Interview with Therion guitarist/vocalist Christofer Johansson by Chaoslord

What was it like recording an album with a full orchestra and 170 musicians on it?

A: 164 musicians, 171 contributed. It was quite a project...spent nine months in the studio stretched over 11 months. Wrote over 1100 sheets of music for the project. It was a little bit pressured with the orchestra and the choir since they don't get to practice the scores before they get to the studio. If one guy messes up then you have to go back and do it again. Conductor was very good at getting the orchestra in order.

What made you decide to release this as a double album instead of a single disc like the albums in the past?

A: This is actually two different albums that are part of a trilogy. We decided to put out the two albums together to make it cheaper for the fans as kids nowadays do not have too much money to spend if you put out two albums close together. The reason for two albums being released together was because we had 55 songs there were 30 that were so good that we wanted to put them out. We wanted to do three albums but it would have taken close to a year to do that so we recorded the first two albums and decided to save the rest for the next studio session. After we are done touring and take a break and relax we will go into the studio and begin work on the third part. I figure that will be sometime in 2006 give or take.

When you go on tour do you take the full orchestra with you or is it just the band?

A: When we go on tour we don't take the orchestra cause it would be too expensive and would have to play bigger arenas similar to what Ozzy and Metallica play. We just take a small choir out with us because the choral and vocal parts are very important to have. With the orchestration we take the raw recordings with us so we have the raw data and put it through a digital machine. If you replace the orchestration with keyboards and such it would completely fuck up the songs, and we would need two guys to play the keyboards which would be extra money. We are trying to get one show together with the whole orchestra and choir but it will cost so much money for us to do.

Is anyone sponsoring the possible show with the Orchestra and where is it gonna be?

A: The show with the orchestra is fully responsible by us. We have to finance it ourselves and try and get sponsors to do it. We need to record a DVD as well and have been given the budget for that. We would like it to take place in Russia since that is where the recording would be the best, but the problem will be that the tickets will be less over there so that could equal a loss for us, but if we bring the orchestra it should make the loss not so much. Moscow is the city where we would like to play this show for the DVD. St. Petersburg I guess could work, but I wouldn't count on it. Moscow is a more richer area and most of our fanbase is there so that would be ideal for us to play at this location.

What are your thoughts on downloading CD's and burning them?

A: I feel that burning CD's at home is bad if you don't buy them. I think for the people my age and older it's not such a big deal because we grew up with vinyl and cassettes, if you copied those you got the same quality that was on the album or cassette. Nowadays the younger kids don't really see it as wanting to own the original copy, they don't have the feeling of valuing the actual album itself instead of just burning it so they can add it to their collection. MP3's are not a threat because most of the people that use the mp3 are listening to Britney Spears and shit like that and that is more of a threat to the record industry than to metal. The kids also download the lyrics and book cover and make a lot of work to get the cheaper copy, but if you spent half as much time working at a job instead of trying to do all this other stuff you could get the original. I have over 1000 cds in my collection and maybe 3 or 4 of them are burned. I would burn only if you couldn't get ahold of the artist or album anymore.

Since you are the only original member left is it hard for you when it comes time to record a new album?

A: Being the only original member I have adapted very well. After the second album when the original lineup disbanded I got used to it pretty quickly. From 1993-1997 there was some chaos involved, such as band members quitting for personal reasons, things not working out, and too much drinking. In 1999 with "Deggial" we got the lineup that has worked the best since even though the drummer left shortly after that, even though he found a replacement for us. He left because he didn't want to be in the music scene anymore. He didn't want to keep going around with a band that was in it for the long haul because he knew that he wasn't going to be in it for that. It's great working with Kristian (the other guitarist) right now and I couldn't think of working with anyone else. It's important for you to surround yourself with people that are good at what they do. If you have people that don't put forth the effort it makes you not want to do anything. But if you have people that practice 3-4 hours a day it makes you want to practice yourself and get better and that always helps with the albums.

How do you do the songwriting when it comes time for a new album? Is there any formula that you follow?

A: I have a Rock N' Roll attitude about writing where it is more spontaneous than planned. I just hear the music in my brain and go from there. Everyone in the band has a wide taste of music that ranges from 80's metal, Priest, Maiden, Accept, Sabbath, Wagner, Deep Purple, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, folk music from European, Arabic, and Germanic. I can't squeeze songs out. I like it spontaneous. Someone could offer me 10 million to write a ballad and I could maybe squeeze out a piece of shit that didn't sound good at all.

Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with if given the opportunity?

A: I would love to work with Uli Jon Roth, who used to play with the Scorpions. Since he left the Scorpions he hasn't been doing too much that would be considered metal but it would be really cool if he could/would work with us. But he seems to be focused on his own stuff so he might not be open to it. He's pretty isolated in what he's doing, but I met him once and he knows about us even though it was old stuff that I gave him.

"When you go in depth with learning how to write classical pieces you have to study it relentlessly."
How hard is it doing the classical metal combination with all the other trends that are out there right now?

A: A lot of bands are influenced in this way (Dimmu, Cradle) and that is very flattering. We don't take credit for it because bands in the 70s did it. I might have taken it to a new plane by combining the metal thing with it. Celtic Frost had an album (Into the Panthymoneum) with tympanis and a soprano singer on the album. They showed you could do it with extreme metal and it really opened my eyes and planted the seed for us today. The whole scene today is due in part to bands wanting to combine things that bands like us and before us have done.

Nightwish has a classical Soprano singing for them as a permanent member and that makes them quite different. Metallica's symphonic thing wasn't that good, they didn't really play together, just seemed like they were playing off beat. Then you have the commercial shit being squeezed out like Kiss and Scorpions. I like old Kiss, but the symphonic thing just seems like a money making ploy. We are a little different than other symphonic things because I write all the orchestrations for the album whereas other bands have people do it for them. It seems that they call to order a pizza and then they also try and order orchestration as well.

Are you self-taught when it comes to composing the classical parts of the albums or did you take lessons?

A: I am self taught with all the classical parts of it. I started to work with the choir, they are easy to work with since I am a singer myself. You need to consider all the ranges of singers with the pitch of the song. I worked with the strings, and since I played guitar and that made it a little easier. With "Deggial" I used brass and woodwinds separately and got used to that and then on "Secret of the Runes" I used both brass and woodwinds together. You buy books and CDs and wonder how they did things with certain pieces of music and you go buy the sheet music and see "Oh that's how they did it". When it comes to trombones you use tenor nowadays and there is a Wagner piece that features a bass and alto trombone playing with the tenor and I thought that sounded pretty cool so I kinda used that as a springboard for ideas I had. I bought some old books from the 19th century to learn about writing pieces for classical music. When you go in depth with learning how to write classical pieces you have to study it relentlessly.

What kind of stuff are you listening to right now?

A: I like the older stuff like Voivod, Maiden, older 70's bands, and a whole plethora of other things. I hate nu-metal, it shouldn't be called that, because it gives me a bad taste in the mouth.

If you had to chose one CD that you had to pick as your favorite what would it be?

A: If my house was burning I would take the box that had Wagner's Ring, it's an 18 CD collection. Most of the stuff in my collection couldn't be replaced so that's a tough question to answer. If I would have to go on an island I would take Wagner's collection as well. You don't get fed up with classical as you would with rock. If you listen to rock too much you can get tired of it because after a while it sounds very similar, yet with classical you have so much going on in classical that you notice something new each time you listen to a piece of music.

The first two albums you released were death metal, what made you change from death metal to the classically inspired metal?

A: When we started to play death metal, we were called Blitzkrieg and we played a noisy mixture between Venom and Metallica (Kill 'Em All era) and it sounded very rough and raw. We were bad musicians and I went from bass to guitar and we changed our name to Therion. We started playing death metal because it was really new and how many death metal bands can you think of from 1988? We started off playing death metal because we wanted to do something that was challenging. Then death metal bands started popping up everywhere and we went forward adding keyboards, female vocalists, and folk music. Death metal back then was quite conservative and what we were doing was considered crazy. I started trying to experiment with my voice and not do the typical death metal stuff and I started using female operatic vocals as well. It was a sort of natural evolution for us.

If someone asked you what to expect when you listen to a Therion CD how would you answer that?

A: Expect something you haven't heard before that is creative, innovative and comes from the heart. We make the record as something we want to buy ourselves. We felt there was something missing in the record stores and we wanted to do something different when we formed this band. As bands release more albums, they tend to lose their energy after the 3rd or 4th album. I don't blame them because if you play the same style music you would get burned out. I think with bands that evolve you get something to do different each time you record an album. To stay fresh do something you believe in and not look at it as a job.

Usually the last line is reserved for whoever we interview to ramble about whatever they feel...so go right ahead.

A: We never toured the US and we are looking forward to coming over there. We are being the supporting act so that will be hard since we headline in Europe. Earliest time would be late 2004 early 2005. We will need to see who will be open and chose depending on that. The record label wants us to try and break into the market, so depending on the response we might come back.

Thanks for taking the time to do this interview for our site. Best of luck to you on tour and with your future.

A: Thanks man. Take care.

TherionGreg Watson8/10/2004

Gothic Kabbalah

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