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Michael Amott (Arch Enemy): When everybody else was quitting, I kept going

Michael Amott (Arch Enemy): When everybody else was quitting, I kept going
BANDS : Arch Enemy

Metalfan: Hello and welcome to Arch Enemy doesn't need any introduction, therefore we are not going to discuss details regarding biographical facts and we are going to focus directly on your last album, Khaos Legions.
What has the response been so far to Khaos Legions. What were the public reactions to your latest album? Are you happy with the feedback?

Michael Amott: I understand the reactions from the fans were very strong, they’ve been very good. They love they feel of the album, the direction, the songs and everything. So we had very good reaction from the fans. Reviews - in magazines and stuff like that, you know – some have been very good and some have been not so good. But it’s always mixed reviews with us, because Arch Enemy is a true metal band and not everybody likes that. We have guitar solos and a lot of stuff that people think that are not necessary today. But we have our sound and we have our direction, so it’s not a problem. Our fans loved the record and we’re happy with that.

Metalfan: Talking about guitar solos and their place in today’s metal... There’s always this debate on whether they are necessary or not. We at Metalfan tend to say they are, but still sometimes you can do without. Do you have a particular reason for keeping those solos in your songs – or it’s just the way you want to play it and that’s it?

Michael Amott: To me the guitar solos are a part of the tradition of heavy metal and hard rock that I grew up listening to. I, as a music fan, like to hear the guitar sound, the interplay between vocals and guitar. With Arch Enemy, for instance, that’s where our melody comes from – it’s from the guitar. To us it’s a very important ingredient and we, as music fans, that’s what we like to listen to. But you know, I think it’s important the guitar solos have a meaning and make the song better, not just because you have to have guitar solos. You know, a great guitar solo in a great song by a great band – that’s something amazing! And that’s what we try to achieve.

Metalfan: Khaos Legions was written over a four year period, why did you take such a long period to work on this record?
Michael Amott: Hahaha, yeah, maybe it’s too long. Well, we had more time to write and we wrote a lot of stuff and actually recorded lots of things that didn’t make it on the album. We had I think 20 songs that we recorded and our plan is to put out an EP or a mini-album next year and get that stuff our for the fans. We recorded a lot, we had lots if ideas – that’s why it took us nearly four years.

Metalfan: Referring to this record, you said: “I think we took a more is more approach to this record”. We definitely heard of “less is more” or even “enough is more” in the artists’ world, hahaha. But what did you mean by “more is more”?

Michael Amott: Hahahaha, yeah, I was just joking around... You know, everybody says “less is more”, but with Arch Enemy we had more guitar solos, more songs, more screaming, we had heavier, faster, slower, doomier elements. There’s just more of everything on this album. So we couldn’t say that we were doing the “less is more” thing, because Arch Enemy is not very understated, you know... It’s very charismatic, and very in your face and over the top – musically and everything. That’s just the side of this band.

Metalfan: What are, in your opinion, Khaos Legions strongest points?
Michael Amott: Musically, you mean?

Metalfan: Musically, lyrically or even related to the cover of the album, if there’s something great about it.
Michael Amott: I think musically it’s a very strong record. Every time we make a record, we try to make the best album that we can at that time, with the coolest musical ideas and the most interesting lyrics and the best artwork... In fact, to us an album is one piece of art – like you said. The cover, the lyrics and the music – it’s not like they are totally separated issues, it’s all connected for us. So we always try to have a little concept going for every album. I think this time we had a good thing going on: it’s musically very strong, it has all the classical Arch Enemy elements that people might expect, but we have some things that we’ve never done before; so it’s a bit of a combination. Because you want to stay true to your roots, but expand a little bit every time.


Metalfan: Can you pick a track from this record that you think it represents perfectly the 2011 Arch Enemy?
Michael Amott: Yes, it’s a song called Bloodstained Cross. To me that’s the strongest song of the album, because it’s very fast and melodic, and that’s what I like to listen to.

Metalfan: But could you pick a track from another band which could eventually be what Arch Enemy 2011 stands for? Not necessarily the same musical style, but a track that you would be happy to play and you wouldn’t mind having composed it, hahaha....
Michael Amott: Wow! There are many, I guess... There are many, many great band, you know... Let me think here for a bit, hahaha... I’m a big music fan, I’m a big metal fan, of course. And we have influences that people might not expect. One of our biggest influences is Black Sabbath, probably; it’s my favourite band all time. Arch Enemy doesn’t sound like Black Sabbath, but it’s a band that I’ve always loved and I’m still into. But I grew up listening to Megadeth and Slayer, Judas Priest, Michael Schenker – all that guitar stuff, you know. All this was an influence and contributes to the Arch Enemy sound, I think.

Metalfan: Are you going to attend one of the concerts in the recently announced Black Sabbath tour?

Michael Amott: I’d love to see them again, but I’ve had the good fortune when we did the Ozzfest in 2005 with Arch Enemy in America. So I saw Black Sabbath evry night, I played on the same stage every night, for about 30 shows or something.

Metalfan: Yes, I know that, that’s what I’m actually asking is if you would go as far as buying a ticket to see them once more from the audience, hahaha...
Michael Amott: Hahahaha, well... I think I would, you know. They are legends and to be able to see Geezer Butler, Toni Iommi, Ozzy and Bill Ward up there on stage is something special, I think.

Metalfan: As far as your songwriting process goes, is everything written by the time you get to the studio, or do you write anything there?
Michael Amott: We’re always very very well prepared in studio, so when we get there we have pretty much all we need. But some things change in the studio, hahaha, but I don’t know if you can call that writing. You just come up with different ideas, and lyrics especially change every minute, someone says: “Let me try that” or “I have a new idea!”. And the guitar solos as well, it’s the same thing. You just realise you could do something cooler here or that you need another parte there. So I would say the basic structures are already written when we go into the studio, but we are always coming up with new ideas and fine-tuning things and elaborating and stuff. The creative process continues into the studio, that’s for sure.

Metalfan: So how do you think Arch Enemy has evolved musically over the past few years? What would you see as one of the biggest changes or improvements?
Michael Amott: I would said we’ve become a lot tighter, more focused, and we play better together. We’ve had a stable line-up for some years, we have the same rhythmic section – Sharlee and Daniel – for so many years, even since 1999; so they play very well together and that’s a solid foundation. And Angela has been around for ten years, so we had a constant line-up, and basically we all play very well together. Plus we did so much touring, so many shows, and that carries into the studio as well. It’s almost telepathic, haha.


Metalfan: Some people in the media said over last years that you have softened your style and became more mainstream, with a more commercial sound.  How do you respond to this kind of accusations? Or do you bother to respond at all, haha?

Michael Amott: Music, and art in general, is such a subjective experience, you know... Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, haha... And that’s a good thing. The funny thing is that some people actually say we’ve become harder and they miss the times when we were a bit more melodic and softer, hahaha... Yes, now  some people say we’ve become too hard and too heavy... I don’t know... you can’t please everybody. And, like I said, that proves that music is a subjective experience. Appreciating music is a very personal thing, right? Everybody hears it in a different way. I’ve been around so long, that I’ve stopped trying to please everybody. To tell you the truth, to be completely honest with you, I don’t listen to other people’s opinions at all, hahahaha... I’ve given up for many years, because I think it’s just confusing. When you try to make art, and music, it’s very confusing to listen to all the opinions every step of the way, because it becomes distracting. I’d rather just follow my heart and make the music that I mean to and then let people appreciate it or hate it or whatever. That’s a much better process for us. We don’t really put a finger up in the air and try to feel which way the wind is blowing, you know... We just create from a very emotional place, that’s where we create the music and lyrics from. Then we put it all together and then we release it commercially, in a CD or in some other form that is available to people worldwide; and it becomes an entity that people value in points, or criticise, or love, or worship. I guess that’s the process for a lot of bands. To come back to your point, we don’t really listen to a lot of opinions.

Metalfan: But it would be interesting to know to what opinions you do listen to. It’s clear now that you don’t listen to everybody, but there is probably someone whom you ask for advice – a friend, a family member, Metal Hammer UK guys, hahaha...

Michael Amott: Hahaha, yes, I have a few people to whom I talk... For instance when I have a new song, I would always play it to my band mates; especially Angela has got a totally different perspective, because she’s not a guitar player, she’s a singer; and her background is much more rooted in extreme metal. So she hears things a little bit differently and she sometimes says: “Yes, that sounds pretty, but it doesn’t kick out, so it should be a lot faster” – things like these. So she has a good input. And I also listen to friends, people in the bands who are doing exactly what I’m doing - it’s fun to hear what they think about it.

Metalfan: Arch Enemy had become a successful band, you are selling a lot of records and headlining major festivals. It’s clear that success is a motivator, but what are the other drivers that make you go on?

Michael Amott: Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, I’ve been quite successful for some time in the metal scene, and I’ve been working very hard for over 20 years now playing metal and touring and stuff. And to be really honest with you, I don’t need any more commercial success or something like that, I’m pretty happy, I’ve had a lot of good things happening, my heart is content with that. What really motivates me is making good music; and performing live on stage is such a good thing for me – it’s very addictive, hahaha... It’s like a drug, and that’s really my drive in life, I guess - performing on stage. It’s the moment when I feel absolutely at my best. I think this is my mission in this life on this planet – to perform live and create metal music – that’s my passion, that’s my number one driving force. I cannot say exactly, I cannot pinpoint it, but I guess it’s the fact that I’m never satisfied also – I have this constant feeling that I can do better next time. I want to write better music, I want to play better live, I want to get better at guitar, I want to be in people’s minds all over again. So this is my addiction, I guess it’s kind of selfish, but hopefully the audience benefits from that. From the fact that I’m very self-critical.


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

Michael Amott: I don’t really compare like that, you know... I think it’s probably better now, actually – in many ways. Because when I started playing, for instance when I was touring with Carcass in the early 90’s, extreme metal was not accepted and people were kind of laughing at the vocal style and the low-tuning. There wasn’t really lot of respect for it, in many accounts; there wasn’t a respect for those genres; people were like asking “What the f**k is this? It’s ridiculous!” Now it’s an accepted art form and an accepted style of music. And it’s been quite of a tripping to get here, and I like it more now, because people respect the genre. Also, the opportunities are better now, with the internet; and also we can do touring to cool places, like coming to Romania this time. It’s great that we can tour to new countries now... like we tour successfully with Arch Enemy all over the Globe. We go to South America, North America, Canada, Russia, Ukraine, Africa, Australia, all over Asia, and all over Europe, of course. So we can go everywhere and play music, even if we don’t have strong album sales in every territory, at least we have a strong fan base everywhere. We can play to fans that know the music and love the music. So I think the world has become this smaller, which is a good thing. Everybody is connected more now.

Metalfan: So, from you point of view it’s good that at least you sell tickets, even in the territories where you don’t sell CD’s, hahahaha...
Michael Amott: Yes, that’s it!

Metalfan: But in a way you were luckier than other bands. We were doing an interview with Septic Flesh, a Greek band, and they were telling us how hard it was for them to play extreme metal in Greece. Sotiris, the vocal, had the gentle sense of humour to put it like this: “playing metal in Greece was not something that could make me popular but quite the contrary”. But the Western countries were somewhat open – if not to extreme metal, at least to heavy metal and stuff.

Michael Amott: That’s true, you know, that’s true. And yes, I’m somewhat grateful for my career, but I’ve worked very hard, I’ve been very focused and just kept doing it. When everybody else was quitting, I kept going. And every time people told me “You know, this is kind of music is not popular anymore”, I released a new album. And slowly, slowly we built a fan base and then suddenly this kind of music became sort of more popular again, you know... First in the underground, then with the whole metal scene. It’s probably a combination of luck and hard work, you know...

Metalfan: It’s like with a pair of jeans: if you wear them long enough, they will come back into fashion someday, hahaha...

Michael Amott: Hahahaha, yes, I think so now.

Metalfan: Why did you choose to reform Carcass? Why do bands come back? Why did you come back?

Michael Amott: I think this was just the time, you know... There were so many people asking, and so many people wanted to see old songs being performed again and I think it was a good thing for me; and also lots of fun being able to play old songs for the fans – but also we’ve gathered over the years some new fans, so there’s lots of them as well.

Metalfan: Do you see, when you play live with Carcass, some significant differences between the old fans and the new ones?
Michael Amott: Yes, the old guys have beards now and beer bellies, hahahaha...

Metalfan: Bill Steer and you never denied the possibility of a new Carcass album. A lot of people are expecting a new record, can you tell us if there are any chances to hear it in the near future?

Michael Amott: I don’t think I will be a part of it, you know... I’m so busy with Arch Enemy that I don’t have the time and that I don’t think that I should be a part of it anymore. But I don’t know what their plans are. And I really enjoyed the reunion shows that we did.

Metalfan: Sometimes even the life of a rock star can get monotonous: new albums, tours, festivals, promotion, being away from home. Was there a moment when you felt you’d like to do something else with your life?
Michael Amott: No, hahahahaha... That’s the strange thing, you know... Whether things have been going very well for me, or they have been going really bad, I never wanted to do anything else in my life. I was very fortunate that I found exactly what I wanted to do at a very young age. I was about 13 or 14 years old, and I was playing my guitar, making my own songs – and since then I feel quite happy about what I do, I got a lot out of it, you know...


Metalfan: What are the best and the worst things about being in a metal band?
Michael Amott: The worst things?? Oh, dear...

Metalfan: At least one for each category, please, hahaha...
Michael Amott: About the best things: I think among them are the satisfaction of performing for fans, of having fans, being appreciated for what you do – this kind of things... Like playing for them live, this is a very very positive thing. I’m not the type of guy who focuses on the negatives. I really don’t know what’s the negative thing about being in a metal band, haha. Maybe it’s about having to travel a lot, that can get you a bit tired, but I don’t know... At the end of the day, when you play the show you don’t really have to think about that.

Metalfan: Finally, a couple of words for the Metalfan readers and also for the guys who are eagerly waiting for your concert in Bucharest?
Michael Amott: Yes, we are eagerly waiting for it as well, as we actually wanted to come along for a while.. We hear a lot of good stuff about you, and also our drummer’s father (Daniel) was from Romania, so he’s very excited about it. And I think it’s going to be a lot of fun – we really are going to be excited to be there!

Metalfan: Ok, thanks for your time!
Michael Amott: Cheers, bye!

Autor: Dragos P., Tzugu
Vezi galeriile trupelor: Arch Enemy

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