A Very Metal Press Conference with Arch Enemy on 70000 Tons of Metal 2017
As press on this year’s 70000 Tons of Metal cruise, we had the unique opportunity to attend a press conference with all of the members of Arch Enemy in that late afternoon of Day 2. The band had recently wrapped up touring 2014’s War Eternal album, and had emerged from the studio to perform on this year’s cruise, before getting back to working on their upcoming album. They were also on the verge of releasing their new live DVD, “As the Stages Burn”, with footage from their heading performance at the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany last summer. As an added bonus, we also got to preview portions of their DVD prior to the Q&A portion of the press conference. It is a stellar DVD…. You all should really check it out! During the press conference, itself, we got more specifics on the DVD, news of the upcoming album, the bands thoughts on touring, and a lot of other cool information! Here’s how it went:
Press: So, what were we just watching there? We know it was live at Wacken Open Air Festival.
Michael: It was two songs from our upcoming DVD.
Press: All at Wacken?
Michael: It’s the whole headline show we did at Wacken last summer and it’s also a bunch of other stuff. We actually released a DVD in Japan only during the “War Eternal” tour back in 2015. We played a bunch of songs that we didn’t play at Wacken there. So we took those songs from that DVD and put in on here that will be released worldwide for the first time. And all our promotion videos and a little bit behind the scenes and stuff like that. But the main feature is obviously the concert we did at Wacken that you just saw.
Press: Besides the size of the crowd how does playing a festival like that what we just saw on the DVD compare to your taste of what you’ve had so far on the ship?
Sharlee: There’s a big difference I think. There are pros and cons with both. It’s more intimate if you have a small group but then again there’s nothing like the certain rush you get when you hear 70,000 people screaming at once. So, it’s two completely different feelings I think. I can’t really say what I like the most.
Michael: These two gigs though actually, Wacken and 70000 Tons, actually have some stuff in common though. It’s like metal fans from all over the world. It’s a very mixed international crowd. If we play a smaller festival in Germany or something, there’d be predominantly German people there, or if we play in Japan it’s Japanese people. But these are very mixed, these kinds of events which is great. I like that it’s similar in a way like audience-wise. But of course, the much smaller stage and all that kind of stuff [at 70000 Tons]. But we do all kinds of shows depending on where we are. This is obviously the big version of what you just saw and hopefully we’ll be doing more of that as we move forward before the big stuff.
Press: I know you guys are doing a series of release shows in Europe for the DVD. Somewhat selfishly, is there any chance you’re going to do any US shows as well?
Michael: No, but the US is coming and we’ll have an announcement soon about that. But that’s more to coincide with the new studio album which is what we’re working on right now. The DVD is done and it’s coming out at the end of March and, like you said, we’re doing a couple weeks to commemorate the release and we’re going to do two weeks in Europe. We have a US tour and also a new studio album we’re going to have coming out later this year.
Press: Well, we saw Wacken and now we’re at ‘70000 Tons of Metal’ and I’m from Chile. How was your experience playing down there?
Michael: Good. We’ve played down there many times. It was actually the first Latin American country we played with ‘Arch Enemy’ a very long time ago.
Sharlee: My first show with the band was in Santiago.
Press: Are you planning to return down there?
Michael: Of course, yeah.
Alissa: I’ve been to Chile like ten times. Only once with ‘Arch Enemy’. We filmed a music video there; “Stolen Life” music video was filmed in Chile.
Michael: We love it down there. Chile is great and has a fantastic audience and ‘Arch Enemy’ fans are crazy.
Press: Can you describe what it was when you guys to get a call from Andy (the promoter) to be a part of this cruise? Had you all played on a cruise before?
Michael: We were here two years ago on this cruise. When we got the offer this time, it didn’t come from him (Andy); it came from him to our booking agent and then our manager told us. It actually comes bang in the middle of our album recording in a way, and so it’s not the best timing maybe for us but at the same time it’s so much fun being here. It’s just one of those very unique and special shows.
Sharlee: It will work as inspiration for the album recording as well and we can sort of get some of that energy back, or lack of energy maybe, just leave all the energy here (laughs).
Michael: We haven’t been playing much live recently. Our last show before last night was in September at the ‘Knotfest’ in Mexico and that was a one off as well for us. Then we hadn’t played for a month and now we haven’t played for like five months.
Alissa: Well, three months (laughs). ‘Knotfest’ was in October.
Michael: Three months?
Alissa: I know, it feels like longer, it feels like three years!
Michael: We’re not used to taking those long breaks. We did so many shows on the ‘War Eternal’ tour and we’ve been very, very active out there touring. So, things are winding down and now we’re kind of… we’ve been very much in that other sort of head space with recording and stuff.
Afternoiz: How far along is the new album? Is there anything you can tell us yet or is it not evolved enough yet?
Michael: Drums are recorded and we go straight into the studio from this basically.
Press: So, the songs are done… written?
Michael: Yeah, everything is done.
Press: [Does] all the work happen in the studio?
Michael: It’s all prewritten. We write it before we go in and it’s all demos. It’s like a process of jamming a little bit and writing demos and stuff like that. We keep circling around the material and kind of improving it and keep coming back to songs and hopefully you get a good batch at the end of it.
Press: So, some lyrics are written before or?
Mike: I don’t really know. I’m writing a little bit, some lyrics to some songs and Alissa is writing the others. I think we work a little bit different; I don’t really have anything written, I just listen to the song a bunch of times and try to catch a vibe and feeling of the music. Like, this sounds kind of melancholy, or this sounds very aggressive and heavy and powerful and rebellious. I let the music kind of dictate where it’s going to go. I don’t really have a lot of lyrics written out ahead. I know Alissa writes with her poetry without music and then you go back to that, right?
Alissa: I always keep a log of just poems that I write. But actually I haven’t really used those in ‘Arch Enemy’. It’s mostly going to my other projects. With ‘Arch Enemy’ I’ve been writing the same way as you actually, just sort of feeling where the words should be and what it feels like the song is about and then building it that way. So, all the lyrics are written before going into studio of course but not necessarily before the music is written.
Michael: She’s been doing demos in Canada, in her home studio, and then sending it to me and it’s been great. It’s like when you… for such a long time it’s instrumental music and you get so used to that. Then when you hear the vocals in there, it’s like wow, it really comes to life and it’s actually a song. It’s like a very important part of it.
Alissa: It goes from being a music to being a song.
Michael: Exactly. It’s like wow, it really comes together. It’s been great hearing her throw down ideas.
Press: Alissa, I had the pleasure of interviewing Doyle von Frankenstein, your boyfriend, a couple of years ago over the phone and he’s a man of very few words. When I asked him what it was like when you first got the gig in ‘Arch Enemy’ he opened up more about it but his first response was… I said how did you celebrate that, you and Alissa, and he said we cried, and then he started describing that a little bit more. Can I hear in your words, even though it’s been a couple of years you’ve been in the band now? Take me back to how emotional that was for you.
Alissa: We didn’t cry when I joined ‘Arch Enemy’, we cried with it was announced to the world. There was a long period of time where it was a secret and in that period of time I went through some very severe losses and a lot of things changed in my life. So, to finally be able to exhale… I was in Canada and there’s a six-hour time difference to Germany when the news was going to drop first… and actually I didn’t realize then that daylight savings time made it a five-hour difference so like at noon on this day I’m setting an alarm and have like three computers going so I can put the announcement on my Facebook and then Twitter and then noon came and the announcement didn’t go up and I was like, what’s happening? So much weird shit had happened to me at that point that I didn’t believe anything. But then finally at 1pm, then the announcement went up so then we put it all out there and at the point we just closed the computers and then said ‘it’s done’. And so, that was the emotional part because Doyle had seen me go through a huge change in everything… a lot of gains, a lot of losses, and it was a really good feeling to finally have it just be “real”. That was the emotional part because obviously, he knew about it before anyone else did.
Michael: And you told him?
Alissa: (laughs) I did, I’m sorry! Actually he was sneaky about it. He started hinting at it way ahead of time and some people picked up on it because he started wearing ‘Arch Enemy’ shirts a lot and some people were like, what’s up with that? Why are you suddenly such a fan? Then they were like, ahh, ok! Yeah, that was just a really weird half-grievance half-elation just weird thing and luckily we were together for that moment and that was a big thing.
Press: How has your life changed since you’ve been in the band?
Alissa: Only good things. I’ve learned a lot.
Michael: You get to hang out with us (laughs).
Alissa: It’s just one of those big life changing experiences where you find out that some people aren’t supposed to be in your life anymore and they remove themselves from your life and it hurts but then you realize that they are replaced by much better people and then it’s only good things. It’s been great and it’s cool to have Doyle there with me throughout the entire thing. He’s been having some important things happen too. It feels natural, it never felt weird for some reason, but I guess maybe because I was so familiar with the body of work of ‘Arch Enemy’ beforehand… so it was never a strange thing to me, it was never a foreign experience. It’s been just great and I look forward to making lots more awesome shows and lots more awesome albums with these guys and with Angela (Gossow) sort of navigating the ship, not to be punny. It’s going very well.
Afternoiz: You have a phenomenal voice and I think you’re a fantastic fit with this band. But you also have a phenomenal ‘clean’ voice which you do not get to use with this band. Do you miss it? Do you have an outlet for that?
Alissa: I do, yeah. One such outlet is going to be happening in a few hours on stage with ‘Kamelot’. (laughs) And then the other such outlet is new and that’s my solo album which is just called ‘Alissa’, just to keep it simple. So it’s very straightforward to what it is and that’s an album that’s going to be released in 2018 on Napalm Records. It’s literally just me doing whatever music I feel like doing. Which is very cool because I used to have a few more outlets like that and I’m totally, more than satisfied with ‘Arch Enemy’. This is my favorite band; it was before and it is now. But as for the ‘clean’ singing it’s pretty cool now because since I got the… well actually it was Angela’s idea for me to do a solo album and since I got that idea in my head, I’ve built a home studio, I learned how to play guitar and bass a lot better and how to program drums. I’ve just been composing songs for myself and I hope that everybody else likes it when they hear it, but for me it’s just a great outlet to have and it also keeps my musical gears rolling for writing ‘Arch Enemy’ stuff too… and just keeps my vocal chops in shape. That’s going to be the next big outlet for my ‘clean’ singing voice.
Afternoiz: Well, we’re looking forward to it!… But you let the cat out of the bag, because I interviewed Kamelot this afternoon, and I said: “you have all these really talented vocalists on the ship that have sang with you before. Are any of them going to perform with you onstage?” And they said: “Well… we don’t know… maybe…”
Alissa: Well (laughs) they already out it on their Instagram… so I can’t be to blame, I saw it!
Press: Alissa, talking about sort of writing poetry, ‘Arch Enemy’ lyrics, and solo lyrics; do you go into a writing project not knowing how it’s going to turn out or do you compartmentalize?
Alissa: I think my writing style has changed actually, because I used to just write the poem and then just make it fit in the song which is why in the past my lyrics are like three pages long (laughs). With ‘Arch Enemy’, like Mike and I were discussing, I sort of let the music dictate what the rhythm is going to be a little bit more for the lyrics and I make it fit that way. And for my solo project, ‘Alissa’, I’ve been doing it both ways actually. I’ve been sometimes writing from vocals down, so I’ll have lyrics, think of the melody, compose it on piano and then write guitars, bass, and drums to it. And sometimes I just write a bunch of guitar riffs that I think are good and then I put the drums and the bass on that and then the vocals are last. So I kind of go both ways but I have noticed that when I start with the vocals and work down, the songs tend to be more rock-ish and when I start with the guitars and work up they tend to be more metal. It’s just an observation that I’ve recently made myself.
Press: Jeff, you’ve been on 70000 Tons before with ‘Nevermore’ and ‘Sanctuary’….
Jeff: the very first one, actually!
Press: Yes! You have such an awesome pedigree music-wise and your solo band is outstanding as well. There might be some people out there listening to this who may not be as familiar with you. How has your life changed since you have become ‘Arch Enemy’?
Jeff: It’s been fantastic for me because I obviously miss touring quite a bit and I was just kind of sitting around at home. I joined the band really quickly because they were already on tour. I went to go see them in Seattle and Mike had given me a call and I basically went to see their show and that day it was decided that I was going to be the replacement for Nick Cordle. So I literally learned the songs in about two or three weeks and jumped on tour with them in Europe and it’s been kind of a nonstop ride for me ever since; two years have just flown by. But it’s been a fantastic experience and I’ve known the guys for a long time. We toured together when I was in ‘Nevermore’ back a while ago (laughs). So yeah, it’s been a great time so far; I feel like home.
Press: What do you guys enjoy more: the creative side of this or the performance side?
Sharlee: I think both are really important. If you don’t have any new music to play, you get sick of the old songs. If you just sit and write stuff and record it, you’d never really get the direct response from anybody. All you’d be doing is reading the reviews of the album, but now you actually see and get to meet people face to face and see their reaction and it’s also why you start playing music I think more than anything, is to actually play live.
Michael: For me it’s more about playing live; that was the drive. You get to jam but you wouldn’t really record it starting out as kids.
Sharlee: If you got one of your demos reviewed and a fan seen saying ‘yes, this is major!’ That was like getting a gold disc!
Michael: It’s also much more when we started out from that generation when it was actually really expensive to record and we just did like rehearsal recordings and stuff like that. But you would build up a record and kind of ditch songs and then you just had your favorites and then you hopefully got a gig. I think we all grew up playing on stage. Now with home recording and the way things can be done now with home computers you find there’s a whole new generation of musicians that are much more proficient with software and recording like bedroom shredding and they have a little career on YouTube and stuff like that and they create their own backing track and probably never play shows. So for me it’s like as a musician, you prove your worth on the live stage. I’m old school that way. There’s no faking it on stage, although sadly nowadays there is…
Michael: When you see a great guitar player, or a great singer, great drummer, great bass player, and see a fantastic musician perform and put that energy, heart and soul, into a live performance, that’s something that you can’t fake. That’s why metal and hard rock, I love this kind of live music, that’s what I’m really in to. I’m into hearing the personality of a player. I can’t remember what the questions was….
Press: … the creative side or the live side…
Michael: Oh, yeah… I think we all enjoy the live side a lot because we get to perform but then you couldn’t do that without writing the music as well and it’s so much fun putting stuff together and it’s very satisfying of course.
Sharlee: One of the greatest things is when an album is starting to near completion and all the instruments are there and the more and more you put on it, you start to hear something take shape, that’s endlessly gratifying. When you have a simple riff when you heard in the rehearsal room when you first start to work with and now you have this thing and it sounds awesome and that’s great! And the first thing you think about it, when you sit and listen to it, you imagine standing on the stage and playing it, one thing comes from another.
Michael: I was thinking that as well… when we’ve written something great and you think you can’t wait to play it live and what are the fans going to think about this. So it’s just both really.
Press: The question that’s often asked of musicians regarding audiences is do you notice differences between South American crowds versus European crowds, Americans and so forth. Obviously on a cruise like this where it’s one big melting pot, it might be difficult to distinguish obviously, but in your regular touring experiences I would be interested to hear your responses because ‘Arch Enemy’ is a band of different nationalities as well.
Sharlee: Well the naval audience we have here is very nautical (laughs).
Press: I would love to hear your take on what you think are the biggest differences or the things that stand out with different crowds in different parts of the world:
Sharlee: I think that… Latin America….
Michael: They are the loudest and the craziest.
Sharlee: Yeah. A little bit around the Mediterranean you have the same thing as you have in South America; maybe not as crazy as South Americans, or Mexico….
Alissa: Yeah, there’s a definite difference between them. We’ve all toured with multiple bands in these places. Personally touring with three very different bands through all these places, I see the same patterns in the audiences. There’s a distinct difference between a Latin American crowd or a North American crowd or even just between Canada and the US there’s a difference.
Michael: There’s even a difference between Germany and Holland but it’s hard to really pinpoint what it is.
Sharlee: Yes, definitely!
Michael: It’s hard to really pinpoint what it is. We’ve been doing it for a long time. Then we have France which is one of our biggest live markets; it’s where we play a lot of shows and the band is very popular in Europe… in France and Germany of course. But they’re all a little bit different, which is great.
Sharlee: It makes it more interesting to tour around as well. We’ll wake up in a different country and have a completely different response.
Michael: We’re very lucky that we’re a band that can tour successfully all over the globe and it takes us a few years every time we put out a record to do that but we’re very fortunate to have that. I feel bad for some bands…. like a lot of Swedish bands… they probably sing in Swedish and they’re massive and they play stadiums in Sweden, but they’ve only ever played in Sweden; or maybe in Denmark or Norway or something like that, but they’ve never played internationally. When we meet musicians like that, or German bands that only play in Germany, I feel they’re kind of missing out in way of the business. But we feel great playing anywhere in the world and we enjoy it all.
Sharlee: You get to meet people from all walks of life and different cultures and you get to take some of it in and it’s just one of the big perks of doing what we do.
Afternoiz: What was your biggest culture shock touring the world? Something that’s really foreign to what you’re used to?
Michael: Coming to America for the first time (laughs).
Sharlee: In the beginning, everywhere, but nowadays, nothing is really a shock. You’re so used to things being different in different places and when you get to a new place you get so used to things.
Michael: But you learn to love it because we keep coming back to these places. Like, I can’t wait to go back to Japan and they have this or they have this really great dish that I love. Then there’s friends that you have there, stuff like that. All over the world, we kind of have favorites now and I think we’d miss it if we stopped today. It would be weird to stay in one place. We’re very used to just moving around all over the world.
Sharlee: You long to go back to a certain place and you see it pop up on your tour schedule and you think about all these things…. there’s a lot of extras that we get.
Michael: When we were kids and started touring, I started touring professionally when I was twenty and everything was new. And I remember my first time in America and landing in Miami airport and I was twenty years old and the heat and palm trees and blue sky and just how big the portions of food were (laughs).
Sharlee: You were lucky; my first time in America it was Jersey City!
Michael: So, everything was new and exciting. I had not traveled a lot as a child around the world so, for me, I was discovering the world with my metal music.
Press: Are you working with a producer on this new album?
Michael: No, it’s going to be self-produced again… like, always, really…
Press: So, you don’t normally do that; bring somebody in or work at a particular studio?
Michael: No. Actually this time we’re repeating ourselves with the drums; we’re repeating a few things. We did the drums in the same studio, a really nice room; Daniel can talk about that maybe. But we did the drums in the same studio as the last album, the same engineer, everything is the same. And it sounds killer. And then we’re producing it ourselves in very small studio in my hometown in Sweden. What we’re going to do is bring everybody in and then my little hometown is going to be a more colorful place. We’re going to do that for a few weeks. And then we’re going to go back to Jens Bogren who mixed ‘War Eternal’, and he’s done a mix and master.
Press: So, bands can do the producing and then you bring in a mixer?
Michael: I don’t know, it depends. Sometimes it can be good to let someone come in, but we don’t really need somebody else to tell us how to write the songs. It depends on where you’re at in your career and what kind of band you are. We’re very focused and I don’t really like to let an outsider into the process at all but it depends on who it is. We did let Andy Snead produce one of our albums and I enjoyed working with him; I respect him very much. He’s a killer guitar player himself and he really knows metal and we’re the same age. But for me to let someone else in and tell me how to write. I’m really good at writing these songs, that’s what I do, and as a band we do it as professionals making ‘Arch Enemy’ music. I don’t really want a producer to make us sound like the other bands he or she produces. I think it’s more fun when we just do it all ourselves and you can hear more of what we’re about as musicians. But then when it comes to the mix, I love just stepping back.
Press: So, you do let them come in….
Michael: They just throw down so many ideas and there are just so many layers and at that point I’m almost always burned out.
Press: Fresh ears is what it’s all about.
Sharlee: Definitely, at that point.
Michael: Definitely. We’re quite particular as well and then we go in and we want everything to be heard. The mix is a nightmare. That’s one of the toughest jobs you can do.
Sharlee: We’d try to do it ourselves if we were good enough to do it but people just have so many different opinions that we would never get anywhere. It’s good to have somebody else.
Michael: And Jens is doing a great job. And we’ve worked with Andy for many years. We work with great people who we trust.
Press: What’s your proudest part of this new forthcoming DVD even though it was at Wacken where you were already playing in front of 70-80,000 people, is there an extra form of pressure that day or before you go on stage knowing this show has to be extra special because we’re recording it? Talk about the mindset of that.
Sharlee: We try to not think of that… that it’s going to be recorded, because if you think about that red light coming on, you’re screwed. You know it’s there, but I think for us it’s more worry about the technical issues with the production more than the actual shooting of the (show).
Michael: At that point, we are like 250 shows on this tour under our belt so we knew the songs as good as we’re ever going to know them (laughs).
Sharlee: And also, just because we knew that it was Patrick Ullaeus, who was going to direct and edit the DVD, we knew it was in good hands. And with Andy mixing it; so visually and sonically it’s going to be good. As long as we play well. If it was going to be a TV thing and it’s out of our hands, that’s horrible, and with TV it puts more pressure on your nerves I think.
Michael: I think we did a good job.
Sharlee: It would have been worse if it was like the first show; actually, it was (laughs)!
Alissa: It was (laughs). It was when we had a break before that.
Sharlee: We had a show like two days before didn’t we, which was like the first one in a month and a half or something?
Michael: Let’s just never take a break again.
Sharlee: The thing is to just not take any more breaks; it’s just not good for us (laughs).
Alissa: I’m fine with that!
Press: Do you have a live mixer then that travels with you, the guy that you sort of count on?
Alissa: Yes. He mixes the live show and works the front of the house. He’s responsible for what the audience hears. We don’t hear it.
Michael: And we have another guy who mixes our sound on stage; the monitor guy. And we have people that look after the guitars and tour managers, drums and drum techs, lights, pyro, and we all have our own personal assistants of course (laughs).
Press: A staff of servants?…
Michael: Yeah! We all have our own chefs because we like different kinds of food.
Sharlee: I travel with my own tailor (laughs).
Press: Watching you guys last night and watching the DVD… obviously, there are a lot of technical pieces going on when you guys are on stage at this point. Is it ever hard to fully get into the performance when you’ve got to make sure to be in the right place at the right time for the costume change, or know where the pyro is going to be, that sort of thing?
Alissa: Well, speaking for myself, coming from a background where I kind of actually did more technical vocals than I do now it was a huge pleasure for me to just drop ‘clean’ singing because, if I can’t hear but I can still do this sound. For me, screaming is a lot easier than ‘clean’ singing. With ‘clean’ singing, I really need to hear what’s going on but when you’re in a metal band, there’s a lot going on, so on stage you don’t always hear the guitars or the pitch or the keys. Sometimes all you hear are the cymbals and kicks. One thing that was great for me upon joining ‘Arch Enemy’ a few years ago was I was able to discover this whole new aspect of my live performance that I wasn’t able to tap into before because I always had to be where the sound was in front of the monitors getting my breath, but now I can just unleash, which is awesome. People ask ‘so when’s the ‘clean’ singing coming?’ And I’m like, I’m fine with just doing this actually, cuz this is a lot of fun (laughs)! So for me personally, I just go crazy. I’m not even thinking about pyro or this or that, I’m just feeling the music and going for it!
Sharlee: As long as we know where the pyro is and when it’s going to go off (laughs).
Alissa: We’re notified!
Michael: When I’m writing stuff, I’m kind of playing to the top of my ability and I think we all do that and it’s really hard to play when we’re rehearsing it. When you’re recording the albums, it’s easy to record it because you’re sitting down. When you start doing shows and you’re rehearsing, it’s like, how the hell am I going to get on top of this and really be able to move around and perform this. Then after a while with practice, you do it for a while and you’re playing all this stuff and it’s just second nature. We’re not an overly technical band, we don’t want to be, but we have some elements that are probably hard to play for someone to just come in. (To Jeff) but you know more about that.
Alissa: Cuz it’s what you did (laughs)!
Michael: I mean, we’ve been with this band from the beginning, but Jeff would know more maybe what it’s like to just come in.
Jeff: You have to be a good guitar player to be in ‘Arch Enemy’ that’s for sure. There’s a lot of technical stuff going on I think.
Michael: It’s technical but it doesn’t sound technical.
Alissa: It translates live.
Michael: Like some bands, there’s that whole thing technical metal where they’re trying to impress you with their technical skills but we kind of weave that more into the background. The song is the main focus. There’s some stuff to play but that’s not what we’re really trying to show. We’re just really into having the best songs.
Management: Well, we have to move on with other stuff. Thank you for coming!
Press: Thank you!
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