Interviews : Arch Enemy
With Michael Amott
Arch Enemy is the phoenix that spawned from the ashes of Carcass, one of the founders of the melodic death genre with the album "Heartwork". The heart of the proverbial phoenix is the venerable Michael Amott, whose technically spectacular guitar work has been the backbone of the band for years.
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him in the band's dressing room in the bowels of Nationwide arena not long after the band played a killer set on the Columbus, OH edition of Gigantour. Sitting calm and poised, with a slightly serious tone, he sat ready for the questions that I was about to ask. Making cameos in the interview are drummer Daniel Erlandsson, vocalist Angela Gossow, and one of their roadies, who were all in the room throughout the interview.
You've named Dave Mustaine as one of your influences; what's it like to be touring with him now?
It's great, I mean we've been really lucky with Arch Enemy; we've toured with a lot of the bands that we've grown up listening to. We've played with Iron Maiden and Slayer. We've been lucky sharing the stage with some of our metal heroes.
How do huge tours like this compare to smaller ones?
They're very different- a completely different vibe, you know? In some ways it's better, in some ways it's not so good. I mean I like the intimate vibe of the small club shows, but I like playing huge stadiums as well. I think that our music works in both.
You guys did kick some serious ass tonight...
Yeah we did. (laughs)
What's the best tour you've been on and why?
Every tour is different. I'm not gonna pick a particular one that's better. It's obviously fun doing your own headline tours because you play a longer set, you get deeper into the music and put on a cool show. With these kinds of things it's also very cool, with the short sets, but getting to play in front of a lot of people. A lot of people probably didn't know about us before, so that's always cool. We like all kinds of tours, we don't really have a favorite.
You really think that people didn't know about you?
No! We're making new fans every day. Every day we're doing signings and people are coming up and saying "I've never heard of you before and you're awesome, we just got your album," so it's obviously working. That's kind of what it's all about. If you just went around the world several times over and over again, and everybody already knew about you, it would be boring. The best way to do these kinds of tours is to reach out to the people.
What's the worst tour you've ever been on?
I can't really say a best one, I can't say a worst one either. Touring from day to day, it depends on how you feel that day. Everybody can have a bad day, and when you're on the road that hits you harder. Life has its' ups and downs but usually it's pretty good.
What's the craziest thing that's happened to you on tour?
Michael (to Daniel, who was walking by): What's the craziest thing that's happened to us?
Daniel: That's a question that we hate. (laughter)
Michael: Yes! That's a question we hate because it's not really that crazy. A lot of things that people might think are out of the ordinary are kind of just part of our everyday life out here on the road. We've been doing this too long. (laughter) We don't see it as crazy anymore. It's just different than going back to home.
Compare the band now to the band in its inception. Are the songs still written using the same process?
No. It's changed, it's evolved a bit. The process is kind of bland, messing around on the guitar and jamming stuff and going through it. But now you have it good, where we can record on computers on the road, and you've got drum machines. Daniel, our drummer, does a lot of that. That's a way to remember stuff. We usually thrash things out in the rehearsal room anyway. That's just how we do it. We're pretty old-school in that sense, playing in the rehearsal room.
What's the difference in the band's chemistry between now and then?
Well then there was no chemistry. When we first started the band was just me and Daniel, we just rehearsed a whole album and we didn't even know each other. Daniel was recommended to me, we did 3 or 4 rehearsals, then we recorded the first album. We never met the other guys that recorded their parts on the record. There wasn't much of a "band" at that point. I'd say now that there's a feeling of more community.
Do you ever get crap from other bands for having a female vocalist?
Roadie: Fucking pussies! (smiles)
Alright, here's another question that you'll hate. Since I'm in the metal media, and for some reason people care, what's your relationship with Angela?
Angela: That's an old hat.
You've been asked about the situation with Johan Liiva, so I'm not going to make you repeat that. But what happened with Martin Bengtsson and Peter Wildoer?
What happened, that's kinda back there in the 90's. Martin played bass on our first tour, the first small tour that we did and he played some of the bass on the Stigmata album. I don't really remember, we just parted ways. He's still around, we're still friends. He works where we rehearse. And Peter, he played drums on most of Stigmata. He came in when Daniel had some other stuff going on in his life that he had to deal with, so we got a replacement drummer, which was Peter. He did a good job and went out to Japan and stuff, and did a lot of shows in Europe. But then Daniel came back. He's still around playing, he's got his own band, Darkane, and he does records and stuff.
How has Chris' departure affected the band?
Well... I don't know. (laughs) We haven't made another record since he left, so we don't know how that's going to affect the music, really. It's hard to tell. Maybe it's a better atmosphere now.
A better atmosphere in what way?
Well when one of the people wants to leave, that doesn't put everybody in a good mood.
Compare your music to everyone else's. What do you do better, and what do you wish you could do better?
Well, I don't really compare us to other bands. We just try to write the best extreme metal that we can and have fun doing it. We love playing this music and it's a very natural process for us, so we don't try really hard to be heavier, or to outdo anybody else. I don't really see music as competition, I see music as art. People tend to forget that all the time, but it is an art form. We just try to make good music and we enjoy what we do.
What bands do you, or have you, drawn from to get to the point where you are now?
Definitely growing up, bands like Metallica and Megadeth, Slayer, that sort of shaped things. A lot of stuff, we're into a lot of different bands. And I'm still into the stuff that I was into then, like I still listen to Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Accept, Mercyful Fate, stuff like that. We still draw influences from that, but it's not as obvious now. Now it's all mixed up, and I think we you'll see.. well we all like death metal from the early 90's, stuff like Morbid Angel and that sort of thing.
It seems that the focus of the band has shifted over the years from yours and Chris' blistering guitar work to Angela's vocals. Has that been your intention?
Well I think that the public, or media's attention sorta shifted, but that was a good thing. With our previous singer, we didn't have the charisma or the personality to make it interesting. What was interesting were the guitar-playing brothers. I think we took that as far as we could. I mean we haven't really changed our music that much, it's still very guitar-driven. It's just that we have got Angela up there and she's very different from the next sweaty dude. It's nothing to write about, just that's the truth.
With Chris leaving, which direction, musically, is the band going from here?
We don't know.
No direction. (laughs) Aimlessly cruising around. No, I think that it's hopefully going to be the next step. We'll try to step it up on the next album, and make something really cool. What we have so far is promising, but we haven't really put it all together yet, so we're excited for the future.
What's left for you guys to do?
What do you mean?
Well, for your career. You guys have done so much, you have been touring all around the world, you've been around for... almost as old as I am.
You're ten years old?
(laughing) No, no. I mean you yourself, being with Carcass.
Ahhh... Well, what's left to do? Musically, I don't know. I don't feel that there's no real goal. We still enjoy playing music, we still enjoy writing music, we still are improving. I'm not really in it for achieving , like I said, I don't really compare myself to any other bands. I know a lot of people follow me, I've followed a lot of bands before- Megadeth, Slayer, stuff like that, you know? Now, I don't really care what other people think. As long as we enjoy it we're going to keep doing what we do.
Any final words?
Thanks for the interview.
(laughing) No, thank you for the interview. I'm just the one that gets to transcribe it and put it on the website.
Yeah, that's the boring part.
Yeah, that's the thing. Everyone gripes about it, it's just "I hit the recorder, put it on notepad, and put it on the site." It's not brain surgery.
And brain surgery it isn't. There you have it, folks. An exclusive interview with the founder of Arch Enemy and one of the pioneers of melodic death. Certainly one of the more calm, serious personalities I've encountered in the metal world, nobody can say that the man lacks poise or grace. And still, he plays the guitar like a madman.