INTERVIEW WITH JOHANNA PLATOW-ANDERSSON
BY KEVIN STEWART-PANKO
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ESTER SEGARRA
Pop on your velour witch hat, pull them bell bottoms up, and see if that vintage Sabbath 1975 tour shirt is still floating around the back of your closet because Lucifer is back with its fourth record of retro-activated bouncy and booming stoner doom rock. Predictably titled Lucifer IV, it follows on the heels of Lucifer III, an album that was left dangling in the breeze as its release date coincided with the world shutting down in March 2020. Instead of crying into their beverages of choice, the band took advantage of the downtime, enforced as it was, to crank out another record of hazy and crazy, haunting and daunting rock ‘n’ roll equally indebted to horror and occult themes as well as all things analog (sounding) and nostalgia.
Lucifer IV is an album you can imagine being played at everything from a seance and a 70s key party to being featured prominently in Mark (Grand Funk Railroad) Farner’s record collection and as the centerpiece of a stoner film soundtrack. We spoke with Johanna Platow-Andersson about the importance of proximity, growing up in Germany, and how to say fuck you to the patriarchy without actually saying fuck you to the patriarchy.
Last time we spoke, it was around the time of the second album and you had just moved into a house with [guitarist/drummer] Nicke [Platow-Andersson].
It was in Sweden and it was probably the house we live in now. I’m originally from Germany and I moved to Sweden, and when I did that it was right after the second album. We bought a house together and that’s where we are.
And now everyone in the band is Swedish?
Yes, except me, and it was absolutely an easy transition to make. Around the time of the first album, the lineup was very international. We had people in the UK, Germany, and Sweden. That was logistically complicated and expensive, because if you have to fly to London to rehearse, that’s a nightmare for a small band, especially back then. Now, it’s really convenient, everyone’s in the same city, and we can rehearse once or twice a week. It’s awesome, way more practical, and it’s good to be closer because you automatically spend more time together and that’s what I think glued this lineup together. We are all private friends and we hang out together.
“IF YOU CAN’T DO ONE OF THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT THINGS FOR A MUSICIAN—TOURING AND RECORDING—YOU RECORD MORE.”
It appears that a noticeable number of bands are getting back to working more face-to-face. Is that something you’re seeing with fellow musicians and bands?
The good thing now is that one has the option. For example, during the pandemic we collaborated with other people. We did this Two Minutes to Late Night thing where we covered songs with people from all over the world, and before, that wouldn’t have been possible. We don’t really need it for songwriting. It’s funny between even Nicke and I because we live in the same house, but we still email each other ideas and work separately during the songwriting process. Other than that, it’s always better for the chemistry within the band to be together in one place. I’m friends with a lot of people who are professional musicians and session guys for huge bands and that works as well. One guy lives in Texas, another lives in Nashville, and they meet up for rehearsals and tours and that works for them. But I think that, especially throughout the pandemic when we weren’t able to see anybody, the only people who we were able to frequently see were our bandmates—that was good and kept us motivated. You’re not able to tour, so what do you do if you can’t do one of the two most important things for a musician—touring and recording—you record more. So, we focused on that and that kept us sane and gave us some sort of purpose. I’ve seen it go two ways throughout the pandemic. Either bands didn’t do what we did and they kind of got estranged, or a lot of bands were breaking up or people were really depressed because they had nothing to look forward to. And then there are the ones who got super creative and blasted out a bunch of new recordings or started new projects.
Lucifer III had the unfortunate distinction of being released when the world started shutting down. Wasn’t it one of the albums released closest to things just stopping?
Yeah, I think so. The third album came out on March 20th, 2020. I think a lot of bands were holding back their releases even though they were supposed to put them out because they knew they weren’t going to be able to promote it by going out and playing. Our booking agent asked me if we wanted to delay the release and I said no because we didn’t know how long this was going to go on. By the time an album is supposed to come out, for a band, it’s already an old thing because the recording has been done and there’s a bunch of time between the recording of an album and actually putting it out, especially nowadays with pressing plants having really long queues. We were ready to write the next album, so I wasn’t going to wait and clog up our artistic system or whatever. And I also thought that it would have been mean because we had already insinuated to our fan base that we were going to put out an album. Then to hold it back? The people are still there and the ones that care about it want to hear a new album. I didn’t see a point, and it actually paid off. Our record company told us afterwards that sales were better than the previous album, and the previous album was pretty good. Of course, even if people can’t go to shows, they’ll still buy records.
When you saw what was going on with the release date, was there an internal sense of doom within the band at first?
Yeah, of course. The whole time was dreadful. First of all, just to see what was going on with the world was frightening, but when it comes down to the consequences for us—not to be able to play live—it sucked. It takes a while until you become a good live band. It takes a lot of shows, and when you all of a sudden put a stop to that and can’t do it, it’s automatic that all these bands will get rusty. It doesn’t matter how much you rehearse because a live show is always a different story. I actually felt that recently because we played our first show in a year and a half here in Sweden, and it was fucking weird. It was great to hear and see other bands play and be in that atmosphere and hearing loud music. Just doing the sound check was a gift, and I used to hate doing sound check (laughs). But playing after so long, I must confess that it didn’t feel good to play the first show after one and a half years because I was stressed out about a variety of things. You have to get on a roll. I get that feeling when there are only two or three months between tours, and when you play it always takes one or two shows to get back on that roll. One and a half years is too long. But it’s funny because we have a European tour planned for November, which we’re still holding our breath about because we don’t know which countries are going to be open. The last time we toured we had two albums, and if this one happens we’ll have four albums and that gives us set list luxury and more material to play.
“IT DIDN’T FEEL GOOD TO PLAY THE FIRST SHOW AFTER ONE AND A HALF YEARS BECAUSE I WAS STRESSED OUT ABOUT A VARIETY OF THINGS. YOU HAVE TO GET ON A ROLL.”
As a professional musician, how did you fare financially during the pandemic?
Nicke and I both don’t have regular jobs. For him, he’s a full-time musician and all the other bands he’s in support his living, so he doesn’t have to worry. For me, luckily, I write 50 percent of the material for the band, that along with me running and managing the band and doing everything in-house saves a lot of money because we don’t have management. So, we’ve been able to stay afloat. The other guys in the band all have regular jobs. [Guitarist] Linus [Björklund] is a music teacher, [guitarist] Martin [Nordin] is a guitar teacher, and [bassist] Harald [Göthblad] works at a booze shop. They all actually upped their hours to make use of the spare time we had, because once we start touring again they’ll have to juggle things. I’ve been there too, having a full-time job, juggling the band, and being in a difficult situation to get the time off from work.
How soon after the third album did you start working on the fourth album?
It was pretty immediately. There are always ideas floating around and there wasn’t a lot of time in between because we were home. We had some other things, like singles and 7-inches we put out. The work never stops because we also have the luxury of having our own studio and being able to work a little bit here and there. It’s never like we have to book a block of time. It’s more like, “Oh, I feel like laying down some stuff now.”
Was there a point during the writing of Lucifer IV that you had an “A-ha!” moment, when it became clear that you were onto something?
Yeah, it’s always weird. I always think of it as some sort of puzzle where you have all these pieces and at first you only have a vague idea, and the more puzzle pieces you put together, the more it becomes some sort of creature and starts falling into place. But I think you don’t know that until you have half of the material done before it starts to properly shape up. It’s also funny and important to us that after doing demos for maybe five songs that you sit down and think, “Okay, what do I have now? What is this album lacking?” You want to keep all the ingredients that are important for Lucifer in there, so maybe you need to add a track that’s more metal or one that’s more doom or a ballad instead of having the same thing throughout. I think that’s my favorite part of the process of making albums.
“WE’RE NOT SO MUCH OF AN ANALYZING BAND AND WE NEVER HAVE CONCEPTS. IT’S A FREE-FLOWING THING AND THE CREATIVE PROCESS OF WRITING IS ACTUALLY QUITE SHORT.”
With all the time you had, and also not knowing how much time you were going to have, did that allow you to analyze your music more as you were creating it?
Actually, we’re not so much of an analyzing band and we never have concepts. It’s a free-flowing thing and the creative process of writing is actually quite short. But what is different on this album is that on the previous albums there were two songwriters, Nicke and me on II and III and Gas Jennings and me on the first one. This time, Linus, after some encouragement, stepped forward and brought four songs to the table and two of them made it onto the album, and he and I wrote together instead of Nicke and me. Those are “Crucifix” and “Nightmare.” “Crucifix” is our next single and that’s really funny because the other guys were holding back. It was never that we said to them, “No, this is just about Nicke and me.” The door was always open, but nobody stepped forward. We said to Linus, if you have something, bring it in and when he did it was like, “Wow, this sounds more Lucifer than Lucifer. We didn’t know you had that in you.” And that was really awesome. Also, Martin submitted that one short instrumental interlude, “Funeral Pyre,” but he also needed quite a bit of pushing to finally bring it to the table. “Mausoleum” is something I did, and me contributing a song completely on my own was also new. Actually, now it’s more of a group effort.
Given that you’ve had your own studio for a while now, have you figured out the balance between taking your time during recording and knowing when to draw the line?
Yeah, one thing I’ve learned from Nicke is to let things go and not overthink things. When I told you that the creative process is pretty brief, it’s actually the same with the recording. We don’t spend a lot of time fiddling around. Maybe later on when we’re mixing, then we’ll take a moment to step back and assess or listen with peers who also have studios to see what the right mix could be. Other than that, the recordings are pretty quick, and what I do love is that when I record vocals I can completely do the song on my own with nobody breathing down my neck. I just go over to the recording shed and do my thing on my own terms, in my own time, and I love that. I’d hate to go back to doing it with somebody else because then I’d be stressed out. It’s also a luxury to do it when you feel like doing it, or feeling like you could do a certain song. That’s something that Nicke encouraged because I used to spend a lot of time making vocal melodies and Nicke taught me to stop it and leave things alone.
You mentioned the song “Crucifix.” Speaking of which, what’s the story behind the album’s cover?
Yes, the cover (laughs). I have always had a fixation on crucifixes, but the symbolism of the cover in a nutshell is my way of saying, “Fuck you,” to the patriarchy. I don’t want this to be the main topic of Lucifer, but as a woman in music, I automatically have to deal with a lot of bullshit and it’s something that seems to happen to all the women I know who play in bands. All the women I know have to deal with it, but the ones who play in bands also have to deal with it within the industry and scene as well. Don’t get me wrong, of course, I’m surrounded by so many great guys and most people I know are very progressive and forward-thinking when it comes to that, but there are always some rotten eggs out there and I’ve had some pretty horrific sexist experiences throughout my life. I’m 42, so I’ve lived through a few decades of that and I’ve had it up to here. I’ve had situations with contracts where I’ve been belittled and talked down to with people trying to hinder me. I had the idea for the cover and it’s visually appealing to me. I made a sketch and had a carpenter friend build it for us. Sometimes as a woman in music you feel demonized, people will make up shit about you, and it feels like you have a target on your back when you put yourself in the spotlight or people don’t take you seriously. It sounds a little extreme, but it feels a little bit like a metaphorical witch burning. So, the cover plays with that idea, but in this case I put myself up there. It’s an image of defiance and of sticking my middle finger in the face of those who have done that to me. I’m here and I’m still putting out records.
So, you’re actually strapped up on the cross or was it done digitally?
No, no, it’s me and it’s awesome! It’s a proper wooden cross that was built. It’s easy to take apart and we could actually take it on tour if we wanted to.
“SOMETIMES AS A WOMAN IN MUSIC YOU FEEL DEMONIZED, PEOPLE WILL MAKE UP SHIT ABOUT YOU, AND IT FEELS LIKE YOU HAVE A TARGET ON YOUR BACK WHEN YOU PUT YOURSELF IN THE SPOTLIGHT”
As far as the existence of sexism and all the shit you’ve had to put up with in music, do you feel there’s been a shift and are things getting better?
I do, totally. There is a difference from when I was a teenage metal fan in the 90s, absolutely. Back then I was so young that I often accepted things to be that way. That’s how you grow up, thinking that stuff is normal until you start seeing and realizing it’s actually unfair. It feels like nowadays I’m more outspoken and I know how to handle situations like this better. I do think things have got better, generally, but I do think there’s a long way to go, in some countries more than others. It’s so deeply ingrained in some cultures that even women cater to it without knowing it, without realizing they’re doing it. It’s very strange.
Someone like yourself is bound to have a different view and experiences because you’ve been in bands, traveled, experienced more progressive and backwards countries and cultures.
Of course. A lot of traveling and experiences will open your eyes and broaden your horizons. That’s just how it is. I can say that Germany is moving as well and that Sweden is a little more progressive. I mean, take the word “woke,” most people in Germany don’t know what the hell it means (laughs). But it’s so fine-tuned because with social media and the world becoming more globalized that even though the progress might go at different paces, one will eventually drag the other one along regardless.
It also has to do with where you are in the world. I grew up in a big multi-cultural city and it wasn’t so much a weird thing that I was a black kid listening to metal as it was that I was listening to that crazy noise no one else understood.
(laughs) And isn’t that horrible? It does have a lot to do with big cities and countryside. I grew up in Berlin, and Berlin has always been very diverse, but still I was a teenager and the only metalhead at my school. The only other outsider was a punk kid. So, we’d hang out together because we were outsiders, but other than that we didn’t have anything in common. But then, I lived in LA, which is obviously also a big city, but on tour I’d see it when we’d drive through the bible belt or in Germany if you go to a small town, you get to see how closed minds are. There are so many components and it has to do with education, what your parents give you, and if people only watch FOX News, well, there you go. I actually saw this thing online where a woman was talking about how her cousin was in jail for 20 years and all they fed them was FOX News and now she has to reverse the brainwashing, convince him to get vaccinated, and all this other stuff.
If things get back to normal, are you going to go at things harder because the pandemic has revealed how fragile the music industry is, especially for touring bands?
We’ve already been going pretty hard at it before all this. I always have to leave Nicke a little bit of space for his other bands as well. I’m a fan of the Hellacopters, Entombed, and Death Breath, and all these bands have stuff coming down the pipeline, so in that case I’m happy to be the patient wife because I want to see new releases of these bands (laughs). I think we’ll keep at our steady pace and try to be a reliable source of rock ‘n’ roll. And because of my age, being a late bloomer when it comes to recording and making music professionally, because everything I’ve done since I was a teenager was in the underground, I want to get as many albums as I can under my belt before my number is up. That’s my motivation.