Music

Tobias Forge explains the surprise influence of Eurovision on metal band Ghost

As the mastermind behind the band Ghost, Tobias Forge delivers theatrical imagery, shredding guitars and profane lyrics. But what inspired him?

Tobias Forge of the band Ghost

Tobias Forge unexpectedly watches Eurovision. Photo: Mikael Eriksson

If you have even a passing awareness of Swedish metal band Ghost – an uproarious bounty of theatrical black mass imagery, shredding guitars and sexy-sacrilegious lyrics – it will come as a surprise that the mastermind behind the skull make-up is actually a fan of Eurovision. But that’s exactly what Tobias Forge told us when we caught up with him ahead of the release of their new album Impera.

Performing as Papa Emeritus, Forge has steered Ghost to become one of the world’s most ambitious and successful hard rock acts. They sell out arenas worldwide for their ecstatic live ‘rituals’, have a Grammy under their cincture, and regularly go viral with strange online videos that offer a peep into the delightfully unhinged Ghostiverse.

The band’s popularity is built on relentless touring – a lesson, Forge says, that came from his youthful studies of hard-rocking, hardworking icons like Metallica and Iron Maiden. For The Music That Made Me, he reveals his rock icons – including support for current Eurovision champions Måneskin.

The Music That Made Me: Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge

Four-year-old Tobias dresses up like Kiss

I grew up in a very, very pop-culturally rich home, where music, film, radio, TV was all around, at all times. I think mainly because I had a teenage brother in the house. [Forge’s brother Sebastian was 13 years his senior. He died from a heart disease in 2010, the same day Ghost released their first songs online].

In 1984 my first real favourite things appeared. That was Twisted Sister, Wasp, Mötley Crüe and Kiss. They were my first things that I really identified with.

They absolutely influenced me. I mean, they are not my altar of everything, but if you look at the attitude of all those bands, you can see a clear thread. They all kind of look the same, all dragged up. And there are pictures of me when I was four, dressed up like that. In many ways, there aren’t a whole lot of things that have changed.

Satanic, aggressive, underground metal

The first time when I found something that was specifically mine, was when I started listening to extreme metal. My brother listened to Venom. But that branch out of Venom was where I found my niche – sort of satanic, aggressive, underground metal. I guess that was what I contributed to our home.

If I were to pick one record that encompasses all things that I love about that genre, it would probably be Seven Churches by Possessed just because it has so much of the 80s that I love. They were still in high school when they made that record. I started listening to that when I was about 13, 14. So they found me at an age where I was still younger than they were making the record. That was really inspiring.

If you look at their band photos, you have metal there, you have Venom, you have the 80s, you have Karate Kid. They have a lot of that California tan vibe. But they’re still cool enough to be completely detached from the jocks, and still playing really, really cool death metal.

That record is just pure adolescent aggression, and really good musicianship. It’s a bit raggedy here and there and, you know, not fine-tuned, but you can really hear that they had a tonne of ambition. Triple A for that.

The band Ghost gets a business education from Metallica and Iron Maiden

I’ve been mentored by Metallica for most of my life, but from a distance. Now, being mentored with less of a distance is an honour [Ghost have been chosen as a support act by Metallica several times in recent years]. I don’t really have a superlative defining enough to say how gratifying that is.

But when it happens, it’s not like the dudes from the poster on my wall come into the room. It’s other people that look kind of like them. You have to remind yourself midway through a conversation, ‘oh shit, it’s Metallica I’m talking to’.

I think that to fully comprehend what I mean by mentorship, you have to realise that I have always been interested in music business and history. So, for example, I have been a very big fan and very influenced by The Doors, ever since I was a little kid. But I’ve never been very inspired by their business decisions because they were a big fucking mess.

Whereas, ever since I started studying Metallica or Iron Maiden, for example, I was learning about the business side of music. [Iron Maiden’s] Live After Death was a big inspiration for me and I still love that record. But as a kid, I looked through it educationally. I sat there with a big map book and drew out their tour. Because in Live After Death, you have all those tour dates in there. And there’s a list of their gear. There’s like a daily schedule for the band and the crew, and a lot of information about touring in there.

That set a standard for me. Like, this is how you do it. This is an American tour. This is how many dates you should do in Wisconsin, you know, four shows. And like five shows in Florida, and 11 in Texas and shit like that.

Then when Metallica did The Black Album, the tour that they did around that record was also like, ‘That’s the bar that we’re going for. That’s the level of commitment.’ And so when I’m talking about inspiration, it’s also from a decision-making point of view.

Eurovision and the power of organic music

As a European, I drift in and out of the schlager world of Eurovision. Because in Sweden, it’s a big thing. It goes on for weeks. But depending on if I’m on tour or not, I have a hard time following it because I’m sometimes overseas.

The standard for Eurovision has always been that winning was one of the last things you do in your career. Celine Dion and Abba are the two exceptions were winning actually was a good thing. Usually, you’re doing Eurovision and then it’s just a downhill thing from there. There is something about the TV format that breaks the [live] illusion, just because you see the same number more than once. And then you’re like, ‘oh, it’s fake’. Of course, intellectually, I know it’s always fake. But when you see the same thing twice, it becomes like, it’s really not happening for you.

Last year, 2021, I was home obviously, as was everyone else, and we saw the big final. One thing popped out as something really, really different. It was this Italian band and they were playing fucking rock. And I was like, that needs to win! That’s the best thing that has happened on this festival for a long time.

When they won, the first thing I was thinking, pessimistically, was: ‘That’s such a drag because now that band is just going to get eaten up by the song and they’re not going to go anywhere. That’s such a waste because they’re so good.’ And then, in the spring and the summer, miraculously, this Italian band – singing in Italian – all of a sudden had a breakthrough in America. So, the Eurovision exceptions are Celine Dion, Abba… and now Måneskin.

I really hope they continue touring and get kids to understand that organic music, being played by drums and guitars and bass and singing – that’s the thing. Stop fucking programming beats. It’s over, goddammit.

Impera, the new album by the band Ghost is released on March 11. Ghost tours the UK from April 9 – 15. Find out more here.

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