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THE ALARM (MIKE PETERS) INTERVIEW [2006]

YOU WERE THE FIRST PERSON I EVER INTERVIEWED FOR THE WEBSITE BACK IN 2002 AND NOW YOU ARE THE FIRST PERSON WHO I'M INTERVIEWING FOR A SECOND TIME... BACK THEN YOU SEEMED TO HAVE A MILLION PROJECTS ON THE GO AT ONCE AND NOW YOU SEEM TO BE EVEN BUSIER! WHEN DO YOU SLEEP?!?

Well I get quite a lot but not as much these days now I've got a little boy, which is brilliant - all the things that people say it'll be bar none!

MY DAUGHTER IS PRETTY MUCH THE SAME AGE AS DYLAN AND IF I WERE A MUSICIAN I THINK THAT I WOULD NOW SPEND ALL MY TIME WRITING ABOUT HER...

I'm sure there are things that have crept in, lines here and there but obviously it does affect your work because your whole life changes when you have a child and it affects everything doesn't it? I've not written a song directly about him but I'm sure he has influenced all my writing. As a father you see things differently and respond to things differently don't you? I think it makes you appreciate everything so much more, the time you have and the place you live... having children also make you interact with people differently so it changes everything I think...

EVERYTHING MUST BE VERY EXCITING FOR YOU NOW WITH THE NEW SINGLE OUT AND THE ALBUM ROUND THE CORNER?

Yeah it's great, it is very exciting. It's amazing to be back in the Top 40, and whatever that means it does mean a lot to us, the band - we just keep hammering on the door as The Alarm and we just keep going forward. It's making us some new fans and it re-energises the older ones and the great thing about our band at the moment is that it feels very much like it did back in 1983, just as exciting. I think that every musician gets a thrill from hearing their song on the radio and getting it in the charts, but it's great being in something as special as The Alarm - especially with the fans and the relationship we've had with them over the last twenty-five years which is still really strong, it's great to take that relationship and put it in among all the other bands, put it among our competitors, and have us stood alongside the younger bands as well - even if it is for just one or two days!

I think for some of the older fans there's that thing of saying to their children 'I'm listening to the charts tonight because MY band is going to be on...'! It's good sometimes for us to take part in a competitive situation and the charts is one of the few competitive elements in the music industry. I actually think it's just as hard to have a hit record today as it was back in the eighties... the sales figures are down but it takes just as much drive to get those people to buy the singles as it did in the past.

AND FOR THIS ALBUM YOU'RE WITH EMI, WHICH MUST CHANGE THINGS FOR YOU?

I don't know if it makes things any easier for us but in a way we felt that as a band we've come a long way with our independent thing of marshalling our audience and keeping everyone together, and we've learnt a lot over the last few years, but we felt that having EMI back on board gave us a standing in the wider aspects of the music industry and gave us a certain amount of industry credibility. I think it's helped us and it'll open doors for us - not just immediately, but all through the album project... we might be able to get a second single out and we've been able to do a DVD with the album. All those kind of things, you need resources to do them.

For us as The Alarm it also puts us right back in touch with the catalogue in a much more meaningful way than it's been in the past when I've licensed it back from EMI. I think it sort of energises them to thinking 'well maybe we do need a new best of', 'maybe we do need to be thinking about reissuing this again'... so it had a lot of opportunities for us to develop as a band and I'm sure that will come more to fruition as the relationship develops.

HOW DIFFERENT IS YOUR EMI RELATIONSHIP NOW TO THE ONE YOU HAD BACK IN THE IRS DAYS?

I think nowadays we do so much for ourselves whereas back then you needed the record company and you needed the media - much more than we realised I think - to get our message across. In those days we were always in and out of the record company seeing how things are going but today we're in a much more information based era and we find a lot of things out for ourselves now, on the internet and everything, and a lot of things that drive our records actually come through our offices now.

It feels like in some ways we're ahead of the record company and I think that was part of the attraction for the record company - here's a really internet savvy band who are great at organising their fans and creating events outside the record industry, and I think that EMI have probably got more to learn from us than we have from them...

I THINK THE ALARM IS A SHINING EXAMPLE OF HOW YOU CAN DO IT INDEPENDENTLY...

That's true, but there's a few of us who are good at it... Marillion are very good at it all, even U2 these days have the payment part of their website where people can have a choice of titbits and things like that. I think that a lot of bands have embraced the things we do, right across the scale of how successful they are and what have you, but I do think that the music industry has a heck of a lot to learn about the first principles of dealing with people and treating people with respect you know? Treating them like real people and customers who come back time and time again - we learnt that in the eighties and at that time there was a lot of disdain from the record companies towards the audiences. I think that's still there actually, and that's partly why the industry is in a bit of a state now. I don't think that people feel honoured by the music industry after a lifetime of buying records...

ARE YOU STILL SURPRISED BY THESE KINDS OF ATTITUDES ON THE PART OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY EACH TIME YOU RELEASE AN ALBUM OR COME INTO CONTACT WITH THEM, OR DO YOU JUST EXPECT IT TO BE LIKE THAT NOW?

I don't know... I think we're always trying to move on as a band and go forward and I think you always try to highlight that in your activities and in the music so we always try to come up with something different for every record. For this one we felt it needed visualising and we created a film for every track on the album and when we launched the album the first thing the fans saw was not us playing it but a film!

We had a premiere at The Gathering and we had a thousand people turn up on a Saturday afternoon - it was great for us because we were all standing at the back and we got to watch people reacting to our record which was really weird... I think that when the album comes out and people can buy the version with the DVD it'll be pretty unique because people will be able to go home and pop it in their DVD player and watch it and listen to it together for the first time...

The first time I used to listen to new records I would try to read along with the lyrics so that I could try and digest it but I think this time that having a video for each track will be very unique. I can actually already feel an excitement building for the record, just from the snippets of songs we've been putting on thealarm.com and everything and it's very exciting!

I THINK THAT'S PARTLY TO DO WITH THE RELATIONSHIP YOU HAVE WITH YOUR FANS AS WELL - IF YOU'RE AN ALARM FAN THEN YOU'RE VERY PART OF IT ALL AND YOU'RE REALLY TAKEN ALONG FOR THE RIDE...

That's true and I think that all of us who are involved in it go way beyond the call of duty but we do that because it's our hobby, we love it, we love the band and we love the music and we love the community of fans who we've got to know over the years. We don't want to see it wither on the vine, we want to take it forward because we're proud of it and I think the fans are too... they are so committed to us and they really do so much for us and that just brings me back to... I lose faith in the music industry because it can't recognise that. People in the industry think that we're great at organising the fans but if the music wasn't any good then we wouldn't have any fans!

WELL WITH THIS ALBUM I THINK I CAN SAFELY SAY THAT THE MUSIC IS VERY GOOD... IT'S A REAL ROCK ALBUM ISN'T IT?

I think we've taken a step forward with this album, it's exciting... it's a challenge and it's a pretty hard-hitting record and we wanted it to be that... we didn't want it to be something that just sat back and tried to recreate former glories and be nostalgic.

When you come to the shows and we play the new songs it gives new life to '68 Guns' and 'Spirit Of 76' and 'Rain In Summertime' - I think that if you came to a show and just heard those three songs back to back you could think 'yeah it's just a nostalgia show' but when you hear '68 Guns' and then 'My Town' off the new album it makes them both sound fresh and they both help each other and it's great to be able to put the songs into that sort of context and it makes playing the new songs a challenge but it also makes playing the old songs far more interesting for us...

WHICH MUST BE REALLY IMPORTANT TO YOU - TO STILL WANT TO PLAY THOSE SONGS AFTER PLAYING THEM SO MANY TIMES BEFORE...

Well when we were working up to The Gathering it was the first gig for a long time where we weren't learning songs for it, we knew them all back to front and inside out and what we spent most of our rehearsal time doing was finding the combinations that work... where's the best place in the set to put '68 Guns' now we've got 'Without A Fight'? That was interesting for us and I think we really pulled it off... we played The Gathering and I think it was then that we realised that there must be about half a dozen of the songs on the new album that we'll be playing for ever now!

If you look at our set list and really broke down where the songs come from the five albums of studio material we made in the eighties the majority, the backbone of it comes from the first album we made, 'Declaration', and I feel that this time the backbone of our future sets is going to come from 'Under Attack'...

WHEN WAS THE ALBUM ACTUALLY WRITTEN AND RECORDED?

It was through June, July and August of last year... but I suppose it came to a creative peak in the first week of July really - the final weekend we had of creating music was the weekend of the Make Poverty History Live 8 concert and we were all together working on the album in Wales on that day - Jules, my wife, had gone down to the concert and we were very envious but we stayed...

We'd had a few days away from each other at that stage - we'd got most of the album done and we thought we'd all go off and have a think about it and have a listen to see if there were more tracks needed or more songs to back up the direction in which we were going.

We got together on the Saturday and I asked Steve - the drummer - what he'd thought listening to the tapes and he said 'I think we need another one like 'Cease And Desist' and I was like 'Funny you should say that but I've got this track here...' and we all piled into it and ripped it apart and rebuilt it on that day - partly going in and out to the pub to see bits of the Live 8 concert and we had that one - 'My Town' - down by the afternoon and we felt really excited about it.

Then we started to work up another one... we had a few riffs floating about and a few bits and pieces and we decided to just make them all work together... I think that the atmosphere around the country was so 'up' on that day, and it was so inspiring... we created 'Something's Got To Give' on that afternoon and it was at that point that we felt that we had an album and not just a load of great tracks.

I didn't really have many of the lyrics down at that stage, the lyrics started to some when I was listening to the rehearsal tapes... in the past I've always worked as kind of singer/songwriter within a band and I would write a song musically and lyrically and almost arrange the whole thing in my head and then bring it to the band... but this time I thought we had a great chemistry going and I thought we shouldn't ignore that and we've got to have the band in on the making of the record... not just a collection of Mike Peters songs by a bunch of musicians. So I only came in with little musical sketches for this album...

SOMETHING YOU'VE WRITTEN ABOUT ON YOUR WEBSITE IS THAT YOU FEEL THAT SOME OF THE SONGS ON THE ALBUM HAVE TAKEN ON A WHOLE NEW MEANING SINCE YOU WERE DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER...

That's right... I think that when I wrote 'Without A Fight' for the album, that whole lyrical theme just came out in the singing of the song and I thought 'well yeah I am the kind of guy who doesn't give in without a fight' so I could follow that train of thought through and come up with the finished lyrics, but I did think of it as more of an abstract thing about facing difficulties in life and not about the fact that I was about to face the biggest difficulty of my life!

On December 9th, just after I'd been diagnosed, I was in hospital having a day long set of treatments and I brought my iPod along with me and I was wired up to this machine but I had forgotten that I had put all the new tracks on my iPod - I did that when we were finishing the album because I sometimes like to go for a run or a walk and put all the album tracks on a random sequence and see what happens - you know, 'I'd never have put that track after that one but it works great!'.

So I'd forgotten the tracks were on there because I don't like listening to the music once an album is finished - and at that point it was all done and had all been mastered - but I was on this machine and all of a sudden 'Without A Fight' just came on and I thought 'Who's this?'! But as soon as it started up I thought 'now I know why I have written this song, now I know why I've written this lyric'... it absolutely summed up my whole situation there and then. The doctors had said that I'd been carrying my illness for a very long time undetected so possibly my whole subconscious was driving me towards that... trying to get me to go to the doctors but I wouldn't listen!

AND HOW ARE YOU DOING AT THE MOMENT?

Well I feel great! I'm on my third round of chemotherapy and I've been very fortunate in that I haven't had any heavy side effects from it that have stopped me from living my life as normally as possible.

I have had to make some changes and there are things that I can't do any more but I can still play the shows we did have planned - the one-off Saturday gigs in the UK this year, hopefully I'll be able to play those all through the year and still have my treatment... for me it's important to play the shows and keep my focus because I think that can help to fight off the side effects of cancer, and yes I do feel tired - more tired than normal - but I'm standing up to it and keeping pushing through it, partly because of these gigs, and I think that helps the illness...

The whole mental attitude is really important because you're not in hospital that much, you get diagnosed and you go in for your treatment and then you're at home for weeks and I think that if you're not careful you can feel like you're not doing anything about the illness. By playing the gigs it makes me stay focussed and I have to look after myself and listen to my body and I think it keeps me fighting every day...

I do think that people with a positive mental attitude to succeed and they do live longer and I think there has to be something in that and I'm just trying to stay as positive and upbeat and life-affirming as I possibly can, but I feel great... I have a long way to go - at this present time there's no cure for what I have - but as long as I continue responding well to my treatments, which I have been so far, then there's no reason to expect my life expectancy to change from that of any other normal, healthy person my age.

There are some things on the horizon that I might have to consider, I might have to consider a stem cell transplant because I'm still young enough to stand the process and to rebuild my life after it... but that's something I might have to go through because that's a potential source for a cure for me... not a proven cure by any stretch of the imagination, but wiping out my immune system and replacing it with a brand new one could well be the end of it all for me and the start of a normal life again. So that's something the doctors have mentioned to me as something we might have to consider...

So I'm just trying to stay positive and to be honest I have so much love and support coming my way that it's hard not to feel positive!

WITH ALL THIS GOING ON WITH YOU, DOES IT MAKE IT MORE IMPORTANT TO YOU THAT THE 'UNDER ATTACK' ALBUM IS A SUCCESS?

Not really... like all records you hope that it gets you to the next one and that's all I want for this record; to give me the space and the time and the energy to make another record.

I hope it excites the fans enough that they want to hear more from Mike Peters and The Alarm and as long as they do then that is the success for me... there's a lot of bands that come from my era that people aren't interested in hearing new music from, they just want to hear the old hits and that's enough. I understand that but I hope we don't reach that point - it's a fantastic position to still be in, that people still want to hear the classics and remember the eighties, but I want to be able to move forward as a musician and I'm grateful that my audience give me that opportunity.

As long as this record continues that and there's an audience out there that still want to listen to a new Mike Peters album and give it the time of day then that is the ultimate that we can achieve with any record!

FEBRUARY 2006

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