Latest release: Will to Power (Century Media)Website: www.archenemy.net
Arch Enemy has consistently made an effort to tour Australia and on every occasion they have done a sterling job. Since their long term and charismatic singer Angela Gossow decided to step down from the band in 2014 for various reasons, her replacement in the form of the equally stunning Canadian vocalist Alissa White-Gluz [ex The Agonist] has given the band a new impetus and strengthened their determination to conquer. Their latest album, Will to Power, is the second with Alissa at the helm and it is fair to say the album has generated an even more unified sense of direction from the band. Arch Enemy will return to Australia this month as part of the Melbourne only Download Festival but fortunately for those in other states of the country, Arch Enemy will also be playing headlining shows in the majority of other Australian states. Loud Online took the opportunity to talk to the striking Alissa about how things are going in Arch Enemy and the impending tour.
You’re coming to Australia again soon. How has your tour been thus far?
We completed our North American tour and that was amazing. Before that we were in Eastern Europe and Russia. There were lots of sold out shows and really fun meet and greets, we’re all feeling the love so it is very good.
Do you prefer festivals more than headlining?
Hmm, it is a tough call because I love both but I really do like festivals just because I personally like being outside and I like playing on stages where I can run around and jump and have space. But, you know, we also get stages like that in headlining sometimes so that is always fun too. I think that the benefit of headlining is that we can play longer so that we can play more songs. So that’s one downside to festivals but the plus side to festivals is that it is a great way to expose our music to new people who maybe haven’t heard it before so there are pros and cons to both.
The set list no doubt focuses on new material but when playing older songs, have you noticed a natural tendency to speed up a bit? How have old songs evolved and changed within the set list?
Oh yeah, even the new songs evolve and change, to be honest. I think that something that is the smoke and mirrors of being in a band in that each person who is seeing that show is seeing that show only once. But we did it every day so of course when you do the same things every day you might do something which is really funny so you want to keep doing it or I’ll find a way to sing one of the parts and I’ll really prefer that or I’ll notice the audience usually just sings along with a particular part of the song so I might just let them sing it. There are things that happen as you’re touring and as you play shows. There are so many shows and so out of all of those shows there is always sort of like a cumulative effect where we are able to see the songs sort of evolving to the live versions of the song. Usually you’ll only notice when that happens when you go and listen back to the album. It is a very gradual process but yeah we still play old songs and yeah, I’m sure they probably are sped up, actually. They might feel slow but who knows.
How do you approach replicating or respecting Angela Gossow’s vocal technique?
I am a self-taught vocalist and I’ve learnt mostly by analysing other people’s voices. So, when it came time to perform older songs that were recorded on albums that Angela did, I wasn’t a stranger to just listening to her voice and analysing it. I do think that we have different techniques and I don’t know if there is a name for either of our techniques because I think we are both self-taught. I can hear where her emphasis and where her passion is or what effect and what mood she is creating or how she pronounces and how staccato or how slightly off rhythm she goes. These are sorts of little things that makes vocals interesting. So I try to emulate that as much as possible but over time, the songs have become my own versions of the songs. I think it is still pretty close to the album versions.
The latest album has a song, ‘Reason to Believe’ with clean vocals on it. How do you think the extreme metal fans reacted to that?
So far it has actually been incredibly positive. We kind of did that song because we think it is a good song and we like it. We all like clean singing as long as it is done effectively and as long as it stays like pure fucking metal. Some of the greatest metal bands in the world use clean vocals. Look at Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Megadeth – it is all clean vocals so this notion that clean singing is not metal is very fucking stupid actually and we all know that. So we thought, well, we want to do this song as artists and especially for those who have been in the band for twenty years now, I think they have earned the right to do one song out of ten studio albums with clean singing, ha-ha, but we did that knowing that maybe it would be a little bit controversial but we love it and we have done a lot of promo for the album with three months straight of flying around doing interviews in various cities across the world and everybody has been really loving that song. Fans have also been really loving that song so I think that it is doing exactly what we wanted it to do which is be a really effective, heavy metal ballad.
You toured here once before several years ago, contributing vocals to Kamelot, which is a different vocals style. Is that something you’ll think about concentrating on in your solo album, Alissa?
Kind of, yeah and actually Oliver [Palotai] the keyboard player in Kamelot is a main collaborator for my solo album as well and most likely Casey [Grillo – ex Kamelot drummer] will be playing drums, at least on the album. Kamelot are good friends of mine and obviously I love touring with them. That was the one and only time I had toured Australia. The music that I am going to be doing for the solo album is not similar to Kamelot, it is not that kind of song but there is definitely going to be a lot of clean singing. I like to think of it as pretty much being unrestrained so whatever technique I think sounds cool, I’m just going to do it whether or not it fits into a category and that is the beauty of this solo project in that there is no precedent for it. There is no previous album and so no categorisation for it yet so I can kind of just do whatever I like.
Going back to Will to Power, production from the band generally is done by Michael [Amott – guitars] and Daniel [Erlandsson – drums]. Reportedly you had a vocal producer and engineer, is that right?
No, I’ve never actually worked with a vocal producer before so I kind of self-produce my vocals. I mean, we do have an engineer who sits there to record the vocals although I also have my own studio. All the pre-production, I self-engineered and produced and there are some parts, like very few parts here and there, but some of Will to Power was recorded by me in my studio as well. I would like to work with a vocal producer for my solo album but that will be the first time I’ll do that actually. So, we’ll see but other than that I just sit there with the engineer and usually Michael is there as well and we just lay down the tracks.
How does the song writing process work now given that you’re well established into the band?
It has always been basically starting in Michael’s brain. So, when he gets an idea for a riff or for a solo or for a song or whatever, he kind of takes that, marinades it for a while and then goes from there. So, that is still how it works. In the past, he had his brother, Christopher in the band, who would collaborate with him on guitars. On Will to Power, Daniel, our drummer, was a main collaborator and he is actually a really good guitar player. So he and Micheal worked on the instrumentation for the songs. So, Michael collaborated with Daniel for the instruments and with me for the instruments and that is how that goes. There are a couple of songs on the album with a real orchestra that were arranged and recorded in Sweden. All of the recording was done in Sweden actually and then yeah, that’s it.
When you’re playing live and a 48 bar trade-off solo between Jeff [Loomis – guitars] and Michael happens, which I am sure is pretty impressive, do you find yourself running around on stage or feeling at a bit of a loss during those instrumental segments?
It is funny because I thought about that in the beginning, I was like, ‘Man, what am I going to do there?’ and of course I’ve seen other bands with these kinds of things and sometimes the singer will just leave the stage or leave the spotlight to the guitar players. But actually, when I’m onstage, that goes by really fast. Sometimes I’ll leave the stage if I’m having an issue I need to fucking resolve anyway so let’s say I need to adjust something in the monitors I’ll be like, ‘Well, focus on the guitar players and I’ll just sneak away for a minute’ and then I’ll come back but generally I just kind of enjoy the solo myself. I’m there onstage so I’ll take that opportunity to maybe direct the spotlight over to the guitar player because sometimes that helps, you know, ‘Now you look over here guys,’ so I’ll walk over there myself or I’ll take the time to look at the audience and make some eye contact or get people’s hands or whatever, out of the audience and just have fun with it, you know. Of course, I’ll breathe and catch my breath, basically.
I read in an interview that Mike wasn’t too happy with his guitar tone on War Eternal but was much happier with his tone on Will to Power. Clearly that is a question for Michael but do you have any input into the guitar sounds at all?
No, when it comes to guitar stuff that is totally up to them. Jeff and Mike are two of the greatest guitar players in the world in my opinion and in many other people’s opinion. So they have complete mastery of their instruments but in terms of tone, maybe Mike thought that and maybe he’ll say it on the next album that he wasn’t happy with this album’s tone, you know what I mean, so it is really a personal thing. I think it sounds great on both albums but of course that is totally up to him. I fully trust my musicians and I know that whatever they do can be great so, that’s a personal thing up to each person for their instrument.
Presumably the tone that comes out of the speakers impacts on your performance as a vocalist.
Yeah, that’s true. But actually on stage it is so loud that small differences in tone, even though there might be more of one frequency and less of another, let’s say, that doesn’t affect me too much. It is so loud on stage and that is one thing that people who haven’t been in a band don’t realise. We can’t hear anything, we don’t know what is going on and we’re up there basically deaf because it is so hard to hear, especially in metal because there is such a loud stage volume. We’re all playing to be louder than the drums except that the difference is that the only two acoustic instruments on stage are the drums and me. So it is really hard to hear anything because I don’t have any amplification on stage so that is why I rely on monitors because that way at least I have a little bit coming back but even with monitors it is very, very difficult to hear on stage. So, yeah, I don’t personally notice many differences in Mike’s tone. If we have a different player on stage, maybe, for example, we’ve done little reunion shows where we’ve bought Chris Amott onstage and then I can totally hear the difference between Chris’ tone and Jeff’s tone and Mike’s tone but that is kind of it. When it comes to each individual player just adjusting their tone, tweaking it, I don’t hear that so much on stage because it is very loud.
Yep, that makes sense. Just briefly, you performed on a classic Eagles cover [‘Life in the Fast Lane’] for Metal Allegiance. Did they influence you in any capacity?
No, actually, obviously I have a lot of respect for the Eagles, appreciate the music and I like it but they are not an influence for me. So when it came time to do ‘Life in the Fast Lane’, it was kind of cool actually because I was thinking, ‘I’m going to try to do this’. There were three things I was going to make sure I do; I want to make sure that I respect the original as a proper tribute, I want to make sure that I make it metal and I want to make sure that I leave my own stamp on it. I think that I managed to do all three of those things. So I really like that cover and it is always fun to do stuff with Metal Allegiance.
Apparently that song riff was recorded by their producer at the time who caught them off guard when they were warming up.
Really, wow, I didn’t even know that. Ha.
Did you acquire vocal tips from Angela to make sure every performance is the best you can do?
I actually acquire tips from everyone. So, I got some from Angela, some from Floor [Jansen] from Nightwish, from Tommy [Karevik] of Kamelot, from Elize [Ryd] of Amaranthe, Charlotte [Wessels] from Delain, Tarja [Turunen], Lzzy Hale, Corey Taylor – everybody that I know, I always ask them for tips. I am always happy to learn from my peers and I think that it is a great way to keep my mind open about what works and what doesn’t because I don’t want to fall into a rut. I want to improve and get better. Everyone has given me tips and I am very grateful and happy to have really talented and experienced friends who can offer that kind of wisdom.
I suspect your lifestyle choices also help with retaining your voice strength.
I guess so, I mean I have been vegan since before I was a singer so I don’t know what it would be like otherwise. I do stay pretty healthy so I think I must be doing something right although I say that right now with a really bad cold but it is my first cold in a long time and I was pretty exhausted so that is probably why that happened. Generally speaking, I am a pretty healthy individual.
Finally, how would you say the metal scene has changed these days? It is obviously more accommodating to women given that it used to a very male dominated scene.
Globally, yeah, I think the scene has changed and that is very much thanks to pioneers like Angela and Tarja. I actually started singing in a band right when Angela joined Arch Enemy. So, I was kind of already doing it but definitely seeing her being super powerful and strong was just really inspiring to me and I know, to lots of other people as well. I think that she broke down a lot of barriers that otherwise, I probably would have had to fight down myself. Of course, that being said, I have to fight down barriers every day. I definitely think that it is changing for the better. I think it is really hypocritical of metal heads who pride themselves on swimming against the stream, being different from the rest of society and being rebellious; people like that should not be pointing fingers and judging other people and telling them that they are too different, you know what I mean. So I think that is extremely hypocritical and that is what happens a lot of the time. I definitely have had the finger pointed at me like, ‘Women shouldn’t be in metal’ or ‘Being vegan isn’t metal’ or ‘Why do you have blue hair? That’s not metal’ but it is a case of well, actually, doing whatever the fuck I want is the most metal thing there is, that is what I have always done and that it is what I plan on continuing to do. It is very interesting and that is what is exciting to me because I love seeing people of all different races, sizes and shapes; whoever the fuck wants to be singing and playing metal or in fact any kind of music, should be and especially in the hard core, punk and metal world where we are supposed to be celebrating rebellion, I think it is ridiculous to try to tear someone down just because of who they are. I am excited to see that the scene is more accepting of not only women but women of different styles. You don’t have to be an opera singer in a symphonic metal band to be in a metal band anymore, you can be like me. There are so many different bands out there, we are all unique and I think that is really cool and worth celebrating.