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Christofer Johnsson (Therion)
by: ZOLTÁN KONCSOK - November 2004

Where and when were you born


Where and when were you born?

10th of August 1972 in Stockholm’s suburb.

How do you remember back to your childhood?

They were very happy years. I had a very happy childhood. I had very good contact with my parents. Sweden in the seventies was quite special. People were spending much more time with each other compared to other Western European countries. We had a really nice time going out fishing and stuff like that together instead of giving the kids TV games or whatever everybody did. I was really interested in dinosaurs, space and things like that when I was three years old driving the people in the kindergarten mad, because I forced them to do what I did. (Laughs)

What kind of schools you took?

First regular school, the mandatory school and gymnasium for two years, which was to become an electrician or what the fuck it was. I never liked working as an electrician and I was pretty tired of school. I just took it as it seemed simple, but I never worked as an electrician, just for these two years. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, so it was pointless anyway for me to continue to study. What I wanted to do is to play music. Actually I applied for a music gymnasium, but they didn’t accept me, which wasn’t so strange, because I had play the bass only for three months when I applied. (Laughs)

What was your dream as a child?

My first dream actually was to be a battle pilot, because my father was a battle plane mechanic originally. At one point he switched to civil airplanes and when I was five years old he switched his job and became a different type of engineer. But he always told me about the times when he was in the military. We lived in a house very near to the military airbase, so these planes were always flying over there.

When did you pick up your first instrument?

Well, actually I started to play the flute when I was eight years old. I wanted to play the drums, but in Sweden in public music schools that were paid by the state you have to play the flute for one year before you get something else. You cannot start immediately with guitar or drums, but everybody have to play the fucking flute for one year. (Laughs) I hated it. I didn’t want to play the flute. That was ridiculous. And it wasn’t a cool flute. So, I cheated myself through that. I didn’t blow anything when we were playing together with all the other students and when we had to do these things in the final dates in front of the parents I just chose myself a very easy piece to play that one to get through that shit, so I could start playing drums. After one year I stopped it, because I couldn’t practise at home. Actually I didn’t pick up any metal instrument until I was 15 years old and it was the bass.

How many instruments you play?

Depends on what you mean by “play”. (Laughs) I play the guitar and of course I can play the bass, because everybody who can play guitar can more or less play the bass as well. I play the keyboard because when I write songs I use the keyboard and samples to make demo version of the orchestration. But I wouldn’t say I’m good at play keyboards. We played mandolin on the record too, but it’s like if you can play one string instrument you can more or less play another. Maybe not balalaikas, because then you play with your fingers in a different way, but anything else. But really the only instrument I could say that I can play that I’m not ashamed of playing would probably guitar. (Laughs)

What was your first gig as a music fan?

I guess my father brought me to some rock'n'roll concert when I was eight or so. But that was something that he liked, so that doesn't really count. The first show that I saw that I wanted to see myself was Monsters of Rock 1986 in Stockholm with Def Leppard, Ozzy Osbourne and the Scorpions.

And do you remember your first gig as a musician?

Yeah. That was in school when we had these school parties.

What was your worst live experience?

The worst is not so hard to answer. We did one show in Belgium. It was kind of an indoor festival. I mean we had a couple of shows that have been really bad. We did one in Poland, which was a disaster. The wireless system didn't work and nobody had a cable. We had to take a shorter cable and that completely ruined everything, because you just couldn't move on stage. Actually on the first song I played air guitar, because the wireless just didn't work when we went on stage. Then we had another show in Poland that wasn't so great either, because we were media shooting a show just for the video clip of Birth of Venus Illegitima. We wanted to shoot the entire show just in case we want something more. Then the fuckin' lazy Polish bastards forgot to shoot the first song and after the full show was finished they put on the lights and people started to go home. And then someone came and told "Well, we didn't record the first song, you have to play it again just in case you need to use the whole concert", but half of the people already gone home. Then they switched off the lights again and we played another song and it seemed completely ridiculous. But that Belgian show really takes the price. The soprano we usually work with, she was ill, she couldn't do it, so we had a replacement that we never saw before. I just showed her the notes, the records and she went over the stuff and we just met on stage. She did a very good job over all, but she missed a few things, which is understandable under those circumstances, but of course they affected the show pretty bad, because she only read notes. And she got a little bit backwards and it caused some horrible things. And on top of that we all played so fuckin' shitty that night. Normally it's like one person of a band might do some fuck-ups, but everybody did it. After a while it gets so bad you don't even care anymore. It's like what can you do? You just laugh and say, "Okay, we give you the money back. Sorry for bothering you." It was just horrible, the worst ever show we did. And I read a review of that show later "Therion did a really good show and they were so great" and I was wondering if they were drunk or they just don't understand music? (Laughs) That show was by far the worst one.

And what was the best?

That's hard to say, because we had so many really really good shows. The all remarkable for different reasons. Normally on every tour there's like two or three shows that are so good. Mexico City on the last tour was very special, because we had 3300 seats in a huge theatre and we sold it out easier. That is very special in that point of view, but on the other hand that wasn't the best show we did. Our best show playing-wise... well, hard to say. Sometimes you play really really good, but the audience isn't that good as in many other places. It's very seldom when the audience if perfect and we are also perfect at the same time. I think on the last tour actually Hungary was one of the better shows there. We took some songs on the live album from there.

What's the strangest thing that happened to you on tour?

Strangest? Well, the worst is pretty easy. That was getting food poised. I got food poisoned three times. It was in Germany, Holland and Mexico. In Germany I got really ill. We had to go to the hospital with a taxi like "Krankenhaus, krankenhaus! Schnell!" (Laughs) I couldn't even walk when we got to the hospital. I needed a wheelchair. I think we had some chicken that night. I've never heard about a band getting food poisoned three times. That's strange enough. (Laughs)

Do you remember the first album you bought?

That was Accept's Balls To The Wall, but actually got it as a birthday or Christmas present I think. I remember my second vinyl was Saxon's Wheels of Steel. No, no, no. Actually I had a Beatles vinyl before that. A Greatest Hits. Then the Accept disc and then the Saxon one. But I don't think I bought any of these. I don't remember which was the first one that I actually bought for my own money.

And the last CD you purchased?

Something classical I think. As for metal... I'm hopelessly lost in the eighties and the seventies when it comes to metal and hard rock. I don't really like so many new bands.

Are you critical about new stuff? I'm sure you get a lot of discs from your label...

To be really honest I think most of the stuff I get is a pile of shit. It's like a lot of power metal bands sound exactly the same. They're like 500 power metal bands, but there's only 100 songs and everybody has to share that. And then there's a lot of heavy metal bands and some of them are not bad, but the best song they can write would be good for a single B-side in the eighties for a heavy metal band. It's like heavy metal already happened in the eighties. If you look at the classic albums by Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Accept and Saxon... I mean those bands themselves cannot even match their own classic records. Take HammerFall for example. I really respect them for being the band more or less opening the door for this heavy metal revival. There's a lot of bands today that have HammerFall to thank for a lot of things. I remember when Nuclear Blast signed them people laughed, but then they started to sell a lot. HammerFall was getting better with each record, but even with the last one which is really good compared to the stuff they did before, I have to say that the best songs on that one are barely comparable to an average band in the eighties. And HammerFall is one of the better ones when it comes to really true metal. So, I don't know, the most of the stuff I get I wouldn't pay anything for in the stores. I usually give them away to people that I think will appreciate that stuff.

Can you mention three of your all time favourite albums?

That's very hard, because there are so many. I would mention Richard Wagner first. One of my biggest influences. As for metal Accept's Restless and Wild and Balls to the Wall. These two records are milestones for me. Voivod's Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross and also Phobos are amazing. Slayer's Reign in Blood really changed my life too when it came out. And surely there are more I could mention.

And as far as Therion, what are your favourites?

My favourite Therion album will always be the latest, simply because we won't go to the studio before we have material with which we are 100% sure that it's better than anything we've done before. At least in my opinion. Every record has to be better honestly in our opinion, because otherwise there's no point in continuing.

Do you care about what the media says about your work?

Everybody cares, but there's different ways of caring. Of course I care. If we get a good review then it makes me happy and a bad one makes me sad of course. Or I get angry when I read some shit. I can take any critics as long as there's intelligent motivation behind it, but sometimes some people just write crap. Like when we released Secret of the Runes I've read one review saying "There's no progress, nothing is changing". That's not true. One who has more than three brain cells and two ears - or one ear and it still works - can hear that there's plenty of changes. We never had folk influences before, we had different orchestra and choir arrangements, there were more instruments used and millions of things changed. Then I get really angry, because they don't know their job. It's like a car mechanic that would put three wheels on your car and give you the key and tell you to drive.

There're a lot of musicians that raise their voices against this current war in Iraq. How do you feel about musicians stating their political views?

Either you're a political band or not, I mean if you are a hardcore band or a punk band or even a metal band that have a political profile. Either ways I think you should actually not do it as a band. But of course as a private person you must be entitled to have your opinion and if somebody asks then of course you should answer it. Arts should not be political in my opinion. If I would be a painter making a painting then it wouldn't matter if there'd be an asshole like George Bush or Ariel Sharon or anyone who bought it. It'd mean that they have a common art interest and if they want to buy my painting "Well, congratulations for having a good taste in art". But of course as a private person if you've been asked then I think of course you should tell your honest opinion about things as long as you're making clear it's not a band point of view.

And how do you feel about Hungary?

Well, I have a Hungarian girlfriend, so of course I have a special relationship with the country because of that. That's one thing. And I've been there on vacations too. And I'm a big fan of old monarchies in Europe, so I've seen a lot of castles there. I love these old cultural countries with their long and rich history. I have a big problem with the language though. It's horrible. (Laughs) Too complicated. Also I like the atmosphere of countries that have their own wines. That's a really nice thing to buy. Bottles of wine that are locally made. I'm a big cultural freak with these things. Especially when I'm on tour I always buy a lot of things like local wines or local spirits or beers.

How do you deal with interviews?

Well, one way I get to start to know so many of the music journalists, so it's more like a personal conversation. But on the other hand it's a part of the job. The first 25 interviews are good fun, but after that you are more or less like a computer just delivering the answers, because you said it so many times. This one was more like a conversation than an interview and it was interesting to say something different.

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