The ProgPower Interview: Amaranthe's Jake E and Olof Mörck
Growing up on the game-changing melodic death metal music from Gothenburg, Sweden was very fun for me. However, growing up WITHIN the game-changing melodic death metal world of Gothenburg, Sweden must have been incredible. Such is Amaranthe's story. Evergrey, In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, At The Gates, Soilwork, and other heavyweights took the genre to new heights and left in their wake a trail for others to follow and enhance. As I was about to learn, Amaranthe had come from this wake after entertaining ideas of starting a Gothenburg melodic death metal super-group.
It was Friday, September 14th, and in the middle of the afternoon at the Artmore hotel just down the street from ProgPower XIII venue Center Stage in Atlanta, Georgia. Amaranthe was to go on stage in about an hour, but the band was very nice to agree to an interview in the courtyard of the hotel. Guitarist Olof Mörck and vocalist Jake E not only revealed the creation story of Amaranthe (originally Avalanche), but also details on the upcoming record, producing versus mixing, liver sandwiches, and actually being beaten up in their music video for "Hunger."
Frank Serafine (Progressivity_In_All): So, how does it feel to be making your US debut here at ProgPower?
Olof Mörck: It’s awesome. It’s my first time in the US ever. I’ve never been here with any other band or even privately. Just being here in the US is amazing. It’s quite an experience. We have seen from YouTube clips or from Facebook that we’ve always had a strong following in the United States from day one. When we first put up the first couple of songs two and a half years ago on MySpace, it was 65% American.
All the way until MySpace died, when you could actually track those, we retained 50-60% American fans. Of course it’s a big country, but it’s very exciting to finally be here, play for the American fans, and see what kind of a response we’ll get.
Frank: You guys didn’t do a US release of the album, though. Is there a reason for that?
Jake E: Yeah, because we’re on a label that is Spinefarm-Universal, which is owned by Universal. The Universal in Sweden is no problem, but Universal in the US, you have to compete with Britney Spears and Lady Gaga and a lot of other dudes. They probably sit at their computer “Ahh, this band, why should we release that band?” So, the first album’s been doing really really well. We released the album again in special edition on iTunes as we’re doing this show, and we’re going to release the 2nd album physically in the US next year.
Olof: The first album’s out now, digitally, so anybody in America can actually get it legally. That’s a start.
Frank: That is a start. Are there other bands here that you’re really eager to see this weekend?
Jake: We would have liked to have seen Kamelot yesterday, but we had this problem with stuff… We had to stay at the airport for quite some time, but it’s going to be fun to see Symphony X tomorrow.
Olof: Always looking forward to them. We were playing with them in Tunisia just after the revolution happened last year, which was a very different experience. We went through that together. It’s going to be awesome to just see those guys again. Great band. Great players. One of my favorite guitar players, Michael Romeo, of course… Our friends from Epica are playing as well, so we’ll catch them. There’s a lot of bands that I don’t know here, so it’s going to be cool to see if we’ll discover something new.
Frank: Nice. So you have three vocalists. How did you come to decide on having the guy and girl vocalist and a screamer as well?
Jake: It’s a coincidence, actually. Me and Olof were writing songs. We had a plan of doing something for fun. Maybe doing an Avantasia, but Gothenburg Avantasia. Inviting all of our friends from In Flames, Evergrey, and all these bands, and just making a fun project about it. We asked bands, and they were really on to it, and we did two demo songs. We asked Andy from Within Y and our friend Elize that happened to come by in some way, and when we heard this thing, we were like “This is a fucking cool idea. It sounds great! No one’s done it before!” We started the band. That’s the whole story.
Frank: I figured it was something like that. You have a lot of melodic death metal influence, especially in the guitar playing.
Olof: Of course, yeah. It’s very evident. We were growing up with a lot of the melodic death metal scene in Gothenburg in the mid-90’s, so it was really nice to let that shine through as well, compared to what I was doing with Dragonland before, for example. It was a very organic thing. We didn’t have an idea or gimmick like “We should have this band with three singers! Make a big gimmick out of that. We’ll have the screamer, the girl – she’s gonna be good-looking – and we’ll have the average-looking dude! (nods to Jake)”
It was a bunch of friends doing music together and there was no plan behind it.
Jake: Make sure to note that he’s the average-looking dude when you write this down. (laughs)
Olof: Yeah, I was talking about myself! The key to the chemistry in the band was that it was not put together with that in mind.
Frank: Who writes most of the music, and does the music start with medleys or riffs first?
Jake: It’s a guy called Max Martin.
Frank: The famous Max Martin, of Britney Spears fame.
Jake: Exactly, yeah! He writes most of it. He’s a fanatic when it comes to sandwiches with liver on it, so we give him all these…
Olof: Liver sandwiches! (laughs)
Jake: We give him these and he gives us songs, so…
Frank: That’s a nice trade-off.
Jake: They call Olof “Trade-off” because he’s doing all the trading.
Olof: Yeah, I’m Trade-off!
Frank: Max Martin’s personal sandwich-maker.
Olof: LIVER sandwich-maker. That’s very important. I mean, we just compose the music together, me, Elize, and Jake. It happens differently – Sometimes it might be a riff that sets the groove. Sometimes it’s a vocal line. Sometimes it’s just a song title, but mainly we are working from the perspective of the vocal lines. With three singers, that’s very central to the music. Most of the times, we sit down with a guitar, piano, or keyboard, and make the best vocal lines and the best choruses possible. When you have them, the rest of the songs follow naturally.
We’ve been working them like that with this new album as well, so it hasn’t changed significantly from that, either.
Frank: Olof, you also co-produced the album with Jacob Hansen. Do you recommend that bands do their own mixing nowadays or is a producer still relevant?
Olof: When it comes to the actual mixing, I think that part is the most important that you have a professional guy doing it. When it comes to the production thing, you can call (to some extent) Jake a producer as well, with sitting in and coming up with different ideas for arrangements that are not directly related to the composition. What I did is always being present, working with the singers, working with the drummer, the bass player, and making sure that everything fits together with the general vision.
A producer is a different thing than a mixing guy. A producer’s more like a guy that has a vision and contributes with a lot of ideas on how the final result is going to be. A mixing guy is more like someone that just works with the sound. A lot of the time, the guys in the band are more the producer than the guy mixing.
Jake: Exactly. Let’s take this guy from Metallica, for example. Bob Rock.
Olof: He’s a producer.
Jake: He takes riffs and [Jake sings a riff out loud] and goes “no, no, no, cut that down. Take the first two parts and put that here…” He actually fits the puzzle pieces together. When we come to the studio, we have everything done. What we need is a great sound. We need a great bass drum. We need the compressors to work and we need everything else. "Producer" is the word you always use, but Olof is more the producer.
Olof: But he (Jacob Hansen) has the actual competence to make it sound like that. If I were to sit down and do it myself, it would sound like [Olof makes noises] or something like that. Jacob has really good ears and is a dude that you can trust with recording vocals. It’s a sensitive thing, even if you have great vocalists like Jake and Elize, it’s hard to hear it from the outside. When I’m recording guitar solos, it’s always nice to have a second opinion about it.
Frank: Well, after being in this band… [Frank points to his Anubis Gate t-shirt]
Olof: I was noticing that Anubis Gate t-shirt! It’s great to be working with him. I’ve been talking to him regarding the new album. There is definitely going to be a lot more of him being the actual producer on this new album. We’re trying to let him in a bit more because his ideas are great. For example, one of the songs that we worked on the most in the studio is “Amaranthine.” It was quite different from our first demo version of it, a lot thanks to Jacob and his vision. We’re deliberately trying not to do the production at home this time and leave it more open.
Frank: It’s good to hear that he’s coming back for the second.
Jake: He’s the best.
Frank: He’s very in demand right now. Jake, who or what influenced your style of singing?
Olof: Max Martin. (laughs)
Jake: Max Martin – I’ve never heard him sing, though. (Olof laughs more) Michael Kiske, Joey Tempesta, Bon Jovi, and Geoff Tate. Don Dokken. All these old dudes, and then I have always listened to music until I was 20 years old and started to work with music. Then I stopped. So I can’t really compare myself to any new artist. I can’t say anything about new singers, just old ones. Power metal singers.
Frank: (To Olof) Who or what are your influences on guitar?
Olof: Tons and tons! All the classics like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani. I love players that have a lot of attitude and attack like George Lynch. Our friends, both the guitarists that played in Evergrey – Henrik Danhage and Tom Englund, for example. They’re not these famous Joe Satriani guys, but they have excellent playing. Some guys that influenced my writing, when it comes to solos, were definitely Peter (Wichers) and Ola (Frenning) from Soilwork.
I think their solos are absolutely perfect for that kind of music. Since we do share similar influences with Soilwork, their style of playing has naturally influenced me. When I’m trying to write a solo, it’s like a “best of” thing of all the guitarists that I like. For example, there’s a song on the new album, which has a very heavy, very evil C section. I’m playing a solo on top of that. It’s an exact combination of Yngwie Malmsteen and a solo by Soilwork, for example.
Frank: There’s one particular solo from the first record that I can point out that’s very Soilwork, too. [Frank sings the beginning of a solo.]
Olof: Yeah, on “Automatic.” The way that it enters is Soilwork-ish. I know that these guys like Steve Vai and stuff like that, but there’s a Soilwork touch to it.
Frank: Any plans for a US tour after this, coming back?
Jake: We really hope that! We’re going to go back to Japan again, hopefully Africa again, South America, China, Europe for sure… Now this time, the album’s going to be released here, so hopefully we’re going to come back later 2013 and do some kind of tour here. I’m really looking forward to that.
Olof: We have a great booking agency here in the US called Artist Group International, which has a lot of huge names. Everything from Metallica to Rammstein, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, like that. These guys are very enthusiastic, they just need something to work with. They need to have a proper release. When we do have a proper release and if the album does fairly well, then it can be the foundation of something pretty significant, so we’re crossing our fingers.
Frank: Excellent. How far along in the process are you of getting the upcoming album done?
Jake: We’re starting to record it next Monday, so we have to consider it done. (laughs)
Olof: We start on September 24th, and we’ve been into the process for a year. We went into hyper mode six or seven months ago, and one month ago we went into hyper-dyper-super-duper mode. So we’ve been working our asses off. Just last week, I was finishing up two or three songs. It’s a lot of music happening at the same time, but it’s very exciting.
Like I said before, we’re leaving it a little more open this time, because we had two and a half years to work on the first album with the first songs. The only critique I can give it, looking back one and a half years after the release, is that sometimes it’s a little bit too framed, too certain, and too safe. This album is a bit more diverse and it takes a bit more risks. The poppy side is a little bit more poppy, and the heavier side is just way heavier.
It takes a lot of experiments, also, with what you can do with three singers.
Jake: Don’t make any pictures in your head, what you can do with three singers! (laughs)
[Side discussion on messed-up pictures, anyway.]
Frank: Okay, so, getting over that… In the “Hunger” music video, all of you vocalists were kidnapped and beaten. Pretty badly, too, it looks like! How many of you actually got hurt during the making of it?
Jake: (laughs) Actually, Andy, who was hanging… They were pretending to punch him in the stomach, and they did. (laughs) They weren’t pretending!
Olof: (laughs) They weren’t pretending! Did you see that in one scene? He spun around. To spin around Andy, you have to punch pretty hard.
Frank: That’s kind of funny how those three are getting beaten up while you’re just playing a violin and kind of doing your thing…
Olof: The funny thing is… See it from this perspective: I’m in a castle. I’m playing a violin with a hot chick. Johan is being served champagne by a hot chick. Then Morten, he’s a car mechanic! (everyone laughs, hysterically)
Jake: He’s actually just fixing his really really REALLY expensive car, and all of them get the message of “we need to fucking save the other guys.”
Olof: It’s funny if you look at it like that, because obviously he’s the drummer.
Frank: It’s the recurring drummer joke.
Jake: But he still has an iPhone.
Frank: I have a theory. Confirm or deny this – Based on the fact that it was the three VOCALISTS that were kidnapped, is that some kind of joke on vocalists that you’re weak and can be kidnapped?
Frank: Play an instrument – it’s safer for your chances of survival!
Jake: At least we weren’t home, playing the violin.
Frank: Ooohhh. (laughs)
Olof: No, I was in a CASTLE.
Jake: We were out there FIGHTING the bad guys and we got captured, while the other guys were… [Jake jokingly mocks how spoiled they were]
Frank: By the way, your phone has that one-touch dial thing. I want that.
Olof: The shitty thing was that they had to destroy that phone just for that scene.
Frank: Thanks, guys.
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