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20/02/2008 – Interview with ALESTORM

Scotland, a nation of which very little is known regarding Metal. Well, perhaps you know a couple of bands. The first and only I know is ALESTORM (official website), which recently released its debut album, "Captain Morgan's Revenge", via the Austrian label Napalm Records. Known as BATTLEHEART, the band changed its name not too long ago. Its members catalogue the music under Pirate Metal, although you can also call it Folk/Power Metal, as this is a far better term to be able to draw comparisons with other bands. Still, "Captain Morgan's Revenge" is a breath of fresh air in this genre, due to the theme (mainly), but also how these Scots bring it musically. The review of the album can be found at this location.

I liked this new release a lot and considering there aren't that many Pirate Metal bands out there, I thought it would be nice to know more about ALESTORM, their debut, their view on pirates, the Scottish scene and the usual general things. I couldn't help it - or perhaps I could - but this turned out to be another lengthy interview, which is probably best for phone and face-to-face interviews. So next time it will be shorter again. ;-) Guitarist and co-founder Gavin Harper was kind enough to accept the challenge (and answer fast: sent on the 17th, received on the 20th), which kept him from taking that necessary nap.

Alestorm logo

Congratulations with "Captain Morgan's Revenge". It contains familiar songs, but at the same time it's a fresh release in the Folk genre, in my humble opinion. How satisfied are you about the end result?

Remarkably! It was great fun to make and has gone down really well with the listeners. There's obviously shit I/we would change, but given that we had 1 month for the entire production, it's quite an undertaking.

Alestorm bandThe album's been out since some weeks. I take it the reviews are positive to very positive? Did you also get less good/negative criticism, be them from journalists or family/friends/colleagues/...?

Yeah, my girlfriend asked if I'd rather have a boyfriend.

Deal with Napalm Records:
1) how did it come about?
2) did you check out the label's roster or ask bands of their experience with Napalm?
3) What other labels also showed interest in ALESTORM?

Emailed them a link to the Myspace.
Never spoke to any others.

"Captain Morgan's Revenge" is all pirate-influenced. Is it based on a true story or a book or ...? It's not about Henry Morgan, is it? (Wikipedia-page)

Nah, why would a Scottish metal band make our debut work about some Welshie? Everything is made up/drunken bollocks! Don't try and find a story or plot in it! It's not there! Hahah!

Where does the pirate fascination come from? Something that grew since your childhood or something more recent like the "Pirates Of Carribean" movies?

Nah, kids LOVE pirates, and our singer loves kids! Essentially it's an easy way to lure in the 7-year olds.

One thing that made me curious, is the use of a vibraslap (in "Of Treason"), something uncommon in Metal. I find this an interesting addition, to be honest. Using such instruments to spice up the songs, to make certain atmospheres come more alive. Whose idea was it and how does it fit in the music or story?

Haha, "Of Treason"? (note by Tim: oh damn, my bad. It's "Of Treasure", of course. :-)) To be honest, producer Lasse Lammert and I found one in a big box of percussion, looked at it for 30 mins with no idea how to make it make noise then he found the technique and for shits and giggles we put it on one song. There's a ton of other weird shit in there we didn't mention! :-D

How did the recording process go? And was everything ready before you entered the studio or did you alter some compositions during your stay in the studio?

Well, a load of stuff got fucked with of course, but the key elements of each song were finished before we went in.

Five out of the 10 songs aren't new, but taken from your first two EPs. Did you just re-record them or did you rewrite them a bit?

As above. :-)

I saw on the pictures of the recording sessions that you used triggers on the drums. Does it make the recordings easier? And how do you feel about the 'realness' of the drumsound in general?

Here we go, the age old "OMG TRIGGERS!" debate. :-) The triggers were used only for sidechain triggering a noisegate and to differentiate hits. So yes, the drumsound is very real, you'll notice about 12 mics on the kit, too.

Captain Morgan's Revenge coverWho did the cover art and did you give guidelines?

Ingo Römling (website) and nah, we were sent it before we even knew he was doing it. We're very happy with it! We did send changes though, of course.

The funny thing is the connection between Christopher's voice and Captain Morgan on the cover. It's as if he was drawn to fit Christopher's voice or the other way around. That's just a coincidence, right? :-)

Can't say I noticed that to be honest... But aye!

The last song, "Flower Of Scotland", is - according to Wikipedia (yes, I had to do some research) - "an unofficial national anthem of Scotland, a role for which it competes against the older Scotland the Brave. In common with England among the Home Nations, Scotland has no official national anthem. Flower of Scotland was written by Roy Williamson of the folk group The Corries and presented in 1967. The song refers to the victory of the Scots, led by King Robert the Bruce over the English King Edward II, at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314." Of course, there's more text, but can you explain why you chose to add this song to the album? Is it the patriot in you that made this decision? ;-)

It's a great song and I am yet to hear a better national anthem. Great fun to play and we all love it!

On "Captain Morgan's Revenge" there are 3 guest musicians:
Brendan Casey - bass
Lasse Lammert - vibraslap, tambourine
Ian Wilson - percussion
-- How did they get to contribute? (except for Ian, of course, since he's a bandmember)
-- Why was Ian mentioned as guest?

"How did they get to contribute?
Brendan Casey - bass
Lasse Lammert - vibraslap, tambourine
Ian Wilson - percussion"

(Note from Tim: perhaps I should have asked it in another way, like why those people were chosen, how they got involved, ... But seeing Lasse was the producer, and Ian is actually a full-time member, it leaves Brendan. Oh well, Gavin's got humour, though. :-))

In addition to the previous question, in the press text it says that Ian played the drumparts, while the booklet speaks of Migo Wagner (from the German Death Metal band INCUBATOR). In my review, I gave all credit to Ian, but did he also play (certain) drumparts? Also, how did Migo get in the picture?

Ian couldn't make the recording sessions, so we enlisted a good friend and very talented drummer to do them in his place. Ian was very cool with this.

Is everyone in the songwriting process or is it the task of Christopher and Gavin?

Chris and Gavin.

Music or lyrics: which comes first and what's the (dis)advantage of that?

Music first, no real reason, just... it's how we work. Neither of us are vocalists.

Who's responsable for the lyrical aspect?

Chris and Joe McQuade (a friend of ours).

Alestorm band picture 2008I read in another interview that you seems to be quite a distance between everyone's house. A few questions about that:
1) How often do you come together to rehearse and exchange ideas?
2) And is this on a neutral location or always at e.g. Christopher's or Gavin's place?
3) Does everyone always have to bring along his instrument or is everything stored at one location to avoid logistical problems?

2-3 times a year.
My studio.
We all have our own shit.

On the promotional photos you're dressed in a suitable style. Did you just simply buy those clothes or did you have them made? In addition, would you consider using similar ones as merchandise (not necessarily now, since it's probably a costly investment), in addition to the regular t-shirts?

It's all about eBay!

About your playing: Did you take lessons to develop/sharpen your instrumental/vocal skills or was it all/mostly self-taught?

Entirely self taught, on both my vocals and my guitars as well as everything else.

Is any of you active in other bands or does ALESTORM require enough attention already?

I've got two Sleaze Rock bands in the formation stages and am currently writing an album for each. Chris has a few bands like SPLEN.

Is everyone on the same line regarding musical taste or is there a clear difference between each of you?

I'm a Sleaze Rock guy, Chris is a manlove-Folk Metal fan.

Any touring plans or do you prefer to focus on the next album and do some gigs in Scotland or the UK?

We've just finished the first album, so we've got some touring which is coming at the most awkward possible time for me, haha! But it'll all be good. Really looking forward to a few of the festivals we have coming up.

Something non-band or album related (well, in a way it is): From a well-informed source (a Bulgarian friend of mine, Dimiter), I was told that Christopher or Gavin makes his own Scottish homemade mead. That of course also helps to create the right atmosphere and inspiration to write songs. How does one create such a drink? In other words, what's the recipe? :-)

Haha, who the hell is that? :-) (Note by Tim: he was to build the band's website, but due to whatever reason this collaboration never took off.)
No, that's not true. I, however, I have a Chinese child sweatshop in my basement! All you need for that is sewing machines, kidnapped children and a contact in Nike.

I'm not familiar with what Scotland has to offer regarding Metal and ALESTORM is the only one I know so far. What other bands are worth checking out and how 'popular' is Metal over there? Is there a scene?

The best Scottish band I have heard is PEEP SHOW (MySpace page). Check them out!

What kind of Metal bands have found a place in your collection? And what other artists (non-Metal) take the other places?


Well, that's it for me. Many thanks for replying to this long 'inquiry'. ;-) All the best to you and the band and if there's anything that needs clarification or just something you want to add, go ahead.

It's 2am and I am in Dublin airport having not slept in 3 days!

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