INTERVIEW: AMARANTHE – Olof Mörck & Johan Andreassen; Kuunari Jan Mayen, Helsinki 2020

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Amaranthe have been on the scene for nearly a decade now and are ready to share their sixth studio album with the world on October 2nd, 2020. While press days have been few and far between this year, we managed to get a moment with Olof Mörck and Johan Andreassen on August 11th to talk about “Manifest,” their evolving sound, and whether Elize Ryd will ever be belly-dancing in their live shows.

 

First of all, you guys were able to make the trip over from Sweden. How’s everything been going this last year?
Olof: It got really crazy, but according to the latest statistics that I saw, the [coronavirus] cases in Sweden are going down compared to the rest of Europe. While Belgium, Finland, and Norway were going up by 50%, it was going down by 50% in Sweden, so obviously that’s probably pertaining to us already having quite a few cases from before. But from our perspective, we started out the year really great with the tour with SABATON and APOCALYPTICA. We were actually able to finish that whole tour and then we spent a month writing songs. Then when we were about to go down to the studio, that’s when the proverbial crap hit the fan. But we managed to make it down. We were setting up on a Friday evening and we were supposed to leave on the Sunday after, and we heard from our Danish drummer that they were going to close the boarder to Denmark where we were set to record our album. So we had to make the decision at 23:00 in the evening to pack all of our stuff for 2.5 months to travel down to Denmark. We passed the boarder 40 minutes before they shut it.

That sounds completely insane.
Olof: It was pretty insane, actually [laughs].

Johan: With me living in Finland, I wasn’t able to go to Denmark. At least, I would have had to cross two closed boarders, so there would have been a big possibility of me getting stopped. So we decided I would record my stuff here in Helsinki, actually just down the road from here. Everything, despite all the viruses and mayhem going on, we pulled it off quite nicely.

Glad to hear it! Now I have to say that I’ve been following you guys since 2009 or so (“you guys,” assuming Johan had already joined back then)…
Johan: I joined in 2009 and we had our first show in 2009.

Olof: Yeah, October 2009. Our first show in Helsinki was in March of 2010, if I’m not mistaken.

Would that have been the tour with KAMELOT and LEAVES’ EYES?
Olof: Yes, at Nosturi, which is no longer there.

There were two guys standing downstairs at the merch. I had left early to beat the rush and I was harassed into buying your “Leave Everything Behind” single. I had told them if I had 2€ in my wallet I would buy it. So it’s been really interesting to see you guys from before the first album was released up until today. Do you guys remember much about that show?
Johan: It was the first tour we ever did, so I think we actually remember it quite well.

Olof: Exactly. I remember Elize and our previous singer were traveling together with KAMELOT, so we had our own tour…

Johan: Car.

Olaf: [laughs] Yeah, exactly, the touring car.

Johan: We drove after the tour bus with a car [laughter].

Olof: I still remember the show vividly. It was where we met the Spinefarm guys for the first time and our then-current manager had a conversation with them. I actually remember the party afterwards [laughs].

Johan: I wish I was that lucky [laughs].

Olof: Did you actually buy the single?

I did manage to find 2€ and I still have it.
Olof: It’s exceedingly rare. We only ever printed something in the order of 150 and I have 30 of them [laughter].

Johan: I have two or three at home still in the plastic, untouched.

Olof: Same here.

Now that said, 10 years later, you’ve been opening for SABATON and APOCALYPTICA. It feels like forever but it’s really only been a decade. What has this journey been like?
Johan: I would lie if I said it has been easy [laughter]. It’s been a rollercoaster, completely, both for the band and everyone involved personally. We didn’t really know each other very well when I joined the band, but now I consider Olof as one of my closest friends. We developed a lot as a band and as persons, but it has been rough. There’s been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Literally [laughter].

Olof: Exactly. I can add that it’s been intense, but I think, like Johan hinted, when you go through times like these today, not only do you become really close friends but it’s essentially family. That’s the cool thing, now that we actually had a little bit of time off, that Nils and Elize came to my summer house and we had some vacation in Stockholm with Henrik, so we do still hang out and spend time together.

You guys have this generally pop-metal sound, but it seems like, from the very beginning, it’s actually undergone a lot of changes within that sound. This new album, Manifest,” seems like it’s actually one of the heaviest that you’ve put out. Was that a natural development or a conscious choice?
Olof: I call it a bit of a maturing process, actually, because 10 years ago we were a little bit more in the business of pissing people off, to be honest [laughs]. We obviously love the sound, love introducing the electronics. That’s one of the things that set us apart from all the other bands, so that was a really important factor and it still is to this day. Obviously, we are a metal band at heart. We play all the metal festivals, we tour with metal bands, so for us it’s a little bit cool to underline this on the new album, that this is where we are firmly planted. So I would easily say that it’s the heaviest AMARANTHE album, so that was the ambition before we even started to write it.

I remember, again, going back to the KAMELOT show, Elize was singing and belly-dancing. Has she ever done that kind of dancing with AMARANTHE?
Olof: Never, not yet. Not on stage, at least.

Johan: Maybe she has. I don’t know.

Olof: He doesn’t pay attention [laughter].

Johan: I’m busy taking care of my four strings. It’s a lot of work [laughs].

Do you think it ever might show up in your performances?
Johan: Regarding AMARANTHE, we can never say never.

Olof: We don’t specifically say no to anything.

Johan: I think we are very open-minded in trying out new things and incorporating other stuff into our music and our live shows. We are limitless in that sense. We are open for discussion about everything.

Do you have any plans to develop your live show further, once you’re able to get back on stage?
Olof: Yeah, that’s the really cool thing… or, that’s the positive upside to the current situation. A lot of the people, the artists, but also the production, managers, light techs, and so on are now at home, frustrated, which also means that they are being creative, so naturally we’re talking about doing something quite spectacular for the tour that was set to start in November. Now we have the time to take this completely to the next level. Also, by the time that we are out touring, hopefully next year [laughs], hopefully in the spring, people will have listened to the album as well, so people will know the songs a little bit better. That’s definitely our ambition, to really take it up a notch.

Johan: It would be really cool if we could use all this gathered frustration and put it into something constructive. I think we’re going to step it up a couple notches.

It seems like more and more bands are starting to collaborate these days. You guys in particular have included vocalists like Angela Gossow and Noora Louhimo recently, but also Elize has guested with ARION and Henrik has done work with BLIND CHANNEL, to name a few. Do you think these collaborations are important to expand the fan bases, or is it just for fun?
Olof: I think it’s a good thing to see that this is happening now in the metal scene, because it used to be standard in the ’90s with hip-hop acts, that they were always guesting on each other’s albums. I was thinking about this because a journalist asked me the very same question just a couple of days ago and only then did I realize that it never used to happen back in the day. Back in the ’90s you would never have Bruce Dickinson guesting on a METALLICA record. You had a band and it was a fucking tight unit and it was kept together like a gang. So I think it’s a positive thing to get a more community vibe, especially in this day and age when things are the way they are, I think we will see more of these collaborations coming up.

Angela Gossow was the guest vocalist in “Do or Die,” but as I understand it, she is also your manager these days. What’s it been like working with her?
Johan: As a manager, she’s clearly shown us and the world that she’s not to be fucked around with [laughter]. She’s hardcore to the bone and I think that is what we need. We’ve been messing about with other partners but no one has ever been able to even come close to where Angela has brought us. She knows a lot of people in the business and a lot of people know her, so that’s of course a plus, and she knows what it’s like to tour, which is also good. A manager who hasn’t been on tour him/herself doesn’t really know what you can demand of the band or artist, but someone who has known how it is to be on tour knows that this might be too much, let’s not even ask. So it’s a good safety net for us as well.

That’s really cool. Now, is your tour with BATTLE BEAST this fall still happening?
Olof: No. It’s not happening. It was supposed to start in August, in like a week, I think.

Johan: No. Yeah! The 20th.

It’s gotten harder to keep track of time this year [laughter]. 
Olof: Exactly. It’s obviously not happening this year. We are looking at next year also, but we don’t really know yet. It’s really unpredictable with the situation in the US.

Tying back into what we were saying about collaborations, I’m curious to know which came first, the tour plans or the collaboration with Noora Louhimo?
Olof: The tour plans, but with that said, we’ve known her for quite a long time. We’re not super close friends, but we would run into her at almost every Finnish festival with BATTLE BEAST constantly. Outside of Finland as well. We always got along really well and always stopped to chat. Not only is she a great person but in my estimation, she’s one of the best singers in metal right now and not just one of the best female metal singers. Fuck that label. She’s great. So it was a pure pleasure to have her on the track.

Was this done with the hope that she’d be able to come on stage with you for that song on the tour?
Olof: She was supposed to do it, yes.

Very cool! Again, talking about these collaborations, do you write them with whoever you are collaborating with, or do you write the song and they contribute, or how does it work?
Olof: Basically, we always write all the stuff but they come with their own opinions. For example, with Angela, she changed a few lines that I had written for the growls, so it was something about the dissent of mankind into blah, blah, blah. I was expressing this in a very poetic way and she changed it to DEATH AND FIRE! [laughter] There can be a little bit of that. Noora added her touches to “Strong,” which is coming out on Friday this week, but essentially those are Elize‘s vocal lines, through-and-through.

When you’re writing, considering that you have three vocalists, how hard is it to balance them all and make sure everyone gets their time in the spotlight, so to speak?
Olof: Start with the maxim that you can never make three singers happy [laughter]. I’m kidding. It takes a little bit of puzzling here and there but that’s also the charm of writing music for this band. It’s also something that Elize is very conscious about when she is writing. She writes most of the vocal lines, so for example, when she writes to Nils, she tries to adjust it in order to make it for him or if it’s a song that he’s going to be dominant on. We have a song called “BOOM!1” on the album, for example. You can clearly tell that she wrote it in order for Nils to sing it to perfection. However, we also did a lot of experimentation on this album, trying out, for example, sometimes you hear a very poppy and happy melody from Elize and you’ll think that this won’t fit Nils, but then he tries it and it sounds like David Coverdale.

That’s interesting to hear, as Nils sounds so different with AMARANTHE than he does with DYNAZTY. 
Johan: Not only musically, but also on stage, he has a different role with DYNAZTY than what he has in AMARANTHE. He is just so insanely professional, so he just adjusts to whatever setting he is in.

Is it hard to balance so many people on stage? Though I suppose you guys are performing on much bigger stages these days than you used to.
Johan: You should have seen us back in the day-

Olof: She did! [laughter]

Johan: Oh yeah, you did! That was just fucking mayhem. I remember one time in America when we played a venue where the stage just fit our drum kit. It was our first tour that we did in a minivan from coast-to-coast. That was a challenge. But I think we’ve learned each other’s movements pretty well. Olof and I have always had a very good silent communication on stage and I think we do our thing and we let the vocalists do their thing and they can adjust within themselves and Olof and I adjust between us. I don’t think there is any choreographer in the whole fucking world that would be able to choreograph a complete AMARANTHE show that we would actually follow [laughter]. It’s not in us. We are so free-spirited when it comes to this that we go too much on feeling or hunches. Sometimes it can be mayhem but I think we pulled it off pretty well and I think that people see that this is not staged. This is us, having fun.

Sometimes you see choreographed moments in metal, but a lot of the times it comes across as awkward.
Johan: Forced.

Exactly. Now talking about “Manifest” itself now, obviously the world is in a weird place right now. Is there anything special that you had wanted to talk about lyrically, any messages you wanted to share with the world?
Olof: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of the lyrics are a statement of who we are as individuals and who we are as a band, as well. Our intentions. It reflects the music in that sense. It was interesting to approach this from vastly different angles. We have a song like “Fearless,” for example, that’s a little bit of an illustration about how we keep on going, despite people saying that it’s dangerous, you’re not supposed to do that, you can’t combine that with metal, and so on. Then you have a song like “Archangel,” that deals with theistic mythology and the fall of Lucifer and the creation of Satan, for example. It’s a bit of a warning, maybe to ourselves, maybe to other people, about not over-reaching or becoming too proud.

Johan: Keep your feet on the ground.

Olof: Exactly.

Of everything that I listened to on the new album, the song that I had the most questions about was “BOOM!1” You’ve got the big, loud capitals, the exclamation mark and the misspelling of the exclamation mark, and of course the spoken part about “what else goes boom?” What can you tell me about this track?
Olof: It was a very fun song to write, actually, because it’s constructed around the growls, around the vocals. It was me and Henrik, sitting up one late night in the house in Denmark. Most of the song was written down in the studio and we were overdosing on hip-hop and rap music because they are experts at going really fast with the writing and making that flow. So for us, it was really interesting to get deep into that, pick it apart, and turn it into growls. I was sitting there, white as a motherfucker [laughter], laughing away into the night. Lyrically, there’s a serious side to it about the current polarization in traditional media and social media. Now that everybody has a voice and a strong opinion, they are conflicting, which means people take more extreme sides. The character that is singing the song is sick of the bullshit and the polarization, so he just decides to blow everything up instead. Which could be taken as a metaphor basically, that you’re sick of the pointless discussions.

Johan: You said that you were sitting in a house in Demark during the recordings, but I think you actually started talking about this song on the tour.

Olof: Yeah, already in the festivals last summer, we started joking around about a song that would be called “Boom” and the different things that we would do on stage combined with the song. It’s going to be an awesome live song, that’s for sure.

It’s interesting to hear… I think I heard this the first time when Henrik collaborated with BLIND CHANNEL in “Snake” – and my impression was, “… is he growl-rapping?!” I had never heard such a thing or considered that one can do that.
Johan: There you have the typical formula for AMARANTHE [laughter]. We do what we like.

Just pick something that no one thinks is possible and then do it?
Both: Exactly.

Johan: We’re not confined to genres.

Now your single, “Virus,” is great because it has such a great dual-meaning between going viral online and literal viruses like coronavirus. It seems like it was an easy choice for a single, so was there more to it or did it just seem like the best song in the moment?
Olof: We had the title from before the whole corona situation happened and a few of the lyrical parts and musical ideas. It seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up with the current world situation, just like you pointed out. It’s partly discussing social media, which was the original intent, a little bit on the same topic as “BOOM!1” with the polarization, people hide behind the light of their screens, throwing shit at each other without consequences and benefitting from anonymity. The way that this connects now into the virus situation is that all of a sudden, discussing the virus has become a political topic, which I believe is absolutely insane. It has nothing to do with politics. So in the US, for example, you have the right, or the conservatives, say that we should have less lockdowns and masks are not necessary. Then you have the left saying the complete opposite. The funny consequence is that, in Sweden, the leading party is socialist of course and they are not really that for lockdowns. So the conservatives have taken the opposing sides and say that we need to have stricter lockdowns because that’s how it always works in politics with polarization. So suddenly we have the socialists in Sweden agreeing with Donald Trump, which is a very funny consequence of the whole thing. To me, it’s absolutely stupid.

That’s really interesting. As artists in particular and with everyone online having a voice these days, you get a lot of these flame wars. Have you come across much of that in your fanbase?
Johan: It’s just a sandbox that got digital [laughter]. It’s so fucking easy to be an asshole behind a keyboard when you don’t have to face the consequences, but if you are eye-to-eye with a person, I guess the melody is going to change. I think people have clearly taken too-big liberties in trash-talking and being negative and “I have to make my voice heard because I think this and that.” Yeah, well, of course you have the right but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree with you and of course that doesn’t mean that everyone who doesn’t agree with you is an asshole. You don’t have to hate someone just because you disagree. You can just agree to disagree. People are so easily offended by everything today. It honestly feels like if you don’t feel the same about one thing, like I do, then we can’t be friends. It’s so easy in social media today to tell someone to fuck off if you don’t see eye-to-eye.

Olof: You’re making a really good point. I was actually thinking about this sort of thing yesterday, that I see a lot of people that I used to hang out with 10-15 years ago, I see them blocking each other and no longer talking because they so happened to end up on opposing political sides. So it seems like a strange thing, just like Johan mentioned. I’ve seen a lot of hate comments towards our music and we were expecting it from the beginning, of course.

Yeah, if you go into pop and metal, you’re going to polarize the “trve metal” people.
Olof: That was one of our main intentions [laughter], to piss some people off. The thing is, I’ve never seen or heard these opinions stated to my face. Ever. Not one single time.

Johan: Nope.

Would you prefer it that way?
Johan: Actually, yes. I would prefer to have it in my face than a written comment on Facebook. I would respect that so much more, especially if the person who delivered the comment would do it in a nice polite way. Fine, you’re allowed to think exactly what you think. Who am I to tell you that you’re wrong. Hiding behind a keyboard, as I said, makes it very easy to be an asshole.

Olof: I can mention an example of this. Down on the continent, there was a person who published a review of the album. I had already seen it and he was writing scathing comments about it. Really, really, really bad review. Then I was having an interview with him 2 days later after I read this review and he kept going on about how much he loved the album. I was like, “Wait a moment, so what part of you is actually honest here? Is it what you’re telling me now or what you wrote in the review?” Usually I don’t confront people but there I had to ask.

We’re getting close to the end of our time now. The tour has been postponed and is a bit uncertain. Do you have anything else planned, any live streams or things like that upcoming?
Olof: We might do something like that. To the whole band, if we’re going to perform live, it should be in front of an audience, so we need to think about a way to do it without it becoming awkward. Just standing on a stage pretending to play a normal show where it’s completely quiet in between songs won’t work for us.

Johan: We’ll need to have pre-recorded applause.

Like a laugh track in a sitcom [laughter].
Johan: It sounds exactly the same for the same 5 seconds.

With one person shouting “woo!”
Johan: [laughter] that would be something.

Olof: Maybe having a small audience of maybe maximum fifty people or doing a studio session, something like that absolutely, but apart from that, we are kind of a visual band so we are definitely going to continue to record a bunch of music videos and spend a lot of time planning for the next year. So far we haven’t really been having a lot of time off.

Johan: For the last 10 years.

Olof: [laughs] For the last 10 years. Not even now, in the current situation, because we are constantly doing things. I’m sure we will continue to keep busy.

Is there anything else that you’d like to share about “Manifest” or anything else coming up?
Olof: I’d like to send a thank you to the people of Finland for supporting us since day 1. It’s literally, since day 1. We have some of our most loyal fans from here and we do appreciate it a lot, especially in troubling times like this. So, big shout-out to you guys!

Well thank you so much for your time today!
Olof: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.

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