Angela Gossow is lively and chatty on the phone, though at times difficult to hear. When it becomes obvious that she is breaking up because of kinks in the Skype network she is using, she phones back from a landline and is as pleasant and charming as ever.
The Arch Enemy singer, who recently turned 37, has a winning personality. Fronting a melodic/death/thrash metal band in a crowded and competitive field is no easy feat in the era of dying record labels. And given the sublime rarity of her gender in the business, she has had to contend with a lot of questions and comments about her appearance. In a 2005 review of Ozzfest, The Hollywood Reporter singled out the band among second stage performers:
“Arch Enemy is a female-fronted thrash metal band whose comely blonde singer, Angela Gossow, can snarl with the best of them.”
Regardless of this, she remains nonplussed. Perhaps this is due to her heritage and upbringing: German stoicism and matter-of-fact Weltanschauung. Typisch, as the Deutsch might say. What is atypical about Fräulein Gossow is her gentle manner and disarming candor.
A former advertising executive who fronted a couple of local metal bands while growing up in Cologne (Köln) , Angela Gossow followed the music she loved passionately. For a time, during her tenure as an unsigned singer, she toiled as an amateur journalist writing for a music fanzine. Legend has it that she gave guitarist Michael Amott a copy of one of her demos, and after Arch Enemy parted ways with its’ first singer, the band auditioned Gossow. Obviously, she got the gig; but the takeaway here is that Gossow knows her way around an interview. So it was incumbent upon RockSalt.MX to come up with some questions she isn’t constantly being asked (whether or not RSMX was successful is up for Gossow to decide). Nevertheless, she was quite warm and forthcoming in all of her responses.
Arch Enemy’s latest album, “Khaos Legions” was released in 2011 to critical acclaim and the band has been steadfastly touring to support it. Following a fall US tour, the band has returned to Europe for short runs and festivals. Hopefully Miss Gossow and company will come Stateside again this summer. In the meantime, cell phone videos of the band’s live shows are all over YouTube. Gossow chatted with RockSalt.MX about the band’s latest album; their new look; the songwriting process; and her dual role as singer and manager. And one other revelation: she loves weed.
ROCKSALT: This is your sixth full-length album with Arch Enemy. Are you still as energized and excited as when you began?
ANGELA: Yeah- this is sixth. I feel a lot better: perhaps a mixture of anxiety, excitement and having more knowledge about the whole thing. It’s just like dropping into cold water: it’s very exciting but at the same time it’s very nerve wracking and now we’ve all learned to swim. And in a very good way, you know? It’s not just staying on the surface, staying alive, but to actually, you know, be able to compete with the best right now. And we’re just kinda like a big fish in a pond – a bigger fish – not so small anymore. So, it actually feels – I don’t wanna… it feels like if somebody asked you if you wanted to be 15 or 16 or 18 again. I neither want to be 18 again nor do I want to go back ten years. You know? I’m really happy where we are right now.
ROCKSALT: Did you foresee this kind of longevity with the band when you started out?
ANGELA: Well… I don’t dwell on the past at all. I’m very much here in the present. Always. I do plan the future, as, you know, when I do something I want to make it last – it’s just like with a relationship or anything I do. So we were always planning two, three years ahead, you know, but obviously you can’t plan ten years ahead, so: no. I didn’t think that I’d be doing this when I’m approaching my 40s! (laughs) But, hey – I am and it just feels really, really good. And my health is totally there – I’m actually fitter now than I was ten years ago, so that’s awfully interesting. I think women peak in their 30s and 40s. I think that comes very handy, you know? Because when they have kids and they have to multi-task and take a lot of shit and be very, very flexible. And it’s a lot. I think I’m actually peaking. I would say I’m stronger now than I was then. So, yeah – I didn’t put the years out ahead but I am glad we are still here and still relevant and that we can still do it. Yeah.
ROCKSALT: It’s funny you say that about peaking. I know three women – 39, 40 and 43 – who all just had children…
ANGELA: Yeah! Obviously a lot of women are not doing that in their 20s or late 20s or early 30s anymore, because they all want to have a career. So it’s getting very common now. And they are coping rather well with it. Men are more like, their best times may be in their 20s or early 30s; and then they get the whole mid-life crisis thing and their bellies grow and their hair falls out – all that shit happening… hmm. (pauses) Anyway! I feel really good! Let’s move on! (laughs)
ROCKSALT: Tell me about the writing process for “Khaos Legions.”
ANGELA: Well, actually, “Khaos Legions” was written over a period of four years, which makes it very special compared to the other Arch Enemy releases. They (the previous albums) been written in a lot more compressed time, let’s say three months, before we go into the studio. It’s when we really sit down or meet up in the rehearsal room and go, “Okay. Fuck. We’re going into the studio in three months – let’s make an album!” You know? But this time what we did was start writing after “Rise of the Tyrant” – everywhere! We’ve always got our ProTools, or MacBook with us; or just like an iPhone – you know you can record with anything these days, really. And that’s what we’ve done. So when we actually got into the rehearsal room in mid-2010 we had like, I don’t know, ten songs already. And then we continued writing more stuff and just making, just compiling all the stuff we had and tightening it up and making proper songs out of it. So we ended up with 21 tracks that we recorded and we put 17 on the album and we’ve got some left over for… we want to have like a future EP release, maybe, in the beginning of 2012. So… the album actually reflects four years in the life of Arch Enemy and not just three months. Which I think makes for a very – I think that’s where all the variety comes from and also the depth. There’s a lot of different stuff happening on it.
ROCKSALT: That’s interesting. My girlfriend (now fiancée – Ed.) caught two shows on the Carcass tour. And when “Yesterday Is Dead And Gone” came out at the end of March, she thought that was heavily influenced by Carcass. Now that was her opinion…
ANGELA: Yeah! Yeah, I think she’s right! (laughs) I think it was awesome when Michael rejoined Carcass, you know? And because, it’s like, for him – and because I love all the old Carcass stuff but I know that he’s kinda moved far away from that. In his writing. And I thought it was great for him to reconnect with it and also to get a feel for how they used to write songs. Because I mean, there is no obvious logic to it. It all comes very sick and twisted. That’s what’s so great about all the Carcass stuff – it’s all timeless classics, some of these albums. And like, Necroticism, Symphonies of Sickness, and Heartwork are my three favorite Carcass albums. And when he had to sit down and learn them, like 25 tracks or whatever there, he turned around and said, “Damn. That’s how I used to write music. I totally forgot about that.” So I noticed that when he started to write Arch Enemy riffs, like, you know we’d written a lot of stuff backstage, it all started to sound a bit like that. It got more, a bit weird scales, disharmonic creepy stuff; or, you know the way they would work on the twin harmonies – they’re not that harmonic. It had gotten a bit more sick and twisted. And we’d been pretty much inviting that whole… yeah. I think it’s a great influence: because it’s great for him to be influenced by himself and his former band, you know? I think it’s awesome to draw from that instead of, like, going and stealing from a bunch of other bands. He’s actually part of that history. But I definitely agree. Mmm. I can hear Carcass on that album, yes.
ROCKSALT: Tell me about “Under Black Flags We March.” I’m quite fond of that song.
ANGELA: Yeah! I love it! It’s out “Judas Priest” song! Blatantly so! (laughs) We listen to Defenders of the Faith and Painkiller – stoned! That’s what we do every evening, we listen to a bunch of records when we’re stoned; which is very good for musicians I think. I can recommend it. And then you get really, like, into the music. And understand the greatness of it, you know? And what is the essence of it. And when we listened to Defenders of the Faith, we said, “Man, we need one of those heavy, mid-tempo, classic metal tunes on the album!” You know? We just wanna play something like that live. So, we wrote “Under Black Flags We March.” I mean, we didn’t steal any riffs – but it’s kind of that vibe that you get from it. It’s simply one of those songs that we gotta play live. It’s just like (makes growling riff noise) “Dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dunnnn!” Like a headbanging… you must headbang when you hear that rhythm! It’s a force of nature that hits you, so. And yeah, it’s kind of anthemic and you just want to hear people sing “Under Black Flags WE MARCH!” And “We are marching, ready to fire!” It’s also a bit influenced by Judas Priest lyrics, actually. I love the lyrics of Rob Halford, so it’s kind of a little bit of a tribute. In a way. (laughs)
ROCKSALT: Very nice. Now wait – I wanted to catch on one little thing. You said you were sitting around listening to music late at night when you’re stoned. And I want to make sure there’s no misunderstanding by what you mean by “stoned.”
ANGELA: Oh, I mean, obviously, weed – the stuff that grows outside in my garden and (laughs) it’s obviously not legal, unfortunately, but – that’s one of our political agendas in “Khaos Legions” is to legalize it. You know? (laughs)
ROCKSALT: Really? How come you’re not covering “Legalize It” by Peter Tosh?
ANGELA: Yeaahhh… that’s too obvious. But, uh…
ROCKSALT: Too obvious?
ANGELA: Well, yeah – maybe we should do it one day. Yeah, I think this an awesome recreational… herb. I wouldn’t call it drug, that’s so negative. It’s like, yeah, it’s something you can buy at a drugstore, hopefully one day. So let’s call it a drug.
ROCKSALT: What is the – you’re in Sweden, right?
ANGELA: Yeah – oh, yes! The young generation, they’ve had a couple of votes now. They’re trying to get it legalized. Which is good. It doesn’t do any damage to people, except when you’re prone to paranoia and schizophrenia then you’ve got to, you actually have to see a doctor if you’ve got problems like that. But for most people it’s very harmless, compared to hard liquor. And Sweden is very damaged by hard liquor. They have a very high alcoholic rate here, you know. Especially among teenagers, and drinking hard stuff… I mean, honestly, I’d rather see a 16 year-old smoke a spliff than having a bottle of vodka in their hands, you know. So I just hope; but they’re very tough on it. You can go to jail for it if you’re caught with a spliff. Yeah. It’s not nice. It’s not like California or anything like that. And then you’ve got obviously neighboring countries – in my country, Germany, they’re totally lax on it. If you get caught with it nobody says anything. And in Holland it’s legal. Yeah… I might have to move one day. I might have to relocate! (laughs)
ROCKSALT: Even in New York City now they have this thing, if you’re caught with less than an ounce they will let you go.
ANGELA: Yeah, it’s nice. Because I think that they could really use that money they are wasting on the war on drugs for better education, and maybe health care and all these things that have a massive shortage in the US. So that’s a good move, I think. I hope a lot of people and a lot of, different states, will catch up to that.
ROCKSALT: One would hope. And not to dwell on it too much: do you roll your own or do you use a bong?
ANGELA: Oh, I use a vaporizer. I’m an asthmatic, so I don’t smoke at all. So I use a vaporizer because it doesn’t irritate my throat at all and it helps my asthma a lot. And you know, since I’ve been using weed, I haven’t had to use any of my steroid inhalers. It really relaxes the airways, opens it up. And also, I will bake cookies with chocolate with it.
ANGELA: So there’s different ways, you know?
ROCKSALT: Wow. Very nice. Thank you for that. Okay, then – getting back… you mentioned that you recorded a bunch of songs and have some extras that you might possibly use for an EP in 2012. I’m looking at a tracklist here, and I don’t know how reliable it is, but I see a handful of covers that you may have done…
ANGELA: Oh, yes – those are actually for the bonus versions of the European limited editions. They’re like totally out there and just available on the limited editions.
ROCKSALT: This thing I have says it’s going to be called “Kovered In Khaos.”
ROCKSALT: And it’s going to be “Kovered” with a “K”…
ANGELA: (pauses) Yes. It’s going to be that on the CDs…
ROCKSALT: So, okay – did you cover “The Zoo” by The Scorpions?
ANGELA: Yes! But that’s the Japan-only track. That’s not on the European version. Yes, “The Zoo” from The Scorpions. It sounds like Arch Enemy meets Obituary now.
ROCKSALT: Really? But that’s a song about New York City. It’s not going to be on the American release?
ANGELA: No! It’s not going to be on the American release – for now.
ROCKSALT: That’s a shame. I don’t agree with that decision.
ANGELA: Well, like I said, we’re going to do an EP in 2012 and that’s when we’re going to gather all these different versions up. And then there’s going to be a couple of new tracks as well. Because, well, that’s label policy. That has nothing to do with us. Every territory wants their own bonus tracks because it’s so difficult for them to even sell physical products nowadays. So, you know. Japan always wants their own; Europe and the US want their own; and then the fans complain… so we always try to do a release where we compile it and then people get it anyway.
ROCKSALT: Ah. Well, then. Moving on… what were some of the central themes that you were working with for “Khaos Legions?”
ANGELA: Ah! It’s “khaos” and “chaos” – “khaos” as in “creative” and the beginning of the universe, and “chaos” as in anarchy, political anarchy or a state of no politics. You know? A state of new beginnings. So the album is pretty much about freedom, if you like the headline: personal freedom; freedom from government; freedom from religion; freedom from society as well. No judgement… freedom from yourself. You know, because people put people in prison in all shapes and forms. And even we are, in Arch Enemy, a little bit of anarchy…mmm? Because we do everything ourselves. We are self-managed, we do all our booking ourselves, we do everything ourselves – all of it like a little business. And we kind of roam the world very freely, you know, we’re never really stuck in one place; but I mean obviously we also really have to suffer from very silly laws and you’re always hunted by the tax office…
ANGELA: You know? Every government has their tools of fear and that’s one of them. So… also very inspired by the recent, what’s recently been happening all over the world, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, which is not far from where we live. We’ve just been to North Africa, by the way – we played a show in Morocco! We played fully in rain – there was no roof at that festival, on that stage. So we were just actually standing in pissing rain and the problem with that is that you can get electrocuted if you’re not careful, you know? (laughs) Because of all the electricity everywhere! So… yeah! Anyway, it’s kind of very zeitgeist-influenced, the album. And it’s all about freedom we believe in: we’re very freedom-driven as a band.
ANGELA: Well – when it comes to labels, we have a license deal with Century Media. We have our own record label, it’s called “Savage Design Music” and we license all the albums to Century Media or Trooper Entertainment in Japan, so we own everything as well. Everybody’s made a big fuss about it, but we’ve had it for years. It’s just one of the things you do in business to be as free as possible.
ROCKSALT: That’s very progressive. Do you talk to other bands about this? Do they come to you for advice?
ANGELA: Yeah, I’ve been asked by a lot of bands; and I know that more and more bands do this kind of thing. I know that Kreator have started; Soilwork, Dark Tranquility… it’s just like every band we meet they asked us how we did it and how we’re doing it. Yup. And we’re just like, “You’ve gotta try it!” I mean, the only problem with that is that you have to have somebody in the band with a bit of knowledge. You need to be able to read deals, you have to be able to read the fine print; you need to be very good in communication and to keep track of many things. You have to be very, ah, very knowledgeable in finances and budgeting and all that stuff. So that’s usually the limit for most bands, that’s where they get a problem. Not spending more money than you have, but actually less money.
ROCKSALT: Is this something you find that you thrive in?
ANGELA: I love that! That’s very much “Business Angela.” Before I joined Arch Enemy, I got a degree in marketing, and management and economics. I worked on a big advertising budget at my company before I joined Arch Enemy – that’s all I did. And I love that, I love when things work out. You make a marketing plan and a budget and at the end of it, it all works out according to schedule, according to timelines, and then you’ve got that money left over that you had in the beginning. Sometimes even a bit more. So you actually make a profit at the end of it, not like that poor struggling musician anymore that we were up until 2008. And we were, we were just fucking bleeding, hemorrhaging money – money that we didn’t have that we had to borrow. We had a hundred K euros that we were in debt for many years – this is a lot of money.
ROCKSALT: Wow. Are you debt-free now?
ANGELA: Yeah, we are debt-free now. We had to work hard for it, though.
ROCKSALT: That’s fantastic! Now, I was curious to know… I saw the new video that came out, and some of the pictures. Tell me about the choice for the black lines under your eyes.
ANGELA: Ahhh! These are my war paint stripes! They come off – they’re not tattoos, so, I have to put them on before shows. But as the manager of Arch Enemy, I try to find ways to become “Angela” with a division, singer from manager, and that’s kind of my way to do that. Because otherwise I am going to carry too much business in my head. I think that’s why a lot of bands do, like, corpse-paint, you know? It just gives you a different persona. Puts you in a different mindset. And when I get ready for the stage, for anything Arch Enemy – except rehearsals, I’m not painted when I do rehearsals – but anything that requires me to be in that mood, you know, it helps me. It’s one of those little things, like, putting on your stage clothes; putting your war paint on – and I’m just Angela in Arch Enemy, then; I’m not Angela the manager. Or Angela the woman. I’m just trying… it just helps me a bit to get into that mood. That’s it, really. The cool thing is that when we go out I see a lot of people actually wearing the black stripes. And then I stopped for a short time and I had all these girls in the audience looking totally disappointed in me, like, “What happened to your black stripes?” You know? (laughs) And then Michael goes, “This has become your trademark – you can’t disappoint these people!” So, okay! It’s funny, it’s got a life of its’ own now.
ROCKSALT: I’m also quite fond of the jackets…
ANGELA: Yeah! I made them!
ROCKSALT: You made them?
ANGELA: Yeah! What I did was, I designed them and found all the symbols and patches and created the look, then I found somebody who actually sewed them for us, you know? Because that’s a lot of work, I didn’t have the time for that! But, yeah – these are my creation. I thought it was cool to have, uh… because we’ve been in black shirts for like, a decade, you know. And I thought it’s actually cool to really reflect that we’re making a very bold, in-your-face statement with the album, so I just wanted to have that on stage as well. And now we’ve got that reflected on our clothes.
ROCKSALT: It’s very Vivenne Westwood, very late-70s British punk.
ANGELA: It’s funny, somebody had written a really mean comment about me becoming the “poster-girl for Hot Topic.” I don’t think you can find that shit in Hot Topic. I’ve never bought anything at Hot Topic to begin with – that stuff is actually very unique and self-made. We made them! And yeah, I think it’s more Vivienne Westwood than Hot Topic, that’s for sure! I like that better.
ROCKSALT: Do you think you’ll be licensing that, those clothes?
ANGELA: No. That’s very individual, we’re going to keep that for ourselves. Maybe when we have another album out… I don’t know. Maybe we’ll change outfits. But that would be like, Dimmu Borgir trying to license their white clothes to, I don’t know, some L.A. store. I don’t think that’s going to happen. But for now we are just going to keep that as our personal uniform.
ROCKSALT: I had a chance to interview Doro Pesch not too long ago. And she expressed her delight in having a chance to work with you briefly – I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what she meant to you?
ANGELA: She was obviously around so early, I mean, she was around in the 80s. And Warlock was one of the first big, “Oh, yeah –that was a disco hit in the 80s!” They actually played them in discos! That must be one of the first hard rock tunes I heard. And she had a very smoky, very rough metal voice. Yeah, I loved that track – “All We Are!” So, that’s kind of when I tried – because I was quite young in the 80s – that’s really the only lasting memory I have from the 80s. I still love that song. It’s a real anthem. It’s kind of more hard rock, it’s not really metal: it’s kind of a hard rock anthem. And it’s just amazing that she’s still around, still so active and still so… hot, you know? Great looking! And it’s kind of encouraging because she’s like… eight? No ten! Ten years older than me! And she’s still doing it, so… it gives me hope, you see? (laughs) If there’s a life after 40, then definitely!
ROCKSALT: There is! Well… as long as Lemmy is out there, aren’t we all children, really?
ANGELA: Yeah, but no woman wants to look like Lemmy! That’s not someone I want to look out for, like, this is not the person I want to be! (laughs) But also, he’s just the coolest guy. Men don’t really ever need to stay in shape though, do they? So Doro is definitely the direction I want to head.
ROCKSALT: Well, then, I think you have luck on your side. It seems to me most German female musicians age better than most German male musicians.
ANGELA: Yes! Holy shit, that’s very off-the-record! I mean, I’m just looking at this festival with pictures of (redacted) and (redacted) and all these people – it’s like, “Wow!” You know? How many chins can you have, double and triple; bags under your eyes..? That’s why everybody in Arch Enemy has to stay on the treadmill!
ROCKSALT: (laughs) Is that one of your mandates as a manager?
ANGELA: Yes! Lean and mean – that’s what metal is about!
ROCKSALT: What about your fans who aren’t lean and mean, though?
ANGELA: That’s cool. But if you get on the stage and you’re not lean and mean, then you’re fat and old and that’s not a good thing! Then you have to get off the stage, I think. Because on the stage, you put yourself in the spotlight, you know? I think that’s just part of it; and you want to perform well, so it’s also a matter of fitness.
ROCKSALT: True, true.
ANGELA: You know? (laughs)
ROCKSALT: Yes… so Angela Gossow: you are the singer, the manager, you write lyrics, you keep a tour blog, you design clothes, you bake marijuana cookies, you are very busy all the time. When do you have time to make some fun for yourself?
ANGELA: I think this is all very much fun. I’m a workaholic. I work all the time. I am very, very bored when I have nothing to do. I’m always looking for something to do. So there you go.
ROCKSALT: Will you be doing more writing on your blog, then?
ANGELA: Yes, of course. I just looked at some tour blogs from 2006 and it’s like having a diary. You know? It’s fun and it’s really important as well because I forget so many things. Because you keep moving and moving and it never stops. And a lot of memories get lost in the void.
ROCKSALT: Well, okay, Angela. I guess that’s it. Thanks so much for making the time. I guess we will look forward to keeping up with you on, and off tour, then.
ANGELA: Yeah, well good, then! So put some Arch Enemy in your Rocksalt-shaker and maybe we will see you out on tour. And then you will be part of the memories of the Khaos Legions!
ARCH ENEMY continues to tour in support of “Khaos Legions” throughout 2012
Visit Angela and ARCH ENEMY online: