Managing to retain their anonymity – particularly in the digital age – is not only a source of intrigue, but must present its share of occupational hazards for the members of occult phenomenon Ghost. Some of these measures would undoubtedly prove rather inconvenient, but they can acknowledge the funny side on occasion – and with good reason, as it turns out.
With the Swedes holed up in their hotel prior to the opening date of the Big Day Out festival in Auckland, Loud is the first allotted phone interview of the day for one of the mysterious members known as the Nameless Ghouls. This scribe waits patiently while the conferencing centre tries to locate the musician in question. Then waits some more. Apparently they’re having issues tracking him down, because they don’t have a name to ask for at the front desk. You couldn’t make this stuff up, really, but it’s hilarious nonetheless.
Finally, they get the articulate, engaging (and no, not in character) Nameless Ghoul on the line. When it’s suggested their protection of real-life personas means such an incident must be a regular occurrence, he’s openly amused. “I had to move to another room just to do this,” he laughs. “Obviously it has its quirks, and sometimes it’s funny, and sometimes it’s frustrating. Most of the time it’s sort of, it’s just something that we’ve signed on to, and then you have to live with it.
“Obviously, four or five years ago when this was just a great idea on paper, we didn’t know how that would translate into real practice,” he adds, laughing again. “So sometimes you’re just wishing that you were in a normal band – ‘why can’t we just do anything like a normal band?’ And I’m sure that most people working with us think the same way.”
Vocalist/Satanic priest Papa Emeritus II and his cohorts the Ghouls, who don hooded robes and masks to refrain from revealing their identities, must also face difficulties when, for instance, someone neglects to bring their backstage pass to the venue. “That has happened, yes,” the Ghoul responds with a slight chuckle. “Obviously you cannot really do that whole, ‘don’t you know who I am?’ thing. But it’s not really a big problem. If we want to go through anything without having your pass, just look convincing.”
Maintaining the mystique while touring in your own right is one prospect, but surely being part of a large-scale touring festival ala the Big Day Out, whereby assorted crew, publicists, journalists and photographers, not to mention members of other bands are crawling about must also present obstacles. This is especially the case when everyone has an iPhone camera at their disposal.
“There’s a very simple trick to it, and that is not to say your band name on your dressing room,” our new ghoul-friend (apologies, we had to do it once) laughs. “And just as long as you do that, people won’t really pay attention. Most bands on a festival, I mean, are so busy recognising themselves, so they’re not really paying attention. Most of the time we can kind of carouse around without being noticed, and obviously most people don’t know who we are anyway. So we can pass for roadies.”
Ghost is no stranger to festivals, either. They seemingly possess a chameleon-like quality which ensures, for example, that they can play both the metal-friendly Soundwave and more wide-reaching Big Day Out within less than 12 months. “It’s always hard to predict when you go into a festival, especially in a festival area that you’re not… Obviously we’ve been to Australia before, but you never really know your market until you’ve been there a couple of times. Especially when you’ve headlined, it’s better to know where you’re at. Whereas when you’re doing festivals, sometimes you’re shooting in the dark a little bit. I’m looking forward to these shows, I think it’s gonna be great. It’s quite a special line-up, and obviously we’re sticking out a little bit.
“Obviously there are a lot of festivals in Europe that are similar to Big Day Out. Whereas in Europe, just because of the immense amount of festivals there are, it’s not really as black and white as it tends to be here, in that it’s either Soundwave or Big Day Out. Every country has at least a couple of them, and one might be just metal, three might be in the middle, and the fifth one might be no metal at all. We are sort of the one band that can cruise around all these festivals. Sometimes it works really well, and sometimes it’s… It’s very hard to tell beforehand.”
As the band have suggested in previous interviews, attempting to garner some modicum of success while subsequently seeking to remain anonymous seems like somewhat of a paradox. Aiding their cause though is their – somewhat surprising – widespread acceptance. Championed by hipster websites, the more popular rock media and metal press alike, the secretive mob’s sound owes a significant debt to ‘70s hard rock and psychedelia, notably Blue Öyster Cult and Pink Floyd, as well as traditional doom metal.
There’s also an underlining pop sensibility amidst the theatricality and blasphemous lyrical bent, boasting striking hooks which manage to claw their way into your subconscious. Their sheer bombast and over-the-top lyrics even prompted our own editor to remark of their debut Opus Eponymous, “whatever the case – po-faced Luciferians or practical joke-pulling Swedish death metal musicians – this is one of the brightest, catchiest and most entertaining metal releases of 2011”. Members have previously hinted at their message and aesthetic being tongue-in-cheek. Merchandise items such as a Ghost dildo would appear to support this sentiment.
How you choose to categorise their sound is largely dependent on your own musical perspective, the Nameless Ghoul believes. Those with a predisposition for heavy metal, for instance, may view their eerie sonic explorations in a different light to more “mainstream” pundits. “It depends completely on who you’re asking. I mean, the most anal, like diehard metal-only people might refer to us as something else, and say that we are not metal, just because it lacks a certain percentage of this or that. Whereas obviously someone from the completely opposed side, that are sort of approaching the band from a rock or indie, pop sort of approach; they might think that we are very much a hard rock/metal band.
“I know that most of our influences and roots are from… It’s not necessarily just metal. Just to summarise what the major bulk of influences are is anything that’s, I guess, slightly avant-garde and dark-ish. That is everything from 1989 black metal to Tangerine Dream, or Italian prog. It’s everything that’s sort of dark,” he laughs. “It could be anything, up to all the old classical rock bands. It’s very hard to pinpoint one style. We try not to mimic one style; we try to just create emotionally moving music that is aggressive and sort of gentle at the same time.”
After the Big Day Out run, they’ll do another lap around the world before recording a new album “in the fall”. The aforementioned sources of inspiration will surely play a role on the follow-up to the acclaimed Infestissumam, their second album and major label debut. However, a mere retread isn’t on the cards.
“We’re actually right in the middle or writing right now. And mind you, most of the record that we released a year ago was sort of written in 2011. There’s been some time since the writing of the record, and obviously we keep, most of the time we’ve been on the road, so there’s not a whole lot of time to write. But now, we’re sort of seeing the end of the schedule, so we’re making plans for a new record.”
They recently issued the Dave Grohl-produced and predominantly covers-oriented If You Have Ghost EP, but where exactly does he envision the next Ghost album to be headed? “It’s hard to tell. From a guitarist’s point of view, I’m glad that a lot of the things that are coming down right now, obviously we don’t have the whole record, so it’s hard to say. But right now there’s a lot of material coming in that is being built and that we have right now, that is slightly more riff-based. Slightly more, it’s not instrumental, but slightly more riff-based, as opposed to the record that we just released a year ago, that was very vocal-driven. There’s a lot of vocals on the new stuff as well, but it’s a little bit more… I hate to say, I wouldn’t say that it’s a more metal record, but it’s slightly more instrumented.”
Whether crafting new material or not, they consider staying abreast of new bands treading the boards as vital. “I like a lot of new things that come out. Obviously it’s hard to say if you’re inspired (by it). From a professional point of view I try to look away from a lot of contemporary movements, just in order not to… I don’t want to send myself blind on what’s going on. But you also need to be aware of what’s going on, especially from a touring point of view, because we always try to find bands that we like, or could add something to a bill, and bands that we like to push forward.
“I like some new stuff. I’m not sure I can suck up to my friends here, but one of the most interesting bands that are around nowadays I think is Opeth. They’re definitely one of the bands that are trying to move boundaries and not limit themselves to whatever people might think about them. I think that they keep creating very interesting music every time that they put out a record. And more recent bands, I like a band called Poltergeist,” he laughs. “Not because of the ghost, ghastly sort of thing about it, but I think they’re a cool band. It’s actually comprised by members of Echo and the Bunnymen. They’ve got a record that’s really good. I like the new Gorguts record, that’s really good. So it’s a little bit of this and that.
“That’s the thing though, especially when you come from a record collecting background, and I’ve always been very archaeological in my music interest. Which means you can rest assured that the bands that you like are sort of not going anywhere,” he laughs. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to fall completely headfirst for something that’s completely new. But there are definitely a lot more interesting bands nowadays than there were like five or ten years ago, I think.”
You can catch Ghost at the Big Day Out:
19/1: Metricon Stadium & Carrara Parklands, Gold Coast QLD
24/1: Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne VIC
26/1: Sydney Showground, Sydney NSW
31/1: Bonython Park, Adelaide SA
2/1: Arena Joondalup, Perth WA
They are also playing the following headline shows-
22/1: HiFi Bar, Melbourne VIC
28/1: HiFi Bar, Sydney NSW