A Spiritual Interview with Michael Amott

Many thought Spiritual Beggars were over after the departure of the great JB. But that was a gross underestimation of Michael Amott’s capacity to awaken talents. After all, he already played that trick in the early 2000’s, when Spice packed and left and was replaced by JB, the bearded guy from a then-unknown band called Grand Magus. However, the integration of Apollo Papathanasio, who officiates as a vocalist for Greek heavy/speed band Firewind, in Spiritual Beggars was definitely question-inducing, and legitimately so. But in the end, we have to admit that Apollo, with his warm voice and Coverdale-ish intonations, all very different from what we heard in Firewind, was a pleasant surprise. One more proof of that Michael Amott is a shrewd guy. Not to mention that the album itself, Return To Zero, is a catchy gold nugget, halfway between stoner and classic rock. But this success is no wonder, because, as Michael confesses himself, there’s no pressure with Spiritual Beggars – just plain selfish pleasure!

But we’ll let the pack leader take over from now.

« […] I love working with JB, he is a great guy and he is still a very good friend today. I am sure we will work together at some point in the future again, if not in Spiritual Beggars, in something else. « 

Radio Metal : You did a two years tour with Arch Enemy, did some shows with Carcass and now you are back with Spiritual Beggars. How do you manage to commit to all these projects?

Michael Amott (guitare) : I have a good manager I guess (laughs), he helps me to divide the time. In fact, I just focus on one thing at a time. I love playing shows and recording. I play guitar everyday so it is not very hard work for me. Of course I’m busy because it takes a lot of planning but I enjoy it.

It took Spiritual Beggars five years to come back with a new album. It is a long time for the fans. Is it the result from the very tight schedule of each of the band members?

Yes it is, if you look at Spiritual Beggars you will see that there are some members from a lot of other bands that are quite successful, that are touring a lot and who have very busy schedules. It was definitely the main reason for the delay. When I am home after a long tour, I call the guys in Spiritual Beggars to ask them if they wanted to do a new record, half of them are not even in the country. (Laughs) It is difficult scheduling. Everything came together at the beginning of this years so we decided to go for it.

What does the title “Return To Zero” mean? Is there a link with JB’s departure from the band?

Not really, there are a lot of different meanings to the album title. At the beginning of this year, we found ourselves without a singer, without a record label, without any real support from anybody, without anybody really knowing that we were still going to make a new album. It was as if we were starting everything all over again. It was one of the feelings we had but it was also an exciting feeling because we had a really killer new material but nobody knew we were still going as a band so it was as if we were an unknown band again.

At first, the departure of JB was lived as a hard blow by the fans were you also disappointed?

Yes of course… Well, I was not exactly “disappointed”. What I mean is that I love working with JB, he is a great guy and he is still a very good friend today. I am sure we will work together at some point in the future again, if not in Spiritual Beggars, in something else. I had a lot of fun working with him. At that time, I did not really want to look for a new singer. When in the end JB told us that he could not commit to Spiritual Beggars this year I thought that was maybe the end of the plan of making this new record. However after that, things move very quickly into a very positive direction. I think there was something good coming out of this.

I talked to JB about this. He told me he would have loved to do another record with Spiritual Beggars and play more shows with the band but at the same time you decided to record this album. He had too much to do with Grand Magus, it was his priority. Could not you just wait for him until he finished what he had to do with Grand Magus?

We waited five years already to get everybody on the same schedule. Me and Sharlee play in Arch Enemy and Per Wiberg, our keyboard player, plays in Opeth, and both bands had a break this year, then it was possible for us to do a new record.
Once we get the new albums with Arch Enemy and Opeth, it leads to another two years,
so we would have to wait maybe nine years for a new record with Spiritual Beggars. We had the songs and we were not really looking for a new singer. However when JB came and told us he was unable to do it, we thought that maybe we could wait but then things moved very quickly. We were introduced to Apollo, he came to rehearse with us and it just sounded amazing. So we thought “why not just record an album?” It sounded so good! We just want to have fun, you know. Spiritual Beggars is not the most serious thing. It’s kind of a holiday.

How did Spiritual Beggars end up asking Apollo to join the band? How did you meet him?

He is a local singer actually, he has played a lot with Ludwig, our drummer, he is in bands for years and years doing hard rock in the vein of Whitesnake, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest etc. It was Ludwig who recommended us.

Have you considered at some point calling Spice back?


Why Not?

We like to move forward, this musical relationship is over.

Have you still some contacts with him?

No, I haven’t spoken to him for ten years.

Apollo is Spiritual Beggars’ third singer and all three singers are really excellent. Do you feel somehow lucky for that?

It is not luck, I pick good singers. (laughs) I don’t pick people who are bad. It is difficult finding good singers of course! You want somebody who has a lot of power, very cool, with an unique expression. Each of the three singers in Spiritual Beggars has brought something very special to every album.

 » It is just really nice to go in different directions that are not expected for us as an individual musician but I think that with Spiritual Beggars it makes sense. »

To my ears, Return to Zero turns to have a kind of classic rock, bluesy vibe even more than previous albums. Many songs like “Believe in Me”, “Coming Home” or “A New Dawn Rising” sound like Whitesnake’s song. Do you think this is something we can actually attribute to Apollo way of singing which is closed to David Coverdale’s or did you have this kind of feeling in mind while composing the songs?

Yes, most of the songs were already composed before Apollo entered the band. Of course we kept on working once he rejoined; he took part in the rehearsals and the pre-production. He came over to my place or we met at the studio and welcomed vocal melodies and the phrasings. So he definitely had some influence. I think I agree with you, this album is more melodic compared with previous stuff. It was the kind of records I wanted to pick now with Spiritual Beggars.

Is Apollo a fan of David Coverdale?

Yeah, we all are and especially the Deep Purple stuf and the early whitesnake. It’s classic, it’s really great.

The closing song The Road Less Travelled is unlike anything we’ve heard from the band. It’s a ballad lead by sweet piano melodies, low drums, we can even hear some kind of mandolin. what the story behind this song?

Yes, it is a very different song. I’ve never written something like this before. I wrote it on guitar first but I always knew that the main instrument should be the piano, so I asked Per Wiberg to help me arrange it for piano and I played the mandolin. It is pretty soft, inspired by the softer musical themes. To me it is a positive thing to bring something new on an album.

Return to Zero is a very diverse album, was it important for you?

Yes, I really want to have a lot of variety or else I get bored! I don’t really like listening to albums with twelve songs which sound exactly the same. Spiritual Beggars is an opportunity for us to explore different aspects of music that we are not get to do with our regular bands. It is just really nice to go in different directions that are not expected for us as an individual musician but I think that with Spiritual Beggars it makes sense.

Return to Zero was produced by yourself and Richard Bengtsson, just like the last two previous albums. Was there a will to preserve the identity you achieved with the sound of these two previous albums?

No, It is just that I like to co-produce Spiritual Beggars because I’m there for the whole thing. I have the whole vision because I wrote most of the music but also the lyrics and melodies. I can make sure that everything is kept together and simply true to my vision. Plus, Rickard has his own studio (Sweetspot Studio) in the countryside. It is a great place to record, there’s no distraction. It is very nicely equipped. We had fantastic vintage equipment there, so it is really cool!

Angela from Arch Enemy wrote the lyrics to a song on the album, how did she end up doing so?

It was a song that I had since the Demon’s album, five years ago, but it didn’t appear on the album because we didn’t have the lyrics. We didn’t write the lyrics in time, so it has been left off. We always have demos of instrumental versions of songs. I played the song to Angela’s before and she really enjoyed it. One day she just gave me a set of lyrics for it that she thought would really fit that song telling me that we should try and play it and it worked out perfectly.

Have you thought of having her singing parts of these lyrics?

No, we did not think about it, she has a totally different vocal style which is much more aggressive.

About the packaging of Return to Zero, the limited edition said to be eco-friendly, was it your idea or the labels?

It was ours actually.

Is it because you feel concerned about ecology?

Yes, everybody with a brain is! (Laughs)

So what do you do in life for ecology?

I’m a lifelong vegetarian; I don’t support the meat industry.

The artwork for Return to Zero is pink and quite flashy, Are you somehow tired of the dark colours of Metal?

No, I wanted very varied and strong colours. I gave my idea to the artist who did the artwork, to have something different with a vibrant base. I saw it in a workshop the other day and in fact it really stands out. It has very dramatic colours.(laughs)

« […] >We are not a career band and we are not trying to have a career with Spiritual Beggars. […] Actually it gives us a lot of freedom, we do not care at all of what people think about this new record. (laughs) »

Spiritual Beggars is really a quality band but it is far from having the success of Arch Enemy or Opeth. Do you think that Spiritual Beggars stands to live in the shadow of the band members’ main bands, that it somehow constrains Spiritual Beggars’ success?

Possibly yes, but we enjoy making music that isn’t that important. Spiritual Beggars is more about getting together, playing music, friendship and having fun with it than being successful. It’s not really something that we think about.

It seems that for you Spiritual Beggars is just a band for pure pleasure, that you are not really looking for getting more recognition.

I never searched for recognition with anything I’ve ever done, I always played for pleasure. You have to love what you do, you’ve got to love the music. As you said, we are not a career band and we are not trying to have a career with Spiritual Beggars. It is definitely true. Actually it gives us a lot of freedom, we do not care at all of what people think about this new record. (laughs)

Arch Enemy and Spiritual Beggars are two very different bands, those switching from one to the other allow you to give some fresh air. Does it also allow you to keep a certain level of inspiration by not being bugged down in a sole project?

Yes, I think it is a correct description.

Would a tour will be reuniting Spiritual Beggars, Grand Magus and maybe one of Spice’s bands one day?

Everything is possible (laugh), there is nothing planed though.

What are you up to now with Arch Enemy? Rise of the Tyrant is now a few years old and The Root Of All Evil did come out in the mean time so the fans are now waiting for the next album.

Yes we know, that’s why we are writing a new album. We have been writing for a while. Now I think we are half way there, we will be able to record pretty soon. I think we will put the album out before summer 2011.

Do you know the musical direction you will take for this album?

It is going to be fast songs and lots of melodies… (laughs) it will be extreme metal.

This year you were at the Hellfest. You played with both Arch Enemy and Carcass, how did you live this experience?

It was two different days so it was not physically draining. The Hellfest is great! It is really cool and important for the Metal scene in France to have one of the biggest European metal festival.

With Carcass you played right after Alice Cooper. Wasn’t it hard to play just after the big show of Alice Cooper?

No I was trying to watch a bit of Alice Cooper’s performance but I was busy before the show.
That is the great thing about these festivals, there are all kind of different rock and metal music blended across the weekend, it is really really cool. That is what I enjoy about those festivals: the variety.

Now about Carcass, have you still got no album planed?

We never had a new album planed. The reunion was amazing, the fans’ reactions were fantastic but now I don’t think we will do anything for a while. We are going to a new Arch Enemy album and touring a while for that but, you never know what is going to happen, I never say never because, for example, I never thought that there would be a Carcass reunion, to start with, and it was a lot of fun! I am not closing any doors, I’m open to suggestions.

Interview conducted in september by phone
MySpace Spiritual Beggars : www.myspace.com/spiritualbeggars

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