Ghost Stories with Tobias Forge

Swedish rock band Ghost has earned itself a bit of a cult following after more than 10 years of Satanic theatrical rock. The tongue-in-cheek Satanism is enhanced with over-the-top costumes, theatrical videos, fancy merchandising and a storied catalog of lead characters created and performed by frontman Tobias Forge. And it’s a formula that attracts thousands to its concerts.

With a new tour, aptly named The Ultimate Tour Named Death, and a new “retro” 7” inch single called Kiss The Go-Goat, Tobias and his band of nameless ghouls have been travelling across North America at a frantic pace. Ghost’s only stops in the area however, are in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Oct. 14 and Hamilton on Oct. 17.

We spoke with Tobias ahead of this North American tour and tried to dive into the psyche of what it takes to be a Ghost.

I hear that there are a few exciting things happening this fall. First I’d like to talk about the new show for the arena. It’s for the Ultimate Tour Named Death. What’s the difference?
The difference between what most people saw close to a year ago and this tour is that since it’s all in an arena setting, there are various production limits as opposed to last time, we went through Toronto. Especially a theater show. The theater shows that we did in the fall, we had no pyro, first and foremost, and then it was a crapshoot basically if we have all the staging or not. We did a lot of staging in many of the theaters, but many also ended up being no staging at all.

There was just an inconsistency that was very annoying. Another very important issue for me, and I think for the band, and I also think that at the end of the day, it becomes an issue for the crowd as well, is that we a have no seats now. Well obviously, if it’s an arena, you’d have bleachers on the sides, but in front of the stage, you have a big general admission floor. You get a completely different vibe. The whole vibe is so much more vibrant, and way more in tune with the music rather than people sitting, and standing and being barred to their little confined space. Just the general vibe of the show will be dramatically different, and I am very happy also that we’re doing the same show for anyone. Everyone, be it if you come to the Hamilton show or if you’re in South Dakota or Fargo, whatever. Wherever we’re playing, we’re giving the same show to everyone, and that for me is a big, big, big step up.

You’re known for your exciting merchandise, and there’s a bunch of new stuff on this tour as well as Prequelle. You have the exalted deluxe collector’s limited edition. Now, that’s a hefty album package.
The thing was that originally, what we usually did with our, or what we intend to do with every record that we put out is quite an extensive sort of graphical package, and unfortunately, there was a little of a, I don’t know, misunderstanding in the production line, and we ended up putting out the record, Prequelle without the artwork that we intended for it to include because we had to choose between two things, and it was we had all the artwork in, which was very unclear as to when that would be, and that would mean definitely pushing the record in to oblivion basically.

It’s not very hard to realize that. Of course, we’re not going to do that because we had tours booked. Everything was depending on the record coming out at a certain point. I deliberately told the label, “Let’s put it out. Let’s try to keep the pricing down, so that people at the end of the day, will somehow realize that we are not charging the same thing for the record now as we would have done if it had included all the artwork to begin with and all those things, and one day when we get all the artwork in, and we have to figure something out to vamp up the whole package.” That’s what we’ve come to now. Finally got all the artwork in, and then we had to re-release the album basically in the same spirit as it was supposed to be released in the first place.

I know one of the things that I must get my hands on is your Cardinal Copia plushie doll. I think it’s so awesome. Why did you decide to add a plushie doll?Well, that is a good question. I’m not really sure how to answer that more than … Part of our business is the merchandise, and there are discussions about everything between heaven and earth, and beyond of manufactures that want us to, in one way or another, merge with their product. Let it be known that most of the things we actually do turn down because I am trying to be very selective in what we do, and I think that the plushie was definitely one of those where a year ago, I got the question, “Do you want to do a plushie?” Like, “Sure. What is it? What is a plushie?” “Oh, it’s one of those.” “Oh, okay. Okay. I have kids, so I recognize what a plushie is now.”

Then eight months later, you get like a drawing saying that, “Oh, this is a drawing of what the plushie would look like.” “Oh, okay.” Then, four months later, you see a picture of this plushie online, and you’re like, “What the flying fuck is that?” But it turned out pretty cool, and it was a big laugh, and I liked it too. It’s one of the most horrendous things I’ve ever seen, so that’s the plushie story.

I wanted to ask, are the last couple of tours more of your original vision for Ghost, or has it been a gradual transition with each album and tour?
This year, so far, 2019 has been predominated by tours out of the United States. You do these tours because you want to expand your brand and your band. You want to reach out to more people. You do so with a purpose, and that is to get as many people as possible out of all these 50s, 60s, 70, 80s, sometimes thousand people to come to your show next time.

That has been the thing that we’ve been doing for four months now, and even before that, we were doing a few festivals down in Australia. We were doing festivals in Japan. We’re slowly approaching the end of the Metallica legs, and we’re about to embark on the American tour, it really feels like we’re very close to the intended element of where I want the show to be. I’m very happy about the tour in the fall.

I’m very, very happy to be able to take that show and that original idea to as many people as possible without feeling that we are refusing people. In the same way that it felt like we’ve done in the past, we’re only in the fall tour a year ago, it was New York, L.A., and Montreal, that got the big show and then everybody else had to sort of, I don’t want to say settle, but they definitely got the lesser of the show just because of the confines of the venue.

I wanted to be consistent. I don’t want to be segregating anyone. I want you to feel like you’re getting the same thing, regardless if you are in St. Louis and/or St. John.

I thought it would be interesting if we could hear your opinion of each of the Papas and Cardinal Copia if that’s okay?
I am going to disappoint you because I don’t have a long speech about each of them. I think that they’ve gradually got them better, and more suited for the purpose of entertaining bigger crowds. Papa I was tailor made to disappear in the mist of small clubs. I think that Papa II was better at emerging through that mist, and I think the third steps better, and then I think that Cardi is the best so far. That is known also that we are doing dramatically different things. We are playing in other settings than we were years ago. I definitely think that looking back, and there are some of the things that we’ve done historically, I definitely believe that if we have gotten the same chance today, we would have executed it better like Rock in Rio, for example. If we had done to Rock in Rio today, we would have been better suited for that. Not only suited, not physically, but performance wise, we would have done that more confidently.

Do you relate to any of the characters personally, or are they some sort of an extension of you?
I don’t feel that that is contradicting qualities because they are definitely parts. I think that any actor or anyone acting is drawing some sort of check from within, like some sort of observation of a character or a stereotype that you’ve encountered, and that you have an opinion on, and then you manage that stuff through your acting. I think that if it wasn’t so sweeping crosscut through the different Papas and Cardi, I think that he and the different heavens are pretty much a stereotype of this macho flash sensitive man that you’d find in definitely more southern cultures. It’s some sort of weird match between Count Dracula and Jacques Clouseau. It’s a film thing and I love both. It’s very fun to play with this sort of character. As I said, it’s a macho man, but still pathetic and that makes him funny because he is a fool, but in a shitty kind of cute way.

I think that most people know a person like that. Some grandfathers somewhere or someone’s dad or some restaurant owner down the street is always like that.

How about the satanic side of what you do? Was there ever a doubt at the beginning about going in to that?
Oh, absolutely not. No, no, no, no, no, but in the beginning, I had no idea that it was going to become my livelihood. Like I said, if it’s something that were to be defined my entire aesthetic being. That is not to say that I would have done it differently now. It’s just that at the time, for me, doing something like this aesthetically was not very far. The apple didn’t fall very far from the tree because I come from the death and black metal underground where any sort of satanic attributes are, that’s just natural, it just comes with a trade. That’s what you do. If you’re in a death metal band, you use upside down crosses. At least now, that’s what the death metal bands that I was playing in, so when Ghost took form in my head, and subsequently in songs, merch, and all that, the satanic imagery was very natural. I feel very home within that.

From a more mainstream point of view, that imagery and the message or the lyrics and all that might seem unorthodox and alien, but for me, it’s very close to home. I have been a fan of bands and literature and art and whatnot that embrace the idea of the devil as a positive character since I was 10 years old maybe, maybe younger than that even. I loved Rolling Stones when I was a kid and I loved sympathy for the devil. Just to bring one example, I’ve always been a fan of horoscope. For me, the darkness and the devil, and that pop cultural eagle was always home turf, and it’s not until Ghost started having mainstream appeal that I started getting questions about the exotic nature of the imagery. Then, of course, as a grown person, I understand that it’s exotic and weird, but for me, it isn’t.

For me, as a former Jehovah’s Witness myself, when I hear Ghost, I hear lyrics that attack Christianity more than promote Satanism like rats, for example. In many ways, you’re just talking about the other side of the conversation and showing the weakness and errors of Christianity. Do you do research when you’re writing your songs?
Yes and no. The criticism, I think all stems from the same place or it’s the same angle in many ways. It’s just that what you might need to be inspired to do is just come up with a new angle. Also, just because poetically, you need to sometimes penetrate the issue from a new point of view with a different lingo or with new symbolism, or a new parallel. I believe that one of the most important things in today’s society and life on earth today is to question the tyranny that is linear religion. Linear religion has destroyed so much of our lives for such a long time, and it has really, really crippled our ability to develop and its whole purpose because it was designed to weaken people, and to make people submit to this greater power.

Nowadays, it’s very unclear as to what that power is because back in the dark ages, they were very simple because the main mundane collective was living in huts outside around this church, and the church was obviously a big giant ornate, beautiful building filled with artifacts and beautiful things that would completely make people enamored and feel completely inferior in front of, and the idea was very simple and that was to make people feel inferior and if you had people feeling inferior, you could somehow get them to do things to feel maybe not superior, but at least better and that usually came with a price.

The idea hasn’t changed much. It’s just that nowadays, our tolerance level for bullshit is different, but it’s still very much a cancer of our society that we have been taught to believe that if you do this and this and this, you will get whatever good thing that has been promised in heaven.

You can behave like a fucking dick, but if you just do this and this and this, everything we believe, everything will be fine and that is a very bad thing for society. I believe in a very circular way. I believe you shouldn’t be more into circular philosophy basically. What goes around comes around. There’s definitely, yeah, I could talk about this for hours. The criticism in what I’m doing, and the symbolism is there for you to either be enamored with the aesthetics of it or for you to wake up, but at the end of the day, what I’m thinking about and what I represent has nothing to do with evil. Actually, I’m singing about evil being the opposite. I believe in compassion and LBTQ, and freedom, and intellectualism, not the opposite and the opposite is what the church stands for. That’s what the linear religion stands for.