Interview by Shaq
Live photos by Lord of the Wasteland
Transcription by Mike ‘Fucking Hostile’ Holmes
Anyone even remotely familiar with the metal scene knows who Michael Amott is. With the recent announcement of a long-awaited Carcass reunion and the increasing popularity of his main band Arch Enemy, Mike is a busy man. Fortunately I was able to speak with him during his current North American tour and get his thoughts on everything.
Right now you’re touring North America in direct support of Machine Head, how is that tour going?
It’s going great. Actually they call it a co-headline. They play last and close the shows, but we get the same time on stage. But yeah, it’s a great tour. It’s a really good one for us. We just dropped the new album a week ago, so we were right here in the United States when the album came out.
Are their any plans in the works for doing your own headlining tour?
Yeah, next year; probably around February or March, something like that.
In the past few years you guys have really broken through in North America. Do you think there is any particular reason for that happening?
I don’t know why, maybe because we’ve been touring here a lot on a lot of cool tours. We’ve supported Slayer, we’ve supported Iron Maiden, we’ve supported Megadeth, those were pretty good gigs. We did Ozzfest, so we’ve had a lot of opportunities to make a lot of new fans. Everyday we play our own shows nowadays we meet people that say “you opened for Slayer and that’s how I found out about you guys”. We were on Gigantour last year with Megadeth, it was a very cool tour and we got a lot of new fans. We’ve just been coming over here a lot, a lot of headlining stuff as well, on a smaller level. We’re keeping at it.
Lets talk about your brand new album, ‘Rise of the Tyrant’; the album is very much in the vein of older Arch Enemy, was this intentional?
A little bit, I think so as well. I think this album has the elements of the old Arch Enemy and also the stuff we did on our last two records. What we wanted to do was to make something that was extremely action packed, lots of intricate arrangements, little things that keep changing and every time they come around they’re a little bit different. Lots of harmonies, lots of speed, lots of power, lots of guitar solos. We really wanted to make an intense metal album that was fun to listen to.
How did the return of your brother to the band influence the album?
Well, he had an influence. But I’ve been writing on this album for two years before he rejoined. So, most of it was actually done, as far as writing went. We did do a couple of co-writes together; like “The Last Enemy” and a song called “Vultures” which closes the album. Those were co-writes that we pretty much did from scratch. I really wanted his flavor as much as possible on the album because he has a different style and moods for the sake of variety I think it’s good to have his flavor on there as well. I tried to put as many of his little parts as possible across the songs that were already completed.
Angela didn’t use any vocal effects on this album which had become kind of common on the last couple. Was this her decision, or had this been decided by the band?
I don’t know. We never really used any more effects than anyone else in the studio. On the last album she double-tracked everything, which basically means that you record everything twice exactly the same. Everything you have heard Ozzy sing is like that, everything you’ve ever heard Chuck Billy sing in Testament is like that, nothing out of the ordinary. But this time she wanted to do single takes, we ripped through it a lot quicker, and I think she spent a lot less time on it and it came out sounding really killer. Every time is different, every time you make another album the guitar tone is going to be a little different and the vocals are going to be a little different, the drums, everything. Everything comes together, you drag everything into a new room, a new studio, a new engineer, its going to come out sounding a little different but it is still going to be Arch Enemy.
One other obvious difference this time around is your use of Frederick Nordstrom instead of Andy Sneap. Was their any particular reason for this and do you think it had a big impact on a final result of the album?
Yeah, the album sounds totally different than the last one; I guess it did have an impact, no doubt. The main reason for that was just because we wanted to do something different. We worked on so many projects with Andy Sneap that we wanted to try something different, and to try and not make everything sound too similar. Andy is one of my best friends on a personal level, and I think he is one of the best metal producers out there; he’s actually one of the top names now. He’s awesome, probably the best out there. We also wanted to record in Sweden, so we could be at home. We thought that going back to Frederick would a cool thing, you know; just a little bit different.
The song ‘The Day you Died’ is inspired by an anime movie, ‘Grave of the Fireflies’, it seems like kind of an odd source of inspiration for a metal band. How did this come about?
As you know I have been to Japan many times, about 25 times now, and I’ve come to appreciate a lot of their cultural things, and anime films is just one of them. This film was recommended to me by a fan; it’s one of the strongest anti-war movies I’ve ever seen. You forget that it’s animated within the first five minutes. It’s a very, very strong and moving film. It just inspired me to write the melody, and me and Angela co-wrote the lyrics. Inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere. It’s all good!
As a guitar player myself I have to ask; what can you tell me about the guitar and amp setup that you use to achieve your tone and sound on this album?
Studio Fredman had a bunch of stuff. He’s got stuff like Engl amps, an old school Savage 120, an Engl cab, and a 5150 – one of the old Peavy Van Halen ones. I still have two of those; I used to play those for over ten years. We brought a bunch of Randall equipment in. There were four guitar tracks and we’d do all kinds of stuff where we would use the pre-amp from one amp in combination with a power amp of another amp. The four different guitar tracks had all different combinations. It’s hard to say exactly what it is; we will never be able to reproduce that sound. [laughs] We are on the road now and using Randall RM100’s, which are old tube amps. They have 2 power amps with 2 pre-amps which are switchable. It has like pre-amp modules that you can take out and put back; they are very versatile and have a great sound. It keeps me happy.
You guys are also kind of known for releasing cover songs on your EP’s, most recently being ‘Welcome to Shadows’ by Queensryche. How did you end up picking that kind of song to cover?
We always want to do songs like that, that are different. You’re not going to see us doing an old Dark Tranquility song anytime soon, or something that’s close to our genre. We would rather do stuff that will make people go “wow I didn’t even know they were into that kind of stuff.” We also did Manowar, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest. Queensryche is just one of those bands that we enjoy. Old Queensryche stuff is just totally awesome, the ‘Rage for Order’ album is just amazing. We were kind of rushed so that was the song that we had time to learn. We wanted to do ‘Surgical Strike’, but it didn’t sound that great when we did it, so this one is kind of a simpler song from that album. We did “The Oath” by Kiss which is on the Japanese release, and that came out pretty cool.
You recently filmed videos for both ‘Revolution Begins’ and ‘I Will Live Again’, how did those turn out?
They turned out pretty killer; I’ve only seen one of them. One of them is still being completed, ‘Revolution Begins’ I believe, and that’s going to debut soon…somewhere. [laughs]. That’s going to be out soon. It looks pretty cool, it looks like we playing is this huge desert, and the kids are so into Arch Enemy that they started a revolution. [laughs] It’s pretty funny, videos are funny I think. But this one actually looks really awesome. Videos aren’t really something that I think too much about, but this one actually turned out pretty cool. The reason why I started playing guitar wasn’t to make videos or do photo shoots. I think mainly about the music, the riffs, the solos and making the album, rehearsing, recording, playing live, the stuff I enjoy. These are the other things that come into it when you have a band at this level, its like added stuff. Just like doing interviews, it’s not why I started playing guitar but it’s cool and fun, it’s a part of the gig. But videos are videos. I hate doing them in a way because usually we end up in these 24 hour shoots, where you’re miming and headbanging and it never ends. For this one we had a really good director. We shot two videos in two days and they were two really short days. He really knew what he was doing; I think he understands that musicians really don’t like making videos. He had a very compact schedule which was awesome.
Both you and Angela appeared on the new Annihilator CD. How did that come about and did you have fun doing it?
We actually did the recording at home, in Sweden. Jeff Waters started e-mailing me out of the blue and said “hey I really loved Doomsday Machine” which was the album we had out at the time. I gave him my number and we started talking, and he asked if I wanted to play a guitar solo on my new record and if Angela would like to do a duet on it with Danko Jones. We had time; we were home at that point writing the new Arch Enemy album. I get a lot of requests to play on stuff and I usually end up saying no. Sometimes I get requests offering $500 to play a guitar solo on an album for some unknown band. They just want to put a big fat sticker on their album saying ‘Michael Amott’, and I don’t think that is totally cool. That would be in my discography; I’ve got enough crap in my discography. [laughs] I don’t need help from other people.
The big news recently is that you announced that you had rehearsed with Bill Steer and Jeff Walker, and then a few days ago it was announced officially that you guys would be at ‘Wacken’ next year. Is there any else that you could tell me about this?
Its going to be a handful of shows from what I understand. Jeff Walker is running the show, it’s his deal. We all agreed to do a handful of shows and have some fun; I am really looking forward to it. I am on tour with Arch Enemy until Christmas, and I can’t really think about that right now. [laughs] I guess we will be getting next year at some point and do another week of rehearsal and get ready for playing those songs live again. Daniel from Arch Enemy will actually be playing drums.
I would love to see that show, hopefully you guys could bring it over here; or maybe I’ll have to go over there.
Where are you from?
I am in New York.
New York City, that’s not totally unthinkable I guess. But the plans don’t go that far right now, it’s more like just a handful of European festivals. We will get that over with and see what kind of feedback we get.
Then again I’ve been wanting to go to Wacken for years, so this will probably push me over the edge.
Yeah, fucking Carcass and Iron Maiden, you would get your fill.
You can’t go too wrong there. So, you had said that they weren’t fans of what you had done in Arch Enemy, have you followed their output since the end of Carcass?
Bill Steer had a band called Firebird, and they’re more like a Cream, Jimi Hendrix type thing, very 70’s rock. They’re good man, I like them a lot. Jeff Walker did a solo album…it was very eclectic. [laughs]
Yeah just a bit. [laughs]
That was just strange! [laughs] I don’t think he would mind me saying that though.
Have they heard Arch Enemy’s cover of “Incarnated Solvent Abuse”?
I don’t know. I mean, it sounds just like the original. I never wanted to cover that song; it was the other guys that wanted to do it.
So, the other guys in Arch Enemy wanted to do it? You recorded it originally so I guess you really had no real reason.
Yeah, I already did it. I co-wrote that song and recorded it back on the original. It was alright, I guess.
Is there any news from the Spiritual Beggars camp?
Spiritual Beggars…no. I’ve had about ten new songs written for about a year or so. But really, I’ve had no time; I am so booked up. Arch Enemy has kept me really busy, and now throw this Carcass reunion into the mix. I really don’t want to make a Spiritual Beggars album then not have time to promote it, do the shows, and do all the cool stuff we could do. Traditionally we will do a European tour and then a Japan tour; we did that for quite a few years. But now ultimately with the timing of everything it’s just become a little harder. The schedules of the other guys are just crazy. Per the keyboard player is in Opeth. The singer is in a band called Grand Magus and is doing a really great job. The drummer is like in 15 other bands. Then also me and Sharlee are in Arch Enemy. It’s just hard to pin everybody down. I was home trying to put it back together and I would be calling anybody and they would say “well I’m in America” or “I’m in Australia” or “I’m in the studio.” [laughs] That kind of music, I don’t think it’s ever going to grow old so we can kind of grow old in that music. Hopefully we’ll be able to get together. We’ll be playing a local bar near you!
That’s actually all of the written questions that I have, is there anything else that you want to add?
METAL RULES! See you in New York!
I would like to thank George Vallee of Century Media Records for arranging this interview.