I spoke to Michael Amott and Alissa White-Gluz recently about the recent lineup change and about their new album, War Eternal.
After over ten years, Angela has left Arch Enemy. What was the bands reaction when she told you she wanted to leave?
Michael: We saw it coming actually so it wasn’t a huge surprise. It was a case of step by step she was distancing herself, or getting herself used to the idea of stepping, playing in her mind with the idea. We could tell, so it wasn’t a big surprise out of nowhere. I did think she had a lot more to give in a way, a lot of people thought she had more to give as a performer but she didn’t feel that way. We hadn’t thought about a backup plan, so when she actually finally made a decision it put us in a position where we didn’t have a singer. We were like, What do we do? There were two paths, either we could stop the band, end Arch Enemy, or we could try to find a new singer and keep making music together, the rest of us which we really enjoy, it’s our life. It’s how we express ourselves and what we love doing. Angela urged us to continue and she suggested Alissa. So she was the first name on our list, so we spent some time researching her and thought this could be really cool.
Once you get that to that “ok this has ended” stage you can either get paralysed and depressed, or start thinking what to do. I think we actually got really energised when we knew she wanted to leave because it made us think about what we wanted out of the band, out of our lives. Angela had been asking herself these kind of questions, and we figured out we wanted to continue making music, there’s nothing else we really want to do. It’s like trying to figure out, well I could get into gardening….what am I supposed to do, I’m a guitar player and song writer and that’s what I am. With Alissa agreeing to join us and come over and try out and jam with us in the rehearsal room, collaborate on a bit of new stuff, then we did some demos with her in Sweden. That was an eye opener, when we thought, This might work, this might actually be the next chapter of Arch Enemy, so that was exciting and encouraging.
So when did Alissa actually join? It was obviously long before the announcement as you’d already recorded with her by then.
Michael: She joined on the Friday, the announcement was on the monday and the video and album was recorded on the Thursday, that’s how it went, that’s the timeline right there. (by this point Alissa was laughing). It was actually a gradual process. We had a clandestine operation in a way. We didn’t want to shock the fans too much, we wanted to make sure it would work with Alissa. Finish the album – write it, record it, mix and master the album, shoot a video, take some pictures and really present the fans with something that they deserve – proof that Arch Enemy will live on, rather than slap them in the face by saying “Angela has left the band, you’ll hear from us in maybe five months when we’ve found a new singer”. We didn’t want to do that – at the same time, I felt bad for keeping stuff from the fans, but it was the inner workings of the band and it was our private almost family situation. It was over the course of a few months.
I think the way you’ve done it has worked really well. It’s avoided all the speculation that you’d have got if you’d just announced Angela’s departure, and by releasing a video with the announcement people are able to hear straight away how the new Arch Enemy lineup sounds.
Fans are often reluctant to accept change, particularly when it’s someone key to the sound like a singer, but the reaction I’ve seen online has been amazingly positive with people saying Alissa was a great choice.
Michael: It’s the nature of being a fan. There are two types of fan. As I become more mature I’m becoming a more open-minded fan, I’m a fan of an artist, and maybe the singer on the first two albums was killer but I also like the second singer too, I get more flexible, but I also know there’s the sort of fan mentality where you fall in love with something, the music, the characters in the band, and when that changes it can really piss you off.
Alissa: I think as Michael said, we wanted to be totally respectful of the fans in the way we presented the news and also had music right away for them to hear because bands are individual people that make up a unit, and obviously as people grow older priorities change and you know the fact that Angela left the band doesn’t remove all her work and impact from existence, everything she did is still there and the fans can still appreciate that, and I think it’s great that some fans are open-minded enough to see that’s great and to now look forward to what happens next.
Michael: We wanted people to judge the music. We talked a lot about it, and Alissa felt strongly about that, she didn’t want to just announce it and then no new music. She was in a tough position as well, she had big shoes to fill. She really is amazing on the album, so we can go Bang, here it is, like it or not. If you don’t like it cool, but dislike it because you don’t like the music, not because the singer quit and someone joined later.
Alissa, you have the ability to do both growls and clean vocals, having done both in The Agonist. Are you going to be doing both in Arch Enemy or is it just growling?
Alissa: I have a lot of vocal techniques that I’ve built into my instrument (voice) over the past decade or so, but I’ve also developed mentally as an artist, not just my technique but a real appreciation for song writing and structure and I think with Arch Enemy there’s a certain sound that we need to respect because it’s a very established band with an extremely loyal fanbase, so we wanted to make music that the fans would love, and that we would also love. The idea of putting some clean singing, obviously we’re all open-minded musicians and like that sort of stuff too, I like clean singing, I’ve done quite a bit of it with Kamelot over the past few years too but I don’t feel that it’s a necessary part of Arch Enemy right now. Maybe in the future it will find it’s place, but on this album with the exception of maybe here and there where I did play with that, I didn’t feel that it was really necessary because the guitars carry so much melody anyway, so we chose to keep the vocals brutal and the guitars singing on their own and there’s a nice balance that way too.
You’ve left The Agonist, and I noticed that they timed their announcement about your departure and replacement to coincide with the Arch Enemy announcement so again there was no speculation and people are able to look to the future rather than dwelling on what might happen.
Michael: They were doing their own thing but both bands are on the same record label, so there was some communication through the record label. I think it all worked out.
Alissa: Now I can say it worked out well. When they kicked me out I was bummed about it, but you know as much as I would have liked to continue with that band, that’s not what they wanted so at least now they’re doing what they want. I’m still proud of the music I made with them, my albums still exist, and now I get to hopefully make many more albums with Arch Enemy, so I think really it’s good for the fans of both bands, and good for the members of both bands.
When you joined Arch Enemy did it help you, knowing that Angela had recommended you?
Alissa: Yeah, because for people who really love and respect Angela, I would hope they’ll also respect her choice. You can’t fault her for wanting to focus on management, and knowing that I have her approval in joining Arch Enemy, it’s quite different to what happened in my former band, but knowing I have her approval made it a good environment to work in. I felt I was doing something not only to make me happy, but also making everyone else happy too. The music grew into something more than I expected too.
The new album, War Eternal comes out in early June. Why did you choose to produce the album yourselves this time?
Michael: Well we’ve sort of dabbled in that before, we’ve always co-produced our albums, mostly, and we’ve got two fantastic engineers in the band – Daniel and Sharlee are both very good at the recording process, so we didn’t need engineers and did that ourselves, and then we just thought we know what we want, and there are already a lot of new elements with this album, writing with Nick for the first time, Alissa’s new, so if we brought in an outside producer with new ideas then it might be a bit much this time around. Better to put as much of ourselves into this album as possible, which we’ve done. The booklet with the album, Alissa has handwritten the lyrics and stuff like that. We’ve put as much of ourselves into this album as possible I think.
When you release an album do you ever look at it and think, well that’s the best we can do – how on earth are we going to beat that for the next one?
Alissa: That’s the goal every time you release an album.
Michael: I always think well that’s it, I can’t do any better, but then when it’s released and we start touring, you start to think of new ideas, but right now I’m empty, I’ve put everything I have into it, we all have. That’s a good feeling too, to know you’ve put everything into it. That’s the cool thing with Arch Enemy too, there’s so many things we can do with this band. There’s so much variety on the album, we worked with real orchestra strings on three or four songs with a conductor and recorded a real orchestra for the first time ever with this band, we did a kind of progressive metal track I guess you can call it, the most progressive track I’ve been involved with, which is called “Time is black”, there’s the first song which uses blastbeats, we’ve never had that, so there’s a lot there. I’m definitely not a frustrated musician thinking “there’s things I can do but I can’t do them in this band”, there’s a lot of free thinking and creativity in this band.
You start touring at the end of May, in Bucharest, and tour through the summer festivals including a UK date at Alt-fest where you’re not on the metal stage – you’re on the main stage instead, second from the top.
Michael: That’s how we roll. I just hope people will like us, I think the Cult are on after us.
It’s a really varied lineup
Alissa: I like it, it’s a good lineup
Michael: I was looking at it and there’s stuff I want to watch.
Alissa: That’s it, I want to see some of the other bands. I really need to go and see Cradle of Filth.
Michael: We’re always on really hardcore metal tours and festivals, and that’s cool too, but I think I’ve seen most of those bands, but I don’t get to play with bands like The Cult very often, and I actually know the drummer.
That’s got to be a sign of a great lineup when the bands playing it are looking at the lineup and wanting to watch some of the other bands
Michael: I have cancelled interviews so I can go off and watch a band at a festival. Sometimes a band is so awesome you just have to go and watch them. That’s the beauty of a festival, and also meeting up with the people we already know. Every summer for us is really travelling around Europe meeting up with friends and making new friends as well. It’s a great community out there, striking up friendships with other bands or crew people whatever. We’ve been around quite some time now and so many people have been involved in our career in some way.
We’re really looking forward to getting out on the road, because I think that’s really where a metal band either lives or dies. The good ones live and the bad ones die. I’ve heard Alissa sing Nemesis, “Yesterday is dead and gone”, “My apocalypse”, “Ravenous”, all in my face in band practice, so I’m really excited to get out there and crush all the doubts, if there are any left after the album comes out. Everyone’s blown away by the “War Eternal” track, one million views after 4 days, and people saying it’s awesome but there are people who say “well that’s studio, not live”.
Anyone who’s seen The Agonist play live will know Alissa can deliver in a live setting
Michael: She’s a singer who wants to be on the road, on tour and doing shows. There’s a good feeling in the band right now.
Have you got plans for after the summer?
Michael: We’ve got a really exciting tour that I can’t tell you – it’s being announced tomorrow, we’re going out in Europe with another band, and I’m really excited about it [The tour being referred to is the subsequently announced European tour with Kreator]. We’re going everywhere. We’ve already booked Japan, we’ve got shows in Asia, we’ve got an American tour that’s being announced soon also with a killer lineup, and now we’re looking at January, February, March 2015 and we’re already being booked for festivals in 2015
Thank you both very much for your time