Lucifer – Interview and Debut Album Stream
Lucifer, the given name of the devil before his fall, translates to “Morning Star.” As it happens, “Morning Star” is also the name of the sixth song on doom band Lucifer’s self-titled debut. We’re streaming that album below.
This will be most people’s first opportunity to hear both that song, but Lucifer vocalist Johanna Sadonis’ star has been ascending with remarkable speed. She’s landed on the cover of Decibel Magazine and secured a prime spot on one of this summer’s hottest package tours supporting Pallbearer and High on Fire (IO is proud to be presenting the 2 NYC shows), all without much of her music available. Sure, the Anubis single came out earlier this year, but Sadonis is still largely a mystery.
Here’s what I knew going into this interview: Sadonis can sing. That was evident on her debut album with now-defunct band The Oath, which was released last year shortly before that band dissolved. That album made enough of an impact to secure ex-Cathedral guitarist Gaz Jennings as her sideman, even though he’s still working with his own project, Death Penalty. Jennings has enough faith in the band that he’s committed to touring as well as being a studio member. Sadonis has that effect on people: after a half hour of speaking, she came across as a seasoned professional. It’s easy to feel confident about her.
You should be out celebrating the new record and drinking with friends. I’m sorry that I’m taking up all of your time.
No, no. It’s all good. I’m still recovering from a long party night. We played the night before yesterday with Pentagram in Berlin and we partied until six in the morning. The older you get, the longer it takes to recover.
I actually am noticing that. That’s a conversation that continues to come up in my life. Were you playing with Pentagram or were you just hanging out?
No, we were supporting them for one gig in Berlin.
How was it?
It was amazing; it was really cool. I mean, they are one of the influences for Lucifer and Bobby Liebling is a huge hero of mine. It was a really an honor to play with them, but also to get to know each other and hang out. He watched our show, which was amazing. I could see him from where I was singing. He was standing in the first row on my right, so I could see him the whole time. It was really cool.
I’m glad that he still watches the bands that support him. In his age, it’s got to be difficult to even muster that.
Yeah. I guess maybe he got curious because we had a conversation before. He thought I was just somebody’s girlfriend, hanging out backstage.
Then, he asked me to do his makeup. I said, “I’ll do it after my show. I’ll come up and do your makeup.” Then he said, “Wait: you play in a band? Do you play guitar?” I said, “No, I actually sing.” He said, “Oh, okay. I see.” I guess he got curious and ended up watching the whole show. That was fucking cool.
I have the “girlfriend” conversation often. So many musicians tell that exact same story with various different people. That can’t be the first time that’s happened to you.
No, no, no. It’s a sick, horrible word. In the metal scene, you run into a lot of this kind of stuff. It’s alright. You just have to take it with some humor, obviously.
I would hope that we would have gotten a bit more highly evolved sooner or later, but maybe not.
What, you guys?
Yeah, we men.
Yeah. We’ll, I’m surrounded by really cool people. But yeah. Growing up in the metal scene as a girl, especially back when I was a teenager and there were not as many women in the metal scene as I find nowadays, it was tough sometimes. You run into a lot of situations where you feel, as the girl, that you’re being talked down to. That changes over the years. You have to have some humor.
You’re definitely gaining a lot of name recognition. I’ve got a new Decibel Magazine. It came in the mail yesterday. I’m looking at it and you’re on the cover. It’s quite a feat to get on the cover of that magazine in America when your first record hasn’t even come out.
Yeah, I know. It’s even strange for me to see that. [It’s] very cool that they did that.
I imagine that a lot of people don’t know your songs, lyrics or melodies.
Maybe they don’t know the album yet. But, the album already came out in Germany last week. We released a video, as well, for one of the tracks. I guess it’s also because of some buzz that my former band, The Oath, had. There has been quite some attention from the press especially in Germany and so on. Berlin is my hometown and I’m very involved in the metal scene. But, it’s surprising how much attention the band is getting at such an early stage.
Why do you think that is?
I’m sure it has to do with the band that I had before. We’re also on a very good label; people watch out for what Rise Above is releasing. It’s also because we’ve been getting some really flattering reviews for the music, for the album. I’m a rather humble person so it’s a kind of odd question for me to answer. I hope it’s for the music.
There was definitely quite some buzz about The Oath when that record dropped. My experience with that was that I wasn’t familiar with anyone’s work beforehand. It sort of came out nowhere. By the time I sank my teeth into it, there was already the announcement that the band had split up. It teases people, in a way. You never even got to engage with it completely.
I know what you’re saying. That actually made some people suspect, when it happened, that this was some sort of PR stunt. But, it actually wasn’t. I’m aware that that created some sort of mystery especially because we haven’t been talking about details on why that actually happened. It was definitely was not a PR stunt, just an unfortunate situation.
I presume that you’re not going to give me any details.
No, unfortunately not. The whole The Oath thing was a very intense kind of relationship, you know? That worked very well musically and I’m very proud of the record we made. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out personally.
That happens too much.
I know, it’s really unfortunate with other examples, other bands, because I think people sometimes forget what they had. To throw that away for something maybe not so significant and important — if you have something great going for you, that’s unfortunate. But, in my case, it led to me sitting down and creating Lucifer. Now, as much as I loved The Oath, I am even more passionate about Lucifer. It is even more so my thing. It took a turn for the better, for me.
Lucifer’s a powerful name because it has social, religious and literary connotations. At the same time, it’s sort of an anonymous name. It’s not hard to conjure that name up out of our collective unconscious. Why that name?
I had this name from the beginning. I was thinking about it for a while, whether I should do it or not, because I’m aware it’s a very blunt move. [I knew] that people would say, “Who does she think she is, calling her band that?” If you look at Metal Archives, there are seven bands called Lucifer. I was actually surprised that there are only seven bands called Lucifer, because if you look up any other cliche word on Metal Archives, you will find tons and tons of bands. I thought, “The figure of Lucifer is so powerful and beautiful.” I associate the band with it. Lucifer was a very misunderstood misfit. I thought it was a very beautiful metaphor and it’s also a very catchy name. I thought it was great for that concept of having a heavily ’70s-influenced heavy rock band. For both reasons: the superficial one — it’s a killer name for a band — but also what Lucifer stands for. I thought it was very beautiful.
As a fan of this style of music, it has to be exciting working with Gaz Jennings.
Absolutely. I’ve been a Cathedral fan. He’s one of the greatest guitar players of this genre that I know. He’s so good. I’m thrilled to have him with it.
This was also sort of interesting. In America, right when The Oath record came out, he had his first band after Cathedral, Death Penalty. I think they were released almost on the same day.
They’re still around. They play a few shows here and there. They just played a few weeks ago in Germany. They also played Roadburn Festival, where we played with Lucifer, as well. No, they’re actually still around. They’re maybe not as full-time as we’re planning to be with Lucifer because they all have other bands, but they’re still going.
Is that why Gaz isn’t going to tour with Lucifer?
No, he actually will because it’s impossible to find such a guitar player that can pull off playing like him. Also, he’s fond of the record, just like me. I said, “Would you enjoy playing with us? I just got this American tour offer.” He said, “Yes, absolutely.” So, now he’s part of the live band, as well.
It seems like, in America — maybe this is a different in Europe because you have festivals like Roadburn that I think cater to doom — doom is hitting a fever pitch, right now. Everyday, there’s another doom band. In America, I think it’s the way black metal was five years ago.
Ah, I see. That’s interesting to hear. The black metal thing, for me, goes back to the ’90s more in Europe. The doom thing kind of has always been around. I thought it was the same in America, but you must know better — you’re the journalist.
The smartest thing a man can know is little he actually knows. That’s just the way things seem to me.
I guess it’s the same here. I hate the word stoner, but people use that a lot. We have all these festivals that focus a lot on doom or stoner bands. I find it an insult to say that word. I think it’s kind of an — what do you say in English? — abomination.
It can’t be that bad to be lumped into a movement even if it’s got such a shitty name.
No, absolutely not. It doesn’t matter for me what the name, label or whatever is. People say Lucifer are an occult rock band. For us it’s just about the music and what we want to play. The doom part is obviously very big in Lucifer, but there’s also the ’70s heavy rock influence that we put a lot of weight on. We hope we can catch a few different kinds of audiences with it.
It seems as though, at least in America, rock bands are signing on metal labels to get the album out.
I don’t know. In general, there’s this kind of revival or turning backwards to the roots. The thing is, with Lucifer, we don’t really look at other contemporary bands that are influenced by the ’70s stuff. We just do it because, for us, it’s a kind of natural evolution as musicians. We all have been around the block a few times. I’ve been listening to hard rock and heavy metal for more than 20 years. I had different phases, but the older I get, the more I listen to the old stuff. That is just because, as a musician, I realize that everything in the metal scene is kind of based on these originals. All these bands that have been around for 40 or even 50 years are just the best bands. They’re just so good. There’s a reason why they’re a root for this whole scene. If people are turning backwards and find their inspiration in this, I find that better than a lot of the horrible shit that came out in the ’90s or whatever. For us, we don’t really look around at other bands. We just look back into the past. That’s just because it’s a personal need. But, the thing is, we’re not trying to recreate that — we just try to channel it. We listen to all of that stuff and that is a big inspiration, but the goal is not that we sound like one of those bands. The goal is for us to just do what we think feels right. Obviously, it is a contemporary approach. We channel those influences into our own language.
The return to the roots and rock is good because it’s bringing songcraft back. I think a lot of extreme metal kind of left songcraft out. But, if we’re all looking to the past, how do we go forward from here?
What I can say about that is, it’s hard to reinvent the wheel in hard rock and heavy metal. It’s hard to do something new. What happened in the ’90s with production and so on was that people used click tracks and all these modern technologies that make music kind of plastic, soulless and empty. I think it’s great that people go back to the old recording techniques. Sometimes, it just makes it more organic. I think what is always important is that you don’t try to copy anything and that you find your own language and identity within it. I think it’s hard for any musician to create anything new. I mean, it’s all been done. That’s why I say, “These are influences.” But, you should not try to copy that. You should take it all in, then spit it out again in your own way and try to be some sort of unique. Just listen to your inner self and not so much to what other people want.
When you’re writing music and singing, do you have a goal in mind with your expression?
No, not really. I’m influenced by so many different things, bands, artists and genres. I’m not looking to imitate anybody. I’m taking in all these influences that mean something to me. I think I found my own voice and how it feels right for me to do it. It’s kind of more of a natural thing. I don’t think, “Oh, I want this to sound like so-and-so,” because I don’t want that.
Let me refine my question because that’s not exactly what I meant. When you’re singing or composing, what part of yourself are you expressing? Is it emotional, clinical or an expression some sort of spiritual feeling? What is it that you try to embody with your music?
For me, it’s very personal. All the lyrics are very personal. There’s a lot of spirituality, but the images, symbols and language that I use are also very often metaphors for something, like a key person in my life or a certain story that I went through. At that moment in time when I write a song, it’s something that I have to deal with emotionally. I find shelter in the song to deal with that story or whatever it was that I went through. I’m attached to each one of the songs. There’s absolutely nothing clinical. It’s all the opposite for me. Other people write a fucking diary or something, you know? I put these things into a song, elevate it away from everyday life and turn it into some sort of parallel universe for myself. It’s very personal.
You’re probably, on this tour, going to have — what, a half an hour slot? Have you organized that yet?
Good question. I think it will be half an hour. The show that we just had with Pentagram was only half an hour. We had to cut our set pretty short. Half an hour goes by really fast. It was really hard for us to filter it out. [We said,] “Okay, which songs do we squeeze into 30 minutes?” I was like, “I don’t want to cut this song out and I don’t want to cut this one out, either.” It was really hard, you know? You asked me before, “Which are my favorites on the album?” It’s like you have eight children. You have to leave three behind and run out of the burning house. 30 minutes is the minimum of what we’ll have.