Before the first show of their 10th anniversary of Somewhere Along the Highway tour, Scott Wilson chatted to Johannes Persson, lead vocalist and guitarist of Cult of Luna.
At the end of the Vertikal tour, you said you might go away for a little while, it’s hard to get everyone together at the same time, and a few years later now you have Mariner out and ideas for the next album – so what’s changed?
Nothing. We don’t plan ahead. This is not our job, it’s not our career. Whatever happens, happens. Whatever we can pull together, things happen. Just because we’re writing doesn’t mean there’s an album out in two years – could be five years, or seven years. Things aligned perfectly…well, not perfectly, but they aligned at least. And we were able to pull this off.
Did you gain a new perspective on recording when you were emailing Julie Christmas back and forward, or when you’re working with just Cult of Luna do you all get in the same room, or is it similar to how you recorded with Julie?
The process isn’t that much different. For the last couple of years, since we live in different cities, the only way we can communicate is by email and sending drafts back and forward. When we started to record Eternal Kingdom, that’s when we started to live in different cities. We tried to meet up and write in one location and what we wrote, we scrapped everything. We had a meeting and said this is not working out. We need to have concrete ideas that we work out of before we meet. It wasn’t that much different apart from having another wheel we had to keep in mind. It all started pretty much the same way – drafts were sent to her, she made a kind of rough vocal thing, and came up with ideas. She wanted to change some ideas and my initial thought was “oh…maybe this wasn’t such a good idea to have another wheel in the band since there are so many people.” But after that initial scare, it worked out really good. We didn’t have any conflict to speak of. Some of her ideas we incorporated, some of them we didn’t. Some of them we started with and came up with something different. It all mixed together pretty well. The process wasn’t that different, apart from not knowing how the vocals will go with our music, but that’s a whole different issue.
You said in your Facebook post that you were worried you’d made your Lulu (critically-panned Metallica & Lou Reed album). Is that a worry that comes with each album or is that just because this is quite different?
What I meant with that was not how we perceived the album, but how other people who like our stuff are going to. Up until Vertikal I, just before we mastered each album, got into this panic stage. I don’t know if it’s just I’ve got more calm or if it’s that the material is much more…maybe better? The difference between Vertikal and Mariner from the other albums is we’ve had very, very well-defined ideas of where we wanted to go. So nothing came as a surprise. Apart from the vocals. The Lulu thing was more of how people would perceive it, because we were happy with it. I’m still a bit shocked from all the nice things people have said about it. Usually the people who hate it are the most vocal of people on the internet. They have a tendency to be the loudest.
I think people have reacted well to most of your albums generally. People appreciate that 7 albums into your career you’re still trying new things and not coasting like some successful bands do after 3 or 4 records.
Yeah, metal is quite conservative for good and for ill. Our audience, I think they’re a bit more open. Sooner or later, we need to make an album everybody hates.
When it comes to the artwork I’m really fascinated by the colour schemes of your records and how they link to the music. Are you thinking of the colour schemes of your records when you’re making them?
We had long discussions with Erik before he quit the band. This space-travel thing is an idea we’ve had for a long time and you can see how we set it up on Vertikal. ‘In Awe Of’, if you read that lyric, it’s about heading upwards. On Vertikal II, ‘Light Chaser’ is about leaving, leaving earth. The artwork was inspired by, you know how you’re in the city in the middle of the night, you look up, you see the spotlights. That was what inspired that artwork. We had a lot of discussions with Erik about it, how this imaginary space travel, seeking out a new world, would be much more colourful. Imagine how space looks when you kind of push through the outer limits of the expansion of space, we had a lot of discussions about what might be out there. The colour scheme was well-defined. Not before we start writing, but early on.
So you knew from Vertikal where you were going next?
So do you know where you’re going next after this one?
Yeah. I know where I wanna go. I know from what perspective I’m writing. I have a couple of ideas I want to try out.
You also said that money isn’t an incentive and it’s extremely hard to make this altogether, since it’s stressful and anxiety-inducing, so if these things are difficult what is it that keeps you coming back to doing it?
Stuff like this, playing live. There’s not much choice. Writing and expressing myself through music is not a choice, it’s just there. I need to find new ways of doing it otherwise it’s gonna get stale and boring. This is just my personal perspective but I can imagine a fan or a journalist thinking we’ve done the same album twice, which is okay – for me, it’s important to feel we at least tried to do something new. If it doesn’t come out that way, it’s irrelevant. The most important thing is we worked together for a common goal.
Regarding the tour you’re on now, at first you seemed slightly hesitant because you’d rather look forwards than backwards, but you understood from a fan perspective the excitement of a 10th anniversary tour. Now you’re at the tour, do you feel more excited about it?
The songs are fun to play. That’s basically it. It was quite a new thing…some of the songs, like ‘Finland’ or ‘Dead Man’, those songs we’ve had off and on our setlists for ten years. Songs like ‘Thirtyfour’ we haven’t played in ten years. That’s refreshing and new. I didn’t think they would feel like that when we decided to do this. I still understand from a fan’s perspective – like, if Radiohead would play OK Computer that would be a dream come true.
When you go back to songs like ‘Thirtyfour’ you haven’t played in so long, do you play them the same way you did ten years ago or is the 2016 version of Cult of Luna influencing it?
I don’t like when bands change the songs too much. Everybody’s gonna be sick of songs…I’m not gonna name names, but I saw a band that I really, really love and the only way I recognised the songs were because I knew the band really well. I’m not a fan of that. They might sound a bit different but not much. Maybe we’ve changed a few elements but not so that the arch of the song has changed.
I suppose you’re doing lead vocals for the first time on some of the songs?
Yeah. That aspect is different, but other than that.
I’m interested in how devoted you are to the hardcore punk scene back in your home and how that contrasts with Cult of Luna’s sometimes slow, sometimes long songs, and how that goes against the fast punk mentality. Is there any part of the punk aspect you bring to Cult of Luna or do you keep it elsewhere?
I think it’s the other way around actually – the hardcore songs I write, they’re fast…my goal was to write songs that are under two minutes, and it’s really, really hard. The neutral position when I write music is Cult of Luna. If I pick up a guitar and start playing, that is what comes out. But if I need to make different kinds of music I need to set my mind to it. I need to put the switch to hardcore. It’s still 5% or 10%, everything I do still has a kind of Cult of Luna feeling to it.
I remember before you said that Cult of Luna’s influences can come from Radiohead, so do you still look to other genres, or is everything in your own head now?
I think it was a long time ago where we passed no obvious influences. When you start writing you kind of need stuff to get the machinery going. For the past ten years, it’s just me. Speaking from my own perspective, I don’t write everything. Everything you listen to gets stuck, and you’re not untouched by anything you listen to, but nothing obvious. The only thing that worries me when writing is if I’ve unconsciously stolen something. I wrote that we write 20 ideas and keep one – that was an understatement, it’s maybe more like 50. The thing is when you write something that you like or think is good, it needs to feel like someone else wrote it, and I’m always scared every time that someone else did write it! It hasn’t happened yet.
[Scott Wilson – @HeartofFire]
Image – Cult of Luna Official Facebook