The mystery man behind Ghost revealed himself and the band's cinematic new album Tuesday night for fans gathered in the 200-seat GRAMMY Museum theater in Los Angeles. Ahead of the June 1st release of Prequelle, Tobias Forge appeared relaxed as himself for the first time onstage to discuss the album and his creation of the theatrical Swedish heavy-metal act.
"I see every record a little like a film. And each has to have its own dramaturgy," said Forge, dressed in black jeans and T-shirt. "I have the show in mind always when recording."
The night began with Ghost's latest frontman, Cardinal Copia, leading a live three-song acoustic performance beginning with the new single "Rats." Wearing a jewel-encrusted inverted cross and speaking in a heavy Italian accent, he turned to his masked band of Nameless Ghouls and said, "Give me a steady shuffle. A one, a two, you know what to do ..."
In the middle of "Jigolo Har Megiddo," one Ghoul broke a guitar string and put his instrument down, hanging his head sadly. The band left the stage, and the entire new album was played, as fans headbanged and clapped along to the riffs, synths and heavy drumbeats. Forge then stepped out for his interview with GRAMMY Museum executive director Scott Goldman.
Here are 10 things we learned:
1. Ghost's new album is about the Black Death, but mostly it's about "survival"
Forge refers to Prequelle as "the Plague album," built around the historic events of the Black Death. "When it hit Europe in the mid-1300s, it wiped everyone out," Forge said. "The theme of Black Death had been done to death" in metal, he joked, but his focus on the experience of survivors gave the story a new twist for him. "This is a record about survival, but through troubled times."
2. The album's theme was years in the making
Forge originally planned to record Prequelle at the same time as 2016's Popestar. But he eventually realized the challenge of creating "80 minutes of music" at once rarely works. "At the risk of swearing in church," Forge told the GRAMMY Museum crowd, "I don't think even the 'White Album' is that good."
3. Forge is already planning the next one
Prequelle is still a month from release, but Ghost's next album is already on his mind: "I am writing the next one now. Whatever that record turns out to be will come over the next two years."
4. Artist Zbigniew M. Bielak does not work fast
The Polish artist/architect has created the meticulous, archaic imagery for most of Ghost's discography, but it takes time. Forge discusses the content of each new album with Bielak long before recording sessions are completed to give him enough time to work. "He's quite an anal dude," Forge said.
5. The secret identity of the band's main man has been out for years
While the GRAMMY Museum event was his first appearance as himself onstage since the creation of Ghost, he's frequently spoken with fans out of costume, meeting many outside the tour bus and elsewhere. "I haven't felt anonymous in many, many years," he said. "There's a great divide between being anonymous and being unknown." The night was designed to be an intimate gathering, not a big production. No cameras were allowed, and all cell phones were held at the entrance. "We're here privately," Forge said with a smile.
6. Forge pushes Ghost to not repeat itself
As Ghost's career unfolded, Forge was determined to not simply repeat the same ideas established on the first album. "If this was going to go anywhere, we need to take big steps every time," he said. "Every time you write an album and release it, it gets harder and harder."
7. He has been a big Kiss fan since he was a little kid
Forge wasn't surprised that the band's anonymity got people interested, especially in the U.S., where audiences were quick to embrace Ghost. "This is where you invented wrestling," he said to laughs. "I always knew I wanted to come to America. ... This is where shock rock started." He was a Kiss fan since he was a toddler, and the first words he ever wrote while in pre-school were the song title "Heaven's on Fire."
8. Ghost is intended to be heavy-metal theater
Forge originally imagined the band and its music as "a theatrical piece," he said. "Ever since I was a kid, I've liked going to musicals. There was something very enthralling within Cats." At the beginning of Ghost's career, Forge had modest expectations. He thought if Ghost could just get a record deal, he'd be happy to do five performances a year. "I wanted to create this thing."
9. Forge sometimes performs for laughs, but writes very seriously
As the Ghost story has unfolded since 2006, Forge has shown a gift for comedy as he plays with the band's gothic image onstage, on camera and elsewhere in public — but he keeps that separate from the music itself. "I try to refrain from that on albums traditionally," he explained. "The albums are more serious. The show is something else."
10. He credits his mom for his success
When Ghost had its first breakthrough, Forge was 29 and had been in bands for years. "I spent a lot of time being unsuccessful," he said, and noted that prior to Ghost, when he was asked what he did for a living his answer was, "I'm a musician. Oh, I'm unemployed." He credited the support of his mother for being essential as he was "going in and out of slackerdom." Winning the Grammy meant "I was a legitimate musician and songwriter now. You can take that to mom."