Cult Of Luna has been around for nearly two decades, which really doesn’t feel like that long. They’re among a special breed that helped refine the genre of post-metal to what it has become today, and have influenced hundreds of bands in the process. Their style is something they have continually expanded on throughout the years, and experimentation has pushed them to where they are currently, having just released a collaboration album with Julie Christmas. We absolutely adore that album around these parts, as well as the rest of the band’s discography. One of the most noticeable aspects about the band is their vocals, which I can always pick out after a split second. Johannes Persson’s screams are immaculate, and have only improved with time. Fortunately for me, I got to chat with Johannes about working with Julie, his experiences in the band, and much more!
Thanks so much for taking time to do this interview! I know you’re a busy guy. First thing’s first, I would just like to congratulate you on the new record. It’s being received extremely well, and personally I think it’s some of your best work to date. We’re all really excited for you guys, especially when you get the chance to play some of the new material live.
Thank you! Although I wouldn’t hold my breath about us playing the stuff live yet [laughs]. Pretty much the starting point of doing the whole thing…the reason why we asked Julie about doing this is that we knew that we weren’t going to tour a lot over the next few years. In fact we didn’t know if we could do any tours. So we figured, and I told her, that we’re likely not going to tour, and that since we could do what we wanted, we should do a collaboration album. So that’s where we were and that’s where we are now; there are no plans of doing anything with her as of yet. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible that we’d do it, but we’d have to find time to meet up and practice and stuff. It’s hard enough to get this band on tour, and then you add another person from another continent and it makes it that much more difficult. Impossible is not a good word and I shouldn’t use it, because nothing’ impossible, but I would say it’s unlikely at the moment.
Understandable, that’d basically mean having another mouth to feed and put in a hotel and on a bus on tour, so I feel you on that.
Do you consider Julie part of the band now, or was this simply a one-off collaboration?
It’s a one-off thing. It’s just us doing one thing together.
What made you initially reach out to her to do an album together? I wasn’t really familiar with her works before you guys collaborated together.
I’ve been aware of her existence ever since her work with Made Out Of Babies and Battle Of Mice, but it wasn’t until her solo album that I really enjoyed her stuff and saw how good she really was. It was just so heavy, and it was on repeat for a long time. Then we had the chance of doing a festival in 2014 in London and I asked our agent to see if she could play the festival, and unfortunately she couldn’t. That’s when I asked for her number to convince her to do it, and that’s how we started talking. It’s like when you have lot of musicians at a party together. Everyone talks about collaborating or starting a band together. The morning after we talked, everyone forgot about it. The thing was, we were sober. I’m the kinda of person that when I start doing something, I get into it 100%. I get totally committed. I’m pretty sure I popped the question, so to speak, and she said yes. So we talked and decided to do one or two songs and see what came out of it, and if it worked, to try to do a whole record. So we wrote some drafts on the computer and what we got back convinced us that this could be a special thing, and 18 months later we have an album. Which is weird to me.
It must be weird, especially because the time between this and Vertikal is significantly shorter than between Vertikal and Eternal Kingdom.
Well since 2001 we’ve always had a pretty steady stream of albums. Then after Eternal Kingdom we no longer had an obligation to a label, so we figured we would do other things than just focusing on the band. It also happened to coincide with many of us turning 30, and we felt like there were some other things we wanted to focus on for a while. I think that’s one of our strengths as a band. We don’t have financial pressure or label pressure; we’re not in a position where we need to tour frequently to keep ourselves afloat. Everything we do comes from the passion and will of writing and recording music together. It’s only been 2 and a half years since Vertikal, and we toured quite a lot, actually, far more than we had planned. That might be why it seems like we’ve been a lot busier.
Did you have any issues while you were trying to write Mariner, or were you writing specifically for Julie to sing on it? I guess the way I’m trying to phrase this is whether or not the album was written like you had in the past or if it was pieced together once Julie obliged.
Well we wrote knowing she’d be doing vocals. I told her originally that I wanted her to do all the vocals and she actually convinced me it’s be more collaborative if I did vocals. But we were fully aware she’d sing on it, and we originally wrote it thinking she’d do everything. So we started with drafts and demos and pretty specific ideas for her, and she came back saying that she’s gonna do what feels best for her, and she threw our ideas out the window, which was great. She came back to us with ideas of how we could change the songs and add and subtract parts. Some we did, some we didn’t and some we took but transformed them and did them slightly different than how she had explained it. In that sense I think that’s what makes this a great collaboration. The first time I got an email from her with the ideas was the only part where I was scared. I hadn’t thought that working with someone else meant dealing with his or her will as well. We have enough wills in the band, and I know them really well. It’s hard when you get someone else in there that you don’t know as well. I really only talked to her over email but she always seemed cool. But you never know a person until you’re involved with a project with them. But my first scare was not valid, because it worked out perfectly. We didn’t have a fight or argument or such different ideas that people tore each other’s ideas apart and started conflicts. It was a very nice relationship, and any changes someone suggested made the songs better. I’m glad how it turned out, but we could never know until we try to work together.
That’s good for the band! If anything it seems like this experience could have made the band stronger as a unit.
With Mariner, it still sounds that it’s your band, but what do you think the greatest departure with the album is from the rest of your discography?
Well when you write, you write a lot. Out of every idea you have, maybe you keep one. But I knew this was gonna be such a different album that I wrote ideas I wouldn’t have if it had been just us minus Julie. It’s still us writing now, but I want to feel like we’re constantly moving forward, not standing in the same place. It’s more of a feeling for ourselves that at least we must feel like we aren’t making the same record twice. Whether or not that’s easily defined in explaining changes is still questionable. But doing this thing we have done these last couple albums is having this be well defined before we ever wrote a note. Because if you limit your creative output, you’ll be forced to do stuff you otherwise wouldn’t have done. So I don’t know if that answers your question, but I got as close as I could! [laughs]
Well I remember you making a very lengthy post on your band’s Facebook about how you felt like this album would be Cult Of Luna’s version of Lulu. Were you really that anxious about the record?
Well I don’t want to be misinterpreted as if I didn’t feel good about the material, because it wasn’t like that. I was very happy with how everything turned out from the start, or else we wouldn’t have finished the project. The reason I made that post…I was drunk, is that a good answer?[laughs] I was actually talking with someone about how the album would be perceived by other people. Because at the end of the day, you could love it, but you never know what people will think. For us this album would be very different for most people. We have a long career, and then we bring in a new element that’s so different that people might turn on you. It’d be a lie to say you don’t care, because you do. I’d stand behind the album no matter what, but you do want to be appreciated for your hard work, something you pour your heart into. It was just uncertainty of how the album would be perceived, not a commentary on the quality of our work.
Would the responses from people inspire you to collaborate with other artists in the future, or do you think this might be it?
I will answer that as myself, not as a member of the band. I’d love to work with tons of people. Whether or not that’ll be with Cult of Luna or another band is another thing. We have talked about starting writing again, and that would be just us at that point. There’s no other people we’ve been talking to. It wouldn’t be something different if we simply had different vocalists on every album. I’m up for working with a lot of people, if I could find time, but that’s a whole other issue. [laughs]
If you could choose one person that you could work with, with Cult Of Luna or otherwise, who would it be?
That’s like asking which album is our favorite, or what have you. It all depends on the genre and all that. But there are a lot of vocalists I admire for different reasons.
Now I have to bring this up, because I think you feel very passionately about it. You posted about how the album got leaked and how you guys were super hard on the album. Where are you guys at with the whole leak situation, because if I recall, it was someone related to the band that leaked the record.
I’m not sure exactly who it was. It was a distribution company that did it. I won’t name them because the copies are watermarked and I honestly don’t believe it was the person that had the watermarked copy. It was somebody on his team that did it. I don’t want to single out that company. But obviously…I don’t understand. If you have something…I’d understand it more if you earned money for leaking it. That’d be a rational explanation. You were doing something to make money, say a buck for every download. I can’t understand why someone who has something before everyone else…there’s no sane motive to leak it. Again, I think I wrote in the post that it’s not a financial question. We don’t earn money from record sales. We put the money we do earn in holes where it’s needed. There’s no financial incentive. I’m upset at the disrespect of other people’s work. It gets my blood boiling. Everyone is free to write music, but that’s your music that you can present how you want. But this isn’t yours.
It’s more disrespectful than anything.
Yeah! Exactly. When you do this, releasing an album, you do the usual things. You have a plan and how you want it to be perceived, in what ways it’ll be released, etc. And then BAM, it’s out. When we had to send out promos back in 2004 it wasn’t the final master. It was something that didn’t workout with the master, and I know nothing about that. They had to remaster it. But that’s the copy that was sent out, when they sent out physical copies, and that’s the one that leaked. So people don’t have the full final album, and it’s out in a form that we didn’t agree on. Everyone listening to it…sorry, that’s not it. Then the real album got uploaded and to them it’s indistinguishable. I don’t really hold a grudge against the people downloading. I was young and didn’t have a lot of money, I used to do it a lot. I don’t do it any more. However, I do take issue with the people uploading the actual leak. Those are the real culprits here. Free stuff is free stuff. People are going to take advantage of that, but it’s not their fault. It’s the person who actually uploaded it illegally that is at fault. I think if more people understood the work that goes into an album they’d understand. All the nights where you sit with your instrument and absolutely nothing comes out. You’ll sit there for days or weeks and nothing. But that’s always how it starts. 90% of the time it’s sitting writing nothing, looking for something to inspire you. That’d be the most boring documentary ever. Maybe I should make it next time I write a record! [laughs]
To be honest I’d probably watch it!
Well, hey, there’s one viewer!
Well I know you guys just did shows for the 10 year anniversary of Somewhere Along The Highway. Were you planning on doing more shows like that or re-releasing older material?
Actually that record and Salvation were both resissued already. But as a musician I don’t like the idea of living off of older records and older songs. But I was convinced…we as a band were convinced to take the fan perspective and play that album front to back live. To be fair, when we started practicing the songs, I thought it was really fun to play some songs I hadn’t played in a decade. It was like doing covers of the same band with younger people playing it. We wouldn’t have written those songs now. They’d sound completely different. Even the same songs would be arranged in different ways. I was actually impressed with my older self that I wrote such quality stuff at my old age like I did back then! [laughs]
We have been impressed since you started! Do you guys have any more touring plans any time soon?
Apart from some shows in Scandinavia, possibly. We’ve had tons of festival offers and turned down every one thus far. We have a few that we haven’t decided on yet. We have too many other things that we have going on or that we want to do. I’m in my late 30s and have kids, so it doesn’t make sense to me to fly out to one gig and pay a sitter and all that, and some of the other guys agree as well. It’d likely be more small tours, if anything. We haven’t said no to everything yet, though.
Well I appreciate you talking with me today! One more question before you go: how do you like your eggs?
I don’t actually eat eggs. I’m a vegetarian! I’m not big on tofu or anything like that. No eggs for me! [laughs]
Cult of Luna’s collaborative album with Julie Christmas, Mariner, is out now via Indie Recordings. Pick it up at this location!