INTERVIEW: Mike Peters of The Alarm
By Phil Rainone
Besides talking about the new album and tour, Mike also shared his trials and tribulations with his battle with cancer, and how The Alarm got its start. E-mail interviews are always the toughest, because you can't interact as well as you can in person, but the interview that follows was a labor of love. Mike's love of life, his family and music, and how he was inspired to start the lovehopestrength.org charity were all inspirational for me, as well as being fun, and informative.
Mike: We thought America was the promised land and to be playing on tour in 1983 was a dream come true... As a songwriter, I hoped a simple love of life would come across in The Alarm's music.
Q: The Alarm had done a few music videos for MTV back when the station first got started. In hindsight, do you think MTV had a positive or negative effect on the band, and your writing process?
Mike: It was positive in the sense that a lot of our fans first became aware of us through MTV, in particular the “Stand” video with the paint spray poppy sequence.
Q: I still have my cassette single of "Sold Me Down The River," which was one of The Alarm's many songs that fused rock 'n roll with politics. Has the change from vinyl albums and cassettes to CD's and MP3's affected the way you make a record?
Mike: No, but the internet has!!!!
Q: On your new album "Guerilla Tactics" many of the same themes are weaved into songs like "Rat Trap," "War Cry," and "Not Gonna Take It Anymore." But they’re not rehashed thoughts, they seem fresh and current. How does your creative process differ from when The Alarm first got started? What's your goal for the new album?
Mike: The goal was to make a record that made people sit up and listen again to The Alarm. It was important to me to make a record that would allow The Alarm to be talked about in the present tense.
Q: Does it seem strange to
you that it's now been over two decades since you first started making
albums? What has changed for you musically over those years?
Q: Could you explain where "Three Sevens Clash" came from?
Mike: “Three Sevens Clash” is an extension of the 1977 'Two Sevens Clash' prophecy that was expressed by reggae band culture. In Rasta culture it was predicted that "Jah would return when the two sevens clash". I just took that idea ran with it in a modern / future context. A reaffirmation of where you come from and the values that define you as a person.
Q: What songs do you remember hearing around the time you started writing, and how did they influence you and the rest of the band?
Mike: It was after seeing the Sex Pistols in 1976. That was it for me, they lowered the entry point for young musicians to actually believe that you could start a band with limited ability. I started writing songs for the first time and then it was trying to convince the other musicians that I knew in North Wales that it was a good thing to be in a band with me even though I could barely play three chords. Drummer Nigel Twist was the first to come on board (although he was a hippie who had to be coaxed into straight trousers to play in my band The Toilets.....). Every member of The Alarm past and present will cite punk rock as the starting point.
Q: You were diagnosed with
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL), back in January of 2006, which
has been in remission through a lot of hard work and chemotherapy on
your part, with a lot of help and support from your family, friends,
and fans, from what I've read. There was also a TV documentary about
your illness, "The Road To Recovery," and you started a cancer
charity, "Love Hope Strength Fund
It's made me more aware of my surroundings and the beauty in the simplicity of life.
Q: Did you see the documentary, and did it change your way of thinking in any way, after you say it?
I did see the documentary... but seeing yourself on TV is like watching someone else.... I was more interested in watching my sons Dylan and Evan and realizing how much I had to thank them for giving me a purpose and the will to stay alive.
Q: I had heard that you took a group of musicians to Mt. Everest, performing a concert, and breaking the record for the world's highest concert on land, which will make its debut on MTVHD in June. What was that experience like, who were the musicians, and what songs did you play?
It was an intense experience and an honour to share such an adventure with Glenn Tilbrook (Squeeze), Slim JIm Phantom (Stray Cats), Cy Curnin / Jamie West-Oram (The Fixx) and Nick Harper (son of Roy Harper).
Q: The Alarm recently toured with The Fixx and The English Beat. All three bands have their signature songs like The Alarm's "Strength," The Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another," and The English Beat's "Save it for Later." Are the live songs close to the original studio recordings or is there improvisation or any surprises on the tour?
The Alarm play a different
set every night although we don't mess with the original arrangements.
Please visit www.thealarm.com
and www.lovehopestrength.org for more info on The Alarm & Mike Peters.
The Alarm - Guerilla Tactics
Then as now, The Alarm represents the bridge between bands like the Clash, U2, or John Hammond, and Old 97's or rising stars Motorama, respectively. In fact, on their new album "Guerilla Tactics," lead singer/ guitarist Mike Peter's penned a tribute to the Clash ("Three Sevens Clash") and the punk scene that was exploding in the late 70's. Producer Gilby Clarke (Gun's 'N Roses) gives The Alarm pretty much a free hand, balancing the album between studied intensity and an all out rocker. The focus is on Mike Peters' vocals, that open up the sound of the band with intense dynamics and a strong rhythm section that propels the songs with anarchic grace.
One of the center pieces
(15 songs in all), is "Love, Hope, and Strength" which, besides
having a heaping share of echoed guitars, sweeping vocals, and bluesy
harmonica slices, is also the name of Mike Peter's own cancer charity,
Lovehopestrength.org. (Mike was diagnosed with Chronic lymphonic Leukemia
“Alarm Calling" is an energetic dance-rocker with a catchy melody, and is one of the many album's standout cuts. Along with their raw, expressive, close to the heart catalog, this album would fit perfectly into The Alarm's live set (they're playing at Joey Harrison's Surf Club in Ortley Beach on July 9, and House of Blues in Atlantic City on July 11).
Lyrically subtle, shining with muscular finesse, and combining the band's past, present, and future, this is an impressive Alarm album. - Phil Rainone