Cult of Luna’s Johannes Persson explains the importance of storytelling over songwriting on The Downbeat Podcast

Posted by Ramon Gonzales in Series on February 12, 2021

The brilliant mind behind Cult of Luna explains how he values capturing a moment rather that making the perfect song in an interview that runs the gamut from workout regimens to religious zealotry to Southern California hardcore bands.

As the host of The Downbeat Podcast, drummer Craig Reynolds has most certainly made his love for the band Cult of Luna abundantly clear. He is known to, on occasion, wax poetic about the depth of the music in a way that is especially convincing. Given that, it was long overdue for Reynolds to welcome Johannes Persson for a chat. 

With the band’s recent release of their expansive, immersive EP in ‘The Raging River,’ connecting with Persson meant the opportunity to get some first-hand insight from the architect behind the band. So naturally, the conversation between the musicians began with a lengthy discussion about, weight lifting. 

Apart from their shared passion for music, both Reynolds and Persson found common ground with regards to personal fitness. It’s a part of being a touring musician that often goes undiscussed but the reality of maintaining health while living as a nomad for extended portions of the year is a vital part of being physically able to endure the rigors of the road. 

Persson discussed trying out different regimens to find the one that gave him the physical results he was aiming for. He also detailed that as a result of Covid, he switched up his daily routine to include the gym rather than the office, to ensure that the downtime forced by the pandemic was as physically  productive as possible. 

Reynolds and Persson also traded gym experiences while on tour. Persson would go onto explain that while on the road Cult of Luna ensure that each city they stop in has a gym. The musician shared that the addition to their touring routine has not only been good for the health of the band, but has allowed them to see the world from a different perspective – one gym at a time. 

Apparently Milan didn’t quite make the mark as being a great city though. 

Expanding on the notion of health and wellness, Persson and Reynolds dug into the topic of diet, but less about the reasons of health and more along the lines of being practical with regards to sustainability. Reynolds talked about the prevalence of what he called ‘Bacon culture’ particularly in the United States and how there is a bizarre correlation between masculinity and pork consumption. Both Persson and Reynolds arrived at the conclusion that a change has to happen and the stigma of going vegan or vegetarian is something that sadly stands in the way. 

“Religion has stopped humanity from reaching it’s full potential. Without a doubt.” With that emphatic statement, Persson shifted into a conversational tangent that managed to correlate atheism with veganism. Speaking to the piety that happens to be at the root of the two, Persson talked about how his convictions are his and he respects everyone else similarly. The issue he takes is when those convictions become a soapbox or justify being a piece of shit as a human being to further an agenda. 

Citing examples like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens as articulate atheists, albeit controversial humans, Persson and Reynolds dissected the dichotomy of agreeing with someone’s ideologically in parts, while disagreeing vehemently in others. The point seemed to support Persson’s original sentiment that he leaves people to make their own way. So long as they don’t get in his, there is no issue. A particular juicy nugget of wisdom that fruited from this portion of the conversation though was delivered when Persson said, “Be skeptical of anyone talking fast with conviction.”

At the midpoint of the conversation, Persson and Reynolds had explored weight-lifting, the sustainability of earth, religious zealotry, and constructed a sort of Venn diagram between deceptive people and conspiracy theorists. It was then time to get to the music. 

Reynolds started the transition by recounting having a house party while his parents were on holiday in 2006, right when Cult of Luna had released their Somewhere Along the Highway LP. Waking up to a thrashed house, Reynolds realized that someone left that particular Cult of Luna CD behind. Dejected and left to piece together a house that had been completed fucked from the night before, Reynolds put in the CD and had a sort of revelation. Confided that he had a bot of a cry over the magnificence of the album, Reynolds explained that from that moment on, he held an allegiance for the band. 

Existing on the fringe of an already very nuanced subculture, Cult of Luna has always had a had a tough time finding a category that best explained their sound. Reynolds took the opportunity to explain it by coining the term ‘progressive doom’ only to then change it yet again to “Christopher Nolan-core” to best convey the kind of multi-faceted dynamics that anchor their sound. Cult of Luna create chapters more than they write songs and to try to find an existing genre they fit into is impossible. This conversion only underscored that. 

What Persson did explain well his headspace when it comes to making music. Confiding that he prefers the kind of recording that captures a moment rather than making this concerted effort to build a perfect record, that sort of methodology is something that seems integral to the MO of the band. Persson detailed that he records something twice and whatever the result is, imperfections and all, are what make the cut. 

The duo would begin picking apart the details of Cult of Luna’s latest EP in The Raging River. One of the most interesting talking points from the release is the collaborative track with Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age. Persson would share that it was something the band had always wanted to do, the reality of seeing it all come to fruition was a bit surreal in the most rewarding sense of the word.

Persson also explained how he has evolved as a songwriter, particularly as his personal life has significantly changed his perspective of the world. Comparing the band’s earlier work to a jigsaw puzzle, with a pre-determined end result, Persson shares that the modern iteration of Cult of Luna now puts the pieces together toys to figure out what the finish result is after the fact. 

The release of The Raging River is particularly formative as it also begins the tenure of the band’s own Red Creek record lablel. Discussing the creation of the imprint in partnership with Metal Blade Records, Persson shared that the decision wasn’t made out of spite, but rather an avenue to remain as hands on and involved in the process of making and releasing records – in its entirety. With plans to eventually sign more artists and grow the label to be as expansive as the band that founded it, the first release in ‘The Raging River’ is a hell of an introduction. 

Of course it wouldn’t be a Downbeat Podcast without a wrap-up of influences that sit atop the scale for the artist in the hot seat. While Reynolds shared that his three remain Metallica, Meshuggah and Radiohead, Persson included Joy Division in his mix but then included a bit of a curveball with a Southern California hardcore band. The guitarist confided that a San Diego band by the name of Unbroken released an album in 1993 called Live. Love. Regret. remains very influential to him today. 

Leave it to mastermind behind Cult of Luna to throw an audience for loop – be it the recording or the podcast studio. 

Stream the entire conversion with Johannes Persson of Cult of Luna on The Downbeat Podcast below. 


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