Interviewed by Adrian Hextall (Writer/Contributor/Journalist) Myglobalmind Webzine
The third full-length album from Casablanca, is a concept album based on the Chuthulu mythology, with a twist. Before man The Old Ones ruled the world stated H.P. Lovecraft! But before The Old Ones, The Original human being of the Golden Void (the Original) ruled the earth Casablanca now claims!
The Originals were creatures way beyond superstition and religion. Knowledge, enlightenment, style and rock ‘n’ roll was the real thing! But then came The Old Ones… Shackled and tossed away into another dimension by The Old Ones who soon would share their destiny. Ever since then The Old Ones have an urge to return and destroy the modern man and rule the world once again. However, The Originals also have an unwavering desire to somehow return and prepare humanity in time before The Old Ones return to throw the world into absolute darkness once again.
To help us get our heads around the whole concept, Adrian Hextall spoke to lead vocalist and lyricist Anders Ljung.
MGM: Thank you for your time today. How are you doing?
AL: Well its a great day in Stockholm, the weather is sunny (laughs).
MGM: That’s good to know (staring wistfully at a brick wall as I conduct the interview over the phone, it’s not quite the same in London). So listen….I like the concept behind your new album. That’s pretty deep isn’t it? I suppose as a starting point the pronunciation of how I would say it Cthulu, is something Lovecraft had always said it was never meant to be uttered by men, it was meant to be almost a demonic vocal chords and voicebox and you guys have gone and turned it into something where singing about it is one of the key concepts. That’s a tough one to approach.
AL: Yeah well its more about the Castle I would say (read up on the album concept as it is really complex), we tossed it around a bit. I mean I read all the Lovecraft stuff when I was a kid, you know, and we said if we are going to do this and we are going to do this, let’s do it as a rock programme opera, more as a Ziggy Stardust thing. We wrote the whole mythology as well.
I had an idea at the end of the 80’s/early 90’s with my band back then to do the H.P. Lovecraft story and I wrote some elements, some of the lyrics and I left it like that but it had a story and now almost 30 years down the road, I said, I’m going to do this, I am going to rewrite it a little because we are liberals, liberal conservatives so hey, we didn’t have the whole story back then so lets write some new characters. I don’t know, its more of a fun thing.
MGM: Its certainly something that grabs the imagination as soon as you start listening to it. In terms of the lyrical content, is that all on you? Are you the main lyricist in the band?
AL: Yes it was on me because I had the story and I thought when I wrote it, there’s a storyline that starts at this album and its going to end two albums further down the line. There’s a line I really choose not to follow as a gig you get from start to the end. Choose to sing about what happened before, the day to day lives of some of the characters in the town. Of course yes, there’s a storyline but there’s going to be a lot of jumping around and the writing about stuff that’s not really between, you know, pushing the story forward but more of a creating the characters. I think it’s kind of be a little bit more of the story on maybe the third album. It’s going to be a little bit more, what do you say, it’s going to be rougher, more fast because it’s some kind of a final.
MGM: Where its reaching that conclusion.
AL: Yeah its more of a conclusion. It’s nice to have a conclusion and if people are interested when you have a character, when all the characters, you know some background. It’s going to be a happy ending or a real bad ending, it’s going to hurt more if you know the characters.
MGM: You are emotionally involved with them at that point aren’t you?
AL: Yeah I think so, I hope so. At least for me when I read a book or watch a movie , I know the characters bit more, I know the character background. Its easier to adapt to feelings for them.
MGM: Now I notice as far as the album title is concerned, from the press release information, you talk about where the Phantom establishes the Miskatonic University but of course the artwork you’ve got on your Facebook page, for example, has the University element scribbled out with then, of course, the Graffiti title written underneath which is the title of the album itself. Just on that particular point, where does the graffiti piece come into it and why did you drop out the university element?
AL: That was just playing with words from the American Graffiti movie, we all kind of like. That first name of the album is Miskatonic Graffiti and graffiti can mean a lot of things. Its something to do a tag over the University, that was something we came up with pretty late in the progress I would say.
MGM: Was this triggered by the move for record companies for you. I noticed you changed, with this particular release, you are now with Despotz Records compared to the first two releases. Has that given you more freedom to do an album that you might not have been able to release previously?
AL: I think the two first albums were pretty quick affairs. On the first album, we didn’t have a record company at all. We had a dream of doing a big rock album in Pilar Music Studios where everybody has been to, so we did that one and it didn’t really work. It was a great album but it didn’t take us anywhere because we couldn’t go out on tour because everyone was doing different stuff so on the second album, we just did an album in a rehearsal studio, just the way we sounded. We weren’t going to do any production at all. So we said we can’t do that album so lets do an album, a different album because we had time. We couldn’t go out and play the writing of tracks one because Ryan (Roxie – guitar) was away with Alice (Cooper) for two years and I said let’s not get frustrated, lets do an album that takes a long time to write, arrange and record. That’s what we did and we presented the whole album for the Despotz guys when it was finished, the whole concept and they loved it. So if we went to Sony or someone else, they would probably say ‘hey, no way, no way are we going to release this’. It’s certainly easier.
MGM: Its style is, I would say, a mixture of classic hard rock but also you have got some psychedelic 60’s influences in there as well. The nearest I can probably equate you to is Ghost for example with the way they release albums these days.
AL: What combines us with those is that we are both pop bands trying to play metal and we always end up in some classic rock band whenever we try it here. The story came, to do the concept came with the variety of songs, we had 40 or 50 songs that all sounded differently so how are we going to do an album like this and I said, I have an idea, I have a concept idea because on a concept you can have heavy songs and you can have good songs and you can have bad songs and you can have pop songs and everything, just to tell some different part of the story. That was how it came about. To sound different, it was enough to make an album, rock or pop or metal or just sling everything on it at the same time.
MGM: I would give you that definitely – when I listen to the release, it actually made me stop what I was doing and sit up and listen to it because you’re right, it’s a very different sound and it does grab the attention. You must be very pleased with the end result.
AL: I have been part of a lot of records over the years with different projects and bands so this is the best sort of art but then again, we put down almost five months in writing and arranging and producing and recording and so I would say ambition pays off. Definitely because the first two albums they were both done in, the first one in about ten or twelve days, the second one in less than a week so in five months in Castle time, that’s eons almost. We are really pleased with the two first albums but you think always with the thought ‘maybe if we had more time’. I am not saying that’s the solution for great rock and roll but now we are able to look both ways and we think both ways works.
MGM: This time because you have approached it in a different way, you’ve spent the five months working on it, it is actually a different output isn’t it, because like you say, its a different way of approaching it?
AL: Yeah I think so – you exclude a lot of good stuff that maybe didn’t work on the first two albums. Of course weren’t going to throw them away, maybe work them up and probably save them for later but it was creative and it was fun as well. I mean its like five months on drugs just from being creative, writing, arranging and writing lyrics. I’ve never been interested in writing lyrics at all. I never hated it but its just been something else for someone else to do and all the scores on me but this time it was really, really fun because there was something to adapt to. I mean I read some prose and I read some in my earlier years. Nowadays I am reading more about literature than reading literature and prose and stuff like that. Its the same thing with movies, I read about movies and fashion as well. I read about fashion, keeps it more interesting so its really fun to really write something this time.
MGM: And in terms of the guys in the band, along with your self, you’ve all got a history of working with other acts, I mean you mentioned Ryan of course working with Alice Cooper. I imagine he will be away while Alice finishes off the rest of the Motley Crüe tour this year for example so are you guys hoping to get out next year when all your commitments align the band together again?
AL: We said for this album we are going to tour for as long as people want us as we haven’t been able to tour at all. We are starting in December this year and hopefully we will go on through the whole of 2016. I don’t think Ryan is going to be playing with us because he doesn’t have a character on the album. If he is able to do it, he can always be a guest lecturer or be Mr Thomas (see the album story for info) (laughs). You know we can always pull something out and so we will see. So we will try to work these characters, try to build them up and get people interested in them because we have to take, you know, Anders, Josephine, Mats and Ryan and Erik away. Its not Casablanca coming to town its Miskatonic who are the characters who are coming. The four of us will surely go out and play as long as you guys want us. There’s are more members of the band and maybe in a year or two, there are six coming around to do something or record again. The future is still to do it when it comes to Casablanca but everyone is doing family.
MGM: Its interesting that you mention there as well characters in the University so when you take this on tour for example, is it going to be very much a theatrical show as opposed to just a band playing live music?
AL: I hope so – it’s going to be something that we plan to play the whole album from start to the end. That’s over an hour and then on the encore, we do the best of the two first albums so if they want us, we can go out for two hours. That’s the plan and of course, if we can play a little club, its going to be kind of hard to be Genesis to get video screens and theatrics in a small punk club somewhere but of course we will try to as we go along and if people like it, we try to put energy into the show. Like you say, Ghost, they really put their energy, everything into touring and stuff like that of course.
MGM: I think as you say, if you can do that theatrical piece, it will get people’s attention because the music warrants it having heard the album but to see the visual performance to almost paint the picture while you’re watching the show, that’s got to be a big plus.
AL: I think so, I think it will probably be the music is good as well so people want to and of course its fun for us as well to be a kid again and slam on the makeup and everything like that, that’s really really fun and of course you’re tired of having it as you go along but right now, it’s a blast and it’s really, really fine.
MGM: You mentioned earlier as well in terms of influences, you talked about the makeup and David Bowie, the sort of Ziggy Stardust era. What really drives you apart from the Lovecraft mythology side of things for your lyrical content, what about the musical side for influences?
AL: I would say the musical side is, there’s a lot of great stuff of course. I mean on the first album, we were more American oriented like Stars and the Angel and Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, 70’s, you know those big rock American bands, transplanted bands. The second album we were looked a little bit more towards England because we have all the New Wave of Heavy Metal we really tried to do. On this one, its more of a, more progressive stuff, more a Celtic sound or old 60’s/70’s band from England before the folk sing before the old Rainbow albums you know. On ‘This is Tomorrow’ the chorus of that one is ‘Brother’ from the Diamond Dogs album with David Bowie for example. There is a lot of influence from the Glam Rock scene, the rock music, the other albums as well.
MGM: That’s an excellent mix of music isn’t it? It brings in influences from all angles that allows you a lot of freedom with the canvas and the brush to paint your own picture.
AL: Yeah I hope so because that’s what they did with David Bowie, he changed from a former David Bowie character to being Ziggy Stardust the biggest rock star in the universe and Roxy Music, they did great stuff but they kind of hide behind the makeup, the costumes and everything. I did an interview with Bryan Ferry a few years ago , we talked about that. The freedom of doing music when they have the costume and makeup on with the posture and the style and that was something I really took to my heart. When we spoke about it, I said that was something to try in the future and that’s maybe why we do it.
MGM: In terms of getting the message out there and aside from your pr company pushing this to the likes of me for review in an interview, how about connecting with your fans? I am assuming you are using social media more actively these days to push out what you are doing?
AL: We are awful on media, I don’t have Facebook, I don’t have Twitter, I don’t have Instagram and I don’t have anything other than Google but the other guys are a little bit better than me. I think we do have an idea to put some clear accounts for the four characters so people can ask us straight up about our daily lives or what will happen that night in the mountains, stuff like that, change your act and if people are more interested in the storyline then probably tell them a little bit more about that as well. That’s the plan so if there’s a need for people to know more then we’ll probably give them that.
MGM: Looking at the level of detail you are going into with the album concept, if you look at something like the Blair Witch Project as a movie, they drove everything from there by little snippets of information, making people almost be desperate for more detail and that was before the film even came out so it could well work especially with the type of content you have.
AL: At the end of the day, I talked to the guys in the band and I don’t want to be too over explicit about the story and I don’t want it to be as a video game that starts and ends, don’t want to see the storyline as it happens, Part 1 and Part 2, I just want to go back in time and go forward in time and go sideways and everything and I think that gives you more people that question more – what about the story? So maybe hopefully that will happen.
MGM: Just in terms of fulfilling a few of my questions about it all, the artwork for the album. Where you have got obviously the town and the mountain behind it, you’ve got the superimposed pictures of what I am guessing are you guys in various costumes but what are you wearing on there? Aside from what looks like an American football helmet, there’s some very interesting designs that look like jewelry or something like that especially on your forehead?
AL: Yeah that’s the Phantom. It was really I thought about for many many years to have chains on the face and something – it gonna look pretty cool when I am 90 I guess. And of course, Erik’s character is well proud in the race car he’s a car driver you know, the cheerleader and the quarterback, its the characters. Probably people are going to ask more. Its going to be interesting.
MGM: In terms of the release when it comes out for the public to buy, what are the public going to get? I presume there’s obviously the album but presumably the inner lining whatever is going to have the lyrics and a little bit more of the story for them to follow?
AL: Yeah the lyrics are going to be on it this time and if you read the lyrics, somewhere on there you should have the story, you can find your way. Like I said, we’re probably going to work online a little if people have questions and want to know a bit more. And I think only on Spotify, we have done some more recordings, songs, Phantom speaks and Phantom sings, its gonna be quite fun.
MGM: Is there anything else our readers should know about the band, any snippet of information you think we’ve not covered as yet?
AL: There’s a song called ‘Real Money’ on the album and that’s the answer for Lana Del Rey’s ‘Old Money’ on her last album so it’s our answer to her through mail. Its the facts she sings about a love story in New York 20 years ago (laughs) so no one really got that yet so you’re the first journalist to get that information. She will probably sue our arses off but that’s ok. Hopefully she will like the song.
MGM: I love the album so I am very glad I have gotten to talk to you today. Thank you for your time, I appreciate it.
AL: We really appreciate people liking what we are doing because we like it so much and we just want to go on making this full time and continue for ages but we can’t do it alone so we say thank you as well.
MGM: Well I hope we get to see you perform it live next year, it will be great to see it with all the theatrics as well so I will keep my fingers crossed and the very best of luck with that.
AL: We would love to go to the UK as you have always been so good to us, we never managed to go there so we will hope.