Therion – The Crown of SymphonySunday, 31st March 2013
Blistering.com: The new album is your second with Thomas [Vikstrom] on lead vocals. Some are already familiar with his work in Candlemass going back to the early 90’s, but with Therion, he feels like an exact fit. What’s it like having him in the band?
Johnsson: He’s really great. There’s no male singer that would fit better. He really like’s pretentious stuff [laughs], which makes him a great fit for Therion. He was a session singer first, but we wanted to have a new singer when [former singer] Mats Leven…he lost his heart in the band, so we did what we thought should have been done and we mutually parted ways. I wanted to ask Thomas Vikstrom and we had a nice chat and asked for me to send him stuff. I sent him [2007’s] Gothic Kabbalah and he listened to half of the first track and he called me back: “I want the job.” This is how we mutually clicked. I just love working with him; he’s always positive and doesn’t have any of this “lead singer” ego whatsoever. He just wants to do what’s best for the record and that’s so rare.
He’s a trained opera singer and a rock singer as well, so this is what he really wants. Where Mats Leven – I wouldn’t say he was failing – he did a really good job, but he tried to fake opera singing. He did his best and we were happy and people were happy, but he tried to fake opera singing when he’s a rock singer. Thomas naturally can do both.
Blistering.com: Moving along – what’s the status of the rock opera you’re working on?
Johnsson: Musically, it will sound like Therion. We have to make a storyline, stage it with all the opera singers on stage, make proper choreography, and he’s going to be really great for that. He’s writing it with me and the other guys.
Blistering.com: Thomas is doing the Rock of Ages in Sweden, so that should come in handy when doing your rock opera.
Johnsson: Yes! And he’s doing the Queen musical which has been done for four or five seasons in Spain. Half of Therion have become musical stars down there: it’s Thomas, Lori [Lewis, vocals], Johan [Koleberg, bass], and Christian [Vidal] on guitar. Staging the rock opera…we will do it down there first since we have the proper connections as opposed to Sweden.
Blistering.com: To ask the obvious: What made you want to do something like this? These concepts have always been present in your music, but why take the big leap now?
Johnsson: It’s because I wrote a classical opera for ten years. For the least three years, I haven’t written it all, but I never managed to pull it off completely. I could write the highlights, the strong parts, things that you could remember, but I could never tie together A and B, the bridge parts. I could never write them…I guess I’m mentally damaged by rock music – I need something to happen all the time. In classical music, you need the filler, which is a very important function. I really enjoy those parts by composers I like, but I couldn’t write them myself. So for the last three years, I didn’t write anything at all. But I finally looked myself in the mirror and said “Why do I need to write classical opera? Is it an ego thing?” So why don’t I do what I do best, which is mix classical with rock and metal music. Make it Therion music.
The idea is to compose this for ourselves and our fans. But it’s such an expensive thing to stage, so we need to fund this for a mainstream audience, the people that would normally see Jesus Christ Superstar. You can’t have a production that moves from town-to-town everyday with that set up. You need to stay and let everything stay up for days, weeks or months in each city to make it work economically. We can sell out one night with our own fans, maybe two in some places. Essentially, we need the mainstream audience to pay for the bills [laughs]. So we need to be very keen on making the storyline work. The Therion fans, maybe 80% cares about the music only. But the people who go to see musicals, they go there the same way you and me would go to see a movie: they go to see the experience. Sure, the music is an important, but what’s happening onstage is a big thing for them, so we need to make extraordinary efforts to make this happen. We may be a big name in the metal scene, but we’re nobodies in the classical scene.
Blistering.com: Are you bummed that [session vocalist, former King Diamond/Mercyful Fate drummer] Snowy Shaw isn’t a part of any of this?
Johnsson: Yes and no. He’s never been a member of the band; he’s always been a session member. Then again, he was a session member for six years, which is longer than any session member we’ve ever had. We are very close to each other. In a way, it’s sad. But, he needed to do his own things instead of being a mercenary. I think we’ll work together again one day. The thing with the rock opera…he never felt comfortable with the French album. We were already at the wrong track. With the rock opera, we’re going to do it in the literal sense with opera singers and an orchestra, so I guess he didn’t really feel comfortable in that environment.
He’s very good at being himself. He’s the best person in the planet at being Snowy Shaw [laughs]. He’s a very strong character, but he’s like a chili pepper – some people love it and can have tons of it, but some people think it ruins the food. Most people like it in moderate amounts and he doesn’t fit into every sort of dish. These are not Therion things where we crunch all of our ingredients together and we see what happens, we need to plan things and people will be given roles. I think that would be difficult for him unless he created the role himself. He would have a take a character form a novel and he would have to be that person…he could do a good job with anything he likes, but I don’t think it would be for him.
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