Sunday, October 6, 2019

October 6th, 2019 - Will To Power: An Interview With Sharlee D'Angelo

Hello, hails metal heads and happy Sunday!  I attended the Amon Amarth Berserker World Tour 2019 show this past Thursday, October 3rd at the Complex in Salt Lake City, Utah.  While there I had the great fortune of sitting down and chatting with the amazingly talented, versatile, and very friendly bassist Sharlee D'Angelo of Swedish melodic metal band Arch Enemy!  He's been playing with Arch Enemy for nearly 22 years and also currently plays bass in Black Earth, The Night Flight Orchestra, Spiritual Beggars, and Witchery!  And he of course played with the legendary King Diamond from 1990 to 1993 and Mercyful Fate from 1994 to 1999! 

D'Angelo and I discussed Arch Enemy's current tour with Amon Amarth and At The Gates, the most recent Arch Enemy albums, bass work, and heavy metal music in general.  Check it out...

B&T: So I'm here with Sharlee D'Angelo of Arch Enemy.  Thank you so much for meeting with me!

SD: Yeah... thank you!

B&T: You are currently touring with Amon Amarth on the Berserker Tour. It just started last week, correct?

SD: Yup... it did, yeah.  So this [show] is number six... something like that.  

B&T: Why don't we start with... well, let's go back in time.  In terms of music, how did you get into music?  How did you become a bass player?  What was the inspiration there?

SD: I think... well, what go me first into music was all the epic '70s bands.  It was Deep Purple.  It was Rainbow and Thin Lizzy.  And then Priest came and of course Maiden, you know, and Kiss was in there somewhere as well.  So I started to play guitar first.  Like everybody else, I'm a failed guitar player [laughs].  No, but it was just around that time... some time in the '80s where everybody wanted to be a guitar player.  Everybody wanted to be the new Yngwie and I wasn't really interested in that.  There were so many guitar players around so I just would jam with friends in bands and nobody had a bass player.  So I started to do that and I found that this was actually more fun in a way because it is closer to how I think musically, which I probably why I didn't have the motivation to sit down and work 14 hours a day to become the next Yngwie.  And it came quite naturally for me.  I realized then how much I had been listening to bass and how important it had been to me.  I hadn't really realized that before.  You mainly think about vocals, guitar, and drums and bass is that mystery instrument for a lot of people; they don't really know what it sounds like, but if you remove it, they will know [laughs].  You know what I mean?  So yeah, right when I started to play bass I already had all my heroes... it was like Rodger Glover and Glenn Hughes from Purple, Jimmy Bain from Rainbow, and Phil Lynott of  course from Thin Lizzy.  And even guys that are like... that don't stand out to too many people like Ian Hill for example... Judas Priest.  People like that.  A lot of people that go with the Cliff Williams school of playing... like the AC/DC type of thing where you don't really shine in that way, but you are so important to the whole thing and what you can do by playing something different than what everybody else is playing, which isn't always predominant in modern metal and especially in extreme metal where the bass usually just follows the guitars and it is the same thing.  It is just one big package where I think more about the drums, which is the classic way doing it.  

B&T: That's interesting.  And as you said, with extreme metal the bass is often times following the guitar whereas you are not doing that.

SD: Not... well, sometimes yes, but a lot of the times no.  But a lot of the time you can start off by following [the guitar], but then switch off to play like a straight root note instead and have the drums do something similar where it is more straight.  So all the sudden the riff takes on a completely new life.  You can do so much with the bass and drums even though you have the exact same guitar riff.  It's that... you think a bit like an arranger when you play bass.  You think, "what does this do?  What do the drums do?  If I can follow that instead, or come up with something else where the drums follow the bass."  There's so much that can be done within a song instead of just doing the obvious.  So I always try doing different things, but then sometimes just following the riff will be the most powerful thing and then you do that.  So I always try to explore every avenue.

B&T: So you've been in Arch Enemy for 20 years now, but you also are a member of Spiritual Beggars, also in Night Flight Orchestra, also in Witchery... so a very hard working bass player.

SD: Eh... [laughs].

B&T: And you were with King Diamond and Mercyful Fate in the '90s.  So you've got a lot of experience in the business.

SD: I've played a few shows, yes [laughs].

B&T: Speaking of playing quite a few shows, are there any moments that really stand out for you in the many years that you've played?

SD: Oh, I mean there are so many.  I think any really good show is that standout moment.  I can remember certain shows like Houston '93 because you just remember the feeling you get when everything is right... audience, stage sound, when everything clicks and you are having such a good time.  Usually even, sometimes technicalities... things go wrong with technical stuff.  The sound is not good, you break a string, an amp goes down, whatever, but even then, if the crowd is good enough, you forget about it.  If the energy is there, aaah, they seem to be enjoying it so then so should I.  

B&T: What is the craziest thing you have seen at a show?

SD: There so many... I mean with metal there so much craziness going on at a show.  That's the good thing about this genre.  It's really good, old, non-violent fun.  I mean people get scarred, yes [laughs], but everybody is doing it with a smile.  I remember the first time I saw, well instead of a fist in the air, it was a prosthetic leg!  And I was like, "okay".  And then a couple of times now at European festivals, we've seen the wheelchair surfers, which... that is just amazing.  

B&T: Oh yeah.  I just saw that at 70,000 Tons of Metal during Soulfly.  It was kinda horrifying.  "Please don't drop that guy!"

SD: Yeah exactly, but then you see how much people actually care.  People take care of each other.  They make sure that guy comes to the front or the girl that goes down and they make sure you gets back out.  There are very, very few real accidents that happen... especially when you compare to like sports events where there's so much unnecessary violence going on.

B&T: I agree.  It seems that the metal culture is a more social culture more so than other music cultures.

SD: Yeah, I think it has always been a bit of an underdog, a bit underground.  So people tend to stick together no matter what kind of metal they like.  Whereas with football it's opposing teams.  It's not like if you go to a show and it's Metallica and Maiden.  You won't have opposing fans that are going to beat each other up.  You know we've all had a tough time always from people respecting our choice of music or whatever so we tend to stick together I think.  So that's the good about being part of the metal community.

B&T: What is a band or a musician that your fans would be surprised you listen to or are inspired by?

SD: Oh, plenty.  I mean it could be Stevie Wonder.  There's so many.  I'm a big fan of the Police for example.  There's so much music out there and especially I think if you only listen to metal, I think that's going to show in your music.  I mean we are inspired by metal, but there are so many other things coming in like melodies and things.  I think a lot of modern melodic metal bands may have just grown up on Maiden, or Helloween, or something like that.  Whereas ours comes from vastly different things.  That's where you get really good melodic ideas... maybe like a movie soundtrack or anything. It could be from a jazz record, it could be... it's just like little snippets inspiring you.  "That's a melodic... that's an interesting coupling."  And that sticks with you.  You might not even think about it, but when you sit down and write a song, it just pops in.  The more different type of music that you listen to better your songwriting is going to be I think.

B&T: In terms of songwriting, for Arch Enemy, is that a collaborative effort?  How do you guys write?  Does somebody first come up with a riff or a lyric?

SD: Most of lion's share of it is Michael Amott.  He's extremely productive.  He comes up with a lot of ideas.  Sometimes, but not all the time, he comes in with a whole song... finished from start to end.  It has happened, but it is usually a riff here, a riff there and then Danny [Erlandsson], our drummer... he's very good at arranging things.  So they work together and then I come in and there's something else, and then someone else comes in... "How about this riff?  I have this melody.  That might fit with this."  Creating the whole thing is usually not one person; it's two or more.  It might be something that Daniel and Michael have written and then I got in and rearranged certain things and then Alissa [White-Gluz] writes the lyrics and comes up with a vocal concept for it.  It depends from song to song.  We do it like every way possible.  

B&T: So based on what you just said, it sounds like you will collaborate a little bit, do some demos... or do you also just go in the studio and say, "Let's figure this song out and record it write now."?  Or is it more prepared?

SD: Uh, we do certain songs; not usually with our own songs.  It's usually thought out from the beginning, but then things of course change in the studio because it will sound different from a demo or from a rehearsal room than it does in the actual studio.  "Okay, that didn't actually work so I'm going to rearrange this."  Or somebody comes up with a really brilliant idea and then you do it on the spot.  Songs that we do on the spot in the studio... well, sometimes we have a few covers for B-sides.  Those are usually sort of like... we don't really think about it beforehand.  In the studio, once we are getting to end of doing our songs... "we have two days left.  How about this one?  How about that one?  Yeah, let's try it."  And then you just go in and do it basically.  

B&T: And your last album of course was a cover album ["Covered In Blood"], which is fantastic.

SD: Yeah, well, it is collection of all the covers that we have done throughout the years.  We usually do one or two [covers] for each album.

B&T: So the band's gone through a few changes fairly recently.  I think the fruit of all of that was the album "Will To Power", which I think personally is maybe your strongest album.  It is a perfect album start to finish.  Songs are kind of your babies, your children in a certain way.  Are there certain albums when you finish and think, "Oh yeah, this is it.  We've really nailed it with this one."?  Was there a sense of that with "Will To Power"?

SD: Yeah, definitely.  Once it was done, I didn't really have a complete overview of it.  There were all these songs, but once we put them in order and it became the real album, I sat down and listened to the whole thing and thought, "Wow, it's over.  It feels fairly short [laughs]".  I don't know what it was, but it was one of those things that just happened.  And that's a really good thing about it... we've definitely been guilty of making albums that are too long.  You have all these songs and it is hard to kill off your babies.  In that sense, I don't think "more is more" because if you listen to classic albums... having grown up with vinyl, there's only so much music you can put on it.  You had 20 something minutes on one side and 20 on the other and a break in the middle.  So you really never got tired of it.  It was just 8 to 10 songs... something like that.  You have an album like "Reign In Blood".  What is it like 26 minutes?  But how more of that kind of intensity can you really take?  So it is perfect.  That's something that the CD age kind of destroyed a little bit.  People thought, "Oh, we can cram in 70 minutes, 75."  But it is hard to keep your focus or you get tired of listening to it... especially if it is intense music.  It is hard to listen to all the way through because your ears get tired.  Maybe it is just me and my age [laughs].  

B&T: So that album ["Will To Power"] came out in 2017, correct?  So can we expect a new Arch Enemy album in the near future?  Are you guys working on some material?  You are obviously touring right now.

SD: Well, yeah... constantly kind of collecting ideas... little snippets of music are constantly being written and... but usually to turn that into whole songs, we need a little bit of time off, which will be next year.  We are going to calm it down quite a bit on the touring front.  I know Michael and Daniel just did a couple of sort of rough demos of ideas and things.  That's a very good starting point so now the ball is rolling.  So more and more things are coming in and I think we are going to spend quite a bit of time next year working on that so I can't really say.  It depends on when we feel we are ready to hit the studio again.  We are the kind of band that we need to set deadlines for ourselves because if not, it will drag on forever and we will just write more and more songs.  Then all of a sudden you are there with 20 songs and nobody can agree on it.  It is better to once you feel like you have something like 11 strong songs to go record it write now.

B&T: For you personally, can that be a little tricky in terms of balancing with your other bands?  

SD: Well, not really, no.  Apart from Arch Enemy, the only band that is really active right now is Night Flight Orchestra, but we don't go out constantly.  We do it in-between and when we are writing for Arch Enemy it won't cause a big problem if I'm gone for a week doing some shows are something like that so that's not really a big problem. It's really more in terms of touring.  A good friend of mine fills in for me in Night Flight when I'm out with Arch Enemy.

B&T: My last question... So my page is called Brews and Tunes...

SD: Yeah!

B&T: I pair heavy metal with craft beer.  

SD: Alright!

B&T: So after a show or after recording what beer do you crack open and what album do you put on?

SD: Hmmm... no album if it is after a show or after recording... well sometimes.  Beer?  I prefer something like German Pilsners or European Lagers overall like some of the Italians like Nastro Azzurro or Moretti for example.  Spain is Estrella Galicia.  It is very good.  We have so many microbreweries in Sweden now and specialty bars and pubs that do beers and all that.  It is usually the lagers and the pilsners that I like.

B&T: Thank you so much for meeting with me!

SD: Thank you!

If you get a chance, make sure to get out and see the incredible Arch Enemy currently on tour right now in North America with Amon Amarth and At The Gates!!


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