Swedish rocker Tobias Forge is no stranger to theatrics. His band, Ghost, is arguably the most recognizable, perhaps only, musical group of its ilk on the mainstream market. Complete with Satanic imagery and unhallowed representations of the Catholic tradition, Ghost is hard to miss.
Forge, who formed Ghost in 2006, is the man behind the malevolent-looking mask. He had a quick chat with Boise Weekly ahead of the band's show in Boise on Friday, Sept. 27, at Taco Bell Arena.
Ghost is touring on its most recent album, Prequelle, which is a slight departure in sound from its previous albums. Prequelle is notably more pop-driven than earlier works. While previous albums have been quite clear-cut rock 'n' roll, influence from poppy 1980s hair metal and the like is evident, especially on tracks such as "Dance Macabre." The sound is not worlds away from Ghost's earlier works, but the slight shift mirrors >the change in appearance.
Forge said he didn't want to bring back another version of his old character, Papa Emeritus—an unholy Pope.
"I didn't just want to present another one out of nowhere... I wanted it to be something a bit al dente," Forge said. "That was the basic idea behind it, I just wanted to break up the repetitiveness of previous years and previous cycles."
The new character, Cardinal Copia, is another riff on Catholic imagery, a Satanic-looking representation of a man in holy garb. Alongside bringing out a new character, Forge has also come out more in front of the band. Before, Forge would only give interviews in character. The band backing him, often referred to as The Nameless Ghouls, has kept its anonymity, however. Members of the band have been revealed in the past, particularly Foo Fighters founder Dave Grohl, who has played drums for Ghost before, though never on a full-time basis.
Forge did step into the spotlight a bit more in 2017 when he was sued by former bandmates over alleged wage withholding, but Forge came out on top in Swedish courts. Since 2017, he said, he wasn't feeling very anonymous.
"Ever since, I've always made sure that everything I do as myself [is] unmasked, as a commentator to Ghost," he said.
Forge added that he knew a time would come when most fans would know who he is, and he was fine with that. As early as 2011, a good number of people who knew he was the man behind Ghost, and not just close friends and family.
"Throughout the existence of Ghost as a public band, sooner or later there would come a time when I wasn't necessarily anonymous or masked," Forge said. "I've always drawn a line between being anonymous and masked."
No matter how forge presents himself publicly, he will never outshine Ghost. Most fans of the band don't really care who he is, so long as he is making music, he said.
The theatrics of the band are often reflected in the music videos, and with the new album, the videos that have come from it are dialed up from previous works. Specifically the video for "Rats," in which Forge ballet dances through the streets of an apocalypse-stricken city. Dance was another theme for "Dance Macabre," in which two unsuspecting partiers head into a vampire disco at a flashy Los Angeles mansion. The decision to incorporate more dance into the videos was something Forge had considered for a while, but never had time to fully dive into as the band was typically touring.
"Over the years we have done quite a lot of videos that doesn't have a lot of performance," he said. "I really want to do things differently."
Despite a sacreligious appearance, controversy surrounding the band is sparse. Forge said he isn't trying to be disrespectful, he's just an entertainer. That said, when strife has arisen around the band, it has only driven ticket sales.
"If I just wanted to go out there and get people to hate the band it would have been easy," he said. "But I don't want to do that, that's not my job."
Years ago, a pastor in Odessa, Texas, called for residents of the city to boycott and picket a Ghost show. Subsequently, the show sold out.
"At the end of the day, we are not trying to spread a negative agenda," he said. "I want people to feel good about themselves... that's what rock 'n' roll is about."