Time waits for no woman: Metal as Fuck talks to Angela Gossow

Angela Gossow talks about The Root of All Evil and Arch Enemy's forthcoming Australian tour. But she also talks about the big questions of equality and gender, why people who fantasise about Medieval times amuse her, and why she likes living in the times she does.

Arch Enemy's latest album, The Root of All Evil, is not a new album per se: it was put together out of the band's favourite tracks, but reinvigorated with the band's current lineup, to give them a second life. As Angela pointed out, the Arch Enemy fanbase is comprise of a lot of different ages of peopl, not all of whom know all of the band's material.

'I think it's cool that we've got a lot of young fans, but they're not aware of the first couple of Arch Enemy albums .. they mostly don't know the Black Earth tracks,' band frontwoman Angela Gossow said. 'And it's a bit of a shame because these kids are the most active ones at live shows. If they don't know a track, the whole action kind of dies down a bit.'

That's why Arch Enemy gradually stopped playing those tracks: they just didn't get the same reaction to them. Re-recording the old tracks will give enable the band to resurrect those tracks because the younger fans will be exposed to them.

As anybody who is familiar with Arch Enemy knows, the band is an incredibly busy band; which is partly why The Root of All Evil was recorded almost the same as when the band plays live.

'Minus, of course, the distortion you get from the PA. The drums were recorded in our rehearsal room, in like, in one take, you know,' Angela pointed out. 'And I did the same with the vocals, I recorded them in one take … it's all one take, so it's been like playing live.'

This way of recording explains why the band changed the tuning. The original tracks are in low B, and the re-recording is in C, which is the tuning they use when they play live. As Angela explained, a C tuning has a far more 'transparent' sound to it.

'We just wanted to bring out actually the guitars and the riffs and you can hear the bass as well. To be able to make it transparent, the sound, we had to change the tuning. And also,' she added, 'that's why we only recorded two guitars, by the way. It's kind of like playing live – and we're gonna play it live.'

Arch Enemy didn't do a lot of playing around with The Root of All Evil: what you hear on the album is pretty much what you get on stage. The fat sound that comes out in the band's regular recordings is derived from the fact that there are four guitar tracks. Angela acknowledged that while the sound is big when you do that, that it can take away from the character of the riffs, and that you can never replicate that in a live situation. But more than this, there was not necessarily any need to get creative with these tracks.

'Every other album is obviously new music that you haven't played live, and you don't really have any idea how it's gonna play live,' Angela pointed out. 'And you want to be maximum impressed with it as well, so you start layering guitars … Because it's an album full of new music you just want to put as much as you can into it and you're very creative because it's new songs. But with these songs they have already been recorded and we wanted to present them in a 2009 shape how they will sound live.'

Before the album was released, I had noticed that there was spirited discussion on many a forum between Arch Enemy fans, where they were speculating as to whether or not the release would be good or bad, what they were expecting, and so on. I put to Angela the question of whether the band ever considered that the album might flop.

'Going back is always a bit weird for a band. But we had actually asked so many fans if we should do this, and they would really appreciate it if we would bring back older songs into the setlist. And we didn't really know how to do this because just telling people about Black Earth, Stigmata and Burning Bridges obviously didn't make many of them listen to them, right? So the only thing that we thought is going to work really is to shove it in everybody's face,' Angela emphasised. 'But to be able to do this you have to venture in a new way; you can't just reissue stuff because then it's like “oh yeah this is the old singer”. You know, it's not a new product.'

As Angela pointed out to me, even the band's haters, even though the band doesn't play to the haters, are going to listen to The Root of All Evil, and people will be more likely to go back to the original recordings after hearing this release. She was confident that people would dig the release simply because of the fact that many of their current fans probably hadn't really listened to the old material.

The fact that many fans may be likely to go and rediscover the earlier portions of Arch Enemy's discography is something that the band is hoping will happen, and it's one of the reasons why there are only a few tracks off each of the earlier albums on the new release.

'That's kind of the point, because we only did three or four songs per album,' Angela explained. 'Obviously every original has, like, about twelve songs, so if you like the music I hope you will go back and check out the rest as well. The entire album, in its original recording.'

For Angela, the process has largely been one of tribute to the first years of Arch Enemy:  'For me, it's like covering my favourite band, really,' she enthused.

Arch Enemy is one of those rare things, for Australians: a Swedish band that is seen fairly regularly around the traps. For instance, they've been in the country three times since 2005. When I ran this past Angela she was amused.

'You know, in December it all gets bleak and dark in Scandinavia, and there is no sun, and it's just raining and it's very cold. So that's why we tend to tour in Australia all the time,' she laughed. 'We've been trying to make this happen every year; I don't know if you've noticed that.'

The band's upcoming tour of the country is its first headliner since the first time it toured, and Angela is looking forward to it, for two reasons: the first is that Arch Enemy aren't really a support band, and the second is because it's nice to be able to play a full ninety minute set.

'We like headlining. And obviously it gives us the chance to pick out as many days as we can put into put an Australian tour. And also we can determine if we're going to stay a day or two extra, and just enjoy [it],' Angela enthused. 'It's a shame to rush through you know! Other bands tend to rush through, and I think that's what happened on the Machine Head tour, we didn't have one day off. And then you leave the country and it's such a nice place, and you haven't seen anything. And you haven't had the time to just chill outside, just have a walk at the beach and a nice meal at a restaurant or just take it in,' she explained. 'When it's just about the shows, I think for me, you travel the world so much, but how much are you actually seeing? And it's not really enough. So since we headline we always make sure we get a day off in the countries that we really like, or that we really want to explore.'

By way of explanation, Angela told me about the band's recent tour of Mexico, where they had three days off in Mexico City. Whilst there, she actually got to see the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. That sort of experience is also one of the reasons why she travels: to understand the country and the culture, and not just see the backstage areas at venues. Which is why, on the upcoming Australian tour, Arch Enemy is taking its extra days off in Brisbane; last time they were in Sydney and Melbourne.

When I asked Angela if they had anything special in store for the Aussies, or any surprises, this is what she said, quite matter-of-factly:

'Yes. Everybody on stage will get naked. Except me.' And then she laughed raucously.

The setlist will feature older material, such as that which appears on The Root of All Evil, but when I spoke with her the rest of the material was undecided: largely because of the fact that Daniel [Erlandsson], the band's drummer, was away doing drum clinics throughout Scandinavia, which was making rehearsal 'a bit shitty', as Angela put it.

As we tend to here at Metal as Fuck, we put the word out to our social networks about the interview and asked Arch Enemy fans what they'd want to know. The first was from a girl who wanted to know what features, in Angela's opinion, are dead sexy for a woman to have. This is her reply:

'Oh, integrity, self-confidence, and just being you,' she said. 'I've never understood people who are one person in daily life and then really dress up for the evening and try to be somebody else,' she mused. 'It always shines through. Yes, self-confidence. If you are confident with yourself and you just can be you, and you don't … maybe... I don't like it when women dress up too much. I like it when they're pretty but sometimes I think it's sexier to see a woman in jeans and a t-shirt than when they wear high heels and a very short skirt. I like it when women are just confident about themselves and don't have to enhance too many of their sexual features, but they are just the way they are.'

The second question actually came from our writing team, who wanted to know that despite the 'oh my god a chick' thing has been done to deal, whether Angela still comes up against people who think that she shouldn't be doing what she is doing, or who think that she is somehow inferior. Have people moved into the twenty-first century?

Angela's response was that she thinks society has advanced to the point where people understand that women are now equal, 'if not, kicking their ass sometimes'. But what followed was a long, and very interesting discussion, about gender and society, where people are headed, and why Angela likes living in the times she does.

'We've [women] obviously got our strengths too. That's very general,' she said. 'A strong society takes the strength of every person – and it's not always attached to gender – but everybody's got their strengths and weaknesses. And if you are able to use your strengths, then the whole team gets a lot better. I think women have got some very important features, and they're obviously very welcome in the metal scene, otherwise they wouldn't be so many women these days,' she emphasised. 'Because they do enhance the quality of music as well. They maybe sometimes have a different approach to songwriting, or they just bring a different dynamic in the band, which is very interesting too, and has definitely worked for Arch Enemy.'

Angela went on to explain how she is the most focused, most disciplined member of the band, and very driven. She also believes that discipline is a trademark of a lot of women; but she's never come across any gender-based snideness face-to-face.

'People are usually very afraid,' she told me. 'Usually when I meet guys their hands are shaking so much they can't even take a picture. It's maybe not fear, but they're just like “holy shit, this is Angela Gossow”,' she laughed. 'It's something else when you have somebody in your direct presence, right? And I'm a very confident, strong person so I think people get that when they stand in front of me. I've never got anybody ever saying anything weird or stupid to my face.'

And this is where the internet comes in. Angela talked about how the net is such a big place, and how 'every moron' can be on there, including those people who really can't step outside into the world. As she said, every mass murder could be on the internet and say what they really think.

'People watch rape videos and child abuse online,' she pointed out. 'These people, they are out there. So there are people out there that have a huge problem with women in general, and they probably hate women in general, so they will not like my presence. But, I don't really care. As long as I don't come across it,' she went on. 'These are psychopathic people somehow, who's got such hatred for women. “I think women shouldn't be metal”, what kind of idea's that? Like, it's the saem as saying, “I think Islamic people shouldn't be living in our society”, it's fucking insane. You know, women are fifty per cent of the population, religion is a person choice; why should you even have an opinion about that?'

As Angela said, for her metal is about freedom and freedom of expression, so any idea about gender-based opinions or restrictions thereto is completely anathema to her:

'Heavy metal is just about rebellion and freedom, and it doesn't exclude any gender, that's for sure. It doesn't exclude anybody, really.'

On the topic of gender, I wondered if Angela had noticed much of a difference in the gender split between various countries at Arch Enemy shows. What she said was that she believes that the younger generations' genders are growing up in greater harmony, because they are not being told any more that there are things that they can't do; and she acknowledged that even her generation grew up in a fairly gender neutral space.

'My mum had to be a feminist still, because she had to fight against a certain stereotype,' Angela explained. 'Her parents told her, “you can't be” - she always wanted to be an actor. "This is an artform that doesn't bring food to the table, you should just get married and have kids." My mum just had to leave home and just do it on her own because she didn't get any support from her parents. And so my mum was in that generation that had to fight and had to be feminist. But I grew up equal and I never had the urge to be a feminist. And the generation after me, like, women my age already have kids obviously. And those children, they really grow up in the sense of … like, there are girls left, right and centre in bands. And they're really cool and they really can play. And they play guitars and drums and they sing; and it doesn't even come into play that this is just a boys' club.'

This is why, Angela believes, that things are changing at a lot of shows: there are a lot more girls coming in, and she's finding that while Australia's been fairly equal (in terms of gender balance at shows) for a long time, she's starting to find the same thing in the US, Europe, and Russia.

'One day I think it's just going to be pretty much fifty-fifty in the metal scene,' she said. 'The only thing about them all being all macho is because it came from a generation that thought that anything that is slightly aggressive should be reserved for guys, for men.' She explained. 'The same goes for politics. We have a female chancellor [in Sweden]. I don't think that would've been possible ten years ago. But now it is.'

And yet, to get more girls at shows in Korea, Arch Enemy offered a 'lovebirds deal' – where if you buy a ticket, then your lady gets in free. But while it's a great way to get girls to the show, it's also not very politically correct, Angela mused.

'I thought maybe your lady is a guy? But I heard that this is not so accepted, socially, in Korea yet,' she said. 'Obviously I wouldn't have a problem is a guy brings a boyfriend, but apparently it's not that advanced yet in Korea, the whole idea of equality no matter what the gender of your partner is. I think it's cool. You could bring any chick really.'

She went on to mention that, while a lot of the differences in gender seem so long ago, it's not: it's only forty to fifty years ago when women were expected to be chained to the sink. Lest you start to think that Angela Gossow is a woman to bang on about gender, you have to stop yourself: she's not one to just see one half of the picture. As she said to me:

'How unsatisfying for men, as well, to have a partner reduced to such a frightening role in society!'

There are other times, though, that amuse and horrify Angela equally. For instance, the idea of people fantasising about being in Medieval times amuses her intensely.

'I don't have any romantic ideas about the Medieval times either,' she said, laughing: 'I think it's quite funny when people fantasise about it. It was shit. People lived in shit. In their own shit. And in poverty. And everybody was oppressed and suppressed.

'I'm really glad I live in 2009, and I'm happy to have been born in these times.'

Arch Enemy Australian Tour dates:

1 Nov - Perth @ the Capitol
3 Nov - Adelaide @ Fowler's Live
5 Nov - Melbourne @ The Forum
6 Nov - Sydney @ The Roundhouse
7 Nov - Brisbane @ The HiFi