golden age in so many ways - the golden era of really lavish stage productions, because you had Pink Floyd and they had come back and had done this big reunion. Their show was massive, and Rolling Stones was even bigger.
That was the film. One of the coolest things I've ever, ever seen and I used to sit there [and watch], It was like a live broadcast Rolling Stones. It was 1990 and it was broadcast from Barcelona and I had taped that and looked through it so many times and paused every frame, just to see what the stage looked like and how it was built and tried to draw it up and tried to figure out how they had done things and where they'd hidden the lights and how Mick Jagger could all of a sudden appear up on a tower and so there was this interest that I had in stage production and honestly if things hadn't been given the hand that I have and it was in an alternative life, I might as well work with stage production being sort of a designer for lights and staging and that's still like when I grew up. I want to do that. That's one of the coolest things I know.
Ghost, Phantomime EP Artwork
Pick up the new covers EP from Ghost. It's called Phantomime and we've got this tour this summer. Tobias, so great to catch up with you and looking forward to seeing you soon.
Thank you very much for having me and I'm looking forward to seeing you too.
Thanks to Ghost's Tobias Forge for the interview. The band's Phantomime EP is available now and you can pick it up here. Ghost will hit the road with Amon Amarth starting Aug. 2 in Concord, California. Get all dates and ticketing info here. And stay up to date with the band via their website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and YouTube accounts. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.