Twenty-three years later, in 2009, Tobias realised he hadn’t made much headway in heeding this call. He’d been in bands from a young age, from death metallers Repugnant to alt-rockers Magna Carta Cartel. The latter featured Martin Persner and Simon Söderberg, who’d later appear as Nameless Ghouls in the first incarnation of Ghost. Söderberg, along with some other ex-ghouls, is now embroiled in an on-going lawsuit with Tobias over what they suggest are the rightful shares of profits they’re owed from their time in the band. Tobias doesn’t volunteer any information on this topic today, which is perhaps understandable given the considerable column inches already dedicated to it.
Regardless, none of those early bands provided Tobias with the success he needed to, say, quit the day job. He had then been working in a call centre, aiding people having trouble with their mobile phones. Despite spending his childhood endlessly sketching elaborate stage designs and lighting rigs, he still has little interest in technology, particularly mobile phones. Back in 2009 his personal life was happy and satisfying, having welcomed children with his then-girlfriend – now wife – though this potent reminder of the finite time we have drew his attention to the area of his life he recognised as falling short.
“I had an epiphany,” he explains, raising his hands as if sizing up an imaginary canvas. “I found myself very far from the path, so decided in the limited time I have to invest everything in the one thing out of all my [professional] options I believed most in, which was Ghost. I understood wholeheartedly what it was, the music and the image, and felt I could do it without my vanity coming in, because I didn’t like how I looked in pictures or the sound of my own voice. But this would be fiction, so that was fucking cool. So I took all of my eggs and put them in one basket and was back on track. For the first time in my fucking life I was really focused.”
For evidence of the dividends this paid, you need only look at the fact that just a year later, with the release of their 2010 debut album Opus Eponymous, Ghost exploded on to the scene, taking the first step to becoming metal’s hottest new hope.
Further proof of this focus comes today from interviewing Tobias somewhere there’s a screen showing news channel CNN. We’re in the band’s pre-show warm-up space, which is decked out with guitars, keyboards and an electric drum kit he removes the stool from to sit in the centre of the room. He admits if he were in a hotel room now, he could easily watch CNN for 24 hours straight. He doesn’t so much as turn his head to look at it now, though, giving his full attention to the interview at hand.
Even at 38, an age he says his kids consider “as old as shit”, he remains remarkably boyish looking. His dark and piercing eyes, however, belong to an older soul – and it may be Kerrang!’s imagination – but they appear to moisten at several points during this hour-long chat, particularly when connecting the dots between his past ambition and what he’s achieved today.
“I’m trying to recreate a lot of things that aren’t necessarily real,” he says mysteriously. “In my head they’re real, and I’ve been given this fantastic carte blanche where I don’t have to sit in a fucking call centre anymore and am applauded for getting to be someone else. It’s perfect for someone like me who has a fundamental problem with functioning normally in society. If it wasn’t for the fact I was doing this, I would be completely useless.”