Alestorm – The Art of FunSunday, 24th May 2020
If one metal act exists today that can be associated with having a great time, it has to be Alestorm. Their pirate-themed antics have continued to raise the bar for catchy little songs that find a way to stick into your head while eliciting a grin while you dance a jig or two. Their latest release, Curse of the Crystal Coconut, out this week on Napalm Records [Pre-order HERE] stands as yet another reason to set out to the seas, or at least grab another drink. We spoke with mainman Christopher Bowes about some of the album’s details, having fun with the music (and gripes people take with it), ducks, and what he’d do if he was given an unlimited budget for a music video.
Dead Rhetoric: What stands out about Curse of the Crystal Coconut when you look at it compared to what you’ve done in the past?
Christopher Bowes: I feel like with every album we refine what we do a little bit more. When this band started out, we were not very good songwriters if you actually analyze some of the earlier songs. It’s actually complete nonsense. The riffs were very slapdash and thrown together. But I feel that we’ve gotten to a place where we feel comfortable putting songs together and it kind of shows. I don’t want to say that it’s pop music, but there’s a lot of pop music type stuff going on there. There’s a lot of clever ways that things build up together. It’s also a very fun album. I know fun is the dreaded word that you hear people say: “It’s a fun metal album, you’ll get it guys!” But it’s what it is, good fun music. I think we have really polished up on the fun this time around.
Dead Rhetoric: I think you’ve established such a base at this point that if you put out an album that wasn’t fun, you’d have more people upset than not.
Bowes: I mean, the thing is, all of the people on the internet – the internet is a weird demographic for us. Internet people might think it was the greatest thing ever, but at the end of the day, not very many people would listen to it. Let’s face it, we are a mainstream band making music for people who aren’t into being too challenged by the music. We just like making party songs, and that’s what people want to hear from us. As big of a temptation as it is to go all artsy and pretentious, it’s something we are never going to do.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there expectations that Alestorm is going to go as over the top as possible with each new release at this point?
Bowes: Yeah, it is for me as well. I get these expectations and worries about if what we are doing doesn’t measure up to the last album. What if we never write a song that is as popular as “Drink” again? Or something that’s as stupid and rowdy as “Fucked with an Anchor?” it’s a bit terrifying for me wondering if what if these songs just don’t click with people. There’s some weird black magic to songwriting that I don’t even know what it is. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t.
Sometimes there are a lot of expectations from people that it has to be the ultimate, pirate-based party album. But there are also multiple types of fans that want us to be different bands. There are people who want us to write party songs. There’s ones that want us to write big, long, and cerebral songs. And there’s ones that don’t care what we are doing as long as we are wearing period-authentic 17th century pirate costumes. It’s difficult to be all three at the same time.
Dead Rhetoric: And feature a boat in every video!
Bowes: Where’s the boat Alestorm? You sold out because there’s no boat! We see that comment every fucking five minutes on YouTube [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned “Fucked with an Anchor.” In listening to the new album, I immediately think of “Shit Boat (No Fans),” in that sing-a-long type of setting. Are you looking for songs that will engage the audience in the live setting?
Bowes: Yeah, we sort of realized on the last album, with “Fucked with an Anchor,” that swearing is big, and swearing is clever…despite what people will have you believe. So then we realized that we should go all in on this, and fill this album with stupid sing-a-longs where you get to say ‘fuck you’ all the time. Again, a lot of people are going to say, “Stupid Alestorm writing these dumbass theme songs.” But it’s so much fun! If this is bad, then I don’t want to be good [laughs]!
I love just making these 2-minute long songs that are designed to be drunkenly sung along to. There’s that same sort of vein of big, stupid, and catchy nonsense, and it’s really fun to play. We go on stage sometimes and we break out some of these longer songs and it’s just not fun. But then when we play something like “Fucked with an Anchor,” or hopefully “Shit Boat (No Fans),” your crowd goes wild and has a great time, and that’s why we do this. It’s to have fun.
Dead Rhetoric: As someone who teaches middle school students, there’s that group of people that really wants to bring out that inner 13 year old.
Bowes: I saw a review from a magazine recently for the new album and they described it as, ‘this is music for childen, it has a middle school sense of humor in it. It’s dreadful.’ But that’s what we are trying to do. That’s exactly what we want to be [laughs]!
Dead Rhetoric: What inspired having Captain Yarrface of Rumahoy on the “Tortuga” video?
Bowes: We didn’t so much as ask him as he sort of demanded. You’ve seen the video – he’s a giant! He’s like 7 feet tall, he’s very loud and very angry. He’s the kind of person that you can’t say no to. He said, “I’m going to be on your album!” Then he literally came to our studio. We recorded in Thailand, and he came to Thailand and was like, “Hello, I’m going to be on your album!” So what do you say to that?
It turns out that he can actually rap really well, with isn’t something you’d expect from a 7 foot tall masked pirate, but I love it. A lot of people are worried – they don’t like rap music at all or being in metal, but I think it’s great. I love genre-bending in metal. We aren’t trying to be true metal or anything. There’s no expectations for us about what style we have to be in. if we write a rap song, it’ll be on the album. Whatever we want to do, we do it. Captain Yarrface on that, it just makes the song.
Dead Rhetoric: In response to that video, there’s been a lot of people doing reaction videos to it, including you doing one of Captain Yarrface’s reaction to it. I saw that Elliot put up a video of an egg reacting to your video, and Jake from Aether Realm did one as well. How far do you think it’s going to go?
Bowes: There’s one more after that one – there’s this guy, I think his name is Mick, who is a video guy we know, and he reacted to Jake’s reaction video by cooking some sausages. I think we need to get one more, this needs to go on forever! It’s fun – I love all of this dumb stuff! Basically, this band is an opportunity for all of us to live out our stupid dreams and somehow get paid for it, and somehow people pay attention to what we do. That’s just really exciting for us, being able to do those things. So yeah, I love it – it’s not going to end, and it’s going to get worse. All of these dumb little ideas are going to pop up.
Dead Rhetoric: [Laughs] And it’s a good thing, because it shows your fanbase wants to do dumb things too.
Bowes: Yeah, a lot of them do. But there is that vocal minority that does not enjoy any of it. But eh, what can you do?
Dead Rhetoric: With that vocal minority, is it more or less a given to see that someone is complaining about something when you release a new song/video? Do you look at that as a requirement at this point?
Bowes: Oh yeah. I don’t want to say that we are a controversial band. That makes us sound really edgy. But we can’t do anything right, that’s for sure. It goes back to the thing where there’s three different groups of fans for this band, and they all converge somewhere in the middle. But they are all going to be a bit disappointed by something. Some will complain that it’s too fun, some will think it isn’t fun enough. Some will complain that the song is too simple and catchy, and some will say that it’s too long and boring.
We are always going to disappoint people, but you have to live with that. You have to resist the urge to go online and start flaming people and saying, “You are an idiot! You like this? You’re wrong!” That isn’t healthy either. You are just alienating everyone when you do that. You get used to being hated by everyone. But it’s been working and it’s been successful for us. So we keep on doing it and keeping our heads up.
Dead Rhetoric: So if you had an unlimited budget, what would you love to do with an Alestorm video?
Bowes: I would love to get some celebrity person – I want to do this video like it’s a game show and the host is actually some famous game show host. I don’t even know who hosts game shows these days. But have people answering questions and the loser gets covered in gunk, like Nickelodeon slime. Have there be a live studio audience and everything. I want to do that. Again, nothing to do with pirates and the video would be a huge waste of money because all the comments would be like, “Where’s the pirate ship? Why do you have a game show?” It’s like, oh my god, just let us have some fun! So the things I want to do, and waste money on, are not necessarily things that would be commercially viable. It’s a shame. But we can do what we can.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that staying in the ‘pirate metal’ sound has helped you to be creative in other directions?
Bowes: Yeah, it’s kind of nice to have a wall that you are backed against. I feel that people are most creative when they are stuck in a corner and have restraints. If you have unlimited freedom to do anything, you just sort of stare at a wall and think, “What am I doing? I have no idea what to do.” But when you give yourself a constraint, it’s like a nucleus from where you can branch out from and then do some real creativity. I enjoy being stuck in a place and using it as a branching off point. I think that’s when we do our best work. We have those pirate-based lyrics but we still can fit things into songs like “Shit Boats (No Fans).” I enjoy being constrained.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you say about the band’s association with ducks nowadays?
Bowes: We try not to mention why the duck is there, or anything about the duck. We always have this giant duck on stage. For most of the show we don’t even mention that it’s there. People are surprisingly accepting about a band that sings about pirates and has an inflatable duck on stage. We just needed something for the stage one day, and thought why not an inflatable duck? That would be funny. What was supposed to be a one-off joke turned into the whole theme of the band now. At every show we play, were we don’t have the duck – if we lose it or the venue is too small…people start complaining. They start chanting, “Bring out the duck!” It’s weird, but people don’t really care about pirates, they care about inflatable ducks. But it’s cool!
Dead Rhetoric: Outside of Alestorm, do you have any plans for a second plate of beans?
Bowes: Yeah – we had a second EP written for that for a while, we just haven’t gotten around to recording it. But I’m sort of using the downtime that we have right now, as we were supposed to going all over for about 3 months this summer, and now we have nothing. I’ve started to work on this new project, with a bunch of fellow musicians and people from other bands that I have worked with that is going to be called Wizard Throne. It’s going to be this really epic, over-the-top symphonic extreme metal. That’s going to be what takes all of my creative juice for this summer. It might not go anywhere. We might decide that we can’t finish a song because we are lazy. But the plan is to get an album out and see what we can do with it. Try a new direction that isn’t power metal or folk metal.
Dead Rhetoric: You have Gloryhammer as well. How do you split time between Alestorm and your other endeavors?
Bowes: These days, especially with Gloryhammer, I am very hands off with it. Gloryhammer wasn’t supposed to be successful. It was supposed to be a one-off project that didn’t get very far. But unfortunately, loads of people loved it. So I had to step back from it. We had to keep turning down shows and tours because I was busy with Alestorm. So I stepped back, and they have a guy who stepped in on keyboards. Actually that guy is also in the new band, Wizard Throne, which is going to get confusing. I sort of let them do their own thing, and occasionally pop in with my own idea for a song. So it’s nice that it has spawned its own autonomous thing now. That’s quite cool. I don’t have to work on it, but I can go, “Yay, its happening!” It’s fun.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it important for the band that the live show is more or less a party?
Bowes: We are #1, a live band. We write these songs on the album with the intention of playing them live. That’s why there’s a lot of simple songs. These long, complicated ones just fall flat live. So we write the ones that work well for shows – for drunk sing-a-longs and mosh-party things. Which is unfortunate right now because we can’t play any shows. We have written these songs for a medium that doesn’t exist at the moment.
Hopefully, when the whole live world comes back in, we will play these new songs and people will love them. But until then, it will be a bit weird. The only way that people can interact with the album is by listening at home. That isn’t really the ideal way to listen to Alestorm. Alestorm is best heard in a field with 10,000 people while incredibly drunk. So wait until next year, and we’ll really take off.
Dead Rhetoric: Everything this summer is out. Is there anything that is kind of planned, be it online or anything, for the band?
Bowes: I’ve become one of those people who stream on Twitch. I just go on there an improvise keyboards and things. I play songs on request. If someone asks me to play a song about a bear riding a tractor, I’ll make up a song about that – it’s kind of fun. But it is just a distraction really. At the very best, we are just getting by for the rest of the year. I’m not sure what else we can do with the band online. We’ve already got the album and the music videos. Anything else will pale in comparison to that. Because we are all spread out around the world, we can’t really get together and do any live rehearsals or anything. We are sort of in limbo basically.