THOUGHTS OF A YOUNG MAN
Interview by Selma, Firework Fanzine, 1985
(Transcribed for the Internet by Craig Pennuto)
Thanks are in order to Alarm manager Ian Wilson, alarm roadie Red-Eye, and,
of course, to Mike, not only for taking the time out from his extremely
busy schedule to chat, but for being so sweet to his amateur interviewer!
We started off by talking about our favorite band …..
FW - You've said that U2 are your favorite group - what makes them so special?
MP - Well I saw them at the Marquee in London and they jut stopped me in my
tracks and made me realize what direction I wanted to move in life.
FW - You're quite close as well aren't you - how close?
MP - Well very close really, in some cases too close. I've seen them in
the studio and we know them as friends and stayed at their houses, and
we've been through hectic times together like the long American tour. I
like to think we've helped them and they've helped us as well.
FW - Do you think you share the same ideals?
MP - Yeah, I think the most important thing we share is a belief in
individuality. There's a great quote that Bono said in 'A Celebration' -
"I can't change the world, but I can change the world in me." I think it
was in 'A Celebration'.
FW - No, it was 'Rejoice'!
MP - Oh, 'Rejoice', yeah that's it! That's what I believe in - that people
can change the world for themselves. I've changed my world upside down
about five different times. With The Alarm our songs are about personal
achievement and the encouragement to people who come to listen to the band
to have the strength and will to keep going on and reaching those sort of
ambitions. I think that's the basic ideal we share with U2. It's about
giving people inner strength.
FW - You've said in the past that you want to inspire people - do you think
it's working and how can you tell?
MP - Yeah, just by the letters we get, and I've also seen a lot of groups
form recently that state that they're influenced by The Alarm - bands like
The Stone Roses from Manchester, or The Armoury Show, even U2! And I think
that's exciting, and we've met football players like Charlie Nicholas you
know, he gets inspired by putting on an Alarm record, so I think we're
definitely achieving something along those lines.
FW - To me your songs always seem to have a live atmosphere, but it seems
to have worked best on 'Absolute Reality' - what did you do differently?
MP - We just carried on working in the same sort of direction that we've
been going in, but we kept taking it steps further and we worked into quite
a decent relationship with our producer. He'd seen the band live a lot
more and got to know us better and was able to translate and channel our
ideas into the direction we were going in. Also the engineer on
'Declaration' had never seen the band live, and when we took him to see the
band live after the album he goes "Oh now I know what you were on about"
and on 'Absolute Reality' we worked with someone who'd seen the band live.
Now with this album we've got a live engineer.
FW - And you've got a new producer. Why?
MP - We felt we'd gone as far as we could with Alan and we wanted to leave
on a high point. With 'Absolute Reality' we'd reached a stage where we'd
made a great record that was like we'd played it live and Alan wanted to
stay with the engineer who produced that record and we wanted to bring in
our live engineer who's done all the live sound on all our TV and radio
shows and I think he's proved himself to have done a great job, and we
wanted to have him involved in the music and records of the band. It's the
same with all our road crew - they're just local people from north Wales
and our friends, and I think that having those sort of people involved in
it makes sure that the music comes through.
FW - Isn't the sound going to change with a new producer?
MP - Not dramatically I don't think - not as much as U2 changed from 'War'
to 'The Unforgettable Fire'! The band themselves made a conscious effort
to change the sound whereas we don't particularly want to change the sound,
we just want to improve it.
FW - In a recent radio interview you said that The Alarm were going to
change, that you were going to be a new group.
MP - Well, I see every album as being a step forward and I like to look at
every album like we're going to be in a new group. I don't want to make
'Declaration' part 2 - that would be really cheating. 'Declaration' stands
for what it is and we believe in change and personal achievement and
reaching goals. I'd like to become a better songwriter and I want to see
that improvement on this album. I don't want to stand still - I want to go
forward, and with all the new songs we've been writing it feels like we're
in a new group, and I think that's great. It's exciting for us to say - it
doesn't feel like we're just treading water.
FW - Why is the LP taking so long?
MP - We were going to work with Jimmy Iovine - he came down to see us in
New York and was knocked out and really wanted to work with us, and we went
to meet him in New York at Christmas and got on really well with him and
agreed to do the album, and two days before we were due to go in the studio
his father died and he had to cancel everything. Obviously we had to
cancel the studio time because we had no producer, and we thought should we
work with another producer and who do we go and work with? We didn't want
to go back to Alan and then we said we wanted to work with Mike Howlett,
and he said "I can do it but you'll have to wait 2 months for me because
I'm just finishing off this project" and we decided that we'd really like
to work with him so let's book the studios. We don't want to compromise
the music and go with a naff producer just to get the album out and make
the record company happy by getting it out on time. We want to record when
it's right, you know, and this tour is selling out all over the place and I
think it's proved that our fans are going to stick by us. I don't think
they'd be interested in having an album out that's not going to be right.
I think they'd rather wait 2 months and have a great album.
FW - How do you go about writing songs, because most of them are credited
to you and Eddie - does one of you write the words and the other write the
music, or what?
MP - Well, say I write 60% words and 40% music and Eddie writes 40% words
and 60% music. Some songs have been written virtually by me or virtually
by Eddie, but there's always a chord change or something at the last
minute that one of us will put in to make it better. We always start off
with melodies or just ideas of songs that we want to work on or a
conception of a type of song we want to write and then we'll go away and
come back with the melody or we'll get a song title that conveys the sort
of feeling we want to express and then we'll let that title inspire the
song, like 'Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke?' Eddie said
'Great title for a song', so we just sat down and went (sings) 'Where were
you hiding ...' - it just came out, you know, and I get ideas walking down
the street or sitting at home with my guitar you know, they just come up
all over the place.
FW - Where do you get the inspiration for the words then; because your
songs aren't really introspective are they?
MP - No, not really. I think that comes from personal experience, and all
our songs stem from the very first one we wrote, 'Unsafe Building'. If you
look at that song, it's all about leaving the past behind and walking into
a new life. That's what was happening to all four of us at the time - we
moved to London and we left our homes and our friends behind and packed in
our jobs and just took a chance on the band because we believed in the band
and in our own talent. All the songs on 'Declaration' which were written
during that period after 'Unsafe Building' I think represent the mood that
was about the band then. We were trying to establish ourselves in a world
that's full of groups doing what we do, and we had to be better than
everyone else, and we had to keep telling ourselves that we were the best
so that we'd believe in our own talent and keep believing in it, because
every door we'd knock on with a record, they'd say 'Come back next week
lads' or 'You're not good enough yet, come back in 2 weeks', and we'd go
away and think 'We'll come back in 2 weeks and we'll knock that door down,
and I think all the songs on 'Declaration' represent that, and we've sort
of established ourselves now so with the new songs I'm trying to get a
little bit more introspective. I think that we've overused 'we' too much -
I think that's a valid criticism of the band. I'm trying to start writing
songs from a more personal point of view - I think our fans want to hear
what I've got to say about everything, you know, about personal life,
spiritual life, political life, and that's where I see a step forward for
the band. I think I'm skilled enough now to write from a personal point of
FW - And you're not going to re-release 'Unsafe Building'?
MP - I don't know. It's a heck of a hard decision because you've got all
the original people who bought it and had all that faith in the band to
spend a quid and buy that record who no one else wanted it, and you sort of
think am I really letting them down by releasing it. And the value of it
drops, you know, and I've seen the record go for $200 in New York and 30 or
40 pounds in London - it's a tough decision. There's quite a lot of
recordings we've got that we've just started listening to going back to
nearly 2 years ago, and they're really interesting and feature the first
line-up of the band, and there's no bass, there's just three acoustic
guitars with versions of 'Marchin On' and things like that, and some early
radio sessions that we've done. I like that Smiths album that came out
just before Christmas with all the radio sessions and demos and we've got a
lot of stuff like that. You see, I also think that there's a lot of people
who misunderstand The Alarm because all they've got is 'Declaration', or
not even that much in the cases of a lot of the people who really hate the
band. I did an interview with 'Sounds' for a front page piece, and this
girl came to do it and i was really shocked. She'd never seen the band
live, never heard the album or read the lyrics - all she'd seen was a
couple of appearances on 'Top of the Pops' and heard a couple of singles on
the radio. She'd never analyzed it or looked at it, and she was going 'Why
are you a rabble-rousing band?" and "Why aren't you very good on
politics?", and after she'd asked all these questions, I thought 'Hang on',
and I found out she didn't know anything about the band, and I think
there's thousands of people in Britain who say they hate The Alarm and
oppose all our fans. They're just acting on a received opinion, they've
never listened to anything. I don't think you can ever really get into The
Alarm until you've seen them live, and then I think a lot of questions get
answered that people have about the group, and that's why I think we'd like
to put out some kind of album that would put the whole think in
perspective, because I think one mistake we made when we made 'Declaration'
was we picked the songs that were the live favourites.
FW - Why do you think so many people hate you then?
MP - Because they're the sort of people who are influenced by certain
taste-makers like the 'NME'. You see, we want to create a reaction, and
we've created really positive reaction in a lot of people. Thousands of
people love the band and just as many people hate the group, and it's just
for the reasons that people have seen a couple of things on TV and then one
person says 'Oh, we hate this." What makes me laugh now is there seems to
be loads of groups now coming out who are saying what we said 2 years ago
and everyone hated us for saying it. It's like the Long Ryders interview
in the 'NME' this week, (6/4/85). They're saying the same things we said 2
years ago and we got slated for it and they're getting praised to high
heaven for it. It's just that times change you know, and that's why I
totally believe that any day now The Alarm's credibility will come flooding
back and then there'll be a thousand people wanting to jump on our
bandwagon. The same thing happened with U2 - they just went out and stuck
to their beliefs and eventually people really did start to believe in them.
People always doubt bands that come out in the very early stages and say
'This is what we believe in, this is what we do, this is what we don't
like." It takes people a long time to gain respect for those groups, but
groups like ourselves and U2 stay around and we show people that we really
believe in what we do because we stick at it and we don't compromise or
change and veer off and hide it away and hope to gain credibility that way.
We do it by just keeping on at those people and keep knocking on their
door and saying "We're still around."
FW - In what ways would you say The Alarm have progressed over the past
year or so?
MP - The main thing that we've done is we've been able to take stock of it
all. When we first started happening, we were coming from north Wales and
we'd never really had a lot of success there in our lives, in terms of
jobs, and we took a chance on the band, and once people started to accept
us and we started to have a little bit of success with the band, there was
a massive euphoria about the group and we probably rushed into some things
that we shouldn't have done. I think we made 'Declaration' in a bit of a
rush in a way - I think we should have put stuff like 'Pavilion Steps' or
'Thoughts of a Young Man' on it - I thought they'd have given the album
more depth. I think we've learnt now to take control of our music a lot
better, and we're learning to write better lyrics and have much more depth
to the subject matter.
FW - How important is chart success?
MP - We've never been that bothered about it - in some way its works better
for us to be out of the charts. Success to me is just being proud of the
music and being able to slam the record on and say "Listen to this!", and
that the music is, at the time of recording, the best thing I could
possibly do. And if i felt I wasn't going out on stage and giving the same
energy as the night before or the tour before, or making the records with
the same commitment, or writing songs with the same enthusiasm, then that's
when I'd have to think about packing it in.
FW - Do you consider The Alarm to be primarily a live group?
MP - Yeah, everything we do stems from being a live band. We're doing a
tour before recording the main bulk of this LP which I think is something
that our fans are glad we're doing because they're a bit tired of seeing
their favourite groups going out on the back of an album, playing safe in
some ways, you know. I think our fans will respect and appreciate that
we're taking a great risk doing this. We're playing seated venues which
we've never really done before, and we're really excited about it as a
band. Part of the point of doing the tour apart from going out and playing
live to everyone, is that it'll help us make a better LP because we'll
realize the songs a lot better.
FW - You're playing the Hammersmith Odeon in May for the first time - is it
a venue you've been looking forward to playing?
MP - I'd always looked at it with a bit of apprehension, but I'm really
looking forward to it now. I used to get really hung up about seated gigs
and selling out. I thought playing Wembley meant selling out, and then I
thought "Hang on, we're a live group and that's what we want to do and what
we like doing best, so what's selling out or compromising by doing a gig?"
I know a lot of people think you should always play the Palais, but we must
have done about a hundred gigs in London and this is the first time we've
done a seated gig, so I'm sure on-one will really mind.
FW - Do you see The Alarm playing a place like Wembley then?
MP - One day yeah, we've got to play there. People say to, "Why don't you
play the Marquee anymore?" You know, you don't be in a band for three
years and not learn how to go through the motions as well as being an
inspirational performer. I feel I could get on the stage at the Marquee
and go like that (snaps his fingers) and get the place going. There's no
challenge, and that to me is really selling out. I think our fans would
hate us to do that. The reason for me being in The Alarm is because it's a
challenge. We've reached a certain level of doing a certain gig, and I
feel like we're just doing this gig and just going through the motions, and
it's like "Come on everyone, put your hand in the air," and everyone puts
their hands in the air. I want to go to the next level. I don't think
people want to see me going on stage and saying the same thing every night
and doing the same old gestures every night. I know a lot of people follow
us around and a lot of people are going to be there every night on this
tour, and I think we should have something in the set every night that's a
bit different to make it interesting. And it keeps a band on its toes - I
don't like going to see groups that say the same introductions every night
in front of songs - to me that's not being genuine. I like seeing bands
that are exciting and like taking risks.
FW - Does the fact that you're Welsh influence what you write?
MP - It's starting to now yeah, very much so. I think that when we first
started as a band, we wanted to get away from all that. We wanted to
leave, we didn't appreciate where we come from. We just took it for
granted that we were all together, and the place had nothing to do with the
fact that we thought like we did and wrote the sort of songs we did. And
when we got to America and people say you're English and all that sort of
stuff you think, "Hang on, no I'm Welsh", and now I've been to London and
New York and I go home to Rhyl, I can really appreciate the value of the
place and the value of the people around me. And now I realize that the
whole atmosphere of the place, and the culture of the people have been an
important part in shaping the way I think. I feel I owe something to the
area now, to acknowledge all the input that North Wales has given me in the
songs. We've started to do things like 'Bells of Rhymney', and 'Howling
Wind' was inspired by Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet, and we've written a new
song for the LP called 'Deeside'. Deeside's half England, half North
Wales, and is near where we live. We do come from a very English/Welsh
part of Wales anyway, and I've got a couple of songs at the moment that
I've just starting to write, and I want to start letting the area get into
FW - Have you got a working title for the LP?
MP - Not yet. I know what area the title's going to come from: the area that
Eddie and I primarily are working in, and so is Dave from a songwriting
point of view. All of 'Declaration' was about looking for an answer and
having hope that that answer could be found. I feel that the answer that
people look for in this world to their problems lies at home. It lies in
yourself, in your background. I think the most inspirational song I've
heard for a long time was Sharp's 'One Step Closer To Home'. When he wrote
that it really set me thinking. Eddie heard it for the very first time
when we recorded it for a Kid Jensen session, and I could see when Sharp
was playing it that Ed was really moved and it brought a tear to his eye,
it really did, and it really sparked Eddie off - he went straight out and
picked up his guitar and wrote some more songs. And that's the idea that
we're working in as a band, that the strength that people gain comes from a
good family background having a good strong set of friends and having a
good relationship with your partner in life. When people say they're at
odds with the world and there are no answers to be found, the answer's
really about finding a relationship with God or with your wife, and having
trust in those relationships and having belief in them. I'm a happy bloke
you know, I'm very optimistic, and I think that comes from the fact that
I've got fantastic parents and brothers and sisters, and all the lads in
the band are great, and Red-Eye and Ian and everyone, and I think that's
the answer I've got to pass on to the world. Those things are what keep me
going in a tough world, and that's what I want to convey with this new