Poking fun at the process of genres and sub-genres within the hard rock and heavy metal community, Alestorm adopted a unique stance on the subject by announcing their place in the scheme of things. Welcome to ‘bacon-powered pirate-core’! With songs running the constant theme of pirates and the world in which such critters inhabit, there is thankfully plenty of treasure to be pillaged by their creative minds.
Captain Christopher Bowes is no stranger to the curious minds of the media as he gets comfortable in his mansion full of wicked wenches and piles of pristine gold pieces. His band has unveiled four studio albums since their debut Captain Morgan’s Revenge back in 2008 and are still going strong. Some might say the band is going stronger than they ever have been, and this isn’t difficult to believe.
Once your ears have been dancing and prancing with swashbuckling sword in hand to such infectious and ripe beer-drinking anthems as Drink, Wooden Leg! from their latest offering Sunset on the Golden Age or Shipwrecked and Rum from the 2011 album Back Through Time, you will understand the full implication of their charms. The band is not one-dimensional either as they can not only cast a spell of fun over you, but just as equally produce more demanding progressive rocking epics when they stretch themselves on compositions such as Sunset on the Golden Age or the historical 1741 (The Battle of Cartagena).
“The whole pirate thing was pretty much an accident. When we got started it was back sometime between 2004 and 2006 in some little crappy rehearsal room in Perth, Scotland,” Bowes replied when quizzed about their humble beginnings. “A bunch of my friends said – ‘hey do you want to start a power metal band?’ I was like ‘sure.’ It just so happened that a couple of weeks before I’d written a song about pirates. It wasn’t a conscious effort thing – I love pirates, I was just writing songs about stuff. It could have been a song about how to poach an egg, but it was pirates.”
Bowes expands his thought on this beginning to the pirate theme. “I took that song along to the rehearsal and they were like – hey let’s play this song. We played through it. It was actually the song Heavy Metal Pirates which appeared on some E.P. we released. After that it was like – oh let’s write some more songs about pirates. Then the whole thing snowballed and we suddenly found ourselves playing festivals in Germany with ten thousand people dressed as pirates. It was a very strange thing but we’ve just rolled with the pirate thing so far.”
After releasing their debut album with the ominous pirate theme intact, the band was having a merry ol’ time with their touring responsibilities. “I didn’t know we were doing that album actually, because the first album came out in 2008, and a few months later we popped by our producer’s studio for the day, I think we were playing a festival nearby. He was like – Oh yes I’ve got you guys booked in for your new album in a couple of months. I was like – what?! The record label has sorted it out. No one had bothered to consult us.” These were his recollections about the second Alestorm album Black Sails at Midnight.
With the contrast of having songs sitting around for a couple of years prior to the release of the debut album, and having a matter of weeks in which to write and arrange an entire album for the second, Bowes remarks “I’m quite happy to work under pressure. If someone told me you had to go in to the studio in three weeks, there’s lots of money riding on it, write and record an album – go! I could probably do it. I’m just a very lazy person who needs a kick up the arse to do things. You know, I’m surprised the second album worked as well as it did. That song Keelhauled on that one seems to be our most popular song ever.”
This topic of conversation provides an interesting moment of introspection. “Writing songs isn’t some weird arcane esoteric skill. It’s just a thing you can do. You practice it. The more you ride a bike the better you get at it. Creativity is almost a myth I think, it’s just practice.” Bowes adds “I just think if I wasn’t so completely lazy and put in the effort, wrote songs nonstop? Basically what we do is write ten songs. The first ten songs we write is the album, so there’s very little if any abandoned riffs and songs. So if I actually put the effort in and wrote a lot of songs, like 30 or 40, and then chose the best 10, we’d probably have much better albums.”
After admitting that’s a personal failing, the direction of the conversation follows the arrangements of their back catalogue. “I think the sound on our first album’s pretty primitive. The songs structurally are very basic, the riffing is bland. It’s all these really basic chord progressions and since then we’ve moved on and things are getting more complicated and clever. Sometimes I have to make sure we’re not going too far down this artsy musical route. Let’s face it, most people aren’t musicians and most people don’t want to listen to 11 minute progressive noodles. They want to hear catchy little tunes, so I mean we have to reel ourselves back a bit and write something simple again.”
The Captain who helms this musical leviathan reflects on the new songs. “It’s fun. I like having both worlds on the album. Like on this new one there are ridiculously meat-headed songs like Drink and Wooden Leg! and then there’s also a couple super long progressive epics. Somehow we make both of them sit on the same album nicely.”
Regarding their brand new album, the title track is their longest song to date. “We’ve never played it live and we probably don’t think we ever will play it live. We can read our crowds very well these days and we’ve got a good idea of what people want from an Alestorm show. People respond the best to the four-minute party anthems that make you want to raise up a drink you know. We enjoy that the most. On the very basic level we are entertainers, and we like to play a show and entertain people so it’s kind of boring going on stage and playing a 12 minute long song and half the crowd standing there waiting for something to happen, that doesn’t fill us with much joy.”
When asked why they have recorded such lengthy tracks in the first place if they know their crowds don’t want to endure such epics, Bowes sheds some light on the query. “Some music works well live and some music works well on record. I think that’s a song which is great to listen to and get yourself a drink and sit down and listen to. It’s not really a live party anthem. The thing is, that’s why we stuck it at the end of the album because fair enough you enjoy all these silly goofy party songs, and then if you think that’s alright then here you go; here is your reward.”
On the subject of playing live, Bowes points out Elliot Vernon joining the band as a full-time member on keyboards helps give a better representation of the songs in that environment. “We don’t want to be one of these bands that plays to backing tracks like so many metal bands do these days, just standing around on stage playing power chords while the tape does this massive crazy orchestral arrangement and that’s not a thing I want to do with this band. We try to do everything live and that’s the way to do it, to have more keyboards.”
Bowes doesn’t just have a major involvement with songwriting and provide lead vocals, he also plays a keytar. He explains that he felt it wouldn’t have been suitable for a metal band to have the frontman standing behind a stationary keyboard, and with a keytar he explained that it looked good plus enabled him logistically to move around during their live performances.
There’s a cover version on the new album Sunset on the Golden Age which arrived in the shape of Hangover originally recorded by Taio Cruz. “I heard that song on the radio in my car. I’d never heard the song before in my life, and it came on the radio and I was like – oh my god, this is perfect. It’s a song about drinking and it’s got this big catchy chorus and these hooky melodies. I thought this is just the perfect Alestorm song. I got home and basically spent half an hour writing it down and by then and had the finished song done. It just kind of happened, and I’m glad it did.”
After confirming that it will be included in the set list for their upcoming touring schedule, there was little left to say. The band is suitably proud of their new studio opus Sunset on the Golden Age which tackles new territory as well as familiar ground. Whether you wish your metal music to touch on historical events, or you’re in the mood for a party to a pirate anthem, but then again you find your mood is leaning closer to technical ability, Alestorm wish to serve you the perfect beverage. It seems blatantly obvious that this crew of lucky seafaring achievers really are heavy metal pirates.