June 28, 2019 Interview – Mike Peters of The Alarm
It is near impossible to predict what the future will hold. An unfortunate reality, The Alarm’s Mike Peters refuses to let these uncertainties dictate his life, hopes, and most of all, music. Bravely facing leukemia head on for most of his adult life, Peters has won countless battles and continues to keep The Alarm going for over two decades since reforming back in 1999.
Putting out album after album, touring the world over, and facing more road blocks along the way, Peters stands tall with The Alarm with the release their latest album Sigma. The sequel to 2018’s Equals, Sigma marks another triumphant musical effort for The Alarm who show no signs of fatigue with their pending America tour with Modern English and Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezbel. Seeming as nothing can break the spirit of this inspiring band, Peters recently sat down to chat about his journey through music, the drive behind his work, overcoming obstacles, plus much more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music professionally for over 4 decades. From your early days to the rise of The Alarm in the ’80s, you have overcome whatever life has thrown your way in the process. First tell us, how would you describe this incredible and unpredictable journey?
Mike Peters – That’s a big question. (Laughs) It’s followed a straight path in music. That’s all I tried to do, be straight with the people around me and straight with the fans. Sometimes there are bumps in the road, people fall off the wagon and the wheels come off, but it still keeps moving.
The challenges for my musical life has all been laid out in the music, lyrics, and the stories that have been told. I have just tried to be open and honest, I think that’s what has kept me going. I’ve not tried to jump on the bandwagon or stay in one place for too long. I’ve always moved forward and that’s the only way I can describe it, it’s been an instinctive journey. That’s still the way I do it, putting one foot in front of the other and see where it takes us.
Cryptic Rock – You certainly have attained a lot of success along the way. During the ’80s when The Alarm was selling a lot of records, and through it all, you were doing something different the other bands of the era. What inspired your direction?
Mike Peters – I think we had a lot of failure in the build-up being the success story that was The Alarm. There was another band called The Toilets in the late ’70s which was straight out of the Sex Pistols scene. Then we morphed into another band called Seventeen, and that was a real learning curve.
In those times we were trying to be like other bands all the time and that’s not the way to have success in music, the way to have success is to be yourself. Be as individual and as true as you can be, and that is what The Alarm was. At the time, when The Alarm first came about, truth put us right in sync with an audience, a generation, and we walked together for a longtime through the ’80s in harmony.
Then certain challenges came along to test our relevance and bounds, and we weren’t as strong as we thought, so life had to change. As did things happen for our audience; people get older and have to face their own life challenges such building their own families, change their place of work, or move out of college and go into other worlds. Then it’s harder to stay in touch with your audience, especially the way the voices were communicated in the ’80s. We had no real direct line of communication with our audience, it was just through the media; music magazines, MTV, radio.
Then in the ’90s the internet came along and that allowed me an opportunity to get back to our audience and speak to them all at once. It was a small voice at first, but it became louder and louder as the years went by. Now we really have a great opportunity to almost talk to our audience one to one through social media, etc. I think we are getting back to a place where we’ve got that voice with our audience and we’re all walking in sync together again.
Cryptic Rock – That is all extremely positive. Very busy in recent years, 2017 and 2018 were big years for yourself and The Alarm releasing a slew of new music. Now you are back with a brand new album entitled Sigma. What was the writing and recording process like for this new album?
Mike Peters – To be honest it was from the same place. In 2015 I was relapsing the leukemia I had been carrying for most of my adult life, since 1995. I was in a pretty tough predicament of possibly having a bone marrow transplant unless my doctor could get me on a clinical trial for a brand new drug. I was successful, I have taken the drug, and it has revolutionized my life. It has liberated me from having physical hospital treatment every few weeks. Now I carry chemo therapy with me on the road, I take it morning and night, but I don’t have to be in a hospital. That has really revolutionized the way we can be creative and live our lives musically as a band.
At the same time, you couldn’t write this script, but my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer as well. All of a sudden we almost had to put The Alarm on hold for quite a long time. I didn’t want to put the ‘band to the sword,’ I thought, let’s bank on the recoveries here. Lets assume we are going to come through these ordeals and in one years time we are going to want to play gigs, so let’s book them now. That might have seemed a bit of a tough call and harsh decision to make, but I thought, I want to be ready for the recovery, I don’t want cancer to take minutes, hours, and days away from our lives.
In this process I ended up writing lots and lots of lyrics and that’s where the music began. That is unusual for The Alarm because it usually started in the music, but this started with the lyrics written outside surgeries or hospitals. I had no musical instrument to express myself, so I used to write words into my phone. Then when we came to the worse of the ordeal, I shared the lyrics with my wife Jules who said, “Mike, I think your new album starts in that, ” and she was right.
I laid out all these lyrics all over the studio floor and then I started to look for the music in the lyrics. It was amazing and we pieced it all together from that. It was originally a double album with 30 odd songs. Just listening to fans and talking to people who care about the band, I knew putting out a double album was probably not that feasible with how people react to the world these days. So we came up with a very deliberate plan to put one album called Equals in 2018 and a year to the date later followed it with the sequel, Sigma.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, it sounds like it was a long road, but Sigma is the light at the end of that tunnel. It is very inspiring that you kept pushing forward.
Mike Peters – That’s what we try to do. We try to create music that would draw us out of these situations. The music was born in some pretty dark situations, but we were banking, hoping, and praying for good outcomes. We wrote the music that could emboldened us to get well again so we could be husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, and members of our community. That’s what we did and I think that does come across in the music. Prior to the release of Sigma we have played quite a lot of it live in concert already. It has had some really euphoric elements to it that are a huge part of our gig. We are really looking forward to bringing that to America this summer.
Cryptic Rock – It will be exciting to see you return to the USA. As mentioned earlier, you have been through a lot in your life from overcoming cancer to continue in following your musical dreams. Through it all, what has been the fountain of your strength to keep moving forward?
Mike Peters – I have to say it’s each other, it’s having someone to lean on. It’s having long, honest, and truthfully relationships with people that are around. Smiley and James, are our best friends, they have stood with us through all of this; we have an amazing relationship. We have an unusual band, the band today is so closely knit, we are such good friends, and we take that out on stage. I think people can see we have an amazing bond. That is positive in itself and I think people like to see that.
We’ve got an audience who has stood with us through all the the trials and tribulations we’ve ever had to face. We have an events called ‘The Gathering’ that we hold around the world and we are coming up to our 28th year in Britain. It’s a physical manifestation of the relationship we have with our audience. We have it online with people, it’s a virtual relationship, but thousands upon thousands of people make the journey to Wales where our music/band was born. They can enjoy the music in our home environment and we have this amazing 3 day show where we play masses of The Alarm’s music. It’s a brilliant celebration of what the band is all about and now we’ve started having them in California and just recently had our third one in New York.
I think that, again, the atmosphere of these gatherings has spilled out into our shows. More and more we find people come to the shows and know each other. There are bigger groups of communities in the audiences that wasn’t so much there in the ’80s. Now people are all talking online about coming to going to the gigs; they met in a bar before coming to the event, they come in together as one, and they leave the same way.
It brings an incredible atmosphere to the shows, and as a band, I’ve always fostered that intensely deep relationship with our audience. It’s something else when we hit the stage now, it’s better than it’s ever been. Which is unusual for a band as long standing as The Alarm with all the changes we’ve had to face over the decades. To still to be standing and have an incredible bond and great relationship with our audience is pretty special indeed.
Cryptic Rock – It is extremely special to have those type of connections. Let’s talk the USA tour. You will be on tour with a killer bill that includes Modern English and Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel. What brought this tour together?
Mike Peters – We’ve all played together over the years; The Alarm and Modern English played together right the height of the ’80s decade in 1985-86. What I like about Modern English, and still like about them, is they are still making new music. They are still trying to make exciting music that resonates with their fans and not just resting on their past, the same with Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel. We have bonds that go back to 1999, I opened for The Mission UK and Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel then.
We’ve always carried this torch of being creative together. I phoned the guys and said, “I want to try and put a tour together.” We’ve all come from the same space, so we have that harmony, but we also are going toward something together as well. We wanted this tour to be something different so the conversation around the tour doesn’t just end inside the venue, but spills into the outside world. If someone driving to see us play in Sacramento and is coming up from somewhere else, we want to know about it so we can give them a shout out from the stage. We’re having a tour MC on the road, so the conversation never stops. When we hit the dressing room, there is still someone on the stage who can interact with the audience.
We can then create content on the tour that can go out to the social media communities, so people who can’t get to the tour have a window into the tour to see what it’s like. I think the musical landscape in America is similar to how it was when we first arrived in the ’80s when it was open. Yeah, the door was only open a little bit, but it was the beginnings to what we now call Alternative.
You had the opportunity if someone didn’t like your record at one station, there was another one to go to, and another. By the time you got from one coast to the other, you might have 20 friends playing your records. You can build something with that. In the ’90s that all changed and it almost become dictatorial of how you got your music played. Now with the internet, the horizon is wide open again and I think it’s a great time to play music right now. I wanted it to come not just from one voice, but many voices, and see what we can achieve in America this summer as as creative force.
Cryptic Rock – It should be a fantastic tour to check out with a lot of great music and memories built along the way. Beyond your solo work and The Alarm, you also spent some time leading Big Country. What was that experience like?
Mike Peters – It was a tough period because we had become friends before the loss of Stuart Adamson; The Alarm and Big Country both played gigs with U2. Big Country were really instrumental in helping The Alarm find it’s feet for the second era when we started to come together again in 1999. Suddenly we lost Stuart, but we always stayed friends as bands. Then Big Country asked me if I’d step in and play a couple of songs. It turned into being a whole tour and we ended up making a whole album, which I would say in many ways is really a dedication and love letter to Stu Adamson.
It was a challenge because you were stepping into somebody else’s shoes. We took the role of that no one would stand in the center stage; the Big Country I played in had 5 members rather than 4. It took myself, Bruce and Jamie Watson to sort of cover the ground Stu Adamson had made his own. I used to sing slightly off to stage left, Bruce would sing stage right, center stage was left alone, and that is where the spirit of Stu Adamson laid.
I think it was cathartic for all kinds of reasons. A lot of Big Country fans would come and see The Alarm and there was a sadness when we spoke about Big Country. I felt Stuart was more than the perception that was left behind when he took his own life; it was only one dreadful day in his life. For all the other days he was alive he was a beautiful man, a beautiful spirit who was really uplifting and a real light. I wanted that to be remembered and allow people to focus on that. I thought if I stood and sang with Big Country for a couple of years it would allow the fans to get their records out, buy a ticket, come to the gig again, and allow them to celebrate Stu’s life instead of mourning.
That’s how it worked, it was a celebration period. When Tony Butler had decided he just didn’t want to do it longer than that period, that was when I thought it was my time to go back to The Alarm; which was always my destiny and first calling. Big Country has carried on and they are doing a great job. We are actually playing a gig together on July 6th apart of big festival with Echo and the Bunnymen and The Stranglers. I am looking forward to seeing them, sharing a beer, and catching up on some great times we had together.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like it was a nice experience considering the unfortunate circumstances. Last question, if you are fan of Horror or Sci-Fi films, do you have any favorites?
Mike Peters – I am a bit a Sci-Fi fan myself; I am a 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) fan. I’ve grown up on a lot of the classic things like Blade Runner (1982) and Star Wars series, but I am a big fan of the Alien movies which dips into Horror as well. I’ve always love the remake of The Thing (1982), that blew me away.