INTERVIEW: Arch Enemy’s Michael Amott
Arch Enemy are about to embark on the last round of touring for last year’s excellent Khaos Legions. More melodic and with maybe a touch less death than you might expect from a melodic death metal band, Khaos Legions is also the last Arch Enemy album to feature guitarist Chris Amott, whose departure from the band was announced earlier this month. But mere line-up changes can’t keep Arch Enemy down: new guitarist Nick Cordle of Arsis has taken up the co-guitarist throne alongside Michael Amott, and the band has a lot to say and do before they put the full stop at the end of Khaos Legions.
You’re about to come to Australia for a very short tour. Only two shows. You know what that means for a lot of fans: heavy metal road trip!
Yeah! We’re happy that we got the opportunity to play Australia at all this year, but it’s just these two shows. We wanted to play it safe. And it’s at the end of an Asia run. We start in Japan and do four shows there, then we go round Singapore, the Philippines, Korea, various places around Asia. Then we got the opportunity with a new promoter to tack on these two Australian shows, Melbourne and Sydney. We’re just really excited about doing it. I guess it’s been a couple of years since we were there now.
The last time I saw you were was probably Gigantour.
Yeah. I think the last time we were there was ’09. We did Gigantour, we’ve done a few different things down there. This will be our fourth or fifth visit to Australia, and this will be the last one in a while. We’re obviously not going to come back this year after these shows, then next year, 2013 is going to be a year off for Arch Enemy mostly. We’ll probably put out a new album in 2014. So I don’t know, maybe 2015 we’ll be back, if metal is still around at that point! So it’s going to be a while, so if anybody wants to see us and get their dose of Arch Enemy this is the last one for a while.
Obviously the hot topic at the moment is Chris’s departure from the band. What’s the story?
Well, Chris informed us in October last year that he wanted to leave the band. Again. [Laughs]. He’s been out of the band, in 2005, 2006, 2007.
The first time he quit the band it was more of a shock. But this time it didn’t really have that impact on us. We were half expecting it. He just hasn’t been that happy playing in Arch Enemy for a while, and music is supposed to be fun. The rest of us love it and live for it, and if one guy doesn’t then that kind of affects the whole atmosphere in the camp. So this is really for the best. And we found a new, really great guitar player. He’s in a band called Arsis and they supported us in America in 2010. I just kind of checked out the dude on that run. I saw him first and thought, “Shit, he really looks like Chris did ten years ago. That’s uncanny.” Then I started watching the shows and I really liked his guitar playing and stage presence and everything. And then I just kind of put him in the back of my mind, I guess. I just pulled that name out when this situation arose late last year.
So you’ve been rehearsing together already?
Yeah. He was over here in January rehearsing. At first he sent us a bunch of videos I’d asked him to record of himself playing our songs. I thought he was going to send two or three songs but he sent over, I don’t know, 20 songs. He picked our entire current setlist and went through them all. He had pretty much everything note-perfect, so it was like, okay, this isn’t going to be that much of a big job for us, to rehearse with somebody, break them in, show them all the fine little details of what we do. He was just very much on top of it, really. Which is great, obviously. That’s what you want. Less work for us. We can just get straight into it. And he was great. He came over and started playing with us, and obviously that’s a totally different thing, and it sounded great. The first thing we did on the first day he got here was to run through the whole live setlist and it sounded great. He nailed stuff, didn’t miss any cues. It was great. At that point I felt about five tonnes of stress come off my shoulders!
It must be stressful, the gap between knowing Chris was leaving, arranging a replacement and ultimately breaking the news to the fans, like, “Oh shit… here it comes.”
Oh the reaction? Yeah, but it’s kind of old news to us now. Chris handed in his notice in October so it’s been a while. I pretty much contacted Nick immediately back then so he’s had plenty of time to get into it. We just kept it under wraps because we did a bunch of dates, the last shows with Chris, in January. We had all these shows booked, flights booked, commitments that we had, so Chris fulfilled his commitments with us and now he’s off doing his own thing. But you know, we wish him the very best, of course. As we said in the press release, we just want to keep it as undramatic as possible because there really is no drama. It’s just something that’s run its course. Music is a positive force. It should be a positive force. We don’t want to stick together just to please other people. You’ve got to move on with your life, and that goes for both him and us, I guess.
Well, y’know, as Sting says, if you love somebody, set them free!
[Laughs] I’ll use that. That’s a good one!
On to guitar matters now, I checked out your Dean signature model, the Tyrant, and its various incarnations at the NAMM Show this year…
I couldn’t make it this year. I was on the road with Arch Enemy. My friend Vinnie Moore who also plays Dean said “What kind of career is that? Out there playing shows, touring the world? You should just be playing at trade shows like a proper musician career.” [Laughs] Having said that, I really do love the trade shows. They’re a lot of fun. I love to geek out on the guitars and stuff as much as anybody else. So I’ll definitely be there next year, and I’ll be at the Frankfurt Messe later this month.
So what were you after with the Dean? I liked your old ESP model – what were you looking for in your Dean that you weren’t getting from the ESP?
Just something a little bit different. I wanted a thinner body. I was pleased with my previous signature model for a while, of course, but then you start thinking “Aah, I should have done this, I should have done that.” Then when I switched endorsement companies I just wanted to put whatever things I’d been thinking about for the last few years – placement of knobs and switches, the little details… I also wanted a slimmer neck profile. I worked on that a lot with Dean to get something that was still comfortable. And I liked working with Dean. Y’know, they’re an American company, their wood shop is in Florida so I flew over there… although I didn’t get my hands dirty, to my detriment! But it was just fun to be around that kind of environment. I’d never done that before, actually. And to have input on that sort of level.
And you have signature DMT pickups designed with Pat Baker?
Yeah. I’ve just got the one pickup, a bridge pickup, and we’re calling it TYRANT. It’s very similar to the pickup I was using previously but it’s got a little bit higher output and maybe a bit more scooped in the mids. It works very nicely for me. It’s what’s on the last couple of Arch Enemy albums. That’s what you hear on Khaos Legions: that guitar, that pickup, everything, which is very cool. I’m very happy that I can use my signature equipment in the studio! [Laughs] It’s good stuff. When you’re in the studio, usually the engineer will tell you, “I know you want to use this guitar, but let’s try another one. Okay, I like this one a lot more, play this,” and you end up playing a guitar that you don’t really like playing that much but that sounds better. And that didn’t happen this time around so I’m very, very pleased with that. No problem taking pictures and video in the studio! [Laughs] I can actually represent Dean guitars, so that’s nice. And I can really fly on that guitar. It’s the guitar that I’m most comfortable playing, so it’s just nice that I can play that on the album.
I have to ask – do you still have your old roadflare red Ibanez RG550 from the Carcass days?
You know, that was my brother’s first guitar. I sort of lent that to him when he started playing, because it was just in storage, and what he did was he …talk about wood shop, he stripped all the red paint off it, so it’s just all natural wood now! There’s no lacquer on it at all! And it’s a real shame, because I loved that roadflare red. I was a bit surprised when I saw what he’d done! Because I didn’t actually give him the guitar, I just lent it to him, and he went to town on it. But I know some people at Ibanez. I’m thinking of maybe giving it to them and seeing if they could paint it in its original roadflare red. Because it looks killer, because the neck is so worn. You can just see all the years of shredding on that maple fingerboard. And it’s a nice guitar. At the time it certainly did me very well.
I’ve got one of the 20th anniversary reissues they put out a few years ago…
And it’s the roadflare red?
That’s the one! That was really funny – that was my first endorsement guitar, going back to 1990. I ordered a black RG550 and I opened up the case and there’s roadflare red. I was like, “Whoa.” And I had the bass player leaning over me at the time going “That’s …that’s pink!” I was like, “I don’t know, I’m not sure it’s pink but it’s definitely very out-there!” But it’s really cool. That’s a classic now. That’s for sure. I might make a roadflare red V! [Laughs]
So what are you using for amps at the moment?
I’m using Marshall amplification. Very boring, traditional! [Laughs] I’ve been using that for a few years now. I was with Randall for a while, using some of their stuff, especially their modular amps. I’ve got four of those heads sitting here. Modular amps that the preamps could slot into. I think they were designed by Egnater. But I still have a bunch of other amps, cabs, stuff like that. I’ve got too much gear. I’ve got like a music shop in my storage room here at our rehearsal studio. But it’s nice to have. I just bought another amp, a Roland JC-120. I just always wanted one for cleans. I got a late 70s one in mint condition with original cover and everything, so I was quite excited by that. And I just love playing clean, and those are the best clean tone there is, I think, with the real chorus effect and everything. That’s amazing. So that’s obviously going to be a studio tool. But yeah, it’s been Marshalls now for a while. I’m using a head that they don’t produce any more. I found out that Michael Schenker was playing the 2205 50 watt JCM800 model, so I tracked down five of those.
Ah, so you’re the guy who’s got them!
Yeah! So if anybody’s looking, give up looking. I’m the guy that’s got them! I just thought they sounded very, very nice. Lots of headroom and that really spongey kind of gain. I put a bit of Tube Screamer in front of it as well, but it’s got that sort of very fluid feel, it fills in the gaps. It’s just got this really nice, responsive feel to it. And that’s what you hear on all my leads on Khaos Legions, for instance. For the rhythms on that album I used a Marshall JVM410, which is a more modern amp Marshall does. Marshalls and Tube Screamers, Celestion Vintage 30 speakers. So a very old-school setup, I guess. But that’s just the sound and tone I heard that struck me when I was a kid, the players I was listening to then, and I’m a product of that time, the early 80s, really. When I think of a good guitar tone I think of something like that. I don’t think of a highly processed, technological sound. I didn’t really grow up on that stuff. So I’m a product of that time, I guess.
Well that’s it. I’m a Marshall user myself and they just sound like hard rock. That’s the sound right there.
Yeah! That’s it, really. I mean, for a while I was using the original 5150 head, in the early to mid 90s. I’ve just had fun with lots of amps. And I’ve still got those amps, as well. I just have a hard time parting with stuff. I think “I might need that one day.” And then I’m very pleased when I actually do get to use them. Also, I only use analog echoes on the albums. I use like a Tom Scholtz Rockman half-rack echo, split into stereo cabs and stuff like that, to try to get a different lead tone. Or I use a Roland tape echo, a real tape echo that I have, because if you just throw on a plug-in that everyone else is using around the world on every metal album, everything’s just going to end up sounding the same. So I think it’s kinda cool to throw something else on there. I don’t know how many people can actually tell, but it’s a unique tone.
Arch Enemy Australian tour dates:
SYDNEY – Mon, April 30 – Manning Bar
MELB – Tues, May 1 – Billboard
Check here for other dates.