Interview with Arch Enemy — “We have this rule in the writing phase that we never say no to any ideas.”

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On August 12th, Swedish melodic death metal act ARCH ENEMY released their new record “Deceivers,” via Century Media Records. We briefly caught up with guitarist Michael Amott on the day of their show at Knotfest in Turku, to talk about the record. Watch the interview here or read the complete transcript below.

Hi, nice to meet you! How are you?

I’m good. We just arrived at Turku to play at Knotfest.

Are you excited to play today? I guess it’s your first time in a while playing in Finland. 

Oh yeah, we played one festival so far, we didn’t play festivals for 3 years. We played Wacken a few days ago, whenever that was. [laughs] Now we’re here, super cool.

I guess Wacken is maybe a pretty intense festival to start with again.

It was. I would have liked to start off with something smaller, but hey, you don’t get to choose all the time.

Yeah, I guess you shouldn’t complain too much now that there are shows again.

Exactly, we were there, it was great. [laughs]

Anyway, let’s get started. Thanks so much for your time. I’m really sorry I couldn’t be there in person. I would have liked to see your show at least. You just released your album today and you’re playing at Knotfest in Turku today. Are you going to play some new songs? 

No… [pauses and laughs] Yes, of course. [laughter] We are going to play quite a few. We like the new album, we’re playing five or six new songs, I think. We’ve had this really long-running campaign. I think the first single came up 9 or 10 months ago, “Deceiver, Deceiver.” We have all these songs, “House of Mirrors,” “Handshake with Hell,” “Sunset over the Empire,” and now “In the Eye of the Storm”; they’ve all really connected with the fans very well, people really know these songs, so it’s kind of different. The album is out today, but half of the album is very well established already in a way, so it’s pretty cool. 

Yeah, that was going to be one of my questions. I remember when you released “Deceiver, Deceiver,” you didn’t have any info about an album even. You sort of left fans hanging a little bit. I thought this was a really interesting approach in general, how you released [so] many singles for this cycle. Was that intentional or did that happen because of the pandemic?

I was a bit skeptical when this plan came together because it’s not what I’m used to. I’m very rooted in releasing two singles and the album is out, and boom we’re on tour. That’s it, basically. This was a different approach, it wasn’t my idea, but it worked out really well, so I love to say it’s my idea. [laughter] It came from the record label and the management and you know, they really wanted to try this approach, I think partially because of the pandemic maybe. We couldn’t really go on tour, we didn’t know when we could go on tour, but we also didn’t want to sit on the album even longer than we already had. So we thought, let’s put out songs and connect with the fans again and let them know we’re still here, and hopefully, they’re still there for us. It all worked out really nicely, now I’m very positive about the whole approach we had. 

Yeah well, after the fact, that’s easy. [laughter]

Exactly. [laughs]

Since you released “Deceiver, Deceiver” quite a long time ago already, when did you guys actually start writing the album? Did you already start working on it before the famous March 2020? 

We did, yes. I was already writing some riffs and things like that, bits and pieces of music already in 2018 and 2019. I would say we started working on the album seriously in January 2020. We were on the road until December 2019, then we had this time off set aside. We actually already said that 2020 was going to be a year off for ARCH ENEMY. It turned out to be a year off for the whole world. So 2020 I would say, in January 2020 we started working more seriously on the demos. Sweden was different with its restrictions, me and Daniel were both living in Sweden, so we could meet up and work on the music and create new songs together, the instrumental versions, and then I would email them. We’d send them over to Alissa in Canada and she put some ideas on some of them, it got a bit more complicated once we really wanted to record the album, past the demo phase, when we wanted to get into the actual studio. The way we work is, we don’t really do a lot of stuff remotely, we try to get everybody into the actual studio and sort of just vibe off each other and critique each other’s performances a bit more. It’s a little bit more difficult when you’re with time differences and doing it on file sharing online, it’s not as exciting maybe. We actually managed to get it done the way we wanted to do it. 

You mentioned in a couple of interviews that you really enjoy working together working on the demos. I was wondering, do you feel like having fun and these dynamics, does that have any effect on the music itself?

Of course. I mean, I write most of the music, I always have done, I’m the main composer. But then Daniel is a huge part of the band as well, our drummer, he’s also responsible for our recordings, he’s really into the recording part of it, he tracks a lot of the albums, as well as the demos. He also contributes with musical ideas and stuff like that. So I mean, that’s a great collaboration in there. Then, Alissa is involved as well, about half of the album she writes lyrics for, and then I do the rest. The performances from Jeff and Charlie are their own. I don’t really tell people what to play. I’m not really that kind of a band leader, because I’ve got these guys in the band because I think they’re amazing musicians and you know, their performances are and their creativity and talent is something that I really want. I want them to bring that and they do. In that way, it’s a very positive atmosphere.

That makes sense, yeah. Related to the album. I thought there were some really refreshing and surprising moments for me. Do you feel like for this record specifically, you were able to try out new things with your guitar for instance?

Basically, I’m still learning even though I’ve been doing it for a very long time. It’s still a journey, I’m still excited to try new stuff, and there’s always something we haven’t done, we’ve never started a song like this, we’ve never had a tempo like that, or we’ve never… I always make a little note, oh that would be cool for ARCH ENEMY maybe, then we try it. We have this rule in the writing phase that we never say no to any ideas, how dumb they might feel, because it’s more fun when we say yes to every idea and then of course, later on, we get a bit more critical as we approach finalizing everything. It’s fun to say yes to every idea and actually complete it, work on it until it’s done, and then you can step back and think that maybe this is too far out [there] for ARCH ENEMY or this isn’t really what we want or doesn’t really sound that great or it could be amazing. You end up with a [few] new ideas. I still find that there are a lot of things I’d like to do in the future as well, so I don’t feel like I’m done really. I guess it’s just sort of a journey. That’s the most fun you can have that I know of. It’s just being creative in any field or any kind of art it’s very fulfilling. 

One of the things that I was surprised about is the ending of “In the Eye of the Storm.” It had a feeling that there would be coming a lot more, then it ends kind of abruptly, but in a nice way that makes you think. What was the idea behind that song?

Well, I just wanted to have a drum groove in a song [hums the groove] and it’s got kind of an anthemic ‘80s metal feel to it, maybe a little bit heavier. I really like that song, it’s really different for us. Actually, when I’m writing songs now, when I come up with the initial idea for a song, I’m thinking about the live show as well nowadays, what kind of song don’t we have, because it’s always fun to add something to the show that doesn’t sound like ten other songs we already have. So it’s fun to bring in a new tempo or a new mood into the show, because that really adds dynamic to a concept. We played it twice live now and it worked very well, so it’s super fun. It feels a bit slow live, but I can see people really getting into it. 

Yeah, it does have a nice groove that I can see people [would] vibe to. 

And that’s great because a lot of our stuff is so high on adrenaline and just crazy [hums very fast riff] and then you go like [sings heavy bass line], so it feels a bit weird to go down to that tempo now, but I think it’s something that… When we did “Eagle Flies Alone,” when that was new, that felt really slow to us as well, we are just kind of a speedy type of band, naturally. I really like to do more mid-tempo stuff, it’s fun to have that here and there. 

Yeah, you mentioned also that when you write songs, you think of the live feeling. I think that’s also really clear in the songs, you sometimes have these sections where Alissa just goes like “hey-hey,” hyping up the crowd. Is that intentionally written with in mind, that it could be a really cool live moment?

I think so, I mean we play so many shows, between 200 and 300 concerts on each album cycle, so it’s a lot of concerts. It just becomes a part of you [laughs] and I believe that the stage is really where a band proves its true worth. There are so many bands that can sound great on the album, in the studio, there’s a lot you can do now to fake it or whatever to sound great, but then on the stage, it’s like that’s the last place, the place of truth in a way. Of course, we think about the live show and we think about the fans. First and foremost, in the initial writing phase, we think about ourselves, being a bit selfish, we’re trying to be a bit selfish and express ourselves, I guess. 

One of the songs that I personally really liked was “One Last Time,” because it was also sort of a surprising song. In the guitars, it sounded kind of positive for once, not so melancholic. Was that intentional to place it towards the end of the record?

That’s the thing with the flow of an album, I don’t know how many people really listen to a whole album nowadays, people see it so fragmented now. People just listen to tracks and add stuff to playlists, stuff like that. I’m still very much rooted in the album flow, even A-side, B-side, because you know… I’m ancient. We do think about the track order, I think that’s important. It’s like a setlist for a live show, you want it to have the high points, peeks and valleys, and the light and shade. That song, of course, comes at a point where you had a lot of dark stuff, yes. [laughs] So it’s kind of cool. It’s kind of an uplifting song I guess, it’s about overcoming people looking down on you, people don’t believe in you. I really believe that everybody has it in them to achieve their goals, but it’s about mindset and the mental attitude you have, I like to write songs about that. 

Yeah, makes sense. It makes sense with the intense last track of the album as well, which is about climate change.

Those were Alissa’s lyrics, yeah. It ends on a gloomy note, it sounds like a movie or something at the end, maybe there will be a second part to this. [laughter]

Anyway, you’re also heading on a European tour with BEHEMOTH in the fall. Is there anything you can tell fans about that tour? Are you going to focus on the new material?

It’s going to be a balance. We’re very fortunate, in a way, as a group because we’ve been going for 25+ years but our newer music is our most popular music, so usually, after your 11th album, it’s like the classics are all the early stuff, and the fans just kind of tolerate the new stuff [laughter] but with us, it seems to be the opposite. The new songs are the ones that are getting the most airplay, and the most YouTube views, it’s just nuts how many people listen to our stuff nowadays. I think it’s going to have a balanced setlist – we play some of the old stuff and some of the new stuff. I’m excited about the tour, ARCH ENEMY, BEHEMOTH, CARCASS, & UNTO OTHERS is a killer package. We’re coming to Finland as well, it’s one of the last shows on the tour I think.

Yeah, that’s going to be fun. Anyway, our 15 minutes are up, so I will leave you to enjoy the rest of the festival. Hopefully you’ll have a great show! 

My 15 minutes of fame are up? [laughter]

Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with your fans? 

I don’t know, I just like to thank anyone for their support of this campaign. It’s been a different one, releasing all these singles over a long period of time. Thanking everybody for being patient, the album is out today, so August 12th, super excited. Check out “Deceivers,” I’m looking forward to playing in Finland again, tonight and in the Fall! [laughs]. Peace out!

Interview by Laureline Tilkin