About Me

Interview with Therion

Therion has been quite controversial ever since its early days… their changes in sound didn’t always please metal fans, however that didn’t seem to worry Christofer Johnsson that much! He has been the mastermind behind Therion ever since the beginning, so Metal Imperium decided to catch up with him to find out more about the new album “Leviathan”… however it turned out to be a much richer conversation about the band’s career, the stock market, the highest points, the critics… quite a different and interesting dialogue that shows us a more personal side of Christofer. Keep on reading… 

M.I. - Hello! Thank you for calling! How are you? Tired?

Hi! No! There were times in which I would do over 100 phone interviews but, now, I'm a bit luckier because Thomas does some of the interviews and it's less media these days.

M.I. - How different are Therion now from Therion in 1988? How has the band evolved from Death Metal to Symphonic Metal?

Well, actually the band was formed in 87 so, in the very beginning, we didn't even play death metal. We started to play more like thrash metal, a mixture between heavy metal and thrash metal, it was very noisy. I think we sounded like a mixture between Motorhead, Venom and Metallica's “Kill ‘em all”, something like that. Then, in 88, we started to play death metal. Even on our first album, we actually had a little bit of keyboards which was very controversial back then, because death metal was very conservative... you don't use keyboards, you know? So, on the second album, we used a lot more keyboards and we used some female vocals and some clean male vocals, so the symphonic development was there already from the beginning, but in a small scale. Then, on the third album, we had some neoclassical influences, some middle eastern influences and even some industrial influences. We experimented quite a lot, I tried to experiment with the voice a bit and not just have death metal vocals. On the fourth album, we had a classical soprano and a bass baritone singer and even more keyboards and we also tried to sing differently, so it was always a step-by-step development. Then, when we made “Theli”, we used choirs for the first time and I guess that's when we took the steps to become a fully symphonic metal band, or more or less forming the style. I mean, there were many bands that were having neoclassical influences and we're doing this and that but, I think, we were the first band to completely embrace it, or at least, we were the one establishing it, so it was a nine-year development basically but, if you listen to all the albums, you can really hear it step by step.

M.I. - Therion has created a style that influenced many bands, such as Nightwish or Epica… how does this make you feel? Knowing that you have contributed with so much to the metal scene?

It feels great! Actually, I don't know if we inspired Epica but I know we inspired Nightwish, at least in the beginning, we were one of the inspirations. It feels really good to be part of that! I mean, in one way, you're just another step on the ladder too, you had Tom G Warrior in Celtic Frost when he made “Into the pandemonium” in 87, that was the first step to make metal symphonic. If he wouldn't have done that, I wouldn't have gotten my ideas! He got his ideas from the 70s symphonic rock bands. So I think we're all making different contributions along the timeline of music but it feels good to be a pioneer instead of being one of the copycats, you know? If you take Nightwish, for instance, they weren't the copycat, they got the inspiration and they did a more cinematic, more accessible version. But Therion was always very experimental and obscure. We sold actually really well in the 90s, we sold like 150 000 copies on the “Vovin” album which is not bad, but Nightwish managed to popularize the style and make it work. Yeah, you can call it commercial, I don't think commercial is a bad word, it just means it's more accessible to a bigger amount of people. They managed to sell platinum and that was great because that meant they managed to find fans that we wouldn't find and sometimes that would spill back on us. People that would become fans and looking for more of this type of music and then they would find Therion, so they really paid back for the inspiration! The biggest innovator ever for rock music was Jimi Hendrix. What he did in 1967 completely revolutionized and changed everything. If you ask the first generation of Hard Rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and even those who came a bit later like Judas Priest, they would say Hendrix just changed everything. If you ask somebody today about Jimi Hendrix, some young metal fans, sadly, don't know him. You're a music journalist and I'm a musician, so we know our music history a bit better but, in general, I think people are very unaware of many of the geniuses back in the history of music. The same thing with Black Sabbath, everybody loves them but most people have no idea of the revolution in sound that they caused. Also some of the early Judas Priest stuff would define the 80s and the 90s method. I don't want to compare Therion with Hendrix and Black Sabbath but, on a much smaller scale, we also did some contributions. I think most of the young fans today don't understand really how it was in the 90s. I remember when “Theli” was released, some people were shocked and, in Sweden, the only country where we were very successful as a death metal band, we lost our entire fanbase because we had tested their patience a little bit with “Leppaca Kliffoth” and then with “Theli”. Fortunately for us, the album sold really well, so we got a new crowd but, specifically in Sweden, we basically stopped playing because we weren’t understood there and, even today, we do terrible in Sweden. 

M.I. - But I think people are more open-minded now, don't you? I was one of the few girls at metal concerts in the 90s and bands didn't have girly t-shirts or anything.

Metal was supposed to be for bad, mean boys but people are more open-minded these days. I believe they accept changes in sound and in bands in a more relaxed way. I don't know but I feel that they are influenced by pop music, that they listen to anything. 

M.I. - Back in the day, most bands could only say they listened to metal, otherwise they would be banned or something. I read some comments online and some fans love the new album but others seem to be disappointed, saying the essence of Therion has disappeared. Do you think Therion’s essence has disappeared or people just can’t accept the fact that bands evolve?

I don't know but, honestly, much of the metal today is pop music, it's just pop songs with heavy guitars. The metal I grew up with was 80’s metal... you really had guitar riffs! I don't know when was the last time I heard a really good guitarist. You don't feel that from most bands. You have some 80s, heavy metal nostalgia bands like Hammerfall, but especially in the symphonic metal scene it's basically symphonic pop music with heavy guitars. Bands like Nightwish or Epica are not a bad thing, I like pop music but the acceptance for pop music is much bigger because the metal music has moved closer to it as well. If you take a band like Sabaton, for instance, they're a cool metal band but they basically play melodic hard rock. If they would have made their songs in the 80s, they would have been in the same genre as Foreigner, Europe or Bon Jovi. They’re very melodic but because they have very rough vocals, a cool image and lyrics about war, people buy the concept. It's like Manowar... take the song “Carry on”, that would have been a pop song, but because we loved Manowar and they were cool, we listened to “Carry on” and it's a great song, I love that song, but for the metal crowd you need to put on the right clothes, the content is not so important as long as it's good, you know? This is what I wanted to prove when we made the cover album with the French female pop songs from the 60s, that's very far away from metal. I wanted to rearrange the songs into metal to show that it's not so important the core of the song as long as it's good, that’s what matters. One of our most popular songs also is “Summer Night City”, the Abba cover. To me there's just good and bad music, it doesn't matter what style it is, if it's a good song, it's a good song. I always loved Abba, I'm a huge fan. I always loved The Beatles which invented pop, so for me there was never any contradiction. I just love music but, like you said, in the metal scene it was very important that you listened to metal, so it really mixed up a lot with different music styles. And you mentioned that you were the only girl... in the death metal scene, it was really cool, girls were treated really nicely there and with a lot of respect but, in the regular metal scene, sometimes people would say that girls didn't really understand the music, they were only on the concert because they got there with their boyfriends. It was a little bit of sexism in a way, as if girls couldn't understand the music. It was very difficult for female artists in the 80s. Girlschool were great, I always loved Girlschool and then you also had Lita Ford and Lee Aaron. People were always like “oh, it’s a female band”. What has changed now is that it's nothing weird to mix the bands, to have a female singer is almost more common than a guy. Some female fronted bands have nothing musical in common... what does Arch Enemy have in common with The Gathering? Nothing! So that's a pretty cool thing that everything just got very blended and today it's just about doing something good and people will like it!

M.I. - Yeah, I totally agree! When the band started off, did you ever imagine that you’d still be here after 31 years?

Well, to be honest, we have been around for 34 years. Time flies! Therion is my first and only band, that's very unique, because normally you start a band, it doesn't work, you find another and another and, then, finally you make it to a good one. But Therion is my first band! I started playing bass three months before I started Therion. I started as a bass player and changed to guitar after a year. Basically, we were beginners, the guitar player had played guitar for a year, and the drummer, who was in my class in school, wasn't into metal but he played well, he was the only guy we knew who could play drums so we forced him to be in our band, even though he didn't like the music. Yeah, we were basically two beginners and an unwilling drummer and our first ambition was to write songs. The next goal was to make a demo tape ofour music, so we could listen to it, show it to others and play live. We had very small goals, of course we were dreaming about making and living out of music, but it was a really far-fetched dream. It's like when you're a kid and you dream about being an astronaut and going to space, it's a dream but you don't really think it's gonna happen, you know? Every time we achieved a goal, we had a new goal so, once we made a demo tape, we thought that maybe we could get a record deal. Then the goal was to get the record deal and, once we had it, instead of just making local shows, we wanted to make a little tour. Bit by bit you start dreaming about maybe making a living out of music and it was a really long road. Before we made “Theli” in 96, we had no money whatsoever, we didn't sell any record, we were an underground band, so of course we had problems with budgets, because if you don't sell records, the record company is not going to give you a big budget obviously. They're not going to throw money in at a band that loses money, so that was one big frustration, because I couldn't do what I wanted to do. Another frustration was that I was getting older, and if at 20 you live with your mom and dad, have a record deal, want some money, you're eating your mom's food and you don't pay any rent, that’s okay. But, in 92, I moved away from home and had to pay my own rent and food. From 92 until 96, it was always month to month, every time I would pay the rent, I had no idea how to pay the rent the next month... I would have to solve it once a month, I couldn't afford a car obviously, I couldn't even afford public transport, I would have to travel illegally. When you get closer to thirty, then it's not so fun anymore, so it was really a lifesaver when “Theli” started to sell, because I could start paying my bills like normal people and even afford a car. My first car cost 760 euros… a very old BMW 316 from 1981, that I bought from the bass player of Morgoth in Germany. We had just gotten a manager and I got a small paycheck finally and I said “I'm gonna buy a car now”. Finally, I had equipment, I needed to go to the rehearsal room and take equipment on public transport was a drag, so to have a car was really good. I decided to buy it in Germany and drive it back to Sweden, because they had just joined the UE, so one could import cars from other countries. That was the first time I drove internationally with my cheap car! I was lucky that the car made it to Sweden, to be honest.

M.I. - Christofer, you’ve been the only member that has been in the band ever since the beginning… Who is currently a full-time member of Therion? 

Myself; Thomas; Lori is still a member but she's only a studio member, she gave up touring; Nalle, the bass player, gave up touring, because of a health reason, but we will have a live bass player; and Christian Vidal, the guitar player, he's a permanent member... so that's us! 
And the rest is hired people, so we have different people live, different people on the record. It's a great freedom actually not to have permanent members, as you can always colour the songs on the records differently with different people. We don't have a drummer at the moment, though on the album, we have two drummers: Snowy Shaw playing five of the songs and Björn Höglund playing six, but we don't know who's gonna play live. We're trying to persuade Björn to join the action… we'll see how we will succeed with that, otherwise we're going to have a session live drummer. We used to have Sami Karpinnen, but he made some choices, it's always economic choices, he's a drum tech, he's one of the best drum techs on the planet, so he's very well paid as a drum tech and earns more money being a drum tech than playing and he's the favourite tech for Opeth. They're so dependent on him, so they would pay him double. He was paid well already, so he's earning more than double per show being a drum tech for them than playing a show with Therion. 
The thing is: the people who work in this business don't get any pension because they often don't pay tax, as they work internationally. I always have a company so I do it by the book, but most people just take the money and put it in the pocket, so once they start getting close to 50, they start panicking and thinking they need to save up money. That was the thing with Lori too! Even in Portugal, your welfare state is not comparable to Scandinavia, but the state will take care of you. You pay tax into the system, you will get a pension, you have medicare, nobody's gonna let you rot away, you don't have to live under a bridge if you don't have money… 

M.I. - Yeah, but they don't know if, in 20 years, people will still get a pension. They are saying that they don't know what the future will hold, so it's a bit scary. Yes, we have free healthcare, free education, we have that but…

Yeah, in the US, if you don't have money, you have to eat from the garbage can and live under a bridge. Lori had a bit of a 40-year crisis, when she became 40 she realized “I have no pension, I have nothing, I'm getting older”. Then she was offered a job where she would get full benefits, that means she would get medicare paid by the employer and she would get pension, so she had to take a tough decision. It wasn't fun but I understood her, she missed touring and we miss her but what can we do? These are realities, unfortunately. 
I'm very business-minded and I always think long-term. For instance, with the guys in my band, when we make a record, I pay them one amount of money immediately and then I own the record. They want it that way, they want the money now, they don't want to wait for it, they want to know exactly how much they're going to earn and they want it immediately. So, I always buy them out, then I own the record and, in a 10-year time, I will earn money from it. I always bought out the guys historically so, when this covid thing came, the timing couldn't have been better! I got back the rights for the back catalog from Nuclear Blast on the first of January in 2020, so that means every time somebody streams a song or downloads the song, I get a hundred percent... so I have a monthly income from streaming now, that I can comfortably make a living out of. I don't have to work for the rest of my life if I don't want to, so this turned out to be a very smart investment I did in the past. So it's better to take long-term good decisions, make investments, if you believe in yourself, your music and your career, don't always spend the money and this has really paid off for me now. When I earned really good money in the 90s, when the “Vovin” album sold 150 000 copies... actually the “Vovin” album was my solo album, it was only me and studio musicians... I would get really big paychecks and, instead of buying myself a sports car or anything like that, I would save up because I didn’t know how long it was going to last, I learned from the difficult years before so I would invest and I would buy stocks, invest in the stock market. When Apple introduced the Iphone, I invested everything I owned, because I thought it was going to be a revolution… and if you ask somebody to make investments, they say to not use everything in one company but not in this case... it was like there's no way that the company is gonna go down, they own the Ipod market, and even if this Iphone is just a small success, the stock is going to go up for sure. Then, of course, it became a big revolution so I actually earned more money from Apple than from music. When I became a father, I thought it was a good time to make a safe investment, so I built a huge villa, called Villa Adulruna, and a studio in Sweden that I had for 10 years and, now, my son is older and I decided to move to Malta because Sweden is a sinking ship country. Then I sold it and I made some investments again, earned more money, and now I'm buying real estate. If you want to have a safe future as a musician, you need to be business-minded also, you can't just drink beer!

M.I. - Therion’s 17th studio album “Leviathan” has been released a few weeks ago. How have the reactions to it been so far?

I think there are less complaints than normal. If you would look in an internet archive before social media, there were always forums and, every time Therion released a new record, it was just a lot of complaints that “the new album was boring, Therion has lost its soul, why Swedish, why do you have lyrics in Swedish, I don't understand Swedish, it's dumb and stupid and blah blah blah and I feel so bad and my ass hurts”... if you would read the comments for every Therion release, you would think that we never made a successful album.
So, I would say the amount of complaints is actually very small and very predictable because you can control people's emotions. If I would have said “oh we're going to go back to the roots now with this record because I have a cult vision or whatever” people would say “yeah, it's so cool to go back”… it's so easy to manipulate people. Just because you say “Okay, we're intentionally now gonna give the fans what they want”, there are some people who can't help themselves, it's like Tourette's Syndrome, they just have to say something negative about it... the internet is so impersonal, so people can write rude or stupid stuff. If you're in a pub and you would say something like that, people would punch you in the face. Nobody would dare say that to my face so it's just how it is, that's how the internet is, people have very bad manners and people who have a negative opinion are more likely to express it than people who have a positive opinion. 
Our French cover album got 60 negative comments but if you look in Spotify, the most streamed Therion song is “Mon amour, mon ami” with almost three million streams, it's more popular than any song I wrote. We have over 10 million streams for the whole record. But if you would look at the comments, you’d think it would have been the worst idea that the human brain ever had within the metal scene, to do a French female 60s cover album... but I earned so much money on this record that if I move to a poor cheap country, I could make a living out of only the digital sales. You cannot just judge from what people say on the internet, you know? It means nothing, you see the record sales, see if people stream or download it, that’s what matters, see if people show up to the concert, that's what matters.

M.I. - This is a 45-minute heavy metal album full Therion hits with no central story or theme. Why have you opted to do it like this now? Was it complicated or easy to give the fans what they have been asking for? 

We wanted to make a classic sounding Therion hit album because, after “Beloved Antichrist”, I just felt there was nothing more to do, I've done everything I dreamt of… so what now? And we realized the only thing we hadn't done is to try to please the fans and, honestly, it's very easy if you're very artistic, but it's actually a challenge. It was a great challenge to do something that we never did before and Therion always worked best with a knife against the throat, trying something new and with a challenge that something can go wrong. 
In the beginning, it was actually very difficult, it was a very slow process and then, all of a sudden, we wrote over 40 songs. We didn't want to copy any older album or any specific songs but I tried to listen to the most famous songs and figure out: “What is the secret sauce? Why are these songs the most popular ones?”. Because, musically, they have nothing in common with each other. We're not very big on Spotify, most of our fans still buy cds, but Spotify is a way of measuring what people actually listen to, it has statistics. How many times did somebody listen to this song?! You can see the popularity of the songs, and when we compare the songs that did best, I realized those songs are so different that they could have been written by different bands. “Rise of Sodom” and “Birth of Venus” don't really have anything in common, musically they're very different from each other. I just try to get the vibe, the quintessence of the song, just try to inhale the atmosphere of the more popular songs and try to write new songs. Well, we have to let the fans judge if we succeeded or not. But what's our intention? To have hit songs. 

M.I - I think you succeeded! The new album is amazing! You've written many songs and you'll be releasing Leviathan 2 and Leviathan 3, right? You captured the feeling of Therion's sound in the 90s and even the cover is similar to the earlier albums.

Happy to hear! We have enough material for three albums. So, the idea is that we will be able to please the majority of the fans with at least one of the records. Every time we release a new album, of course, you look around a little bit, see reactions and comments and some people seriously think we should go back to playing death metal. Those people will die disappointed! We hope that at least everybody will find one record that will speak to them! Leviathan 2 will be darker and more melancholic. Leviathan 3 will be very diverse, it will have more adventurous, experimental songs and some heavier stuff, some folk stuff. Hopefully everybody will find a Leviathan that will fit them.

M.I. - I know Thomas wrote many lyrics on this album and that Ten Courts of Diyu is inspired by Chinese legends; Tuonela with Marko Hietala is about Finnish mythology... in what else do the lyrics focus on? 

“The Leaf on the Oak of Far” is dealing with the Celtic god Camulus. “Leviathan” is about the old German Goddess Nertos and “Nocturnal Light” is about a Sumerian goddess Algol, which is a star often referred to as the demon star. “Ten courts of Diyu” are the ten stages of hell in chinese buddhist mythology and “El Primer Sol” is a continuation of the song “Quetzalcóatl”. This time we write about the antagonist of Quetzalcoatl in the Aztec mythology, so it's regularly different mythologies and esoteric systems from all over the world.

M.I. – This album was a multicultural process as you recorded the instruments and vocals in different countries, because the virus has forced the band to adopt a different way of doing things... how challenging was it?

Well, there are always two sides of a coin. In one hand, it was very time consuming for them and very expensive for me! Normally, I have my own studio so if we waste one or two more days in the studio, it doesn't make a difference, because it's my studio. This time we had to rent commercial studios and if you waste a lot of time, I have to pay for each hour so that was expensive. I tend to have a vision of what I want but, in reality, it doesn't always manifest the way I imagined it. This means I just have to erase some takes that are in the wrong style. But the way we worked now, I would have to send demos and instructions to everybody to book a commercial studio and they would go there and spend half a day or a full day to record something according to my instructions. Then they would send me the files and sometimes I would be that it wasn’t what I wanted”. In the end, you have to book a studio again and redo it, so it's very frustrating for them to really put a lot of time and energy in to doing perfect takes in the style that I want. It's also very expensive for me having to pay studios all the time. With the drums, for instance, we recorded first with Snowy Shaw and then, for six of the songs on the album, I had Bjorn rerecord that, because I was listening to everything together and I felt like some of these songs sounded flat. Therefore, I took the difficult and expensive decision, to take another drummer and we rerecorded six of the songs. That meant I also had to rerecord the bass and the guitar. I had to pay people again, so it was very expensive to work this way. If I would have been sitting there recording the drums, I would maybe have noticed this earlier, so that's the downside of it.
The positive sides are two: one is that I can do multiple things at the same time. I recorded Hammond Organ in Sweden at the same time as I had solo violin recorded in Germany and Christian Vidal was recording lead guitars in Argentina... that's a good thing and also my ears and mind are fresh because, when we make a regular recording, I have to listen to all the instruments all the time. The I have to do the mix with somebody. Once we're done with the mix, we have the mastering and once we're done with the mastering, I don't want to hear the word studio for another two years. It makes me sick, you know? But this time I would just get files and sometimes have them re-recorded and so on, but it was a very easy job compared to what I normally have. Once we completed the mix and the mastering, I felt like “Let's do another record! We have the songs, let's continue to record!”. We have already recorded most of the stuff for Leviathan 2 and we have even recorded all the drums for Leviathan 3. I like working this way, especially after the “Beloved Antichrist”, where we recorded three albums and I had to be there all the time. Can you imagine how you feel after listening to drum recordings for three albums? We recorded 18 guitars, every time you hear a guitar chord on “Beloved Antichrist”, it's 18 guitars striking that chord, so recording that amount of guitars for three albums, I mean, I was almost committing suicide after the guitar recording. So, after “Beloved Antichrist”, to record just a regular album was like a vacation. It's not going to be a problem at all to finish the second album now and, then, the third one. So, it will be a unique situation where we will have finished albums ready to be pulled out whenever we need them, so the plan is to release one album each year. 

M.I. - Now that touring is cancelled, how are you planning on promoting “Leviathan”? Through live streaming events? 

Last year was the first year since the band was formed in which we didn't play any concert at all, that was weird. Nobody knows anything for sure. Plus, different countries have different restrictions, so it's very difficult to plan a tour. Let's say they lift the restrictions in Portugal and Spain but they have restrictions in France, we still need to drive over France to get to Spain and Portugal and it may be very difficult to put together a tour. More and more tours that were scheduled for this autumn, are being pushed to 2022. We have a few offers for the autumn but nobody knows if they're gonna happen. 
The first strategy is trying to get together with some other band, instead of doing two headline tours, let's push them together and tour together. The whole ecosystem around the music industry has collapsed! There are a lot of concert venues that are disappearing, booking agents that have financial problems, stage workers that have to take other jobs so they can feed their families and pay mortgage on their houses. Everything will be difficult to get. Tour bus companies are going bankrupt and it can be difficult to find a tour bus. Also merchandise companies... when I wanted to print t-shirts, I sent an email to a company I’ve been working with for many years and I didn't get a reply because they don't exist anymore. I had to buy the T-shirts through Nuclear Blast, because they are the biggest independent label in Europe and have a really huge online store so they sell a lot of t-shirts. For them, it's easier to to get somebody and no one wants to lose Nuclear Blast of the clients, so of course they get priority. Even with Nuclear Blast they couldn't be on time, I got the t-shirts six days after the release. Imagine when we go on tour, we’ll have to plan very long ahead to have t-shirts in time.
So, if we can't do a tour together with another band, strategy number two is to just wait out and tour after everything goes back to normal. If a lot of tour bus companies go bankrupt, the few ones that still have tour buses can charge a kidney for it… and I don’t want to sell my organs to get an old bus! You're going to get less money from the concert promoters because, once the venues lost a lot of money, they're going to be more expensive, so the promoter's going to have to pay more for the venues because it's also very uncertain for them. They don’t know if people are gonna be starved for concerts and run to buy a ticket or if are people gonna be scared they get corona and die five minutes after the concert. This whole thing has been exaggerated so much and some people seem to think it's a zombie apocalypse, they are scared for their life! 
Also it's about making enough profit. I don't want to go on tour for a month and pay for it. I love playing music but this is my job, I need to get paid something. So, it's a lot of uncertain factors there. If I get paid enough that I can make a budget that works, we can share stuff. I can be a little bit old-school, and share a tour bus with some other bands, no problem! We're not rock stars, we’re really simple people, so we can share crew. Normally crews don't like that because there are too many bands to work with, but they understand these are special circumstances and they will earn more money. But if it's not going to be done in a professional way, I’d rather sit down and wait for things to get normal. We don't tour every year anyway. We released “Les Fleurs du Mal” in 2012 and we toured on it even though it was a cover album and then we didn't make anything until 2018. So, it's okay if it takes a few years to make the tour for this album, it's not the end of the world.

M.I. - Portugal hasn’t been a place of good touring memories for you. Back in 2013, when you played at Lisbon Dark Fest, the organizers robbed the band. But you’ve returned after that and I hope your image of Portugal and your fans isn’t damaged! 

Yeah, I remember that! It’s the only time we had a criminal case, because they forged bank papers. Normally, when you have a new promoter, it's a bit like “You give us money with one hand, we give you the concert with the other hand”. At the same time, unless you have received the full deposit, you don't get on the plane. Our booking agent told them “Look, you need to follow the contract, and if  you don't pay the final deposit, then the band will not be on the flight”. So, the day before we were flying, we didn't even know if we would fly. Then they sent a paper from the bank showing their transfer… okay, the money was not in the account but we saw the paper, we trusted it and then it turned out to be a fake. Normally, we wait for the money to arrive and not the paper, and that shows why you shouldn't do it because some people are criminals. We weren't fully paid for that show! Those things happen but if there's somebody you worked with for a very long time... it's not really about the countries. People say that in some countries it's worse than others. In general, I trust promoters more in Switzerland than I do in Brazil, for sure. But it has to do with the person! Carlos that I work with in Mexico... Mexico is one of the worst scamming countries on the planet but, regardless, we worked with him for so many years, we don't even write a contract anymore, we just write an email. It's like a handshake over an email! We get paid after the shows because we know it works and everybody will go to him. So, it's not really about the country, it's about the people. If it's something huge like Wacken, they have the biggest festival on the planet, they're gonna pay you. So, with Wacken, you do the concert and you send the invoice after, it's normal. But smaller concerts and especially somebody that you don't have a longtime relationship with, it's always 100% paid first or the band won't go. It sounds harsh but it's for a very good reason and it's also better for the fans. There are so many cases with promoters trying to blame it on the bands like “Oh they're rock stars, they don't want to show up” and so on. If you buy a ticket to the cinema, they're going to play the movie, that's how it should be exactly.

M.I. – So, you're the mastermind behind Therion… what's the highest point that the band has gone through so far?

I usually say there are three really high points! The first one was in 1989 when we were a demo band. It was a very underground death metal thing, and if you would make a concert, it would be 40/50 people no matter what time they play. In Stockholm there were basically 50/60 people that were into death metal and you would know all of them. So, when you bought the demo tape or t-shirts, you would buy it straight from the band. Well, you could also buy it in a record store called House of Kicks, that was the only store that sold death metal. I remember, one day, I saw a guy that I didn't know who had a Therion t-shirt and that was a very special feeling. We did tape trading and sold t-shirts to people all over the world, so you wouldn't meet people in person but then you would write letters and somebody would send you money in a letter and buy a t-shirt from you, it was like a contract! But it was a remarkable feeling to see somebody in town with Therion’s t-shirt… that's still remembered to this day.
Then, of course, when we released “Theli”, because I was so poor before, all of a sudden, it solved my private financial situation and also I got proper budget for the band, it was just changing everything. I wasn’t used to that. Each record sold a little bit more than the previous one and we would get stellar reviews... every review in the music media said Therion was so innovative, so cool, so special, but we would never reach out to the bigger mass of people. But, one day, my brain told me “Don't be stupid, Christofer! You know that you made record after record but it's not gonna sell!” So, I planned for a different band, I thought let's abandon Therion, I've taken this as far as I could now so I wanted to form a seventies band instead, because it's cheaper to record and I was really into the 70s style. I was going to call the band “Theli” but then, the boss of Nuclear Blast, by some miracle of Satan or whatever, gave me the budget to do this crazy album, so I called the album “Theli” instead. But my brain told me “This is not gonna sell”, because we didn't sell, we were too strange and this was even stranger so, by all logic, people would say “What the f*ck is this?! Opera? It's ridiculous! Take your stupid record and shove it up your ass!”. Then all of a sudden, it just sold. They called me after two weeks saying “Hey, the record is doing great, we sold 20 000 copies and every day there are thousands of copies being sold!”. I wasn't home when they called so it was recorded on my answering machine back then, I still have that tape somewhere. It's a really remarkable feeling that, after all these years, finally, you're being understood. It's not just about the money! Of course, it changed everything, to be able to pay your bills like a normal person and eat normal food. But also to get some recognition! Actually with “Theli” we got more bad reviews, but the dumbest review we ever got was in a hardcore magazine that, for some reason, decided to review that record and said it was the worst craft they ever heard and one guy said Therion should step down from the pedestal... what pedestal?! We just made a record, we never said we were better than anybody. After that, I would get everything, we had great budget in our contract but I had more money than I would like. For “Gothic Kabbalah” I said “Hey, we have 15 songs, can we get 25 and more money, then we can make a double album?”. They agreed. And then, when we made “Beloved Antichrist”, even though our sales were down a bit, we didn't make a record in a long time, we made a crazy cover album, it wasn't really the right time to ask for more money and I say “Hey, we want to do this rock musical, we're going to do the soundtrack for a rock musical”... it's pretty tough to sell a soundtrack for a rock musical that hasn't been staged yet. Then I just said “Can we have double money?” I”. If they would have said “You know, Christofer this time you took it too far, goodbye!” and hang up the phone... I would understand! Then I would call back and say “yeah, okay, I get your point, sorry!”. But they just said “okay we trust you, you always do something cool, here's some money!”. We're on the best record label on the planet and to have them trusting us... we have the biggest budget in the history of the record label, for a band that sold barely enough not to be dropped from the record label, it's unheard of, so that moment is by far the most important. 
But, on a personal note, for me, the most special moment was in 2018 when we played in Moscow on the National Space Day. They decided to stream part of our concert to the international space station! And to really understand what that means to me, I have to tell you about my background in the 80s... I don't know how it was in Portugal but, in Sweden, anybody who listened to metal was regarded as an idiot, they said that “metal is not real music, just noise, it’s a bunch of monkeys screaming, what you do is basically artistically and culturally worthless and everybody who listens to this music is useless and dumb, when you grow up you're gonna be carrying boxes in a warehouse or flipping burgers at Macdonald's or cleaning the floor, that's your future, because your head is empty and you listen to this sh*t”. So, at first, I had a small victory in 2009 when I built this huge villa. There was a little bit of money missing to build it, I called up the biggest business bank in Sweden to ask for a loan to complete this and it turned out that the regional boss of the biggest business bank in Scandinavia was actually a Therion fan. So, some of the empty-headed monkeys did quite okay in life after all! But to have metal music transmitted into space because somebody who's a cosmonaut in space is a metal head… with my background, it's just unheard of! That somebody who is a cosmonaut would be a metal head would be unthinkable and, if they would transmit a concert into space, it would be a classical concert or something like that, metal no!, it's never going to happen! So, the fact that this happened and they choose Therion, out of all the bands, I cannot describe how much it meant to me personally. I’m never nervous normally. Well, when we played with an orchestra, I was a bit nervous, because there was so much money put into this production... I was more nervous about the orchestra messing it up but, for this concert, it's like “If I play a bad chord, it will be transmited into space, we better get it right this time!”. So maybe not nervous, but really under pressure, really focusing on the playing. So, what's left to wish for, you know?! Nothing else, I guess!

M.I. - Well “Theli” turns 25 this year. Have you thought about a special celebration for it?

In a way, if there's any record we should celebrate, it should be “Theli” because of the reasons I told you. But we have so many records, there would be a celebration for a record all the time, so I think we're not going to do anything for most records. Maybe I'm gonna re-release “Theli” because I own it now, maybe a gold version would be good. Yes, that would be something. I released Lori Lewis solo album in May and it was so problematic that, in the end, we pretty much just opened the door and kicked the album out, basically no promotion, nothing worked, they shut down the airport, we couldn't send copies to magazines, nothing, everything was such a mess… so we just said “Let's wait with Therion’s albums”, because we couldn't even get the Lori Lewis solo album shipped in time for the release to all the stores and most of the stores weren't open anyway... it was just too chaotic! 

M.I. - Many thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. I hope to see Therion live here in Portugal soon! Please share a final message with our readers, Christofer! 

Well, sooner or later this sh*t is gonna end and we look forward to tour, it will be a pleasure to see you all there! Thank you very much!

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Sónia Fonseca