“Metal has this sort of high horse”: Ghost Frontman Tobias Forge Talks Impera Success, Creative Process, + More

Tobias Forge
Tobias Forge photo: pitpony.photography (Wikimedia Commons)

Since releasing their studio debut album Opus Eponymous back in 2010, Tobias Forge and his band Ghost have taken the rock ‘n’ roll world by storm. While paying homage to classic rock acts like Blue Oyster Cult, what Ghost offered through Opus Eponymous felt exciting (if not even a little dangerous) upon its release. The music felt like a call back to those acts that had riled up the nerves of protest groups terrified that rock and metal were fueling a great Satanic evil. With that studio album debut, the success of Tobias Forge and Ghost would only continue to climb.

Roughly 12 years later and the band recently released their fifth studio album Impera (it was released on March 11th). While the band’s music has always explored topics pertaining to the Occult throughout their career, their lyrical coverage and musical style have also expanded. Embracing more elements of pop, stadium rock, and metal, Impera is an exhilarating presentation of theatrical adventure. Ghost frontman Tobias Forge has said Impera is very much about the fall of empires; in the conceptual exploration of this album, Forge offers audiences a grandiose experience of chills, thrills, and eerie intrigue.

In an interview with Ghost frontman Tobias Forge, we asked him about his thoughts on Impera‘s success since its release. We also talked about how he came to discover his enjoyment of songwriting, his enjoyment of cinema and if songwriting scratches any itch to work in film, and if there is still an element of “danger” in rock ‘n’ roll.

The Pit: Given that we are talking after the release of Impera, how do you feel about its success? The album is doing incredibly well (ranking high on charts and fans are loving it).

Tobias Forge: Of course, it’s nothing but joyful. I’ve just done my best to try and rejoice as much as I can. It sort of comes with the territory – being a creative person – the feeling that you want to be someplace else all the time; music and writing usually comes from longing. Basically, I have a hard time being here right now [referring to down time]. I always think about something else we gotta do or something else that happened. “How about that ’69 tour with the Rolling Stones?” And then I’m thinking about our next tour. Always some place else. But now I’m really trying to live in the moment; just to take a moment to just fucking embrace how great this is.

Yeah, it feels like that. Feels really good. I’m very happy with that. It’s a great feeling.

The Pit: What is a big draw for you as a writer? When did you know you enjoyed writing in life? How do you know – whether it involves Ghost or any other musical project – that you’ve found something that is worth putting music too?

TF: Back when Ghost was just [a] writing project, among several writing entities that I was working on, I knew that it possessed something special. Because, the few people that heard it reacted in a way – it was just a stronger reaction than too a lot of the things I had done before. I think most people writing music feel they are chasing a lot of that feeling you had in the beginning – when you learn that you do have, maybe a gift, but also a desire to put songs together – to solve them. A lot of people that I know that are also writers, they talk about songs as something you solve, kind of like a puzzle. You always feel victorious when you sort of solve it, because it’s like finding something you need to interpret.

I don’t know when I felt that for the first time; even before I had written songs, I knew I was interested in song making. I started putting songs together to be played from start to finish when I was 12 or 13. I was so fascinated with playing in a band. When I was kindergarten, we had a piano and guitar there; I usually spent a lot of time playing piano. I sat there and learned songs that I heard. Sat there trying to play [John Lennon’s] “Imagine” or [The Rolling Stone’s] “Under My Thumb” or whatever it was. Which is something I’ve always done throughout my life; playing along with other songs and just grabbing a guitar and humming.

The Pit: You have mentioned that, in another life, you would have liked to have had a career in film. Through songwriting and creating conceptual albums, do you in anyway feel like you get to scratch that itch of, say, wanting to be a director or screenwriter?

TF: Yes, it feels like a microform of making a film. I don’t grieve, I can say that, but I definitely do feel that if I were able to clone myself and start over – and knowing now the technical aspects of cinema and the amount of work you need to do… You know what they say, 10,000 hours of training, that’s what it takes to become relatively good at something. In an alternative life, I would have definitely wanted to pursue the same amount of time and ambition, [as I have in music], into becoming – I don’t know if director is the right word, or if it’s like a producer – but in cinema.

I’m just extremely fascinated by the concept of cinema. The combination of visuals, sounds, beauty, darkness, and ugliness. All those things that you can more – “totally” – you can overwhelm more senses when you are making film than you can with music. But these are two different mediums; I know a lot of actors who are envious [of musical careers/performance]; some actors do theatre though, so they get a little bit of that immediate thing that you get when you are on stage. That is obviously something I would miss if I were doing film. That closeness with the audience and the call and response, the immediate response you get from standing on the stage. So I’m very happy with where I am.

The Pit: Were there any movies that inspired or influenced Impera?

TF: [Pauses and thinks]

The Pit: The album cover has a similarity of sorts to that of the 1927 film Metropolis.

TF: Right. No, Metropolis was more of a factor when we were making Meliora. On this one – naw. Not specifically. This thematically, this record sort of takes place in late 1800s London if you will. Like a big, industrial, modernized city at the time. London is a very great example of exactly that; big industrial wealth, combined with poverty, cruelty, and the horrible backsides of modern society a lot of people make redundant, because they made up machines instead to do the craft. Which is similar to today. So, I think there weren’t a whole lot of specific films that inspired the record. A lot of my fascination with that era is from Dracula and various Jack The Ripper films; but I wouldn’t say Dracula inspired this record, that just isn’t true.

The Pit: Of course – it’s the time period that’s the inspiration.

TF: Yeah.

The Pit: A great quality to Ghost’s material is how the music has this sort of upbeat swing to it, but within there is a sinister edge. Like a dangerous vibe. Is that something you feel like is in rock today? What bands do you feel capture that vibe? Or is that presence being missed out on?

TF: I feel under-equipped in a way to talk about other bands, because I’m just not generally very in-tuned with what’s going. I don’t listen to a whole lot of new music. I think that one band that is new and contemporarily cool, but still embracing a lot of old fashion entertainment values, is the band we brought on the American tour – and will bring onto the European tour – which is Twin Temple. Technically they are a doo-wop, sort of ‘60s [sounding] band, so I guess they aren’t bringing a whole lot of new influences into it. They are very entertaining and very good at what they do. So it’s like old-school, traditional fun.

I think that sometimes – I don’t know if it’s a typical metal thing – metal has this sort of high horse; either it’s anti-intellectualism, where it’s supposed to be “just metal,” or it has this high horse sort of idea of lyrics and themes having to be so serious. I believe in humor, I believe in classical entertainment values. Oscar Wilde wrote a lot cynical, really mean, serious shit, but it was always written in a very funny way. So, you sort of end up laughing about these horrible things that he said. I think that it’s important to combine “sweet and savory,” you need to do that.

The Pit: Impera is out, you just wrapped up a big North American tour – and while there is an European tour – how do you like to engage with your creativity on your time off? How else do you like to play around with being artistic/creative? You said you’re trying to do better with being in the moment and maybe not focusing on “work” – but when you’re not writing a new Ghost album or touring – how do you like to keep your creativity fresh?

TF: By trying to avoid thinking that I’m making something of importance. A lot of the greater ideas, like an idea for a song that has performed well or has [become] an evergreen in our set, is usually something you come up with on a whim or joke. It’s something you [are] just playfully handling, it’s just a song. You don’t have to regard it as, “I’m gonna sit down now and I’m gonna write our next big hit.” You don’t do that. You try to create as many ideas.

I have played around a lot with stuff that we have done where I didn’t even think of it being a Ghost song; it was just a little noodle. And you turn it into Ghost song, of course eventually. Because you work with what you have. I think that that is, sometimes, the most important thing – to not overthink too much. At least in the embryonic state of coming up with the actual idea. You can go completely cerebral – and you will, at least I will – throughout the recording and making of [music]. That’s when you start dissecting. Sometimes it gets better, sometimes it doesn’t; because you sort of play around with it too much and the original idea sort of becomes [this matter of], “This is not what I came up with originally.” But it turned into this other thing.

I don’t really know the bottom line of this, but I think it is trying to distance yourself from trying to explain everything in every song. I think that’s a really great way of achieving a cock blocking writer’s block; especially if you have a certain amount of momentum, or a career depending on it, it’s easy to sort of feel, “Wow I need to do something really good now.” And then there’s just blank paper.

We at The Pit would like to thank Tobias Forge for his time in talking with us! Ghost’s Impera is available to purchase and stream from a variety of platforms.

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Words by: Michael Pementel

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