Alestorm: “The Plan Is Always Write About Pirates And See What Happens”

If you hate on Alestorm for being goofy or not metal enough, you’re not only late to the party, you probably brought some harsh craft beer that nobody likes. Since 2007, the Perth-based pirate metal band have written some of the most rip-roaring singalong tracks that guitar-based music has ever heard, with topics ranging from drinking, giants sea monsters, drinking, antiquated forms of naval punishment, and of course drinking. And if you’re too serious a metalhead to jig in public to Alestorm’s snickering antics, that’s fine–the quintet’s dedication to catchy songwriting and onstage madcappery has garnered them a legion of fans who are way less self-conscious than you are

“Let’s face it, we’re a stupid band,” laughs frontman Christopher Bowes. “Everything we do, especially these days, is all about, ‘How can we turn this song into a joke, but also make it a good song?’ I think it’s because we aren’t serious people. We’re not grim or angry or at war with the world, we’re just pretty chill about life. So it’d be kind of disingenuous of us to write songs where we have this gloomy outlook–it’s just not who we are. We’re just very happy people.”

If the band’s latest album, Curse of the Crystal Coconut, doesn’t drive this home, nothing will. The lyrics of opener and lead single “Treasure Chest Party Quest” might as well have been written by a Florida MC (“We’re only here to have fun, get drunk, and make loads of money/’Cause nothing else matters to me”), while “Tortuga” is an unusually epic mixture of rap, synth, and radio rock. Even the more straightforward cuts on the album like “Chomp Chomp” and “Call Of The Waves” take uncommon chances, the latter being a pretty inspiring anthem to what makes Alestorm special. While it’s easy to label Alestorm as a one-note novelty, a record like this proves that they’re more willing to try more new things than most other artists out there.

“We’re never afraid to take risks with an album,” explains Bowes. “We do understand at the end of the day that this is a commercial product and we have to make a lot of songs that people want to hear, but there’s no harm in squeezing in one or two more experimental tracks, to test the waters, see what works. A lot of songs we did in the past were experiments that turned out to be huge hits. Even a song like “Keelhauled” back in the day, was our first time doing that poppy, singalong folk metal song–that’s basically become our signature style of music. It’s always worth trying to do something new and see what sticks.”

Has there ever been an urge on your part to do an album that’s serious about pirate history, or philosophy? Just go entirely straight-faced?

I’ve thought about it. I’ve thought, ‘What if this is the missing thing in this band? What if what people really want, at the end of the day, is tales of their ancestors with deep philosophical lyrics and meanings?’ I’ve been tempted! But then I thought, ‘No, I can’t write this. I struggle to write those lyrics. I can’t do this with a straight face. It’s a silly band that sings about nonsense.’ And at the end, we write the songs we want to write, which is silly, fun songs. The most joy we get is when we write a dumb party song, and then we play it live and 10,000 people out there are going batshit crazy to it. It’s our favorite thing to do, is make people happy with our music. And I’ll be honest, I don’t think that many people at the end of the day would like it if we did a serious album.

It’s hard to imagine an Alestorm audience standing around saying, ‘Well, but seriously, guys…’

We have done one or two more serious, drawn-out songs in the past, and when we play them live, we just notice–Ugh, the crowd just dies. People just start staring. We want to make people happy and dance around.

Going into each Alestorm album, is there a theme or approach or something new we wanna do, or is it just, Next album, more pirates?

The plan is always write songs about pirates and see what happens. There’s never any sort of theme or overarching themes going on. Occasionally, we’ll start writing saying, ‘Oh, this is going to be the big party hit’ or ‘This is going to be the introspective one,’ but for the most part, I just sit down and start writing, and whatever happens happens. It’s a bit of a magical process that I don’t really understand myself. We don’t often try to deliberately write anything, I think what comes naturally to me is just nonsense.

Do you get a sudden pirate itch that gets your writing again, or is it just that you decide it’d been long enough between Alestorm albums?

The main thing for this band is being a live band. There comes that point where you release an album, you tour for a couple of years, and after three years you start to feel the momentum drag a little bit. People aren’t getting super stoked to see you anymore, because they’ve seen these songs. And that’s the point where it’s like, ‘Okay, now we need something new.’ That’s the live cycle that drives us to make more stuff. We spend our lives on the road touring and stuff, and at the end of the day we’ve become one of these bands where the albums are advertisements for the tours. It’s like, ‘Hey, you like that song? Then come to the show!’ Obviously, this year, that’s going a bit different–we’re releasing an album to promote a tour that’s not happening.

Is there a track on the new album where it’s breaking your heart not to play it live?

All of it, to be honest. But the one thing I wanted to do is, the song “Fannybaws” — all over the world, that’s going to be a song that people like. But in Scotland, that’s going to have an extra-specialness, because ‘Fannybaws’ is the ultimate insult in Scotland, and the song’s full of Scottish slang words, so that’s just going to go down like an absolute treat. There aren’t many metal bands who use Scottish slang in their lyrics. So I was really looking forward to playing that in Glasgow, just to watch the crowd go batshit crazy. I’m looking forward to playing that in Germany and hearing all these people yelling, ‘Ja, I am a Fannybaws!’ and not knowing what the fuck it means. I love shitposting and bulshitting people like that.

This album feels like a tour of Alestorm’s concepts and vibes–did you go into it with any writing ideas, or production changes, where you thought, This is the ultimate Alestorm?

Well, production-wise, we really hit a winning formula with our first album. We’ve used the same producer ever since we’ve started the band, and that;’s never going to change. He understood that we’re useless and he makes it work. But songwriting-wise, this album we definitely approached it differently. We had a friend of mine from this Australian band Trollhagn–this weird, avant-garde band, and we write songs together really well–he and I wrote songs together, and all these new ideas have come in, which is kind of cool. He’s the one who’s mostly responsible for a song like “Tortuga.” I would love–LOVE–to be a band that could just write songs like “Tortuga,” with all these daft rap sections and electronics. But I do understand that not many people want that. It’d be great if that song was a breakaway hit, but whatever, we’ll write more goofy songs about pirates in the end.

Is there anything waiting on the back-burner that you’ve always wanted to try, if only the audience would get ready for it?

I think we’ve reached a point, at least a couple of albums ago, where we don’t give a fuck anymore. We’re confident in who we are, and we have the fanbase and enough presence in the world that we don’t have to struggle with every album in the hopes that people might like it. They’ll listen to it regardless. We’re at a point where we’re comfortable to do anything, really. As long as it doesn’t get us sent to prison, we’ll do it. We’ve written a couple of songs that were just lyrically too offensive, and we thought, ‘Maybe that’s not a good idea’, but there’s nothing musical that we would not do at this point. We would go anywhere. If I want to do more rap stuff, or more black metal bits, it’s all possible. 

Have you guys considered working with more rappers? Because a song like “Treasure Chest Party Quest” reveals that the pirate ethos and the hip-hop ethos are very similar.

End of the day, if you analyze our lyrics, “Get drunk, fuck bitches, make money!” That’s piracy! And that’s a theme you’ll find often in rap music. I’d love to get a big-name rapper involved. How cool would that be! That’d be incredible, even creatively, to work with some huge name that’s massive in the rap world. But it’s a tough sell, a really tough sell, and it wouldn’t be something that’d be cheap to do. So the question is, would we spend all of our money hiring someone like Xzibit and Tech9, especially if it’s like, ‘Nope, no one likes this!’

Along those lines, are there any super-serious or grim-faced metal bands who behind the scenes are like, “I love Alestorm! I’d work with you any time!”

It’s a common thing we run into at tours or festivals–they see us in the line-up and think, ‘Oh God, who the fuck are these guys?’ And later on backstage, we get along, and something clicks, and they get what we’re doing, and it’s cool. Like, that Swedish Viking death metal band Unleashed? They’re OG ‘90s Swedish death metal, and we toured with them on some pagan festival bullshit once, since we kind of both vaguely sing about folky stuff, and they were like, ‘Who the fuck is this band?’ And we’re all mates now! They came around. It’s crazy that we can make connections spanning genres. I think a lot of musicians, no matter what kind of band you’re in, you tend to be more open-minded. You tend not to care so much about looking ‘trve’–the fans seem to care about that more. But if you’re the guy in the band, you’re like the trendsetter, so anything you do is going to be cool no matter what. But we also have plenty of friends in bands who would not associate with Alestorm, and that’s cool too.

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Curse Of The Crystal Coconut is out now.

Words by Chris Krovatin