Heart of Steel: Interviews

ARCH ENEMY Interview with Michael Amott

Interviewed by EvilG

 

Let's start out about Arch Enemy and their popularity in Japan. I've always wandered why Arch Enemy are so huge in Japan, is it a result of marketing , or the fans who like the band more than some other countries? And tied into that, why was "Wages of Sin" released over there so many months before everywhere else?

Ummm, A) Japanese Metal fans have very good taste (laughs). B) I don't know why. No, we seem very lucky. We're a melodic death metal / extreme metal band, whatever you want to call it, going into Japan in '97 and we're the biggest extreme metal band out there. We have been for quite some time now. Every album seems to get bigger and bigger, which is sort of going against the trend out there, because most bands are selling less and less. The market has really gone down there. We defy those rules and just keep marching on, and Wages of Sin is our biggest album to date out there. Pretty cool. I don't really know why. I think we combine the brutality with this melodic guitar stuff in there. They're really into the "cult of personality" out there somehow. They've kind of picked up on the guitar playing brothers angle a little bit maybe, I don't know. We're just so damn likeable. The rest is just business. Unfortunately it's music business, not music friendship you know. I don't really want to talk about it to much now. It's the wrong place (referring to him calling from Century Media's office). No haha, seriously we're just happy that the album is coming out now. We're psyched about that!

 

Regarding some of the topics being covered in the lyrics on the album. First of all, what is the title in reference to; "Wages of Sin"?.

We thought is was cool. It sort of sums up the entity of the album somehow, the feeling of the album. It's always hard to find a title. Sometimes you just want something that sort of gives you an idea of what the album is about. We just thought that did that. Also we thought it sounded like a classic album title you know, like an old Priest album. That kind of a feel to it.

 

In terms of some of the lyrics on here, I know you write a good part of the lyrics so what things inspire you to write lyrics? Is it personal experience or something you've read?

Yeah, mostly personal experience. Sometimes stuff I've read. There's a little bit of fiction in there sometimes, but usually nowadays I write mostly personal stuff. The more I know the less I believe, haha. The more I see, the older I get the less I know, type of thing. When I was eighteen I knew everything about the world, you know? Now I know nothing.

 

Yeah, I know what it's like. The more you learn, the less you realize you know.

Yeah, I guess.

 

When you were announcing your new singer for the band, you posted some sound clips up on your web site. You didn't say anything about who the singer was, just "Check out the clips", so I assume it was deliberate as a way to shock people, right?

Well, it's because we wanted people to judge the music first. On our hard-core fanbase. We didn't want them to be put off by, "What's this??". If they heard beforehand that we had got a new singer and it's a girl, maybe, I don't know. Maybe I underestimated out fanbase because when they actually did find out who it was, everybody has been like, "Fuck yeah!". I was expecting a 50/50 percent; 50% would be into it, and 50% would be not into it, but it's been like 1% you know. There's always going to be that 1% who prefers the first album. Everybody seems to be into it, and it's been really really cool. It's been really well received.

 

So obviously now that the initial shock of "Wow, that's a woman singing", people are not so stuck on the fact that she's a woman and they look at her more now as a vocalist?

Umm, I don't know...

More a bit of both! Haha...

She's both.

 

So when you play live now, and you're doing some of the previous Arch Enemy songs, how does she interpret the songs live? Does she do it to suit her own style, or does she try to remain faithful to the originals?

It's so much more aggressive now. It's like throwing out your pet rabbit and getting a Rottweiler or something. It's a lot more brutal, more in your face. When she auditioned for us, the way she looks and everything, it's just so impressive to us that she could do that. She's like twice as loud and twice as intense as our old vocalist, and he's a pretty big guy. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure it out that this is going to turn peoples heads, you know. Apart from that I think she's really got a talent for doing this, and it's really really cool musically. The image thing is cool too, I mean she's obviously got a more striking image than our old singer. A most Metal thing, Hehe! That's kind of a bonus, I mean to be honest this band was in desperate need of a strong personality as well. The main selling point on the old stuff was kind of the guitar playing brothers. This is kind of more interesting. A lot of magazines need an angle as well. It's true right? So we're getting so much more coverage done for this stuff now, because everybody is freaking on how there's a girl in the band. The Beauty and the Beast so to speak. The demonic voice in this woman is interesting to people I guess, but that's like a side effect. We didn't go out there looking for a female vocalist, we went out there looking for the best vocalist we could get, which happened to be a girl. So that was pretty cool.

 

If you don't mind me asking, what were the exact circumstances surrounding Johans departure, and was it a mutual agreement that he was to leave?

(Long pause and then laughter) It was tough because we had known the guy for a long time. We had a little stuff with the guy, our old singer. But you know, we decided to go forward. It was best for the band. He wasn't really cutting it live, and our fanbase wasn't crazy about him really. Going to an Arch Enemy show in the past was like going to a tennis match; people were going "There's Chris. There's Mike. There's Chris." and nobody was actually paying any attention to our singer. Now it seems to be more of a balance. We kind of needed a strong personality up there.

 

Can you ever see a day where Arch Enemy might have a song, or even part of a song, with clean melodic vocals?

Well I don't want to say "No", you know. It's music, and whatever you choose to do to express yourself is cool, I think. We want to stay on the extreme side of the fence. We're not interested in wimping out. We leave that to other bands! I know what you're saying and we might do that, but it might be in a different way than you might expect actually. I thought it was important with this album that because we have a female vocalist we came harder, more aggressive and more brutal than our previous couple of albums, even though we had a female front, you know. I think that was pretty cool. So we'll see what we do on the next album. We don't think too hard, we write stuff that feels good to us. Whatever comes out comes out, but we do consider our fanbase when we write music as well. Fans are part of the band I think. I hate bands that say "We just write for ourselves, and if people don't like it, we don't care", I mean that's bullshit I think. You don't have to find a record deal then, if that's your attitude. I think fans are part of the band and we do consider them in out song writing without having the cynical approach. We are the fans as well, if you know what I mean.

 

Sure. One of my favorite things about Arch Enemy is the lead guitars, and has been since day one. What do you think are some of the differences in style between yours and Christopher's?

I think it's cool when you can hear two distinctive styles when it comes to twin guitar shit. I think it's cool if you can hear the personality. I'm just really into conveying emotion, that's really the music. I think we play off each other really well. I've always liked the twin guitar thing with Maiden, Priest, Slayer and stuff like that. The Megadeth stuff they did when they were really cool. I think we certainly have different styles. He's more technical, somehow faster than I am, and I have other stuff that he doesn't have.

 

Obviously you're not just involved with Arch Enemy, you have another band Spiritual Beggars.

Yeah, it's not so active at this point. I don't know we just kind of changed the situation a little bit. We decided it was getting out of control with everybody playing in different bands. We just said now Arch Enemy is the main focus or you have to go. We got a really good album and now with this line-up is just feels so cool. It seems as thought we've got the foundation to actually go out there and do something and leave a mark, so to speak in the Metal scene. I think we should take the time this album deserves this time. We decided that Arch Enemy has to be the number one priority, that's just the way it is. Feel free to leave. If you want to go, you gotta go. In the metal scene everybody is playing with everybody.

 

Especially your bass player....When you did your Spiritual Beggars project, did you feel that it helped you keep focus for what you wanted to write for Arch Enemy?

It's part of developing as a musician you know. It's part of taking it to the next level all the time. I'm always trying to improve my playing, not that I actually sit and play seven hours a day, I don't do that. When I play in every project I try to develop. It's a natural process, I think everybody goes through it. I'm extremely self-critical, I've never really been pleased with anything I've done.

Really?!?

The day I'm 100% satisfied I'll probably just quit because I've got nothing left to prove to myself. But yeah, I can be like 99% happy, which I am with Wages of Sin. I think that's right up there with the best stuff I've done. Just the way it came together, how the album was mixed and he just brought out all the stuff that's been buried before, I think. It just makes me happy when I listen to it, the way it comes across listening to it now, a year later, the way he handles it. I think every record, if it's a good one is kind of a documentation of where that band is at that point in time. I think this one came out just the way we wanted it. So that was cool.

 

So besides the new album, is there any other album from your past, like maybe with another band like Carcass or something that...

Yeah I mean, Heartwork is one of those albums that... haunts me.

Yeah I guess you get a lot of questions about Heartwork eh?

Yeah, but it's cool. Something I'm proud of you know? It's not like I was in a hair band or anything. I haven't really gotten anything to be ashamed of.

 

When you first decided to form Arch Enemy, was the plan at the beginning to ask your brother to play with you?

Well I wanted the twin guitar thing, and my brother wasn't even playing officially at all at that point. He wasn't recording or anything, he was just kind of a bedroom guitar player you know, but he was just blowing me away. He was just developing so fast on the guitar. I said it would be really cool for him, a good start for him and his career. He's just stuck with it now you know, haha. And he loves it!

 

You played (guest appeared more or less) in the other band he's in, Armageddon. What did you think? Is there still plans for more Armageddon, or more involvement for you? There's been two Armageddon albums right?

Yeah, and he's done a new one as well. That's really going in another direction, that whole project. It's kind of melodic. He does the vocals now. It's a three piece and it's really melodic, and it's kind of more rock. I don't know, more Rock/Metal, old school Metal, whatever. There's a lot of guitar playing on there. I think it's cool to let people do what they want to do, but it shouldn't interfere with the main band. I'm really supportive with him doing that. He really loves the more melodic stuff and with him doing that, he gets it out of his system. Then he can concentrate on making it really brutal with Arch Enemy.

 

Right. One other question regarding your former band Carcass. I was wondering if you have an update for everybody on what Ken Owen's condition is?

I haven't met him since then, but from what I hear he's in a wheelchair. He'll never play the drums again or anything like that. It's pretty fucked up. He had a brain hemorrhage when he was 28...just fell down...out of nowhere. He just got married, bought a new house and he just falls down; 28 years old. Now he's living with his parents and he's in a wheelchair. He was in a coma for a year. He's slowed down a lot from what I hear physically, you know. It's very very tragic.

 

Do you stay in touch with the former guys you were in Carcass with at the time?

Yeah I talk to Bill Steer all the time really. Sometimes Jeff to, if I'm playing in England, and he'll come out.

 

I guess a lot of people have always asked, is there ever a chance for some form of a reunion or a one-off reunion or show or anything, with the lineup that existed for Heartwork (except for Ken Owens of course)?

Well, I don't think I could happen now because Ken is obviously handicapped really, and Bill Steer is totally into blues nowadays. He doesn't really get into metal at all anymore. He'd have to go to "Blues-Rules.com". But you know, he doesn't really get into those sort of things anymore at all. He's finished with that.

Yeah he did the Blackstar album... Oh wait, Bill Steer, right! I'm thinking Jeff. Haha

Yeah, he quit the music business altogether. He's doing really well though. I'm not even going to tell you what he does, it's pretty bizarre!

 

So tomorrow night you're playing in L.A. I guess you're pretty psyched to finally be playing a show over here with your new lineup and everything.

Oh yeah!

Have there been talks of perhaps a North American tour for "Wages", or would this have to be something that waits until the next album is out?

No, we're definitely going to be touring here with this album. Stuff will be confirmed very soon. I can't say right now, but you'll be hearing about it, if not anywhere else on ArchEnemy.net, our web site. We put up stuff.

 

What would you consider to be a dream tour for Arch Enemy?

I'd like to go out there on like a mixed metal bill, really. We'll play with anybody. Anybody that will have us. We've toured with all kinds of bands in the past, from really extreme death metal bands to power metal bands, whatever you want to call them. I think we can appeal, we seem to go down with all kinds of metal fans. It's pretty cool.

 

So how about the next album? This album has been out for a year (on import anyway). I guess you're been writing or maybe rehearsing new material or?

Yeah we have. We've got a bunch of new stuff, and hopefully we'll be recording before the end of the year. We don't want it to take this long again, you know. Two years, or two-and-a-half years is just ridiculous.

 

So do you think a new album could be out this year? Or would it be early next year?

Early next year, I think. That's what we're aiming for, we have to be sort of realistic. Yeah, we've written a bunch of new stuff and it's cool. It's really....(laughs) I have to hype it, it's "off the hook." It's cool, it's quite extreme. But we've only really written 1/2 of it yet, around five or six songs which is kind of more brutal than Wages of Sin. We might just add a lot of melodies and stuff to it. It's in its embryonic stages I guess.

 

So how do you think Arch Enemy has progressed musically over the past few years? What would you see as one of the biggest changes or improvements?

I loathe power metal. I don't want to do anything that has any connections with that.

Really? Haha!

You know, it's just that generic Judas Priest rip-off type stuff that comes out of Germany all the time. It's really annoying. It's like everybody is trying to rewrite the "Painkiller" song. It's like "We're Judas Priest trained professionals, do not try this at home". 

Do you want to name any specific bands?

No, no. You don't get that stuff too much over here I guess.

Well I'm a big fan of both, the new power metal bands from Germany and the melodic kind of death metal stuff too. So I'm one of the ones down the middle.

Yeah, it's cool you know, but it's too much.

Well I agree, there are too many copy bands.

I just get bored of people waving the eighties metal flag somehow. The eighties, I mean that was cool, but if you don't progress from that it's totally uninteresting to me. You can take influences from a bunch of different stuff and make up something new. Just playing within that little, just drawing influences from five classic metal albums and just try to rewrite those songs over and over again, regurgitated. I don't know, it's not music to my ears anyway. It's not being creative somehow. To each his own. We've had a little bit of going that way sometimes in our songwriting but we just want to get more extreme actually. More intense. Find new ways of being melodic without being cheesy!

 

In general, what is your opinion of what is going on today in the realm of Heavy Metal? Do you think the scene is better now than it was in the nineties, or even the eighties?

It's different. I think there's more variety than ever, isn't there?

Sure!

There's a lot of variety. Like here, it seems like in the States that grunge never died really. There's so much post grunge. There's so many bands that sound like Pearl Jam, still today. You've got everything going on at the same time here. Like in Europe that died down. You got mega bands that sound exactly like that, like Pearl Jam over here still are really big, it's kind of weird. I mean there's a lot of variety for sure. Too many bands probably somehow. It's a lot the labels fault I think. I think labels sign too many bands at too early stage possibly. There's never really time to develop bands you know. Just give them small budgets, throw them into the studio and release five albums a month. It's like throwing five pieces of crap at a wall and one sticks. They just go for that, they should promote them some more. There's not enough quality control. I think the good bands stick out anyway, it's probably always been like that. It's just the nature of the business.

 

So with regards to Arch Enemy again, what goals are you still aiming for attaining that  the band hasn't reached yet?...Besides global domination of course.

It might sound cheesy, but it's kind of a new start for us now with a new line-up. Wages of Sin is like the beginning of a second phase for the band somehow and we're just excited about it. The music is coming out really easily. It's coming out really good, it's just exciting for us to be playing. It's a stimulating combination of musicians. It's very very cool.

 

Is there any other happenings with the band that I could pass along to people, that maybe I didn't ask you about?

We're going to be touring Europe. We're going to be touring the States for sure, and I think now it's just about going out there and playing live. There's so much work left for us to do. We're the reigning kings of brutal metal in Japan and have been for years. We've really dominated over there, but we have all the work left to do over here you know, and we're prepared to do it. We're excited about going out to all the small places. It's going to be fun.

 

Cool. Well that's everything I wanted to ask you about so far, so I'd like to thank you for your time of course. So all the best of luck with your upcoming tour here in North America. I know a lot of people will be excited about that.

Yeah, hopefully we'll come your way as well.

Sure, come up to Canada!

Yeah we'll be there for sure.

Right on! Okay man, thanks alot.

Take care.

- Transcription by Joel-

 

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