"We're the band that refuses to die."
Guitarist Michael Amott laughs as he speaks, reflecting on his Spiritual Beggars 20+ year career. He's best known as the axeman and founder of melodic death metal icons Arch Enemy, but his beloved vintage style hard rock outfit was launched in 1992 - four years earlier - and now has nine albums to its name with the release of new opus, Sunrise To Sundown. Amott finds Spiritual Beggars longevity amusing due to the simple fact he and his bandmates never really know if or when a new album is going to see the light of day from year to year. It all comes down to a mix of scheduling, downtime and inspiration.
The birth of Sunrise To Sundown comes three years after their critically acclaimed Earth Blues record, which is something of a surprise in that Amott and bassist Sharlee D'Angelo have spent the better part of the last two years on tour with Arch Enemy. It turns out the Spiritual Beggars have spent those last couple years writing in fits and starts, using short breaks in Arch Enemy's gruelling schedule to get the work done.
"Instead of being a normal person and taking time off when we have a break, I just get right back into the music and work on a different project," says Amott. "I was doing Spiritual Beggars while I was still in Carcass (1990 - 1993), so it kind of overlapped in the last year with them. When I left Carcass it was because I wanted to do my own thing. I thought I'd do Spiritual Beggars for a while, and a few years later I put Arch Enemy together. Music makes me happy. It's what I want to do."
Since their self-titled 1994 debut, Spiritual Beggars have always succeeded in striking a chord with the rock / metal crowd. Personal tastes dictate which album(s) rise to the top of the pile as the band's best work, but it is widely agreed that since the introduction of vocalist Apollo Papathanasio (ex-Firewind) in 2010 on Return To Zero, Spiritual Beggars have found their stride. The current line-up is now 5 years solid and Amott considers Sunrise To Sundown their most diverse and dynamic album to date. Every artist says that about their newest work, of course, but in this case it happens to be true. For one thing the band recorded live off the floor, which is almost unheard of in the age of hi-tech digital cut/paste recordings.
"The way we set up in the studio was so that everyone was playing together. We had five days booked with everybody there, and that was the trickiest part; everyone working out their schedules so we could work together. It was live off the floor, with all of us in a half circle around the drums. We had eye contact and talked our way through the songs, we'd play a song through once and then hit the record button. It was pretty intense because we didn't really make any demos beforehand. There were a few demos, sure, but we didn't really know what we were going to end up with so the process was very spontaneous."
Amott may be the founder of Spiritual Beggars, but the songwriting for Sunrise To Sundown was a collaborative effort. He did write some of the new material on his own, but original drummer Ludwig Witt brought in two close-to-completed songs, and keyboardist Per Wiberg stepped up once again with his own songwriting as well as composing with Amott. They even went so far as to adopt the Lennon-McCartney style of writing, where Amott would give Wiberg music to write lyrics and vocals melodies for some songs, and vice versa.
Traditionally, Spiritual Beggars albums always turn out a little bit different from their predecessors. Sunrise To Sundown is no exception, to the point that the album's diversity was a cause for concern for Amott.
"When we come together we sound a certain way, but it's definitely more diverse," Amott says of the album. "There are a couple songs that actually go back to the '90s era, very riff-oriented, no traditional song structure, and some longer songs. I was a little worried about that initially because I was wondering if it was going to make any sense to people. Listening to the mixes while on the road with Arch Enemy, it makes sense to me now. It sounds like Spiritual Beggars."
Spiritual Beggars is a long running success in spite of - or perhaps because of - Amott's ongoing full metal assault with Arch Enemy. He has always insisted that he would never do two bands that sound similar, and credits Spiritual Beggars for being the haven he can get his rocks off doing something totally different.
"A lot of people can't wrap their heads around being able to go from playing melodic death metal to rock," says Amott. "I just have two sides to my musical personality. It's still me playing guitar; I'm just expressing myself in a slightly different way."