Spiritual Beggars are not only releasing a new album this year, but are also celebrating their 20th Anniversary as a band. I had the opportunity to talk with bassist Sharlee D'Angelo about their new album Earth Blues, and threw in a couple of questions about his other two bands (Arch Enemy, Witchery) as well.
After the usual pleasantries of "Hi, how are you?" Sharlee's response was something in Swedish (or Norwegian?). Not surprising, since by the sheer nature of my real full name a lot of Scandinavian folks believe I do speak their native tongue. After explaining, laughing and him saying "well, I thought I would give it a try", we established that I don't speak a lick of Swedish and Sharlee's German is limited to the usual tour-talk of "Zehn Bier, bitte".
Great start to an interview and we both spoke English from there on out.
Birgit: This year marks the 20th anniversary of Spiritual Beggars - are we still calling this a side project or a full-fledged band?
Sharlee: That's the thing; it wasn't actually started as a side project. When the group formed Michael had already left Carcass, back in '93 I believe it was, so by that time it was everybody's main band. Arch Enemy was actually a side-project . Pretty much was up until 2001 or 2002, so this is a little bit of a misconception but I do understand why. If you look from 2005 or so onward, everybody got really busy with their other projects. Michael and I with Arch Enemy, Per with Opeth, JB with Grand Magus, Ludwig with Firebird and basically everything else he was doing.
But when we are together, we ARE a band and not just a concept we are working on together; it never was. Spiritual Beggars has been on the backburner for a bit; it's been dormant more than our other bands.
Birgit: I am sometimes lost with the ever so ridiculous genre tags these days; how would you describe your music?
Sharlee: I would say - groove based melodic heavy rock? I really don't know. I am equally as bad as you are when it comes to genre tags.
Birgit: Between Demons and Return To Zero was a five year break and now it only took three years to release a new album. Where you guys antsy to write music or was it that your other bands had more downtime?
Sharlee: Well, one of the things was that we were back on the horse again, per se. Once we recorded Return To Zero we thought it would be a waste to record an album we are really happy with and don't do anything with it. So we went to Japan and also played on some European Festivals.
I think we gathered a little bit of steam there, a bit of momentum, and it became part of our DNA again, in a much clearer way than before. Which in turn meant that Spiritual Beggars didn't lay dormant for long. Finish what we were doing while we still had our mind set. So whenever we had a little break (from the other bands), music was written, plans were made, and this why the new album was done a lot quicker.
Birgit: Is Michael still the main songwriter or does everybody contribute?
Sharlee: He is still pretty much the main man. This time though, Per contributed with loads of songs and 3 or 4 ended up on the album. Per has been very productive and he has come up with some of the best songs on the album, in my opinion.
Apollo has written some lyrics and Ludwig and I throw our two cents in there as well; but mainly Michael and Per on this album.
Birgit: So is Michael then the sole writer for the lyrics and Apollo is just giving him feedback?
Sharlee: Actually Apollo has written whole songs on this album and then they also collaborated on a few things.
Birgit: Earth Blues is the second album with Apollo on vocals. And to be honest I like the new album better than Return To Zero. So did his different vocal style influence the sound of the album more than on Return To Zero?
Sharlee: I agree with you, I like Earth Blues a lot better than Return To Zero but there are a lot of factors which contributed to that. One of the things I believe is that it is a lot more straight forward. When we did Return To Zero we just changed singers and going from JB to Apollo - well Apollo opened up doorways, places we really haven't gone musically before. I think that's why the last album turned into something a bit more - epic? It is slower, with longer songs since we had that new voice to work with and I think we took that to its fullest. And now, with Earth Blues, we are back to "all right, the five of us again" and I guess we decided to do, what we do best; 1-2-3-let's make some noise.
Birgit: Speaking of noise, I am partial to "Dreamer", but my favorite song by far is "Too Old To Die Young"; what is your favorite song on the new album?
Sharlee: Ah, those two are also favorites of mine, especially "Too Old To Die Young" because it has that nice groove to it and then it goes down to something like a more theatrical side of Boston on their second album. But my favorite song right now is "Legends Collapse". It is one of Per's songs and there is just something about it. It was good from the beginning but once we were done in the studio it turned out so much better than I could have ever imagined.
And from the beginning, when we talked about the album sequence, we decided that this song HAS to be last. It has that ending to it - for example the Dio era of Black Sabbath, the two classic albums they did, it ended with songs like that; slow tempo, a bit more epic.
And to us, we treat an album as a composition in itself on how you put the songs on it. Like "Dreamer" was the end of side one and "Too Old To Die Young" is the opener of side two. Of course on a CD it doesn't matter but that's the way we think and it is important to us. But a lot of people don't understand that at all.
Birgit: So what made you guys decide to release "Turn The Tide" as a single then? Was that your decision or more the label?
Sharlee: I think the majority of the band decided to go with a faster song and this one does represent the album quite well.
Birgit: Did you use the same studio (Fat Guitar Studio) for recording, mixing and mastering?
Sharlee: No, it was just the basic tracks that were recorded up there. It was a good Studio and had enough room for the four of us to fit in and do everything at once. Roberth Ekholm, an extremely good producer and engineer, he knew how to get the sound that we wanted. So we recorded basic tracks there and we went into a studio in Halmstad to do some guitar overdubs and vocals and mixed it there as well. So the album is mixed and mastered in Halmstad by a very good man named Staffan Karlsson.
Birgit: Once again, the bass is heavy in the mix. You have been playing Ibanez for some years now. What makes their product more suitable to you, your style of playing?
Courtesy of Ibanez
Sharlee: Ibanez make very high quality and very durable instruments and I like the sound of them. I had a couple of old Rickenbacker's that I just completely tore into the ground. The poor things needed a vacation for the rest of their lives. I was approached by Ibanez and I told them what I wanted and they built it for me. That's the story so far and they can build pretty much whatever I want. For example the basses I use for Spiritual Beggars are completely different, even though they have the same basic shape and look.
Birgit: Do you only play four-strings and do you always use a pick?
Sharlee: Yes, I don't understand anything with more than four strings. I can't wrap my head around it; hence I am the bass player. I sometimes pluck as well, but I have been playing extreme metal for such a long time and it is hard to do (without a pick) with the accuracy that is needed; at least for me, I am technically not that good. Of course if you are Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse) or Steve DiGiorgio (played in Death, Testament among others) it's a different story.
Birgit: Oh come on, you are selling yourself short here. But to wrap this up, I have a couple questions about some of your other bands. Witchery - it has been almost three years since the release of Witchkrieg; any word on a new recording and is Masse (ex-Dark Funeral) still with the band?
Sharlee: Not at the moment. We have to get everybody in the same room without our schedules colliding. But there will definitely going to be another album. And yes, Masse is still there.
Birgit: Arch Enemy - You guys are releasing a DVD this year; any progress updates?
Sharlee: It is being worked on as we speak and I am actually going to Berlin next week to meet with the guy who is head of the project. We are going through some of the material; we have a bit too much to put on one DVD. We have to see what direction we will go and what format it should be. It will come out as a DVD as well as Blu-ray and it will take a little while since it turned into a beast of sorts; we have lots of great footage.
Birgit: Is there a tentative date when you guys will go into the studio to record a new album?
Sharlee: No we really haven't set a studio date yet. But Michael and Nick (ex-Arsis) are right now in Virginia and doing a bit of "front porch riffing" of sorts.
Birgit: Speaking of Nick, who and how did you guys decide he would be the one to take over the guitar duties once Chris left?
Sharlee: As soon as Chris announced his departure, the first thing we did - like five minutes later, was to get a short list of people together. And Nick's name was the first that came up and then a few other people. He was also the first person we asked and he tried out and we never tried anybody else, we didn't have too. But we thought what if he doesn't work out and we flew that poor kid all the way over here and sent him back home with the words "don't call us, we will call you" . But we knew even before that he wasn't bad and that he could handle it - but he handled it a lot better than we could have ever imagined.
Arsis toured with Arch Enemy a couple years back so we knew him and we were watching him from the side and thought "yeah, that could be a contender". And he worked out great, musically and personally as well, he fits right in. He is a bit younger than we are but his soul is probably a lot older than us all together. Things are more organized now than it was with his years in Arsis and now it is a much smoother ride for him.
Birgit: That's very true. And now, last question. Spiritual Beggars will do a tour in Europe, correct?
Sharlee: Yes, we will go out on a real European run in I guess almost ten years, and I think this is a good way of celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the band. The tour starts in Hamburg, Germany and ends in France. In that run is also the Roadburn Festival in Tilburg as well as Hellfest in France. Oh and we are also going to Mexico for the first time. We really never gone across the pond before, well we went to Japan but never to the Americas.
So for anybody who is desperate to see us and has the means to get to Mexico City; do it.