Interview and Photos by Zenae D. Zukowski
Right before the cruise, Therion founder and mastermind Christofer Johnsson announced on his Facebook page, 70,000 tons of Metal could be his final live performance. We haven’t had an update since, and it could make us only assume that the cruise was his final show.
Johnsson mentioned feeling severe pain in his arm, shoulder, and back. He mentioned the failed medicare system in Sweden, making him rush out to Moscow for the last minute treatment just before the cruise:
“In order to not have to cancel 70.000 Tons of Metal and in order to faster get a diagnosis and get it cured, I (upon recommendation) decided to fly to Moscow and have it done there. They are at the same technical and competence level like in Sweden but have the capacity to treat patients immediately. So I got an appointment straight away, flew there and got a fantastic care with not only MRI but also got to see a neurologist, physiotherapists, and specialists. So I got a diagnosis the same day and it seems I have two spinal disc herniation in my neck, one really bad and one small that could get worse. In plain English, this means that two of my discs in the neck are worn out (from headbanging and sitting too much in front of a computer in the office and the studio) and have cracked so that fluid runs out from it. The fluid put pressure on the nerves in the spinal chord and create pain in shoulder/arm/back and distort mobility in the right arm.
In order to stabilize the neck, I have to wear a support collar for 2 weeks (even on stage) and they gave me cortisone injections to block parts of the pain temporary. So now I can at least (after 2 weeks of sleeping sitting on the sofa) sleep in my bed and with some pain and efforts, I can play a festival set of simplest possible songs. So at least we don’t have to cancel.”
Despite Johnsson’s effort, the cortisone injections wore off. With that said, Johnsson should now be considered as one of the bravest and devoted musicians out there. You hear about musicians canceling shows left and right all the time, however, Johnsson, was in complete utter pain, trapped on a booze cruise for four days, insisting on performing, not once but, twice.
I managed to speak to Johnsson directly about his condition, the long-awaited Rock Opera project and more.
Zenae: How have you been enjoying the experience at 70,000 Tons of Metal?
Christofer: Well, of course with my current condition I can’t drink alcohol, I’m very limited. I could have been home and life would suck and I can go here and life sucks a bit less. It’s all in all, always a good experience. Normally, we hang with fans, they speak about music and now, everything you speak about is just my medical conditions. So it makes it a bit weary but the people are very respectful, nice and supportive so nothing bad about that. It’s natural, but of course, it feels a little bit limiting when the only thing you talk about, is your neck.
Zenae: I’m honored to speak with you. When I read the news, my heart shattered and it’s commendable that you are here.
Christofer: Like I said, I can be home and life sucks or I can be here and life sucks a little less. I don’t see it as a burden to come here. You need to pull yourself together and to do concerts and well, even though it hurts when I play, it’s still something that you enjoy being on stage at the same time. It wasn’t an easy choice going here. And, on top of everything, if I wouldn’t come, I would have paid for all these tickets. So I would not just lose a profit. I would actually make losses. So there are also financial incitements and even though I’m pretty convinced this will end in a good way. It’s a good chance that I can get cured with a physical therapy. And if I need surgery, which they will determine when I get home, there’s still an eighty percent chance that it will be successful. I’m typical in case guy. Don’t get me wrong, though. It’s like when you drive your car, you have a seat belt not because you think you’re going to crash, you have your seat belt just in case. You don’t know, or fire or alarm or fire extinguishers. They’re not there because you think there’s going to be a fire. They are there just in case. So I thought just in case if I do this trip, I mean if this will be my last performance, how can it possibly get any better that ending the pool deck on an International cruise, with International fans from everywhere, under the stars, out in the ocean. This is brilliant, that’s exactly how, if I would need to do a final show, that’s exactly how I would like to have it, instead of some random festival that you barely remember which one it was. So it’s just in case. It was very important for me to do it. So when I was in Russia, they obviously thought it would be best to not do it but I just said, well I am doing it. So what can you do to make it as easy as possible? So they gave me five of these cortisone shots. Well, unfortunately, they are all worn out and didn’t help much but, it helped at least for rehearsing and it helped with the flight and they helped in the beginning with the collar and stabilizing it. Because of the collar, it’s actually quite much better now than before. I still have to sleep sitting up. I cannot lie in bed anymore. But at least I’m able to perform. Before I went to Russia, I couldn’t even play half a song properly. I could force myself to somehow sounding like a drunk playing half a song. Now, I could make an hour set and according to our sound engineer, it even sounded okay. So that’s a great success for us, that’s a total victory for me, to be able to, even though they are the easiest song we could think of. At least to do them, and sound somewhat normal. Simplified a few things but it wasn’t so shockingly simplified that people fell off the chair. It’s something you could sneak in. That should teach life not to mess with me. If I will through sooner or later anyway.
Zenae: That’s determination.
Christofer: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t become successful by being lazy or being a fucking sissy you know. It was a lot of hard work and you can’t imagine how tough it was for a lot of bands to establish. I mean, we made a tour in Sweden, seven shows. No shower for seven shows, you know. Long hair being like a bird’s nest. Look at our, video clip, for a song called, “A Black Rose,” on that live clip, that’s how we looked like in the hair after seven shows without a shower and, you know, we’ve been sleeping on the floor like dogs, nothing. Sometimes, we made a tour and you couldn’t get food every day, you know, things like that. I guess I never became big headed when we first became successful because I really earned the success and I actually think it’s useful that once in awhile, you get reminded about that. It’s always so. You know, even with bad events like this, you can see the good side of it that reminds you not to take things for granted.
Zenae: Everything you are saying right now is admirable. I’m exhausted from not sleeping on the cruise and here you are in an incredible amount of pain, and you’re still going to perform late tonight, closing the pool deck and I will make sure I’m there to see it.
Christofer: Yeah, well, it’s going to be a thrill, even if it hurts. People there to see you. I mean we will be celebrating thirty years, this year. And you know, symphonic metal is a bit out of fashion now. I mean, sure, some established bands still do well because they have good sales already in the past. So they established their names but if you’re a new band these days, trying to do symphonic metal. It’s like playing heavy metal in 1994. It’s so much out of fashion as it possibly can be. So for me, after 30 years, playing music, that’s out of fashion and still, you know, get one of the best slots on this stage, with fans from all over the world. It’s a fantastic feeling for me.
Zenae: If you can’t perform anymore after tonight, I hate to even ask, what is the band going to for future live shows?
Christofer: Yeah, of course. I mean, we will find a replacement, you’re not getting rid of us that easy. I mean, we fucking wanna write music and there are people with no arms who can drive a car. So, you know, I will write, music comes from the head and, and I’m gonna use a studio system to finish the recordings for the rock opera. If worse comes to worse, maybe I’ll put them out a studio system but I’m always gonna write music. I’ll have music recorded, that’s for sure and if I can’t play live, well then I’d bring in some lucky guy to do it and I’ll do tour managing or something, you know. I mean, with my second band, Luciferian Light Orchestra, that’s how we did it. I write the songs, I produce the albums. I play a little bit on the record but mostly played by others and I can watch the band from the side of the stage. The idea with Luciferian Light Orchestra was that it should be able to go on tour without me being there as well. With Therion, I’m not sure if I would like to go on tour without me. I mean, for some gigs maybe but, I care too much about it.I would like to be there to make sure they don’t screw it up. So the answer to me after, to get off stage and they don’t play well. But if that will be, I will put a better guitar player than myself such so we would actually improve the musical performance.
Zenae: It’s good that you will always be involved with the writing process.
Christofer: Oh that’s like a disease. It’s like I would either need some medications to stop the voices in my head. Music I hear in my head is like a little demon sitting on my shoulder singing songs into my ear. It won’t stop until I’ve recorded the song. It’s like a positive mental illness. It’s something that needs to get out otherwise, it drives you mad to have all of these musical ideas and not being able to manifest them. I mean, thirty years, that’s halfway, another thirty years, that seems reasonable to me.
Zenae: How’s the rock opera project coming along?
Christofer: We’ve been working on it since 2012. It’s three and a half hours of music equal to four albums, but we will squeeze them into three discs. It will be the Therion version of Jesus Christ Superstar, you know, simplified way of explaining it. And particular Jesus Christ Superstar is, a good comparison because A.) it’s about the Antichrist. The working title was Antichrist Superstar, it’s also a good way of comparing because people ask, oh, what about the new album. I mean, with Jesus Christ Superstar, there is an audio recording. So people like me, enthusiasts, own that. But the majority of the people who have seen it live, they don’t own the audio recording. When I say Jesus Christ Superstar, you think about live performance, not the audio recording of it. So that’s what we have written and we should end the recordings before the summer hopefully, we have time to mix before the summer. It depends if I have surgery or if there’s going to be physical therapy.