Amahiru – East Meets WestWednesday, 9th December 2020
Taking fun modern metal music and combining it with some eastern flair, Amahiru is a fresh spark of musical inspiration. While it’s not too far outside the wheelhouse of the norm, those little tweaks make all the difference to make it an invigorating listen. And it should be, especially considering the massive pile of talent that Frédéric Leclercq and guitarist Saki have pulled together for this new band. We took some time to speak with Leclercq about his latest band from its beginnings to its goals, as well as an update with Kreator, Sinsaenum, and Loudblast, in addition to talk about Japan and big hooks in metal.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you manage to pull everyone together for the project?
Frédéric Leclercq: First of all, I met Saki in 2015 in Hong Kong. One of her bands was opening for Dragonforce. I went back to Japan a few months after that and met her again. Then a friendship was born. We saw each other more, because I go to Tokyo quite often. There was a good connection, human-wise and music-wise, so we decided to do something together. It was easy, because we already had a Japanese label interested right away. Otherwise it may have taken a while, but between her band and my management, the label I had been working with in Japan with Sinsaenum and Dragonforce talked with us about it. We met and they asked about what music we were doing and when we wanted to release the album, so it was a kick in the butt to get going.
I took my book of good people I know that can play music – I have a book like that…not really, it’s in my head [laughter]. So I contacted people that I like, on a human level, because that’s important for me. That was also what I did with Sinsaenum. The people in that band are first and foremost friends, not just names I could get in touch with through labels or mutual friends. First and foremost, they are people I connect with, and that was the case here. I’ve been friends with Coen Jansson of Epica since we toured together in 2016. The same with Mike Heller, who I toured with in Australia when he was playing with Fear Factory. That was in 2015.
On vocals, originally the discussion we had with the label, management, Saki, and myself, was to have Marc from Dragonforce. Of course, that was fine as we worked with him a lot and he was a good friend. But the more we were working on the songs together, I felt like we needed someone else. I knew of Archie [Wilson] through mutual friends, and I had met him in the past a few times in the UK. So I got in touch with him and asked if he wanted to give it a try. He sent us a demo and that was it – he was the voice for the album.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel that Amahiru offers to the metal audience that’s unique?
Leclercq: I don’t know, it’s a bit presumptuous to say about my own band, but it is the music that I have always wanted to play in the melodic area. I am quite happy with what I have in the more aggressive and evil side of music, now that I have Kreator, Sinsaenum, and Loudblast. That area of my artistic field is good. On the melodic side, when I was in the melodic side, when I was in Dragonforce I had to write within the limitations that the band had. When you play power metal and it is called Dragonforce, people expect certain things.
Here, it was the first album and we had total freedom. Luckily, Saki and I have the same vision. We just wrote songs that are melodic, with a lot of rhythm and groove to it. I guess the fact that I am from France and she is from Japan, we played on that a little bit. You have those Asian scales and elements that are unique to her stuff, and I guess I’m not claiming to reinvent the wheel here – I’m just playing honest music that I feel is right and that I love. Hopefully people dig it.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you enjoy about starting up a new band?
Leclercq: The excitement of starting something new. It’s like a new house or a new girlfriend or a meal you never tried before. There’s a lot of excitement. There’s also no expectations from the people, so there are no limitations. It’s total freedom. It was in our hands to define what we want to do. That’s what is exciting about it. It’s a new collaboration, and throughout the whole process, I had a lot of fun. Working with Saki was really cool.
Going to Japan to work on the album, that was like a dream come true. I always wanted to go to Japan and book a hotel room for a few weeks and write music. That’s basically what happened here. It was really cool. Playing with Coen, Mike, and Archie for the first time, and discovering Archie’s possibilities on vocals, there are all of these exciting aspects. The first steps in a new band are great, but that doesn’t mean I had no fun, for example, working on the second Sinsaenum album. It’s just something different. The excitement is obviously unique when you start.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned that it was a dream of yours to record in Japan. Is there anything particular that you enjoy about eastern culture?
Leclercq: I’m not sure about the US, but in France, around the time I grew up there was a lot of anime on TV and I watched a lot of that. I also grew up with a lot of Japanese video games and movies. My father was watching with me as well, so I had that fascination about the country that made so many things that I enjoyed. The first time I went there, I was quite excited. It was even better than my expectations! I got to see more of the people, customs, food, and whatever. I feel great when I am in Japan. So that’s an explanation – but it’s also just that I feel great when I am there and I like the Japanese. I love being in Tokyo.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel being a part of different bands allows you to bring to the table when starting a new one?
Leclercq: I don’t really think about it that way. Back when I was in Dragonforce and I started Sinsaenum, as I was saying earlier, people knew me for one side of my artistic abilities, but that was my only outlet to express myself: playing bass in a power metal band. It was okay, but I needed to express myself with dark, evil, and aggressive music. Sinsaenum was another side of my personality. I needed that to have balance.
Now the balance has changed, since I have Kreator, Loudblast, and Sinsaenum on one side, so the fact that I am doing Amahiru, even though it was while I was in Dragonforce…even if I knew that it wouldn’t be for much longer, I guess it was something that I needed. I like it, but I also feel that I need to express myself that way. I don’t know, I guess when I start something, I don’t know if I am bringing something different, but at the same time, when you play with different people you learn things. Being with Kreator for a year now, I have learned certain things that we do together, that can go, to a certain extent, into the next Sinsaenum or Amahiru, at different levels. So the more you play, the more you learn.
Dead Rhetoric: How important are big hooks to Amahiru? Do you feel that they get underappreciated in comparison to an impressive solo?
Leclercq: I guess it depends on the style, but at the end of the day, what you remember is basically that: the hooks. Its interesting to show off and I have been doing a lot of that in the past, and I also enjoyed listening to that when I was younger. I loved Malmsteen and Symphony X. But those bands also had hooks, so it’s nice to have a balance of technicity and hooks. When I was younger, I remember reading those guitar magazines and BB King was like, “You can only play two notes and its really cool.” I was like, “Fuck that dude!” Since I was into really shredding and whatnot, but now I understand that much more. So there has to be a nice balance.
When you are capable of playing fast, it doesn’t mean you have to do it all the time. I’ve been in a band where that was the case, and that’s cool, but I feel it gets old after a while. It’s nice to get a balance of everything. Not everyone that is going to listen to your music is going to be a musician. When I play some things, my wife is like, “Oh my god, this is annoying. There’s too many notes and it’s complicated.” I guess when you are a musician, you tend to admire those notes. But it doesn’t that it is going to appeal to everybody. I’m not saying that we are making Amahiru’s music to appeal to people – what’s the most important is for us to write what we like, but you might as well write music that everybody can enjoy. Big hooks are a part of that.
On the album, there’s a lot of that and I just wanted to have that sort of anthem feel. Since starting interviews for Amahiru, I have been talking a lot about an album from Alice Cooper that I love, Hey Stoopid. For me, it is a reference in terms of production and songwriting. I love that album. There’s a lot of hooks, and you can sing along with all the choruses. That’s the kind of music that we went for. Technical but with the right amount of melody so that people can sing along and remember them.
Dead Rhetoric: What fuels you to improve as a musician?
Leclercq: The fact that when I do not practice, I feel it and it hurts now [laughs]. There’s a bit of that, but I guess it’s just interesting to learn new stuff. I must be honest with you, I’m not practicing as much as I used to in my teens – when I first discovered the instrument and I was practicing then. It wasn’t even practicing, it was discovering. Like we were talking about, the excitement of something new. The guitar was 6 hours a day. Now, because it became not work, since it doesn’t feel like work, but something that I do all the time. I travel and play guitar every night – so I tend to go home and relax with the guitar a little bit.
I try to improve myself in other things. I think my songwriting has improved since I started. The production side of things, and the playing – I try to not repeat myself. I’m learning new stuff when necessary. It’s a natural evolution, but it’s not the technical aspect anymore. When I started, everything I was learning was way faster than the original. If I was to learn “Damage Inc” from Metallica, I remember an audition in high school. They had Wednesday afternoon music things, and you had to play a song as an audition. I went there with my guitar and played that song, but super-fast because I thought it sounded way better. I guess now I don’t care so much about speed and showing off, so I am improving in different fields.
Dead Rhetoric: Sometimes I think as you get older, that drive to play the fastest you can changes more towards looking at the whole picture.
Leclercq: I guess, which is probably why older artists are more boring than the younger ones [laughs], because the young ones are eager and want to be fast. I still have some of that in me, but perhaps it’s more tame in trying to see that bigger picture.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you juggle time between multiple bands (Kreator, Sinsaenum, Loudblast)?
Leclercq: The best I can [laughs]. Right now, before this interview, I was working on an intro for Kreator. I am working on Kreator, then I switch over to Amahiru. This morning I was working on some Sinsaenum stuff too, and I will probably go back to it later today. It depends on the inspiration. That’s what is most important. I haven’t done a lot for Sinsaenum lately because it wasn’t coming and I was busy with Kreator. I have managed to do it so far [laughs], but I’m not sure how I manage it sometimes. But for some reason, even though I’m a messy person I am organized when it comes to music. It might be a bit of luck as well.
Dead Rhetoric: Plans with any bands for next year?
Leclercq: Amahiru-wise we are releasing the album in a strange time. Originally we wanted to listen to the album in the summer, because I felt like it was an album you would listen to in summer. That was the end of 2019 and beginning of this year when we were making plans on when it would come out. We wanted to do some gigs and acoustic shows. All of that went to shit, and releasing the album during dark times – I feel it has positive energy. In a way it’s good to release it now, and I’m making the most of it. Once it is out, we will see how people react to it. It’s hard to project when we will be able to play live again. But at least it is coming out. I was speaking with Coen earlier about new songs. We want to carry on so that it’s not just a one-off. We want to do more albums.
The next step, as far as I am concerned, is working on the new Kreator. I have been working on that with the band. Same thing – a big question mark on when. I am working on new Sinsaenum too – I had a big break but I do have like 10-12 songs. I will start in November/December as I think that’s the right time to go with the weather outside. With Loudblast, there’s a new album coming out. That’s it! That’s already quite enough for me to be busy for a few months.