Published on February 12th, 2017 | by Gareth Allen0
Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas Interview
Interview by Gareth Allen and Lewis Allen
Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas released in 2016 the ‘Mariner’ album, which broke new ground and pushed musical boundaries, to create a metal classic. The sonic intensity and beauty of Cult of Luna’s playing, married with Julie’s soaring and expressive vocal range, is simply stunning. It was an album never intended to be played live, and then wonderfully they decided to play a small number of concerts. One of these was at the Damnation Festival, where we were privileged to see a performance, which was both a musical and artistic triumph. Sonic Bandwagon was privileged to get the opportunity to talk with Johannes Persson and Julie Christmas, before they went on stage at Damnation. It was an interview where both artists generously shared their personal experience and feelings about playing play live, and the connection they have formed with each other. It was also an interview that had a playfulness and humour that made both Johannes and Julie a joy to talk with.
Sonic Bandwagon: How has the experience been of playing the songs from ‘Mariner’ live, given the original intention was purely to produce the album? An album which had to be completed over two continents.
Julie: It’s pretty amazing to play it live. To be able to play it at shows like this. Everyone on stage is absolutely pouring it out as soon as the music starts. Everybody in the band gets in to it until the very end. That’s lucky. The audience is responding in a way that just breaks my heart some days. It’s so amazing!
Sonic Bandwagon: Yes I think it surprised a few people that it was even going to get played live at all. Given getting the album done was a triumph enough with the separation (everyone laughs).
Johannes: That’s the sole reason we are here, the response to the album. That it pressured us to play it live would be the wrong wording, because it would imply we didn’t want to do it. It’s rather that it pushed us in the right direction, and we are really happy we did. The three shows we have done so far, have been really rewarding for us. We started off pretty good and then have got better and better every night. It’s become more and more enjoyable.
Sonic Bandwagon: ‘The Wreck of S.S. Needle’ we feel has to be one of the best songs produced by any metal artist this year. The blending of electronics and metal,
with Julie’s voice, and the different musical sections and building intensity. It seems to give the music a classical feel in its composition and delivery. Can you tell us something of how it felt to put that song together?
Johannes: I’ll start off before handing over to Julie. I think that was the first song we sent to you. I’m pretty sure it was.
Julie: Was it (both laugh and smile)?
Johannes: Perhaps it was the first one we got back from you. I remember I was sitting in a taxi somewhere in Norway on our way to a festival, and listening to it on my phone.
Julie: So you must be right.
Johannes: I must be right.
Julie: He’s got to be right.
Johannes: My photographic memory doesn’t lie (everyone laughs). When we got it back, it had changed a bit. Because we just send drafts, not even demos. It totally made sense, the changes that had been made. They were good choices. In addition to Julie’s amazing vocals. If there is any song on this album that really displays Julie’s vocal range, it’s that song.
Julie: I think its the hardest one to do…(pauses)…no Cygnus is the hardest one!
Johannes: Next to Cygnus then?
Julie: Its the second hardest (both laugh).
Sonic Bandwagon: With music that is so immersive, we are really interested to know about the emotional connection you feel with the audience, who share the live experience of the music with you?
Julie: You’ll see that when we play I think. That is if we do what we came to do. You’ll be able to tell. I watch people in the audience, and I sing directly to them. I feel when we are performing that I am encasing the whole venue. That’s how I feel. The thing with playing with a band like Cult of Luna, is that they have a very strong following. So some people are coming in ready to be part of the experience, and I think with this collaboration there is also new territory. So there are some people resistant to change, and they need to see it. We need to prove ourselves. So some people are harder to win. But I feel when we come off the stage and everyone is sweaty, there has been an overwhelming response from people. It’s been like that every night and it’s lovely.
Johannes: It’s hard to say, as an emotional connection is your own feeling. It’s always subjective. I can only speak from my own point of view. It’s weird for me, as when I play I have the dualistic feeling of both being connected with the audience, and also feeling detached. Some shows I am not even aware that we are a band. It’s not in a negative way. It’s as close to meditation as its possible to get. The best shows are where I am there, but in a way I am not. But I try also to get eye contact with as many people as possible in the front.
Sonic Bandwagon: A real touching thing musicians and fans in the metal world will say, is how much they feel the music has a healing and unifying power. We would love to hear what impact metal has felt to have in your lives?
Julie: When you are making music like this, there are some parts of it that are exactly what you said. They are uplifting and emotional. But there is some dark shit that happens too when you are on stage. It’s very ripping and aggressive. All of that is part of it. Each night at a show like this, you go through all of these different emotions. It’s an exhaustive experience. It can be painful, but it’s a lucky one to be able to have.
Sonic Bandwagon: Clearly it involves giving so much of yourself.
Julie: Yes it does. You have to go through it. Otherwise you are not doing what you are supposed to do for the people who have travelled to come and see you. We wouldn’t do anything less!
Johannes: This is something I could talk for hours about. There are so many layers. I remember when I was a kid, the big song was by Twisted Sister. I was also into Kiss when I was young…Motley Crew as well. The first record I ever bought with my own hard earned money was Sepultura’s ‘Arise’. I couldn’t buy Metallica’s ‘Kill Em All’ as my Dad wouldn’t allow the cover, as it was too violent (everyone laughs). But I am very happy about it, as ‘Arise’ is way better. If you are going to play a certain genre of music, the best way of doing that is turning in from the outside. In this band I am pretty much the only person coming from metal. That’s so great because the other guys come in with different ideas I would never have thought of. That takes the music in directions that would not necessarily have been in my way of thinking. That’s a good way of attacking the writing process. If it weren’t for the black metal scene though, Cult of Luna would never have used the open minor chord!
Sonic Bandwagon: For each of you, what do you admire musically about each other?
Johannes: There are few vocalists that have the range that Julie has. The ferocity, the honesty…. you have heard her voice, and she has a voice that cannot be mistaken for anyone else.
Julie: For better or for worse (Julie laughs).
Sonic Bandwagon: Definitely for the better!
Julie: It is interesting that Johannes said the word honest. That was the first word that came to my mind to describe him. Johannes was the first person I met from the band and I wouldn’t be doing this project if it weren’t for that meeting, and our first interactions. The music certainly was there. That is something you can say about everyone in this band, that they are honest people, and I knew that with the music they make they take risks. If you listen to what is being playing in the dressing room right now, you think there might be a cloud of teenage girls in there. There is risk taking, as everyone brings and says exactly what they want. I knew that after meeting Johannes. I liked him instantly, and I knew that if there was going to be any interactions with the music, I knew that because of the person he is, that if we were going to disagree, or if there were going to be any things that needed to be worked out, it was going to all be on the table. There was nothing hidden. You (turning to Johannes) say what you mean, and that’s a rare thing. You have to be smart to be that way, as it frequently puts you in danger. I knew on a number of levels that this was the right project.
Sonic Bandwagon: A friend said to me, you have to ask this question.
Johannes: It’s always the friend (Johannes smiles).
Sonic Bandwagon: Genuinely.
Julie: Sure, can anybody else see them (Julie smiles and laughs)?
Sonic Bandwagon: So my friend, she suggested I should ask who phoned whom to suggest collaborating on the album, and how did the conversation go?
Julie: Ah the relationship…she likes a love story. I don’t know we missed each other…right.
Johannes: I don’t remember the first time we ever spoke on the phone. We probably spoke on Skype, maybe 3 or 4 times. At first it was just emailing back and forth for a long while, even before we talked.
Julie: We met, when they played New York with Kylesa. I love Laura Pleasants (vocalist and guitarist with Kylesa), and she’s a friend. So we went out, and that was our first actual meeting. In the beginning, and even with the ‘here’s the track’ messages, and those very first interactions. You could tell that there was a sense of humour and humanity. You could tell that.
Johannes: It’s hard to try to be funny in your second language though. There are so many things that can go horribly wrong (all laugh).
Sonic Bandwagon: Thank you, we have really enjoyed the interview. Really engaging and good answers, and fun as well.
With very special thanks to Christine Carlin for the final question.
Photograph by Lewis Allen.