Interview: Michael Amott opens up about the next stage of Arch Enemy

Posted by on May 28, 2014

Arch Enemy dropped a bombshell earlier this year when singer Angela Gossow left the band after 13 years. But as important as she was to the band’s sound, they were already an established band when she joined in 2001. As you’ve already heard, the band’s replacement, former The Agonist vocalist Alissa White-Gluz has done a great job of taking over. With the band’s 10th album, War Eternal, dropping on June 10th, the band’s ready to usher in a new phase of their career. We caught up with band cofounder Michael Amott to talk about the lineup changes (this is also their first album with Nick Cordle), continuing to work with Gossow as their manager and his thoughts on the latest album by his former band Carcass.


War Eternal is definitely a new beginning.

It feels the same way to us. Last year was a very difficult year for us, we sort of saw everything disappear then we put it back together.


When did you know that Angela was not going to be in the band anymore?

Well in March of last year, I went to America for a couple of weeks in Virginia where our guitar player Nick lives, in his home studio and we worked really hard and focused on the new material. At that time Angela was still in the band, but she never worked on it. I don’t even know if she heard it. We had decided to take 2013 off from touring and it was on a different trip. I just kind of woke up and started doing new music. I sat around for 4 weeks on a beach in Mexico and then I was just like ‘I don’t want to have any more time off, this is driving me crazy.’ So I went back home, then went to America and started writing new music and putting an album together. Angela was still in the band in theory, but obviously that didn’t turn out to be the case.  What I did have when Alissa came into the picture was a 5 song demo that was instrumental. One of them was “War Eternal,” which you’ve heard and another one was “As the Pages Burn” which is the second single you’ve heard. So there was music but once Alissa came in we kind of re-arranged things and tweaked things and made everything fit her voice and her style.


About five songs were written with Angela in mind, were the remaining songs with Alissa’s voice in mind? Or were they just musically put together for her replacement to sing over?

It was kind of like once Alissa was in the band we wrote another couple songs and then the instrumental stuff as well of course was kicking around many parts of that already. Alissa actually wrote lyrics and vocal arrangements on five of the songs and I wrote lyrics and vocal arrangements for the other five so it was kind of a collaboration and even between those songs we gave each other suggestions and worked on it together.


Obviously to the metal community, it seemed like a very sudden change. How long did the auditions go? Were there even auditions? 

Yeah, we just saw this girl with blue hair walk by in Sweden and we were like ‘I wonder if she can sing’. (laughs) Wouldn’t that be great? No, there was obviously a moment when Angela told us “I am no longer in Arch Enemy. I’m quitting, I’m leaving, I’m stepping down.” Also in that conversation, Angela encouraged us to continue as a band. We said “that’s not so easy if you’re leaving. We’re without a lead singer and not only a lead singer but someone who is famous and iconic in the metal scene.” Its easier said than done, so to speak, that’s the expression, but in the conversation Angela suggested Alissa. She said “obviously I can’t pick your new singer for you, but I strongly suggest checking out Alissa because I think she’s got what it takes to do what I did and even go further both musically and through performance.”

So that came from Angela, but a lot of things were happening very very quickly. We came out of that meeting with a lot of thoughts in our head and a lot to think about, and we had another meeting, just myself, Charlie [aka Sharlee D’Angelo] the bass player and Daniel Erlandsson our drummer, the core of the band. We talked about whether we should move forward, should we change the name of the band, should we look for a new singer, should we stop Arch Enemy. At the end of that, we decided to contact Alissa to see if she was down for coming to Sweden to jam on the old stuff, collaborate a little on new ideas and go from there. Four weeks later, Alissa was in Sweden. It all happened very quickly, so there was really no time to consider anybody else. Like I said, we had a year off, so it wasn’t like we had this massive deadline. We thought Alissa seemed like a really good choice, it seemed promising on paper, but we thought we had time to bring her over and see what it would be actually like. She learned like twenty songs from our catalogue and we rehearsed those as a full band in Sweden and then we also collaborated on the songs we already had and put lyrics to those arrangements, and we went into a small studio and demoed vocals as well. By the time she left Sweden, we were like “I think we have the next chapter of Arch Enemy.”


Well, it sounds great from what I’ve heard.

Thank you. We put a lot into it.  We knew we couldn’t just write another Arch Enemy record, we couldn’t be on autopilot and put out something that sounds like the last album. It had to be something more, and I kept pushing everybody. I was the captain of the ship and I was like ‘I want more. I don’t know what it is, but it needs more of everything.’ We worked really hard on the arrangements, making everything of a really high standard quality guitar parts and melodies and everything. I have nothing left now (laughs).


Were you familiar at all with Alissa or The Agonist beforehand?

Absolutely, yes. I was a fan of her voice and I knew of her as a  strong performer and she was a friend of Angela’s. So Angela emailed me and Daniel like ‘hey check out Alissa.’ I guess Angela was already in 2012 getting us to check out Alyssa a little bit (laughs), but I didn’t have that in mind then. I wasn’t super familiar with her catalog with her former band, but I definitely knew she was a really good singer and that she could do a lot of different styles. I met her backstage a few times at Arch Enemy shows in Montreal, but when she came over to Sweden, it was like getting to know her from scratch almost. Although we knew her a little bit, we clicked creatively. When you get in a room and you’re like ‘alright lets work on this song,’ you don’t know if you’re gonna click or not. In any kind of creative environment, it’s always important the dynamic between two people.


Yeah I mean, you can respect someones music and art, but until you’re in a room with them, it’s kind of hard to tell how it’ll work out.

Exactly. I mean, I knew she was really amazing and she was killer, but we really didn’t know until she was actually with us in Sweden. I’ve collaborated with quite a few people and it’s always interesting. This was a case where she brought a lot of new energy and new styles. I’ve been calling her into a lot of interviews, because it’s kind of like a songwriter’s dream because there’s not a lot she can’t do with her voice. She’s very versatile and very creative and very musical. I mean, Angela had an amazing style, but it was very much one style. Alissa can do that really aggressive heavy heavy voice, but she can also do a lot of other things, so it’s like all these doors opening up in the songwriting process. It was almost too many – we have our style. We have a sound that needs to be respected and maintained in a way, but developed as well, so it was an interesting find.


Angela is still managing co-managing the band correct?

Yes she is. She’s been doing that since 2008, and very successfully for us. it’s been the best sort of set up and on the business side of things its been the best we ever had. We’re parting on friendly terms, so there’s no real reason to switch it up now and look for new management. I mean, there’s so many things changing anyway that we thought we might as well keep that part the same.


Has the dynamic changed at all? I mean just in the way you deal with Angela? I mean she’s not in the band anymore and she’s not touring around with you 24/7.

I mean, we have an interesting dynamic because we used to be a couple for many years as well and we have a strong bond. There’s a friendship there, but also a good amount of respect. We traveled and lived together as a band for 12 years, so she knows every stop on the tour and exactly what the band goes through every step of the way. We always say the man with the plan is never the man in the band (laughs). She’s done both – shes actually been at that airport –  she really sets everything up very well for us and its worked very well for us and that remains the same. That’s not something the fans will really see though. Every band has their business set-up and the fans are never really exposed to that.


What was it like bringing Nick Cortle up to speed?

I’d like to say that I discovered Nick but I found out about him when he was opening up for Arch Enemy on the North American tour. He was in a band called Arsis and I remember sitting backstage at one of the first shows we did while I was warming up  I remember hearing this really killer guitar playing from the stage through the wall. I went up to the side of the stage and I watched their whole show. I talked to him a few times on that tour and he seemed to have his head screwed on right. I had his name on a mental list of possible guitar players if Chris ever quit the band again because he had to quit once before. It’s big shoes that he has to fill. He has to play all of the big and really difficult guitar parts that my brother did and switch from a lot of different kinds of emotions and styles and Nick has all of that, but he brings his own style and interests. We did a full year of touring with him on the last album, everywhere in the world except for North America because we had already covered that with my brother. Then my brother quit and we did a show in South America. It’s a lot of fun working on new music with him. I think its a good combination, a marriage made in hell.


How much did he help with the new record?

I  went over to America in March of last year, so the music probably originates from my brain, but we spiced up the whole dish along the way with his ideas so there were definitely a lot of his ideas on the record. The record never would have taken the shift that it did without him or without Alissa. I totally acknoledge their contributions. Its a slightly different team. We had some younger players, and they’ve got a lot of passion and a lot of new tricks (laughs). Nick is a big fan of a lot of European metal as well but slightly different things hes been listening a lot to Emperor and stuff like that and that’s something I’ve never really listened to, so he’s bringing in a whole new influence as well.


How do you feel about Carcass’ record Surgical Steel and the band continuing on without you being involved?

I feel great about them continuing, but I haven’t heard the record. I’ve actually missed a lot of new metal that came out last year. I’ve been making my own record. I’ve had so much music in my own head that I’ve not really wanted to check out any other metal bands, so I’ve not heard it. People always ask me what I think about it, and all I can say is that I wish them the very best and I had a great time both times I played with them. In the early ’90s, the original days so to speak, for my first time in the band and when we did the arena shows they were so much fun as well and I have nothing but respect.


So you have no real desire to rush out and listen to the record?

I’d like to hear it at some point. To be honest, I don’t usually listen to music that is that heavy. I love playing that kind of music myself, but that kid inside that grew up listening to thrash metal the early Megadeth, the Slayer and all that stuff and then into Death Metal – that kid that’s inside me, I kind of save that for my own music. I cannot enjoy other peoples albums as much in that genre, its not a genre that I listen to a lot I don’t really know how to explain it. I know it sounds kind of weird.


Lets talk a little bit about Spiritual Beggars that album came out pretty quietly last year. 

We did that about a year ago. It came out in Europe, I don’t know if it came out in America. We’ve never really had a good thing going in America for that band.


Do you have any desire to?

I don’t know. I mean that band is not really designed to be a hardcore touring unit where we go out and conquer the world. I’m only one person after all,  contrary to popular belief. There was a time where I was doing Carcass, Arch Enemy, and Spiritual Beggars, so I had three set lists in my head and there was a lot of moving parts then and it was pretty crazy. I’m really happy with Spiritual Beggars now, its just a great set of musicians, killer line up that I love to jam with. I’m the only guitar player, they have an organ player, a really killer rock drummer, its more a classic rock sound and its just a different kind of music that I’m into. We did two smaller European tours and went to Japan on the last album, so we do a little bit here and there, but its more like a very relaxed type of atmosphere.


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