Intervista Cult of Luna (Johannes Persson)
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Interview by Davide Sciaky
Hi Johannes, how are you doing?
I’m good, I’m really good, actually.
Your new album, “A Down to Fear”, came out a couple of months ago. Are you happy with how it was received, both by the critics and the fans?
I’m not really sure how it has been received by the critics to be quite honest, maybe you can tell me [laughs].
Happy is not the right word, because we are happy with the album, that’s what we are happy about, if people appreciate what we do that’s a bonus.
You know, very seldom people come up to you and says, “Your album sucks”, most people say that they really like it, and it’s always great to hear that, but, yeah… so far it has been well received by the people that have come to us.
Are you getting good reactions when you play the new songs live?
Yeah, I mean, I think they all work really good live, which I don’t think it has always been the case with our previous albums, some songs have been hard to adapt to the live setting, but I think that the ones we play now work out really great.
Can you talk me about the songwriting for Cult of Luna? Is it a group process, or do you do it separately?
Well, it’s both, because we live so far apart, so when we finally decide that we are going to meet and to work on some songs, we need a couple of months to figure out when we can actually meet, when we meet we need to have ideas that are pretty concrete, and basically songs that are not arranged, but loosely arranged.
So, for my work I take my time, I write drafts on the computer, and it’s very open, everyone can say whatever they want to; so, we need to have something concrete to work on together, it’s not like we jam, some parts we jam, but all in all the song structure is very fixed.
With “Mariner” you told me that the album was a sort of concept on “looking out to the space, the beauty and the vastness of the space”. You said that with “Somewhere Along the Highway” there was like a rural backdrop, with “Vertikal” you moved to the city… what is it now?
That’s the biggest difference between writing this album and pretty much all the others, apart from the first one, but at that time we were just kids writing songs and then we put out all the songs that we had.
For the most part, when we start writing songs we have already figured out what the theme of the album should be, we have a story arc, a narrative; even before we start writing we decide what the story is about and how to write it, how to make justice to it, the artwork, the graphical profile, videos and so on.
With this album I wanted it to work the other way around, I wanted to write songs with more spontaneity and to let out whatever was in the back of my mind, whether it was in the form of lyrics, of music, and after we had written a couple of songs we took a step back to try to interpret them, what does this song say, what’s the theme.
We would look at it from an outside prospective and then we kinda figured out what it was all about and from that we created a graphical profile and everything.
It was not like… I use this very bad analogy [chuckles], previously we started from the picture and were like, “Okay, this is what we want to do”, it was like a jigsaw puzzle, we shaped the pieces in order to create that picture.
Now we just created the pieces, put them together and then took a step back and looked at it, “Okay, what is this picture about?” [laughs].
So, it was very different in that aspect, but it was very refreshing to work in that way.
Would you say that your music reflect your personality, and vice versa? Sometimes I see this weird thing when a musician makes maybe sad music, but they are really happy and solar people, or the other way around. How is it like for you?
People are diverse, I don’t think people are one thing, I’m just a goofy douchebag like everybody else but, with that said, everything we do with the band is 100% genuine, it’s not like I’m making shit up, it is me, it’s just not me all the time.
I need that balance between… you know, I like to say I’m the happiest angriest person I know [laughs] so, there’s a lot of anger but I just…
You just let it out through your music.
This is your first album on Metal Blade, how was it like to work with them?
You should ask somebody that knows it.
I try to stay away as much as possible from the business side of the band.
Working with them, from my prospective, has been basically arranging interviews and stuff like that; I’ve been doing a lot of interviews during the past months, and it feels like they know their… they’ve been around for 35 years, so I they have my full trust.
Also, they are a cool label, they put out some of the greatest Metal albums of all times.
When we last spoke, it was exactly two days after you released “Mariner”, we talked about the possibility of it being played live, you told me, “It’s absolutely never gonna happen!”…
… and you did play it.
I’m not gonna hold that against you, I love the album! What made you change your mind?
Because our agent kept bugging me and we had to do it to shut him up.
Look, even though we said yes to the tour we still didn’t know if we were gonna be able to play it, but it worked out really well, I loved playing those shows, I loved playing with Julie.
Do you think it might happen again?
I mean, look, I wouldn’t say no, but there’s nothing planned.
I talked to Julie, we are going to play, just me and her, at Roadburn, I’m gonna play with her band.
More than that, I don’t know.
Yeah, that’s another thing I wanted to ask you: you were commissioned a piece of music for Roadburn with Perturbator: how did the project come about? I mean, the music of Cult of Luna and Perturbator is so different, so who had the idea to try and put them together?
It was James, James knows that I am a fan of his music, and he is a fan of mine, so I guess it’s a good mix!
He’s a nice person, we get along well, we started working on some things.
How does it look like, right now?
We have written three songs.
What is it supposed to be, a whole album?
Yeah, the whole album is 60 minutes of music, that’s a lot of music, but we are going to… yeah, I think that if we keep the pace that we have now we should be good.
Can you describe the music?
I can, it’s 50% Perturbator, 50% Cult of Luna.
That’s the best way I can describe it.
In 2017 you released three live albums: “Live at Roadburn 2013”, “Somewhere Along the Highway: Live at Roadburn 2016” and “Live at La Gâité Lyrique: Paris”.
Yeah, I can’t even pronounce this one [laughs].
Why did you choose to release that many live albums in only a year?
You’re talking to the wrong person [laughs].
I got asked, listened to the recordings, “yeah, sounds good”.
If somebody’s interested, why not; I’m not big on live albums, to be quite honest.
Some years before, in 2009, you released the DVD “Fire Was Born”. How would you say your live show has changed from then?
A lot, I would say.
It’s like we are almost a different band.
The light show has definitely taken a big step forward, there is a larger conceptual change when it comes to the whole live aspect.
And also I think we are better now.
I hope we are a different band, it’s been 10 years.
Why do you say that you hope that? Is it because you don’t like the way you were before, or because you hope to have improved, grown?
I mean, I hope we are a better band, and I hope we’ll be better in five years.
It would be really sad if you gradually become worse.
Your music is very atmospheric, and, in mine opinion, it probably works better in a closed venue, dimmed lights, this sort of things. Do you have a favourite setting where to play?
No, I wouldn’t say I have a favourite one, I like doing everything.
I have no problem doing the small venues like, the really small ones, I’d love to do a tour of small capacity venues, the only problem is that the stage is too small.
When you have two drum sets…
As long as we can do our full live set with our backdrop – which we can’t do today because the stage is not deep enough, quite sad – but as long as we have a deep enough stage, I’m happy.
Sometimes I read other people’s interviews and I see super deep questions about metaphors and philosophy and stuff like that, and I personally have a hard time asking questions like these because I have the feeling that musicians often just follow the creativity in a sort of subconscious way, and they are not really saying, “Okay, with these lyrics I’m quoting this, and I mean this and that”. How is it like for you? Do you think that much about your music and lyrics, or do you just follow your stream of ideas?
In this particular situation, with the new songs, it was just let things go, just following the subconscious, and that was a conscious decision.
But, with that said, human race, we work a lot with symbolism and stuff like that, so I think that that comes up whether you like it or not.
It’s interesting because I analysed my own lyrics…
After you had written them?
What does this mean? From the perspective where I was in that situation, and you might have thought that something was just gibberish, just random words, but it actually made a lot of sense.
Okay, where was I when I wrote this? You know, it’s been an interesting ride analysing my stuff.
That’s cool! Because every time I’m reading all these complex analyses I think, “Is this what the artist was actually thinking or are they just reading made up stuff into the music?”
Yeah, but that’s part of art.
I would say, to be quite honest, that when we – and when I say “we” I mean me and everybody else – we kinda put people on pedestals, we think of them as geniuses, and I can promise you, 99% of times it’s just people doing stuff.
David Lynch just does stuff.
Why did that happen? Because I liked it!
But does it mean this and this and that? No, I just liked it.
But I think it’s beautiful that you can read into that, that’s part of the process.
But I think that very few artists really go like, “This means that, and if you connect it to…”, no, they just like it.
And that’s the way that I write, I go with the angle that I understand, and that I know, and that I’m comfortable with, but when it comes down to it it’s about what I like and what I don’t like.
Then, if people want to write an essay on it, be my guests!