Interview with Johannes Persson of Cult Of Luna


Brady Deeprose gets indoctrinated by Johannes Persson of Cult Of Luna

Being influential within your genre is great, but being one of the frontrunners is something that few bands can claim. Along with ISIS and Neurosis, Cult Of Luna have brought post-metal, a genre that’s intrinsically hard to define, to the masses and have both created and inspired some of the most powerful music written to date. With Mariner, their new collaboration with Julie Christmas, CoL are pushing forth into new unknowns so we thought we’d better catch up with them before we get completely left behind…

Midlands Rocks: Hey Johannes, thanks for taking the time to chat to me the night before you head off on tour, how’s it going?

Johannes Persson: Ah! I’m good! A lot of stuff on my mind right now. Not only that, a lot of stuff to do. Right now, that’s, ‘How the hell am I going to get everything done before I leave?’ I have a really complicated system to remember things, it involves lists and checking and, as you can hear (we could, you can’t, so trust) I have two kids: everything is always busy.

MR: How do you balance your family life with being in a band?

JP: I’ll start by saying that if it was only the band and the kids, then it wouldn’t be a problem, but I have so much else going on…but I don’t know, if there’s anything that changes after you have kids is that it’s way harder to be on tour. It’s hard missing something that’s carved into your DNA and the older they get, the more like a ‘person’ they become. I don’t see how bands can tour for much longer than we do if they have kids, how they manage to be away for so long. We don’t tour that much but the days of six weeks away on tour have long since passed.

MR: Do you think that as you guys progress and your families grow and evolve, do you think that the band would ever be in a position where you’d consider not playing live shows?

JP: Not as a conscious decision, I don’t think, I just see how it gets harder and harder every time we head out. That said,  and I don’t even know what’s happening tomorrow but in some sense, ten years down the road it should be a lot easier as the kids will be a lot more self-sufficient. We made a really conscious decision that we didn’t want this band to be our career. It’s not a ‘hobby’ as such, but it’s a professional one.

We don’t plan very far ahead. I’m the kind of person that tries to separate myself from everything but the music, which is hard…the logistics and contact with the label/management: I don’t want to know. I want someone to tell me where to go and what to do, ask our tour manager: I’m a mess to deal with! Pretty much every single show, our tour manager gets nervous and is always checking if I’m getting to the stage on time. I am the one that’s stressing him out. But I like it that way, I like focusing on the music.

MR: It’s easy for a band to become more like a business, especially at the level you guys have reached.

JP: I’m not putting any judgment on bands that do but I don’t have the mental power to be on the road for that long or to keep that kind of thing going without passion.

MR: Obviously it’s been a long time, 15 odd years since your first record, how do you cope with making consistently intense music over such a long time?

JP: It’s all I know. I was just about to get to that actually, with regards to touring, I don’t understand how people are able to bring out the passion every night when you’re touring for half of the year. Looking at my friends’ tour plans, they can do two or three months straight. When we did two weeks it was really hard: every day, different city but same routine and if I don’t have that passion then I’m not giving the performance that people deserve. I guess that’s why I’m still writing music, because I still love what we do. Whether or not our music is heavy or not is up to other people to judge. I have no idea what we’ll do in the future but I feel like I want to add layers, I want to do something new every record.

MR: That’s brings us on nicely to your new collaborative record Mariner, which is possibly tied with Vertikal at the minute for my favourite of your releases. Tell me about how it all came together.

JP: I must say that I’m really astounded at the reception to what we’ve released, the reviews and everything. I was standing outside of a bar with our old guitarist Erik – we were fairly intoxicated – and I told him, ‘You know, we did our Lulu, right?’ and he just said, ‘Yeah, man, you did.’ Apparently people enjoy it?

We’ve worked with themes since pretty much our second record all those years ago. The last two records, it’s been less of an abstract theme and more of a clear story: we had meetings and email discussions about what story we wanted to tell and how we use the music to tell it. It kind of limits your creative abilities, which I think is great, because you’re forced to make decisions that you wouldn’t normally make. When it comes down to it, if it isn’t a good song then that’s it, but our creative process eliminates a lot of arguments or discussions because everyone knows where we’re heading, we’re all on the same page.

MR: You’ve said that you didn’t meet Julie until you’d finished the record. How did that work?

JP: It worked well, it all started after we’d curated Beyond The Redshift festival in London. I wanted her to play and we couldn’t make it work and we kept in touch afterwards. I knew we weren’t going to tour much for the next few years so I thought maybe we could do an album that would be impossible to tour. We decided to try one song to see how it goes so we sent over a draft and, when we got the results back, we were sure we wanted to try and make it happen. What struck me, the first time we started sending over some serious stuff: I don’t know this person. I love everything she’s done, I love her voice and everything, but you never really know a musician until you work with them properly. I remember the first time she responded to one of the songs we’d sent and she wanted to change parts of the song. I was like, ‘Oh…’ I hadn’t even thought about that, this could end up going badly! But it worked well, some of the stuff she wanted to change was changed and some we compromised on, I don’t thing we had any serious arguments. It was really important, for me, for her to see us live in New York. I know she was aware of us but I kind of read between the lines that she didn’t really know what to do? She was used to more regular song structures and she had to do something completely different which is really hard, you need to respect that.


MR: You’ve said in the past that the last few records have been a continuous journey from the forest to the sky and that you know where you’re going next: please elaborate.

JP: Like I said, the majority of our stuff has been strict, thematically. One thing that I really love, working with these guys, is that we never want to do the same stuff twice. After Somewhere Along The Highway, which was inspired heavily by our upbringing and the environment in the north of Sweden, we won the equivalent of a BBC music award. We walked off stage after collecting it and all said, ‘Lets never make this record again.’ With Eternal Kingdom, we tried to make as much of a ‘metal’ record as we could but were thematically in the same environment and then took a hiatus for a couple of years. When we got back together and discussed doing it again, we agreed to take it somewhere new and we started to talk about a ‘journey’ that’s led us to the current record. We wanted it to go from the rural environment to the mechanical city. If you read the lyrics to ‘In Awe Of’ from Vertikal, it’s basically about being stood at the edge of the city and looking up to the sky, looking for a way out. On the Vertikal II EP, ‘Light Chaser’ continues this and is like us making the decision to leave this all behind and go upwards. Also, the artwork for that EP is like, when you look up from the city into the sky and you see all the spotlights and clouds; that was the kind of idea.

We knew then where we were going so it was pretty easy to just do it. It began with us writing ‘A Greater Call’: if you imagine yourself walking up to this huge spacecraft, the first few minutes of Mariner are that, all the anxieties and worries and feelings about the upcoming voyage. You’re going to have to endure the fight against gravity itself. Then we blast off and the rest of the song is basically that fight…we push through every atmospheric layer and the finale at the end of the track is that feeling of finally breaking into space and away from the earth…if you have that in mind listening to the song, I think it becomes more obvious. This is an imaginary story so we can travel faster than the speed of light and we, at the end of the record, we’re at the edge of the expanded universe and heading into the beyond.

MR: It’s not often, with such a specific concept, that the imagery conjured up is so vivid or summed up so aptly by the music.

JP: That’s how we work and try to write music.

Cult-of-Luna-and-Julie-Christmas-MarinerMR: Is that style of writing something you picked up?

JP: I work in the movie business and I think that I’m a story-telling type of person, I think that’s influenced my musical style but I may have picked it up elsewhere.

MR: Would you say you have a specific set of influences, musically?

JP: I’d say we’ve moved past the point of conscious musical influences, that’s something that’s great when you’re young and you want to play in a band: you want to play in another band, a successful band or one that you respect. One really big advantage that we’ve had is that with every member change we’ve had, we’ve not lost anything in that the way we work remains constant, but every new member has brought something new. The Salvation lineup is when I’d say we found our own voice and the people that came into the band then had no background in this kind of music before. Myself and Thomas had played in this rock/hardcore band before years ago, but his influences are completely different. They’d do stuff that I couldn’t even imagine, their minds were just so different and it was awesome. There’s no ‘5th wheel’ or anything, everyone contributes and maybe not in the same proportions but definitely, at this point, we can’t replace a member without it affecting the sound.

MR: It’s interesting that as a collective, you’re so open to change and are happy to embrace it and evolve with new members and influences.

JP: I think that’s something that Erik told me before he quit the band, he gave us something like a nine month heads up, and I said it was cool. You can’t force someone to do something and expect them to bring anything positive to the table. It was sad to see him go and I was going to miss him but it was okay and I’m really good at adapting to new situations. The reason behind the bands name, I think I was 19 at the time, I had this idea of making a band that was going to be ‘bigger’ than its members. Kind of like Sunn O))), that was how my mind worked at the time, I wanted to crate a ‘myth’ around the band. If I were to start a band now, I’d do exactly what Ghost have done…playing pop music with a satanic imagery, it’s brilliant! A hundred of the best marketing people would never have been able to come up with that.

MR: Thanks for taking the time to chat to me, I look forward to what’s next.

JP: No problem, catch you later.

Mariner is out now via Indie Recordings and deserves to be picked up with hands and listened to with ears.