Interview with Spiritual Beggars Guitarist/Founder Michael Amott (also w/Arch Enemy)
-Words by Tommy Hash
It’s nineteen ninety three and your favorite metal rag has just announced that axeman Michael Arnott has parted ways with Carcass right on the verge of a breakthrough album. That band is about to unleash their successful Heartwork opus through Columbia Records, a rare feat for a gindcore band to score a deal with a major label. But as those sessions ended the guitarist decided it was time for a change, to take a step in a direction that would be on the opposite end of the musical spectrum, to play music that owed more to Purple, Sabbath, & Uriah Heep rather than Napalm Death or Sepultura.
Enter the formation of Spiritual Beggars, a band that has evolved from the early days as a power trio, playing a stripped down hard rock grove to evolving into a bombastic proto metal powerhouse. Known for their guitar and Hammond organ driven sound, this seemed like it would have been an unlikely sound for Arnott to fall upon, but it worked. Nevertheless, he refused to abandon that extreme sound, as the formation of the successful Arch Enemy would bestow a whole new extreme metal sound upon the masses, being blatantly technical while being one of the first bands of that caliber to feature a female frontwoman. As Arch Enemy’s popularity grew, Spiritual Beggars had to take a backseat at times, where Arnott and company would write and record material whenever cracks in schedules should appear. There were times, where Spiritual Beggars’ future in doubt as Arch’s presence on the global stage while even turning heads in the mainstream took precedent.
However, here we are with nine studio albums and a few EPs and live releases and the persistence of output (especially over the past few years) has shown that there is no stopping the band that has become an integral part of the revival of new classic hard rock all across the board alongside Graveyard, Kadavar, Michael Monroe, & The Treatment, bringing about the fierce two fisted, energetic fervor to the ears. Now with Sunrise to Sundown hitting the racks and just back from an Arch Enemy performance at NAMM, Michael Arnott sits down to speak about his other Gothenburg band.
TOMMY HASH: How is it that you are able to separate writing for Spiritual Beggars and Arch Enemy, two totally different types of music?
MICHAEL ARNOTT: Arch Enemy is a band that has toured the world with hundreds of shows; we put out an album and a big world tour follows. Spiritual Beggars has also been around for a very long time, it features my close friends and my favorite musicians, but it’s a very different style in regards to my playing and my writing. Spiritual Beggars is something where I can express myself in a different way as opposed to going into the extreme. With that, it’s very rewarding.
TH: Having been with Carcass, when did idea come about to do something in the vein of a classic hard rock sound as opposed to extreme?
MA: At that time when I pulled the band together, I was in Carcass from the UK and I was interested in doing something different after doing that for several years; I really wanted to try something different. I obviously wanted to keep playing music, but I thought, why not try something different. I wanted to grow a little bit as a musician maybe. Certainly 70’s rock was something I was very into and I also was excited to try that out and see if I could pull it off myself.
TH: Looking at the earlier days if the band, adding keyboardist Per Wilberg for the Mantra III album changed your sound, literally redefining it, making it what it is today.
MA: That was a huge step forward for us when we got Per Wilberg to play keyboards for us, he’s an amazing musician. He’s someone that I admired and to have him come and join us really expanded the sound of the band. It’s opened so many doors as far as writing and adding textures. I think when he played on our third album, Mantra III in 1997 it just changed everything. He came in the studio to do keyboards on one or two songs with the Hammond and Mellotron, and I think he ended up playing on half of the album; Per kept up putting more stuff down. When we completed the album we were like, we don’t want to play live without him, so we had to keep him in the band. Once he joined, it’s sounded so great, so full, interesting and rich, giving it a really good sound. It’s also really good to play off him as a guitar player, we do a lot of cool stuff together.
TH: The Hammond’s presence is like practically having a second guitarist, how is it that the both you and Wilberg play off each other?
MA: That all happens very naturally and organically. Its’ so easy to play alongside him, I hope he feels the same way about playing with me. It’s just very natural. There is very little brainwork involved with this band. A lot of stuff we play comes straight for the heart, we don’t even talk that much when we put all of this stuff together. Everybody knows what they have to do, we have such the same common ground of music, the same influences are shared, and all of us we know what it’s supposed to sound like.
TH: Over the years you have had a few vocalists coming and going.
MA: Changing vocalists is a pretty big deal, different sound, different voice, and as you know it affects the writing as well. You always want the vocals to sound great in the context of the music, so you write a little bit for that vocalist in a way. Apollo Papathanasio is singing his ass off on the new album and I couldn’t be happier with his performance, I think it’s the best work he’s done. Janne “JB” Christoffersson was in a baritone/bass range, but Apollo and our original singer Christian “Spice” Sjöstrand are tenors. So there are things from a technical point of view that you have to consider, but they all have been great, I enjoy working with all of them.
TH: You have found a home now with Inside Out Records, but at one point you were signed to Music For Nations, a label that had helped wave the flag for heavy music during some dark years; how has it been dealing with all of the business aspects?
MA: This is going to be our fourth album on Inside Out, so that business relationship has been great. Especially since they are affiliated with Century Media Records, It’s just great working with them as they are enthusiasts for the music. Music For Nations was a cool label, but it closed for a while after being bought out by a major label. When we were working with them in the 90’s, it was still the old record company mindset where there was a model of a lot more money being spent. The good thing now is that you are a lot more control of who you are and what you do as a band. Some things are easier and some things aren’t.
TH: What about Arch Enemy, any news on that front?
MA: With them, it’s now more about writing music for the next album, but we are taking it a bit slow. On the last tour, we did 300 shows around the world, so it’s good to be back home. We might have a couple dates for the end of the summer in Europe. So now, were just going to focus on writing as we need to get new stuff written.
Copyright & Publishing: 2016 Tommy Hash for Ytsejam.com
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