ARCH ENEMY guitarist Michael Amott's long-lived other band, SPIRITUAL BEGGARS, have enjoyed a successful under-the-radar 20 year run, and it's bound to continue with their new outing Earth Blues. The timing of the release couldn’t be better, what with acts like ADRENALINE MOB, BLACK STAR RIDERS, THE NEW BLACK and TREMONTI – to name a noteworthy few – making some serious highly praised noise of over the last several months with "simple" straight-up rock records. Sure, deliveries from the bands mentioned vary in levels of heavy and modern rock versus classic old school, but at the end of the day there no clutter and no bull to muck up the works. Earth Blues sits high and mighty within this pack for anyone that believes the word "organic" can be used to describe music as well as a vegetarian platter or bag of weed.
"I haven't heard the bands you mentioned," Amott admits, “but we've been doing this since '93 and have put out eight albums in that time. What I've noticed is that at some points it's more hip to put out a vintage classic rock album than others. It goes in waves and you can't really do anything about that. I've never really thought about fitting in. Even if it's been embarrassingly bad timing, this is what we do. We're just a band that rocks out when we feel like it. For me as a songwriting guitar player, it's an opportunity to stretch out a little bit and do something different. I'm not the world's most adventurous guitar player, but I do like to write and record and play live in two different styles; the extreme metal thing and the Spiritual Beggars thing, which is more rock."
In an unusual move, the band opted to do a low key European headline tour for Earth Blues right on top of the release. As such, the album didn't have time to build any momentum and possibly stoke the buzz. On the other hand, it have Amott and his bandmates the chance to hear a lot of unfiltered first impressions.
"A lot of people like the album, some people don't like it," says Amott. "Some people call it an irrelevant piece of crap while others call it a masterpiece (laughs)."
For the record, someone in the music press actually did call Earth Blues "an irrelevant piece of crap," which Amott shrugs off because at the end of the day the new songs weren't written in the interest of public acceptance. The band adopted a similar approach when putting the tour setlist together.
"We're playing four or five new songs and some of the classics. We're not even playing our so-called hit songs, just the tracks we enjoy. We did a short video trailer to promote the album and did some streams of a couple tracks through different media partners, and we've noticed that people know the songs because of that. Our songs are instantaneously catchy and they're very simple, so you can hear them and get into them immediately."
"We're testing the waters right now," Amott says of going on tour out of the gate. "We want to see if there's any real interest in Spiritual Beggars, which is why we decided to go out and do some shows right on top of the album release. We figured people would be enthusiastic about it, and we have the label support from InsideOut. We actually shot the show in Cologne, Germany for the Rockpalast televison program, which was an honour. The shows in Japan that we're doing will be a lot bigger because the people there pay attention to what's going on, and they know the guitarist and bassist from Arch Enemy are also in Spiritual Beggars. I think that many people in Europe and North America aren't even aware that I'm in this band."
Originally stamped as a stoner metal band, the present day Spiritual Beggars sound is morein line with good old fashioned '70s rock, before boxing and taping bands shut in certain genres became the norm.
"The band dynamic has changed over the years, sure" Amott agrees. "Me and Ludwig (Witt/drums) are the only guys who have been around since the beginning. It depends on who you've got in the band and how you operate as a band. When we started out we were all living in the same town and we practiced a lot, jamming four or five times a week, and those jams became songs. Me and Ludwig still live close to each other so we still jam a lot, and we feel we have enough good ideas for songs we work on them. This time we did some demos - some really rough recordings - and sent them to Per (Wiberg/keyboards) in Stockholm. Apollo (Papathanasio/vocals) also has a cool home studio set up, so I was with him for a couple days working on some vocals. I think it was mostly me and Per that did the writing for this album."
Earth Blues marks Papathanasio's second album with Spiritual Beggars. He made his debut in 2010 on Return To Zero while he was a member of FIREWIND, giving him the opportunity to show a different side of his musical personality. This time out he blows the doors off the hinges the moment lead-off track 'Wise Like A Serpent' kicks in...
"I think he's in his element with us," says Amott. "His basic roots are WHITESNAKE and KISS, those classic bands. I think Apollo really excels on this album. I think it was a case of him not singing so perfectly and not hitting every note just right. He's been in a few bands where it was really about singing at a high technical level. The Spiritual Beggars stuff is different, and I think it's better when it isn't perfect (laughs). There are a lot of first takes with the vocals on this album."
If you're a follower of Amott's work his playing is instantly recognizable, making for some double-takes over the course of Earth Blues for any Arch Enemy fans worth taking the Beggars plunge. A perfect example is the lead break on 'Sweet Magic Pain', which sounds like it was lifted from any Arch Enemy record of your choice.
"Angela (Gossow/vocals) and Daniel (Erlandsson/drums), when they heard that, they said 'That's Arch Enemy, what the hell are you doing?'" Amott laughs). "I'm just one person contrary to popular belief (laughs). There's a little bit of crossover with the fans, but not a lot. I've got my sound and style, I guess. I just approach both bands in a similar way. Some people make solo instrumental guitar albums but I don't listen to those. I find them incredibly boring. I like vocals, and it's fun doing something with melodic vocals. Spiritual Beggars is a small band, small tour, small crowds, but we're still having a blast. We spend a lot of time laughing our asses off. Arch Enemy is my main creative outlet, and extreme metal is where my real roots are."
With that in mind, as much fun as Amott is having with Spiritual Beggars and their new album, he'll be getting back to paying the rent with Arch Enemy later this year. In a different world he'd gladly spend more time on the road with the Beggars, but he's still quite happy with rather than resigned to the way things are now.
"Arch Enemy is a much bigger band, and when we put out a record there's a solid 18 months to two years of touring behind it. There are a lot of opportunities. I really enjoy that, I really love playing with those guys. Spiritual Beggars is more like blowing off steam. It's a different thing, it doesn't come with the same amount of pressure. This is a little more improv; it's not jazz but there's more improvisational jamming going on."
As for the new Arch Enemy album, things are well underway. Even so, don't expect it to surface until next year.
"I just spent two weeks with Nick (Cordle/guitars) and we did some demos for six new songs. We haven't really decided if we're going to record this year, but we'll definitely have a new album out in 2014. We've already got quiet a lot of material for the next album, it's just a matter of fine-tuning it. We're not rushing into it; we're waiting for inspiration to hit because we don't want the writing to be a mechanical process. There's no pressure."