Interviewer: Adrian Hextall, second mate HMS MyGlobalMind
With a belly full of grog and a parrot on my shoulder to record the conversation, we sail the seven seas in search of a rowdy, raucous, rambunctious bunch of ne’er do wells that go by the collective name of Alestorm.
With a reputation for pillaging and laying waste to towns across our fair land, telegrams from far and wide have already confirmed that Ye olde town of Norwich, Manchester, Birmingham, Southampton, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, Cardiff and Bristol have already fallen, thanks to the shenanigans of the five salty sea dogs. They have been triumphant it would appear thanks to the assistance from rogue mercenaries led by Captain Brodén and his Sabaton crew from Sweden along with unlikely allies in druids that deal in the dark arts and call themselves Bloodbound.
Strapping a cutlass to my side and filling my pistols with powder and shot, I ‘volunteer’ to confront the band of pirates as they breeze into Olde London Towne intent on mayhem and destruction. Waving a white flag of truce and agreeing to help find the last apple in the barrel, I’m presented with first mate Elliot Vernon, whose skill with the sword is as equally impressive as his capability with the harpsichord.
To prepare myself, sage words of advice were provided by Captain Turner, the mediator for the group and, several jugs of mead later, I stagger full of confidence into the den of thieves [tour bus] to confront Elliot.
MGM: Magnetic North, new video. Absolutely bat shit crazy.
EV: It’s good, isn’t it?
MGM: Isn’t it just? Where is the inspiration for that coming from, because that is really good fun. That’s a repeat-view exercise, isn’t it?
EV: It’s pretty much a shot for shot remake of the video to the song ‘Telephone’ by Lady Gaga. I think someone on YouTube already has put the two side by side because the song, we’re giving all our secrets away, that song intentionally is structurally identical to that Lady Gaga song. In fact there’s even a remix of our song with her vocals or that song with our vocals or something like that.
If you put those two songs side by side then they follow perfectly. We thought the next ludicrous measure would be to do the video to that song and have a remake of the video too. It’s definitely still a bit “Alestormy.” There’s pirates and shit and booze.
MGM: That element of humour that you guys bring to pretty much everything, it’s there throughout the video as well, isn’t it? It’s definitely you as opposed to just a take on somebody else.
EV: Yeah. Lady Gaga is a bit zany and pretty strange anyways.
MGM: I’ll give you that. She’s the only person I know that’s turned up in a dress made of meat.
EV: We just wanted to do something stupid. It’s great to troll our fans a bit when they really enjoy something and then we reveal that it’s all a big pop song disguised as a metal song. It’s pretty much pop music. Our entire, maybe not the first couple of albums but a lot of the hit songs that we have now like Drink and Shipwrecked and stuff, structurally are all pop songs just masquerading as metal songs. That’s why people remember the lyrics after the first time they hear them and people go home and sing along.
MGM: They stick in the mind simply because they’re sing-along, don’t they?
EV: Yeah, it’s pop music. That’s why we did that.
MGM: That actually leads us quite neatly on to, it’s a year on from Sunset coming out as well now, 8 years since the debut as well. The joke could have worn thin but you have managed to find the inspiration to keep it going and going and going and to be fair, the reception to Sunset has been fantastic.
EV: It’s better than any of the other albums.
MGM: It’s charted higher than any of the other releases as well. Clearly there’s a market for Alestorm, which you can exploit and continue to move onwards and upwards with this as well.
EV: We had that song ‘Scraping the Barrel’ back in 2010 on the third album and everybody took that to mean that we were running out of ideas. They got it completely wrong. The whole point of that song is we’re never going to run out of ideas. You only need the slightest, tenuous reference to pirates in a song and it can be a hit song.
On the latest album, there’s a song about underwater bees making ‘mead from hell’. That song is about scuba diving and collecting honey from crazy, underwater bees. It’s complete nonsense but somehow it’s also about pirates so we get away with it.
MGM: Regardless of the link, as tenuous as it is, you throw it in, it works.
EV: Our songs are now really just about having fun and mostly about drinking, sometimes about other random stuff. One’s about going into the future and killing space squids but I think we have the phrase “bottle of rum” in the lyrics, so there you go, pirates.
MGM: Labouring on the fun pace as well, the dwarf-dancing side of things seems to now be the norm in the videos as well.
EV: Yeah. It was before I was in the band but when they recorded the video for Shipwrecked, it was done by this Serbian production company. All the extras in that video, the dancing girls and there were a few fellows dressed as pirates and there was this midget. There was a really funny moment apparently where I think Chris asked the director, “What’s the name of the little guy. What’s his name?”
The director got really worried and he said, “Oh, you don’t like the midget? If you don’t like him we will find you another midget.” We had this crazy idea that they had a cupboard in their studio that’s just full of various midgets.
MGM: Midgets, if you don’t like this one we move on to a different one.
EV: If you don’t like him we’ll find you another one. He said, “What’s his name?” He said, “He’s a gypsy,” which was the answer to the question, “what’s his name.” There’s obviously some crazy actors union thing in Serbia that completely forgets about midgets and affords them no rights.
“What’s his name?”, “He’s a gypsy”. It’s terrible. It’s really terrible. We don’t endorse this at all but when we did the Magnetic North video…
MGM: I’ll put that in bold, don’t worry.
EV: Please do. When we did the Magnetic North video it was the same company, the same producer, same director so he said, what kind of extras do you want? We knew another thing about the Lady Gaga connection is the dancing that all those characters are doing is the same dance as the Lady Gaga video. We have all these people dressed. There’s a cowboy and a nurse and a waitress and a vicar and stuff.
We said, can we have a Black guy dressed as a pimp which we got. We said, can we just have another midget because we knew they had a cupboard full of midgets. We had another one. It was a different one but every…
MGM: I was going to say, is he a different one?
EV: He is a different one.
MGM: He looks remarkably similar to the fellow in Shipwrecked.
EV: Everybody thinks it’s the same guy. Everybody also thinks it’s Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones.
I’m sure he’s not the only midget in Serbia. I hope there’s more than one.
MGM: You mentioned the guy that you had playing the pimp as well. He looks tremendously familiar.
EV: He was a very good, I wouldn’t call him acting. He literally just had to sit there and spank this girl’s bottom.
He was very good at playing that short character that he had to do. It was great fun. We never really spoke to any of these people because they’re all Serbian and their English is little to non-existent. It was great fun.
When we have these crazy ideas we know the 10 years history of us going insane slightly on tour, culminating in this crazy music video. But these are just acting students who have been plucked from college, been told to wear this costume and been told to dance on this set with this crazy song playing. I really wonder what these people think because they don’t really know the context, do they?
MGM: It shows the ability of the actors though, doesn’t it?
EV: The reason that looks good is because it was choreographed for a Grammy-award-winning pop artist and we just stole it.
I just often wonder what these people think what the hell was going on because the video was shot in different sections. There’s the part set in the prison at the beginning which was just at a big green screen room. The prison was added later.
All these policemen, we got five men to dress as policemen from the waist-up and dance suggestively with a man wearing a toilet roll stuck to his head. He did it and it was great but what do they think?
MGM: That was funny. You have to be one of the few bands that’s done a video where it starts off with somebody basically taking a shit and they put the sound effects in.
EV: They put the sound effects in. Originally it didn’t have the sound effects and we knew there was something missing. Chris, that sound effect is the sound of his poo hitting the water of a toilet but it actually…
MGM: I was going to say, he’s going to have recorded it, isn’t he?
EV: Yeah, he used the same thing as your phone. He put the voice memo, “I defecated,” and then emailed the file to Serbia and it ended up on YouTube.
MGM: On that point while we’re talking about poo, the cocktail recipe. Who on earth came up with that one?
EV: I think that was me. This Serbian production company was strange because the shot where we’re driving down the street…
MGM: In the van…
EV: In the van, that was just a motorway with buildings behind it but when you watch the video it’s this incredibly beautiful mountain-scape in the background.
MGM: I was going to say you were in the middle of the countryside at that point.
EV: Yeah but no, we were just driving down the motorway and there’s just buildings and houses but they somehow managed to CG in this enormous, realistic mountain scene. What they couldn’t do was make these titles look good, just the words that pop up on screen and stuff because we had to match it exactly to the Lady Gaga arrangement. This all makes sense when you go and watch the video, how close they are but they couldn’t get it exactly the same so I did that. I did the recipe and just made it as horrendous as possible, I think. It’s only there for a couple of frames, isn’t it? You have to pause the video.
MGM: I paused it because there is that moment you think, there’s something there that’s worth reading so you have to pause and read it.
White rum, dark rum, dog poo, cyanide. It’s like, well done.
EV: Everything you could want.
MGM: Then of course it leads on to, is it you, testing it?
EV: Yeah, me and our drummer. That was acting. The actual fluid that we used was this awful, glow in the dark, green thing which I think was something like windscreen wash for a car. We handed these little cocktail glasses out to all the actors that they had to pretend to drink it and then they’d die later in the video. I think it was the guy who was dressed as the priest actually drank some. He’d swallowed it and then he was coughing and he vomited and we had to cut. It wasn’t on-screen. It was just testing it. They handed the glass to him and then after this he thought it was crème de menthe or something because that’s bright green. When shooting a video in Serbia don’t use windscreen wash as beverage.
MGM: Because somebody will just take it and make it…
EV: Somebody will drink it.
MGM: It’s probably better than the local wine, you never know.
MGM: Looking at what you are doing at the moment, this tour for Alestorm is fantastic. Pretty much every venue you played is selling out. You’re getting same stage time as Sabaton?
EV: Everything is roughly 50-50 in terms of production, amount of cool stuff that you get to do, amount of cool stuff we get to do. They have this enormous tank which takes up an awful lot of room on stage but our stage setup is left to right of that, keyboards and drums so sometimes it’s about this much space at the front for Chris to stand in and play his guitar. I’m fine with my big, enormous platform at the back.
MGM: I understand you guys have got a duck though.
EV: We do have a duck, yes.
MGM: This is effectively your… it’s your alternative to the tank, isn’t it?
EV: Yeah, we knew they were going to have this remarkably impressive tank that someone has probably been paid a horrendous amount of money to build and we couldn’t do that.
When they do open air festivals the pyro comes out of the cannons but we can’t do that here. It’s definitely not in the UK. We could have constructed some massive set piece of a big pirate ship or something, instead we just decided to completely undermine their serious aesthetic. We covered their tank with a big, black sheet and then put a seven foot tall inflatable, rubber duck on it.
It doesn’t look like a gimmick or it does look like a gimmick. It’s definitely a gimmick but it looks cool, I think. People will remember it.
MGM: I was going to say, everybody I’ve spoken to that’s seen you on earlier dates on the tour, the duck is always mentioned. It works, clearly.
EV: We knew people would go home and tell their friends about the gig and they would say, “Oh, Sabaton had a tank,” but everybody already knows that Sabaton has a tank.
What people don’t know is that Alestorm has a duck so now everybody and their friends have been told all these cool stories about the show and what are they going to remember?
MGM: The duck.
EV: The duck. Exactly.
MGM: Aside from the rest of the UK dates as well, you’ve got a couple of dates coming up in the Netherlands, I think.
EV: Yeah. There’s one in Netherlands, one in Luxembourg.
MGM: What’s after that for Alestorm?
EV: We’re writing the new album slowly and surely.
We’ve written three songs so there’s no chance that it would be out this year.
MGM: Is that just because you’re managing to get so much time on the road and trying to slot an album in as well is difficult or?
EV: Yeah. Touring is the main thing for us. We made a very conscious effort when we’re writing the songs for Sunset that we were going to have them live. I think there were lots of songs on the previous albums that are good songs and you listen to them at home and they’re great but they don’t really work well on a stage. We made sure with Sunset that every song does. It reflects our attitude that playing live is the most important thing for us.
We’re in no hurry to write or release an album. We will do and we’re not running out of ideas and we’re not scraping the barrel or anything like that. It’s not like we’re having trouble. We’ve got far more ideas, bits of songs than we’ll ever use. We just have to sit down and focus and take some time off and stuff. We’ll be doing all tours and everything in the year. Like in autumn we’ll be going to America and stuff like that. We’re doing a few festivals towards the end of summer.
Plus, our singer, he’s moving to America. He’s just got married and he’s doing all this immigration stuff and he has to stay in the States or something so we’re just taking the summer off writing an album. We write with the Internet, with software and send the files back and forth.
We never get together and rehearse or anything like that. We’re just taking some time off. I’ve been in the band for five years and we haven’t stopped. Chris has been doing it non-stop since 2007. Taking the summer off.
MGM: Just in terms of the time that you have spent on the road and playing summer festivals, I saw you at Hellfest last year (2015). I’ve genuinely never seen so many people crowd surfing as there is in an Alestorm crowd. It was unreal. I was about two rows from the stage when you came on. By the end of the set I was the furthest row back. I moved back a bit, back a bit, back a bit. It’s mental. How do you get extreme metal guys to like you guys so much?
EV: We play pop songs and disguise them as metal songs. Oh, it’s heavy metal, but it’s not. It’s pop music. We have two keyboard players so it’s obviously pop music.
MGM: That’s true. Yeah. All the extreme metal fans, they lap you guys up, don’t they?
EV: They do because they won’t ever admit it but extreme metal is incredibly dull if you’re just going to listen to it all day, every day for a festival for four days. You could never do that. That’s awful. I couldn’t even listen to a full album of that stuff without being bored but even these guys who really love it, I believe obviously they really love, but you need some comic relief at some point, don’t you?
They’re obviously not miserable people because they’re at a festival in the summer and they want to drink and have fun in the sunshine and that’s what our music is.
MGM: The main stages in Hellfest were more accessible bands shall we say but the tents certainly were the more extreme side of things. There was Alestorm, just slotted in amongst everybody. The ones where they weren’t packed out like you were keyboard driven ones, so Ensiferum for example, absolutely rammed. Yes, the lyrical content could be different but it’s got melody to it and people are bouncing to it. It clearly makes a difference.
EV: I think Children of Bodom played at one those tents in here as well. It’s the same. I think they made a bit of a mistake, not a mistake but they put us in that tent and then the tent was full and then there was this screen on the wall outside the tent and there were just as many people standing outside, watching our performance.
MGM: You guys could have easily played one of the two main stages and filled the floor.
EV: We’ve done that at other festivals. We’ve played Grass Pop in a tent twice and then the third time they put us on the main stage. It was an early slot. We had the most people watching on the main stage until about 8 p.m. when the headliners and the main support and stuff, artists. We do play main stages at some festivals but they put us on early because they think it’ll get people out of bed which is right. It does.
EV: People wake up and come and see us. It’s great.
MGM: The bar sales presumably go up at that point as well.
EV: I like that at festivals. I don’t like playing too late at festivals because festivals are really fun to be at especially when you have your backstage pass and you can go backstage and sit down if you want and you can go get free drinks backstage and then you go back out and have fun. If we play early then we’ll just get the show over with and then we’ll just enjoy the rest of day.
I’d love to headline main stage festivals, of course I would. It would be amazing but we’re perfectly happy with playing to 40,000 people at 1 p.m. and then that’s it. Then we’re done and we have fun. I think that’s cool.
MGM: Being able to get 40,000 people to come out and watch you even at 1 p.m. that’s an achievement because as you say, half of them they’re either in bed just waking up, hung over, maybe they’re there for a couple of drinks early on at lunch time but to pull that many in, that early, fair play.
EV: It’s great. It doesn’t make us nervous or anything to that many people or anything. It’s fine for me. It’s really good.
We’re doing a headline tour of North America, so USA, Canada, in October. It’ll probably be from the 1st to the 31st, roughly the entire month of October. We’ll be headlining and I don’t think I can tell you who you’ll be spotting but they’ll like it.
It’s two North America bands, the main support and opening band but it’s going to be a good bill and its bands that people have been asking us to play with but I can’t tell you who they are.
Last time we played on Halloween we were in Toronto in 2012, I think. We played as Christian Balestorm and we were all dressed as Batman characters. I was dressed as Harley Quinn which is a female. It was great. That was supporting Epica on that.
MGM: If you’ve got the balls to do it…
EV: It was fine. It was good fun. Chris was Batman and our guitarist was Joker and the drummer was Bane. It was great. We just spent some money at a costume shop and there were picture’s everywhere. That stuff always pays off. Spend a bit of money to do something crazy.
MGM: As you said, then it goes viral. It’s something different, isn’t it?
EV: Yeah. Our show will be, essentially this one, it’ll be banana ducks and we’ll have a big duck. Any venue in the US we can fit it in. We play small shows in the US, everyone does really. Definitely nowhere this size that we have to do in London but we’ll have the duck, we’ll have stupid stuff. It’ll be our standard show.
Elliot and Alestorm then proceed to lay waste to the Forum, leaving a ruined shell of a venue, plundered of riches before departing the UK for mainland Europe where they continued on their triumphant battle campaign.
Or something like that…
VIEW BOTH THE LADY GAGA VIDEO and ALESTORM’S MAGNETIC NORTH VIDEO COMBINED HERE: