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Alestorm

De ster van Alestorm rees al vlug met het debuut ‘Captain Morgan’s Revenge’. Opzwepende folk metal, burleske toestanden tijdens live concerten, een olijk piratenthema… alles sloeg aan. Inmiddels zijn we bijna tien jaar verder, maar Alestorm boert nog goed. Ondanks talrijke bezettingswijzigingen en een veranderd wereldbeeld – ook in de metalscène – blijven ze alles geven om het beste in hen naar boven te halen. Binnen de aanvankelijke formule, maar ook met voorzichtige uitstapjes daarbuiten. Het vijfde album ‘No Grave But The Sea’ komt pas eind mei uit, maar wij hadden al een verhelderend gesprek met spring-in-‘t-veld zanger/toetsenist Christopher Bowes en nieuwe (Hongaarse) gitarist Máté Bodor en dat leverde uiteindelijk enkele opmerkelijke uitspraken op.

Door: Vera | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

You are just back from three shows in Canada. How did it go?
Máté: Excellent. Three sold out shows, so that was great.

Chris: We had to cancel these shows last year. It was supposed to be part of the US tour, but I fucked it up and I was not allowed to the USA, so we had to cancel these shows. That was very sad. We made it happen again this year and it was great.

I think it is safe to say that Alestorm’s success is growing with every album, but what are important things you achieved after the release of the previous album ‘Sunset On The Golden Age’?
Máté: I don’t know, so much happened.

Chris: I just love all the places we have been able to go, like going to Australia and New Zealand, that is ace! For me it is the most faraway place in the universe, apart from the sun (chuckles). It is great to go there and find out there are Alestorm fans.

Máté: For me the craziest thing was, going to a place which is thirty hours flying away and then someone knows who I am. They wanted me on the photo, just because they know me from Internet.

That’s a helping tool these days, so that there are no borders anymore for bands...
Chris: Without the Internet I don’t think we would have got anywhere. At that time MySpace was the place to be.

Let us focus on the new album ‘No Grave But The Sea’. What about the writing process? I found out on the Internet (chuckles) that it was the first album you have made pre-production demos for...
Chris: Yes, indeed. Usually we just make guitar files with software, kind of notations and go to the studio. Sometimes finding out in the studio that it does not work out. This time around – because we had all the time we needed and we were all talented enough to record our own stuff – we recorded the whole album and started messing around with all the stuff that did not work, before entering the studio. We sorted out the flaws and started arranging it.

Máté: We can record whatever we want. We recorded our things and sent it to Chris. Then he decided, change key, this is too high, this is too low... usually we do that in the studio.

Chris: I don’t have a very good vocal range. I am not a very good singer, believe it or not. I wrote some songs and I found out: this is too high, I cannot sing this.

Máté: So we had to work on it with bits and pieces. When entering the studio we knew exactly what we were going to do, we had everything planned out. Nothing was a question anymore. Actually the recording process was really fast, because of that too.

You always record with Lasse Lambert at the LSD Studios, but now I found out you went to Orlando, Florida as well. Was that for mix and mastering?
Chris: No, we flew Lasse to Orlando with us. It felt like a vacation. It was in January. In Germany in January, the weather is awful. And where Lasse lives, in a little village, it is out of nowhere. It is really boring. It is so boring being there when it is cold, there is nothing to do, you stay in this little apartment and feel terrible. So we said: come to America. We found a nice cheap studio and the weather was nice, a swimming pool, the sun was shining.

Máté: Every morning we got up and started with sunbathing and diving into the swimming pool. And our record label gave us the money to go there, so all fine!

So maybe the studio time you saved by making demos, could be spent on being on location in the sun?
Chris: Exactly. Less time in the studio, more time sunbathing.

After the former album, your long time guitarist Dani Evans quit. Now we have the honour to meet with you, Máté, but you are from Hungary and Chris is Scottish, UK anyways...
Chris: I live in America though...

I thought you were living in Tilburg, the Netherlands?
Chris: I have lived in Tilburg, I lived in Austria, I lived in England and now I live in Tennessee, in America.

Wow, you moved around the world!
Chris: Yeah, but I am finally where I belong. It took me a long time to find out, but that’s where I want to be.

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How did you guys meet each other then?
Máté: We met at a festival in Czech Republic. In 2014 I played there with my old band Wisdom. Alestorm was playing there too, on the same stage, same day. Our dressing rooms were next to each other and we just ended up partying together. Few weeks later they played in Budapest as well. Then I met them again and hang out all day and partied again. Then Gaz started to date an Hungarian girl and flew to Budapest every month, so we just started to hang out and he started to teach me the songs and it just happened. Someday I got a Skype message from Gaz that maybe I should learn all the songs, because there were some things happening.

And why did Dani leave?
Chris: I think it became very obvious that this type of lifestyle was not working for him. Not physically, not mentally, not personally with other people. It was not working in the band anymore, unfortunately. We all agreed that it was no good for the existence of the band, we could not take this anymore, so we had to let him go.

When writing this album, did you have main things you focused on, saying: we are going to do it in a certain way?
Máté: It was not a conscious thing, we were just writing the songs. We wanted to make them catchy, so that fans can sing along and get it easily. It has to work live. You have to imagine if you are on stage, then the entire crowd has to sing with you. That is important. We are a live band. We play hundreds of shows a year.

Yet there are two very long tracks...
Chris: We sort of had to balance the live/party songs with some things a little bit more serious. A bit longer and a bit more difficult to listen to in order to get a nice balance on the album.

Máté: This is a very well-balanced album, more than ever.

Why a song called ‘Mexico’? Is there a special bond with that country?
Chris: Not really. We have been to Mexico a few times and we had a great time. Mostly it is because ‘Mexico’ rhymes on ‘yohoho’, so the whole song basically wrote itself after that. (laughs)

It is also a multilayered album: you hear horns, trumpets, violins... many guest musicians...
Chris: It is a thing we always had, surely since our second album. You get brass, you get violins, but I think this time we just improved on that and that’s due to our producer Lasse, since he managed to produce everything. In the past often things got buried and you could not hear it so well. This time we made a very conscious decision that all these cool things got to be heard all the time.

Máté: The production is so crispy. Wonderful. And there is always something going on. Track three and four are my favourites.

’To The End Of The World’ reminds me a bit of Turisas...
Máté: I understand. The brass thing, right?

Chris: It is like a very old fashioned Alestorm song, because when we got started with Alestorm, Turisas was one of the big influences. When their album ‘Battle Metal’ came out, I said: I am going to make music in this style! Yes! It is epic. Unfortunately Turisas does not sound like Turisas anymore, so we take it over from them (laughs).

Elliott is not only in charge for keyboards, but he is also responsible for harsh vocals...
Chris: Indeed, he does all the screams and we are going to use more and more diverse vocals. I will always be the lead singer, but I love this variety. We once started with a kind of black metal track called ‘Death Throes Of The Terrorsquid’ with harsh vocals in 2011...

I liked that song and you even played it live!
Chris: (chuckles) And that was a challenge. It was the most complicated song we did until then and Elliott was not in the band then. The vocals were done by Ken Sorceron of Abigail Williams and live we solved it in the best way possible. But we want to go broader in terms of vocals and music.

What are actually your roots as guitarist, Máté?
Máté: (thinks) My favourite guitarists are Yngwie Malmsteen, Alex Laiho and Brian May. All my solos are well thought, I do not improvise. I hope to add more of those to Alestorm in the future.

You just came back from Serbia yesterday, making video clips. What can you tell about this?
Chris: We shot two video clips: one for ‘Alestorm’ and one for ‘Mexico’. The ‘Alestorm’ one will be coming first and that’s going to be insane! We are walking down a street, looking all cool, and then we see this sign that says: ‘Alestorm show tonight’. We said: “What? We don’t play a show tonight!” So we walk to the venue, open the door and there is this band of midgets on stage (shows a picture). We got five midgets, dressed up like us, playing the songs. So we got drunk, got on stage and beat the midgets off the stage and we continued to play. We all had a great time. For ‘Mexico’ it is all stupidity: drinking, a donkey, girls washing a donkey, hilarity.

Is it all just about making fun and jokes, or is there an undercurrent of criticism in some songs?
Chris: No, not really.

Not worried about Brexit?
Chris: Oh no, I don’t care anymore. I left England a long time ago. Two of us have an Irish passport... Only Elliott is officially still living in Scotland. We have to wait what will happen. Things might get complicated. Most of the people don’t worry about the Brexit, because they don’t travel that much, but we travel all the time. Every day somewhere else, so it is going to affect us a lot more than it affects regular people. We will see. Maybe the border will get really crazy, maybe the bands stop touring in England. Metal is not as big in England as it is in mainland Europe, so... it will become less and less worth going there. If a band has to go through all these things for just one show, they can as well skip that.

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England has a tradition of folk metalbands in the past, like Skyclad and Waylander and Cruachan... do you have any affinity with those echelons of the genre?
Chris: Our bass player Gaz (Gareth Murdock – Vera) used to play in Waylander.

Máté: At that time he was seventeen.

Chris: He has been their drummer for a while, then he was their guitarist for a couple of years. He wrote one of the songs of their album ‘Honour Amongst Chaos’. We just met Waylander when we played at Hammerfest festival in England.

And Skyclad just came up with a new album...
Chris: Yes indeed. I saw them once in Tilburg in a little bar. They have been around for a long time, in some way they invented folk metal. I would expect that people who are into folk metal now got any interests in the roots of it, but nobody seems to care anymore. You see it with people who love Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, because they are the original heavy metalbands. So I thought people would be excited about the original folk metalbands, but I guess not.

Máté: It was in the late nineties, maybe the wrong time for folk metal.

Chris: Well, the first wave of folk metal was at very different level from what later became folk metal: later it had to be happy and cheesy. That’s when folk metal really became famous. But nobody cares anymore about what a band like Turisas is doing these days. We don’t even play or can be labelled as folk metal anymore. It was a hyped genre I think, now over its heydays. There were only five bands popular enough to headline the Paganfests for instance. In first instance metalheads were enthusiastic: wow metal and partying and drinking... they were having a good time, but in the long run every song is the same.

That might be the reason that you are broadening your horizon with longer and more complex songs...
Chris: Yes indeed. There’s a lot of thrash metal involved as well.

But in a live situation the drinking songs will work better...
Chris: Our drinking songs does not sound like folk metal so much anymore. When we started we tried to sound like a mix of Turisas and Korpiklaani. These were the bands I was fond of when I was sixteen and started to love metal music.

Máté: Queen will always be my main influence. As a kid I spent a couple of years of my life, only listening to Queen. Brian May was the reason I started to play guitar in the first place. That’s why I love well arranged music, good harmonies and all these kind of things. That’s exactly what Queen was. I wish I could do that stuff, but obviously there is a long way of improvement before you manage to do that. That’s why we really took the time to record our stuff and produce it a little bit, before going to Lasse. We had to have a clear vision before entering the studio.

Chris: Lasse knows that we will come to him when we are planning to record our next album. We were there from the very start. We were a young band, he just built his studio. In the beginning we had to sleep in sleeping bags while the studio was still in the making. We grew together. We both got better and better through the years and that is a bond you can never forget. He is a busy man now, but that’s why he will always make time for us when we announce a new record.

To occlude: what are the plans for going on the road?
Chris: First of all lots of festivals: Graspop, Hellfest, Download... Then we are going on the WARPED tour in the US which is the craziest thing. It is a punk tour. With Alestorm. It is crazy. Forty bands or more and thirty-nine shows across the US. It is huge festival tour. Sixty days all across the US. The smallest location is even nine thousand people. It is not metal, but everything else. You see bands headlining you have never heard of. They have not been in Europe, their only circuit is the US. So it will be a whole new world that opens for us.

Máté: Then we come back and do six more festivals in August and will tour in Russia, South America, Europe...

Chris: And beyond!

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