"People seem to like what we do. I don't know why." - Christopher Bowes of Alestorm

True Scottish Pirate Metal invades Australian shores once again in January, but this time there will be evidence.

With half a dozen interviews ahead of him, Christopher Bowes is sitting back with a bottle of wine to keep him going through the evening. The man behind the avatars of true Scottish pirate metal, Alestorm, is having a short rest between tours before heading  to Australia in January 2013 to film the band's first full-length live DVD. Metal as Fuck took the time to catch up with him to find out what he's been up to, and what will make this DVD special.

Last down under in May 2011, Alestorm have since released their third album Back Through Time and are preparing for their next tour of Australia. What have Alestorm been up to in this last year? Bowes takes a sip and begins, "Well, we've released an album and toured the rest of the universe, and done fantastic things.  We've done a lot of touring, far too much touring to be honest, no song-writing just touring endlessly, it's all we do. People will get sick of us. There's already people in Australia complaining that we're coming back once a year. So in America it's even worse, cause we're there every six months. I think people get sick of us. I'm not surprised, I don't blame them."

 

Having toured the US as part of Paganfest North America and with Symphonic Metal group Epica in the last year, I ask him about the difference between these tours. "On these Paganey tours everyone is a complete alcoholic and there is no real headliner-support band hierarchy, 'cause all the bands are pretty cool." He pauses, "Of course on an Epica tour, they're the headliner, we're the support band, you know your place. You go on stage, you play, you get off. It's definitely a lot more fun doing these daft package tours with all similar sized sorts of bands."

 

Besides the extensive coverage of North America, Alestorm has also been entertaining their home audiences with 7 of the 16 shows in the UK selling out on their last tour there. "We've gone there twice this year as well, we keep doing all the same places. I should talk to someone about that.  We're trying to get to Japan and all that nonsense, but you know we'll see. But the UK has been really great for us this year, people seem to like what we do. I don't know why."

 

So why are Alestorm choosing to make their live DVD now, and why on their Australian tour? "Well you know it's kinda got to that point in our career we've got enough material for a very long set. A lot of good songs that we can just play. We have done some sort of live DVD thing before, on our second album there was this bonus disc featuring our show at Wacken and it was completely terrible. So we thought it was time to set the record straight and do it properly this time and put on a good headlining show where we all don't suck at our instruments and it's gonna be awesome. And I think everyone should enjoy it cause it's nice to do it in Australia because no-one goes to Australia to make their DVD, apart from maybe some Australian bands. But you know for a band from Scotland, it's completely unheard of so it's nice to do something different."

 

With upbeat folk metal and tongue-in-cheek humour, Alestorm has gathered fans from all over the world since their formation in 2006. The evening before the interview I noted that a post by the band on their Facebook page asking their fans what songs they would like to see performed on the DVD. This post garnered over 200 replies in the first half-hour. It was enough to stump even these pirates,  "I know! I don't know what to say to all that. I mean it's ridiculous the response we get to stuff. I think everyone seemed to be asking for all the classic songs, so  we'll just pretend we listened to them all… YES! We were going to play these songs anyway…"

 

So the songs have been chosen, the venue selected, but surely an Australian crowd provides something more than just a difference for these pillagers of the high seas. Was Melbourne a conscious choice, or a convenient one? "I think our favourite place we've ever played, if we're being serious about stuff, would probably be Melbourne. Every time we've played there it's always been a completely insane show, there's just something about that place," Bowes explains. "I know it's not going to be the biggest crowd, like you know 800 people. We've done shows over here in Europe to way bigger than that, but it's not really the same. There's something special about the kind of atmosphere that you get there. You know a lot of it is because people can speak English, which is a nice start, so when we make a lot of ridiculous jokes on stage and dick around a lot, I like to think you Aussies get our sense of humour, on some level. So all of our stupid antics kind of come across better, I think that's the main reason."

 

Given their previous visits to Australia, have the band members any favourite places to visit between shows? "To be honest we don't get time to visit anything. I think that's another good thing about this DVD, people are going to see one of the most ridiculous hectic touring things you can do. I mean, you fly between every single show. So you get a flight, you land at 12 o'clock in the afternoon, you go straight to the venue, you do your practice, your setup, all that nonsense, you get something to eat, you play a show, you get drunk, it gets to like 3am, you somehow make it back to your hotel room, you fall asleep, you get like 2 hours sleep then suddenly you're on another flight the next morning and it's literally non-stop for like 8 days, and it's the most tiring but amazingly fun thing you can ever do. So we don’t get to see anything, but it's going to be a ridiculous laugh.  I remember the last time, our bass player Gaz [Murdock] was literally drunk for the entire time. He did not sober up once. He completely forgot that tour even happened, he was so drunk. I'm not even joking. So more of that sorta stuff is going to happen and that's probably the most fun thing to do."

 

Well, I had no idea touring Australia was so hectic, but it's going to make for some interesting footage! "Yes, lots of sort of backstage footage that no-one ever really quite gets to see. You know most people just see us on stage or standing at the bar before the show, but there's a hell of a lot more to the whole thing that that and it's great fun so it's going to make for good viewing I'd like to think."

 

Is this an open invitation for their Australian fans to go on the search for Alestorm at the bars at their shows? "Oh absolutely! Yes! Especially if they’re paying for the drinks! We like meeting people. A lot of bands these days do all this nonsense like VIP exclusive tickets where you have to pay extra to get like a meet and greet with the band, and frankly we don't believe in that. We think it's a load of nonsense, so we like just talking to people at the bar and having a good time."

 

So this tour will deliver Scottish humour, drunken antics, drinks at the bar and old favourites from the pirate metallers. Can we expect any new material? "Oh no no, it's all going to be just a bit of a retrospective of all the old stuff we've done so far. The plan is we want everyone to be singing along on every single song. New stuff is going to happen soon, I think after this when we get back from this tour and recover, I'm going to start writing album number four and we'll see where that goes."

 

After racing around Australia, we hear Alestorm are scheduled to headline the European Paganfest in 2013. "Yes, it's going to be our first ever proper headlining tour in Europe and Paganfest is quite the big thing over here so it's quite the honour to be headlining it. So it's a nice step up for us, and that's going to be a ridiculous, ridiculous party. You know that it's going to be another one of those tours where everyone is going to be just drinking and partying 24/7 for the whole month, so it's going to get messy but it's going to be fun."

 

Alestorm have played many of the big festivals in Europe, as well as the tours which frequent the more intimate venues. I ask Bowes if he has a favourite to play, given the huge differences. "There's a bit of fun in both. On the huge shows it's great to have a gigantic stage you can run around, and to look out and see 40000 people, or whatever, singing along. But when you're playing a really tiny small pub show and there is maybe 100 people there all squeezed in and you know everyone there is a massive fan and really wants to enjoy it, it has a nice kind of visceral upfront feeling to the whole thing, ' he pauses and his voice lifts,' I kind of prefer those. You can make jokes, you can interact with the crowd a lot more. Like on these big shows it's just you and a stage and a microphone, and the crowd's kind of incidental."

 

Is this love of interacting with the audience what drove him to pick up the keytar? "Absolutely, yeah! I mean, like I'm a keyboard player and if you're standing playing keyboards and singing into a microphone it's kind of static. It's not a very rock'n'roll way to front the band. It's nice to get a keytar and just jump around the stage and just go all over the place. It looks better and it's more fun to play basically. That's the main reason I guess."

 

Despite the keytar, Alestorm has brought in a new fulltime keyboardist in October last year. "We're one of the few bands, in metal at least, with more keyboard players than guitarists. Which is a dubious honour, but it's really helped the sound. Our new guy, Elliot [Vernon], he does all the bits I can't do because I'm too busy dancing about the stage doing backflips. So he does all the serious keyboard parts, and makes it sound a hell of a lot more epic. Right now I'm really happy with the way the band sounds live, I think it's the way we should sound. I mean, we're not one of these bands that plays to backing tracks and things you know, so everything is completely live and raw. So what we do is kind of a live [version], it's a different version of the songs but pretty much the same thing. So having the extra keyboards to really fill out the sound has helped a lot."

 

Now when interviewing a man behind a band known for swashbuckling pirate songs, I have to ask. Does he ever regret making his music about these dogs of the sea? He laughs, "Oh yeah it's still great fun. I don't think we're stuck doing this. We're always going to sing about pirates on some level, but it doesn't always have to be Caribbean and pirates and cannons and things. There's a whole world of nonsense we can sing about, like we've already got one song about pirates travelling through time to kill Vikings, and it's 'why not do more like that?'. I don’t' feel restrained by it, and it's always nice to know who our fans are because they're the ones in the pirate costumes. I think it's a good angle. I'm happy with where we are.  I wouldn't change it for the world."

 

And regarding the battle of Vikings vs Pirates? "Pirates. It's no question. Everyone knows that. No contest."

 

Alestorm isn't the only thing Christopher Bowes is known for. He has his side projects Gloryhammer ("Yes!"), Christopher Bowes at the Organ (He laughs, "Oh god…") and asdfgfa. "It's [pronounced] Asdafigerfaar - which is short for 'A Strange Device For Gathering Fungal Agaricomycotina'. That's just me making a lot of nonsense. But yeah, oh god, the Organ stuff, I can't believe you brought that up." Well it's a little hard to miss, there is a song about David Tennant's hands. "I'm going to do another album of that, this time I'm going to be at a piano instead of an organ. And I'll wear a white suit, instead of a black suit, that's gonna be a big change." He laughs, "but it's going to be another half hour of improvised nonsense with stupid lyrics about vegetables, I think."

 

And what about his major side-project Gloryhammer? "That's really starting to take off now. Our album comes out the very start of next year, we've got daft touring plans and it's going to be the most ridiculous, over the top band in the world. It's going to make Alestorm look sensible."

 

But what brought Christopher Bowes to this point, back-flipping around the stage singing about pirates? It seems this nautical frontman started his career as a Mathematician. "I guess I had no idea where I was going with my life, and had this shitty degree in Mathematics, and thought fuck it, I'm going to be in a band instead. So I dropped out of the Maths thing halfway through a Masters degree and started this band, and it all took off and here we are today. I mean I've been playing piano since I was negative 17 years old.  So it's something I've done forever, but I'd never really thought of doing it as a career of course. You don't plan to get in a world famous band, it's just something that happens randomly. We're very thankful for the ridiculous place we've got to today. It's frankly far too much, we don't deserve any of this."

 

Does this enigmatic front-man have anything left to say? "I would like to tell the good people of Australia to Eat Scottish Beef.' Any story behind that? 'There is no story, it's just good quality meat, you know."


January 18th: The Hifi Bar, Melbourne (Live DVD shoot)

January 19th: The Manning Bar, Sydney

January 20th: The Hifi Bar, Brisbane

January 22nd: Amplifier Bar, Perth

January 23rd: Fowlers Live, Adelaide

January 24th: The Kings Arms, Auckland