Interview With Sharlee D’Angelo of Arch Enemy

Photo: Andreas Lawen

It wasn’t really an overnight success… it was an “overdecade” success. 

As part of our coverage of the Dokk’em Festival in the Netherlands we met with Sharlee D’Angelo, the bass player for the extreme metal band Arch Enemy.

Since the release of their latest album, Khaos Legion in 2011, the band has been touring incessantly, meeting with old fans and making new ones. Festivals, clubs and arenas have witnessed the growth of this band that, it seems obvious, is bound to only grow bigger and stronger with every new album.

As Arch Enemy‘s bassist since 1999, Sharlee D’Angelo has a lot to tell, and we made sure to get as many answers as possible in the brief time we had.

Metal Blast: Hi Sharlee, thanks for being with us today.
Sharlee: It’s great to be here.

MB: Last year, in December, Angela gave an interview in which she said that after the Khaos Legion tour the band would go into hiatus for at least a year. Is that still the plan?
S: Well, not really. I mean, I think that she was feeling that at one point [but] plans change and as we go along. Next year is not going to be going to be full-on to touring; I mean, we have a few things next year, a few festival and a few dates, like mini tours, but it’s mostly going to be about concentrating in the music and so on. We will be playing live but not to the extent that we have [been doing that] so far. Our goal is to have a new album in 2014.

MB: So this hiatus would just be about touring and not so much about Arch Enemy stopping.
S: Right; I mean, nobody is taking a year off and going to India to find themselves or anything like that. We’re going to keep doing it and we’ll still do a few live shows and, hopefully, go back to the studio after the summer next year. That’s what we aim for.

MB: I think it was in the same interview that Angela said that there’s going to be an EP released this year, mostly with cover songs. Is that still going to happen?
S: Well, we’re still working on that; it’s still in the works, we’ll see exactly when that happens. We’re also working on a DVD, that might come out sometime this year, after we find time to sit through everything, because we have a lot of live footage now, with professional sound, multi-camera things and all that. We’ll see if we do a full show or bits and pieces from everywhere, but now we mostly need time to sit through everything.

MB: This will be your third DVD, something that shows that Arch Enemy has stopped being a “niche” band, and has actually achieved a certain degree of mainstream success. Was there a moment in which you realized this, something like “Ok, we’re getting big now”.
S: Well, there were some things in the year –everywhere we went- when we did the Wages of Sin tour, but it still took a good couple of years before anything really big happened.
In Japan, where we already had a very solid fan base, we were a bit nervous about changing singers, because they are sensitive fans, you know? Probably the most sensitive fans. When we got there it was just… they loved her from the first moment, and from that moment it was just… and frp, tjere ot was taken to another level.
We started doing bigger shows and more shows. Before we had done maybe three shows in Japan, but in that tour we did seven, and in big places. I think that when we played in Tokio in 2002 we saw that there was something going on.
Then we did club tours in America and we could still feel that there was really something going on. It has been something progressive… like when we did the tour with Slayer the next year, or after that when we did Ozzfest in America, or opening for Iron Maiden without being booed off the stage, then we thought “well, we’ve found some sort of acceptance with these people”.

MB: Have you ever been booed?
S: I don’t think so. Well, not booed… we’ve gotten more of a confused silent treatment. One of the first Iron Maiden shows we did was in Oslo, then [when] the lights went down people started roaring, and we were like “Yeah!”. Then [our] intro started (with the intros people realize who’s gonna play, because it’s the intro to a song, so they cheer again because they know what song it’s gonna be)… and there was nothing.
We had that also the first time we opened for Iron Maiden in New York (we played 4 nights), but then it got progressively better, and the 4th night was the best one. Before that, we played Canada and there were people from like the “old school”, with like 80’s homemade banners with our faces painted with sharpies, and things like that.
It’s just been little by little the whole time; it wasn’t really an overnight success [but rather an] over decade success.

MB: You mentioned that there was this nervousness when you changed singers. Were you ever afraid –because Angela has said that you’re not a “female fronted band” but an extreme metal band- that you were going to be put into that category, that it was going to limit you to “we have a girl who growls” instead of highlighting that you’re talented musicians?
S: There is always that chance, since sometimes people judge a book by its cover –I’m guilty of that too, I think we all are-.
What we did when we recorded Wages of Sin was that we put out sound clips first, before revealing who the new singer was. With that we got feedback, with people going like “good singer, who is he?”, with people guessing what famous person it was.
Then, after that, when we put out the first band picture, they had already seen that she’s good. Had it been the other way around, it would have been more like “yeah, she’s alright… for a girl”, that sort of thing.  We tried to take as many precautions as we could, for that not to happen, but you know that it’s going to happen anyway, with people being the way they are.
I don’t really think about it, because as soon as we went out and did it, it just became normal for me. I know, obviously, that she’s a woman, but I don’t think of her in terms of that, it’s like “she’s our singer”.

MB: To a certain extent some of it must be frustrating. For instance, when we interview female musicians the comments on the videos tend to be -rudely- focused almost exclusively on the sexual aspect of it, instead of the musical abilities.
S: There’s nothing you can do about that… boys will be boys, especially the ones that live on their parents’ basement, so they don’t go out a lot. People say demeaning things just out of complete ignorance, because they don’t know what to say, because it’s a girl and they have to say something.
Most people are just like “she’s good”.

MB: When you tour and go to places like, I don’t know, Buenos Aires, your chances of actually seeing the city are rather slim, right?
S: They are, it’s true. It’s also about priorities; I remember the first few times, the first times you’re at the place, you get fairly touristy; especially when I was younger, and I hadn’t done that many tours, it was a lot about going to see the typical sights, but now you learn to prioritize getting rest and think like “ok, if I do this now, what consequences will that have for the time when I go on stage? Is it gonna make more tired? How is it gonna be like tomorrow?”. You start thinking more and more about that.

MB: As you grow older I guess you change your approach to touring…
S: Exactly. My first few trips around the world it was just like everything at once all the time, as many times as possible, and that’s how it went. Back then I could handle it, when I was in my early 20s that was fine… now, not so much.

MB: With every new album, the band has become, and don’t take this the wrong way, more militant on its message, the latest album being –plus the uniform- clearly of an Anarchist tendency. How important is the message and what you’re trying to convey with the music?
S: The thing is that we have a pretty decent soapbox to stand on, so why not shout something useful while we’re up there?
This is a theme that has been going through the last 4 albums; it’s been sort of purified and concentrated on this album. I think that we’ve almost taken it to a peak with Khaos Legion, and maybe [in] the next album, while it will be about the same thing, we will have a different approach to it… not just writing something on people’s foreheads, like “Here! Look at this!”; it might be slightly more subtle, we’ll see.
Every album tends to be a reaction to the last one, we don’t wanna do the same thing twice.

MB: Are you afraid of ever becoming too preachy, that it comes out as if you’re trying to tell people what to think… not so much music but “education”?
S: There is always the risk of that, but I don’t think… we’re not telling people what to do, we’re telling them “this is how we feel; it’s great if you do too, but if not that’s ok too”.
I don’t think that we’re gonna get much more preachy than we did in Khaos Legions; we still believe in these things, so it’s always gonna be there in one way or another, but we might approach it differently in the next album; I don’t know, we’ll see the mood Angela is in when she’s writing the lyrics.

MB: She’s very vocal about this subject, so it obviously represents her; but, ideologically, does it represent the whole band?
S: Yeah, pretty much. I can stand behind most of the things she says. Everything, lyrically, that she writes, I’m behind that 100%. And everything that we do officially, like on our website or whatever… there are certain things that she just puts on her on website or her own personal twitter, because she’s like “well, these are things that I feel strongly about, but maybe not the other guys”.
But, yeah, we’re all about it, 100% behind the things she says.

MB: I ask this because I read, for instance on the official Facebook page, some fans criticizing that despite the whole Anarchist message, the band merchandises itself a lot.
S: Yeah, I understand what you mean and, yes, there is a contradiction in a sense, but the thing is that to survive as a band, to be able to do it, we have to have an income, and this is what we do, we sell merchandise, we sell stuff. As everybody knows, we haven’t talked too much about that, [by] selling records… you can’t really make money from that anymore, so merchandising has become a lot more important for a band. I mean, we have to survive and pay for all the overheads and everything… it would be great if it could all be completely hippie-ish, and everything was free, but unfortunately we don’t live in that world, so we need to have money from somewhere.
It’s not like we’re forcing people to buy anything, it’s theirs. If you feel that the band is getting too commercial just don’t by the t-shirt, because you’re contributing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy it, because please do.

MB: Recently Angela sold her pants. Are you going to sell your pants as well?
S: I don’t think anybody wants my pants… If so, just [send an] e-mail or [go to the] website and I’ll see what I can do.

MB: Thank you very much for the interview Sharlee, it’s been a pleasure!
S: No problem.

Thumbnail photo by Andreas Lawn, used under Creative Commons.

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