Alissa White-Gluz, Arch enemy interview – London – Summer 2017

A few weeks before they played at this year’s Bloodstock festival, I had the pleasure of speaking to Arch Enemy vocalist Aliisa White-Gluz (and briefly Michael Ammott who had been delayed en-route) about the new Arch Enemy album, Will to Power.

Lets start by talking about the new live DVD that came out 3 months ago – As the stages burn. What made you decide to use the Wacken show to film a DVD?

I think that for a lot of metalheads, Wacken represents the pinnacle of metal music. It’s arguably the biggest metal festival in the world, I think it’s something that people aspire just to go and watch, let alone play, and so for Arch Enemy, we were headlining it, so it was a huge opportunity, a really great thing for any band to do. We decided we ere going to pay our dues and pay thanks to everybody for giving us this opportunity, by putting on the show that Arch Enemy is meant to put on, full production, great crew having the full production going, lighting, everything at 1000%. Wacken always sells out so not everybody gets to see it, so we figured that one way that we could have everybody see it was if we recorded it for a DVD, so we had Patrick Ullaeus from Sweden who does all our music videos, we had him come in to make this sort of movie of the DVD and the live performance. If we wanted to make a perfect live performance it would be boring and wouldn’t capture the essence of metal, some bands do that and you can do that – book a smaller venue and play there four nights in a row or something like that so you have many takes but we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to keep it simple and raw but also very grandiose and representative of how big the music we make is, so we filmed that and Andy Sneap mixed the audio, a really good team of people putting it all together and the result has been getting really positive reactions so it’s been great.

With a festival you don’t get as long to soundcheck and set up so it’s riskier to do a DVD at a festival I’d imagine.

We don’t get any soundcheck. Yeah I don’t know if people realise or not but I didnt know what was behind me on stage till I saw the footage on the DVD. I never saw that set before, I never had chance to practice with the stairs or anything like that, you see it the second you go out on stage. With festivals you don’t get a soundcheck, there are lots of things that can go wrong, but that’s just the way it is with festivals.

With Arch Enemy you always do a good live show, so for something like Wacken there must be pressure wondering how you can step it up to make it even better.

I don’t know if it’s because I come from a theatre background but I’m always aware of how far away the audience might be and in the case where you have 100,000 people in the audience, some people are going to be really far away so we had to make it huge so those people could see and sometimes I even have to tone down how much I move around because I’m aware that there’s probably a camera focussing on my face to show it on a big screen so people really far away can see it, so I’ll stand still a little bit more so that I can connect with the people a little further away.
When I see photographers I try and play with them a little bit and get some moments next to Jeff or Michael, or whatever.

People in the audience really appreciate your energy – you run on stage and don’t really stop running around till the end of the show. Not an easy time.

No it’s not, but it is fun.

You’ve got a new album coming out, “Will to power”. When did the writing for that start?

I think in bits and pieces some of Will to power started years ago really – riffs, ideas for parts of the songs, but we went into the studio to record “Will to power” this year. Actually we started the drums even before that, last year. Since we tour so much it’s hard to find enough time when we can all get together and record. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to let Will to power kind of percolate and become what it needed to be before we called it finished, but now it got to the point where we all felt that it was ready. So I recorded my parts in Sweden earlier this year and it was mixed by Jens Bogren again. We’re all really really happy with the album. It’s been three years since “War eternal” and obviously a lot has happened in that time and we’ve grown and evolved as people and musicians and as a band, and I think this album reflects that.

You came in part way through the process for War eternal, so this is the first Arch Enemy album where you’ve been involved all the way through.

Yeah with War Eternal I came in when there were 8 songs in the demo stage, instrumental, so I came in and wrote lyrics and Mike wrote some lyrics and I obviously recorded the vocals, but this time it’s true, I did hear the songs when they were a little bit less polished, in the earlier stages so it was kind of cool to evolve with the songs. There were some songs that I started demoing last year. They’re not entirely different now that they’ve finished but they’ve sort of blossomed into a more complete entity rather than the demo it started out as.

Did you write the lyrics for this album?

Michael and I both did. He writes lyrics for some songs, I write for others.

What are your lyrical inspirations?

Usually for me, the inspiration comes from the song itself, so if the song has kind of a mischievous, trouble-making vibe to it I might make lyrics that are a little bit more provocative or a little more aggressive. If the song is more melancholy or sad I might write about something that is more hurtful or more emotional. In the case of “The race”, the opening track of the album, it sounded so fast, like punk, that I felt the need to write something almost political, so that’s why I went with that. For the most part I let the sound of the instruments dictate – wherever my mind goes when I listen to it, that’s where I take it.

One thing I noticed on “Reason to believe” is that there’s some clean singing – I think that’s a first for an Arch Enemy album.

Yes there is. There’s a little bit of clean singing on War Eternal but we were very clever about where we put it, so for example on the song “Avalanche” you can hear it or if you listen really closely on “You will know my name” you can hear it there. Even on “Never forgive never forget” there’s some clean singing but it’s interspersed, like mixed in like an instrument rather than a lead instrument, and I think we were just at the point where this is going to be the tenth studio album for Arch Enemy and so if we’re not allowed to take artistic liberties after ten albums then when will we be allowed? It’s important that it still sound slike Arch Enemy, which it does. If Arch Enemy is going to make a ballad, this is it. I think it’s cool because it still maintains that heaviness, the mood in the song is so heavy. I know there’s a war between screaming and clean singing but all of us in the band we just love music and we love metal, and some of the greatest metal bands of all time have clean singing – Megadeth, Metallica, Judas Priest, so we don’t have any weird prejudice against clean singing…if it fits, so in this case it fit and it works, and that’s “Reason to believe”.

This summer you have two months of non-stop festivals including Bloodstock. Will you be playing any new songs or will that wait till after the album is released?

We’re going to see. It’s always tricky to hold onto the songs because we just want to play them, but at the same time we want people to know the songs before we play them. I’ve always said that I’d hate for something that when we’d spent years writing and recording something, we’d hate to have someones first impression of that to be froma shitty cellphone recording at a show. So it all depends – we’ll see.

You’ve then got Eastern Europe dates – including Greece, Russia and more. I’m guessing Western Europe dates will start being announced as you play the festivals?

Yeah we have a lot of them. We’re booked all the way into next year already, so it’s just a matter of releasing dates once they’re confirmed.

It must be quite frustrating when people are constantly asking when you’re going to play somewhere, and you know you already have dates booked but you can’t announce yet.

It is frustrating but sometimes I’ll post up about a new date like “Arch Enemy plays Russia September 2017”, and almost immediately I’ll get people asking when we’ll be playing Russia. Any place people want us to play we’re more than happy to go there but it’s also up to the fans to look and see when we’re playing there then buy a ticket and come to the show because all we can do is book the show and see you there. We can’t remind every single fan individually, so people have to open their eyes and see when we’re coming to their city.

And of course, the promoters have to book you. I think some fans don’t realise you can’t just decide where you’ll play and when, you need a promoter to book the show.

Of course. We’ve been trying to play anywhere that people want to see us. I know it’s frustrating for fans in like Australia or the US even – we don’t go to the US very often and haven’t gone to Australia at all on the War Eternal tour. We want to go there – if someone will book us, we’ll be there, but we need someone to book us and that is out of the band’s hands, and even out of management’s hands, it’s really up to the agents and promoters.

When you’re touring, do you find it easy now to find food for a healthy vegan diet?

It’s pretty easy. I’ve been a Vegan for 20 years and touring for 10 year or a little bit more. Nowadays more and more placed are becoming accomodating for vegans so it’s becoming easier and easier.

Even for meat eaters it’s not always easy to have a healthy diet on tour because when you get free time often there aren’t that many healthy places to eat open.

In that sense you have to prepare. I think people forget that the healthiest food is food that doesnt have a label on it, like apples or bananas, so if you prepare you can always have stuff like that in your bag or on the bus and you can eat that. People will be surprised how filling that can be.

Your stage show is very energetic, so presumably when not on tour you have to exercise a lot to keep in shape?

Yeah. A show is a real workout for sure. When I’m at home I love working out, I have a little gym in my house and a gym I go to in my city. Almost everyone in my close family and friends enjoy working out, so I do like that. I like going running or resistance training, yoga, but of course a lot of it is in preparation to make sure I’m fit enough to do our shows.

Something I’ve noticed on the War Eternal tour is that since you’ve joined it seems like the whole band has a new lease of life and they’re all trying to keep up with you.

Michael: It’s a nightmare

Between Arch Enemy writing/recording and touring, I’m not sure how you’ve found the time but you’ve got a solo project haven’t you?

Yes I’m in the process of writing songs for this solo band which is called Alissa, so it’s simple and straightforward. I’m going to be doing songs that I want to make, with people I enjoy writing with and working with. Over the years I’ve done so many guest appearances with different bands and musicians that I really respect, so I think this is a really cool way for me to bring them into my world of music for a change. So I’m working on that, and any time that I do have downtime from Arch Enemy, which is not very often, that’s what I’m going to be working on. Once all the songs are ready and I feel like it’s time then I’m going to be releasing that on Napalm records.

It’s not going to be this year that it comes out – we’ve got Will to power coming out this year so it’s going to be very busy, but they say you have your whole life to release your first album…then two years to release your second one. This is my first album of this kind, so I’m only going to release it when it’s time. I know that it’s frustrating for some people to wait for that but luckily they have another great album which is called “Will to power” which they can have in the meantime.

Thank you for your time.

About Ant May

I spend half my life at gigs or festivals and the other half writing the reviews and editing photos, and somehow find time for a full time job too. Who needs sleep - I've got coffee.
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