If you’re unfamiliar with Ghost by now, then it’s past time to get familiar. They formed back in 2006, and started their world takeover in 2010 when they released their debut album, Opus Eponymous. Ghost is easily recognizable due to their eccentric and and theatric on-stage presence. Seven of the eight band members wear identical, identity concealing costumes and are dubbed “Nameless Ghouls.” Tobias Forge is the lead singer and mastermind of the project, who’s persona in the band has changed many times, with his original “Papa Emeritus” character going through four incarnations, but as of 2018’s Prequelle, he portrays a character known as “Cardinal Copia.”
Ghost has been breaking through in the United States for nearly a decade now, and things really skyrocketed when the band’s song “Cirice” was nominated — and won — the Grammy Award in 2016 for Best Metal Performance. Since then, the band has gotten more attention from the Recording Academy, as both Prequelle album single “Rats” were nominated for Grammy’s in 2019 — Best Rock Album and Best Rock Song, respectively. But, their music is truly just one part of what make Ghost such an intriguing and impressive project. When I talk to mastermind Forge a few weeks back, that’s exactly where our conversation begins.
When we were talking, Ghost was continuing their “Pale Tour Named Death” tour in the U.S. — which marks the last U.S. leg of the tour. They are currently over in Europe running through their final leg there, before concluding the tour and era of the band with “A Final Gig Named Death” on March 3rd, 2020 in Mexico City, Mexico. This tour will have been going on for two years by that final gig, and what makes that so impressive is how the crowds have gotten bigger each leg. Forge explains this as “very mind-blowing,” and that “it reminds you that you’re far from done.” This success is appreciated, but never taken for granted, and sot he plan is to keep pushing forward and keep growing from here. “I feel like the tail end of [the Prequelle album cycle] right now, and I’m just happy we’re ending on such a high note with having been able to transfer a stage production that started in theater’s a year and a half ago, and now we’re ending at arenas,” Forge explains.
Touring for Ghost is absolutely something that Forge is passionate about. But what’s more is that the’s passionate about delivering the same quality of show in B and C market cities that A market cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and so forth receive. This is something that he always admired about bands like Metallica and Alice Cooper, and so it was very important for him to be able to do the same thing. Forge mentions that they have hit those A market cities many time so they know what to expect, but even going to these different, new cities wasn’t going to stop them from bringing the same Ghost show to town. “When we go into Kennewick, Washington, we don’t expect anything, really — what can you expect? We didn’t even know the town existed! And then still, like 2000 people show up — that’s great, that’s fantastic,” he says enthusiastically. “I really love the fact that we were able to give them the same show. We’re not — you know, in different ways gravity dictates the rules of when you are a band with a production. Over the course of time, you learn to choose your battles a little, and unfortunately that’s usually on the expense of not so frequent in markets, [and] they usually get a little bit less of a show and the people in New York City, they always get the big one. I’ve always ben very annoyed with that and I’ve always believed in the way to make it is to be guarantor of a great time,” Forge states.
At the same time, he knows that this growth of Ghost ensures that when they do return to big market cities, things will only get bigger. Recalling the size of venues this tour is ending on, Forge explains “It’s ending on a high note because not only have these shows done well and it’s fun, but it also gives you a really nice indication that once we get rolling with the new record and start tours again and when we’re back in main markets Boston and Chicago and all those — Cleveland — back in those main markets, we’re going to be in a completely different setting than last time we were there, which is very, very pleasing.”
If you’ve ever seen a Ghost show, then you know how big their production is and how much goes into it. If you’re not familiar, here are some great examples of what you can expect. The process of setting it up every day is surely long, but the planning process for designing it and bringing it to life is a very well thought out and impressive one as well. It all comes back to his love for production, to which he confesses to me “If I weren’t playing in a rock band myself, I would be doing that stage production for others, because I find that to be so interesting and pleasing.” While he’s on tour, he’s constantly taking advantage of his surrounding and hanging around while the stage is being set up to be more familiar with just how it all comes together. It’s “kinda like being an architect” he says, and this helps him craft what he wants to do next. In fact, Forge tells me that he is already in the process of designing the next stage setup that Ghost will use on tour. “I’m just thinking, like, now when we have two months still on tour, now that we have all the vendors, we have all the contractors, we have all these people on our line, we can start getting quotes for the stage and all that already. It’ll be ready and done a year from now when it’s time to start getting ready for 2021. I’m all about the cycle. In my head, I’m in 2022 right now,” Forge explains.
If that seems like a lot of pressure for one guy to really come up with and designing the whole thing, it is. I pose to Forge if he feels any sort of pressure, to which he admits he does feel pressure, but not the kind you might think. “I’m not sure that it’s necessarily an outside pressure, it might be a self-inflicted one,” he tells me, “It doesn’t make it any less pressurizing, but sometimes I [just] have to curb my own expectations or harness them a little. I believe you should aim for the stars and hope you end up in the clouds somewhere.” This pressure is something Forge deals with by continuously pushing himself, and thinking outside of the box to move forward. And all of it — for as much work as it is, he genuinely enjoys the whole creative process, but he’s cautious of being aware if there ever came a time when he got burnt out on it. Don’t worry, when talking to Forge, there’s not even a remote sense of that time coming any time soon — but he is, of course, as a highly creative person aware of that. “As much as I want to perfect the things for the next album cycle, I also know that if I ever come to a point where everything is just working, everything is done, there’s no problem whatsoever with anything, there’s no things that I want to change, or things I want to perfect, or define, or refine, I know it’s the right [time].”
But, now is not that time. Ghost is hitting it’s stride, with Prequelle only being their fourth full-length record. So if you’re counting records, they’re still a relatively new band in that sense. With that, across each record, you will see (and hear) that there is something different with each one that makes them feel individual, but part of the overarching Ghost discography. “I felt like the progress has been intuitive and fluent, if you will. I always try to — I always want to write different records from the ones I already wrote,” Forge tells me regarding the musical progression of Ghost. He compares it to honing your craft with cooking, highlighting that you may excel with cooking one thing, and then you move to focus on something else. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t revisit what you once focused on, but in switching the conversation back to his music, “I believe that new records should be new records, and you should make them with the intention of making your best record ever, and different from the others.”
The other aspect of this for Ghost covers that he’s aware the songs are supposed to fit into their live show, and have their place in the set and story. With them only having four records out and currently being on an upward trajectory, they’re not at a point where new music is just a formality. This is something Forge is aware of as well, sharing with me that “We’re still in, I hope at least, we’re in the point in our career when our records actually matter, still,” and how when you get to record number eighteen, you might play one song off a few records, and maybe there isn’t even a huge demand for it. “But, you know, right now I look at a lot of fifth records and I want my [upcoming] fifth record to be as important as some of my heroes’ fifth record,” Forge highlights.
Forge and I end our conversation looking towards the future, as after he brings up the plans for their fifth record and designing the next stage set-up, I ask him how much of Ghost’s future is planned out. His tells me that it “depends on which aspect” of the band we are talking about. He explains that the touring aspect of the band is something that the keeps track of audience size, last time they’ve been to x location, and so forth. He mentions everything is planned out through that lens, and there’s a plan for every city, state, and country as well. The flip side of that would be the storyline that Ghost is based around and comes through their music. For the fans that are curious about that story part, Forge tells me that “We’re approaching a moment next year when there’s going to be a bigger manifestation of the storytelling bit, that will be explaining a lot of it. A lot of the [current] question marks will turn into exclamation marks instead.”
Forge has a plan for Ghost, and he knows what he wants to happen next story wise and touring wise. The immediate future is pretty clear, but he admits the next five years are a little harder to project out. “That’s based on [Ghost’s] relevance,” Forge begins, comparing it to any relationship where it’s hard to plan out a future as feelings and desires can always change — these things are certainly fluid. “[It’s] based on whatever attraction there is between us and the crowd, of course. I can last til my hair gets gray, but if people don’t want us 5 years from now, then lets change the plan, of course.”