The BIG Uber Rock Interview – Sharlee D’Angelo (Arch Enemy) Print E-mail
Written by Jonni D   
Friday, 08 September 2017 16:00

Now over two decades into their career, Arch Enemy are beginning to reap the greater rewards of longevity in the metal scene.  Although the last few years have seen significant changes within the band, it’s done nothing to slow them down.  If anything, this is a band revitalized, as is apparent from their formidable release, ‘Will To Power.’ 

 

Arch Enemy PR Pic 2017 

I caught up with bassist Sharlee D’Angelo prior to the album’s release, to get some insight as to how the band pushed the boundaries of their signature sound like never before, resulting in their most diverse work to date.  Always a generous conversationalist, Sharlee delves into the mindset of crafting an album in the modern age of music, reveals the thought process behind the band’s first ballad, and muses on how age has changed his perspective on what makes a truly great musician. 

 

First off, I congratulated him on the tenth album milestone, and asked if that bore much weight on them when they first started to piece ‘Will To Power’ together? 

 

Honestly, I don’t think any of us thought of that until somebody mentioned it when we first started doing press for the album.  It was like, “Wow, this is your tenth album,” and I had to take a moment and make sure they were correct! [Laughs]  So that number really didn’t have any significance to us whatsoever.  At the end of the day, it’s a new album, you know? 

 

There have obviously been a few major changes within the band’s line-up over the past few years.  Of course, Alissa [White-Gluz/vocals] is firmly established within the band now.  But this is the first record to feature Jeff Loomis on guitar.  So, how does Jeff fit into the dynamic of Arch Enemy?

 

Well, I mean it’s great to have a blonde in the band again! [Laughs]  It certainly lights up the room, doesn’t it?!  But, it’s great; he’s a fantastic guitar player and someone we’ve admired for a long time.  And we’ve also known him for years and years.  The first time we toured together – God, that must have been like seventeen or eighteen years ago.  So, we’ve always had a lot of mutual respect, both on a musical and personal level.  Sometimes, you’re on stage and I just look over to the left and think, “Holy fuck! That’s Jeff Loomis!” [Laughs]

 

And of course it’s really cool for the fans to have that Nevermore/Arch Enemy crossover…

 

Absolutely.  It’s a great development within the band.

 

In what way do you consider his playing to complement Michael’s [Amott/guitar]?  Obviously, the dual attack has always been an important part of Arch Enemy’s sound…

 

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Oh, it’s the perfect combo, because they both have very identifiable styles that complement each other so well.  And the thing about Jeff is, we’ve mostly heard him doing particularly intricate stuff, whether that’s in Nevermore or his solo stuff.  But, this is a different type of music.  His leads on this record…I mean, there are a lot of very atypical Loomis moments on there.  Certainly, you get your 24 carat Loomis – that’s definitely in there.  But, on the other hand, he’s a lot more versatile than people may think.  He comes from largely the same background that we do; we grew up listening to a lot of the same music and sharing favourite guitar players.  So it was cool to see him branch out a little bit, with Michael pushing him to do so.  And I mean, those guys just work so well bouncing off each other.  This is probably the most rock n’ roll that I’ve ever heard Jeff Loomis, where he’s strayed away somewhat from the more composed, technical side of himself and just let it rip.  He’s so good at that big 80’s arena type lead playing, which we haven’t really heard much from him in the past. 

 

It’s interesting that you say that, because quite a few of the tracks like ‘First Day In Hell’ and ‘Blood In The Water’ have a real kind of traditional heavy metal stomp to them; a real fun groove to the riffs.  Was that something that Michael was pushing for this time?

 

Well, I think everything comes pretty naturally.  Once the songs are fully developed and it’s time for more of the guitar ornamentation side of things, we basically play off gut feeling and run with it.  But, those two, Jeff and Michael, certainly worked a lot together on that sound you’re talking about.  It’s a style that suits them very well together.

 

To delve a little more into the songwriting on the record; both ‘Will To Power’ and ‘War Eternal’ have seemed to have a greater emphasis on a symphonic element.  This time round it’s really noticeable on ‘A Fight I Must Win’ and ‘The Eagle Stands Alone’, to name just a couple.  Do you guys begin writing with the intention of trying some more layered arrangements, or is it something that becomes more apparent in the studio?

 

Oh, absolutely the latter.  I mean, the more a song develops, the more apparent it becomes if something more is needed – if it has a certain vibe, then we can figure out how to emphasise some of the song’s inherent elements even more.  For example, ‘A Fight I Must Win’, we added a real orchestra on it, like we did a couple of times on ‘War Eternal.’  There are certain songs that just lend themselves to that, and they let themselves be known to you in the studio; the ones that require that little bit more icing on the cake.  It’s a very natural selection when it comes to further orchestration of certain parts.

 

So, to think back on the ‘War Eternal’ touring cycle, from the outside it seemed that Alissa was accepted very readily by the fan-base.  What was your perspective at that time?

 

Oh, it went a lot quicker than we thought it would.  We kind of went in to that whole situation with a mindset of, “We have no idea what people are going to think.”  Will they accept her?  Will they accept us as the same band?  And so, I think we just decided to attack the whole thing head on, and went out and played as much as we possibly could.  We thought that we were going to have to start a few levels below where we were and work our way back up.  But, it seems like we came back pretty much at the same level as we were before, when it came to crowd reaction and attendance-wise.  The album came out, we started touring, and people hadn’t rejected us like we feared.  So, we actually ended on an upwards trajectory, surprisingly.  A very positive surprise, I must say.  From then on, we’ve just been moving forward.

 

And how would you describe Alissa’s creative influence on some of the newer material?

 

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Well, she’s a really great lyricist.  And her vocal style, it just lends itself to so many different possibilities than Angela’s did – the ability there is vastly different.  Especially now, another album in, I guess it’s a lot easier to compose music with Alissa in mind.  There are just certain things that she’s able to do that we just haven’t been able to before.  Touring together these last three years has really solidified us as a unit, and we know ourselves inside and out now than compared to the last record. 

 

Speaking of Alissa’s ability, one of the big deviations on this album is the introduction of prominent clean vocals on ‘Reason To Believe’, which is essentially the band’s first power ballad.  Alissa sounds incredibly confident on that song.  Was it her suggestion to try the cleans?  Or was it the rest of the band?

 

I think that was the rest of us, more so.  It was a song that came about that we knew was undeniably a ballad.  And it was a question of, “Can we really do this?”  And it absolutely is a ballad, deeply rooted in the 80’s tradition of the power ballad.  At the same time though, it’s a lot more epic; there’s definitely an element of Manowar in it, which is not a bad thing if you ask me! [Laughs]  It was just something that we had to try out, and if we were going to go for it, it had to have clean vocals.  It’s so difficult to make a ballad work with just growls.  Some slow songs can do it, but then I feel you’re venturing more into My Dying Bride territory, or something along those lines, which isn’t really our strong side.  Ultimately, if it didn’t work with clean vocals, the song wouldn’t have been used.  It wasn’t an intentional decision to have a song with clean vocals on this album - it was really just out of necessity.  But, it turned out great.  Alissa did a fantastic job on it, and it shows how much she’s constantly evolving and becoming a much stronger singer.  I’m not too sure how people are going to react when they hear it, though.  It’s probably going to be a 50/50 thing, I would guess.  But then again, if you don’t like it, it’s only one song out of eleven or whatever, and it’s even easier to skip songs these days. 

 

Well, you’ve pre-empted something I was going to touch on.  There is the potential for a certain kind of metal fan to be a little closed-minded to that kind of progression within the band.  Have you had to deal with much push-back before, regarding you guys going down a certain creative direction?

 

Well, the potential for that is very real.  As metal fans, we can sometimes be an overly conservative, and in some ways regressive species.  I’m sure you know what I mean! [Laughs]  It’s just the way they can be sometimes.  At the same time, there’s always that desire for something new to come in, and sometimes you don’t realize that you haven’t heard something before in a certain context.  Not that doing a power ballad is a completely new concept – I’m not saying that, but for us it’s a pretty new thing.  So, as soon as we did this we were sure it was going to be a bit of a divider. 

 

 

But as I’ve said, it’s one song out of an entire album: we haven’t done a total 180⁰ and completely changed our sound.  And to be honest with you, I don’t think we ever will because we’re in this to be Arch Enemy.  Every album will have its own particular shade, and no album is ever the same as the previous one.  It’s just so important to have that natural progression, to let new elements find a way into the music, little by little.  It’s incremental; not that we want to be extra cautious or lose any of our fans, but it’s more a reflection of what our tastes are at that particular time.

 

You mentioned earlier that it’s easier these days for fans to be more selective, in that there’s a greater tendency to simply skip the songs that they don’t immediately latch onto; that seems a lot more prevalent in this Spotify generation of listening to music.  Does that affect your mentality when going in to write an album, as a body of work? 

 

Not really, no.  We’re a very album-orientated band, because that’s really what we grew up with.  Songs, of course, are meant to stand up on their own two feet but an album is as much a composition in itself as any individual song.  There have to be those ebb and flows, the hills and valleys that provide the contrast in the experience.  But since we came from the generation that listened to albums as a whole, we intentionally craft our records in that way.  We can’t do anything about people picking out the odd song here or there, but we would urge them to listen to the whole thing from beginning to end.  Obviously, you have your initial favourites, but coming back to the entirety of an album, I find, constantly allows you to experience the songs in a new light.  That’s the great thing about albums; certain songs are going to be more direct, but others will take a few listens before they reveal a certain quality that sticks with you.

 

Well, that’s kind of reflected in ‘Will To Power.’  On initial listens, it’s those big anthems like ‘The Eagle Flies Alone’ that stand out more prominently.  But then after a few spins of the album, it’s songs like ‘Dreams Of Retribution’, with that strange descending melody after the chorus that really stands out as a memorable moment.  And it’s buried pretty late in the album, so it’s not something you might catch initially.

 

 

Absolutely.  I mean, I love to have things that.   That might not be a single, but it’s a great album track like I was alluding to before.  And we usually have a few of those sorts of songs on an album, as each one should; something that’s just a little harder to chew.  It’s like on the last album when we had a song called ‘Time Is Black’, for example.  That was also a song that would never have been considered as a first single or anything like that, but it’s still a great track.  And what you find is that many of those sorts of songs become the live favourites and, in turn, the fan-favourites of an album.  By the very nature of it, it’s those songs that have more than meets the eye to them that stay with you the longest.

 

Across the board, there’s some really great tones you’ve got on ‘Will To Power’ which makes those particularly stomping riffs sound even bigger.  What was the main gear set-up for you like this time around?  You’re still with Ibanez?

 

Yep, still the same.  Really just my Ibanez Iceman shape and Aguilar amps, and then there’s always little new additions that I collect in between albums.  But basically I’ve had the same set-up for around seven years now.  You know, you change gear so many times during the career that finally you find something that you’re comfortable with and can get everything out of it that you’re looking for sound-wise.  I mean, it may still change in the future.  You can still get tired of stuff, even at this stage, but I’m really confident in the sound I get from what I use right now.  And I’ve a great relationship with the people at Ibanez and Aguilar, so there’s a good deal of respect there. It’s also great to have that level of support from those guys, particularly when you’re on tour all the time.  When you haul all this stuff around the world, it really does take its toll on your gear! [Laughs] 

 

You were alluding to Arch Enemy’s signature sound earlier, which although it has a strong sense of melody, it’s still always been rooted in the more extreme end of metal.  Do you pay much attention to the current scene, and do you see much of a resurgence going on?

 

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I’m not so sure.  Honestly, I don’t pay all that much attention these days.  And I don’t say that to be like, “I don’t listen to metal, I’m above that.”  It’s not that at all.  For some reason, I haven’t really discovered anything new that I’ve gotten into, although I probably should be digging a little more.  We’re not really influenced by what’s current anyway; it’s mostly the older stuff that continues to inspire us.  When you’re younger, you’re much more of a sponge soaking in all of your initial influences, particularly the teenage years.  I think it’s those influences of the formative years that stay with you and will continue to shape your creative output.  That’s not to say there won’t be a newer band that will inspire us, because greatness is greatness.  But recently, I can’t think of anything that has really been of much influence to us.

 

I suppose it’s understandable being so versed in the current scene, to naturally look for influences outside of that world anyway.  It was always great to know that the guy who played in Dismember, Witchery and Arch Enemy considers John Entwistle to be one of his greatest inspirations.

 

Yes!  I’ve always been a huge fan of his.

 

Are there any other surprise influences like that, which may not be too apparent to fans?

 

Well, I would imagine that any great bass player I would mention would be obvious picks.  I’m into all the classic bassists, but not necessarily the flashiest shredders.  I mean, a guy like Steve Dawson from Saxon, he’s one of my all time heroes.  Or Peter Baltes from Accept.  Those are guys who really know how to lock down a groove – to play one note that can carry so much weight, and not be afraid to stray from it.  Even 80’s era Ian Hill [of Judas Priest], it’s the same idea there.  That control really takes a certain kind of person to take that kind of playing and make it sound convincing; you really have to put all of your weight behind it, basically.  And usually, you’re aware that those kinds of players are playing well below their own ability…

 

The restraint is just as impressive as the more technical aspects…

 

Exactly!  And that’s the thing.  I guess the first person to really make that style an art form was Cliff Williams [of AC/DC].  That simplistic style of playing is something I really gravitate to.  But there are so many examples, from so many different genres of music.  A good bass line is a good bass line; it doesn’t matter where it comes from.  I’ve found myself simplifying my playing more and more, the older I get.  You know, I think more in terms of rhythm than anything else these days.  I used to listen to jazz fusion players, like Stanley Clarke for example, when I was much younger and I suppose slight elements of that crazy technicality may have crept in to my own playing at some point.  But I can’t ever really think of any time in my life that I felt a real drive to play like that.  It can still be of influence though.  There’s something to learn from everything. 

 

I mean one of my favourite artists, (and it’s really for his work on one album in particular), is Wilbur Bascomb.  You know, he played with guys like Jeff Beck in the 70’s.  But, first and foremost, he played on the movie soundtrack to ‘Hair.’  I’m trying to imagine it now, but that recording session must have been so cocaine-fuelled! [Laughs]  Because he’s overplaying like there’s no tomorrow; he’s going everywhere, and it’s ridiculous, but in some incredible way it comes together cohesively.  So, that’s kind of the other end of the spectrum for what inspires me - going from Cliff Williams to Wilbur Bascomb and everything in between.  With any instrument, the only real key is to play musically.  Don’t be like, “This is the part where I have to shred and let myself shine here.”  No; do something that’s complementary to the other components of the song.  That’s so much more satisfactory than a quick moment of gratification for some shredding, but I think that’s a realization that comes with age.  When you’re young, you want to do everything you can, to show all the ability you have.  Now, the greatest thing in the world is to hear those notes just ring out.

 

Again, that’s something that’s reflected in ‘Will To Power.’  A lot of those guitar lines are deceptively simple, but it means that the melodies really stick.  There’s a technicality, but the lead lines are so lyrical that you can hum them almost instantly. 

 

Agreed.  And at the end of the day, that’s what I think music should be about.  But then again, if everyone was playing in that way, you wouldn’t have all those young hot-heads providing the more technical progression of the genre.  Just think of Yngwie Malmsteen, for example: if he hadn’t come out with what he did, guitar playing today would be very different.  Or Eddie Van Halen.  Every now and again, you need people like that to take it up a few notches and push everyone else to explore further possibilities.  So, there’s nothing wrong with allowing your ability to shine, but think about it in the context of the song.

 

Well, I certainly didn’t predict that the soundtrack to ‘Hair’ would come up in this interview…

 

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[Laughs] No, but I’m all about surprises!  But, that’s the thing; it’s all about exposing people to music they may not have come across before.  We were talking about the Spotify generation earlier, and as much as we older folk can sneeze at younger people for being fickle and too selective with their music, it’s incredible that they have so much variety at their fingertips.  And that’s a good thing, but it’s hard to drink a whole ocean, so it’s best to start with a pint or two.  It could be easy to be oversaturated and spoiled with the resources on offer now, but it’s all about just gradually exploring some new sounds and spending time with them.  However, whether or not they utilize that tool is another question.

 

But, do you think that points towards a problem with some of the more modern metal bands today; that maybe their breadth of influence isn’t quite as wide as it could, or maybe should be?

 

In some cases, I do think so.  It just makes sense that the more kinds of music you surround yourself with, then the more varied your own output will be.  For example, the old school death metal genre has never really gone anywhere; it has pretty much stayed on the same path from where it started.  The only way you can go is to play faster or more brutal, but there’s a limit to those parameters.  And that’s when things start to stagnate a little bit.  I mean, I know people who play in death metal bands, and that’s all they listen to.  Maybe they enjoy some old school metal here and there, but it’s mostly all old death metal demoes!  [Laughs]  And I totally respect people who stay on their own path, but it’s very difficult not to stagnate when you do that. 

 

It’s now ten albums and over 20 years of Arch Enemy.  With everything you guys have achieved, what’s the driving force this far into the career?

 

Well, it’s this thing called world domination that we haven’t really tapped into just yet…but that’s coming up very soon! [Laughs]  Of course, you just want to keep getting better at what you do, and put it in front of as many people as possible.  We would like to become bigger as a band, and that is happening slowly but surely.  By that, I’m not talking about fame and fortune, and everything that goes along with that.  It’s simply to play those bigger stages and put on a better show, and take it to new places.  And that extends to the club shows; they can always be bigger and better as well.  It’s not all about just playing stadiums, you know?  Although, we are still willing to slum it and play the odd arena! [Laughs]

 

‘Will To Power’ is released today (Friday 8 September). You can get your copy HERE.

 

Arch Enemy play the following dates next February:

 

Friday 9 – Glasgow, O2 ABC

Saturday 10 – Nottingham, Rock City

Sunday 11 – London, Koko

Tuesday 13 – Manchester, O2 Ritz

Wednesday 14 – Bristol, O2 Academy

 

Support on all dates comes from Wintersun and Tribulation. Tickets are available from all usual outlets.

 

www.facebook.com/archenemyofficial/

 

PHOTO CREDIT:  Live photos taken at Bloodstock Open Air. © The Dark Queen/Über Rock.

 

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