Ghost: 10 Things We Learned From Our Revealing Interview With Tobias Forge | Revolver

Ghost: 10 Things We Learned From Our Revealing Interview With Tobias Forge

From why Cardinal Copia is "an imposter," to Forge's original plans for Ghost's singer
ghostcopiacreditnickfancher.jpg, Nick Fancher
Ghost's Cardinal Copia, Los Angeles, 2018
photograph by Nick Fancher

We recently sat down with Ghost mastermind Tobias Forge for his most in-depth and personal interview to date. If you've read it already, you know that it's full of fascinating insights into metal's most unlikely success story and the making of the band's excellent new album Prequelle. If you haven't read it yet, and maybe don't have the time or patience for a long-ass story full of, you know, lots of fucking words, we've pulled out some of the key takeaways from the feature. Check them out below.

1. Tobias Forge did not want to be the singer of Ghost — or a singer at all
"Even when I was a kid, I always sort of identified myself with Keith Richards and Slash more than the singers of the bands," Forge told us. So when he recorded the first Ghost songs, he thought of them as demos and his vocals as "guide vocals." He then offered the gig to a slew of Swedish extreme-metal frontmen: Messiah Marcolin (ex-Candlemass), Mats Levén (Yngwie Malmsteen, current Candlemass), Christer Göransson (Mindless Sinner) and JB Christoffersson (Grand Magus). They all passed for various reasons, and Forge became the band's singer by default.

2. The first Ghost song was written with Swedish lyrics and Forge's former Repugnant bandmate helped him record it
In 2006, Forge wrote a song called "Stand by Him" with Swedish lyrics; musically, it was unlike anything he had written in the past. So, he called his friend Gustaf Lindström to help him record it since the two had played together in the short-lived death-metal outfit Repugnant, which at one point also included future members of In Solitude and Tribulation. "It sounded great, but I didn't really know what it was," Forge recalled. "I told Gustaf, 'If I can write two more like this, we can definitely call it something and do something with it.'" The song would later appear in English on the band's 2010 debut, Opus Eponymous.

3. When he recorded Ghost's first songs in 2008, Forge was married with two kids and worked at a call center for a Swedish mobile phone company
"You can regard my life and say that not a whole lot happened before that," he said. Ghost was the sixth in what had been, to that point, a string of unsuccessful bands. "I had two kids and a social life and [getting married] was a big step in life, but career-wise and [in terms of] fulfilling yourself and touring goals, it was definitely 29 years of what felt like non-activity."

4. Forge's older brother Sebastian, who was a huge influence on him, died the same day Tobias posted the first Ghost songs online, and the musician has come to think of the coincidence as an example of energy transference
Forge's brother Sebastian introduced him to transgressive rock music like Kiss and Mötley Crüe, as well as horror movies, all of which would play a big role in shaping Ghost. Then his brother suddenly passed away from heart disease on March 12th, 2010 — the same day Forge went public with Ghost's music. "Ever since then, it's hard not to feel that there might have been some sort of universal trade-off," he told us, "like [my brother] was just giving me a big push in the back and it hasn't stopped since."

5. Forge's life radically changed March 20th, 2010, in another, much more positive way
After he posted the first Ghost songs to MySpace, Forge was contacted by record labels and managers from around the world. "We went from absolutely nothing, a complete unknown — maybe 10 people in the world knew about it before that — and 48 hours later the band was already being approached by all kinds of people," he recalled. "My career trajectory changed more in those 24 to 48 hours than I had ever experienced in my life."

6. Forge turned away from religion at a young age — and eventually toward Satan — in large part because of an ill-tempered teacher and wicked stepmother
Two of the less pleasant figures in Forge's early life were a particularly strict and cruel school teacher and his also very stern stepmother, both of whose humorlessness happened to be steeped in religion. "What I remember is that she imposed a lot of religion classes on us — more than I think was according to the curriculum," Forge remembered of his teacher. "She just represented this sanctimonious authority that I hated. And that in combination with the alienation I felt every other weekend going to [my stepmother's] home that was also sort of infiltrated by religion definitely made me run headfirst into the arms of the devil."

7. Forge's identity has actually not been a "secret" for a long time, and fans could have outed him years ago, yet they did not. Forge has a theory why.
Unmasked and in street clothes, the members of Ghost, including Forge, have hung out with fans after shows, shaking hands and doling out autographs for years, and yet, remarkably, very few of those fans have snapped pics on their cell phones and shared them via social media. Forge has a theory about this phenomenon. "[Usually] you have a band and then you have four or five members who are posting photos of everything that they're doing, and that combined creates this public image of the band," he told us. "And since that was obviously an absolute no-no with Ghost — still is — and we were overcompensating with an image, people started focusing on the image [instead]. And I guess they were appreciating the fact that we were creating this forum in which they could, in a slightly old-school way, imagine things rather than having it sort of smeared in your face the way that you would if you were a fan of a sentence-for-a-name band where you know everything [and] there's no secrets whatsoever."

8. Ghost's new frontman Cardinal Copia could become Papa Emeritus IV
According to Forge, Cardinal Copia "is not the boss. He's just the toastmaster. A cardinal is junior to a pope figure," he explained. "We still have Papa Emeritus [Zero, a.k.a. Papa Nihil] but he's passing on. He needs to teach the Cardinal to become a pope, to earn his skull paint."

9. Forge doesn't even like Cardinal Copia very much
The Ghost mastermind said it was always part of his plan for the band to have a succession of Papas. Each one has a built-in term limit — kinda like presidents. "And then there was gonna be a moment in time where you have to sort of chew through a little bit of an underdog person that you might not like," he told us. "So we end up with this character that I'm not even fond of myself. He's new and he is an imposter and he hasn't proven himself yet. But if he does, he will become Papa IV."

10. Forge thinks social media has returned us to the Middle Ages when it comes to human discourse. We are the "rats."
"For many, many years in modern life we prided ourselves on greater morals and being smarter than we were in the Middle Ages," Forge explained. "But I think that online mannerisms are very close to open-square stonings many hundreds of years ago when people were fucking barbarians."

"Rats are a disease-spreading enemy in great numbers that come from all over, that surround you," he added. "Rats come from the sewer. They can come up from your toilet. They can come up through your sink. They're in your walls, if you're unlucky."