An Interview with Mike Peters of The Alarm

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Mike Peters Presents The Alarm – Concert Guide Live.com

One upside of both the pandemic and the dire political situation we find ourselves in is that there is undoubtedly a treasure trove of music that awaits us as a result. That is to say- we aren’t going to be short on the subject matter.

For Mike Peters, leader of veteran New Wave/Punk/Alternative band The Alarm, the goings-on within the world today have influenced their newest effort, War, which you can grab via their website here

The beauty of a band such as The Alarm is they have a not-so-subtle way of staying relevant, even after being in the game for over 40 years. That’s just one of the topics Mike Peters and I cover during our chat. We also dig into the band’s early years, how the sound of The Alarm came to be, some of his favorite records, and more. It’s a good one. Dig it.

Andrew:
Mike, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This last year has been rough, right? How are you holding up during this seemingly ever raging dumpster fire?

Mike:
We are holding up well here in Wales. We live in a beautiful part of the world, so we have plenty of excellent walks to go on right from the front door, so mental health has stayed strong. Right from the beginning of the pandemic, we stopped watching the 24-hour news channels and only tuned in to the BBC main news at 10pm every night. We switched on the stereo all day/night long and played all the LPs I have ever owned, and music has kept us strong all the way through…

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway?

Mike:
I saw the Sex Pistols in October 1976, and that kick-started my journey onto starting a band of my own. You only had to look into the eyes of Johnny Rotten to know that he meant it. I was two feet away from him when he blasted into “Anarchy In The UK,” and my life was changed in that very second.

Andrew:
As an artist, vocalist, and guitarist, who are some of your earliest and most important influences? How did you develop your signature sound?

Mike:
I taught myself to play guitar by listening to Tom Verlaine and Television and Wilko Johnson from Dr. Feelgood. I spent hours working out the solos on Marquee Moon, and it still sounds great to this day; there’s no shredding or bends, just melodic passages. Wilko Johnson was walking hand grenade of a guitarist, and he was as good to watch as he was to listen to…my playing owes a lot to just being instinctive. As a songwriter, all my early songs were written on acoustic guitar. When played by other musicians on electric guitars, I thought something was getting lost, so I slammed in an electric guitar pickup with gaffers tape, right in the soundhole and all of a sudden everything made sense. It was still acoustic, but LOUDER than an electric on eleven!!!

Bonus - Mike Peters of The Alarm – The Hustle – Podcast – Podtail

Andrew:
Let’s talk about The Alarm. You founded the band in 1981, right? Tell us the story of how the band came together. 

Mike:
In 1977, I started a band called The Toilets, and one by one, the members of The Alarm all joined in. Everyone was from Rhyl, and there weren’t many choices if you wanted a drummer or other members to join a Punk band at the time. It was like being an outcast. Twist, the drummer, was first replacing a guy called Dave England, followed by Eddie MacDonald, who came in as a second guitarist. In 1978, the band name was changed to Seventeen, and we were a three-piece with me on bass. Dave Sharp was the last to join in 1979. We became The Alarm in the summer of 1981 with three acoustic guitars powered by electric guitar pickups and a drum kit, “Punk Buskers,” as Bono described us. Since then, the Alarm has grown into a massive family of people, with some fantastic musicians joining in and moving through the ranks. 

Andrew:
The Alarm was initially a Punk band. What went into the decision to shift the band’s sound toward New Wave and Alternative?  

Mike:
I was trying to make sure we stayed ahead of the curve or as close to the frontline as possible. Unlike other bands who had a clued-up Svengali behind them, we had no one but ourselves. We weren’t very good at adapting to change initially and found new directions hard to come by until we saw and became friends with the Stray Cats in 1981. They took us on the Runaway Boys Tour in 1981. They were a Punk band playing Rockabilly, had great hair and tattoos…everything. It was the breeding ground for the band that became known as The Alarm in 1981. 

Andrew:
Records like Declaration and Strength are genuine classics of the time. Looking back, what do you recall about those albums? Have they held up for you?

Mike:
I’ve lived with those songs for a lifetime, and they are all still relevant today. The recordings may be time-stamped because of the production value of the era, but when the songs are let loose live either as solo acoustic versions or at full volume with the band, they can still set venues on fire.

Andrew:
Fast forward to current events, and The Alarm has a new record coming out soon, right? Tell us more about War. When does it officially debut? Where can we get it, and what formats will it be on?

Mike:
It’s out now…50 days to write, record and release. It’s on CD-R/CD/LP/ Digital. You can get it everywhere or at www.thealarm.com. 

Andrew:
More on your new record. What was the inspiration in songwriting? Is the lyrical content personal? Or are these only stories?

Mike:
The Capitol building being occupied was the trigger point. The pandemic is the backstory. It’s everybody’s story…the whole world has lived through this.

Andrew:
How about the production side of things? Does the band self-produced, or were outside sources brought in to help hone the band’s sound?

Mike:
We had our producer George Williams working from his home studio. We would all send in our contributions as we recorded them in our home environments (mine was a caravan at the top of the driveway); we are lucky that our drummer Smiley has a fantastic home studio, so we always hand the foundation of great drums!!

Mike Peters Presents The Alarm – Concert Guide Live.com

Andrew:
In 1991, the band released Raw. Here we are in 2021, 30 years later, and your new album War is, in essence, the same title in reverse. Is War a spiritual sequel of sorts to Raw? Is there a connection or through-line between the two records? If so, tell us more about that.

Mike:
Yes….both records were conceived in similar circumstances. Raw failed to reach its target, and a different record emerged from the concept than initially intended. War has stuck to its ideal in making. A record that documents the moment…an audio polaroid, you could call it. War is Raw in reverse. 

Andrew:
What’s the current state of The Alarm these days? You all have settled in as elder statesmen of the genre. When a band is around for as long as you guys have been, sometimes the inspiration runs dry. How do you keep The Alarm relevant and inspired? 

Mike:
By making a record like WAR!

Andrew:
Let’s shift gears now. Touring is usually a massive part of a working artist’s proverbial machine, but as we know, COVID has disallowed it. What do you miss most about touring?  

Mike:
Nothing, I like being at home and writing songs just as much as I love touring. The touring will return, and when it does, I will be ready.

Sign of the times: The unique story behind The Alarm's new lockdown album -  Nation.Cymru

Andrew:
One disturbing fact I’ve learned over time is that Spotify doesn’t pay artists well, if at all. What are your thoughts on that issue? How do we as fans do our part to help?

Mike:
Record companies never paid artists either, so the only way to survive is to create autonomy. That’s what we have in The Alarm, but many artists are not so fortunate. The idea that music should be FREE is a significant problem; most bands and artists should value their music by their standards, not those set by the music industry… i.e., CHEAP! We have just introduced a new platform for our fans to follow The Alarm called The Alarm Central, which is like a website/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Spotify and YouTube all in one place and dedicated to one band (www.thealarmcentral.com). Many bands and artists are now turning to something similar, as it’s a great space to be creative and interact with your fans directly. Those who subscribe rather than take up the FREE option are helping to keep the music alive.

Andrew:
Are you into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital? Where do you like to shop for music?

Mike:
Vinyl all day long. I shop with Trevor at the Vinyl 2U record shop in Rhyl, North Wales, and eBay/Discogs. I love finding Vinyl shops in other towns and cities when I’m allowed to move freely through. 

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why? 

Mike:
Quadrophenia by The Who….so many facets to this record. It’s my all-time favorite record and the only one I would keep if I had to let go of all the others. 

Andrew;
Who are some of your favorite artists? Ones that mean the most to you.

Mike:
The Clash…..still vital.

Andrew:
Last question. What advice would you have for young artists just starting? How do they stay afloat in a world that seems to be so abhorrent to creatives?

Mike:
Stay off the internet…if the music is good enough, people will find you!

Interested in learning more about the work of The Alarm? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.
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