Interview: If Less Is More, We’re More Now: An interview with Mike Peters of THE ALARM

If Less Is More, We’re More Now: An interview with Mike Peters of THE ALARM

Unknown magazine – December 27, 1989 issue by Mike Hammer

Provided By: Carol Boldish

It may have taken a while, but the Alarm have finally deciphered their

own

message and it’s begun to ring true.

With the release of CHANGE, the Alarm have found direction with a

collection

of powerful songs that rebel against the whitewashing of their Welsh

homeland and culture by a teetering, elitist British Empire and a

worldwide

media more concerned with Madonna’s makeup than that of an individual

nation.

Drawn together in the “eye of the punk hurricane”, these four Welsh guys

stormed onto the music scene in 1981 with their fists in the air,

brandishing messages of strength and action.

The music was always powerful enough to mobilize a global audience. The

problem was, nobody knew what the heck everybody was so fighting mad

about.

Face it, people knew they weren’t exactly Peter, Paul and Mary when the

Alarm belted out tunes like 68 GUNS and THE DECEIVER. But those songs

were

so vague, nobody knew exactly what they WERE dealing with.

“We used to make these sweeping statements in the past without really

thinking, and that probably led us to a lot of criticism,” says Mike

Peters,

the Alarm’s frontman and primary propagandist, who’s willing to take

most of

the blame for the confusion. “I used to feel a responsibility to write

about what the rest of the band thought and what I thought our audience

was

thinking. That led to me getting confused because I was writing about

too

much. The subjects and ideas became too big to contain, and I ended up

writing all these anthemic kinds of songs.”

But through all the confusion, Alarm fans remained firmly behind the

band.

Despite the critical barrage, the band developed a reputation as a

multimegaton musical force. Hell, Dylan asked them to tour with him.

Records like the debut, ALARM, DECLARATION, and STRENGTH, while muddled

in

message, were clear and ringing in hard rock musical form. Reassured by

the

loyal support, Peters found consolation and a few answers in his

audience.

“I asked the fans to write us and tell us what they thought of our songs

and

what they expected of the Alarm,” Peters says. “We learned that a lot

of

people have got a lot of faith in this group and that made us want to do

better.”

Peters also found plenty of support in the band itself. Having played

together since 1976, drummer Nigel Twist, bassist Eddie MacDonald, and

guitarist Dave Sharp weren’t about to hold back any suggestions to

Peters

when the future of the group was at stake.

“Dave told me not to worry about writing for anyone else,” he recalls.

“I’ve taken a more personal approach to my songs and I think that opens

them

up to a lot more people.”

So, for Peters, CHANGE is in the air. He embarked on his own personal

“Save

The Wales” campaign. The group are playing better than ever. The songs

no

longer need expert analysis. And, in the end, he’s proved there’s

plenty of

cause for Alarm.

Q: WHAT’S THE BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHANGE AND EARLIER ALARM ALBUMS?

MIKE: We couldn’t have made this record without having made the previous

ones. We felt that they laid the foundation for the Alarm to come of

age in

the studio. We’ve always felt comfortable in concerts, but a little

uneasy

in the studio. The hardest record we’d ever made was EYE OF THE

HURRICANE

where we became increasingly uncomfortable with the producer. We

renogotiated with our record company and gained a whole new autonomy in

recording.

Q: DID YOU FEEL YOU HAD BEEN TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF IN THE PAST?

MIKE: Well, we were certainly innocent to the recording process. We

witnessed an increasingly dehumanizing element in recording as the 80’s

went

on, which is in complete opposition to what the Alarm’s all about. We

decided we needed to go in our own direction. When we got that power,

we

took our time about finding the right producer and studio. We had been

victim to guys who picked studios because they could get a deal there on

their next project. There were other guys who played with technology

for

the sake of using it and at the expense of the sound of the Alarm.

Q: SO, IN RETROSPECT, DO THE FIRST THREE RECORDS DISTURB YOU BECAUSE OF

THE

LACK OF INPUT YOU APPARENTLY HAD IN THEIR PRODUCTION?

MIKE: No, we’re proud of them, at least from a songwriting point of

view.

But we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in today without having gone

through that learning process. We might have been luckier in finding

producers from day one, but the fact that we’ve had a different producer

on

each record shows our constant effort to perfect our studio sound. We’d

have no hesitation about working with Tony Visconti (CHANGE’s producer)

again, though.

Q: DID YOU KNOW GOING IN TO THE SESSIONS FOR “CHANGE” THAT WORKING WITH

VISCONTI WOULD BE A BETTER EXPERIENCE?

MIKE: We knew it would be good from the start because he was the only

other

producer who sent us a demo tape. Other producers we met were really

only

interested in making their own record. His tape had David Bowie’s

HEROES

and T-Rex and Thin Lizzy tracks that we all loved. Then he asked us

what

kind of record WE wanted to make. And he then knew we wanted to make

simple, honest records that reflected our live performances and didn’t

hide

behind elaborate arrangements or technology. We worked in an

unconventional

converted warehouse on the River Thames, and we recorded everything

live.

Q: IN PAST YEARS, DID YOU THEN FEEL YOU HAD TO REASSERT YOURSELF IN

CONCERT

TO MAKE UP FOR THE SHORTCOMINGS OF ALARM RECORDS?

MIKE: Not as strong as that. But we’ve always felt the need to go out

and

be better than our albums; that our albums are only a small aspect of

what

the band can do. That was a problem we tried to address for years. We

told

Tony we wanted to make a record which sounded like what we do live.

CHANGE

was the first step in that direction. We think it’s a good one.

Q: WHAT ABOUT THE LIVE “ELECTRIC FOLKLORE” RECORD OF LAST YEAR? WHERE

DOES

THIS FIT IN?

MIKE: We wanted to put something out that showed the live feel to the

songs

which had been sterilized somewhat on earlier records. When we went

with

Tony, we gave him a copy of the EYE OF THE HURRICANE album and the

ELECTRIC

FOLKLORE EP and said we wanted something in between.

Q: YOU’VE SAID YOU’VE MADE AN ATTEMPT IN RECENT YEARS TO WRITE MORE FOR

YOURSELF THAN TO PLEASE THE OTHER MEMBERS OF THE BAND OR YOUR AUDIENCE –

IS

THAT ACCURATE?

MIKE: When we started I felt a need to write from a collective point of

view. And whenever I attempted to write something personal, I would

couch

it out with imagery that would hide it from the first person. Over the

years, we’ve grown in confidence with each other and at one point, Eddie

and

Dave told me I didn’t need to feel responsible to write about the unity

of

the band. They gave me the lyrical freedom I needed at that time to

grow as

a songwriter.

Q: HOW HAS THE ALARM GROWN AS A BAND OVER THE YEARS?

MIKE: We’ve all gained a bit of freedom of expression on an individual

level. Dave has freedom to express himself on the guitar without Eddie

and

I intruding. We bring songs to the studio which are fairly unfinished

so

that each member can express himself on that song the he feels he

should.

They grow in rehearsal from the band working on them.

Q: IT’S INTERESTING THAT YOU SAY YOU’VE SHROUDED YOUR OWN FEELINGS IN

IMAGERY. THE VIDEO FOR “SOLD ME DOWN THE RIVER” SEEMS TO PORTRAY A

NATION

OF LABORERS SOLD OUT BY AN UNFEELING GOVERNMENT. IS THAT AN IMAGE WHICH

REPRESENTS A SELLOUT ON A MORE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP KIND OF LEVEL?

MIKE: The song really came from the frustrations, not really of a

particular

government, but a changing world which is becoming increasingly very

centralized around major metropolitan areas. Coming from a very

isolated

part of the world, I’ve noticed a strong disaffection in those areas for

the

direction the world is moving in. Rather than writing an overt

political

statement, I tried to capture this feeling of being sold down the river,

not

only emotionally, but politically.

Q: ARE YOU GUILTY OF BEING A LITTLE TOO SHY OF MAKING OVERT STATEMENTS,

TO

THE POINT OF CONFUSING YOUR MESSAGE?

MIKE: That is a problem we’ve dealt with and put behind us, partly

through

the evolution process. We’ve come to terms with our position where the

things that we write are taken very seriously. I am quiet and shy.

There’s

a song on the record which deals with that called “The Rock”. “I’m a

man

who bites hard on the bullet of silence/If only you could feel the pain

I

hide/Know me like I know you.” Yes, that’s something I’ve wanted to

address. I feel I have learned to deal with things specifically and

write

them in a way that people can relate to.

Q: SINCE YOU’VE SAID YOU’VE BECOME MORE PERSONAL IN YOUR WRITING STYLE,

ARE

YOU MORE ATTACHED TO THE SONGS ON THIS ALBUM?

MIKE: I haven’t really thought about that yet. I do feel stronger about

the

work than I have in the past, just at this initial stage. Some of our

work

will grow in the light of what we achieve in the future. I feel the EYE

OF

THE HURRICANE record is definitely our most important to date. Whether

it

was our most successful remains open for debate. We wouldn’t have been

able

to get to this stage without having made it. I feel very personally

attached to CHANGE since it deals with a number of things happening on

my

doorstep that I couldn’t ignore any longer. The changing scene in Wales

and

Europe in general helped me to write a song like “No Frontiers”. When I

see

what’s happening in Berlin it’s almost frightening that we can get that

close to something and write it down before it happens.

Q: YOU’VE INTIMATED THAT THE MEDIA HAS REDUCED THE INDIVIDUAL

PERSONALITIES

OF CERTAIN AREAS OF THE WORLD. IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE WRITING ABOUT ON

THIS ALBUM?

MIKE: In Wales there is a dramatic loss of cultural identity. The

language

is being spoken less and less. And in the communities where is is

spoken

heavily, it is being diluted by the relocation of the work force being

thrust on the working man of the UK. The emergence of the New Europe

will

give Wales a chance to step forward because of the lessening emphasis of

London as the hub. The political forces of Wales can leapfrog over

London

and deal directly with Europe. We did some benefits with the Welsh

Language

Society to put pressure on the UK to recognize Welsh as the national

language of our people. With this age of communication and easy travel

and

the intermingling of many cultures, it encourages people to become more

interested in their own culture.

Q: THERE SEEMS TO BE A RISING TIDE OF INDEPENDENCE ON THE BRITISH ISLES,

ESPECIALLY IN SCOTLAND, AND ALWAYS IN NORTHERN IRELAND. WHAT’S THE

FEELING

TOWARDS A UNITED KINGDOM IN WALES?

MIKE: In the Celtic countries of the United Kingdom, there is a growing

feeling of nationalism. Minority countries don’t have the powers of

numbers

in government and that translates into a lack of voice and a feeling of

disaffection. Scotland is probably the strongest country moving toward

nationalism because it is the most united and it does use the English

language. It doesn’t have the same division as Ireland and Wales.

Ireland

is divided politically and religiously and Wales is divided by language.

Welsh leaders are divided over whether they should use English so they

can

be more effective in Parliament. And when it comes down to a vote, it

usually ends up in a 50-50 split among the people. What we’ve tried to

do

as a band is to speak to both groups by recording a bilingual album to

get

our message across to everyone.

Q: WAS IT DIFFICULT TO RECORD IN BOTH LANGUAGES AND STILL MAINTAIN THE

SAME

MESSAGES IN THE SONGS?

MIKE: I had the record translated by four different people. Some

translated

on a word-by-word basis very differently, but still put off the same

message. But some songs were done almost very literally. I wanted to

the

sound of my Welsh to be a struggling sound which is the true sound

because

I’m not really fluent. The singing actually came quite easily to me. I

think this will have a big impact. We’ve opened a door for Welsh music

that

has previously been confined to Wales. We’ve shown it can be opened up.

At

least it’s got people talking.

Q: HOW IMPORTANT IS TRADITIONAL WELSH MUSIC IN THE MUSIC OF THE ALARM?

MIKE: When I was a kid, I felt trapped by the traditions and customs of

Wales. It was only when I traveled the world that I realized the value

of

them. That’s when I became interested in Welsh music. We’ve always

been a

band that’s been attracted to mixing opposites like acoustic and

electric.

This time, we went a step further with CHANGE and the song “A New South

Wales” which employs the Male Voice Choir which is the traditional voice

of

Wales. It mixes the modern with the traditional, which, I guess is what

the

Alarm is about these days.

Q: THE ALARM AND ITS ANTHEMIC QUALITIES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN EASY FOR YOUTH

TO

RALLY AROUND IN A FERVENT MANNER, NOT UNLIKE THE WHO AND LATER THE CLASH

IN

THEIR TIMES. ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH THOSE KINDS OF COMPARISONS?

MIKE: Sometimes they can work for you and sometimes against. One

comparison

in particular has been hung around our neck for years (ed. The band have

often been labeled as a U2 clone.) But we like to write out of those

comparisons and show that the Alarm is a multilayered group with its own

distinctive music and message. We feel we’re still only finding our

feet as

a band. The anthemic label came from us writing about ourselves as a

collective and the road we’ve traveled. That can be distracting and I

think

we’ve learned how to control our energy and use it sparingly. Sometimes

less can be more. I think we’re more now.

Publication::Publication:unknown
Author::Mike Hammer

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