Active for the better part of two decades, Cult of Luna are one of Sweden’s best-loved post rock/hardcore/sludge treasures. Having just released a collaborative album, ‘Mariner’, with the formidable Julie Christmas, it’s currently all systems go for the six-piece as they are in the midst of a European tour for a 10-year anniversary of ‘Somewhere Along The Highway’. Three hours before they are due on stage for the third date in an 11 city strong tour, we grabbed Johannes Persson (guitar/vocals) for a chat about album leaks, taking a break from live performances and having the will not to fold when someone tries to compromise your artistic vision.
Of all the albums you have, why did you decide upon ‘Somewhere Along the Highway’ to play in full?
Johannes: Our agent came up with the idea and, fittingly enough, it was the 10-year anniversary. To be honest, I’m not a fan of that kind of a thing from an artist’s perspective, but from a fan perspective I really, really like it. Like, imagine if Radiohead were to play ‘OK Computer’, I would be really, really excited to see it. Our agent convinced us to do it, and I’m happy that he did because I’m enjoying playing the songs and it forced us to go back and relearn a lot of the songs, and see what we were doing 10 years ago. Some of it surprises me; you can really see what we were different people when we wrote those songs. If were to have written ‘Somewhere Along the Highway’ now, it would sound completely different.
It seems like an odd choice, considering ‘Mariner’ has just come out – will you be playing any of that material on this tour (minus Julie’s vocals, obviously)?
Johannes: No, it’s a non-touring album. That was the deal from the start; we’re not gonna play any songs without her. That’s how it all got started; we said “no touring, only recording”.
Do you think you’ll ever play any of your earlier works in full – ‘Salvation’ or ‘The Beyond’, for instance?
Johannes: Something that life has taught me is ‘never say never’. However, it’s very unlikely – maybe for a 30-year anniversary or something like that.
You recently posted on Facebook about a person close to the band leaking ‘Mariner’ early – what do you think their motivation for doing this was?
Johannes: That was the big question for me. I have no idea. That’s something I can’t get my head around. I understand and sympathise with the people downloading it, because they like the band and really wanna hear our music, so I don’t have any issue with that. What I don’t understand is if you have an album that you like, and you have it before everybody else, why you would need to share it. I could maybe understand if this person was making money off it, but I just can’t get my head around it, especially as it was somebody who works in a place that makes money from record sales. I hope that person has worked his last day. Let’s just say, I’m assuming it’s a “him” – I’d bet my money it is.
Do you think it affected the buzz surrounding it at all?
Johannes: I don’t care. I don’t think of it in those terms. It’s more about the lack of respect of the artist’s integrity. You’re free to write music yourself and upload it to Youtube, so why not just do that? Leave what we do alone and let us decide in what format and how and when it’s going to be released.
There was a site run by a “journalist” recently who was illegally uploading material he was sent to review and allowing people to download it before its release date. He leaked Conan’s ‘Revengeance’ the day before it was supposed to be released…
Johannes: Oh, that’s nice! I’m all for naming and shaming. If that sort of person does that once and you make it public then I don’t think that person is gonna be getting anymore records to review. Name, shame and ban hammer them!
What was Julie like to work with? Were there any particular high points and/or struggles while writing and recording this album?
Johannes: When we first wrote the songs, we didn’t do them with her vocals in mind. We talked with Julie for a couple of months before we ever even sent stuff over to her. When she came back to us, after we’d sent them over, and wanted to change some parts of the songs, my initial feeling was ‘maybe this wasn’t such a good idea to bring another wheel into this’. It had never crossed my mind that there would be creative conflicts. But that was just an initial scare and when it actually came down to it, there were no real creative conflicts at all. She had some ideas that we actually implemented and others that we didn’t agree with, so we didn’t do, some we took and we changed slightly. It was really no different to when we write ourselves; some ideas we use, some ideas we don’t use and some ideas we change. All in all, she was quite easy to work with. I think it took a while for her to get into the mindset of our writing, but when we met her for the first time last Fall, when we played in New York, afterwards she was kind of like “okay, now I understand what you’re about. Let’s get to work.” I think her being able to see us play live helped a lot.
You have a unique ability to never make two albums that sound alike – what is it that inspires you to constantly evolve your sound? What do you put into the music to ensure you don’t stray too far from the Cult of Luna dynamic?
Johannes: That’s something that comes naturally; we don’t really think that much about it. What we sound like is a result of what each individual member is bringing to the table. We try to keep a momentum; I think you really limit your creative output if you sit down and think ‘okay, so this is how we want to sound’. Whenever you write music, or do anything creatively, it’s very abstract and what might mean one thing to one person means another to someone else. When we write we all like to make sure we’re on the same level in terms of what we want and it forces us to make decisions that we wouldn’t otherwise make. I hope, and I think, that we haven’t written the same album more than once. However, people that listen to it might think so. But that’s not important, what’s important is that we feel we’ve at least tried to do something new.
How do you feel about the ‘NeurIsis’ label that people sometimes place upon you?
Johannes: I don’t care.
You guys have been around for well over a decade now, what’s been the highlight of your career?
Johannes: Well over a decade now, almost two! Right now? Just being able to still play, have fun and hang out with my friends. Just because we play bigger venues and stuff now that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more fun; it’s always been fun, it’s always been motivating to do new stuff or else we wouldn’t continue to do it. This band has been around for so long and we’ve been able to cope with changes within the band, our personal lives and all of that. It’s just a natural part of all of our lives.
What are your ambitions for Cult of Luna overall?
Johannes: I was very close to saying ‘have fun’ but it’s not so much about that, we just want to creatively do new stuff, wherever that may take us. We’re definitely not gonna play live as much as we used to, and that’s basically it. Cult of Luna is not our career and that was a conscious decision for all of us. As long as the passion is there then we will continue to do our stuff.
Any final words?
Johannes: Oh, wow, no! Haha. I can speak for ages when you ask me questions, don’t put me on the spot! Just thank you so much for doing this interview.
(Interview by Angela Davey)