Cult Of Luna interview (01/2021)


With: Johannes Persson
Conducted by: musclassia (skype)
Published: 17.01.2021

Band profile:

Cult Of Luna


Less than 18 months after releasing the colossal A Dawn To Fear, Cult Of Luna return with The Raging River, a nigh-on 40-minute EP partially featuring material carried over from the A Dawn To Fear sessions. The release features former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan as a guest, and is the debut release from Red Creek, the new record label established by Cult Of Luna; the record is distributed by Metal Blade Records and Season Of Mist in North America and Europe, respectively. I had the opportunity to speak with guitarist/vocalist Johannes Persson about the new record, as well as how 2020 has gone for himself and the band.

(Note: the connection froze in a couple of places during the interview; I've filled in the gaps the best that I can, but highlighted those lost sections with square brackets).

musclassia: I guess the first thing to talk about is the new EP that you guys have coming out on the 5th February. I did get sent the promo for it a couple of hours ago and I have to say, I'm a huge fan of yours and I think it's another great record. Probably one of the things people from our website apparently want to know about based on forum posts is the description of the record as an EP, considering it's longer than most bands' full-length albums. What influences the decision to promote it as an EP rather than a full album?

Johannes: [It's less about it being] a standard length, it's more of how, for me, a Cult Of Luna album is a matter of dynamics and not about how many minutes it ends up with. I think that it's just the way we write and how we write songs, and how we put them together in an album, we have an idea of our own of what counts as an album or an EP. The thing is, some people involved in this project wanted it to be promoted as an album, and I said no, because it's basically not that kind of… it doesn't have that dynamic range to it. Call it a record, I don't care; it's a piece of music that we have tried to execute as well as we possibly can, and also it feels like some sort of midpoint of something. I'm not really sure what that is yet, because we have been writing constantly since after Mariner.



Artwork for The Raging River, released on 5th February 2021


Not all the songs, most of the songs, they were recorded in some form during the A Dawn To Fear session, but for different kinds of reasons, we kept… pretty early on in the recording process, you can tell if a song has lived up to its full potential or not. We kind of felt that the songs that we later went back to… they were good but they weren't there yet, so we had to put some more work into them, and the extra time we got in this horrible situation that we all are in gave us the time to go back and rework them, and add new stuff that we felt we needed to in order to actually make the dynamic work for these three or four songs that were already recorded.

musclassia: Well I was actually going to ask about the 'midpoint that needs to be crossed over', but I feel like you've kind of answered that already. So do you have a kind of idea of where you're crossing into?

Johannes: No, I mean, because we are in the middle of it right now, and I'm not going to know that until we have another record mixed already. It's not until then that I can take a step back and see what we have done and why. At least, during the kind of attitude that we had when it came to writing for the last three or four years… the older you get, the harder it is to keep track of time, to be honest. Three or four years… we should have written more. But yeah, it's still a mystery, which actually makes it more interesting for me right now, because for the last… apart from the first record, which was just a bunch of songs that we had at the time that we just recorded and ended up as an album, apart from that, every album has been written with a clear narrative in mind, with a story that we have had the ambition to tell. So we've been very limited to that theme or narrative that has been going through [everything in each album], from the lyrics, artwork, production, arrangement, everything.

Since Mariner, we have just written out of… we have let our subconscious go and just written for the sake of writing without any limitations. And to be quite honest, I think limitations are good when it comes to creativity, because it directs you somewhere; you can end up anywhere if you let everything go. I don't think we're there yet, but we have tried stuff that we… we have gone to territories that we haven't been to previously. I think these five songs, they are all pretty different; some songs might sound like a song from the early Cult Of Luna, and the last track, it's quite experimental for being us.

musclassia: It's quite danceable I found, the beginning rhythms to it, it felt quite distinct for you guys.

Johannes: Yes, so that's… it can be a downside to just write as freely as we have, but it's also a lot of fun to just go and pull ideas, and just go with whatever impulse we have at times.

musclassia: I remember you saying something similar in the A Dawn To Fear Q&A, how that was the first album in a long time, and I guess this one by extension, where you didn't approach it with a preconceived concept. Are you enjoying the liberty you get from that, or do you think in the future that there's potentially benefits to entering that writing phase with a structure to work within?

Johannes: I think… I mean it's scary in one sense, as you have no idea what is going to come out of it, but everybody that's into music, that writes music… Something that everyone that doesn't write music needs to understand is how hard it is to write songs. It's not easy at all, and one thing that I've experienced firsthand is that the more songs you write, the more albums you write, you use up more and more ideas. The easiest way of writing music would be copying yourself, like ripping off your own music, and especially songs that work, and I don't want to do that. Of course, it's all about personal opinions and stuff like that, and I don't care if somebody thinks that we have stagnated and sound exactly the same. As long as I feel like we are constantly keeping up momentum and are constantly doing different stuff, it's still going to be us. You're still limited by your own brain and the way you write.

That's at least my ambition, to try to be constantly on the move. Sometimes, you might walk in circles or something like that, and end up in the same place as you were 15 years ago or 5 years ago, but as long as it feels like I'm moving, then I'm going to continue doing it.

musclassia: So this album sees the introduction of the new record label, Red Creek. Is that something that's been in the pipeline for a prolonged period of time, or is it something that's been inspired by a specific recent event?

Johannes: Both, actually. I mean we have had the idea of creating our own label and our own platform for years. We did release a 7-inch with two covers a long time ago, maybe 15 years ago? So that idea has been there, but it's all about time, to get something off the ground, and also about engagement. If it wasn't for the extra time that we had now, I don't think we would have done it. Also, our manager pretty much pushed us into doing it, and I'm really happy he did. But it's been a lot of work, mostly from him and me… I had no idea that it was so much boring administrative work connected to creating a label. And also, the amount of money you need to have up front in order to print records. And I'm not talking about the printing costs, I'm talking about mechanical royalties, stuff that I'm still learning. It has been a steep learning curve, and I guess I'm going to be learning constantly from now on. A lot of things, like practical boring things, like just creating a web shop that you need to test, because when you launch it and release the record, nothing can fuck up, because that would be crucial.

musclassia: I guess it's only recently been formed; have you managed to get into the process of recruiting other bands or artists to your label, or is it still very early days on that front?

Johannes: That's an idea that has grown in the last couple of years, that it would be great to be able to push artists that I feel need more attention. The reality of any art is that there's a lot of people or artists out there that don't get the recognition that they deserve, that have the quality, and there's also the other side of it, people that get a lot of attention that might not have, at least in my opinion, the quality… you understand what I mean. But not now, right now we are focused on this record, and we have a bunch of releases planned for the future that are pretty much safe bets. Also, one thing with that is if we get enough money that we can risk to lose, because putting out a band and putting a whole company at risk for it doesn't make any sense, so if we build a label now, we will be able to take more risks in the future. So that's the plan, to be quite honest; do some safe releases at first, and then we are going to try to find artists that might not have an audience already, and that we need to work in order to get them that audience.

musclassia: Awesome. So this new EP features Mark Lanegan on "Inside Of A Dream". You've mentioned in the billings that this has been a long-time dream that you've only really found the courage to pursue now. Do you think, given this and your recent collaboration with Julie Christmas on Mariner, you're going to be more open to approaching people you've been wanting to collaborate with on further albums in the future?

Johannes: Hard to tell. It's an impossible question to answer, because if we feel that a certain artist's work, whether it's a vocalist or any other artists, that can add a dimension to our work, then yes, of course, but we're going to cross that bridge as we get there, as they say. I also think it's a good way of keeping your work fresh. Again, it doesn't have to be a vocalist, it could be an instrumentalist or maybe a producer… no, maybe not a producer, we're not going to walk down that path; it's enough with all the wheels in the band already, we don't need one. But of course, we'll see.

musclassia: Another collaboration that's more you personally than the band in general, but the planned project with James Kent from Perturbator that was going to be at Roadburn. Given that the festival has been postponed twice, what plans are there… are you basically planning to wait until that festival or another festival allows you to perform it, or are you considering working on a studio rendition of it to have an opportunity to share it?

Johannes: The plan is to do the live the show at Roadburn; whenever that happens, you know as well as I do, nobody knows. But the music is written, we're just waiting for an opportunity to get it on stage. As long as I can't even leave the country to practice the songs with James, it will be quite hard, but we are at least at the beginning of the end, it feels like, whether it takes a year or 18 months. But sooner or later, we'll get it out there.

musclassia: In addition to that, you've also had other projects outside of Cult Of Luna, such as Khoma and Riwen. Do you have any other ideas that haven't been suitable for any other projects that you're lingering for an opportunity to explore in a different project?

Johannes: I have a lot of ideas. My only limitation is time to be quite honest. With Cult Of Luna and everything that I do with the band, it takes a whole lot of time; it's basically a part-time job, it takes a couple of hours each day. But sooner or later, I'll try to finalize some ideas that I've already started on.

musclassia: So we've kind of touched upon the elephant in the room that the last year's caused a pretty drastic shift in everyone's lives. I know Sweden had different restrictions to some of the rest of us, but presumably you've still had certain limitations; have you found yourself more or less motivated to write or otherwise be artistically creative during this enforced downtime?

Johannes: We haven't been on lockdown ever; we have restrictions, but to be honest, my life hasn't changed that much. I just have more time; I have no problem living like this for a long time. Apart from the horror of people dying in massive numbers, but that goes without saying; for me personally, it hasn't changed much. I hang out more with my kids, I have more time to write stuff like that; I work from home, which has it's up and downsides at all, but I don't miss the social interactions, because I'm not a super-social person anyway.

musclassia: I think you guys were lucky enough to finish your US tour last year before the world turned to shit…

Johannes: Very close.

musclassia: Very close. But obviously, you've had touring plans disrupted since. In this enforced absence, beyond the simple fact of playing shows, do you find yourself getting nostalgic for any other elements of the touring lifestyle?

Johannes: Sorry, I didn't fully catch that question, if I miss…?

musclassia: Yeah; I mean, I haven't had the chance to do long tours, but I know a lot of it can be quite hard work. But is there a sense of with absence, the heart grows fonder with some aspects of it?

Johannes: I'm not… I love touring, but I can't stand touring for a long time. To be quite honest, being forced to cancel the summer tours was not all bad; we got a summer off that I could spend with my kids, going away every weekend. We toured quite heavily in the beginning, but we never toured longer than we need to, like 3 weeks, that's our limit. I don't want it to feel like another day in the office; I want every show to feel special. I see friends, I see their touring schedule and you see 6 to 8 weeks, and I think "how the hell do you manage?". I'm in awe of the people that manage to do it, but I wouldn't be able to keep the passion for what I do. It needs to be portioned out into smaller doses for me.

musclassia: That's fair enough. Your group in terms of members is probably larger than most; has it been easier to collectively work on Cult Of Luna material given that you've been forced to stay in Sweden, or has it not had a huge impact on your day-to-day interactions with the other bandmates?

Johannes: The biggest difference is that I have now moved back home after 15 years. [There's now the] core members now mostly living in the same city; we now have only two guys, of which only one is a creative motor, that aren't. So it's unfortunate that he can't practice with us, but… the biggest difference is that we can practice less, shorter time periods, but more often. Before that, when I lived in Stockholm, we met up for a weekend and practiced and wrote for 12 hours. It's not productive after 3 hours, you just get bored and tired, and want to stop practicing. Now, we can practice for 2 hours, everyone go home, and we meet a couple of days after, so that's the biggest difference.

[A brief exchange about ending the interview and arranging the next one]

musclassia: I guess we've got time for like one more question. One thing I noticed from the new album is the song that you've got with Mark Lanegan runs at 3 minutes, which is somewhat contrary to a lot of your material. Do you find that there's certain challenges that come with these shorter songs compared with the huge epics that you're more renowned for?

Johannes: It might sound weird but I don't think a song should be longer than it needs to be, and this song ended up 3 and a half minutes. It actually has nothing to do with the fact that Mark did the vocals on it, because this song was already written before we ever sent it to him. That was just how long it ended up. It felt good, it was finished. I don't write long songs for the sake of it, it's just the form of communication that we use, that we usually need a long time; it's just the kind of music that I write. Even, you mentioned one of my projects, Riwen, which is a hardcore punk band, and I tried the best that I could to write a song that was less than 2 minutes long, and I can't remember if I managed, but even fast hardcore punk stuff, I wasn't able to do it. I just write songs in a way that makes them drag out forever; I can't not be the person that I am.

musclassia: I can definitely empathize, all the music that I write runs on way too long…

Johannes: It's not too long if it's long enough.

musclassia: Okay, this has been awesome, thank you for doing this. I've got one last very quick question that the guy that would have done this would have asked you, that he wants me to ask. Do you have a favorite David Lynch film?

Johannes: I would say… actually I don't think they are all good, but I was very into him a couple of years ago. I really like, I'll probably say Mulholland Drive. But, I enjoyed Inland Empire a lot. It was such a long time ago; you asked for one and I said two. The first one that popped up was probably Lost Highway, but yeah. They all have different qualities… Inland Empire, I don't know if you have seen it?

musclassia: I'll be honest, I'm not hugely familiar with his stuff…

Johannes: You know what I did yesterday, I started watching his very unknown series Rabbits. I watched it again; it's like 6 episodes that spans over 40 minutes in total, so check that out. It's weird.

musclassia: Even by his standards?

Johannes: Yes, even by his standards, yes, it's really weird. Just watch a couple of minutes of it and you'll understand, because it kind of sets the tone of the whole series. You won't make any sense of it, but aesthetically it's very… just put it on in the background and… I don't think it's a good idea to fall asleep to it, but try to do it.

musclassia: Cheers, I'll keep it in mind.

Johannes: Okay, I need to go talk to the next guy. Nice talking to you.

musclassia: Nice talking to you, have a good evening!

Johannes: Have a good evening!


 



Posted on 17.01.2021 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments

Comments: 8   Visited by: 133 users
17.01.2021 - 15:09
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
I hope SSUS reads it for the last question.
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Jusqu'ici, tout va bien...

2021 goodies
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17.01.2021 - 15:10
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Also big congrats for your first interview
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Jusqu'ici, tout va bien...

2021 goodies
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17.01.2021 - 17:38
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
It was very considerate of you to ask Radu's question for him. I already have Inland Empire and Mulholland Drive on my watchlist, but I guess I'll have to add Rabbits as well.

Also, yes, congratulations on your first interview, and not only that but filling in at the last minute. You deserve a raise. You're not getting one, but you deserve it.
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"Earth is small and I hate it" - Lum Invader

I'm the Agent of Steel.
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22.01.2021 - 10:29
Cynic Metalhead
Nasha Vich Paisa
Congratulations, musclassia. It was a great debut.
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22.01.2021 - 20:34
nikarg
Mod
I finally found time to read this. Congrats on your first one!

I am so looking forward to listening to that song with Mark Lanegan.
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22.01.2021 - 21:49
musclassia
Written by nikarg on 22.01.2021 at 20:34

I am so looking forward to listening to that song with Mark Lanegan.


It's a good un, simple but effective
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26.01.2021 - 18:27
Kuroboshi
This was awesome, great interview!! Johannes seems like a nice bloke. Look forward to their coming EP, and to more interviews by this new rising star.
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26.01.2021 - 18:43
musclassia
Written by Kuroboshi on 26.01.2021 at 18:27

This was awesome, great interview!! Johannes seems like a nice bloke. Look forward to their coming EP, and to more interviews by this new rising star.


Thankfully I'd already spoken with him briefly at Roadburn 2016 (which has remained my Whatsapp pic since) so I wasn't too scared of talking to him, but yeah he's a good person to chat to. I'm sure you'll really dig the EP, especially since you enjoyed the first song so much. As for more interviews, probably a short list of people I'd be interested in talking to, but I'm less averse to the idea now having done this one.
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