Kiss the Go-Ghost: An Interview with Tobias Forge
Ghost, formerly known as Ghost B.C have cultivated a cult following within the metal community since their debut almost 10 years ago. Known for their dark persona and eerily catchy soundscapes, they not only have a sound that’s unmistakable, but a stage presence so involved that there are backstories to each Papa(the name used by each rotating front person) that has taken rein thus far.
I remember when I first discovered their 2010 release, Opus Eponymous, and how enthralled I was with their sound. Granted, I was late to the party, as they had already toured through Utah before. By the time I had completely immersed myself in their music, it was 2014—a year after their second full length album, Infestissumam had released. I was hypnotized by their macabre charm from the get-go, and I’ve eagerly anticipated every release since then. I’ve always loved how frontman Tobias Forge’s vocals shine against the instrumentals, as well as how grim the lyrics truly can be.
With the surprise “re-release” of their single Seven Inches of Satanic Panic, which originally had debuted in the ’60s (according to the Ghost timeline), this magic touch is exceptionally present. As 2018’s LP Prequelle had hints of disco and other nostalgic influences from the 70s and 80s, Seven Inches is laced with the catchy, punchy sweetness of the 1960s—inspiring sounds reminiscent of The Zombies and The Monkees with a sinister twist.
As their grandiose tour, The Ultimate Tour Named Death, conquers North America for the remainder of the month, Forge and I spoke about the band’s origins, song influences and meanings, and life on tour.
SLUG: What inspires you to make songs based around dark themes, such as Satan? Where does this aesthetic come from, and how does it exist in your full-length releases?
Forge: It wasn’t just an epiphany that I had. I grew up, as many others, in the metal underground community. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been a fan of hard rock, metal and all kinds of rock music. My main tool of expression and what I sympathized most with was heavy metal—especially the bands that were big around the time that I was very little. Around 1984, when I was three years old, all of the new, big bands were shock-rock bands like Twisted Sister, Motley Crue, Wasp and Kiss. These, among others, were the first bands that I really, really liked. My older brother, who was significantly older than I was, gave me those records and it just went from there.
I’ve come to expand my liking of music a lot. I loved a lot of 60s music and 70s pop-rock and all kinds of musical styles. When it comes to expressing myself, there’s always been some sort of shock-rock value to whatever I’ve done—a little bit more explicit when it comes to lyrics and a little bit more explosive with image.
My first band that I ever formed was a death metal band and I spent my whole adolescence playing death and black metal where obviously satanic themes are omnipresent. So, when Ghost happened, it wasn’t like I was coming up with a new image—it was so natural. Then, it expanded over the years because I felt like if I’m going to keep things fresh and keep being inspired, I need to expand the lyrics going forward. I’ve always drawn parallel lines, and my ways of expression are always leaning towards darkness and goth in the same way Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen do. I feel more kindled with them when it comes to song writing than I would with Venom—even though I love them, too. The lyrics that I try to write nowadays are more focused on symbols for something real. Satanism is a very good symbol for turmoil or conflict, but most of the lyrics from albums two, three and four have more parallels to real life and the world. It’s just explained with satanic parallels.
SLUG: What are some of your favorite songs from your discography and why? What makes these songs special to you?
Forge: You have the “cream-of-the-crops” in a way—like, the immediate songs. I think “Dance Macabre” is an immediate song and is a song that I will be playing for the rest of my life. I think “Square Hammer” is like that. “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” is a song that is very immediate. I think “Cirice” is one of the best songs I’ve ever written and probably will ever write, but for different reasons. Sometimes I really enjoy songs that are simple. Sometimes it’s harder to write a simple song. You have all of the ingredients that you need in order to make a song, and a risk that the song will be considered premeditated. But, yes, it is. Every song that has ever been written was done so with some sort of intent. Even the songs that people think are made with no commercial interest whatsoever are usually written to feel or taste a certain way.
So, you’re always happy when you manage to say the things that you wanted to say and have the moods in the song that you wanted in there without making it complicated. It’s so easy to get stuck in a complicated arrangement that’s hard to get out of. Where “Square Hammer” is so simple, “Cirice” is a little bit more complicated. It has a long intro that has nothing to do with the rest of the song. It has more of a classic metal arrangement, whereas “Square Hammer” is way more punk. So, I like those songs for completely different reasons, but they both do the trick and they’re songs that will come to embody Ghost. That’s how it feels right now, at least.
SLUG: Your live shows and stage presence are always so elaborate and beautiful. How has your stage show changed with the introduction of Cardinal Copia in comparison to Papa(s) one, two and three? Where did the idea of having a masked band to this intricate extent come from? Why Papa and why Cardinal Copia?
Forge: Early on in the creation of Ghost, I was just reviewing what I had heard. When we recorded the first demo, when I heard my songs, my first impression was that it sounds like a heavily imaged band. If I were a fan of this record that I hear, I would be disappointed if it turned out to just be four or five dudes just standing in jackets and t-shirts. It doesn’t sound like that. It sounds more like an experience and that’s where it originated.
The aesthetics and the ideas are a mash-up of everything that I grew up watching and listening to. It’s black metal mixed with horror films and showmen. I’ve always been a fan of every single character that balances genius, charisma and being pathetic. That’s where Papa comes from. He’s supposed to be cool, but he’s also slightly out of touch and pathetic—and funny, I think!
SLUG: The last time I saw you in Salt Lake City, you opened for Iron Maiden. Now, you’re touring North America after touring Europe with Metallica. What is it like to tour with these big names in metal? How have these bands influenced you in the past and what does it feel like to work with them now?
Forge: I am still as much of a fan of these groups as I was before, which is a very nice feeling knowing that I can completely separate my ideas, my dreams and my fantasies about both of these bands. But I think that has to do with the fact that for most of my life, I’ve idolized those bands while still always also knowing that what I wanted to do with my life was very similar to what they did—meaning record albums, go out and tour the world and change the world and have a deep impact on people in the same way that they had an impact on me.
On a very professional level, from the get-go, both Iron Maiden and Metallica have been very informative to their fan-base. Iron Maiden started that with their album Life After Death. All of their tour dates were in there, there was a lot of info about their touring life and the technicalities of playing live. I used to sit down with a map book and circle everywhere they played. I would try to figure out their days off and where they were playing next. Very early on, as a kid, I sort of approached it from a professional point of view. Not only did I want to stand on stage like I saw in the pictures, but I wanted to tour like they do. That’s the school of rock that I went to. Metallica would be even more informative later when they released their box set Binge and Purge. You could see old faxes between management and them, and I read everything I could see. I already knew 20 years later that that was a part of the program. I’ve learned so much from studying Iron Maiden and Metallica that when the day came when I started touring with them, I was like “I know this!” It was something I had done before. Now, I have the luxury of learning so much more firsthand.
The Ultimate Tour Named Death continues through October 2019, tour dates can be found at ghost-official.com.