Sales figures and reviews, two things that always come up when talking to Therion's loquacious Christofer Johnsson. There is no more influential person in the symphonic metal spectrum, having been the lone shark in the field for most of the 90's. This is probably where the man's infatuation with sales and critics stems from, for his high-risk manuevers for the Theli and Vovin albums were initially met with consternation, only to become top-sellers and media favorites. This regular "walking of the tightrope" routinely placed the band's career in jeopardy, but the resultant success at the cash register and magazines gave Johnsson an itch that he simply cannot scratch enough.
Recent scratching and/or adventure-taking came by way of last year's all-French La Fleurs dul Mal. Designed as an art project to celebrate 25 years as a band, La Fleurs is yet another in a very long line of bold, but high-reward outings from Therion. And being that the album is comprised solely of French classical music covers, the aspect of re-interpretation might turn off those accustomed to the band's high-build orchestral metal. However, it's made people talk, and as you'll read below, few things get Johnsson going more than that. Thus, discussion was to revolve around the new album and segue into Therion's ambitious plans for their own musical...yet another mountain for Johnsson to scale.
Blistering.com: To start, I read an interview of yours recently where you said you’re willing to risk your career with every album you do. Isn’t that the whole allure behind Therion? The risk-taking?
Christofer Johnsson: We’ll always do that. We didn’t have much to lose in the beginning…we just made strange albums that no one bought [laughs]. I mean, we sold a couple thousand of the first few records, but we were a real underground band for the first three albums. For the fourth album, we were doing better, but not much, but the fifth album, Theli, we…then the question was brought up because after all these years we started to have the success. The record company wanted us to copy Theli. The way I work, I just write songs. I can’t write anything else…it’s what I do. I didn’t even try to write something in a different direction, and I didn’t want to write something in the direction of Theli. I did what I wanted all these years and finally after nine years and five records, so why should I start becoming a whore? I’ve learned it pays off trying to be true to yourself. Maybe it doesn’t pay off in the beginning, but sooner or later it does.
After Theli, people whined about a new record after we released it, but after a couple of years, it was all of the sudden a classic. The ongoing thing – everytime we release a new record, there’s been a lot of slag-off, especially since the Internet broke through. If you would make a compilation just of the release of a new Therion album and published a book, you would get the impression we never made a good album. We just made one flop after the other. Somehow, we’ve still managed to sell over a million records, so someone has to be happy.
Blistering.com: I don’t think you can argue with that [laughs].
Johnsson: That’s something we’re noticing with the promotion of the new record. We didn’t spend one dollar on promotion of this record, but it’s the most talked-about record since Theli. No one knew what was coming and since the album was sold straight to fans at the concerts…you couldn’t buy the record anywhere unless you came to the concerts. So after the first concert and sales, fans would put stuff on the Internet and the people were negative were the fastest and loudest. I don’t’ know what’s wrong with some people – they don’t seem to have a life.
They always exaggerate extremely. Instead of “Hey, a band I’ve heard about and like, they just made a record I don’t like.” But instead, they exaggerate in the most extreme, emotional way. “They’re doomed, they’re doomed!” They have to make such a big deal out of things. When you read the first reactions, you think the band must be smoking crack [laughs]. It will make Metallica’s [much-derided] Lulu sound good. If the good thing is, if you like a band and you read something and it says “The new record is good.” You will buy it after a couple of days or weeks, but if someone told you “The band you like…they just completely blew it. They made a Lulu. You have to fucking hear this.” You’ll be like, “Where’s the link?”
Blistering.com: And therefore, it helps you guys.
Johnsson: This is how it works. I could have written down a lot of comments I knew the negative people would say, sealed it in a letter for a lawyer and posted it publicly after the release of the record and 90% of what was there is so predictable. I’m the kind of guy if you give me tools, I can do something useful with it. If you give me shitty tools, I won’t be able to build a castle with it, but I can do something useful. If someone gave me horseshit, I won’t be “Wow, I have a handful of horseshit!” I’ll be like, “Okay, I don’t like having this in my hand, but I forgot that it’s useful as fertilizer.” These internet idiots without a life, just throwing up on everything and everybody, self-explained experts and half-retarded people who think they are smart, but don’t have a life because they have an internet connection…it’s a very bad combination. These people are the horseshit in our hands, so we use them to grow the flowers of evil.
Blistering.com: Something that piqued my interest with La Fleurs dul Mal was that there was no run-up to the album. You didn’t do any press beforehand…you almost did it, for lack of a better term, “guerilla-style.”
Johnsson: This was intentional. We didn’t drop the notice until one week before the tour that we were releasing something and selling it directly to fans. The thing is, for people to talk, you cannot buy it for money. You can buy full-page advertisements in every metal magazine in Europe. I know it’s different in North America where you don’t have very many paper magazines, but in Europe, you have Rock Hard and Metal Hammer, etc. and they charge a lot of money if you want an advert. It costs a lot. Even if you took the back cover in all of these, it’s nothing compared to getting people to talk. Especially if you’re a band that’s aging like Therion. This is our 15th studio album.
Symphonic metal was never becoming a big thing in the U.S. or Canada. In Europe, Nightwish goes platinum, they play ice hockey halls at their peak, in the U.S., they would pull a thousand at best. You really can’t compare, but what we’re doing is becoming out of fashion. You could become one of those “status quo” bands. Like, “Hey, another Budgie album, cool!” I’m 40 years-old…I’m not prepared to become one of those bands. I want to challenge people and people to talk about a record, not that people who have our 14 previous albums will buy our 15th. It’s cool…our fans are getting older and having kids that work at banks, and that’s all fine. I still want to challenge people.
Blistering.com: Clearly, the new album isn’t like the rest of your catalog. Therefore, you’ll still staying fresh, like you were talking about.
Johnsson: Exactly. You have to do new things. The more out of fashion you become and the older you get…you need to create a controversy so people have something to talk about. It’s necessarily the music, but something for people to talk about. People like to quarrel about something…nothing beats a good quarrel, especially on the internet. Some people think you’re an idiot, while some say you’re a God coming down from the sky. That’s what creates the healthy friction.