I recently had a chat with Christopher Bowes, from Scottish based Pirate Metal group 'Alestorm' prior to the release of their new album No Grave But The Sea. I caught him in the middle of drinking tea and playing Crusader Kings, which he tells me is a real time strategy game about conquering Europe in the middle ages. We waste no time getting to the questions, as I'm eager to find out more about what makes Alestorm, well, Alestorm.
Noizze: So you guys have your new album, No Grave But The Sea coming out very soon, what's the process been like on making that album?
Chris: Well we started writing about a year and a half ago, mostly me doing the writing and Elliot on the keyboard played us a lot of stuff, we sent that back and fourth for six or seven months until we gradually wrote an album. I mean we're very slow songwriters, it takes us like a month to write a three minute pop song. We tried to incorporate some different styles into some of it y'know, obviously keep that Alestorm sort of sound there but add a few more fun things like more screamy vocals - that sort of thing. So we did that, it was good, so we demo'd it and sat on it for a few months, and then this January went to the lovely sunshine state of Florida in the USA to record it in Orlando, and that was great because usually we record out albums in Germany, and in Germany in January the weather is fuckin' miserable, so it was a nice change of pace being be in the sunshine and make an album.
Noizze: You've experimented with different musical approaches on a few of the songs on this album, was that a natural progression or a more deliberate addition?
Chris: I think it's a natural thing of what we do, because we don't really have a specific genre we have to stick to. I don't really know what you're supposed to call Alestorm musically, we just do whatever, we don't really fit into a folk metal scene, or the power metal scene. We don't fit into anything else we just do our own thing. We don't feel any pressure to conform to any style 'cause y'know, we're just Alestorm, so yeah this stuff just comes naturally we don't put any limits on anything. We've never made a riff and said 'oh no that doesn't sound like Alestorm', we just kinda throw all this stuff together and it just seems to work, it's become our style to have no style in particular.
Noizze: So, Pirate Metal, how did that actually come about? You guys formed in 2004 but what made you actually sit down and think right: 'Pirates and Metal'?
Chris: Yeah so like you say it was back in 2004 we had the beginnings of this band. I'd been writing a bunch of songs just on my own, no ideas for a band. I'd written a song about vikings and a song about fantasy stuff, and a song about pirates. It was never really the idea 'ooh yeah lets be a pirate band', so this band got together, we were called Battleheart back then, and we were like okay first rehearsal, anyone got any songs they've written we can play? and I was like oh I've got this song I wrote... it's about pirates. Okay lets play it... and that song worked really well and we thought 'wow, lets do some more songs about pirates!' and then suddenly before we knew it we were a pirate band. It was never a conscious decision; it just kinda happened as a natural consequence of the songs we wrote. And it stuck. Fans started to turn up at shows with eyepatches and stuff and we thought: 'fuck I guess that's us then - pirate band'.
Noizze: Okay so I have to ask... 'Fucked With An Anchor', please tell me more about that song. When I first saw the title of that track I had high expectations, and upon listening, it exceeded above and beyond everything I thought it was gonna be!
Chris: We were sitting thinking one day, what is the essence of what makes an Alestorm song great, and we thought: well basically, it's a bunch of folk at a football match screaming at the referee saying 'the referees a fucking wanker'. And that's sort of the target sort of atmosphere for an Alsestorm gig, an Alestorm song, a bunch of drunk football fans screaming at someone. So let's basically write a song that's essentially a football chant, something you can just imagine someone screaming at the other team, and then just put it to this really happy music. And it came together into this magnificent little song that was the most offensive thing ever, but with the happiest most jolly folk melody going on, and I think it's absolutely fantastic.
Noizze: The only upcoming UK show you're playing this year is Download festival in June, is there any chance of a few more UK shows being added at some point, maybe nearer the end of the year?
Chris: Unfortunately the world is a big place and they're all desperate to see us, so the UK tour will happen but's gonna be probably a very early 2018 tour that happens. Got a whole bunch of places to go to first, but we will definitely come back to the UK; bring a big silly tour with us, play some awesome shows that's the plan, but next year. You can wait don't worry.
Noizze: On the subject of live shows, are there any shows in particular that have stood out to you, shows that you'll probably never forget playing, and for what reasons?
Chris: There's been a few, maybe not individual particular shows, but various points in our career where we've gone holy shit this is amazing! I guess the very first time we went to the USA it was like holy crap someones paying us money to fly to America and play shows - it was incredible! It was like some little festival in Atlanta, and we were playing in a pub to like 50 people, but we thought it was incredible. We had the best time, and then there's things like Grasspop festival a couple of years ago, which we're actually playing again this year. That was one of our first big main stage festival appearances at a huge festival, and there was like 40,000... god knows how many people watching us, and we were like what the fuck is going on here this is insane! It's just the sheer scale of the amount of people that are there, and usually we don't get worried or anxious towards our shows but when it's suddenly 40,000 people it's like what the fuck is this? what have we done? who the hell is this band, how did we get here? and it's the moments like that where you have to kinda pinch yourself and realise this is incredible. The nonsense that we get to do and people come and see it... and it's just a phenomenal feeling really.
Noizze: I mean the impression I always get from listening to Alestorm is that you guys are just having a good time, and I think people will turn up for that to join in on that good time.
Chris: Yeah, I mean it's just happy music. There's a place in the world for your grim and serious angry music, but that's not us, we're just here to have a good time.
Noizze: Do you have any backstage rituals or preparations before you perform? I always imagined that it may involve alcohol...
Chris: We have a wee shot before the show just to get that buzz on, and sometimes we sing the German national anthem, um, and... Oh, we have a little song we sing, a little warm up thing that goes: 'rotten buckets full of cum, rotten buckets full of cuuuuum', just doing that up and up and up... And that's basically our thing; to take a shot, sing the German national anthem and then shout 'rotten buckets full of cum' for 30 seconds, and that's how we warm up.
Noizze: So you've sung about all kinds of different alcohols, rums, ales, meads, but do you have a particular favourite?
Chris: Oh, I like white wine.
Noizze: Very piratey.
Chris: Yeah I really like a nice glass of white wine. It's easy to drink and it makes you happy, I mean, spirits: the more you drink spirits the worse bad things happen to you, so I just stick to wine usually - it's great.
Noizze: Coincidentally, the new Pirates of the Caribbean film also launches on the 26th... do you reckon Alestorm could ever do the musical score for a film or possibly a video game one day?
Chris: I think musically for a movie we're a bit too punky and rough and tumble. It's not really that symphonic thing you'd expect from a movie, but yeah I'd love to do video game music. If someone approached us with a sensible idea we could definitely come up with something, that'd be fun! We're not very good at arranging mad orchestra stuff very much, but if a movie ever calls for a really simple poppy folky metal song we're definitely the ones to call that's for sure.
Noizze: Have you ever put much thought into more obscure merchandising choices, as you have the new dog singing version of the album and the rubber duck package, have you ever thought of anything and gone: 'Oh I really wish I could make that happen'?
Chris: Oh there's so many things I wanna do, like really weird things you wouldn't associate with merchandise like a spatula, or some seeds, some gardening equipment... SOIL, a big bag of Alestorm branded soil that'd be incredible.
Chris: ALESOIL!? Soilstorm? who knows, but like we have this thing on tour where every night we try and find an item, in the venue, something we found like it could be a brick or a piece of wood that fell off the ceiling, or a broken toilet seat, and we always sign it, and we put it on the merch stand and every night it sells! Like people will buy a broken toilet seat with our signature on it for £20 a night, like clearly people will buy anything. Y'know how a lot of bands do these meet and greet things? Well we had this thing where we did a 'meat and wheat', we got some jerky and stapled it to a bag of flour and sold it as a meet and wheat and people bought it for 10 bucks.
Noizze: I was at a concert once, and the lead singer of the band took off his beaten up, old shoes and threw them into the crowd, and people went nuts for them trying to grab them, the pair didn't even end up with the same person it was like a different person per shoe...
Chris: The worst thing I ever did like that, I had a really bad cold one day, and I blew my nose into a tissue on stage, a really big nasty one, and then I said who wants this, and some girl was like: 'YEAH! ME! ME! ME!', so I gave her this disgusting tissue full of bogies and she took it, and that was weird but y'know.
Noizze: You were talking about how incredible it is to play massive shows in different countries around the world, but have you ever stopped and thought about where you want to take Alestorm to?
Chris: There's no limit to where we wanna go, you always look at other bands who are bigger and doing cooler stuff with more stage production and shows like: yeah I want that. I mean we'd love to be the biggest band in the world, obviously it's not gonna happen but we're always dreaming big, and we had this great idea that we'd love to have our own boat with a stage on it, and sail that boat around to harbours of Europe and every time we dock, and people get on the boat to see us play, and then they get off the boat and we sail to the next place. I don't know if that's even possible though, our ship would probably just sink at sea knowing our luck. We've done a bunch of shows on boats before, like 70,000 tonnes of metal, that's the big one - it's great fun! That is the most fun show you'll ever do, just partying on a boat for a week in the ocean, it's absolutely insane.
Noizze: Do you reckon any of you guys in Alestorm could successfully crew a proper ship?
Chris: I've got a little Kayak that I'm alright at rowing in, but that's the extent of my nautical knowledge, unfortunately.
Noizze: I don't think you'll be playing any shows on that one...
This concluded my chat with Chris, No Grave But The Sea is out May 26th via Napalm Records (See our review here), Alestorm will be playing Download Festival on Saturday 10th June, on the Zippo Encore Stage.