[Factory Worker Media spoke with Johanna Sadonis in Berlin via Skype, ahead of Lucifer’s North American tour.]
In the old forest where the Rhine bends its knee to greet a wild river tributary, a sprawling stone abbey stands atop a hill. Cloistered in the highest room of the tallest tower, a flaxen-haired woman sits at a small wooden writing table and gazes out a narrow window overlooking the valley below as she waits for divine inspiration to move her quill pen.
That woman is not Johanna Sadonis, vocalist and founder of doomy “magick rock” band Lucifer — but it would not be difficult to imagine the singer in the role of a visionary German scholar and abbess, had she been born 900 years ago – as Sadonis is something of a mystic herself. (Incidentally, the real-life abbess in question – Hildegard von Bingen – may or may not have had blonde hair like Sadonis, but she was similarly musical and wrote dozens of liturgical compositions, among other notable achievements.)
“If I see a band that I love and I’m passionate about, I want basically all of my senses to be taken away to a different, parallel universe, or a different sphere,” she says. “To feed all the senses is very important to me, I don’t want to have any detail disturb that trip into a different universe.”
After her critically acclaimed band The Oath folded suddenly last year, Sadonis bounced back with the idea for a new project inspired by classic 70s doom. She pitched it to Rise Above Records label head Lee Dorrian (better known as the former frontman to pioneering UK doom metal outfit Cathedral), who was supportive of the proposal and suggested his ex-bandmate Gary “Gaz” Jennings for guitar. Jennings agreed, and the pieces all fell quickly into place under the Lucifer banner.
Approximately translated as “light-bringer”, Lucifer is the name commonly attributed to the biblical angel second only to god, whose failed attempt to usurp the throne resulted in his banishment to the Christian underworld where he was thereafter known as Satan.
“People ask me, ‘Are you a Satanist?’ I think that is so simpleminded, so one dimensional,” says Sadonis. “How I mean the name Lucifer, I think it’s a very misunderstood figure. I associate a lot of beauty with what Lucifer represents and I wanted to take that into the lyrical and overall concept of [the band]. I thought it was very important to put more weight on all aspects and facets of the light of Lucifer.”
Sadonis embraces the symbolic complexity of the character with the same enthusiasm she shows for sanctity in general. “I do have a thing for holy things, holy houses. Actually I’m looking right now at an old church, my apartment in Berlin is facing one, for a reason – I was looking for a flat facing exactly the church. I used to walk by that church and think it was so beautiful, I wrote a lot of lyrics looking out onto that church. There is definitely an appeal towards flirting with the devil and that is a big part of it, like half of it, the spiritual aspect basically.”
The band commenced its maiden tour of North America last week in California and fan-captured videos of the Los Angeles show demonstrate Sadonis’ exalted stage presence: draped in black satin and adorned with gold jewelry, she sways and gesticulates with wide-eyed fervour like a high priestess entranced in a ritual invocation. Her creative process, she says, is similarly inspired. “You have an instinct as a musician, I guess you know when it just feels perfect, it perfectly makes sense for you in that moment. And that is the same when you work on a song together with the band, there’s a certain moment in time, you know you could work on forever on a song but there is a moment when you say that’s it now. You just instinctively know that it’s right.”
Arguably, visionaries make an art of intuition itself, honing their instinctive sense through deeply personal creative work which also guides them on their spiritual paths. Sadonis says that although music has been her principal focus since early adolescence, “I’m also a very visual person, so it’s not only the music but anything you see visually with Lucifer is kind of my brain child; the way the cover looks, the way the logo looks, everything that you see in the video, that’s – from the beginning with The Oath that was already the case; I made all the visual and conceptual ideas, they came from my brain – so it’s a whole, the music, lyrics, all the senses…It belongs altogether.”
On the song “Sabbath,” she sings, “Take me to the Sabbath, take me to church”, and it seems as if it wouldn’t matter which, so long as the experience is transcendent. The sentiment also reflects her passion for music: “I’ve surrounded myself with music for more than 20 years, and I’ve always connected – you know, even my day jobs were always related to music – because I’m always trying to find a way to exit normal life and live as close as I possibly can to music and art, to endure life.”
The sensitivity that creatives such as Sadonis possess often requires special consideration to facilitate their artistic practice without completely disrupting the routine aspects of daily life. “People always ask me what inspires me and I always say, well, it comes from within…the good things and the bad things are extra intense for me.” She says it is a challenge to translate that intensity for others to share through music. “First, it’s all like an emotional blur that I’m just overwhelmed with. I sit down with a song and I have to write lyrics for it – and I’m far away from being a great poet – so it is actually hard for me, because I’m blown away by a feeling that I have – I feel so limited by words! – it takes me quite some discipline to wrap this whole thing into words and music and so on.”
Living in the modern era, inundated as we are by communication technology, anyone with an introverted personality can be forgiven their need to occasionally retreat from the madding crowd. Sadonis says that the collaborative nature of songwriting with a band requires her to balance time for solitary reflection. “I always find it easier to take music home with me and sit down with it and then think about it, ponder for a while, just be completely alone and not distracted by anybody around me and not feeling under pressure – to give it room, to let things flow naturally out of me.”
Sadonis acknowledges that, when The Oath disbanded, she was conscious of pressure as a potential creative obstacle, but trusting her own creative vision helped her to overcome it. “You have to shut out the world and not make yourself a victim to that kind of pressure. I’d been aware of it but I think that’s something I would tell anybody – that’s just, try not to think too much what other people expect or want from you. Just follow your own lead and believe in it even if it’s not quite right or whatever, you can only do as good as you can and then you’ll see in the end if it has worked. Then you can open up your eyes again look around and see what the fuck you’ve just been doing.”
Lucifer plays Vancouver tomorrow at The Rickshaw Theatre, opening for High On Fire and Pallbearer (event info here.)