Interview: Mike Peters Yahoo Interview Transcription

Yahoo! : We’re with Mike Peters, who’s currently touring the country with The Alarm 2000. Welcome to yahoo.

MP : Yes, nice to be online.

Yahoo! : Basically right now basically going around the country, here in America, behind a nine-CD box set which you’re selling off your website and also re-issues of the bands entire catalogue that you’re been remastering, correct?

MP : Yeah that’s right, that’s how it came about. I didn’t realise how much interest there would be in a body of work which was recorded between ’81 & ’91. It’s been quite phenomenal & sort of led to me putting this whole tour together.

Yahoo! : At this point, what made you decide that it was time to bring The Alarm name back out? I mean you’ve been working on solo projects on and off the past few years.

MP : Well mainly because there’s been so much interest in the songs, because when I left the band at the end of the first generation of The Alarm, the idea was that the three other members would have continued with the band and kept the music alive as a focal point. But that never happened, so as time went by, there was more and more pressure building on me to represent and play The Alarm songs. So rather than fight that, I decided that I would go with it.
I did try to put the original line up back together, but the guys all have other lives and they didn’t want to do it so I thought that it was such a big thing to have all our records reissued that it was a good thing to go represent the music in the best and most honest way I could.

Yahoo! : By putting the 2000 at the end of it, you’re making sure that people know that it’s a different incarnation of The Alarm.

MP : Exactly

Yahoo! : But there are some people who would say that if it’s not the full band then it’s never the real band. What do you think about that? I know Eddie and all them have been talking about that a little bit I guess or actually Dave and all them have been talking a little bit about it in the press

MP : No it’s only Twist. He was cool about it at first, but I think as some of the reviews started coming in and from the fans saying that it’s as good as or better than the original line-up, it started to hurt a little bit, which is understandable. I think it was just that certain promoters bill it as The Alarm. It’s difficult because I was the original singer in the band people make that assumption, but I’m not going to apologise for that, I wrote most of the songs, sang 99% of them. I think there’s more good been done to The Alarm in the last two year than in the eight years when I wasn’t in the band in the first place.

Yahoo! : Well tell us about the band that you’ve assembled for this tour – who’s playing with you?

MP : Well it’s basically a band which has come out of The Gathering, an event which I’ve run in Wales for the past 9 years, which is a celebration of the music of The Alarm anyway, and the band that have played at that is the band that is on the road.
It features Steve Grantly, who’s the drummer from Stiff Little Fingers and there’s James Stevenson on guitar, who’s played with Generation X, Gene Loves Jezebel, The Cult, he’s played in some good bands. And then Richard Llewelyn, from Wales who’s a young bass player who’s played on a lot of my solo material as well. The best thing about the band is that they know The Alarm inside out. They’re played it to their most hardcore fans for the past nine years.

Yahoo! : It’s funny, I was remembering when The Alarm first came out, or at least came to this country to tour, back in ’81 / ’82, the way you were marketed was that you were a punk band playing acoustic guitars. I remember everybody was “wow a punk band playing acoustic guitars”. It’s so funny now it’s very common for bands to play unplugged and do that, but at the time I guess it was unusual to have a rock band up there not playing electric.

MP : I guess that’s what set us apart, what was confusing for a lot of people was that we were a band built around songs. Everything since The Alarm stopped making records, I’ve been able to play every song live on an acoustic guitar anyway. All the songs I wrote for The Alarm were written on an acoustic guitar. What I felt was that the acoustic guitar live, at that point in the 80s, wasn’t developed as a live instrument, it was very hard to get mikes and pick-ups which worked and made it sound good.
We used to drill holes in them and put humbuckers in and amplify the internal sound, the sort of spiritual sound you get from playing the acoustic guitar. I’m sure 99% of songs are written when somebody picks up an acoustic instrument, be it a piano or an acoustic guitar, and that’s what inspired people to write the great songs of all time.

Yahoo! : So was that when you decided to go down that route back then, was it a reaction to everything else that was going on, or did it just feel really natural for the kind of songs you were doing at the time?

MP : It was really because we felt that when we were writing our songs and then trying to turn them into the electric environment of a band they didn’t sound the way they did up here (in the head). So I thought, hang on, I’ve written all these songs on the acoustic guitar, why don’t we just stick the pick-ups in them and play them. I think when you play loud sounds on the acoustic guitar, you think differently. Pick up a Les Paul or a Fender, you play in a certain way, but when you pick an acoustic guitar, you think differently, you think more “chordly”, more power chords, and you can’t even get up the high end, it’s a deeper kind of thing so that was the kind of thinking behind it.

Yahoo! : I remember at the time there was U2, Big Country, The Alarm, a lot of people thought of you together, not only because you were playing guitars again, but there was a very positive kind of uplifting message to most of the songs that you were doing, which I guess, after the anger of punk, was very different. What were you trying to offer back then that maybe rock wasn’t offering at the time?

MP : We just wanted people to believe in themselves, that’s all. Even today, now, I tune in the radio and I hear a lot of music that has a very negative, aggressive force behind it. I think America’s just got punk for itself again. There’s been a rise, since Nirvana really, it’s been very aggressive music, and it was similar in Britain, a very negative aggressive force coming through that would spill over in violence and we weren’t into that. Our message that we gained from punk, living in the suburbs, was much more positive, it was about doing things for yourself and not just about accepting the status quo, but making small changes. And that’s what we were trying to pass on to our audiences to say that no one can make your life for you, you have to go out and make it for yourself.

Yahoo! : And the songs today I think, hearing them now, a lot of them do still resonate. It’s interesting to hear if you listen to a lot of the bonus tracks that have been attached to some of the albums, and also some of the box-set rarities, even the stuff that got left in the closet sounds really good. There’s a version of One Step Closer To Home that sounds just tremendous. And you’ve actually been introducing that at some of the shows as your favourite Alarm song, even though you didn’t write it, it’s one of Dave’s songs.

MP : It is, that’s right. I wish Dave had written more songs for The Alarm, he’s a really talented writer, that’s one of the things that I regret about The Alarm, that he didn’t really push himself as far as he could do as a writer, within the context of the band.

Yahoo! : So what is it about One Step Closer to Home, for example, that makes it stand up to you, considering it’s not even your song?

MP : Well partly that I don’t have so much emotional attachment to it if you like. It’s very hard about your own songs which you’ve written to say which is your favourite. They become very much like your little children and it’s very hard to differentiate between them, so when I step back and look at The Alarm, I just think that Dave wrote a most incredible song, which has grown over the years, lyrically. As people have lived their journey, a lot of the time we were making that music to appeal to younger fans than ourselves, those fans have gone through life and reached the age where we were writing those songs and gone beyond it – some of the songs have stayed with them. I know from doing all the dedications that I do for the box set, that some of these songs have really saved some people’s lives through some of the lyrics. Again, that’s why I wanted to play those songs because I felt that over the last ten years, The Alarm’s disappeared off the face of the planet, musically, the songs have not been represented, excepting acoustic settings by themselves. So I wanted to put that music back on the map, and put it back where it belongs.

Yahoo! : You mentioned dedications – this is a very unusual element of the box set is that you can buy the single albums in stores, but if you go on you can buy a 9 CD box complete and in addition to the 9 albums you get a bonus CD of rarities and you get a song personally dedicated – how is that working?

MP : It’s amazing because I didn’t think there’s be as much demand as there was, I thought that it would be just the die hard fans who’d want to go all the way. I wanted to personalise it in the same way I try to personalise every show I play, I try to don’t say the same things, play the same set, I try to make it different. I thought these are the best fans we’ve ever had, they’ve been buying into this, have lived with this music for twenty years – I wanted to make a really big gesture to them I had the technology and the way to do it, so I thought yeah, I’ll go that way.
So when everybody buys the box set, they can choose their own song, choose a dedication and I’ll record it in the studio, or as is the case on the tour, the Second Generation tour of America right now, people are coming to the shows and requesting them, I’m playing them live and recording the shows, burning them onto CD, they go into the box set and they go home.

Yahoo! : Of the songs, what is number one song that everybody seems to be asking you to dedicate?

MP : To be honest with you, it’s probably not one of the big hit singles, it’s probably Walk Forever By My Side, which a lot of people have had played at their weddings. I even did a recording the other night for a guy who’s going to have it played at his funeral. Then Spirit Of ’76 is a big song for a lot of people – it’s autobiographical for me, but I think it transfers into a lot of peoples lives – the optimism and looking back and never having any regrets is part of what the song tries to convey and people take a lot from that song, and want to remember the band through that song.

Yahoo! : And you’ve got this coming out on 21st Century Recordings, which is your own label. Is this designed specifically for The Alarm re-issues or are you going to be doing other things on there?

MP : No , we’re up to about twenty titles on there. I started it in ’91 when we started the website and it’s just grown and grown. Obviously all the music which has come out through it, I’m at the core of it, but I don’t just see myself as doing one thing, I see myself being multi-dimensional. I’ve done acoustic records, I’ve done a soundtrack for a play which is out there, obviously all the Alarm records are out there. I have a band with Billy Duffy of The Cult called Coloursound, and we put that record out in Europe and that’s done amazingly well. Now I’ve got a lot of labels trying to pick up my catalogue and there’s a lot of interest in it all, which is great. It’s a real cottage industry which has grown and grown.

Yahoo! : Are there artists signed as well or is it just your projects?

MP : That was really the idea. I have a big communication thing with the fans and I always liked the fact that they were trading stuff, I wasn’t really against that because I thought that anyone who trades buys all the official stuff anyway. I always felt that with the internet, the ways of sharing music was opening up on a much wider scale and you could be more of a fan about your own music. You didn’t have to impress. I was making certain records for record companies, but I was also making records that were on a smaller scale. I don’t think all music has to be made to be global.
I think sometimes you’re making music for a smaller dimension than that. Once I started putting those records out, only small numbers, but they have grown obviously since then, but there’s something quite nice, something liberating about not having to think that this bit of music is going to go into an A&R meeting or be judged at radio or by the press. It’s just something I wanted to share with the fans on a smaller level. We will make other ablums to try and push the button and try and reach a wider audience, but I think it’s nice to be able to express yourself that way and not feel too pressurised by the music industry.

Yahoo! : I know that at the end of the year at least the American leg of this Alarm 2000 tour ends, are you going to carry this on into 2001?

MP : I go back from the American leg and we start a British tour in December and that’s going to be quite a big affair. The first Alarm 2000 shows were with Big Country at the beginning of the year and it just sort of took off in Britain and Europe. So the plan is now, initially I thought maybe it was only a short term thing, but it’s kind of grown and grown and I do feel I want to put the music of the band back into people’s minds again. Through doing the box set and the tour, people will re-appraise where The Alarm stood in the musical history that we know. So my aim is to have fun and see where it goes but there’ll definitely be more shows in America in 2001.

Yahoo! : Great, well looking forward to seeing the new band tonight, thanks for coming in.

MP : Thanks a lot.
Author::John O’Donnell