It’s been eight years since The Alarm released music and over 30 years since the Wale’s made band broke into the industry. Their new album, “Equals” was released on June 29th and will be celebrated by the kick off of their headline tour on Wednesday, October 24th, (complete tour details listed below).
Frontman, Mike Peters was kind enough to spend some time revealing what has been going on behind the scenes since the band’s last album, the story behind the new music and what fans can expect from the forthcoming tour.
The Alarm haven’t released an album of original songs since 2010. Why such a long creative gap?
Mike Peters: This current decade, heralded the beginning a period of significant Alarm 30th Anniversaries from first gig, single, album etc., and so I felt that the weight of the band’s history would ultimately overshadow any attempt to create or release new music during this time. Also, rather than dust down the master tapes for re-issue again like I had in 2000, I took the opportunity to revisit the past and re-record 30th anniversary versions of all the songs I had become known for. It was a challenging process for myself and the fans, but to me it became important to set my music free from its nineteen eighties timestamp. I knew from experience that songs change with you as you travel through life, some becoming even more relevant through the passing of time, so I decided to re-examine all my early 1980’s works as if they were brand new collections of songs and see what they would sound like with the outlook and perception I had gained through decades of consistent touring, and also from dealing with major life challenges presented by living with cancer since 1995.
I see that Echo & The Bunnymen have done something similar recently, What kind of lessons did you learn through the process?
MP: Back in 1983 when we were making our first album ‘Declaration’, I felt like a part of the band’s spirit had been left behind during the recording process that effectively turned The Alarm from an alt-folk acoustic protest group, into an electric stadium rock band capable of breaking around the world. In that respect, the original album is still as valid as it ever was, but most definitely of its time sonically. Take the album’s most famous song ‘Sixty Eight Guns’ for instance, which was originally quite long and complex, with a lyrical narrative about creating your own opportunities in life. I was encouraged to take a verse out of the song by the producer, who wanted to make it more ‘radio friendly’ and get to the chorus line after one verse rather than two. It obviously worked, and ‘Sixty Eight Guns’ went on to become a huge hit! When singing it live afterwards though, something was always nagging at me, and after re-reading the original lyrics, I realized to my horror, that I had taken out the wrong verse! The deleted verse actually contained the lyric that gave the song it’s true meaning “If they take our chances we’ll create our own”. I now had an opportunity to put that right, and present the song with the complete lyric and a more sympathetic storytelling arrangement which added to, and built on, the power of the original.
When did the writing of ‘Equals’ begin?
MP: At the height of this anniversary period around 2015, I had a relapse from the Leukemia (CLL), that I’ve had to contend with for most of my adult life, and it plunged myself and my family into a period of serious instability. All of a sudden, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to be able to carry on living the kind of life I enjoyed as a musician, or if I was going to have to enter into a period of self preservation that would have snatched my ‘normal’ life away from me. As it happens, I was able to get onto a clinical trial that introduced me to a new oral chemotherapy drug, saving me from the ravages a bone marrow transplant that would have left my spirit and humanity seriously depleted. I was very lucky, and lucky to be alive and living. At the same time, my wife Jules suddenly became diagnosed with Breast Cancer, forcing us both to immediately step back from all rock and roll activity. It was a script that you could not write, and whilst caring for Jules in hospital and at home, I wrote all my feelings down on paper and shared them with Jules in the aftermath of her recovery. It was Jules, who suggested that these volumes of emotional outpourings should represent the start of the new Alarm album. Up to that point, I had always written songs with choruses and melody first – not lyrics, it was to present a very dramatic change to the way I usually worked.
How did you shape the lyrics into songs?
MP: At first, I didn’t know where to begin, and so I spread the various sheets of paper all over the floor of the studio. I started to read them back in a singing voice and soon enough, words became melodies and phrases became choruses. I found it interesting working backwards so to speak, and soon I had guitar chords interacting with riffs, and the words themselves auto-suggesting themes of reflection or defiance. I soon realised that I had the beginnings of an immense body of work, and so began separating songs into colour coordinated patterns. Red / Positive for more introspective songs and Black / Negative for songs that looked outside the self, and were affected by the world beyond. It soon gained a working title ‘Blood Red Viral Black’ that allowed me to share the music with fans over the internet and in concert. This ultimately brought The Alarm to a set of songs that worked under the collective banner ‘Equals’.
So what can fans expect to hear when they see the band on the Winter Tour 2018?
MP: At the moment, we are in the midst of a huge North American Tour playing over 50 dates, so the fans can expect to see The Alarm at it’s very best. The new music from Equals sits alongside all the best known Alarm songs in such a way, that everything sounds really fresh and exciting. We haven’t known a time like this for the band since the earliest days, US Radio is embracing the single from Equals which is called ‘Beautiful’, and the airplay has ensured that all the gigs are packed out with new and old fans alike. In the US, British bands don’t get the exposure like they once did, and so it is rare for a band like us to be out there for such a long tour. Last year, we played Vans Warped Tour and that put us up against all the very best new bands the current generation has to offer, and we were able to more than hold our own, winning over a whole new audience at the same time. I think it is by challenging ourselves and our fans, that we have been able to stand the test of time. The reaction from fans to the album has been overwhelming, and sales of Equals has put The Alarm back in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s always been important to me to know that our music is still relevant, and all the struggles I have had to stay alive, mean that I totally appreciate every single opportunity to stand up on stage with The Alarm, and share our music with an audience. For that reason alone, the UK Winter Tour is going to be a real celebration of life and living in the present.
You have sung with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Bono in your time. That’s a pretty impressive CV.
MP: I think that’s down to earning respect within the industry itself. The Alarm has always toured, even when the spotlight of the world was elsewhere. We have constantly paid our dues and worked our way through the challenges of line-up changes, creating new music and living in the present musically and politically. All artists who are going to tour and play music for their entire lives, have to face the same kinds of challenges at some point, and that is where the respect comes in to play. Each of the artists you mentioned have been around for as long as I can remember and the people that I met and sang with, don’t see themselves as superstars or anything like that, the bonds between us were created through a communal positive enthusiasm and love of being musicians, singers and songwriters who create music and want to share their experiences with others on the stage. On this forthcoming tour, we have a great American artist named Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts playing with us, and it all happened as a result of Little Steven from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band calling me to ask if they could play some shows with The Alarm. Ryan Hamilton’s band are signed to Little Steven’s label Wicked Groove, and he was so passionate about them and how he felt they would fit so well with The Alarm audience. I almost didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was already a fan!!!!! Little Steven doesn’t have to do that kind of thing, and so for him to pick up the phone and take the time and the trouble was refreshing and inspiring. It’s that kind of energy and a simple love of music, that bonds musicians from all walks of life no matter how high up the food chain they may be.
Will your charity Love Hope Strength be trying to save lives on the tour?
MP: Absolutely, we will be encouraging everyone who attends the shows, to ‘Get On The List’ via a simple cheek swab at the Love Hope Strength booth which is manned by volunteers. It is then hoped that someone will be matched to a person who has blood cancer like me, and needs their lifeblood to stay alive. The program has been supported by all kinds of artists and music festivals from Ozzy Osbourne to the Isle Of Wight Festival, and proved very effective. To date, we have registered over 170,000 individuals and located over 3,700 potentially lifesaving matches. In the middle of this current US tour, we are playing a concert in the Grand Canyon to help raise funds to keep our Get On The List program on the road. By having Love Hope Strength present at our concerts means that every show we play has the potential to become a lifesaving event.
The Alarm on tour:
10/24 – Kulak’s Woodshed (acoustic performance with Mike)
10/25 – The Roxy – Los Angeles, CA
10/26 – Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor – Reno, NV
10/27 – Slim’s – San Francisco, CA
10/29 – The Crocodile – Seattle, WA
10/30 – Rickshaw Theatre – Vancouver, CAN
10/31 – Portland, OR – Aladdin Theatre
11/2 – Commonwealth Room – Salt Lake City, UT
11/3 – Streets Of London – Denver, CO
11/4 – Oriental Theatre – Denver, CO
11/6 – Off Broadway – St. Louis, MO
11/7 – Record Bar – Kansas City, MO
11/8 – Ludlow Garage – Cincinnati, OH
11/9 – The Athenaeum Theatre – Columbus, OH
11/10 – The Music Box – Cleveland, OH
11/11 – The Crafthouse Stage & Grill – Pittsburgh, PA
11/12 – Mercury Lounge – New York
11/13 – Sellersville Theatre – Sellersville, PA
11/14 – Brighton Music Hall – Boston, MA
11/15 – The Horseshoe Tavern – Toronto, ON