Enemy of the Music Business
Arch Enemy came together first as a melodic death metal solo project of ex-Carcass guitarist Michael Amott. Blending anthemic but brutal death metal riffs withFeatures May 10, 2010
Arch Enemy came together first as a melodic death metal solo project of ex-Carcass guitarist Michael Amott. Blending anthemic but brutal death metal riffs with intricate melodies and solos, the band distinguished itself from the Gothenburg sound with their emphasis on growled vocals. But when Angela Gossow joined the band in 2001, she was setting precedents that meant the genre would never be the same again. One of the first female death metal vocalists, Gossow could – and still can – throw down those growls with the best of them and has in turn inspired subsequent generations of female vocalists. In the years since she was inducted into the band, Arch Enemy have gone from being an underground metal band to one of the heavyweights of metal today. “The novelty of being a female vocalist in a male dominated scene wore off years ago,” says Gossow of her role. “If we didn’t have strong music to back that up, we wouldn’t have lasted another album.” Brutally forthright and honest, Gossow took time off from their tight tour schedule to talk about their latest album, her recent run-in with Revolver magazine and how the band got the music industry to work for them.
You pioneered the trend for female vocalists in death metal. Tell us a bit about how you happened to join Arch Enemy in the first place.
I joined in 2001. I knew the band from before that, from their albums, obviously, because I’m a big Carcass fan. I’d followed every member after the Heartwork album and I knew the Michael had a new band called Arch Enemy and I really liked their debut album Black Earth, then Stigmata and Burning Bridges. It was with Burning Bridges that they toured for the first time. They did European shows with In Flames ad Dark Tranquillity and I went to that gig, when they came to Germany. At that time Arch Enemy were kind of an underground band in Europe, they didn’t have much of a fan following. I met the band after the gig because I was doing an interview for the metal section of a website. I was also in a band then, we were always looking for support gigs so I always carried a demo. So at the interview, I passed Christopher Amott [guitars] a demo on a cassette and they kept that and a videotape of the performance, maybe because they were quite fascinated by it. Then, when they were looking for a singer after Johan Liiva left, they happened to find my demo tape and listened to it. Christopher invited me for an audition and yeah, I got the job. Everything else is history from there obviously [laughs]. And then we burst onto the scene Arch Enemy and became a synonym for extreme metal; it was something new and groundbreaking. I think the scene was sort of stagnating before 2000; the whole death metal scene had just died out around ’89-’99. I think the scene was just waiting for something new to happen and we just got in there at the right time.
Ever since you joined Arch Enemy in 2001, there have no lineup changes in the band except for when Chris Amott took a two year break in 1996-98. What is it that keeps the band together?
We are successful so we make a good living from the band. We are self-managed, we own all our own music, which is a lot of power to the band, and we’re our own masters. A lot of bands break up after being pushed and tossed around by the business and we don’t have that. We make the business work for us; we love the challenge. And the other thing is that we’re all old enough; we’re not 15 or 20 anymore so we all have developed personalities. We have learned to grow together as a family and we’ve not become competitors or enemies which I think happens to a lot of bands. We have found a way to co-exist even in the smallest of spaces, like in the tour bus.
I think a lot of bands also break up because of alcohol and drug abuse. People get nasty when they’re high or drunk and we don’t have that. That doesn’t mean that we’re all straight-edge but nobody’s got an addiction. I’ve seen the worst happen at crazy parties with other bands. There are these kinds of bands that start hitting each other after a few drinks. I’m not taking any names because all these bands will be angry. It’s a kind of a code that we don’t really talk about what’s going on backstage, but I’ve [seen] screaming and shouting and hitting and breaking things and all that and that happens after a heavy party where everybody gets really drunk. It’s not very good for the band chemistry, I think.
You released The Root of All Evil last year which was a re-recording of Arch Enemy songs from before you joined. Was this just a stop-gap thing between albums because Michael Amott was busy with the Carcass reunion or was it something you guys really wanted to do anyway?
We always wanted to do it but we never knew when we’d have the time for it because we kind of got stuck in a one-and-a-half-year album cycle. We’d record an album, we’d release it, we’d go on tour, record, release, tour and it was a really tight schedule. The Carcass thing really loosened it up a lot and we knew we wouldn’t try to squeeze an Arch Enemy album in because we wanted it to be good and not rushed. But then we had some time on our hands, we always wanted to do this and we thought this is a good time right now. We kinda actually play these songs live a lot more because they’d been forgotten by a lot of fans. There was an Arch Enemy before Angela joined and the younger generation of fans weren’t really familiar with it. It’s cool because now the 14-year olds know the songs from the first album.
Like you mentioned earlier, you also got out of your label contract and went DIY two years ago. What prompted that?
Yeah, I just fired everybody in 2008. I was starting to look at budgets and figures and I was wondering why we were so poor while everyone else was doing so well. We got a $ 1,000 monthly wage from the record label and that was it. But we were doing well, we were selling records, so I was wondering why the money was going into everybody else’s pockets but ours. And it was also my background – I studied economics and I’d been in management for many years before I joined the band – so I know how to work with numbers and budgets. I just set up a plan to take things into our own hands and since then everybody’s very happy in the band. Nobody’s even thinking about leaving now because we know where every penny goes and most of it goes into our pockets now. We’ve actually going to have a pension fund, which is nice. We’re self-employed so if we don’t put our money into a pension fund, nobody else will. A lot of musicians live on welfare when they’re done with the band and we don’t want that.
And we already changed with the label because we were lucky we got out of the deals with most of them and we just don’t want to be owned by anyone any more. I mean, we sing about freedom and rebelling, but now it also reflects in the way we do business, you know. It just makes sense. I’ve never understood bands that are so angry in their music and their lyrics but then don’t mind being fucked in the butt by the labels. I think it’s your responsibility as a band member to look at it and it’s not pretty.
You’ve also been very outspoken about the way you want people to perceive the band and your image, but do you find that’s hard to control?
It used to be, like I said, when you first sign a deal with a record label. They kinda own all your music and your photo material and tell you what to do. At that point it’s really important for the band and you can’t turn it down, so they get away with a lot of things. For example, like it did with Revolver magazine. I hate that magazine. They ran a feature in 2004 [Hottest Chicks in Metal] and I said I don’t want to be in that feature or the magazine. But the label submitted a picture anyway and they just picked up a quote from another interview I did. They took it out of context and put it in the picture and then it was like controversial or whatever. Back then Revolver was quite a big magazine in the US. It’s not any more. I expect them to go out of print in two years from now. Revolver actually bought that picture so they can just reuse it as much as they like. Normally, when we do a photo session, we make sure that we’re holding all the pictures; we buy them all off the photographer. But back then, we were kinda naïve and we thought the label had bought all the pictures but they hadn’t because they were cheap and trying to save money. Then, this year, they used the same picture in a calendar when I’d asked not to be featured. When I asked them, I got a reply saying, “Well, if you don’t want to be featured in Revolver magazine, we’ll make sure you won’t be featured in any of our other publications.” They have a couple of instrument magazines, guitar magazines or whatever and that just means that Arch Enemy, that Michael Amott won’t be featured either. So we just said, “Fuck you,” because we can. But a lot of bands can’t, you know, they’re small and they need the exposure.
I don’t have a problem with women and their sexuality. I mean women are beautiful creatures and if they want to show their tits, so be it. But what that magazine is doing is something completely different. It’s just about their looks; it doesn’t even have a word or two about the bands or their music. So whoever’s featured there, half of the time I don’t even know what kind of music they play. It’s just removed from the fact that his person is actually a musician. It’s that cheap American way, the fucking “soap the car in the background in a bikini” kind of thing. It’s just about looking at chicks. Some of them aren’t even in metal bands, like that tattoo artist Kat Von D, whatever. I think if you’re a music magazine, you have to have some respect or at least ask the musician before you use their picture.
But there are also a lot more women in metal now for Revolver to feature. Compared to when you started out with Arch Enemy, do you think it’s become any easier for women to break into the metal scene?
It has become easier for women to join a band but that doesn’t mean the band is going to be successful. She might be able to get some attention but it doesn’t mean you get shows, or a good deal or that people buy the album and like the music. If you want to be a musician, you can’t say, “Well, we’re really crappy musicians but we’re gonna have a hot chick in the band and that’s gonna work out.” And I don’t think magazines like Revolver open doors for women, though. I think it’s more bands like Arch Enemy, where you have a female singer when there weren’t women many around, that make an example of being really successful. That’s what bands should look up to and say “Wow, it’s not a disadvantage to have a female musician any more.” I think that’s done more for women than Revolver magazine.
There’s still a lot of cavemen in the world, not just in the metal scene. There’s always going to be the “women belong in the kitchen” kind of mentality. I wonder if that’s the same kind of thing they’d tell their mum. I just picture them as these bent-over guys with a hairy back that scratch their balls when they talk to you. It doesn’t matter [laughs].
Arch Enemy’s had a pretty steady fan base in India for a while now. Have you ever got any requests to play in India?
I noticed that India’s kinda waking up to the whole metal and rock scene. We’re just getting more and more requests for festivals. I’m not really familiar with the metal bands from India but I know that there are some because I know that Opeth played there and some local bands supported them. I don’t think they’ve really got out yet though.
I get requests but there aren’t any reliable promoters in India, I suppose. We heard a lot of stories from other bands. They sound funny when you hear them but they’re not funny when you’re in that situation. I’m sure in the next few years you will have the proper infrastructure, you will have reliable promoters, big festivals. I think that’s a good way to start and also good equipment so you can actually play a gig the way you want to play it but that’s coming and I’m sure India will see Arch Enemy sooner or later.