Interview with Johannes Persson from Cult Of Luna: Passing Through

We all had dreams when we were 19; ideas we hoped to follow through with. Johannes Persson’s dream was to make music for a living. He started the post-metal band Cult Of Luna in 1998. Now 34, he has a long and impressive list of accomplishments to look back on from the group’s 15-year history. This list contains eight releases, including an audio book and live DVD. They released Vertikal back in January of this year, and are now unleashing the final chapter to the story, Vertikal II.

On the heels of their EP release, they will be co-headlining a North American tour with Katatonia, Intronaut and TesseracT. I had the opportunity to chat with Persson, the band’s singer/guitarist, and we discussed their activity this past year, Vertikal and Vertikal II, Tom Waits, acoustic sessions, and their return to U.S. soil after eight years away. Check out what Johannes had to say below:

I wanted to discuss the closing of the Vertikal storyline with Vertikal II. From what I understand, the songs were all recorded during the same sessions?

Yes. They were a part of the whole writing experience and the same sessions. We wanted these tracks to be released near the album date so it would complete the whole project.

Were they always intended to be a separate release?

When we started to discuss how we were going to release these tracks, we were talking of initially doing a double album. We had a good mix of songs and would need to start over again to try to get them all to fit the same mood. Justin [Broadrick’s] remix, of course, actually came much, much later. I’m not that big of a fan of remixes, but I think Justin took that track and made something completely different. You can still hear Vertikal in it, and I absolutely love it.

I was actually going to ask you, how did that remix come about?

Like I said, I’m not a big fan of remixes, so it wasn’t from our side. It was actually the record label and we took a chance, which I am happy we did. They asked, “What song do you want him to do?” and I said “Vicarious Redemption.” I wanted to see what he could do with a 20-minute song (laughs). I think he made something very special. We are honored to have our music transformed in that beautiful way.

And I wanted to point out that in the past 10 years, you have released a number of full-lengths, with the addition of this EP. It’s really impressive with the amount of material you have put out in such a short time.

Over the past year, I have answered a lot of questions about why it took five years for Vertikal to be released. We were very active from 1998-2008. Between 2000 and 2008, we released five full-lengths and an EP.

It’s incredible. Something you don’t normally see nowadays.

Yeah, and I don’t even know how we managed to do it. It was quite a fast pace and couldn’t we have five years of rest after that? I think people need to understand it is very hard to write music. It’s hard to create something out of nothing. You write and you write, but you might only keep about one percent of it all. Cult Of Luna is a big project and since we are all living in different cities, we are more of a collective than a band.

Because you are all living in different cities, how does the songwriting process work? Do you all write separate pieces, come together, and hash it all out? Or do you guys meet in person and jam?

We tried once writing democratically, sitting and jamming, like that, and it didn’t really work out. We figured that we need somebody that has a vision and can show the way. When that person is able to fulfill their vision, then we can all start messing with it. I know everyone will make a stamp on whatever they do, and without exception, the song I end up bringing to the guys always comes out 20 times better than I thought. Everyone involved with this project is a small piece that forms the machine that is Cult Of Luna. With this last album, people really stepped up their game, and I never worried for one second that it wouldn’t be our best record.

I recently saw an acoustic performance of “Passing Through.” I was wondering if you could tell us where that idea came from and what the experience was like to shoot that video.

That was an experience, I can tell you (laughs). It was for a website called Off The Record. They tend to take the artists out of their usual stage and just put them in another situation, and they asked us if we could do an acoustic song. I wasn’t a big fan of the idea, but I said, “Okay, let’s do it, but I want to do it outside” (laughs).

Halfway through the first take, my fingers went numb. It was freezing cold and that was actually the wind and snow that you hear in the video; there were no sound effects. The snow fell so hard that the bell instrument was almost muted and you could barely hear it. It was a very interesting experience and people were waiting outside the venue, standing there and just watching us. I wish they were able to show those fans because it was kind of an intimate experience.

A few comments had fans asking about an acoustic sessions or unplugged record. Have you thought about either of those ideas?

The truthful answer to your question is no. But for me, Cult Of Luna is a lifetime experience. I would say the band now is more of the basic idea of what I had for the band when I was 19. The whole idea for a cult is that we would be more of an idea than an actual band. It is very abstract and hard to explain, but I think the whole concept of Cult Of Luna is more like an idea. We have done a lot of different stuff in the past; we released a book, we have everything in house, and we do our own layouts and recording. I think you can translate that into different styles of music and still keep the idea of what we are about.

One thing I kind of dislike is the path that a lot of heavy bands are taking. They are getting old, mature, and go soft. I kind of go in the opposite direction. A lot of the different music I like to listen to is very lo-fi. I’m also a huge Tom Waits fan, so who knows what could come out in the future.

This will be the first time in eight years that you guys will be touring the U.S. Is the tour prep any different for the U.S. than Europe, for example?

Yes, it’s horrible. It is the worst thing I have ever experienced in my entire life. I don’t know how many hours I am sitting down emailing back and forth. There’s just so many forms, oh man (laughs). I started playing punk rock not to fill out forms.

I want to perform and write music; that’s what I want to do. I highly regret us not taking on a manager a long time ago. We’ve done that ourselves for 15 years and now it is time where we can regret it. Doing the paperwork is the most boring thing you can ever imagine. Things keep getting messed up so I literally have a to-do list, which is very, very long.

That being said, do you guys have anything planned for after the U.S. leg of the tour?

Yes, we have everything planned I would say until the summer of 2014. Since nothing is official yet, I can’t really discuss anything about what is to come. It’s going to be a hectic time and then maybe a little break, but we will see what happens.

Is there anything you would like to tell the readers?

We are just so psyched to be back. We are actually going to have a bass player stand in from the band Kongh. Kongh are an amazing band that you need to check out. Their record, Sole Creation, is one of the best this year. It’s like a mix of Cult Of Luna and Mastodon. He’s never played our songs before either. Now that we are about a month away, we need to start rehearsing (laughs).

Cult Of Luna will play at Irving Plaza with Katatonia, TesseracT and Intronaut on Sept. 24. They will also play in Philadelphia at the Theatre Of Living Arts on Sept 25. Vertikal and Vertikal II are available now. For more information, go to