In Conversation With New Arch Enemy Vocalist Alissa White-Gluz

By Andrew Bansal

Longstanding Swedish melodic death metal band Arch Enemy are entering a new chapter in their career, with vocalist Angela Gossow stepping down from her duties and heralding Alissa White-Gluz, formerly of The Agonist, as the new Arch Enemy frontwoman. The band is set to release ‘War Eternal’, their first album with Alissa and ninth overall, on June 4th, 9th and 10th in Japan, Europe and North America respectively via Century Media Records. Earlier today on April 28 2014, I went down to the label’s office to sit down for an in-person interview with Alissa herself. Enjoy the conversation below as she talks openly about the challenges that lie ahead, The Agonist, Kamelot, and other topics. 

Alissa, it’s good to talk to you again. It’s been a while, and even though I’ve spoken to you a few times before, it’s in a different environment this time. First of all, congratulations on the gig!

Thank you!

So, before it was officially announced last month, how long was this change brewing?

It’s been brewing for a while. I think for Angela it was probably brewing for years, just thinking about what she wanted to do moving forward, and I’m going to speak for her obviously, but this isn’t the type of change that comes overnight, you know. It’s something that we all thought about long and hard, and then worked really hard to make it possible. So yeah, although it’s very recent in the public eye, it’s not as recent for me.

As a fan of your previous band The Agonist which is where I came to learn of your talents, seeing the band live and listening to the albums, and also for anyone else who might be wondering, did you end on good terms with them?

Well the thing is, they kicked me out. I had intended to do both bands. I had been doing The Agonist and Kamelot for years, while going to school and working a full-time day job. So I’m perfectly capable of doing double duty and I wanted to do that, but I guess they didn’t like that idea so they just kicked me out. That was really crushing. It really fucking sucked. But, I have a really awesome band now, really great people, amazing music, great manager, so I really can’t complain. I’m just looking forward and focussing a 1000 per cent on Arch Enemy now because that’s all I got (laughs).

So you had actually intended on doing both bands? A lot of people might have thought the opposite when this change happened, that you quit The Agonist to focus on Arch Enemy.

No, I had totally intended to do both bands but I obviously want to respect them and didn’t want to say anything against them. So, ‘my former bandmates chose a different path’ were the words that I used in my statement when it was unveiled that I had joined Arch Enemy. So that’s exactly what happened. Major bummer, but I can’t dwell on the past. I’ve got to move forward to positive things.

This Arch Enemy album that’s coming out in a couple of months, was it already completed before you joined the band or did you have a part in the process?

I was there for the entire process and I wrote five of the songs. The album was untouched by Angela. She stepped away before the album process began, and Michael [Amott] and Nick [Cordle] had written the instruments for about five songs before I was brought in. And then once I was brought in, Michael and I started collaborating, co-writing lyrics and arranging vocals for the songs. Then the rest of the guys continued writing the instrumentation, intros and stuff like that for the rest of the album, which was another five songs plus instrumental tracks. I continued writing lyrics, so did Michael, we did some demos, jammed and just started recording. So yeah, it’s very much my album too which is really cool because it would have been a little bit strange to just step in and replace someone. Instead, it’s really like one door closed and then another opened.

Yeah, it’s different from what usually happens when a new singer steps in, where the new album is already done. But for you it’s been an easier process in that sense.

Yeah, I think Angela is extremely intelligent and mature and she made sure to make this happen in the right way because she cares a lot about the band. So yeah, it was actually a very smooth process.

But how different is it for you as compared to The Agonist? Obviously it’s a different style and you have to focus on one thing which is harsh singing, as opposed to The Agonist was more of a free-form thing.

It’s different in the sense that I’m actually in a way doing less, but the thing is, there’s a really, really amazing quality to the type of growl expected on Arch Enemy songs, so I do have to pay attention to exactly how I’m saying every single word. It’s kind of like quality over quantity in a way. I mean, the way I see it is, when you’re making a painting, you can grab every single color there is and cover the entire canvas or you can strategically place the best colors in the best places, and then the negative space between the colors also means something, you know. In Arch Enemy it’s a lot more selective. There’s a reason that there’s singing on some parts and less singing on other parts. It’s more condensed in some places and spread out in others. So yeah, it’s a different style and I like both styles but I’m definitely loving the album we just wrote and I love all the old Arch Enemy songs too as I’ve been a fan for years. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily easier or harder, it’s just totally different.

The style of clean singing that you’ve done in The Agonist, that’s never going to happen in Arch Enemy, I guess. Would you miss that at all?

Well, I wouldn’t say it’s never going to happen, but it’s not going to happen in the same way, that’s for sure, which was also the main reason why I really wanted to keep both bands (laughs). But actually, I’m sort of already prepared for that which is great, because I have this garage band that I’ve been doing just for fun for a couple of years. It’s all girls and I don’t want to talk about it too much because we don’t have music to show yet and want to wait till then, but it’s sort of like a rock/punk band. Every member comes from a pretty renowned metal band, so it’s a bunch of metal girls doing fast rock/punk music. And in that band, I’m almost only singing. It’s mostly singing. So, I’ll still be able to sing and for those who like my singing voice and want to hear it, you can listen to that band which should be ready by mid-2015. I’m very busy with Arch Enemy right now, but my singing voice is not dead. I’m not just going to throw it away. I’m just going to use it in a different context.

That’s great to hear. You mentioned that you’ve been a fan of Arch Enemy, but are you ready to face Arch Enemy fans? People will be polarized in the beginning, some will like you and some won’t. 

Yeah, totally. It’s a weird situation but I’ve been pretty exposed to it actually for years. I mean, I was right there when the Nightwish switch happened. I sang for them for one show between Anette and Floor, and I saw how well things went for Floor. I’ve been singing with Kamelot from right when Roy left and then Tommy came in and I continued singing with them for many years with Tommy as the frontman. So I have a good surrounding of people who have been through this to help me. I asked them for advice and they’ve been through it. It’s just one of those things, obviously I grant any fans that need time to mourn the loss of Angela. I grant them that. It’s totally normal, I get it. And then when they’re ready, I hope they can come and enjoy ‘War Eternal’. Obviously when we play shows we’re still going to be performing a lot of the old classics and we’re going to do them justice because they’re great songs. So it’s not like just because Angela decided to only manage the band now that everything she did is suddenly deleted from existence. All that stuff still exists, we’re all really proud of her, proud of everything she’s done. And so we’re just going to pay tribute to that with every show and also look forward to moving forward as a band in a new way.

Right. Before it was decided that you would be in the band, did you have to sing any of the older songs for the guys, or was there any kind of audition process like that at all?

Basically, in the same meeting where Angela gave her final decision that she wanted to step down, in the same breath she was like, “But Alissa should step in.” So then the guys, and I know this because Michael has told me, started researching me and listening to my previous work, looking at YouTube videos, interviews that I have done in the past, and eventually they were like, “Ok, let’s talk to her and let’s see if we can work together.” So yeah, we tried, just to see if it would work, hanging out in Sweden, jamming the old songs, writing new songs together, just seeing what the chemistry was like. And actually, the chemistry was really, really great right off the bat. So I think we all want the same thing, and that is for Arch Enemy to continue. They were faced with two options: “Either we stop making music and Arch Enemy dies with Angela, or we continue and just move forward stronger than ever.” Angela also wanted us to continue, so it’s a pretty unique situation actually, where we all wanted the same thing. I think that’s what’s been helping us stay really motivated, and it also motivated us to make a really killer album because we couldn’t just make a mediocre album here. We had to make it really good. So yeah, there wasn’t really an audition process. It was just sort of like, “We kind of want you. Do you want that?” And I was like, “Yeah, I think so!” So we just talked it out and started working.

I’ve also seen you play with Kamelot which is a band I enjoy, specially for their live presentation. You get to be a backing vocalist and you also get to step out into the front for some of the songs. What has that experience taught you as a musician?

Oh, I’ve learned so much from Kamelot. I learned how important the live show is. I always sort of had a punk attitude when it came to that, just get up there and play. But really putting on a show is such a better experience for the fans, investing that extra time and money to make the sound great, the lighting great, make the stage look great. It also makes everyone more comfortable and everyone can perform better because you can hear what’s going on. For me, I’ve always sort of wanted to be a drummer or something so that I could just be in the back, not get too much attention and just see what’s happening while contributing. So for me it’s a lot of fun playing in Kamelot because I can just be in the back, sing my parts, still watch everyone else and see the show. They’re such nice people, they’re super professional, they know exactly what they’re doing, they have expert crew, and I’ve really learnt a lot from that band. Actually, when I started singing with them they were going through the exact same thing that Arch Enemy is going through right now, which is the change of an iconic singer. I’ve seen how nice the Kamelot fans are and how open they are to the change. Even diehard Roy Khan fans are like, “I love Roy but I like what Tommy brings too, it sounds great and I love Silverthorn.” So it’s a great experience and I’m actually going to keep singing with them whenever I’m available to.

That’s what I was going to ask you. So whenever you get time you’re still going to play with Kamelot?

Oh yeah, as long as they invite me and I’m free, I’ll definitely do it because it’s so much fun. I wouldn’t give that up.

Even if it’s Arch Enemy and Kamelot playing the same show?

I would do that. That would be fucking cool! (laughs)

Arch Enemy links:

Alissa White-Gluz links: