||THERION'S CRISTOFER JONSSON TALKS HEALTH, HAPPINESS, ROCK OPERA AND FAVOURITE FESTIVAL AT 70000 TONS OF METAL
18th February 2017
Words: Ian Sutherland, Pictures Artur Gelumbauskas
Therion founding member Christofer Jonsson shocked everyone recently when he revealed that he was suffering some very serious back problems which may affect his career, however he made if to the 70000 Tons Of Metal festival despite being in a neck brace. MetalTalk caught up with him on board to see how he was doing.
MT: How are you feeling Christofer?
CJ: "So-so, but it works. You don't achieve anything by being a sissy."
MT: I am sure there is no one on board this boat who thinks that!
CJ: "I think people don't realise how much hard work it is to establish a band in the beginning and sometimes you have to prove yourself worthy, even after you gain success. Maybe this situation has some use outside of the pain, reminding you of that."
MT: This has obviously been a huge personal challenge for you.
CJ: "Yes, it's not nice to play like this. I have pain when I do everything except standing up. It's painful to sit down, it's horrible lying down, I can't lie down, I have to sit in an armchair to sleep at night.
"Playing too is horrible, your spine and neck have all the nerve bundles related to all the parts of your body and what happens when you have a herniation is that the disc is cracking and that can put pressure on the nerves. In my case it's putting a lot of pressure on the nerve bundle going to my right arm, so nothing is wrong with the right arm but my brain tells me I have a lot of pain there.
"My fingers get numb, I lose a lot of movement and it gets difficult to play. I just cannot. It's like if you try to do something with your left hand when you are right handed, when you have pain in the arm you try not to use it so it's like being in a hospital bed for two weeks and if you get up and start walking your legs will be like spaghetti. Since I had pain in my right arm I didn't use it all for two weeks so therefore it was very difficult to start playing guitar.
"When I went to Russia, since Swedish medicare sucks arse, they gave me five cortisone shots so everything was quite acceptable for a couple of days. The funny thing with cortisone shots is they can last for a few days or up to two months, it depends on your body. Apparently my body thought 'oh fuck this crap, let's get rid of it as quick as possible'.
"The shots are completely out of my body now and don't give me any relief. This collar really helps though. Before I went to Russia I couldn't even play half a song, not even half of the simplest song. Now I can do an hour long set with the simplest songs we have. So it's quite an improvement but it's still a challenge for me to play."
MT: Everyone I've spoken to is amazed and thankful you're here.
CJ: "It's an easy choice. I need to have this for two weeks before I can go and see if I can have surgery or if it can be physiotherapy treatment and I can be home and be miserable or I can be here and be miserable, it's quite an easy choice.
"I just need to pull myself together and play two times. Also there are financial incentives as we had already bought tickets to come here so we could stay at home and lose a lot of cash or come here and make a bit of cash, there are a lot of reasons, I could give you a whole list of reasons as to why I'm here.
"Also don't get this wrong, I'm pretty sure I'm going to recover but you never know. If I do need to get surgery there is around an 80% chance surgery goes well. I may not need to get surgery. If I get surgery and anything goes wrong it could be I get permanent pains and at least I wouldn't be able to do extensive touring like I did before.
"I'm the type of guy who is always prepared for all eventualities, it's in my nature. I thought if I do this now and I finish off on the pool deck stage, under the stars in international waters, on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, with fans from all over the world that's the perfect place to do my final show if worst comes to worst. Perfect."
MT: We all hope that it doesn't come to that.
CJ: "It's not just like doing some random festival that you don't even remember where it was. That's another important reason that I really wanted to make this trip. Just in case."
MT: It sounds like this is a special festival for you?
CJ: "This is the third time we have played this festival and it feels like you've really done something if you play on this ship. It's like the Dynamo festival used to be back in the day, It is one of those festivals like Wacken has become, you're not anyone if you haven't played Wacken. To go on this ship is the ultimate experience, I think.
"If you go as a visitor to a regular festival it can be rainy weather, you have to be outside all the time, all the mud, the crappy food from the stands, you have a tent somewhere and a drunken idiot peed on it or fell on it. Or you have a hotel and it's complicated to get out of the festival area to a hotel far away, it's not fun, you're shitting in those portaloos and so on.
"The good part overshadows the bad part but if you're eighteen you might not give a shit and be totally drunk all the time anyway but at my age I would never, ever pay for such a festival, even if I wanted to see the bands. It's too much discomfort.
"Here it's just perfect, a luxury Caribbean cruise with a halfway stop at some exotic place, it's a grand vacation in itself. Then you have a lot of nice bands, you don't have to walk a kilometre from one stage to another, all the stages are close, there's no backstage area, you can hang with the bands all the time so everyone gets more chilled out.
"The fans get chilled out as they know the bands will be here a lot and aren't going to leave early. Bands get chilled out because they know fans won't get hysterical with them so we can actually hang out with the fans. You can drink a lot and eat like a king and see all the bands you want to see, you have your nice cabin very close, this is THE perfect concert to me. If I ever paid to go to a festival, this would be it."
MT: How has your illness affected your work on the Rock Opera?
CJ: "It slows things down. I fixed the studio systems as I cannot sit and edit for long in front of the computer so we are left with recording basically. We are going to record some Hammond organs, some slide guitars, re-record some guitars which weren't perfect and some vocals that's left. I don't need to do any playing myself so it's easy just to be there, somebody else presses the button for recording, somebody else is playing slide guitar or singing and I just say what's good, what is a take to keep. Also editing vocals and so on I just give instructions and somebody else does it. Then we're off to mixing eventually."
MT: Do you have any sort of timescale for the release yet?
CJ: "We have to get it out this year absolutely for sure. I'm going to be careful about giving deadlines as if I get surgery there will be one month of doing nothing, if I get physiotherapy there will be four or five months of doing that and the recordings at the same time which will be slow but I hope we can have an autumn release.
"However, if I say Jesus Christ Superstar to you, your first thought is not the CD, to most people they think of it as a live performance also available on an audio recording. That's what we intend with this, it's a rock opera to be performed. It's a new musical theatre piece. The fans may see it as a CD as they will probably buy it before they see it live but if this anywhere near successful this will be known as a live performance and people like you and like me will have the CD as well.
MT: You've been working on it for a while. How has the concept developed over time?
CJ: "We decided to base it on a book called ‘A Tale Of The Antichrist' by Vladimir Solovyov, a Russian author and I didn't like the end so rewrote that immediately. There were no women in the story so we had to insert some new characters and make some of the male characters female instead. Then to make it a better story bit by bit we improved it a lot, we created scenes where we needed something inbetween, other things we thought 'this is not going to be good as theatre' and so on.
"Also a lot of character development, the personality of them came when the music was written, it was very natural that their character was shaped by the music. When you read it you imagine the character in a certain way. When this character will be getting a voice and melody lines you may feel something different as well.
"There is the wife of a president that I thought wasn't a very important character at the beginning, but the music piece was one of the best in the entire rock opera so she became important. It's one of the musically most important characters even though in the story it's insignificant. I think some characters, there's also a messenger that comes which in the story is not important at all, it's an invented character which wasn't in the book.
"Musically though it is one of the strongest things, that will be one of the most popular characters for musical reasons. This is another interesting aspect that we didn't think of when we started."
MT: Have you been able to look ahead at future touring plans?
CJ: "Right now we don't plan any more shows because we don't know what's going to happen with me. We have two festivals that we committed to do in August and if worst comes to worst I'll send a replacement for me with the band."
MT: Has it crossed your mind about becoming just a writer and behind the scenes man with Therion and not do the tours?
CJ: "If the worst comes to the worst and I can't play live I will still write music. If my arms fell off I would use my feet. There are are people who can drive a car with their feet so I would learn to play a keyboard with my feet. Writing music or producing is something I will always do, it's my biggest thing anyway. Playing live is like a very enjoyable hobby.
"I gave up practising guitar about 1995 or something. It's like riding a bicycle, you can keep yourself on a level but I'm not a particularly remarkable guitar player, I just play my compositions live and enjoy it. So it wouldn't be the end of the world for me if I had a permanent replacement and anyway I would put the band on tour for sure and take care of the management and stuff. Again I'm pretty sure I'm going to recover though.
"Actually that's what I did with my other band, Luciferian Light Orchestra. It was kind of cool to be able to see the band from the front of the stage."
MT: Thanks for your time and we wish you all the best and a full and speedy recovery.
Check out more of Ian Sutherland right here.