GHOST A LESS-THAN-TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS GHOST STORY, AS TOLD BY THE ONE AND ONLY CARDINAL COPIA…
What reason have GHOST to be merry? Well, having utterly conquered the metal mainstream in 2018, quite a big one actually. With the congregation finally spilling into arenas, however, and dark superstardom calling the Swedish spooks, frontman TOBIAS FORGE
“I’M ACTUALLY A BIG FAN OF THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY” TOBIAS FORGE
oliday season means different things to different people. Having filled the skin of enough characters to populate a mid-sized haunted house, one might expect Tobias Forge to have mixed feelings on the matter. As light ebbs from the skies, and winter’s icy grip closes around us, though, he greets the coming darkness – and all its debauched festivities – with singular relish.
There is reason to celebrate this year more than most. Ghost are already partway through a devilishly resplendent victory lap. Their seductive corruptions have permeated 2018: bleeding into legions of hearts and minds, giving the dark lord his dues on the most prominent of world stages. The long nights bring only deeper shades of black in which to luxuriate and extra time to shine.
The sun is still bright in Mobile, Alabama when we convene. The temperature hangs balmily around 20 degrees. It’s a scene of more Southern Gothic than the ‘Transylvanian’ variety. The burning globe’s low trajectory, however, ensures there are long shadows in which to hide.
“How do you do?” an unmistakably refined voice creaks from within the tour bus.
Previously, Tobias would’ve conducted interviews in character, donning Papa Emeritus’ full garb. For phone engagements he would (with occasional awkwardness) adopt the guise of one of his nameless ghouls. Following last year’s (at the time of writing, failed) lawsuit by exbandmates, his name and face were made public knowledge. Papa III was succeeded not only by the upstart Cardinal Copia, but also by his creator’s emergence from the shadows.
Even stripped of vestments, it’s difficult to extricate artist from onstage persona. Touring musicians universally lament the casket-like dimensions of bus bunks. At rest before tonight’s show at the 2,000-seat Saenger Theatre, though, there’s something appropriate about finding Tobias in his.
“It’s not as cold here as it is at home right now,” he insists with a contented smile. “It’s pretty nice, actually!” And yet we can’t shake the impression of a creature of the night wishing for sunset so the fun can really begin.
Dickensian tradition dictates our Yuletide bedside visit should linger on brothers wronged, chances missed and crucial changes for a better tomorrow. Indeed, Tobias has courted Scrooge-like controversy of late: proclamations that he’s ‘a band dictator’ who ‘doesn’t miss Papa’ catching headlines. Yet he shrugs off such trifling gossip, not the type for regret, and in no need of atonement.
We wonder briefly whether Halloween might feel a better fit than Christmas. But he’s no Jack Skellington, either. “I’m actually a big fan of the Christmas holiday,” he delights in our surprise. “I have lots of fond memories of this time of year.”
He’s adding to them day by day. Back in June, fourth album Prequelle landed at number three on the American Billboard ‘pop’ chart. Nestled amongst rappers Kanye West, Post Malone, Cardi B and country star Luke Combs, it confirmed the Swedes as a pop-cultural force to be reckoned with. The consequently mammoth, 40-date ‘A Pale Tour Named Death’ has wound across the United States. A two-hour, 40-minute theatrical feast served across two acts with an intermission, the November 16 engagement at LA’S 17,500-capacity Forum has been the highlight thus far. December 15’s last stop at New York’s 19,000-header Barclays Center threatens to eclipse it.
Yet there’s no back-slapping suggestion of job done or mission accomplished. These are hard yards won on the road to world domination, but there are plenty still to come. We’re in the early days, Tobias stresses, crucial to the eventual trajectory of Ghost’s later career. Given recent trials and tribulations, though, he allows himself a moment of satisfaction.
“How pleased am I with our progress?” he toys. “Like… on a scale? For several reasons, this album and touring cycle was crucial to Ghost’s existence. It feels like it’s been a success.
“I’m very pleased with that.”
If there were doubts over whether the slipping of the mask would undermine Tobias’ authority, they’re quickly dismissed.
On the evidence of our conversation, exposure has only empowered him. A terrific cast of dramatis personae have held the limelight, allowing an invaluable retention of semianonymity. He’s a frontman without excessive fame, enjoying the perks of stardom without the cost of celebrity. Moreover, he’s been able to openly stake a claim to his creation, and advance it on his own, ever more theatrical terms.
‘Dictatorship’, no matter how benevolent, however, is a heavy burden.
Define the year in just three words, we dare.
“‘Very busy’?” A fastidious pause. “Hmmm, that’s two… ‘Very FUCKING busy.’”
The artistic process – writing and recording – he compares to the work of an architect. Taking the show on the road – building that vision into something tangible – is a more manual labour. Assuming sole responsibility on both ends has proven an endurance test.
“We are three trucks, now, and two buses full of people,” he enthuses. “The shows are longer. In the first six years of Ghost we played a lot of support slots and festivals. Our average set would be perhaps an hour. Our headline show would be maybe an hour and 20 minutes. The shows that we’re playing now are twice that.
“At the start of the tour I had to wonder whether I’d gotten myself in over my head. My body was really aching. Now, halfway in, I feel more comfortable. As with any type of exercise, the more you do it, the less strenuous it seems. It still takes a toll, of course. Previously, I could be touristy but I don’t have the stamina for that anymore. My day now is [limited to] a little phone time, the show and sleep. “I have to pick my battles carefully…” Too much has gone into Ghost for it to be surrendered. Tobias’ history has been heavily chronicled since his public emergence, but it’s gotten no less fascinating. Infant child to separated parents, there was a duality to his early years. On one hand, the sanctimony of a bad-tempered schoolmistress and pious stepmother planted the seeds of antitheistic thinking. On the other, his nurturing mother and metalhead brother Sebastian fostered early interest in all things loud, lurid and theatrical.
Shock-rockers KISS, Twisted Sister and Mötley Crüe (“I loved looking at the inner sleeve of Shout At The Devil,” he grins, “and not knowing whether Nikki Sixx was a woman or a man…”) opened a path to heavy music. When the softer