I recently caught up with leader Mike Peters, who wrote Tactics while
fighting a battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia cancer. (Good news:
He’s in remission, although it’s a “maintained remission,”
and he’s still getting treatment every few months.)
You played in Times Square a few weeks ago, right when Tactics was
released. I wsa in New York at the time, I wish I would’ve known!
How did that come about, then, how did you dream that up?
It was just more to do with the fact that we have this album out, Guerilla
Tactics, and we’ve always employed that approach to get our music
across, right from the earliest days of the band when we pretended to
be a support band, at a Stray Cats concert to get a gig. We only got
caught because we were setting up gear on the stage, but Slim Jim Phantom
came to our rescue and kept us on the show and gave us a tour. More
in recent times, we employed guerilla tactics to get the new band known.
We created a fake band in the U.K. called the Poppyfields, to front
our modern-era Alarm single “45 RPM.” We changed our name
to the Poppyfields, brought these young guys in the video, and lo an
behold, we went into the charts and announced on the BBC that it was
the alarm in disguise, and that created a lot of furor and an international
news story. Then with the album coming out on Tuesday [July 8], I thought,
well, ‘Why don’t we do a gig in Times Square?’ and
create a bit of news. Nowadays with the Internet, you can dream up these
ideas, and they can flourish. I marched into the center of Times Square
with an acoustic guitar and some dedicated Alarm fans, and banged out
a set. Knocked the naked cowboy off his perch and had a great little
I saw it on YouTube. I love the Internet.
It’s fantastic, isn’t it? it’s better than TV. It’s
great -- with this new album as well, same with the last one, we’ve
made a lot of visuals to go with it. We’ve made videos to go with
every track. We might not be young enough and hip enough for MTV these
days, they really don’t play any music anyway, YouTube is the
place to be seen.
I saw a live video of you guys from Manchester a few years ago, though.
Kids were moshing and going insane!
We’ve managed to retain that element in our audience. The fact
that we can still talk about the Alarm in the present tense as a modern
band making new music, that does create an excitement that’s palpable
between the audience and the band. It’s not like we just got fans
who are turning up to hear the new stuff; they’re getting excited
about new releases, and so do we as a band, and everyone’s got
that extra little edge around them in the gig. They’ve got their
new favorite Alarm songs, they’re not just waiting to hear “68
Guns” or “Rain in the Summertime.” When you bring
in some new material, it freshens up and makes links with the old songs,
and gives them a new lease on life.
Listening to snippets of the new album, yeah, it’s urgent. The
Undertones had a record out in the last five years, and it’s the
same thing – it’s very urgent.
As a band, just because you get older doesn’t mean you have to
become irrelevant. We’re still soaking up listening to all the
young bands out there, you get challenged by that, and [having] been
through a lot in the last few years, that has brought a new energy to
the music and revitalized the energy. That’s certainly come out
in particular in this record. It felt just right to what I tried to
describe in songs, I thought needed to have urgent music behind it,
and be a little bit faster than we usually can be. [laughs]
Getting cancer again and recovering again, what was the biggest influence
that had on your music?
It’s probably just…there’s a certain reality you have
to face in that post-diagnosis and then having the treatment. When someone’s
talking to you and you have to come to terms with it, there’s
a finality to it, or an end in sight, you have to sort of think about,
“Wow, what if this was the last journey I’m going to go
on?” That brings a certain realism and brings you back down to
Earth, really. You have to focus on what is important and the things
in life that you hold dear and the things in life that help to define
you as a person. And that is the focus and becomes the background for
all the songs you write at that particular time.
These songs were informed by everything I hold dear in life, and trying
to cling on to life and make the most of it, as well. That comes out
in all this music. I started to write some really fast songs to go with
that. I suppose there’s almost an anger under there as well, that
you maybe don’t bring out in your speech or your actions to people.
But if you are faced with the fact that you might be…you have
to face the reality that this journey could result in losing your life,
there is an anger, everyone has an anger about that. I didn’t
want to lose my life and not be able to have the time I want with my
children and my wife, and with the band and playing rock & roll.
And if you feel like you’re going to lose it, you have to get
angry to fight back sometimes. And it might be an anger that’s
not shown in aggressive acts, but there is definitely an anger that
drives it. and that often results in some high-tempo music and very
direct music -- big choruses that you’re singing at the top of
your voice cause that is the emotion that is pushing out of your subconscious
when you’re writing new songs.
That makes total sense. You’re channeling it, in a way.
It’s a bit like, you’re riding this wave that’s bubbling
under you. You’re just thinking, hanging on for dear life, there’s
a whole wave of emotions coming through you at that time, conflicting
emotions, confusing, and then a certain amount of grasping hold of what’s
real and then trying to push the certainty that you want to hold onto
through all this wave of confusion. I tried to sort of focus on the
most direct things I could think of. Rather than running away from it,
I dived headlong into it and be as sort of straightforward as I could
with the emotions I was dealing with. They were just the songs that
came out; I just let them come. I didn’t know I was saying certain
lyrics. I was playing my guitar and tunes were coming to me, and they
were the words that were coming out as I was singing along to those
In what time period did you write those songs and record them?
They started being written in 2006, I was diagnosed in December 2005.
That was the period I started writing the songs. One of the things we
did with this album, was create a digital songbook you can buy through
the store, thealarm.com. The book tells you how to play every song on
the album, in the way we play it in the band. It’s got all the
inside knowledge of how to get the unique elements of the playing. One
of the pages in the book is a screenshot of my computer where I recorded
all the ideas in. You can see the time and the date I started writing
all the songs. They started being written in December 2005, right when
I was having my first treatments. “Situation Under Control”
was written…as a matter of a fact, I had to go straight to the
hospital actually. I was in a danger zone…my bloodcount was so
high, it was seriously life-threatening. I had to have immediate treatment
to get myself under control, and I went into shock having this treatment
and was slipping out of reality, and could see the hospital curtains
being drawn around the bed, which is always a bad sign in hospital,
the nurses going into overdrive and my wife going white with fear. I
just was saying, ‘Stay in control, stay in control!’ and
had to actually keep the grip on the moment.
-- Annie Zaleski