Michael Amott – The Guitarist Of Arch Enemy
Interview by Luxi Lahtinen
Live pictures by Antti Nieminen
Transcription by Tony Gabriel
Thanks to Taija Holm of Pro Promotion for setting up the interview for us
The ever-popular Swedish metallers Arch Enemy visited Helsinki on April 13rd 2008, as a part of their "Tyranny And Bloodshred" world tour. The following interview was done with Michael Amott in Helsinki, Finland – nearly 4 months ago, but due to many unfortunate circumstances, it wasn´t published until now. Thanks to Tony Gabriel for taking care of the transcription with such a short notice.
Michael talks about many things that are naturally currently close to Arch Enemy, but also Carcass´ reunion shows, Spiritual Beggars, etc. Read on…
THE TYRANNY AND BLOODSHRED TOUR 2008
Let´s talk about this ongoing tour of yours first that has brought Arch Enemy back on the road again. You did 6 shows in some Asian countries last month, playing 4 shows in Japan and even 2 shows in such exotic countries as Taiwan and Korea. Was this your first time to play in both Taiwan and Korea, by the way?
First time in Taiwan, second time in Korea.
Was it any easy to get work permits to those two countries?
Yes, we actually played in South Korea, it’s not North Korea (laughs). South Korea’s not, I would say, ´western-ized´, but it’s similar to Japan in many ways. Taiwan was exciting because it was our first time. Very cool.
After your show here in Helsinki, you´ll be heading your way to Russia, which is also the very first for Arch Enemy to play there. What do you honestly expect from your 2 gigs in Russia (in St. Petersburg on April 15th and in Moscow on April 16th)? It´s being said that the Russian metal fans can be really supportive towards their favorite bands…
The ticket sales have been amazing, we’re very excited. It seems like there’s a metal scene there. There’s a metal scene everywhere, that’s the amazing thing. When we went to Taiwan there was 700 crazy metal fans there, and we weren’t expecting anything our first time. They were all holding bootleg Arch Enemy shirts (laughs).
You´ll be doing a handful of gigs in Europe, and then you´ll continue your tour to USA and Canada where you´ll be doing ay least 15 shows altogether. What could you say are the biggest diffrencies in touring in Europe and USA/Canada?
In the US, you travel a lot more and the buses are more comfortable. The US is more of a 24/7 nation, isn’t it? So, it’s more geared towards travel, and people being on the move, so you can always find food and you can always find a shower. There’re always people working around the clock there. It’s pretty nice to tour there. It’s pretty easy to tour there, actually, just from a comfort point of view. The fans are great there, too. Metal came back there a few years ago, and they love the Scandinavian stuff, and the more aggressive European metal sound there. They also like their own bands a lot, the biggest bands are American bands. But they also like us and stuff like In Flames, Children of Bodom.
Do you have any idea how well has your last album, RISE OF THE TYRANT, been received both in USA and Canada?
I don’t know really. I guess the market’s down everywhere for everybody, isn’t it? It’s just the way the industry’s going. It’s kind of going down, isn’t it? I think it’s done really well; it’s done a lot better than we expected. We’re not a black metal band but we’re a pretty extreme band compared to a lot of the bands that we usually tour with. We have exclusively extreme vocals, at least two guitar solos in every song, a lot of time signature changes, it’s down-tuned. It’s a very full-on metal attack. We’re kind of surprised by the fact that every album has become bigger and bigger. We kind of expected to find a plateau and stay with that, hopefully, but it’s been getting bigger every time. We try to write good songs. I wouldn’t say we play death metal, but it’s extreme metal.
After this you´ll come back to Europe and do a bunch of summer festival shows with Arch Enemy and Carcass, too. Anyway, do you prefer playing in these festivals in front of thousands of people, or doing your own headline show when you are at least able to do a proper soundcheck, play a full set and do things overall more professionally without that much rush lurking behind your back at all?
I like both. Doing the festivals is kind of like you said, you just hurry yourself out there on stage, quick line check, bang bang bang. Do I have a sound? Is it a good sound? No one knows? Ok, let’s just go. I think that maybe a lot of metal fans at the festivals don’t realize that it’s actually so stressful on the bands, so they expect a normal show. But it’s a festival, and I think everybody understands that. It’s a very special situation, you know? You just kind of get thrown out there and you’re like, ok, I’ll move up here. But it’s fun. I love it because you can reach so many people. So many people have discovered Arch Enemy through festivals. When you play the club shows like tonight, it’s great, but the people who are coming in tonight are going to be die-hard Arch Enemy fans, they probably know us already. It’s nice to play for them, dig a little bit deeper and play new songs, throw in some solos. But we enjoy both, basically. It’s fun to do the longer stuff for your own audience but it’s also nice to play the festivals. The festivals in Europe are nice during the summer when it’s beautiful out, you get to meet a lot of people that you wouldn’t meet otherwise. I’m going to be double duty this summer, so I’m going to be very busy. I’m basically going to be spending the summer at airports.
Is there, or are these some festivals that you have always found lots of fun to play? Do you have any favorite festivals that are great to do because of the atmosphere, how they are arranged or for any other reasons?
I don’t visit festivals myself, because I play them so much with Arch Enemy. I used to, I used to go in with a tent with my friends. I still like a lot of festivals, I like Tuska Festival a lot, I’ve played there twice. It’s a little bit different, it’s right in the middle of a city. It’s small, but it’s nice. Grass pop in Belgium was very nice. If it’s a badly organized one it kind of sucks, but then usually the show’s good anyway. The fans are always great. The fans are there for a good time.
WHAT´S METAL – WHAT´S NOT
You also won the Swedish Metal Award in the category "Best Death Metal Album Of 2008" by your RISE OF THE TYRANT album? Did you expect something like that in advance, or did it surprise you completely that you actually achieved something out from that award in question?
I wasn’t really aware of that. We won another one that was more high profile, the P3 gold, that was on TV. That was a bigger deal, with more mainstream music on it. This is more of an underground thing, I just saw a line that we won it somewhere.
How much have you been following the metal scene yourself what´s ´hot´ or ´in´ these days, what kinds of things the media and people in general talk about?
Hype is hype, isn’t it? I like what I like. I don’t really follow it that closely. But now everything’s “metal,” you know, that band’s metal, this band’s metal, but it doesn’t really sound like metal at all, it doesn’t have the atmosphere of extreme metal. I think people are just calling everything metal now, they think Nightwish is metal (laughs). I mean, they’re a great band, but they’re not a metal band. They have influences from metal, but they have a lot of other things going on as well. Everybody is different, but now everything is metal. Nightwish is a bad example. A band like Bullet For My Valentine, I wouldn’t say is an out-and-out metal band. I would say they have some influences from metal, but I wouldn’t say they’re a metal band. They have some stuff that’s quite commercial, like pop orientated. I haven’t heard their new album but I’ve seen stuff previously on MTV. I know here in Finland you have some bands that are kind of commercial but you could call them metal. I don’t think it’s called metal here, but when it’s exported it is. I don’t really know what metal is anymore. To me, metal is the stuff I grew up on. There’s a certain kind of feeling I look for when I listen to metal.
Have you had any talk inside the band when you might start concentrating on writing new stuff for the next Arch Enemy album at earliest?
I’ve written a few riffs here and there, but that’s about it. We don’t really get pressured by our label to write new stuff, I don’t really get emails or anything like that from them. I have my own company where we license the songs and then send them out to labels, like Century Media Europe and America, and another label in Asia. We dictate our own schedule. We just filmed a DVD in Tokyo last month, and that’ll probably be the next project that we will work on. We’re also working on another project. We have the drums recorded, but it’s kind of a like a re-recording of our first three albums, but with the lineup that we have now. We also have about 12 songs left over from our first three albums that are re-recorded, remixed, everything. But all that is in-between touring and all of that, so it’s a work-in-progress. Those two things, the new DVD and the re-recording album, whatever you want to call it, will come out before the next actual studio Arch Enemy release. We might make an album version of the DVD, like the live DVD and then the album version of the DVD.
How would you define a typical Arch Enemy song by your own words? What kinds of elements should it have in order to be an Arch Enemy song in your opinion?
We’re a blend of everything that we’re all into, us as individuals. We’re playing exactly the kind of music that we all want to play. It’s kind of a melting pot of classic metal, and the stuff we grew up on during the 80’s. Traditional metal, thrash and speed metal, death metal, a little bit of everything.
CARCASS REUNION SHOWS
Talking about Carcass a bit, too. How much do you look forward to playing those reunion shows with Carcass?
A lot, because it’s something different. Arch Enemy is an extremely hard-working band, we toured non-stop for almost seven years. We’ve never taken more than three months off at a time. I love working, that’s not the problem. It’s kind of a holiday for me to play with Carcass, it’s sort of relaxing in a way, something different. A different atmosphere, I guess. I love Arch Enemy, Arch Enemy is my baby in many ways, Playing with Carcass, I’m falling back more into the role of just playing guitar. Playing with Arch enemy I say a lot of jokes, but with Carcass, hopefully I’ll just be the guitar player (laughs). I’ll just play guitar and drink a couple beers. I’ll just be a musician, you know? (laughs)
You rehearsed Carcass songs in south of Sweden this month, together with Jeff Walker, Bill Steer and Daniel Erlandsson who also plays in Arch Enemy and replaces Ken Own due to his health problems. What could you tell about those rehearsals? I read that the main focus will be built around the neck-breaking HEARTWORK album, which shouldn´t be that much of a surprise to anyone, I guess?
It was difficult for me to remember all of the songs, because I’ve been making so much more extreme metal. Bill Steer has a perfect memory of all those riffs, so he came over the other day and showed me all of the parts again and we ran through it. Carcass’s music is extremely different from Arch Enemy’s music. It’s a lot more extreme, and the arrangements are a lot more extreme. The songs are longer, like some songs are 5+ minutes. They have a lot more riffs and a lot more parts, and the next time the riff comes back, it’s almost the same as the first time but a couple of notes have changed. As the song goes it just keeps progressing. It’s very ambitious. We were very young, I was part of two records, and we were very ambitious, we just wanted to put as much stuff in there as possible. We were trying to be extreme, but also progressive in the truest sense of the word. I mean, we’re not progressive metal, we’re not trying to sound like Dream Theater (laughs). We’re progressive in the sense that we’re trying to do these things in extreme metal back then. Carcass was a groundbreaking band, I think. It’s going to be a lot of fun getting back together, we’ve had a great time hanging out. It’s nice to be friends with them again. We’ve been friends the entire time, but we haven’t been in touch that much because we’ve all been so busy doing different things. It’s going to be really nice getting back together with them. As for Daniel, I think he sounds great. He’s doing it perfect. He came really well prepared, everything’s pretty much the same. For the Carcass reunion I think it’s important to have a drummer who doesn’t have his ego come in. He wouldn’t say, “I’m going to play these songs my style, with my drum fills and my feel.” We’d need a drummer who’d come in who would be an excellent, well-rounded drummer, but could come in and take the role of the drummer on the albums. I suggested Daniel because I knew he was quite capable of it, and Jeff agreed afterwards. Nobody else tried, so he’s kind of lucky. We just tried him, and it worked out.
THE CURRENT STATE OF SPIRITUAL BEGGARS
What the news regarding Spiritual Beggars? Your last Spiritual Beggars album, DEMONS, was put out in 2005, and it was very well received by the fans of the band, too.
Two years ago, I wrote almost ten songs and started thinking about putting some together, but then Arch Enemy kicked back into gear with a new album and a new tour, and the other guys were busy, with the keyboard player becoming a permanent member of Opeth, the singer’s got a really good job and has his own band called Grand Magus, the drummer is in a band called Firebird and plays in a few other bands. It’s been difficult to get everyone together, and I kind of lost interest. It’s a lot of work to get everyone together when everyone’s doing different things. It’s hard to get everybody on the same schedule, everybody’s got their own thing going on. But it’s the kind of music I really enjoy, 70’s hard rock. I love it. I’ve been busy, but also excited with the Carcass reunion, and I keep working with Arch Enemy, so I’m not really a frustrated musician. I’ve done so many different things, I don’t have this dream of, “oh, I wish I could’ve done this, or done that,” I’m just happy to do the work that I do. I grab the opportunities whenever they come; everyday I work on something and stay busy. You never know, we might do some new things with Spiritual Beggars, we’ll see what happens.
Your first album was called BLACK EARTH that was released on a small independent Swedish label Wrong Again Records in 1996. What do you think about that album these days, after some 12 years?
I still think it’s a fun record. We did it very quickly, like a week or something. I pretty much wrote that record all on my own, with a little bit of help from the singer at the time, and my brother Chris helped produce it. I brought a bunch of people together and did it very quickly. The first time that everybody actually met was during the photo shoot, which was done after the recording (laughs). It turned out to be pretty killer, considering that it came from nothing. We weren’t a real band or anything like that at that point. That was the starting point, and we came out on a very small label in Europe and didn’t make much impact, it didn’t come out in America at all. It was licensed to a label in Japan and we got pretty successful immediately off that over there, and that built the foundation for the band. We went over there and toured on the first record in Japan. At that point we were like, okay, they really like us in Japan for some reason. It was really only made as something to be fun, and it eventually turned into this, which is still fun, but we’re more serious now.
Thank you Michael for your time and… keep on rotting!
(laughs) Thanks to yourself!