“I have this goal of creating an album where I start by making twelve paintings, and then I write a song based on each one.” Arch Enemy‘s vocalist Alissa White-Gluz is musing about where her two main passions intersect.
When the Swedish melodic death metal group formed in 1995, helmed by founding member and guitarist Michael Amott, the scene was waning (and not from a lack of solid bands).
Debut record Black Earth (1996) put them on the map, while third release Burning Bridges (1999) showed a sharpening of the band’s blend of melody with ferocity. However, it was with fourth album Wages of Sin (2001) and iconic vocalist Angela Gossow‘s debut that things began to soar.
Fast forward to 2014. Four records and sizeable lineup changes later, one of the biggest shifts took place – Gossow stepping down and White-Gluz entering the fold. Now razor-sharp, the music’s enhanced by the frontwoman’s vocal elasticity and brutality.
When she sat down to chat, the band had just finished a “hugely successful tour” of North America with Trivium to end 2017. The musician dived into latest record Will to Power (her second Arch Enemy album), how she avoids impalement during shows and being… an art commissioner.
So how’re you feeling about playing down here, with Download coming up?
“I’m just really excited that we get to go back down regardless. But it’s amazing to be a part of a festival like this, because the premiere year for one is pretty exciting, especially because Download is pretty well-known in other countries. We’re hoping all goes well, and that this can be the beginning of a closer relationship between Arch Enemy and Australia. There’s been a huge buzz, it’s just a matter of getting all the moving parts in place to make it happen.”
What I love about Will to Power is that you got to experiment further with vocal techniques. What have you’ve learned over the years about what you can do?
“I just like to do whatever makes the best song. I try to always learn every day, either from my mistakes and strengths, or someone else’s. I feel like that’s the best way to improve and stay self-critical. I think one thing I did learn was to trust that instinct I have about each song and go with it. Almost all the time, I’ll present the idea and Michael will love and include it.”
Really utilising your self-built studio for the first time must have helped with that!
“It’s really awesome. It was a necessary step, and it’s very cool because my friends or boyfriend can also use it. It’s fully equipped. I learned as much as I could from experts and just reading stuff online. I learned about sound insulation techniques, and building a room I obviously learned recording software, and also all the instruments that I can kind of play but not well enough to put on a record. But enough to demo with.”
Now who in Arch Enemy challenges you the most to be better and how?
“It’d have to be Michael, just because I work the closest with him when it comes to vocal tracking, writing and recording. I’ll do the first take of a verse, and I’ll be like ‘Okay wait, that sucks. I’ll do it again’, and he’ll be like, ‘No let’s listen to it again. I really like how fucked up that was’ (laughs). So sometimes it’s just good to have an extra set of ears while I’m tracking.”
Does Michael also push you the most live?
“Actually no, I’d have to say Sharlee (D’Angelo, bass), and that’s because we’re the ones who move around the most. We’re in this never-ending waltz, just to make sure we don’t smash into each other. We also have the hardest time hearing ourselves – You can never hear the vocals, and bass is at such a low frequency that it gets muffled by everything else.
“So in a way we’re very similar performers. I’ll be jumping in the air and coming in for a landing, only to see the bass headstock entering my vision, and I have to somehow redirect my landing mid-air so I don’t end up impaled (laughs). Sharlee’s also in charge of putting together the track listing order, so he’s responsible for how much or little time I have to breathe in between songs.”
Another person who’s pushed you is Angela, and she’s also your personal manager, right?
“Yeah! Ever since I met her 12 years ago, she was like a big sister and mentor, checking in like, ‘How’s your voice, your brain? How’re you feeling?’. Then she was the one that invited me to take over for her, and since then she’s been doing an amazing job. She’s been managing Arch Enemy for almost ten years. She also suggested that I do a solo album (Alissa), so whenever I have downtime, I focus on writing and recording for that (which she’s the manager for). It’s great to have somebody take care of the bureaucratic stuff that I don’t want to think about, so I can focus on being an artist.
“Very few people have a manager so dedicated, so we’re very lucky.”
Who’s been the most exciting musician to collaborate with on Alissa so far?
“I think I have the best music chemistry with obviously Jeff (Loomis, Arch Enemy guitarist) and Oliver (Palotai, Kamelot keyboardist), who’s actually playing guitar. So he’s actually getting to explore an angle he doesn’t usually get to in his main project, so that’s pretty cool.”
Now I know you have a passion for painting… When I found out you drew your blue whale tattoo, I was blown away.
“It’s funny, because I used to get commissions for artwork all the time – that’s what I did as a job in my late teens and early 20s – and it just occurred to me that I haven’t been doing much artwork for ten years. So I was like, ‘That’s it. I have to get back into it’. I bought myself some pieces of equipment, and then hit a complete wall. I have two commissions I need to get done, and I’ve tried four or five different ideas and hate everything I’m doing.
“So I definitely have to practice and get that artistic touch back, because I might have lost it. I don’t think it’s like riding a bike (chuckles).”
I can imagine during touring, that would’ve fallen by the wayside.
“Yeah! The show’s only two hours. But the preparation and then getting cleaned up, plus any press or meet-and-greets we need to do (and we need to sleep)… It makes for very few hours in the day. Plus I like to work out. So I haven’t had time to do art because of that. Also if I want to do non-digital art, I have to fly around with an extra suitcase filled with art supplies, and have a space in the venue where I won’t be bothered, where there’s sufficient lighting… It’s honestly not feasible most of the time.
“Now I’ve got a digital art rig, so it’s more portable to travel with, but making the leap from oil paint is a little more difficult than I’d hoped. But I’m not going to give up. It’s still fun, it’s just taking a lot longer to achieve the results that I want (chuckles).
“I have this goal of creating an album where I start by making twelve paintings, and then I write a song based on each one. Then when you purchase the vinyl and booklet, you get a nice full print of each painting, and the lyrics of each song on the back. So you can actually look, read and listen all at once. I don’t know what it would be called, but hopefully one day I’ll get to do it.”
Interview by Genevieve Gao
Be sure to catch Arch Enemy when they show their Will to Power at Download on March 24 in Melbourne and sideshows across the country – tickets available here.
Arch Enemy – 2018 Australian Tour
Friday 23rd March – Sydney – Manning Bar
Saturday 24th March – Melbourne – Download Fest
Sunday 25th March – Brisbane – The Zoo
Tuesday 27th March – Adelaide – Fowlers Live
Wednesday 28th March – Perth – Rosemount Hotel
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