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Interview: Arch Enemy’s Michael Amott Talks About Metal As A Universal Language

Posted by on July 11, 2011

It’s been four years since Arch Enemy released an album made up entirely of new material. Sure, The Root of All Evil, a collection of re-recordings of songs from the band’s first three albums, whetted our appetites a little, but still served more as a tease. However, it was well worth the wait as Arch Enemy’s eighth studio album, Khaos Legions, is not only one of their strongest releases yet, but arguably one of the best albums of the year so far.

With the album having been out since the beginning of June, Arch Enemy have been keeping themselves pretty busy, currently making the European festival rounds. Once finished with Europe, the band will be making their way to the States this fall on the North American Khaos 2011 tour with Devildriver, Skeletonwitch, and Chthonic. In the midst of their hectic schedule, guitarist and founding member Michael Amott took the time to talk with us about recording new music, the benefits and hardships of being self-managed, the high emotion that comes from performing in front of fans in a new country for the first time, and much more.

 

I don’t know if you remember this but I actually got to interview you before Arch Enemy’s show at The Palladium in Worcester, MA last year during the Tyranny Of Evil tour with Exodus.

Yeah I remember doing that interview.

So you’re stuck with me again [laughs].

Yeah ,well fuck, that’s ok [laughs]. We’re actually coming back to the Worcester Palladium [on the North American Khaos 2011 Tour]. I don’t know if you heard.

Yeah I did hear. It’s a really great line up.

Yeah I’m really excited about the tour. I think all the bands are really strong and it’s going to be a very cool, extreme metal evening [laughs].

How involved is Arch Enemy in actually choosing the lineups that you tour with?

We’re very involved. I mean, Angela, who sings in Arch Enemy, she manages the band as well for the past two years. So it’s very much in house. We’re very DIY. We’re very involved in every aspect of our career actually. We own our own recordings. We own our own merchandise and publishing, all those different aspects of the band and the business. When we put the tour together, it’s really important for us to have bands that we like and bands that we think our fans will enjoy, but still keep it kind of death metal. So yeah, we’re involved in it, to answer your question [laughs].

You mentioned about how you guys have been self-managed for a while now [since 2008]. Has the band ever thought about continuing the DIY spirit and actually releasing your own music in the future?

We thought about it. I mean, our record label deal is up now with Century Media Records. We had a licensing agreement, I should call it, with Century Media, who we’ve been working with for many years. We had a new deal with them in 2005, but actually this new album Khaos Legions was the last album with that deal. I don’t know what we’re going to do now moving forward. It’s kind of a different landscape out there now [laughs]. A lot of bands are trying those different models. We’re watching them closely to see how that works out for them.

Obviously one of the biggest benefits of being self-managed is having control over everything. What would you say, though, is one of the biggest difficulties?

Well it’s a lot more work. If you’re not prepared to work a lot more than you would like to then you probably shouldn’t do it. But I’ve always being a control freak anyway. I like to control every aspect as much as possible because at the end of the day they’re my ideas. They come out of my brain somehow and then I make them into songs with the other guys of course. I always like to see it all the way through. And  I never really liked any outside opinions [laughs].

So you don’t have to deal with the pesky label people telling you to do different things.

Yeah well luckily that’s never been- they can’t even do that. In the last ten years, nobody’s ever really said anything to us. Either they like what we do or they just don’t understand it but realize that we have a fan base who do like it. Whatever way, it’s worked out pretty good with Century Media so far actually. We have a long history with them and I can’t complain really.

So Khaos Legions has been out for a few weeks now. I’m sure you’re sick and tired of hearing this from everybody, but it’s probably one of my favorite albums of the year so far.

Oh really? Well I never get tired of hearing that [laughs].

Well good uh because it is! It’s just fantastic. Since the last time we spoke, though, you were touring behind The Root of All Evil, a collection of re-recordings of songs from the band’s first three albums. Does it feel rejuvenating at all to now be able to perform new music after so many years of performing old material?

Yeah I mean it was fun. We were really excited to get finally you know we scheduled in time for ourselves to really take a break and pretty much after we did that interview you know, we really started working more intensively on putting it all together. We had lots of musical ideas, lots of lyrical ideas, but we just started rehearsing on a more regular basis and really piecing everything together. It was a lot of fun I mean we missed that actually. We missed it a lot, the whole creative thing. Hopefully the next album won’t take as long to get together.

Please correct me if I’m wrong but I remember reading in a recent interview where you were saying how touring again with Carcass, as well as performing with Spiritual Beggars, actually helped you creatively approaching the new album. Can you explain a little bit further about how those side endeavors helped you produce this album?

Well just speaking more broad terms, anything I do with other people is going to have some kind of influence on me and sort of inspire me in some sort of way. Some things you do you think “well ok that’s not so cool. I’m not going to do it like that,” or some things you go like “wow this is awesome! I want to do something similar with Arch Enemy. Everything do I guess basically inspires me [laughs] in some sort of way, even subconsciously sometimes.

When you started both Arch Enemy and Spiritual Beggars, you had just came out of the success of Carcass. Were you ever afraid of being pigeon holed by your previous work and fans’ possible expectations?

No. I’m not really analytical in that way. I just come up with ideas and music. I just do what I want to do musically really. And then I sort of have to make it all fit together somehow and make sense. [laughs] I don’t really think too much about what people are going to expect. I just hope that people are going to dig it for what it is. I’m not really the type of person to sit around and worry about what people think. I could spend my whole rest of my life just googling my name and reading what people say about me, or what they think about me and my band and my music, what I should be doing or what I shouldn’t have done. It’s just, it’s too much. So I don’t really pay attention to it at all. And people say “did you read that awesome review of your new album?” and I say “yeah well I’ll check that out.” [laughs] Who doesn’t like to get nice reviews? But at the same time I don’t really take it to heart. I don’t let it get to my head. Yeah that’s awesome that we got a good review, but if I believe the good ones I’ve got to believe the bad ones as well. So I just try to keep pretty even. I don’t really get emotionally involved in my reviews or what people think about what I do [laughs].

It probably helps your sanity then.

Yeah. For me it’s enough to play the shows and have our fans there. We had 15,000 people on Saturday [June 25] singing along to “Nemesis,” and to me that’s the payoff.

Well with illegal downloading becoming even bigger than it has been ever, were you ever hesitant to even like release new music? Maybe not hesitant but like less enthusiastic about releasing new music?

No, not really because to be honest with you, I’ve never been an artist that sells a million records of one album really. I’ve never been a mega CD platinum selling artist and I never will because the music I’ve chosen to write ever since I started out has been either too extreme or not hip. Arch Enemy, we’re not extreme enough for the very deep underground you know but we’re also too extreme for the mainstream. We’re just kind of doing our thing in between those two extremes if you will, if that makes sense [laughs]. So we’re just happy doing what we do. We’ve got a lot of fans and making new music is big part of it. It’s something that we have to do. When you listen to our Arch Enemy, it’s quite obvious that we have to do new music because we just have it inside us and it’s gotta come out. It’s not contrived in any way really. It’s not premeditated. It’s nothing we sit and theorize about what we’re going to do, what could sell or anything like that. It’s just more what we’re really into as musicians. We make the music that we like to hear ourselves.

So yeah, making new music is a big part of that. Nowadays, the people that are growing up now especially are not accustomed to paying for intellectual property like music, film, books, whatever. People are just getting used to the idea, very comfortable with the idea of not paying for that [laughs]. So it’s hard to change that and you can’t reverse that. I think for us it’s still important to put out new music because we want to put out new music. But then I don’t know how it’s going to work out in the next few years in the future; how we’re going to put new music out, but we’ll always write new music.

I hate to think of a world without the full album format, but do you think that Arch Enemy might release only singles in the future? Or will Arch Enemy always be a full album band?

I don’t know. I could see…I don’t know, yeah. I mean, you’re seeing bands releasing digital singles and just releasing a couple of songs here and there.  I don’t know. I think our fans, our worldwide fan base, still enjoys to sink deep into a full new album and really getting into the whole concept, look and the feel of an album and the atmosphere of a record, like a chapter of the band. The way I see it is we’re going to keep on the same path, but I don’t know. We might release stuff in between. But I’d still like to make full albums if possible [laughs].

We talked about the band’s upcoming tour in the Fall, and currently the band is in Europe making festival appearances. However, I was a little surprised that you’re not going to be coming to North America until the Fall (with Khaos Legions currently in stores). Was that kind of in reaction to the current state of the economy in the States and just how it’s becoming a little bit harder to tour or were there just better opportunities in Europe?

I don’t know. We just decided to hit Europe right away when the new album came out. To be honest with you we don’t really make a lot of money while we tour in America. So it’s a lot more expensive for us to go to America with the visas and the costs. The start-up costs for us to tour in America are much bigger than to start up a tour in Europe. But America and Canada are still very important places for us to go and we have a tradition of coming over and touring on all our records. So we’d like to maintain that and keep that up.. But I think it’s not too bad. We’re starting in early September and the album came out in what, June?

[editor’s note: Khaos Legions had been released in the States three weeks prior to the time this interview took place.]

So it’s not that bad. But yeah, for us it’s really important to play Europe as well, especially the summer festivals. Basically, the summer festivals that we are doing now in Europe are paying us so that we can afford to go on stage in America [laughs].  So yeah, you’re going to have to wait a little bit, but it’s going to be fun. And on the positive side, we’re going to be very tight and in great shape by the time we hit American soil. We worked out all the little problems [laughs].

These festivals have seen Arch Enemy on the same bills as bands like Judas Priest and Whitesnake. Have there been any stand out moments from doing these festivals so far?

Yeah I mean, we’ve had a really good summer so far. We started out on something really bizarre. In May, we started out in Morocco, in Northern Africa. We played our first ever African show. It was really bizarre [laughs].

What was the fans’ reaction there?

The fan’s reaction was great. I mean their metal. That’s one thing I’ve learned because with Arch Enemy we play all over the world, all these crazy countries or from our boring Northern European perspective they’re quite crazy places. Being in Asia or South America or wherever like now in Africa. I’ve come to realize that metal fans are metals fans no matter where you are. They’ve just got that burning passion for this music and it’s really a universal language. So I guess metal fans can be kind of similar all over the world. They might look different. They might smell different [laughs]. I mean they might react differently, they might be a slight different variation in how they move around to the music and with the crowds, but to me we’re just one big universal family, at the risk of sounding like a hippie [laughs].

Well we might not necessarily do the same thing hippies do at concerts [laughs].

No, but I mean Northern Africa, the whole thing with the Morocco, was brilliant because we basically headlined a festival they have out there and they said it never rains. So they didn’t have anything covering the outside stages. I was on stage, there was no small roof, and it did rain. [laughs] It actually did rain! And they couldn’t believe it. So we had to cancel our show. The whole day bands were playing and then right before Arch Enemy was going to hit the stage it rained. But we actually had a late flight out the next night. So we actually rescheduled the show to the next day. That was really awesome because I think that otherwise [laughs] we could have had a riot on our hands.

It’s pretty interesting. Some newspapers, it [Morocco] being an Islam nation, the next day were saying that God didn’t want the show to happen and that’s why it rained. [laughs]

Did you actually get to meet any of the fans during that show? Because I must imagine since that was your first time ever actually being there it must have been really an emotional experience for fans.

Yeah wherever we go and it’s like the first time, I mean we played in Indonesia last year and Jakarta, the Philippines, some places in China, and people can’t believe that we actually make the effort to go there and play for them. So yeah it’s become quite emotional. But it’s emotional for us on stage as well because when you got the whole room basically singing every word and singing back the guitar melodies right back at you on stage, emotions run high all around. [laughs]

I bet! So obviously right now the focus is on Arch Enemy and the new album. Is there a chance, though, that Carcass could be touring again in the near future, or maybe even record new material? Or is Carcass pretty much on hold for good?

I don’t know. I say “never say never,” but I don’t know what they’re planning really. I mean, the main two guys are really Jeff Walker and Bill Steer, and I’ve always had Arch Enemy. I’ve had Arch Enemy for the past 15 years now as my main thing. It’s my baby and it’s my main band. I don’t really know what they’re planning right now. I think they’re kind of busy with their other projects. I actually met Bill last weekend at a festival, he was there playing for another band. But we didn’t actually discuss Carcass [laughs]. We talked about some other stuff.

In my mind, we took the Carcass reunion as far as we could. We were supposed to just do six shows in the summer of 2008 in Europe, but it turned into a lot more shows, like100 or 150 shows, all around the world.

But the time came last year when I really had to focus on making new Arch Enemy album. That’s uh what I had to do, and that’s what I’m doing right now. I mean, Arch Enemy stays very quite busy. We’re already booking next year. So 2012 is going to be a lot of Arch Enemy stuff, a lot of shows, and like I said before we kind of go everywhere. We’re not the kind of band that just goes to Europe and the US. We want to do that again because that’s become something that we really enjoy doing as well. So yeah, it’s time consuming of course, and I’d rather stay I’m rather stick to being focused on one band for the time being. But I always leave the door open for any other collaborations or the Carcass thing. If they ever want to do something, if they ever give me a call and want to do something I’ll obviously be happy to be try and be a part of something like that.  But yeah, not right now [laughs].

Well like you said, you’re definitely busy enough as it is. You mentioned that the band is already booking for 2012. Can you share anything that’s going to come up after the North American tour or is it still hush hush?

No I mean we have dates on our website already for November and December I think in Europe again. And we’re going into Japan or Asia in October, and stuff like that. So yeah, basically things like that.

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