By Andrew Bansal
Swedish classic hard rock group Spiritual Beggars comprises of Michael Amott and Sharlee D’Angelo of Arch Enemy on guitar and bass respectively, Apollo Papathanasio (ex-Firewind) on vocals, Per Wiberg (ex-Opeth) on keyboards and Ludwig Witt (Grand Magus) on drums. They’ve been around for 20 years now, and have released seven studio albums during that period. To celebrate their 20th anniversary this year, they’re putting out their 8th album ‘Earth Blues’ on April 16th via InsideOut Music. On Wednesday night, I had a pleasant conversation with Sharlee D’Angelo to talk about the album, the band’s upcoming tour and various other things. Read Sharlee’s candid, honest, well-spoken and elaborate answers below, along with some music from ‘Earth Blues’.
This year is the band’s 20th anniversary. Did you ever expect the band to go this far, considering that all five members have been involved in other bands?
Well, we’ve never really thought about it that way. I’ve always hoped that it would be a long-term band. It could have disappeared at any point, I guess any band can, specially if people in the band are busy with other things, even if it’s not other bands and whatever else is going on in people’s lives that come in to play. But I think as long as we still have an interest in this type of music and we have people in the band that keep on writing riffs that don’t fit in anywhere else, I think there will always be a time and a place for Spiritual Beggars.
There will be a new album coming out next month, called ‘Earth Blues’. Is this supposed to be specially for the anniversary or would you have put it out this year anyway?
We probably would have, but it just so happened that it’s our 20th anniversary at the same time. A lot of bands put out some sort of DVD or compilation album to commemorate this event, but what better way than to do what we do best, give new music! We also thought we should tour a bit more, with this being the 20th anniversary, and that’s what we’re starting to do now. We’re going to hit mainland Europe in mid-April for about 2-3 weeks. That will be our first real long club tour that we’ve done in almost a decade, so that’s something a bit special as well.
Talking of this new album, the previous one ‘Return To Zero’ was out in 2010, and this one is almost three years after that. Has the band’s sound or approach changed at all, or is it the same kind of formula?
It’s hard for me to judge from the inside. I think Beggars will always be sort of an amalgamation of all our influences. Everything is stirred together in a pot and put in the oven, and then pressed down on some sort of disc (laughs). So it’s difficult for me to say, but compared to our last album ‘Return To Zero’, I think it’s a bit more upbeat, a bit more energetic. It has its ups and downs and there are a lot of dynamics within the music, I would say. It still feels like really fresh to me even though I’ve listened to it a few times now. I hope other people would think the same. But as I said, it’s hard for me to judge.
For the songwriting, do you guys get together and work on the music, or do you work remotely and just email mp3 tracks back and forth, like a lot of bands do these days?
Not too much. Most of the songs have been put together in a very collaborative environment, just basically five guys in a room doing ‘1, 2, 3, 4, make some noise’ to se if we hit gold (laughs). So a lot of it is done that way. People bring ideas in and we tend to put most of the songs together like that. Per, our keyboard player, lives a bit further away from the rest of us. So he did demos for some of his songs that were done with an almost-ready arrangement. But there’s always things that we change and that we fuck around with a little bit once we actually get together. It’s mostly done in the good old organic sort of way.
That’s the way to do it! So, you joined the band in 2005 at a point when the band had already existed for 12 years. What were your expectations joining the band and how has it been for you in the past 8 years?
It’s been great! I was honored when Michael asked me in 2004. The previous bass player had left and they needed somebody to fill the position. Michael knew that I come from that kind of musical background. I’ve very much grown up on 70s music. So, it was great for me and I jumped at the chance immediately, of course. I’ve been a fan of Beggars since the first EP, so it was like getting to play in one of my favorite bands (laughs). So that’s all I was expecting at that point, just to use the opportunity to play with some fantastic musicians, jam out just fun with it. That was all I thought about.
You mentioned earlier that your upcoming Europe tour will be the first proper tour in ten years. I guess that’s mainly because of scheduling issues with your other bands which take priority?
That is true. When we released ‘Demons’ in 2005, we toured Japan with Dio and we did just one more show in London which was a release party-type thing. And then, everything happened at once. Arch Enemy had just released ‘Doomsday Machine’ and we hit the road. Per was out with Opeth. They just had a new album out as well, and JB (ex-vocalist) had stuff to do in Grand Magus. Everybody was basically just completely busy with their own stuff. Things took off on all the other bands that we play with, up to a totally different level. So that’s why things with Beggars sort of died down a bit. After that it took a while for us to get going, and we did the Return To Zero album in 2010. We played quite a few festivals in Europe and we’ve been to Japan, and done things like that. So we’ve gathered a little bit of steam now. Once you haven’t really done anything for almost five years, it’s hard to actually get back up on the horse but once you have, you still have that momentum going. That’s why it took a little bit less time in between albums as well now. Now, on this 20th anniversary it will be just great to go out and play shows that span all of our albums and really get down and dirty again, so to speak. We are psyched about it and looking forward to it.
This year, will you be doing more tours after this Europe tour, to play in places you haven’t played for a long time, or never played?
Yeah! We’re definitely looking into it to see what we can do. After the European tour, we’re going to Mexico for the first time ever and hitting Latin America. So that’s a big step because outside of Europe and Japan, we haven’t really played any other places before. So it’s great to take that step. We’re taking the plunge across the pond. It took 20 years but it’s finally happening (laughs).
Talking of Japan, you’ve done quite a few gigs over there and you even did a live album recently. I’m sure there’s a special connection between the band and the fans there. What’s it like to play in Japan on a regular basis?
It’s great, and the thing about Japan is, it is extremely ‘Japanese’ (laughs). There are a lot of stereotypes that you hear about certain countries and they turn out to not be true. But a lot of them are true when it comes to Japan. They’re all very positive though. Things are handled so professionally, and you don’t have to really mind anything when you go there. If you send them a detailed list of what you need, it’s there and you don’t even have to think twice about it. That’s great. And the thing with the Japanese audience is that, I found that they tend to listen to music in the same way in which I do. They take in so much, and they’re so into these tiny details of things. It means the world to them, because they find something in that little note or that little phrase here and there, or that piece of lyric or something. They go so deeply into it. I don’t know any other country in the world that does it in that sense. That’s also why the Japanese are known to be a little bit quiet in between songs when you play there. It’s not because of lack of enthusiasm at all. It’s like, there’s a big roar once the song is finished but then it goes quiet because they pay attention. They’re like, ‘somebody on stage is going to say something and we’re going to listen to that’. You could meet a 17-year old girl after a show and she will wonder about certain details such as, ‘on the album you played it like this but live you play like that’ It’s almost like speaking to a fellow musician in a sense, even though they’re not! That’s just the way they listen to music. It’s a fantastic country.
That’s very interesting. Coming to your bass playing, what’s the difference between playing in Arch Enemy and Spiritual Beggars?
I always approach everything with the same mindset, but then soon you find out what works and what doesn’t work for a band or a song in particular. The biggest difference between Arch Enemy and Spiritual Beggars playing-wise for me would be, it’s a lot less physically demanding playing in Spiritual Beggars. It’s not like we’re just trying to come out with tight 16th notes and stuff. There’s a lot more space in the music and a lot more freedom to just do whatever, because that comes with its territory. We are sort of based on a 70s-sounding thing, and all my favorite bass players come from that period of time, almost all of them. So, that’s the part of music people played a little bit more back then. There’s more room for it, and it’s more vibe-based than anything. If it feels right, it’s good. Whereas when I play with Arch Enemy it’s more focussed on accuracy. You have to be accurate, because there’s so much going on in the music from all the instruments all the time. You have to be so focussed on small details. In Spiritual Beggars you can basically just lean back and relax more. So it’s a bit of a musical vacation in that sense, because you get to rediscover other sides of your musicality that might just lie dormant for a long while doing something else like Arch Enemy for example. So it’s good to sort of revive them again because it refreshes your thinking about music. After I’ve done a Beggars album and tour, I would go back to Arch Enemy with a refreshed mind and new ideas on how to approach things. It’s good in many ways.
Have you ever played with both bands in the same show?
At festivals, yeah. In the summer of 2011, we did loads of festivals with Arch Enemy and since Return To Zero had just come out late in the previous year, we thought it’ll be cool to go out and play some festivals, and just to make it work schedule-wise. So Michael and I just ended up playing with Beggars on the same day as Arch Enemy about four or five times on that run. We tried to not put the sets not exactly next to each other (laughs). At least there would be an hour or two in between.