With the release of «III» – the new album by LUCIFER – as an excuse, our partner Haizea had a telephone chat with Johanna and Nicke to talk about this record. Half an hour of a laid-back chat with two super nice artists where we go a little bit further and talk about stuff such as the amount of shit you have to deal with if you’re a woman in Rock, about that weird yet flattering «legend» status (that leads to things as those t-shirts by Branca Studio) or about if there’ll ever be a new DEATH BREATH album.
-Thanks for taking the time! I bet you’ve done a bunch of interviews already so I’ll try to be concise and hopefully it won’t get too boring. Let’s start with a few questions about the forthcoming album and then we’ll see. «Ghosts» is the first single of your new record. It’s probably one of the most straightforward songs in the whole album. Is this why it became the first single?
Nicke: I don’t know, I’m not even sure I agree. A song like «Flanked by Snakes» is pretty straightforward too. There’re a few straightforward ones, but I think we chose it because we thought it had all the elements of LUCIFER in it.
Johanna: Yes. It was also the first song we wrote for the album and we’ve been playing it live since last year and it just seemed that people who heard the song for the first time live had quite a good reaction to it. It’s a good one for us to play live, so we thought it’s catchy enough for a single.
Nicke: For us it’s a pretty good song.
-So, you just mentioned that you’ve been playing it live for a while. In fact, you’ve played live quite a lot. Do you feel LUCIFER belongs to the stage? Do you think the songs breathe new life or transform somehow after you’ve played them to a crowd?
Nicke: Yeah, I think so.
Johanna: I mean, LUCIFER belongs both into the studio and on stage but since we have been playing so much, LUCIFER has developed into quite an energetic live band, I think. And the songs too become a little bit of their own creatures live, you know. Except for «Ghosts», we usually don’t play the songs live before they are recorded, and that’s a little bit of a shame, because if you play songs live for a while, they become better and better. It would be great to record them then, but that’s not how it works nowadays.
– It’s interesting, yep. Back to the album then. Here at Queens of Steel we’ve listened to the whole thing and we think it’s pretty accessible, very hook-laden, yet heavy! It’s easy to listen to, in a way. Would you say it’s easy to write easy-listening music?
Johanna: No. Not at all, actually.
Nicke: No… I don’t know, we write what we like to write, but also at the same time… I would think it’s easier to write a really complicated song than to write a simple song that touches people. That’s way more difficult.
Johanna: I always tend to think of AC/DC, you know, because their songs sound somehow so simple and accessible, but it’s so hard to do that, I could never write an AC/DC song! (laughs) The lyrics are so on point and everybody gets it, everybody gets the meaning of it. You got to have some kind of musical craftmanship to put something like that down. That’s a very special talent.
-Yes, I totally agree, that’s why I wanted to ask! Okay, this new album is your second release with the two same main songwriters, that is, you both. What effect does this have on the final outcome? Is «Lucifer III» a natural continuation of the previous one?
Johanna: Yes, I think so. I think it’s a continuation. The songwriting process was the same, it was done between Nicke and me, and then with the other guys.
Nicke: They are bringing their own stuff.
Johanna: Yeah, they bring their own solos and their touch to it. But the songs don’t differ so much from the demos, the structure is the same, the verse and everything is the same, but, of course, somebody else plays different from Nicke…
-Yes, each individual brings something different.
Nicke: Yes. Of course, the third album is gonna sound more like the second album than the first.
-Yeah. In fact, connected to this, I wanted to ask you, Johanna, about the following: LUCIFER seems to be your brainchild, and there was a lot of movement in the beginning, i.e., different members, places even. Was is tough to push this forward? Because sometimes it’s really difficult to move an idea or a project forward.
Johanna: Yeah… Well, yes and no. There have been times when it was difficult, especially going from the previous record deal to the new record label, the complicated paperwork involved and all that. This can be a little demotivating sometimes, but at the same time, if you really want something and you set your mind to it, you can make it work, and LUCIFER has been very lucky.
Nicke: And unlucky.
Johanna: Yeah, both, but I guess that’s just how life is, easy times and then not so easy times (laughs). This is my baby and I cherish it very much. It’s my passion and it’s all I do now. It’s important to me.
-Makes sense! Both of you are experienced musicians, you’ve been playing in different bands for decades, you’ve created new bands from scratch many times. How does all that experience affect or change the way you approach a new project nowadays?
Nicke: I don’t know. I mean, for me LUCIFER is quite different from all the other bands and projects I’ve done because I got involved after the band was formed, and that’s new for me. Usually I start bands, that’s my thing (laughs). And this time I didn’t, I joined the band, which I really enjoyed. That’s the main difference for me. Besides, I have a songwriting partner, which I usually never have. That’s the two different things for me, but for Johanna I don’t know, you’ll [Johanna] have to answer that!
Johanna: For me… I guess you get more experience, you learn from the past and the different histories you go through. I mean, if I were to start a side project or something new now, I guess it would just feel more playful and easier. You get more experience, you get to know more people, you learn more about yourself and how to do things, and it becomes a bit easier.
Nicke: Yeah, I can agree with that. For me it was easier to start my later bands than my earlier bands. And that’s because you get older and hopefully you have some experience, as Johanna says. I would say that’s the difference. And also, along the way you maybe learn a few things that make you think «okay, this time maybe I can skip a few other steps».
Johanna: And then also you learn more about the business side, because that’s where a lot of young bands in the beginning make a lot of mistakes, I mean they sign bad contracts. I’ve done that, Nicke has done that… Almost everybody has done that in the beginning. So you learn more things and maybe you make wiser decisions.
-And you learn to identify the bullshit, yes.
Nicke: That’s still not easy, but it’s slightly easier.
-(Laughs) Okay. So, it’s all good things mostly, I guess. What can you tell me about the lyrics of LUCIFER? Most of them seem to deal with the eerie and the otherworldly. Is there any topic or concept you always go back to? Which are the inspirations (or the obsessions!)?
Nicke: Can I answer that before you [Johanna] answer?
Johanna: Yeah, sure!
Nicke: There’s one thing that I see as an observer of the lyrics… The one thing Johanna always falls back on is Death!
Johanna: (Laughs) Yeah, he said it all. I guess there»re several things that I like, or that I keep feeling attracted to. There will always be cemeteries in all the videos (laughs), countless photoshoots in graveyards…
-Yeah, also in the cover of the new album, right?
Johanna: Yeah, exactly, cemeteries are my second home (laughs). There’re also a lot of personal stories in our lyrics, because music is a way to vent, and to work through stuff that one gravitates towards. On the new album there’s a lot of horror themes.
-I know! I like this one, «Coffin Fever», which reminds me of this E.A. Poe story, «Premature Burial» I think it’s called. I find it great.
Johanna: Awesome! Thank you! Yeah, I thought it was time to write a song about being trapped in a coffin and waking up (laughs).
Nicke: It’s LUCIFER’s take on «Buried Alive» by VENOM (laughs).
-That’s definitely another way to see it! Last question about the album now; this is a standard one for our website: how would you describe the new record in three words?
Nicke: Three words…
Johanna: Heavy. And horror… How would you say? Horror-laden…
Nicke: Uhm… Let’s just go «BEATLES meet AUTOPSY»
– (Laughs) Nice! That one works fine.
Nicke: I don’t know (laughs). It’s very hard to talk about your own music, it’s way easier to talk about BLUE ÖYSTER CULT.
-Okay, so let’s talk about other music. What have you been listening to recently?
Nicke: BLUE ÖYSTER CULT!
-(Laughs). All of BÖC? The early albums?
Nicke: Well, we also listen to 38 SPECIAL, some Southern Rock…
Johanna: Yeah, we’ve been listening to a lot to Southern Rock, a lot of… Well, I guess it’s always the same answer: a lot of 60’s, 70’s, Heavy-Hard Rock or whatever. Some Metal. Some Soul. Some old Country.
Nicke: Some NEIL YOUNG.
-Do you think you incorporate all your influences and the things you listen to into your music or do you separate?
Johanna: I think so. I think you incorporate them even unconsciously. Some stuff you’re not even aware of.
Nicke: Yeah, when I tried to come up with stuff for «Lucifer II», when we started writing together, I was like «I’m gonna be SO heavy». But the BEATLES still come through, they’re there in the chord changes and stuff, I don’t think you can help it. Everything you listen to gets in your brain somehow.
Johanna: And maybe it’s not in the music itself, maybe it’s in the lyrics. Or in certain stories or moods that you get from the music.
-Yeah, absolutely, it’s not a 100% conscious process. Well, I really don’t have many more planned questions. I have a few, but they are not that good (laughs).
Nicke: OK, give us one bad question.
Johanna: Give us the worst question!
-Okay, the “worst” question is for you, Nicke. You’ve some kind of a “legend” status for some people, and you are well-known. There are these t-shirts, from Branca Studio, in Barcelona, that read «Thanks Satan for Nicke Andersson». I don’t know if you’ve seen those.
Johanna: Yeah, I have that shirt (laughs). I think it should say «Thanks Lucifer for Nicke» (laughs).
-Yeah! That’d be better (laughs). The question is, how does this kind of thing make you feel? Because I can imagine it’s a bit weird, I don’t know if it’s flattering too…
Nicke: It’s both weird and flattering. It’s kind of hard for me to put myself in that place, because that’s not how I view myself. I never did and I never will; I’m just a music nerd as anyone else. Yeah, it’s funny, and weird, and strange, and I guess it’s nice, but I don’t think I really get it.
Johanna: I think it’s awesome. I think it’s deserved. I’m a fan of Nicke (laughs).
Nicke: Well if anything that puts pressure on me (laughs).
-(Laughs) Got it. Well, I have a last question for Johanna. I’m doing this interview for Queens of Steel. We try to put an emphasis, in our best way, on music and art made by women. We know that sometimes it’s tough, it’s harder, as in, the shit you have to take is double. Do you have any mechanism or any way to cope with all the sexist bullshit?
Johanna: I don’t have a good mechanism because I still get upset by it. Nicke knows that. We talk about this a lot. And I think the older I get, the more allergic I get to it. I guess that when I was a teenager, growing up, I didn’t realize how sexist some things actually were, because you’re so used to it. You get born into this world, as a girl, and there’re already certain types of behavior, some sort of social sexism to which all of us, even women, cater to. You don’t become aware of that until later in life and it’s a shame it has to be like that for girls. It shouldn’t even be…
-I know… I get constantly angry about this, even preparing interviews or whatever. You search for information and it goes like «the blonde singer…”
Johanna: Yeah, why does it have to say blonde? They never say «the redhead Dave Mustaine».
Nicke: We’ve talked about that case in particular.
Johanna: But it is annoying in general. Luckily there has been more focus on it, and I saw some articles just the other day about that thing, the “female-fronted” tag. Why does it have to say «female-fronted»? What a stupid word. It is a horrible word, you don’t say «male fronted». Yet, at the same time… Yeah, it’s such a difficult thing. Besides, there’s a whole lot of other issues. Sometimes when you dress in a certain way and you put your make-up on, people that don’t even know you assume you may be some stupid bimbo that always needs to rely on the help of guys. THAT is annoying. At the same time, I’m surrounded by really cool and sweet people. And also, I feel that Sweden (I’m German) it’s a bit more modern, and more equal, than Germany. I don’t know, I guess it’s getting better, but I’m sure it’s gonna take a long time.
Nicke: It’s sadly a slow process.
-Yeah, but we’re getting there. I’ve seen positive changes in the last few years, so, hopefully, slow but steady.
Johanna: Yeah. I do still get very pissed off, and I wish I wouldn’t get pissed off about it as much as I do, I would like to be more like «fuck off, whatever, I don’t care». But it gets to me.
-That’s why I wanted to ask, I get pissed off and I’m not even in the spotlight at all…
Nicke: I get pissed off too. The only thing I can do is avoid reading comments, for example, because that really gets to me when I do it. Because people are assholes. A lot of people are.
Johanna: Yeah, especially, if you’re an artist, I think you should never read YouTube comments, because that’s where the hell of Internet is, all the anonymous assholes. I’ve had this conversation with Elin from BLUES PILLS, she’s had a lot of horrible comments and it really gets to her, and we both agreed that you can’t read that shit, it’s not good for you. Internet is like 20 nice comments, and then there’s one comment that’s below the belt and that one, for some reason, is the one that stays with you, of course. And I guess artists are kind of sensitive souls so… Bottom line: I wish I would care less.
Nicke: I wish I would meet these people face to face, because they’re cowards.
Johanna: They’re cowards.
-They would never say those things face to face…
Nicke: And that’s horrible.
Johanna: I just think it’s kind of sad that a lot of people think they have a free pass to be assholes on the Internet. Why don’t people have more of a moral compass? It seems like the Internet encourages people to blurt out stuff without thinking. I hate that. I think it’s so low. I mean, sometimes the stuff you see it’s beyond retarded.
-We are talking about the Internet now. Are you active in there? Do you have social media? Do you like it? I feel it’s something one is supposed to do nowadays, but I don’t know if it’s a thing, really. How do you feel about this?
Johanna: It’s a double-edged sword. I run all the LUCIFER social media pages, because you have to do that, it’s required for the band. Then I have my personal accounts too, but I have been stepping away from Facebook. I don’t post anything personal on there anymore, and my Instagram is only half personal, so to speak. It’s for staying in touch with my fans, but I’m aware that at the same time it’s also public, so I’m always very careful about what I post. I don’t post the location of the pictures, or I do it afterwards, when I’m already gone, because I’ve had experiences with stalkers and stuff. And obviously you don’t want to show certain parts of your private life, like where you live, because it can get a little bit scary sometimes. I don’t post anything irreflexively, I always go like «Okay. What can I show and what is better not to?». I don’t think I get too personal anymore. I believe social media are more of a tool for the bands. Sometimes I think “Fuck it, I want to delete them all” but at the same time I do have fun with them; I see what my friends are posting and what they’re up to and I still like that part of it. And I find things to listen to, I see what’s new on the movies and what people say about it…
-Yeah, it’s a source of information.
Johanna: In that sense it’s awesome, so it has both good and bad sides.
-So, what are the next plans for LUCIFER? Is there going to be a tour? I’ve seen that lately you’ve been touring mostly the USA; you’ve been there a few times. I don’t know if you’ve toured Spain yet or not. Related to this I wanted to ask: do you think some genres or types of music work better in certain places than in others? For example, I think I’ve seen IMPERIAL STATE ELECTRIC seven times or so around here, but LUCIFER, I don’t know if you’ve played Spain. Is there a difference?
Nicke: No, I think it’s just a matter of… You can’t be everywhere at once. We’ve just been waiting for a good opportunity to play Spain, and we will.
Johanna: We will. Actually, it’s in the making right now. You’ve said it correctly though, we’ve toured the States three times now in support of the last album, so now it’s time to tour Europe. We’re gonna be around in May and then later in the year as well, and we’re gonna come to Spain for some shows. We are very aware there’re a few people for us, and we’d love to come, it’s a great country for Rock ‘n’ Roll, and for Rock music in general. And it’s a very enthusiastic crowd, I’ve seen it on tour with IMPERIAL STATE ELECTRIC selling merchandise (laughs).
Nicke: We’d love to come.
-Do your future plans involve only LUCIFER or are you working in other projects?
Nicke: It’s mostly that.
Johanna: Well, for me it’s mostly LUCIFER. There’s gonna be… I can’t talk about it yet. There’s gonna be a collaboration, but it’s also with LUCIFER. I can’t say the same for Nicke, because Nicke…
Nicke: …Has a million bands. I know.
Johanna: (Laughs) Has a lot of plans to make now.
-Okay. Will we ever get a DEATH BREATH album?
Johanna: I hope so.
Nicke: Yeah, I can’t say when but… (laughs)
-(Laughs). Okay, okay. I’ll keep waiting then.
Johanna: Me too. I keep pressuring him, «Nicke…»
-Yes, keep doing that please, we need that album! (laughs)
Johanna: Okay, I’ll do (laughs).
-Okay, I really don’t have more questions, in fact, I made the last ones on the spot I don’t know if there’s anything you’d like to add.
Johanna: Yeah, just that we cannot wait to come to Spain finally.