There is an abundance of Heavy Metal bands these days whose success is built upon a ‘retro’ sound of traditional Hard Rock, Black Sabbath type influences. Very few of these approach the quality and authenticity on display in the international collective known as Lucifer. Boasting Nicke Andersson (Entombed, The Hellacopters) on drums, the band is truly elevated by the vibrant, captivating talent of Berlin, Germany native Johanna Sadonis. Her vocal talents and magnetic stage presence have steered her band into the heights on the strength of two full-length albums, 2015’s Lucifer I and the recently released, 2018’s Lucifer II.
Recently touring the United States with Spell and Sanhedrin, Cryptic Rock caught up with the hard-working singer for a chat about her music, her philosophy, and her no-nonsense approach to her art. Joining in on the discussion was the aforementioned Nicke Andersson, who in addition to playing the drums and sharing songwriting duties with Sadonis, is also her husband. The two of them proved to be very humble, open and honest individuals as well. Read further and rock on.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music for around 20 years at least?
Johanna Sadonis – Probably more than that. Since I was about 14, I guess.
Cryptic Rock – You have taken part in bands as varied as the Electro-pop of Informer all the way to participating in some Black Metal bands. Altogether, you have been involved in a lot of different things. What is it about Lucifer’s Doom-laden, Sabbath-style approach that attracts you as a songwriter and a vocalist compared with both heavier and poppier sounds?
Johanna Sadonis – Well, I guess you go through phases in your life. The Black Metal and Death Metal was when I was a teenager. The music that Lucifer often refers to, bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and ZZ Top, that was stuff my parents listened to, so that wasn’t cool to me when I was a teenager. It was like ‘Dad Rock’ for me back then. My brother was into Punk Rock, so for me, it had to be the harder Extreme Metal.
In L.A., I had this band Informer with my friend Rayshele Teige. She founded the Century Black imprint of Century Media Records. I actually knew her from the Black Metal scene. So we both had that background, then we had a phase where we would go out a lot and listen to bands like Ladytron and stuff like that. We thought that was fun, so we made one album together.
Cryptic Rock – That’s very interesting. Few people know that you made music of that nature.
Johanna Sadonis – That was a brief phase. Rock has been always been the thread throughout my life. The older I got, the deeper and farther backwards you go in time in the history of Rock. For me, that’s just classic. Hard Rock and Heavy Metal is where it’s at. I think that is where I stopped and where I wanna evolve. That’s what I’ve been doing the most. You know.
Cryptic Rock – It certainly is a style that your voice seems perfectly suited towards singing. The music on Lucifer II is a bit more upbeat, warmer, a little more concise than its predecessor. How challenging was it to write hook-laden songs like “California Sun,” “Dreamer,” and “Phoenix.”
Nicke Andersson – They sound accessible, but, it can’t be easy to write those kind of songs. Because I feel like it’s almost harder to write good hook-laden, ear candy songs than it is to write more complex stuff, otherwise everybody would do it. Is it more challenging?
Johanna Sadonis – That is true. That’s what I always think about AC/DC or the Ramones. Something that sounds so simple, but actually it’s so hard to make a hook. For me, it was very easy to do vocal melodies over music that Nicke had written. It left so much room for me, because he’s so used to writing for his own singing. That foundation, it just leaves a lot of space.
I didn’t have that on the first album so much with Gaz (ex-Cathedral). Because Gaz Jennings is so used to writing for people who just growl. So he can just go nuts with the riff. It doesn’t need to leave room for vocal melody. Sometimes it was kind of difficult. Because there’s already so many riffs piled up that are awesome. It doesn’t need another melody on top, you know? So no, working with Nicke Andersson on Lucifer II, that was like a walk in the park. “Dreamer” was the first song that we did.
Cryptic Rock – That’s really cool. “Dreamer” is a really great song. What is the creative process like inside the band? Does Nicke writes the music, or how do you come up with new material and how do you put it together?
Johanna Sadonis – First we talk about what direction to go. We talk a lot about music and listen to a lot of music. We hear something like, “Oh, we should have a song like this,” you know? Most cases, he (Andersson) comes with the music and then I sit down by myself and write the lyrics and the vocal melody over it. We have two cases where I gave him the vocal melody first and then he wrote the music around that. I’d just record the verses and chorus, then give it to him and then he sits down and he does the music around it. That was “Aton” and “Before the Sun.”
We’re gonna try to do more of that. That makes me do stuff I wouldn’t have done the other way. It’s really cool, because I have all these recordings on my phone. Sometimes I come up with something and I sing it on my phone, for example I did that with “Before the Sun.” I played it to Nicke when we were sitting on an airplane, just me singing into my phone.
Nicke Andersson – I almost had to force her to send this to me.
Johanna Sadonis – Yeah, I get so embarrassed.
Nicke Andersson – Just send it to me. (Laughs)
Johanna Sadonis – I’ve done this all my life. But I’ve never given my recordings to anyone. I’ve always sang over other people’s stuff. That was really cool for me, that finally I had an outlet for that.
Cryptic Rock – Did Linnéa Olsson (guitarist) write the music on the 2014 The Oath album?
Johanna Sadonis – Well, she wrote riffs and then I would do the same. Sit down and write the rest and do vocals and then we’d arrange it together. Actually, we were in the rehearsal room, and she’d be like, I have this riff, and we’d just jam it. Then I would do it on the spot. It was the same with Gaz. We would send stuff back and forth. So I just worked by myself. Then again, even with my husband Nicke here, we live together now. I still send him stuff and he sends me stuff, then I go to the studio, or another room.
Cryptic Rock – So you still need that isolation?
Johanna Sadonis – I want to be alone.
Cryptic Rock – That’s cool, and it’s working, what you guys are doing. What have your impressions been of touring the United States this time around?
Johanna Sadonis – Lucifer supported High on Fire around three, four years ago for a six week tour. This one has been rough because it’s been like back-to-back, every day. I’ve been a bit ill. The audience in America is so energetic. I love that. In Europe, you really often have people that stand like this. (crosses arms and adopts grim expression)
Cryptic Rock – It’s true, isn’t it?
Johanna Sadonis – Yeah. That’s hard when you don’t get so much back. Sometimes you’re giving your all in the song, and they’re just standing there, and you’re like “fuck this day.” Then you feel like an idiot monkey on stage. Then, in between songs, they applaud and you are left thinking okay, I guess they like it.
Nicke Andersson – I think if you only played America, that wouldn’t be so good. It’s good to have that confidence when playing at a reserved audience too. It makes you… you just learn to put out an equally good show. Even if you don’t get that from the audience.
Cryptic Rock – That’s a good point.
Johanna Sadonis – Even if they look bored, you have to think that they’re not bored. Eventually, they’ll come around. It’s extreme in Finland. We did this Finnish tour and they loved it, but you can’t see that. Their faces are stone faces. It’s completely, like a whole room full of poker faces. That’s difficult, you know? Then they come up to you and say, “I loved it.” Oh really? All right. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – You have indicated that your band name is not just ironic or tongue-in-cheek. Unlike, for example, the British band Satan. Highly respected band, but they’re not Satanic.
You guys are called Lucifer, and from the chorus on the song “Sabbath” from Lucifer I, “I will never bow, kneel, worship, pray,” to the rollicking tale of the Devil on the West Coast in “California Sun.” It’s clear what it’s about. Is there a deeper current of the occult that stems from your personal beliefs, or are the lyrics made to fit the mood of the songs?
Johanna Sadonis – No, no it’s not just for show. When I was 16, I worked at this occult bookstore in Berlin. That’s when I got into those kind of things. Yeah, there’s a deeper interest in that. But I guess on the first album it may be a little bit more serious, while I thought on the second album, I wanted to ease it up a little bit. I also love Rock-n-Roll and fun.
I also like the Devil as The Rolling Stones see the Devil in “Sympathy for the Devil.” So, the devil has many faces. I didn’t want Lucifer to be only dead serious. It should be a fun Rock and Roll band. I think that’s good for me now. Everything else is personal.
Cryptic Rock – That is a smart choice; there’s enough seriousness and the world is so heavy. It is nice to see a more honest approach. So how did you get started as a vocalist? What were some of the singers and songwriters that inspired you in the beginning, and what first grabbed you?
Johanna Sadonis – The very earliest memories I have was my mom giving me 1950s Rock-n-Roll tape compilations with Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and, I loved the Shangri-Las song “Leader of the Pack.” For some reason, the message in that song, and those girl voices, I thought was so creepy and haunting. I think that maybe, that was the earliest time for me, what I’m drawn to.
Then there was a phase when I was 7 years old or so, where I liked Madonna. Then my favorite Madonna video was “Like a Prayer,” where she’s dancing in front of the burning crosses, so there you go.
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) You were headed for extreme music even then.
Johanna Sadonis – (Laughs) Then, when I was 13, that’s when I started going to Metal shows. My first show was Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, and Danzig. That was around ’92 or ’93. A variety of other bands, of course. I mean, there’s been many over the years that that I find inspiring. I can go from Patti Smith to Ozzy Osbourne. Grace Slick to the Shocking Blue. There’s so many cool ones out there. I like character voices. I don’t like too perfect… I like fucked up voices. Sincere voices, yeah.
Cryptic Rock – Interesting. Some of the most beloved voices in music, they’re probably not perfect but they make it work. Like Axl Rose and Dave Mustaine. Dave Mustaine has such a weird voice.
Johanna Sadonis – Right. It’s like the tone and the sincerity.
Cryptic Rock – Well, you seem to have both, so that’s good. You had a dalliance in Pop music, albeit not quite Top-40 type Pop music. Are you aware of the artist Myrkur, from Denmark? Amalie Bruun?
Nicke Andersson – Yes, yes. She’s very popular. It’s like Metal riffs, but she sings like folky music.
Cryptic Rock – She gets all kinds of shit because she came from a Pop world. Do you think that she gets more shit because she’s a woman?
Johanna Sadonis – Yeah. Totally. I’ve never met her, but I’ve met many other female singers from the scene. I always have these conversations with those girls. We’ve all had those experiences. We live in a modern world, but unfortunately, some people don’t even realize that they still cater towards sexism. Even women. Because it’s so deep in our behavior systems. I think about all the shit I used to take, or remarks, growing up in the ’90s and so on. I mean, now I’m pretty outspoken, so I won’t take shit anymore but sometimes, I’m just baffled, you know?
I’m fortunate to be surrounded by really good people. I know that living in Sweden… Swedes are so modern with it. Even there, you know you still find that there’s some bad thinking. We still have a long way to go. You have to have a little bit of a thick skin, humor, and you have to take no shit. Even now, it gets to me. I mean, I sometimes see comments, you know?
When it’s not about the music, when it gets about looks or shallow stuff. Shallow stuff that has nothing to do with the corpus of work. Or a headline with like, the blonde Johanna Sadonis… it doesn’t say the redhead Dave Mustaine, you know? Then there is this whole thing, the female-fronted tag. Or promoters sometimes try to book us together with other bands just because they have girls.
Nicke Andersson – That I find really weird. There’s always 4 guys and a girl. That has nothing to do with the genre. It’s just the makeup of the band.
Johanna Sadonis – This interview a couple of days ago, where somebody compared our music to The Genitorturers. I mean, it’s pretty obvious why. (Two blonde haired female lead singers) That’s like comparing Garbage to Megadeth just because they both have red hair.
Cryptic Rock – Exactly. That’s pretty poor judgment.
Johanna Sadonis – Have you listened to their music?
Cryptic Rock – Yes. They are a somewhat Industrial sleaze Rock band whose music centers around the world of BDSM.
Johanna Sadonis – I never heard Genitorturers. We had to look up the song on YouTube. We listened to the music and its like, “uh, no.” We should not be compared because the music is so different.
Cryptic Rock – So you’re not going to be spanking or punishing anybody on stage today? Maybe your husband Nicke?
Johanna Sadonis – (Laughs) Only Alex, if he doesn’t play right. (referring to Alexander Mayr, bass guitarist)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Last question. Cryptic Rock also covers Horror films. So, to that end, do you enjoy Horror films, and if so, what are some of your favorites?
Johanna Sadonis – My favorite Horror film is Rosemary’s Baby (1968). I also love zombie or mutilation films. That or the sadder Horror that Hitchcock had. Psychological. I don’t like this modern kind of Horror, where the plot is to simply torture people so much. I find that to be unbearable to watch. I don’t get it. Like that movie Saw (2004). I can’t stand that shit. It’s just all the same. It’s like they go in the room, and then, like, one after the other they get killed. This must be for people who are completely numb to feeling, that need that kind of thrill.