The day before this interview went down, Swedish/Danish outfit AMARANTHE released their new album The Nexus, which promptly hit #1 on the US iTunes heavy metal charts, beating out the likes of VOLBEAT and ANTHRAX for top spot. In the days that followed the album did similar damage on rock, alternative and metal charts across Scandinavia, and landed on the Soundscan Heatseeker and Hard Music charts in the US. To top it off, Amaranthe were still on the road in Europe at press time on a co-headlining tour with STRATOVARIUS playing to packed houses every night (including one memorable evening when Stratovarius had to cancel due to illness). Huge achievements for a band that has supposedly been under the radar since the release of their self-titled debut in 2011, and definitely a jump start towards bigger and better things.
Not to take away from Amaranthe's current shine, but part of the reason for this current buzz is singer Elize Ryd, who has toured with Florida-based KAMELOT as a backing vocalist for the last four years and hit the studio for their latest record, Silverthorn. The ongoing collaboration has been a blessing for an up-and-coming young band like Amaranthe trying to gain a foothold in the big leagues.
"I think working with Kamelot has had an effect," Elize agrees, "because we have a lot of fans in South America and in North America, and I've been on tour with Kamelot in those territories. I was with them when they supported NIGHTWISH on top of that, and Nightwish have a huge audience."
As for how she became involved with Kamelot in the first place...
Elize: "From the beginning, when we started Amaranthe, we didn't have a lot of shows so I had a lot of free time..."
Male clean vocalist Jake E. picks up the thread: "The whole story is like this: I used to be a pyro-technician and I toured with every band out there. We started this project called Amaranthe, and I was great friends with Kamelot so they asked me if we'd like to go on tour and if they could 'borrow' Elize. We actually did two tours with them, when I was also a back-up singer, so we were pulling double duty. Then we grew, of course, so Elize works with them when she has the time. This year, for example, it's totally impossible..."
The depth of Elize's involvement with Kamelot has increased over the last four years, to the point she's become a recognizable part of the band's roster. Amaranthe is her first priority, but going in to record The Nexus still ended up being a balancing act.
Elize: "The Nexus was done in between tours. I only had five days to record my vocals. I told the Kamelot guys that if I'm not going to finish we need to find a solution because I need to prioritize the Amaranthe album. But, I told them I'd go in and do my best to get my parts done in those few days that I had. And I actually work better under pressure. I think it's better for me when I don't have a lot of time and I just have to get things done."
In spite of her commitment to Kamelot, Elize makes it clear that if she has to choose between the two camps - as she's had to do for 2013 - Amaranthe will always come out on top.
Elize: "Amaranthe is my band. As Jake said, Kamelot 'borrowed' me (laughs). I was actually stepping in for Simone (Simons/EPICA) to sing 'The Haunting'; that was the main reason for me being there. Then they asked if I could do back-up singing, and of course I said yes because I love that sort of thing. This year I won't have time for that. Alissa (White-Gluz) is going to Japan with them in May when she has time off from THE AGONIST, and I think she's also going to come to Europe. I don't know for sure. I guess that's how we're going to work from now on; if I have time I'll go out with Kamelot, but Amaranthe is my priority."
The popular long distance view of Amaranthe is that they're just another female-fronted symphonic metal band. Folks trying them on for the first time may be surprised to discover Amaranthe actually has three vocalists with equal roles in the band. It's a formula they've used from the beginning, refining it for The Nexus.
Elize: "The three voices give the band a lot of emotion and expression. For people that only know us from The Nexus, the first album sounds similar. We haven't changed that much between then and now. We took everything to extremes on The Nexus. It flows naturally for us when we write. Sometime we'll switch parts; we might start with a female voice but then we decide the part should be growls instead. Or we do the opposite, where we decide it would be nice to have a stronger pre-chorus, so we bring in Jake to sing the part. It's a little bit like a puzzle."
Jake: "On this new album everything is a little bit more of the style and sound we had on the first album. More is more. The pop elements are pop-ier, the heavy parts are heavier, the disco parts are more disco... (laughs). It is an even split with the vocal parts, and we're not trying to over-expose Elize at all."
Elize: "I think we're trying to under-expose me in a way so that people don't think of Amaranthe as a female fronted band."
Jake: "The metal business is 85% guys, so if people see there's a female in a band they're going to make that assumption from the start. It doesn't matter if we put Elize 10 meters behind us on the cover, people would have still seen Elize first because she's the girl."
As to the buzz surrounding Amaranthe and The Nexus, which led to the aforementioned international chart success and has them on the road for a good portion of 2013, the band gives credit where it's due for pushing them hard and fast into the metal world's consciousness; to themselves.
Jake: "I think it's our fault. When me an Olof (Morck/guitars, keyboards) first sat down and said that Amaranthe wasn't going to be a project anymore, that it's going to be a band, we took all our experiences from the last 10 years with our other bands, other releases, other record companies, bookers, management, and wrote a long list of everything we did wrong and every bad decision we made. Sure, we've made some bad decisions with Amaranthe, but maybe it was just one mistake when it could have been 1,000. We're working really closely with out manager, making decisions on everything. It's a day job and we get a lot done."
"To be a part of this and have the success that we have right now is fantastic, and we know that if we can rise this fast we can also fall just as quickly. It's important to have your feet on the ground. Never step in and be a rock star with that 'Look at me!' attitude because the next day you can be nobody again."
Elize: "We're still nobodies. We're not close to the really big bands. We have a goal that we want to reach, and as an artist and a musician it's hard to be pleased about the work you do because you always want to reach higher. We've had a really great start and we want to continue to grow."