Alestorm – Donkeys, Explosions, and Anchors! Oh Wow!Tuesday, 30th May 2017
Rightly established by this point in their career, it doesn’t take much to conjure up an image of the fun-loving pirates of Alestorm. But beyond the goofy, amusing lyrics and vision the band has established, it’s not quite fun and games. With bands like this, it’s often the quality of the songwriting beneath the surface that determines the longevity of an act. A deeper investigation into the sound of Alestorm shows how much effort and ability sit below the deck – something that’s undoubtedly kept them afloat for five full-length albums to date.
The recently released No Grave but the Sea stands as the band’s strongest release so far. A tight-knit and focused effort that expands on what works best for the act. There’s the fun and silly singles (“Mexico,” “Fucked with an Anchor,” “Alestorm”) that stick in your head but there are also some strong, seafaring epic tracks that can stand up to anyone else in the power/folk genre. With a week and a half to go before the album’s release, we chatted with vocalist Christopher Bowes about the new album (of course), his love of BBQ sauce, and the battle to convince people that they aren’t a simple joke band.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that recording [No Grave but the Sea] in Florida had any impact on the album?
Christopher Bowes: I don’t know, I guess it’s all the same really. I guess the main thing was that we weren’t ill from the cold. Usually we record somewhere up in Germany where it’s freezing and it’s miserable, so we feel depressed. We were all happy because we were in Florida and there was sunshine and palm trees, and we were like, “yay!” So maybe we were happier people, but in the end, it sounds like it would have sounded [if it were recorded] anywhere else in the world.
Dead Rhetoric: What has new guitarist Máté Bodor brought to the band for this album?
Bowes: He brought a love of lasagna! We would not eat as much lasagna if it was not for Máté, he loves it! That was probably the main thing he brought – he did some nice solos as well. They were good, and he’s very happy. We like happy people. So happiness, lasagna, and a nice guitar solo – that was his contribution to our music.
Dead Rhetoric: Anything else you feel that the band has done differently this time around or is it more about maintaining the direction you’ve established?
Bowes: Musically, I guess it’s mostly the same thing…but we’ve added a lot more spooky, screamy vocals – because you know, why not? It’s the first time we’ve had this much screaming and almost like metalcore riffing sometimes. A lot of people got freaked out by it – “Oh my God, that’s not true metal…I hate you guys!” But yeah, whatever. It’s just more options. We don’t feel constrained by what we can or cannot do. It works pretty well.
Dead Rhetoric: Is there anything that’s really off the table when you write an Alestorm album?
Bowes: No, the only limit is the stuff we can come up with. We never listen to a song and go, “oh no, this doesn’t sound metal enough, or this doesn’t sound folk-y enough, or connect with my Pagan heritage ancestors enough.” I think if I could convincingly write a great pop song…it’s kind of fun really freaking people out and offending them by having these dreadful songs that everyone hates [laughs]. We just do this for ourselves really – it’s good fun.
Dead Rhetoric: So when you are thinking things up, do you ever get to the point where you go “oh, that’s just too silly to use?”
Bowes: Sort of with this album, we condensed songs – there were whole sections of riffs and things that we came up with that we thought, “That’s not very good – it’s a bit too much of a joke and not enough goodness.” Of course, the main thing is to write good songs. Writing a funny joke is very secondary in the list of things to do. So we cut a lot of stuff from the album. We wanted it to be focused, and have everything that happens be necessary. But we don’t cut them out for any reason apart from them being not necessary. Anything stylistically could work, if we could find a way to make it work.
Dead Rhetoric: As you said, your first goal is to write good songs and make good music. Is it an uphill battle to fight against people that hear the music and think you are just a joke band and don’t take it seriously?
Bowes: It’s the worst! “Hahaha, it’s the pirate band that sings songs about rum!” Yeah, lyrically it’s all a bit silly but some of our stuff musically, I like to think it’s clever and complicated. There’s a lot of technical bits – lots of clever compositional bits, not necessarily things you’ll hear in the singles. “Alestorm” and “Mexico” are dumb party songs, but there’s much more to our sound than that. But that doesn’t matter. It is a real uphill battle to convince people that we are a real band, as opposed to a joke. I think we’ve mostly given up trying, because we have our fans and they like us and there’s more of them every time. We aren’t trying to convince the elite metal press that we are worthy – we just do our own thing and let it happen.
Dead Rhetoric: Right, and that allows you to focus in on what you want to do. If you aren’t worried about anyone else, it gives you that little extra bit of freedom, per say…
Bowes: Yeah – when we started as a band, we were like, “oh my God, we’ve got to fit in…we’ve got to make people like us and sound cool.” But these days, we’ve established ourselves as a band and there’s no pressure to do anything anyone wants us to do, and it’s great!
Dead Rhetoric: Do you ever start to feel boxed in with the pirate theme or does it help in terms of songwriting by having a focus?
Bowes: I think it helps, lyrically, to have this idea of what you are going to sing about. It makes it so much easier to write things. We don’t feel boxed in at all. There are plenty of things on this album that have a tenuous link to anything you’d consider to be piracy. It’s not hard to make a song sound “pirate-y” by adding a few words here or there, putting on a silly voice, adding a sample of a cannon going off, or a little pirate-y melody. There’s not really any constraints. I think it’s liberating to always be able to fall back on this sort of thing. We can always jump off and do other things and it’ll still work with the sound.
Dead Rhetoric: As you mentioned, videos out already for “Mexico” and “Alestorm.” You have video games in “Mexico” and what was amusingly described as mini-Alestorm in “Alestorm” – where do the ideas come from for your music videos?
Bowes: I’ll be honest, the one for “Mexico,” we didn’t have any ideas. We just said to the director to make us a video – the song is called “Mexico” – “we don’t care what happens, just make it good.” I think I said I wanted to ride a donkey, and I wanted hot girls, and the rest was up to them…they came up with the whole video game thing, which was fun. All credit to them for that. The “Alestorm” video – we knew from the start that we wanted to beat up midgets. We wanted to beat up midgets – it would be the coolest thing we would ever do. And we wanted to walk away from a giant explosion…all this dumb stuff. This company is great! We make our videos in Serbia, in beautiful Eastern Europe, and for not very much money they will just do whatever you tell them to do. Donkeys, midgets, explosions, hot babes…all of it; it’s great!
Dead Rhetoric: So is there a joy fulfillment piece that you get from the videos by saying, “we want to do X” and they get it done for you?
Bowes: It’s amazing! You just have an idea and then suddenly all these things happen. You go to this place and there’s a team of 30 people in this huge green-screen production theater making it all happen. It’s the most amazing thing – probably even more fun than getting an album out. Being able to direct your own movie…it’s great.
Dead Rhetoric: Listening to the album as a whole, one song that kind of stood out was “Fucked with an Anchor.” With the sing-a-long chorus, do you think that’s going to be one that you push when you start going out on tour again?
Bowes: Yeah, that is definitely going to be in the live set. We’ve done a sort-of music video, using a bunch of studio footage that is going to be released on the same day as the album. That’s essentially going to be the third single. That song is going to make people flip! It’s going to take off and be huge. It’s incredibly offensive, which is great. I love the way that the lyrics are so vile, but it’s teamed with a really happy melody. It’s like our happiest song musically, but lyrically it’s the most horrendous thing.
Dead Rhetoric: What inspired the recent “Ham for a year” giveaway on Facebook?
Bowes: It’s a little running joke that we have had for a long time. Whenever we ask a question, like “what’s your favorite song, or did you like this” – we always say, “Win a year’s supply of ham!” There’s been a running joke that there is no ham. But now, finally I decided that we should give away some ham. We did it for real this time! I think a lot of people don’t think that it is real, because we joke about it so often. But this time, there is a competition to win ham – it ends at midnight tonight. It’s going to be exciting. I wonder who will win the ham – they will genuinely get 12 cans of processed ham delivered to their house.
Dead Rhetoric: Another thing that you did was the day before April Fool’s Day, you had a joke crowdfund for No Grave but the Sea for Dogs. The crowdfunding was a joke, but the bonus cd was not. Where did the idea to have a version of the album with barking dogs replacing the vocals come from?
Bowes: One thing that record labels do is that they demand bonus tracks. People go crazy for bonus tracks, they don’t care what it is. A lot of bands write new songs or record covers…all that stuff. We think bonus tracks are really dumb, so we decided to do the lowest effort bonus track we could do. Which was to simply take the album, remove the vocals, and get a cheap keyboard with dog samples, and play it over the vocal lines for the whole album. It sounds really bad! It’s not good at all, but people are going crazy for it. It’s one of those things that really backfired – it was supposed to be crap but people love it, so I don’t know…
Dead Rhetoric: I was reading an older interview where you said you had an interest in BBQ sauce – any thought of doing an Alestorm sauce?
Bowes: That could be really cool. The problem with commercially making a sauce – you see a lot of bands making their own beer/hot sauce/whiskey/whatever…they aren’t making it themselves but having a private label company making it. That’s what happens 99% of the time. If you want to make your own, it’s a ridiculous process. You have to get FDA approval and all that shit. I make my own BBQ sauce at home – I love making it. I love BBQ, it’s so good. I love making the sauce – vinegar, molasses, yum yum yum. But if I wanted to release it to the public to sell it would be a nightmare. It sounds like lawsuits waiting to happen, and court fees, and money. It would be cool to have our own BBQ sauce one day, but I wouldn’t feel right using one of those private label ones and just slapping our name on it.
Dead Rhetoric: Yeah, it loses the authenticity to it…
Bowes: I would actually sit at home with a giant pot, stirring it up myself. That would be fun!
Dead Rhetoric: You will be on the Warped Tour all summer, which is a pretty big deal. What are you looking forward to the most?
Bowes: I think it’s going to be really exciting. You know the Warped Tour – it’s mostly pop-punk bands, screamo, and alternative rock. Suddenly, there’s this pirate folk power metal band is on the line up. What the hell are we doing there? We are going to stick out like a sore thumb, which is going to be awesome. It’s a whole new world that we are going to be a part of. Usually when we tour, it’s the same metal bands – folk, power, death, etc. That gets really boring. It’s going to be great – almost all of the bands on the tour I’ve never heard of, so it’s going to be exciting. It’ll be a whole new audience and a whole new experience. I cannot wait.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s a good move to make, as you are exposing yourselves to an entirely different group. With the sound that you have, it should be able to be applicable – someone will get something out of it. And some people may look you up just because you are different.
Bowes: I think that’s why we are on the tour. The guy that runs it I think realized that what we are is pretty catchy, sing-a-long stuff. We aren’t serious angry metal. We are basically pop music with guitars. We’ll fit in nicely there.
Dead Rhetoric: Anything happening with Gloryhammer at the moment?
Bowes: Right now, we are doing a few festivals here and there. We are working on a big, headlining European tour for the winter sometime. I’m probably going to start writing the next album as soon as the Alestorm one comes out. I’ll start working hard on that one – writing songs about unicorns and space battles with goblins.
Dead Rhetoric: What else is planned once the album is released at the end of the month, besides Warped Tour?
Bowes: A bunch of festivals. A big European tour in the fall – we are going to play our asses off for the next year probably. We’ll be busy boys and girls!