ALESTORM – Folk Metal Piracy In The Great White North, Eh
November 12, 2019, a month ago
Alestorm's catalogue of folk metal material isn't something one would classify as mindfood - unless, perhaps, you live at the bottom of a bottle of rum - but when it comes to tenacity, the band is second to none. Not only have they weathered several line-up changes over the course of their 15-year history, Alestorm has toured all over the world non-stop since the release of their first album, Captain Morgan's Revenge, in 2008. At press time they were continuing this touring tradition with a cross-Canada jaunt; 15 shows in 17 days across the Great White North just as winter is starting to flex its muscles. Not many bands have the stones to take a road trip through the middle of country at the best of times, shying away at the long distances between shows, but making the trip at this time of year? That's a head-scratcher for seasoned Canadians, and we're used to the meteorological insanity that comes with being here. Scotland-born frontman Chris Bowes, the last remaining original member of Alestorm, sat down with BraveWords to discuss the band's seemingly ill-advised adventure.
BraveWords: Why in the hell would you want to do a cross-Canada tour in November?
Bowes: "I know what happens in Canada at this time of year, and yeah, I question why we're doing this. We're figuring on six feet of snow wherever we go, and we're all going to be miserable (laughs). But seriously, I felt that we had to do it because when we've played North America in the past it's always been something like 20 or 30 shows in the USA, and we pop into Toronto and Montreal, and if we're lucky we do Vancouver at some point. We get so much hate mail.... 'You can't call that a North American tour!' Every time we come over we see that stuff, so you know what? Fuck this, fuck all o' ye, we're going to a fucking full-on Canadian tour (laughs)."
BraveWords: Well, at least you chose this time of year and not early January - March to hit the middle of the country.
Bowes: "Yeah, we've done Canadian dates in January before and that's no fun, so we figured on November being a bit more reasonable."
BraveWords: You being Scottish, there's that stereotype about you being used to lousy weather...
Bowes: "I used to be fine on a cold day but I've been spoiled by the weather in Tennessee. I went back to Scotland over the summer and I was freaking out about how cold it was (laughs). It was the middle of summer and I was wearing a bloody scarf.... I'm weak now. I'm a complete baby so this tour is going to suck (laughs)."
BraveWords: On a more serious note, are you at all surprised by just how popular Alestorm is? Meaning, to the point that you're in demand all over the world including Middle Of Nowhere, Canada?
Bowes: "(Laughs) It's weird. We're a bit of a strange band in that what we do seems to work everywhere. Some bands have their largest fanbase in Germany or Japan or South America, but we're constantly visiting countries all over the world. I guess it's because we have this cheesy metal style, and there aren't a lot of bands we can relate to in that respect. It's nice that we have this opportunity to go to all these places and meet all these different people. To be honest, I would be miserable if we were only popular in one place. You see some of these bands that are only popular in Germany, for example; they must get so bored. I don't know why Alestorm has this appeal. Our humour is kinda goofy so it works on different levels, the music is cheesy, and it all just works."
BraveWords: Your sense of humour is more sophisticated than Steel Panther, at any rate.
Bowes: "I like to think we're doing something quite clever with our lyrics, so it comes back to having different levels of humour. I don't think we can be pigeon-holed as a comedy band or anything like that. We're multi-layered like an onion (laughs)."
BraveWords: It says something when you're able to make the keytar an expected part of the show. Not many bands can do that and come off as genuine.
Bowes: "I get surprised these days by how few comments I get from people about that. I play this stupid retro instrument, so you'd think people would be taking the piss out of me for it. But no, they accept it, which is kinda cool. It's part of our sound, it's part of our look, and I think some people would be pissed off if we left it just in the background (laughs)."
BraveWords: I love the Canadian tour shirt for this run. It's very Iron Maiden of you guys.
Bowes: "We managed to find a couple of cool artists, so I think this might be a thing where every time we do a tour we'll have very specific one-off shirts. We're going to keep it super exclusive for the fans and never print them again."
BraveWords: You're still touring off of No Grave Of The Sea from 2017, correct?
Bowes. "Yep. I figure three years is a good interval between albums. I used to hate it when I'd go to see a band that I like - or I thought I liked (laughs) - play and realize they've released two albums since the last time I saw them play. That doesn't happen anymore thanks to Spotify and what have you, but it used to annoy me when those bands would play new songs and I didn't know any of them. We like to get good mileage out of our songs and people do like our 'classics'..... or better said, the shit old songs we wrote (laughs). I've very aware that sometimes we'll go on stage and play a new song or a weird deep cut, and I can see people thinking 'This sucks...' because they don't know it. They want to hear the big party songs and sing along. Releasing too many albums makes things tricky in my opinion, so releasing new music every three years or so seems ideal. I've almost finished writing for the new album, we'll go into the studio in January to record it."
BraveWords: The way the industry and consumption of music has changed, has it deadened your enthusiasm at all for making music and touring? Has it been tough on Alestorm or are you guys happy being, by in large, a touring band?
Bowes: "It's weird because I don't think Alestorm would have existed without the whole internet democratization of music. That's how we got our first fanbase and contacted labels; computers helped us make our first demos. We didn't have a studio, we didn't have a budget, just a shitty computer with a stolen copy of Cubase (laughs). I guess the shoe is on the other foot now. We're an established band and we could probably do well via more traditional media. Touring is cool because that's where the fun is and, let's face it, that's where the money is. We don't sell many records compared to other bands. I think our fanbase is generally younger and not geared towards buying shiny metal discs (laughs)."
Find Alestorm dates at Alestorm.net.
(Top photo by: Robert Zembrzycki)