I Am No One: A conversation with Ghost

When you think of Swedish metal, be that of the black, heavy or doom variety, an image of the band Ghost likely pops into your head. For the last eight years, the band has made some of the most remarkably catchy metal that pays homage to the heavyweights of the genre, while building their own unique niche. The Grammy Award-winning band uses image as a tool to carry the larger themes. Fronted by singer Papa Emeritus (currently Papa Emeritus III), the band is otherwise comprised of instrumentalists identified only as Nameless Ghouls, who all dress in haunting costumes that cover their whole bodies — all of which are subject to change with each new album cycle. It’s that kind of complexity and attention to detail that rewards fans looking for a mythology in their listening experience.

Recently, LEO caught up with a Nameless Ghoul by phone to talk about their beginnings and why they chose to remain anonymous.

“It started as a smaller project,” he said. “I was part of a bigger group of people who had different bands, different projects, in the sort of environment that a song might be sitting around that we could use for a new project. I talked to another friend and I said that if I could come up with a couple more songs in that way, that we might be able to put out an EP. And we thought it was quite cool.”

He continued, adding, “So we needed some time to grow and fully develop. Two years later, all the songs were done, basically, and we decided to publish a few songs on MySpace, and we got picked up on a small UK label, and very quickly we had to form a band, and we’ve been touring ever since. It started off very amateurishly and developed into a full-time job.”

The concept of how they represent their identity became an integral part of our conversation.

“I think that one of my favorite quotes was David Lee Roth once said that the reason why Van Halen got shitty reviews and Elvis Costello got good reviews, is that Elvis Costello looked like a journalist,” the Nameless Ghoul said. “I think that people usually like music that looks like it was made by people that they can relate to. My other favorite example, when speaking of image and how important it has been to our band, is that say Adele, or the voice of Adele, looked like Ariana Grande, and she looked like that, a stripper-looking cutesy girl. Would everybody like her the same way? I seriously doubt that she would be as highly-regarded of an artist that she is now.”

For Ghost, it’s about subverting that image and removing personal ego from their art.

“I think that one of our strengths compared to other metal bands that have trouble branching out — since we dress up in fantasy clothes — we don’t put that barrier between ourselves and the listener,” The Nameless Ghoul believes. “We don’t tell you if we are skinny or overweight metal dudes … we don’t really tell you what we are, because we are trying to project something very different. If we were two meter tall biker dudes with Lynyrd Skynyrd shirts, that sets a tone.”

 It’s all plotted out. With every new album comes a change in costume, and a narrative theme.

“We have had the stuff that we did with Meliora and the stuff that we’re going to do with the next record mapped out for a couple of years and I have a loose idea of where we’re going with album number five,” The Nameless Ghoul explains.

 Still, it’s all about putting on a good show: “I think with most bands when they start touring a lot, you tend to start getting a little key on songs that work well live, a little like a sexual partner. Usually if someone responds to two fingers up the shooter and you try three and you get a negative remark on that, you tend to go for two again. It’s an interaction and you know what they like and that they usually like something like this. Why not write it so it’s comfortable for both? That’s usually what bands that get bigger go for a slightly more commercial song and it does have an impact on the songs. Especially on the songs that you choose to play from an album. Those songs are the two fingers that feel good.”