Friday, August 11, 2017

A chat with Mike Peters of The Alarm

photo: Jones

Mike Peters and The Alarm are in the midst of the band's longest American tour since the 1980s with several California and Midwestern shows ahead this month. 

Here is more from my recent interview with the veteran Welsh singer/guitarist and three-time cancer survivor that didn't fit into my regular feature (which ran in Riverside Magazine and various SCNG newspapers; it can be found here:

Q: This particular jaunt gives your fans ample chances to see you perform live. And it's also a family affair, correct?
A: That's right. When I had children, I limited my time in America to three weeks tops, really. Now that the boys are grown up, they’re out with their mum and dad on tour.

Q: Turning to the ‘The Man in the Camo Jacket’ documentary, which is out now on iTunes, what was your first impression after seeing the final cut?
A: It’s still hard to believe that so much has happened to one person...To see it all in a 90-minute session, I can’t believe we crammed so much in. It’s a big story to tell...To hear people speak who have known me all my life – they say when you drown, you see your whole life flash before you, it’s a bit like that, watching ‘Man in the Camo Jacket.’ It’s hard not to get drowned in all the emotion that a film like that brings up. I’ve really limited the amount of time I’ve spent watching the film because it’s quite overwhelming.

Q: Your diehard followers will surely be amazed at seeing some of the old footage in the film. Did you help supply a lot of that material from your archives?
A: That’s right. I’ve always been a pretty strong advocate of keeping a good library about what we did. In the earliest days, I kept a good scrapbook. But when success was elusive, I thought it was a curse and [set it aside] for a while. But once we had a hit and “The Stand” had become successful, we got on things like “American Bandstand” and MTV and I started collecting things again. It worked out well. I’ve got a pretty massive library of archive material, which obviously helped make ‘Man in the Camo Jacket’ so [detailed]. It’s got a lot of stuff from my career. I think that helps communicate [everything]. It seems to hit quite hard with everyone who’s seen it from my generation. They can relate to it and people who weren’t there get a sense of being there from seeing so much detailed footage and archived material.

Q: The film soundtrack has a good mix of new, unreleased and live tracks. One that immediately stuck out for me was your live cover of INXS’ “Devil Inside.” You did it with a skiffle type sound. How did that come about?
A: I went to speak at the World Cancer Congress in Melbourne, Australia. I was asked to put a band together for the closing ceremony. I thought, ‘I’m in Australia, we need to play a song that is part of Australian culture.’ For some reason, I thought of it due to the connotation it had about cancer. It’s written by an Australian band and I was working with Australian musicians. I said, ‘let’s shuffle it and make it a skiffly version.’ We started playing it electric in rehearsal. I said, ‘we’ve got to go and record this one.’ It was very off the cuff and absolutely blew the place apart at the conference because it was Australian and what it meant to the cancer community. It just shows you that a song can be written about a completely different thing and get a whole new meaning in the hands of other musicians. You’ve gotta follow your instincts somewhere and was one of those moments that certainly caught people’s imaginations.

Q: I was also taken with the lush live version of “Rain in the Summertime” on the soundtrack. Was that taken from your special Welsh Pops Symphony show?
A: Yeah, that’s right. I was afforded the opportunity to play at the Wales Millennium Center with a full orchestra and two choirs. I knew what The Alarm’s music sounded like with two guitars, but it had never been played with full orchestral backing. I said to the band, ‘let’s play acoustically at this event and allow the strings and orchestration to be the real power and show off the strength of the songs.’ A song like that lives on beyond its original release because at the heart of it is a very good song. It’s not just a riff or a lyric. It’s a song. It can be busked on the street by one man, played by a four-piece rock band or played by a 100-piece orchestra. I wanted to show that through the recording and the concert. I think it unified all the eras of The Alarm’s music. Modern songs were able to sit along with songs from the early stage of my writing career. Because they all got rearranged, it was like they’d all been written yesterday. They sounded really fresh. It was really exciting to do. It’s a great addition to the soundtrack.

People can hear songs from 30 years ago – ‘Rain’ came out in 1987 – and here we are in 2017 still talking about it in a new light. That’s what you always hope for your music. Like [the new version of] ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ out now. It’s been remixed and everyone is talking about how it was made. Unfortunately, there are only two of them [Beatles] still alive, but people revere the music. The Alarm; we’re not The Beatles, but I always wanted people to give our songs some some attention. By playing them in a different way, people can reconnect. Some people can connect with the song through that arrangement, not the drum machine-led version that came out in 1987. All roads lead back. If you follow the river, you get back to the source.

Q: The concept for your new album “Blood Red” and how you did limited edition artwork for early LP copies, is very interesting. When you wrote the lyrics for it, did you find they tapped a different sense of creativity that had been dormant in you for a while?
A: Possibly. It certainly helped to unlock some feelings I might not have been able to voice through conventional means. When I’ve worked in a creative environment and writing, I’ve always doodled or something to loosen the creative flow. I really gave precedence to the other side of my creativity in the process of writing ‘Blood Red' [and follow up] 'Viral Black.’ A lot of the songs started with the words first, which is quite unusual for me…this time, I wrote a lot of lyrics on my journeys, laid them all out and that was the beginnings of the songs. Sometimes, I could see the words, but I couldn’t hear the melody, but I could see a painting. I did that first. I got a different part [of my mind] to create the music, which I where I find myself right now.

Q: So far, I’ve only heard “Coming Backwards” and some bits of other songs from the new album you did for the 10-part video web diary on your site. Can you give me an overview of the sound? Is it a mix of acoustic-based songs and rockers?
A: It’s a very modern-sounding record. It’s organic in the sense it’s made with guitars and drums. There’s a lot of sounds I created through my guitar using loop stations, creating sequences that could run under songs. That came from doing the demos completely on my own. I was working with effects pedals that could create the sound of an orchestra. I was really trying to push myself as a guitarist on this album. The tours I’ve undertaken in the last few years – I’ve re-imagined The Alarm’s ‘Declaration’ and ‘Strength’ albums – they really created a freedom for me as a musician that I’ve never known before. It meant I could get to the heart of my songs really fast. Within seconds of writing a sequence and some lyrics, I could plug into these pedals where I could sound like a whole band in five minutes and play loud. It affected the way I wrote. 

‘Blood Red’ reflects an inner looking sensibility. The second part, ‘Viral Black,’ out in [the fall], reflects a more outward looking expression. This music you’re hearing glimpses of now, I want to stay underground really until 2018. I don’t want it to go out on streaming services or iTunes. I want people to actually connect with this music physically. We’re playing it live at the shows. It’s little like it was in the early days of the band when we toured off what was our first album for three years before it came out. I don’t know why I’m doing it this way other than pure instinct. I just feel like music has become very disposable now. The convenience of Spotify and iTunes is brilliant, but I feel you don’t engage with the music in the same way. You don’t live with it. You haven’t really made an investment in it, so you don’t feel like you have to play it 20 times to get your money’s worth. That’s how a lot of great albums came into my life. I bought the record and didn’t like it on the first play. But because I bought it and put my hard-earned wages or money down, I’d think I have to give it another listen and another one. Eventually, some of those became my favorite records of all time.

I think that process of learning to love and understand a record has gone out of music. Now we want the song to be instant. We want pop music. I don’t make out and out pop music. You’ve got to get to know it. All great rock music is called that because it wasn’t pop, it wasn’t instant or disposable. It was music you learned to love and could change your life. It would give you deeper understanding the more you listened to it. I hope that by encouraging our fans to buy the record, buy the CD, only get it from, creates that foundation of understanding. When those people go and tell their friends about the new music from The Alarm or the concert or haven’t heard “Rain in the Summertime” live in 30 years and say, ‘wait till you hear this song, it’s amazing.’ I think the fans help create that atmosphere of excitement that’s really obvious in our shows because we’re taking a few risks. It’s really exciting. It’s great for me onstage, it’s great for the fans in the crowd.

Q: This fall, Oxy & the Morons, the punk rock musical you co-wrote will start a run in England. What is the storyline?
A: It’s about a guy who was in a band and needs to put his band back together to stay alive. All the problems that go with it. There’s a love triangle in the center of it and a big twist in the tale at the end. I’ve only seen the script and been a part of writing the story and music, it’s going to be a powerhouse. It’s hard hitting. I’m thrilled that’s it’s getting a staging straight away. There’s been no workshops. It’s gone straight off the paper onto the stage, which shows the commitment from the director and producers. They wanted to get it right out there and think there’s potential for a lot of life in it. I can’t wait to see it. It’s been a great process to be involved in. Who knows if I’ll end up on Broadway or in a movie. You never know. That’s the excitement of it. Of all these projects, I like the unexpected. I don’t like knowing what the outcome is. I wanted to test myself to write songs for a musical, for myself and for The Alarm. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had lots of opportunities like that come to fruition. You can write a lot of music and it never sees the light of day. A lot of people out there would love to have their records out. So I’m very lucky and fortunate.

Upcoming California shows:

8/13 Pasadena, CA
8/14 Riverside, CA
8/15 San Diego, CA
8/16 San Juan Capistrano, CA
8/17 Agoura Hills, CA
8/18 San Francisco, CA
8/19 Sacramento, CA

For the full tour routing, to buy the new Alarm album/merch or more info, go to
To get on a list to possibly become a future bone marrow donor, go to

No comments: