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INTERVIEW: Christopher Bowes – Alestorm

ALESTORM have been busy in the recording studio, and are due to release their fifth studio album at the end of the month entitled No Grave But The Sea, maintaining their partnership with Napalm Records. Distorted Sound recently caught up with the band’s frontman Christopher Bowes to discuss the new record, as well as reflecting on the band’s history.

It’s been four years since the release of Sunset On The Golden Age – how do you feel ALESTORM have progressed since then?

Chris: I think our last album was our first good album. We’ve had good songs in the past, I’d like to think, but it’s the first time we’ve written an album that was actually good so that was exciting. I think that made the band a lot better and from that we built on so much. We did so much stuff over the last few years and our biggest tours ever; everything was on the up for us, big European tours, big American tours, going to Australia and Japan and Russia – all this crazy stuff really. The band’s changed a lot since then and I’m really excited for what’s going to happen next, all the crazy nonsense that’s going to go on!

The album was recorded fairly quickly after being announced in March, so what were the recording and writing processes like?

Chris: Well we spent most of last year writing it in our down time as we didn’t play many shows last year, the main one for us being with SABATON in the UK and that was about it really, so we just spent the whole year writing songs. This time we actually had so much more time to write it we actually recorded demos, which we’ve never done in the past – usually we go into the studio completely blind and it’s a bit of a panic but this time we actually knew what we were doing so I guess it helped the album. We realised there was some stuff that needed changing, I realised I wouldn’t be able to sing because I am the worst singer in the world, so we had to change a few things. We used the time to make the album as good as it could be, and we recorded in Florida because why the fuck not? It was back in January and usually we record in Germany but in January it’s pretty cold so we thought “let’s go to Florida instead, it’s lovely and warm!”

How do you feel this album compares to your other work?

Chris: Better, always better. It’s a lot more focused I’d say, like in the past we’ve had a couple of good songs on albums but the album as a whole has been pretty crappy. This time we’ve taken the essence of what makes our songs good, like all the catchy singalong choruses, the riffs that get stuck in your head, all that sort of stuff, and really focused the songs down. It works great, there’s no filler, just all good songs I think – I hope!

No Grave But The Sea is the band’s fifth album, how much of a milestone is that in your careers?

Chris: I remember after the first album came out I was thinking “God, they’re going to want us to write another one in a year!” and I used to get this sense of dread every time I’d finish an album that we’d have to write another one soon, but somehow we always managed to churn them out, and it sort of becomes routine now. Writing songs has become so natural to us and it’s just something we do – I’m sure in a couple of years when it comes to writing album six we’ll be sitting down thinking “right, time to do another one”.

This is the band’s first album with Máté Bodor on guitar, how do you feel he’s developed during his time with the band?

Chris: He’s great; he’s a Hungarian guy and obviously the rest of us are from the UK and you’d think that’d be weird but he fits in so incredibly well. He’s pretty much exactly the same as all of us in the same sort of ridiculous mentality and stuff so he was a perfect fit and he’s such a tight player. He can write cool solos and things, he’s got really good technique so we can utilise that on the album – there’s a lot more complicated precise solos going on which harmonises the guitar and the keyboards at the same time and it’s great. He’s definitely part of the band, he’s very silly and good at the guitar and that’s important.

Now we all know what ALESTORM’s music is all about, so how much of a challenge has it been to produce fresh material on a very specific topic?

Chris: You’d be surprised how much stuff you can write about pirates! This is our fifth album and we’ve written about 50 songs now, and it’s taken us until now to write a song called Treasure Island so I think we’re doing pretty well. There’s always something you can do – we’ve kind of gotten into the habit of slightly subverting the pirate theme, so we’ll have a song about gardening or something, but if you just mention a ship or some eyepatches now and then suddenly it becomes pirates and it’s great, you can just make anything be about pirates and it’s amazing! What I want to do on our next album is I really want to write a song about pirates fighting against Batman, that’ll be the pinnacle. There’s so many things we can do, it’s a never-ending supply of crap we can still write!

What inspired you to go down the pirate theme when you first started?

Chris: It was just an accident really, I was writing songs one day about stuff and every song had a different topic, and it just so happened that the one we wrote about pirates was pretty good and we stuck with it. Then suddenly we wrote another song about pirates and then before we knew it we’d been labelled as a pirate band so it was all a big dreadful accident really.

Who have been your biggest influences in general when it comes to music?

Chris: These days I wouldn’t fucking know what influence is, we just do our own thing. There’s no one we’re particularly trying to copy or be influenced by right about now. When we got started around ten years ago we were really into that cheesy folk metal scene so bands like KORPIKLAANI and TURISAS, and we were teenagers back then so that stuff was cool, and that was our music taste back then and I guess what helped influence some of our early work with all these epic orchestra stuff, but not anymore. We’re trying to get away from that clichéd folk metal scene like “let’s sing about Odin and mead”, and we just do our own weird thing now.

Now on stage it’s clear the band are all about partying and having fun, and the music is very well put together for the albums so how seriously do you guys take it?

Chris: People tend to think the wrong thing about us. They think we’re just a stupid joke band and everything’s a big piss take but it’s not. The music we write is genuine serious music that we put a hell of a lot of effort into. I like to think it’s very cleverly well written, it’s not just idiotic dumb riffs with stupid words. There’s a lot of technique in the song writing, they’re valid songs. We don’t take ourselves seriously – I take the music very, very seriously but we don’t take ourselves seriously and people can’t understand that, they think either everything’s a joke or nothing’s a joke, but the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Another band you’ve been involved with is GLORYHAMMER – how did that come about?

Chris: When ALESTORM started we had a bit of a power metal edge, but as time went on that sort of disappeared, and I really wanted to make a proper power metal band. I can’t sing for shit, and I always wanted a band with a singer who could belt out crazy whatever nonsense we could think of with some big silly story. It’ll be about seven years ago now, we started having this idea of starting a power metal band, so I just got a bunch of friends that I knew from bands and local friends I knew and said “hey do you want to start this ridiculous power metal band?”, and we started writing these ridiculous songs about Dundee and Scotland and all these awful places but with unicorns, and it took off. It’s getting too popular now, it wasn’t supposed to be popular! It was supposed to be something I could do maybe a couple of gigs a year in my spare time and now it’s gotten to the point where it’s a complete scheduling nightmare trying to arrange everything.

How difficult is it then to balance ALESTORM and GLORYHAMMER?

Chris: Well right now ALESTORM is taking a massive priority because we’ve got a whole new album and it’s a bigger thing, but I do want to do some more GLORYHAMMER things in the future, it’s just that finding the time has got progressively harder. Because GLORYHAMMER keeps getting these crazy offers to do amazing things, I don’t want to hold them back saying “oh sorry guys I’ve got an ALESTORM gig that week”. There’s four people in that band who want to do really cool shit so they’ll do their thing and I’ll make it when I can.

The last time you toured the UK was with SABATON – how did it feel for you guys to tour with a band of that stature?

Chris: That was interesting because in the UK it was billed as a co-headliner which was cool as I always assumed they were a bigger band than us so to do it as a co-headliner with an equal share of everything was fun. We normally wouldn’t do a support slot because we feel that we can hold our own, but when they offered it as a co-headliner we thought “yeah fuck it, let’s do this!” That was good as well because they do big shows, about 25,000 people come to see them in Poland because they sing about things like “you guys won the war” and they love that shit, it’s crazy!

How do you feel that tour compared to Piratefest?

Chris: We like doing the Piratefest thing – we tried it for the first time in the UK and we wondered if it was going to work with us and a bunch of unknown bands, but it was crazy. Having the whole theme to tie everything together was great, and I think the next time we do a UK tour we’re going to make it another Piratefest, maybe get some other pirate bands to join us and it’s going to be good. It’s so much fun doing your own headliner because you can do whatever the hell you like and you’ve got all these other bands pretending to be you which is kind of weird!

Now ALESTORM I believe are on the bill for Download Festival this year…

Chris: That’s our next show, and it’s going to be our first show after the new album comes out so that’s terrifying because we’re probably going to play a couple of new songs, except that we haven’t played them before together and we haven’t rehearsed in over six years so it’s going to be a bit terrifying playing a song for the first time in front of 50,000 people but I’m sure we’ll be fine.

How does it feel playing festivals compared to your own tour?

Chris: Well obviously on your own tour you’ve got the whole day to set up, you’ve got a massive crew building everything the way you want it, but at a festival you turn up, you’ve got half an hour make the stage your own and that’s it. The sound is shitty, everything’s shitty, and you don’t have half your gear with you because you’re travelling light. It works but it’s not as good as doing your own show.

You mentioned that ALESTORM have a UK tour lined up, what other future plans do you have in store as a band?

Chris: The next big thing for us is Warped Tour in America, which is 40 days of shows and they’re all huge, around 25,000 people every day, and it’s us and a bunch of pop-punk bands which will be cool, and that’s going to be our entire summer this year which is exciting. It’s something we’ve never done before, something so different than anything else, a totally different scene so it’s going to be amazing!

No Grave But The Sea is set for release on May 26th via Napalm Records.

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Distorted Sound Issue 24 COVER