Michael Amott: 'It Wasn't a Surprise When Angela Left, but It Still Put Us in a Difficult Position'

artist: arch enemy date: 07/02/2014 category: interviews
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Michael Amott: 'It Wasn't a Surprise When Angela Left, but It Still Put Us in a Difficult Position'
Arch Enemy guitarist and founder Michael Amott has just moved into a new house. Things are being moved around and he's still not sure where everything is. That's not unlike what has happened recently with the band. Longtime singer Angela Gossow has left the band and was replaced by Alissa White-Gluz.

Additionally, Michael's brother and co-guitarist Christopher Amott decided to leave and has been replaced by Nick Cordle. "Last year was a real emotional roller coaster because you really stood faced with a lot of problems," Amott says. "Some of us were going through a lot of private sh-t that was horrible and it was just like one of those years for us, hahhahhah. But then something good came out of. We have a new album now, which I'm really proud of and a great lineup and great team."

"War Eternal" is the new album, a throwback to earlier Arch Enemy records stylistically but also a step forward with the inclusion of classical elements in the form of string and classical arrangements. Amott had to move mountains to see the album finally released but now that it's done, he can breathe easier and talk about the process.

Ultimate-Guitar: "War Eternal" is the first album with new singer Alissa White-Gluz replacing Angela Gossow.

Michael Amott: I think it was a longtime coming with the change. Angela has been on the fence for quite some time about whether she would stick around or not and how much longer. We decided to take a year. We did 12 years straight of touring and recording and we just went from album to album for 12 years without any breaks.

That is a long time.

We decided to take 2013 off completely from touring activity. I think during that time she kind of made up her mind. It was a window for her because once things calmed down a bit she could sort of really step down from her position in the band.

You weren't surprised when Angela left?

It wasn't a surprise but it still put us in a difficult position where we didn't have a lead singer and I was already writing the new album. We wanted to continue and Angela wanted us to continue as well. She urged us to carry and she actually suggested Alissa herself.

Is that right?

That's how Alissa's name came into the picture. It all happened very quickly actually and Alissa came to Sweden and I was working with her here rehearsing the old stuff and demoing new stuff and collaborating on lyrics and vocal lines. Yeah, it all happened very quickly and once things started rolling it sort of happened very quickly. Which I guess is how it works a lot of the time.

Did you know Alissa's work from her previous band the Agonist?

Oh yeah, absolutely. But I wasn't like super, super familiar with her former band's work. I just knew that she was a great singer and she was a friend of Angela's so I'd hear things through her or Angela sent me a video clip or something over the years with Alissa or whatever. I knew she was a great singer and a great talent and everything. I mean I wasn't looking for a new singer up until recently and wasn't really looking in that way at other people.

It's not like she was a complete stranger.

Yeah, I knew who she was and I'd met her a couple of times. When she came over to Sweden last year to work with us, it wasn't the first time we met but still it was like the process of getting to know each other a little bit.

Did you ever think about bringing a guy in to sing?

Or a transsexual, hahahhah. We're an equal opportunity kind of band. Umm, no, I mean to be honest with you it all happened very quickly once Angela was definitely stepping down. She suggested Alissa and we got in contact with Alissa within a week and within two, three weeks Alissa was over in Sweden and we were working on stuff. We didn't really have a deadline hanging over us.

We just thought, "We've got this time and we've got this time off. Alissa seems really promising and she's into it and we know she's a really good singer. We just don't know if it's gonna click with her and Arch Enemy but let's try it."

You knew when Alissa came to Sweden to work with the band that she was the right singer?

It just worked out very, very well and it was a very productive time. Very fruitful and positive atmosphere so we didn't really look any further. We didn't really look at another singer at all be it female or male.

Was it difficult at all fitting Alissa into these new songs that had originally been written with Angela's voice in mind?

Umm, yeah sure. I had a five-song demo I handed to Alissa and basically said, "Have at it. Try coming up with some lyrics and some vocals." I wanted to collaborate with her and see what it would be like. She came up with ideas and I was looking for new, fresh approach. That music was instrumental and hadn't been touched by any singer.

A couple of songs I had written lyrics for myself and I gave those ideas to Alissa as well and she kind of interpreted those and we worked on them. Then she showed me her ideas that she was coming up with. Those early days we were just tweaking material and fine-tuning it and there's lots of opportunities and room to adjust existing material to suit Alissa's style.

Another big change on the "War Eternal" album is the departure of Christopher Amott and the appearance of new guitarist Nick Cordle.

It's been very positive actually. Chris has been in and out of the band a couple times. I had worked with other guitar players in Arch Enemy. We had Gus G for a short time and Fredrik Nortström who plays for Opeth for many years now. We had him in the band for a couple of years. So I had worked with other guitar players before in Arch Enemy. So when he left in late 2011, we got Nick in and it was real exciting.

You liked the idea of working with new guitar players?

I think me and my brother had a really fantastic musical relationship for a long time but then it just kind of burnt out and fizzled out if you know what I mean. It's like we didn't really have anything more to [say]. There was nothing more we could do together that was really interesting at this point.

So it was really time to bring in another guitarist?

To work with Nick who's a guy I found when he was opening up for Arch Enemy a few years ago in America on a North American tour. He was in a band called Arsis. We actually did a whole year of touring with him on the previous album "Khaos Legions." We was with us out on the road.

You established that guitar connection while working with Nick Cordle on tour?

I had the time then to get to know him really well. I mean we jammed a little on new ideas backstage but it was also about building a guitar relationship. All the phrasings and the little nuances I have in my playing that is Arch Enemy's sound. So he had to step in and kind of learn how to play with me and I've also been picking up stuff and learning new things off him. So we had a good vibe and guitar thing going immediately and we had a whole year of that on the road.

Talking about guitars, you used to play ESP?

I was, yeah, for almost 10 years. I've played Dean guitars since 2008. We do a series of models I helped design with them and that's what I play.

What was it like writing with Nick?

When it came to writing new material, I had a bunch of songs in my head very loosely put together with rough recordings. Song ideas. In March last year, I went to Virginia where Nick lives and we spent a week in his home studio and knocked a bunch of songs together into shape.

He helped me a lot with that and that was really cool. He's really good with the drum programming and he knows recording software and everything. Which is not my strong vibe really. But we worked on my song ideas and I co-wrote with him as well on stuff and we came up with all these really cool guitar parts. So that was an exciting time and really cool. It was very productive and we had a really great time working on this music together.

Because Nick was a bit more technical-minded as you said, you did learn some new approaches to songwriting?

It was interesting. I did pick up a few things off him and he obviously had to learn a whole, new [thing]. He came into an established band and an established style and learn that as well so it's been a give-and-take and really a lot of fun. I think maybe you need that sometimes.

What do you mean?

He's from a different generation than me so he's showing me stuff I never really played or some new, little technique. Like, "Oh, that's cool. I could use that in a song now." I think with me and my brother we had nothing more to give each other. You know what I mean? And my brother wanted to do different things.

Obviously you wanted to continue to make music with the band even when Angela and Christopher left?

I still have a real strong passion for Arch Enemy. It's how I express myself musically is through Arch Enemy really. It's the band I want to be in and exactly the kind of music I want to be playing. When Nick came in with all this new enthusiasm and Alissa as well, it's a lot of fun actually. When you have people on the team that are not 100 percent into it anymore, it kind of drags everybody down without criticizing them because that's just life. People go through different phases.

About the song "As the Pages Burn," you talked about a return to the vintage style of writing you had on "The Immortal."

There's all kinds of stuff on the album. I think there's stuff that sort of goes back to that style. But then Alissa's lyrics and vocal lines on there make it fresh I think so it doesn't sound very retro in a way. There's a combination of different things.

Can you talk about some of the various styles?

The first thing we put out was the title track "War Eternal" and I think that's a song I wrote most of the music for and it's also got my lyrics and vocal arrangements on there. That one is kind of what I guess you could call a traditional Arch Enemy song at this point. So we have stuff like that I love and I think is very strong and is a trademark of the band. But then there's a lot of interesting things going on on the album.

What else is happening on "War Eternal"?

We have the fastest song we've ever recorded on there. It's a song called "Never Forgive, Never Forget," which is easily the fastest song we've ever recorded. I co-wrote that with Nick. Then we have a slow song I wrote, which is an instrumental ["Not Long For This World"] and the slowest song we've ever recorded, hahhahhah. So there's some pretty extreme dynamics on there. There's also a very progressive song and is easily the most progressive song I've ever worked on called "Time Is Black."

You don't think of Arch Enemy as a prog band.

It was the first song I started working on for the album and the last song I finished because I just couldn't get it done.

Why?

It was like this huge, 3,000-piece puzzle, hahhahhah. I had to put it all together. That was a lot of fun as well and challenging and frustrating as hell. When it all came together you're like, "Wow." When it all started to make sense, it was a very rewarding song. I also worked with a string arranger and conductor and we had a real string orchestra on four songs. On the intro ["Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude in F minor)"] and three other songs called "Time Is Black," "Avalanche" and "You Will Know My Name."

Have you ever worked with real classical instruments before?

That's a first time for me as well. I mean that was a real trip as well 'cause that added so much depth and scope to the sound. It was really intense to listen to on headphones. It goes places harmonically where you can't really go with keyboards I guess. I didn't really know how effective it could be with a full orchestra. It was really exciting.

"You Will Know My Name" had strings and acoustic guitar and was a much different type of Arch Enemy track. You dug exploring this more arranged and slightly softer side of things?

Yeah. When I started and founded Arch Enemy in 1995, I wanted to create the heaviest melodic band of all time and I always said that. I'm still trying to do that - to write that perfect Arch Enemy song with that perfect balance between heaviness and melody. Because I loved Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, the Scorpions and all that sort of hard rock guitar with all those quality guitar parts and all the harmonies, the leads, the killer riffs and all that stuff.

That's where your melodic side comes from?

But I also love and grew up with Slayer and Megadeth and I love that heavy, technical, insane fast stuff with fast drumming. So it's kind of bringing those two worlds together I guess and creating some cool music. But it's always about the melody really. I love heavy music but if it doesn't have a good melody I lose interest pretty quickly myself as a listener.

A lot of that melody comes out with "Spiritual Beggars"?

That's another thing I enjoy doing very much. Like I said last year, I had a lot of down time and we actually put out a new album with that band [Earth Blues]. We did a little bit of touring and went to Japan a couple of times and did two small European tours.

It's a remarkable band and an absolute shame they're not more popular than they are.

Thank you for that. I guess the interest is not really there for that band. But it's still something I enjoy. I never wrote music to make money. There are easier ways to make money than to play heavy music, hahhahhah. So I think I just do all kinds of stuff and do whatever I'm into and whatever I feel in my heart is interesting. I just follow my heart basically.

"Spiritual Beggars" has this really classic rock appeal to it.

I really, really love the old classic hard rock and heavy stuff but I also like the more extreme things as well I guess. Arch Enemy is a very free sort of forum. It's a lot of freedom within Arch Enemy because we combine all these different things. If you tune it up a bit, you'd hear a lot of old Scorpions and Judas Priest in there. The way we do it, I like to mask it. The way we all put together, it ends up coming out sounding like Arch Enemy, which is I think really good.

The first self-titled Spiritual Beggars album came out two years before the first Arch Enemy album. What did you want to do musically on the "Spiritual Beggars" album?

Well, that was an interesting time in my career. I'd come off three years of playing with Carcass and touring with them in the early '90s. That had been my first experience really. I was very, very young when I joined them and I came out still very young when I quit them in '93. I just wanted to do something different. I didn't quit them for musical reasons back then. It was more of other personal reasons.

What was it you wanted to do?

I had this other thing developing in my head where it had to do more with classic rock. I thought not, "Why not do something totally different instead of trying to put together something that sounded like Carcass." So I just put something else together with some friends and I was lucky enough to find some likeminded people. But I know there was quite a lot of resistance in the early years of that band because people saw me as this death metal guitar player.

That sounds like exactly what happened.

Nobody was interested to work with me if I wasn't playing death metal. So I struggled for a few years trying to gain some momentum with that band but it was tough. I believed in the music and I believed in the band.

"The Mantra III" album was amazing with songs like "Superbossanova" and "Sad Queen Boogie."

I was really free. I'd grown up in speed and it was very strict musically. You couldn't really experiment with a lot of different styles. Then with "Spiritual Beggars," I had this forum where I could just do whatever the hell I wanted. I love all kinds of music and I guess we're just putting a little bit of everything into it. I don't know if it made a whole lotta sense but we just didn't have such boundaries on it. We just kind of threw in a little bit of whatever we were into.

Were you listening to a lot of different styles of music when you were much younger?

I grew up in a very diverse musical climate at home. My mum was a big classical music fan and also jazz and bossa nova and all kinds of stuff. So I guess you just pick up a little bit of this and that and throw it all together. I think also we were inspired because I was listening to a lot of the early '70s hard rock and the heavy rock stuff. Capt. Beyond, Cactus and Black Sabbath of course.

All great bands.

Black Sabbath threw in everything into their songs. That's what I really loved about their early records 'cause they would have - maybe not a bossa nova - a jazzy thing. It would be the f--kin' heaviest song you've ever heard and then they'd end the song with a two-minute jam with percussion and jazz chords and piano. Why not? It's just music. So I thought that was obviously an inspiration.

Then you started Arch Enemy in 1996.

Yeah, a couple years later I started Arch Enemy because it's more I guess what people wanted. I mean I really wanted to do Arch Enemy. I never wanted to abandon that heavier side of music. But it was one of those situations where I guess you become known in one field and then people only want to see you as that one thing.

If you hadn't come out of Carcass before forming Spiritual Beggars, the arc of that band may have been completely different.

Maybe, yeah. We have some good stuff. In America we totally failed with Spiritual Beggars. We never really could gain any ground there but we did a lot of stuff in Europe. We toured with Iron Maiden, Queens of the Stone Age, Monster Magnet and all the stuff back in the day in the early 2000s when we gained some momentum.

What was it like when the original singer Christian 'Spice' Sjostrand left the band and was replaced by Janne 'JB' Christoffersson?

It kind of fell apart. I put it back together with some new people and we've been making records and doing a little bit of touring here and there. But it's not really done as much maybe as it should have. I don't know. I don't really make music for the success if you know what I mean. But I've had a very successful run and a fantastic career with Arch Enemy.

Talking about switching singers, in 2001 Angela Gossow joined the band for the Wages of Sin album and replaced John Liiva. That was obviously a critical moment in the life of Arch Enemy.

Yeah, that was definitely a big change. I mean it was a different type of voice and we used a different mixing engineer for that one. It was the first time we worked with Andy Sneap actually. That was also one of those albums where quite a few things changed and that album just kind of exploded for us. That was the real starting point for Arch Enemy as a bigger band, a touring band. We actually hit the road really hard for that one for the first time. So that was the first time most people got to see the band with Angela on vocals.

All the pieces of the puzzle just came together?

Yeah, it turned into a fulltime thing. Everybody quit whatever jobs they had. Everybody had to quit them and hit the road so that was a whole different attitude going into that album. Then that led into "Anthems of Rebellion" and songs like "We Will Rise" and "Dead Eyes See No Future." We had sort of big singles and stuff off of those albums in a way. So yeah, I guess we just kept building from that point on.

Did any of the writing or song approaches from Spiritual Beggars eventually get transferred to Arch Enemy?

Yes. I was coming out of a death metal situation and what I primarily learned in Spiritual Beggars was to write songs, which was more traditional songwriting like real songwriting. So that was something I really learned from that I think. I just kind of brought the Spiritual Beggars' songwriting stuff into the world of - I guess you could call it - death, thrash, speed metal or whatever and then with all the heavy metal stuff thrown in as well for good measure. Like I said I wanted to create the heaviest melodic band of all time.

There were several periods there when Spiritual Beggars and Arch Enemy albums would come out in the same year.

Yeah, that's true. But bear in mind in those years I wasn't touring as much so there wasn't like a lot of touring going on really compared to what I do now. Then probably I would do like one European tour with Arch Enemy. No, I don't think we even did that. On the Spiritual Beggars we did a few things but there was really not a lot of touring going on.

Now I put out an Arch Enemy record and I know I've got pretty much two years of my life is gonna be spent roaming around the globe. But then it was different because I maybe had a few weeks of dates and I could get back home and write more music. I was putting out a lot more records then.

So touring is what eats into most of your time?

You could look at Arch Enemy: the first one was '96; the second one was '98; the third one was '99. And I think we only toured in Japan on each one of those. So there were like three Japan tours, hahhahhah. It was a different setup. I think we did a European tour on the third one but yeah, it was definitely different times. I think the market was a lot different then. Like I said, we just kept going for like 11 or 12 years straight. Then took last year off and it all fell apart so that's the lesson - never take any time off, hahhahhah. You won't have time to reflect on where you're at in life.

With the new singer, new album and new house, it sounds like everything is really good with you.

Yeah, now everything is good. We're starting rehearsals in a couple weeks in Germany with a full production with the whole new stage show. Seeing all that stuff come together now is pretty emotional in a way. 'Cause we went through a lot and you put so much hard work into everything. So I think the first shows we're gonna play now are gonna be pretty intense for us personally 'cause it's gonna be like vindication in a way. It's been an interesting ride.

You definitely came through the fire.

Yeah, I mean think everybody can relate to that kind of hardship. You persevere and push through that. Hard work pays off sometimes.

Take care of yourself and play the good notes.

Heh heh heh. I try. There'll be a few bum notes in there. Thanks a lot, man. Nice talking to you.

Interview by Steven Rosen
Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2014
More arch enemy interviews:
+ Arch Enemy's Michael Amott: 'To Me Our Music Is Extreme Metal' Interviews 06/20/2011
+ Arch Enemy: 'We're Writing A New Record For People That Want To Know' Hit The Lights 10/02/2009
+ Arch Enemy's Angela Gossow: 'I Never Thought I Got To Sound Female' Interviews 07/12/2008
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