Metal is not my thing.
But when the request came for me to interview Chris Bowes of Pirate Metal band Alestorm, I was equal parts of apprehensive and intrigued.
Alestorm hail from Perth, Scotland. Metal, much less pirate metal, is hardly Scotland’s biggest export. But these guys have been at it since 2004, writing, producing and performing their unique brand of pirate metal to wildly enthusiastic fans all across the world.
They’ve been here before, headlining Witchfest 2015. And they’re returning to South Africa to headline Pirate Fest (obvs, right?) on the 7th of September in Joburg, alongside Atreyu, Tweak, Hellcats and Fuzigish.
Chris Bowes answers the phone enthusiastically, “Is this Alden?” Usually I correct people and tell them that I prefer Al to Alden, but I’ve never heard my name called in a thick Scottish accent so I let it slide.
I confirm that I, indeed, am Alden.
Just before our scheduled phone date, I laughed too hard at their most recent Facebook post that read: Oh no! Captain Chris was eaten by a shark on stage in Germany last week. He died tragically. Should we bring him back from the dead, or hire the shark as our new singer? YOU DECIDE.
I reckon this is a great ice-breaker so I play along and tell him how surprised I am to have him on the phone. In a seriously-not-serious tone he responds, “Yeah, they decided to bring me back as the singer. The shark wasn’t really working out, and he demanded a lot of money so we fired him and we reckon it’s for the best.”
I know that they’re on a world tour so I ask where he’s calling from. “We’re currently in the United States of America, in Tennessee, drinking all their beer.”
Beer? Doesn’t he mean ale? Or rum for that matter?
I’m confused but I brush it off and ask him what the most important rule is for being a pirate. “The number one rule for being a pirate, well, you’ve gotta drink a lotta rum. That’s very important.” Ah, there it is, the rum thing. He continues, “But you know, you don’t even need to have a ship. I don’t even have a ship. I wish I had a ship. But yeah, you’ve just gotta do what you like and have fun. I must admit that I’ve never stolen anything at gunpoint and sailed across the Caribbean. It’s a state of mind.”
That sounds a lot like hedonism to me. That sounds a lot like me! Have I been a pirate all this time without knowing? Arrg, matey!
He admits that fans have taken the rum thing too seriously, ploughing them with it after shows, “Five or six people would get me a big, heavy shot of nasty-ass rum and then I got completely sick of rum. I’ve gone off it these days. So now I enjoy a glass of wine. I mean a lotta wine, all the wine. And gin, gin’s real good!”
Naturally, the next topic is hangover cures. His voice takes an authoritative tone, “The best hangover cure in the world, and this is a scientific fact, is a beverage that they brew here in Scotland, and it’s called Iron Brew – this bright orange soda made from rust, and it’s proudly Scottish, and pure science.”
I steer the conversation onto music, the real reason we’re chatting, and tell him that my favourite thing about their metal is that you can actually hear what the singer is singing. He’s here for this, “There are so many bands playing very inaccessible music so we thought let’s start a band where everything is really simple and really straight forward, ‘cause the most fun thing is going up on stage, you play a song, and the whole crowd is singing it right back at you… other metal bands are weird.”
He plays in another band, Gloryhammer, and each band member has a folklorish name. His is Zargothrax. I ask about his pirate name in Alestorm, “Gloryhammer is the silly, nonsense, fantasy band where it’s all over the top and we all have character names and costumes. With Alestorm we’re just being ourselves, you know?”
He admits that playing in costume means “Sweaty ass-crack on stage”, which can’t be the most comfortable thing mid-performance. “We’re just five guys who like playing dumb songs. And we like it that way.”
They have a reputation for bringing a 2-3 meter-high giant rubber duck to their performances and I have to know more. “It’s a joke that went down really goddamn well. It was one of our first big shows and we were opening for a really big metal band, really serious guys, and we knew they were bringing a replica of a giant army tank on stage for their performance. We were like ‘Fuck, where are we gonna get something to beat that at such short notice?’ so we found this 3-meter rubber duck and just put it right on top of their army tank. They were not impressed. And it sorta just stuck, you know?”
He confesses that there are a finite amount of giant rubber ducks, what with their audience known to sacrifice theirs at performances, but he reassures that they will be bringing one along for Pirate Fest.
I ask him about their last time in South Africa and he confesses, “We tried to drink all of South Africa’s beer and we woke up feeling miserable… and your Iron Brew isn’t the same as ours.”