Metal guitarists don’t come much better than Michael Amott. Previously well known for his work with Carcass it is with Arch Enemy that he has attained legendary status. The affable Swede from Halmstad spoke to Gary Trueman about guitar endorsements, the current tour and the challenges of changing lead singers.
When War Eternal came out with the then new singer Alissa, was that a kind of transition album with Angela leaving?
“Changing lead singer is a huge challenge for any band when you’re established as we were. Angela was in the band for a good ten plus years. We did a lot of records with her, we did a lot of touring with her. And we had to replace her. Usually with metal, when I was younger anyway, it didn’t go down very well when singers changed. When Ozzy was replaced in Sabbath or even when Bruce Dickinson replaced Paul DiAnno, it divided the fan base. I think people get used to things quicker nowadays. Information just gets older quicker and people get used to things quicker. I think we made a very good record with Alissa. War Eternal was very strong. We worked super hard on that because we didn’t want any chinks in the armour. It had to be perfect no matter what angle you looked at it. We knew it was going to be very heavily examined. Then we hit the road hard with Alissa. We did almost 300 concerts around the world with her for that album. Now we’ve come back with Will To Power we’ve really established ourselves on a new level really. Looking at the chart entries all over it’s been a bigger success than ever. It was a challenge though and I’d be lying if I said we weren’t freaking out.”
Was Will To Power a more relaxed album in terms of writing for someone that you now knew?
“It was different because half of War Eternal we wrote without knowing we were going to have a new singer. Then we got Alissa and we did demos with her on stuff we already had, then we continued writing with her. It was a bit of a mixed bag. There was that whole process of getting to know each other and now we’ve established a great song writing language. Following up a success like War Eternal is also difficult, it comes with its own challenges. You’ve always got to raise the bar and it gets tougher and tougher. The thing is we hope if we like it then the fans will like as well. We have an established sound and we’re happy with it but it’s still nice to tweak it here and there. It’s nice to have a song or two that gets people talking.”
So you can play to the strengths of the new singer coming in and explore new ground within the writing structure of the band?
“Yeah. I see it as a building process. The foundation was laid 20 years ago but we just keep building on that. Alissa can do a few things with her voice that our previous singer couldn’t so that opens up some doors.”
You play Dean guitars and have your own signature guitar. That must be pretty cool getting your own signature guitar?
“It is. I had one previously with another company so it wasn’t my first time to have one but it was a very cool experience. Dean have been nothing but great and we’ve had big success with our guitars. It’s been very well received by the fans. I sign almost one every day at the meet and greets, there’s a lot of them around.”
How much input do you have into the guitar itself?
“Quite a lot. Dean wouldn’t put it out unless I was happy with it. I’m the one that’s going to be out there playing it and representing it. It’s got to be something I enjoy playing, if you rush something like that then you probably end up not being 100% happy with it and you probably go to another guitar and play that. But I enjoy playing the guitars they built for me. I play them in the studio and I play them on stage. I’m very happy with them. They sound and perform just how I want them to. The most comfortable guitars I own are my signature models.”
Do you have more than one of the same guitar on a tour?
“I’m very minimalistic. I bring three guitars on the road which is not a lot for a band at our level. I have a guitar that sits mainly back stage for practicing and warming up and noodling around. Then I have one on stage which is my main one and then I have one I bring out for the end of a concert. That’s also my back up if I break a string. Which I never do…. touch wood. We only play with one tuning really. You see bands that carry a lot of guitars they have to have a back up for every tuning.”
You’ve toured the US already. How’s the tour gone so far?
“The crowd reactions have been phenomenal. The US was a co-headliner with Trivium so we were closing 15 shows each. That was super successful with a lot of sold out shows. It was a very nice tour for us. Now that we’re headlining our own tour over here in Europe and almost all sold out. The shows like tonight (Koko) is a small show for us and it’s sold out. In Germany we were having 3000 up to 4000 people a night which is great for us. We’ve kind of stepped up to the next level now and we’ve got more production, we’ve got a truck with all the gear. It’s not like it used to be.”
It’s not a splitter van any more. Do you miss those days?
“Sometimes yeah. It was easy. Now there’s a lot of work involved. Not for me personally, we have crew that look after all of that. It’s just a bigger, there are more employees, there’s more of everything. The income is bigger but the costs are much bigger. It’s taking a bit of a risk stepping up to some of these bigger venues in mainland Europe. It’s a bit nerve wracking because if nobody shows up you could lose quite a bit of money. But we’ve had a lot of sold out shows and it’s been fantastic. It’s a little bit unreal.”
So even after all these years some stuff is still new to you?
“It is. We were cruising at a good level before but we were staying at that same level for a long time playing to 800 to 1200 people a night which was great. But now it’s just jumped up. It means you’ve got to put more into a show, more into production.”
When you’re on the road touring a lot is it easy for your friends to become your enemies?
“We’re so professional now you just leave each other be. We can always retreat to our areas where we sleep and stuff if you just want to get away. We have lounge areas where we can hang out, talk, listen to music and be social. We’re very social people for the most part.”
Any particular weird or funny moments while on tour?
“It’s a bizarre life style and we see a lot of things and meet a lot of strange people and a lot of awesome people. We meet so many it just becomes the norm and we really don’t think about it. Most of the fans are great and metal is great. We’re very lucky to be a metal band because we don’t have to deal with mainstream media which in turn attracts a lot of weirdos. We don’t have to deal with that. We can have a comfortable music career and not have to worry about the crap. Strange things though, well we’ve all fallen down on stage and made stupid mistakes. We don’t do end of tour pranks. I don’t really believe in them. I feel the last show on a tour could be the first show for a lot of fans and I want them to have the best show. Back stage though then that’s all good but not on it.”
If you could travel back in time and meet a 16 year old you what piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
“Wow! That’s a great question. A 16 year old me was already playing in a band. I started playing when I was 13. I don’t know, it would be so bizarre to have that opportunity. I’ve trod on every land mine in music going, I’ve made all the mistakes you can make but I’ve come out of the other side. I’m now the CEO of a sizeable business and it’s great. You’ve got to make mistakes to get to where you’re going. They shape who you are and I’m really happy with where we’re at now. I had a lot of luck in my late teens which helped me a lot. I just wanted to do music and do it in a serious way. So I think I would just say keep doing what you are doing.”
Interview by Gary Trueman