TOBIAS FORGE (GHOST): “For An Arena Show You Need More Than An Old Geezer Moving Slowly Around The Stage”

GHOST (Live at The First Direct Arena, Leeds, U.K., November 23, 2019)
Photo: Mick Burgess

Few bands in recent years have made quite the impact as GHOST. Feted by James Hetfield and Dave Grohl amongst others, their unique blend of ’70s Hard Rock, AOR, Pop and Metal have won them legions of fans and propelled them into arenas worldwide. Mick Burgess called up mainman, Tobias Forge, to talk about the upcoming UK tour and the transition of Papa Emeritus to Cardinal Copia.

Next month you tour the UK. Are you looking forward to coming over here again for your own headlining shows?

Oh massively. I’m so happy that we are able to come back with our full show. We’ve toured the UK many times but it’s always been in settings where we couldn’t really do the production that we’ve wanted to do, even when we played at the Royal Albert Hall as the stage there is still quite small. We’ve ended up slaughtering our show in the smaller halls so many times that I’m so thrilled to be able to bring the same full production to every city.

A few years ago, you were third on the bill to Alice In Chains and Duff McKagan, then you headlined Academy club shows. This time, you’re headlining Arenas. It’s been quite a meteoric rise over a few years. What do you put that down to? Why is everything falling into place now?

I think maybe it’s to do with the timing but also all the work that we’ve put in and it’s built up the momentum. You have your Pop stars and over night sensations that can sell out Arenas quickly because of the novelty and coverage but for us in this day and age, Rock is not the big thing and we can’t rely on the mainstream to embrace our band. What I find positive is that momentum is built on touring, touring and touring. So, four albums in we are now an established band with a little bit of history that we’ve achieved through hard work and now it’s starting to pay off for us.

What sort of show will you be putting together for this tour?

The setlist will be very different to our last shows over here because last year we did An Evening With, type of show with just us and no support so we had two hours 40 minutes to play. This time we chose not to do that so we’ll have a support act and we’ll play for an hour and 40 minutes or so. We might not be playing as many songs but you will get a much fuller production with a big stage, lighting rigs and bombs going off and lots of fire.

KISS kept their identities secret for 10 years before they were unmasked. You lasted quite a while as Papa Emeritus before we saw who you were. Were you disappointed when your identity was revealed?

No, I was not disappointed with that, I was more disappointed at the reasons why it happened due to the court case with musicians who’d been involved in the band in the past. I’m not ashamed of being known as the singer in Ghost that’s absolutely fine, it’s just how it all came about.

When you started your character was Papa Emeritus who has since been though 4 different incarnations. What’s the reasoning behind those changes?

I wanted to introduce new characters who’d not yet risen to prominence to keep the band developing. The last album was a transitional one, made while I was in a transitional state of mind because we had done the same thing for three albums and I wanted to do something else.

You now perform as Cardinal Copia. Why did you move on from Papa Emeritus?

You have to remember that Papa Emeritus was this slow-moving character. It was cool and fun for pictures but it was not necessarily something you can watch for 2 hours on stage. I wanted to move away from that as I thought it was too boring for a whole show. In order to orchestrate an arena show you need more than an old geezer moving slowly around the stage. Even in the future The Papa Emeritus get up will just be part of the show. You need some sort of agility on stage to keep it interesting.

How easy was it for you to go from that initial concept of Ghost to putting into practice? Those costumes must have been quite pricey?

The challenge for me was to not bite a hole in my lip while I was fuming at the fact that we weren’t doing what I thought we should be doing. I always had this very, very big picture in my head of what I thought it should be but when I turned around it wasn’t matching what was in my head. We are definitely closer now than we were back then but it’s a constant progressive project but I’m not sure if l ever will get there. I guess I’m a kind of like a donkey with a carrot and as I move closer to what I envisage, it will move away. It’s definitely way better now than it was.

Your latest album Prequelle hit the Top 3 in The States and Top 10 in the UK. You must be delighted to see that?

It is incredible for a band like us to break into the charts like that. We were thrilled when we heard. It’s been amazing for us.

The video for lead single Rats is akin to a Zombie Apocalypse Singing In The Rain with some Thriller thrown in for good measure How long did it take to film that?

We filmed that in one night so it was done really quickly compared to some videos. We did some post production work but the vast bulk of that was taken in one night.

Is that you doing the dance moves or did you have a Cardinal Copia stunt double?

We got a stunt double in to do some of the shots. It was too difficult for me Ha!

You might just get an invitation for BBC’s Celebrity Strictly Come Dancing? Would you take it?

I’m still waiting for it. I don’t know why it’s taking them so long.

Dance Macabre sums up the whole ethos of Ghost. A punchy guitar, a killer tune and a brilliant combination of Pop and Rock. Your influences seem to spread far and wide?

I am inspired by a lot of different things and I try not to think too much of the puritan definition of what is Heavy Metal and I’d like Ghost to be a little bit more like Queen. So, if you want a musical song, write a musical song, if you want a Blues 12th, then write a Blues 12th and if you want a Heavy Metal riff then play a Heavy Metal riff. We don’t want boundaries in our music.

You’ve won a Grammy, have Platinum albums and entered the Top 10 worldwide and now an Arena tour of the UK. Did you ever dare dream of such success as this when you started out over 10 years ago?

I always pictured myself when I was a kid to be in a big band. Fast forward to 10 years ago I didn’t think Ghost would be that band. I knew that Ghost would be the band that I’d put all my eggs in one basket but I didn’t think that would be what took me to fulfil a lot of the things that I had imagined 20 years earlier.

What about 2020? What do you have planned next year?

We’ll be making a new record. We have one show in Mexico in March and the rest of the time will be spent making a new album. It’ll be a well worked, perfectly set up album. We’re trying to correct things we’ve done in the past and we will invest the time that it needs and not have a start or end date in mind. There’s no early deadline date. This time around I’ve been making sure that we have the time to do the best record possible but we do hope to have it out in early 2021. We should have it done in September then I’ll take some time off before putting the album out then we’ll do a world tour in 2021.

Ghost are on tour in the UK starting on 16th November in Nottingham and ending in Leeds on 23rd November. See for more information.

Ghost’s latest album Prequelle is out now.

Interview and Live Photos By Mick Burgess. Main Photo by Mikael Eriksson


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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