Interview: Dani Evans and Christopher Bowes of Alestorm
Folk metal seems to be taking the world by storm these days, with Viking metal bands like Amon Amarth and Enslaved leading the way. But Vikings aren't the only ones in the sea of folk metal; sailers be warned, there are pirates in these waters as well.
No one represents the pirate end of the folk metal spectrum better than Scotland's Alestorm. The Perth-based band may not be the first band to be called "pirate metal," but don't think for a second that these guys play second fiddle to Running Wild. To Alestorm frontman Christopher Bowes, Running Wild were merely a German thrash band that "just happened to have some lyrics about pirates on some of their songs."
Truth be told, Bowes may have a point. No disrespect to the German metal legends, but Alestorm's use of folk elements makes them a far more believable band of bucaneers than their predecessors. It's far easier to picture sea dogs swilling hard liquor to anthems like "Shipwrecked" and "Rum" off the band's new album, Back Through Time, than to anything off Black Hand Inn.
GuitarWorld.com recently spoke to guitarist Dani Evans and vocalist/keyboardist Christopher Bowes of the swashbuckling Scots about guitars, drinking and, what else, pirates!
GUITAR WORLD: There seems to be this weird pop-culture fascination with pirates these days. Why do you think that is?
CHRISTOPHER BOWES: I blame those Disney movies; it's all their fault. I'd love to say it's because of us and everyone loves pirates because we do it [laughs].
Pirates used to be kind of represented as cheesy guys, but the Disney movies kind of updated the image and made it more of a badass kind of thing.
The album just so happens to be coming out within a few weeks of the release of the new Pirates of the Carribean movie. Was that planned or just luck?
CB: It was good timing, wasn't it? I didn't even know they were making a fourth movie 'til a few weeks ago [laughs]. So yeah, happy days. I doubt it's going to affect our record sales or anything, though.
Was the idea of the band always to be the Scottish pirate metal band? Where did the idea come from?
DANI EVANS: It really did just sort of happen. When the idea of the band came together, I didn't really even know Christopher. He had started the band with his old guitarist in 2004.
As the story goes, Christopher had a song about pirates and they rehearsed it, and then we did a demo in 2006 when I joined, which just kind of took off. We dsitributed it for free over our forum, and thousands and thousands and thousands of people just kept downloading it and passing it along to their friends, and it just sort of became the thing we did.
One of my favorite tracks from the new album is "Scraping the Barrel," which is a great big middle finger to the detractors of the band who say you'll run out of ideas eventually. Do you ever see yourself running out of material for songs?
CB: I mean, certainly we'll run out of the generic "digging for treasure," "walking the plank" sort of stuff, but once that's all done and dusted then we'll come up with some more stupid stuff. So yeah, there will always be something to do.
Do You actually do research for your lyrics? Reading books about pirates, or ...
CB: Dude, I could not tell you a single thing about historical pirates ...
The other thing the song takes on is the constant comparisons to you guys and Running Wild. I take it that happens to you guys a lot?
DE: I seem to very vividly remember at a gig we did in Milan in 2009, there was this Italian guy in a Running Wild 25-year anniversary T-shirt, and he stood there just giving us the finger through our entire set [laughs].
But we've definitely encountered our share of people coming up to us and saying, "You stole Running Wild's idea!" It's like, you don't go up to Amon Amarth and go, "You stole Bathory's idea!" It just seems silly comparing to really different styles of music, but, you know, some people are stupid. [laughs]
Since Running Wild called it quits last year, do you guys feel the weight of carrying pirate metal yourselves now?
CB: Not really. We never really considered ourselves similar at all to what they did, and we didn't even know who they were before we started this band.
DE: I guess we never even really saw Running Wild as competition. They are an old German thrash band, and it never really occured to us that we were even in the same genre with them. But I guess now that they're off the market ... I guess we haven't really had time to feel anything, we've just been so busy. The last two or three years was pretty much just non-stop touring.
It's not something we're constantly thinking about. We just go out and do our best, and if we win 10 fans a day, that's our job done for the day.
The success you guys have had so far has been mostly a word-of-mouth kind of thing. What do you attribute that to?
DE: It's very easy to distribute your music these days if you know where to look, and if you put it in the right circles it can take you a very long way.
CB: It does seem like all the big magazines hate us and ignore us, so we've had to just kind of rely on just spanning Facebooks and Myspaces all the time and just doing all the promo ourselves. I think it works, because were are just ridiculously normal, boring guys. There are so many bands that are pretentious and try to be all mysterious and shit, but that's just not what we do.
I like to think it's 'cause we're lovely guys, but who knows?
Dani, what was your gear set-up for the album?
DE: Guitar-wise on this record, I used a custom ESP M1. I had all my own guitar with me but that one just sort of did really well for all the rhythm sections; it had a really nice, crisp sound to it so I sort of decided to do the whole album with that.
Other than that we literally just used a Maxon Overdrive pedal to one of the studio amps, which is a custom Earforce. They made our producer this just huge-sounding amp, and now I'm endorsed by them as well.
Do you have something you consider your secret weapon as far as gear is concerned?
DE: Not in the studio, but live I use a Palmer DI that let's me not have to worry about the levels of the amps, and I can get the best, crispest sound right out of my amp without having to worry about stage wash, which is a pain when you listen to bands and you can hear their amps more than their PA. If anything, I consider that my secret weapon because it's definitely saved me on some smaller gigs where stage wash is a huge problem.
A couple of fun questions to end with. I know drinking is a big part of the band's image, and Ale is right there in the name of the band, but do you guys follow the unwritten rule of never drinking before going onstage?
CB: Never says never! Maybe just two or three beers throughout the day then right before we go on it's nice to loosen up with a bit of whiskey. On stage I've kind of acquired this habit of, when we do the song "Over the Seas," I've perfected the art of playing the keyboard solo with one hand and downing a bottle of rum with the other hand.
We just gradually get more drunk as the night goes on. We try to start the set sober, and by the end, you know, we play all the easy songs at the end [laughs].
Lastly, I have to ask: how much fun was shooting the "Shipwrecked" music video?
CB: It was completely amazing. Sure there was a lot of boredom and standin' around, but those girls have lovely bums. You can't see it in the costumes, but when they take off their costumes they have really lovely bums.
The new album from Alestorm, Back Through Time, is out in North American on June 14 via Napalm Records. Check out the above-mentioned video to "Shipwrecked" below.