By: Kevin Rolfe
The Alarm is back on tour promoting their new album Sigma. Sigma is a sequel to last year’s critically acclaimed Equals. The Alarm return to Utah on August 8 at The Complex with Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel. I had the opportunity to speak with The Alarm’s frontman, Mike Peters a couple of weeks ago. I enjoyed our conversation so much! Mike has had a challenging life and a very interesting career. Enjoy!
Utah Concert Review: So before we begin, I was watching some videos on YouTube the other day and I went down this rabbit hole as you do. I’m a huge fan of The Killers, and I’m sure you know where I’m going with this, but I saw them performing at Cardiff Castle in Wales (Peters home country) and they began singing “Rain in the Summertime”. I was so excited! But then I heard that you might have been there. Is that true? Were you there?!
Mike Peters: I was there. Brandon Flowers has moved back to Utah. And he heard The Alarm being played on 130.1 The Wave in Salt Lake City. He Shazamed who it was and it took him into his own rabbit hole as you describe it of The Alarms music catalog. He really fell in love with the music and really wanted to play it when he was in Wales. We were honored to hear it in the set. Great band and loved meeting all the guys. And Brandon, he was checking his calendar when we got to the dressing room. He’s trying to make it along to the gig! Some of the band are going to be coming to the gig as well so hopefully, we’ll get to see them all. Brandon is on a recording trip just before that so his tour manager thought he might be getting back in time to catch our gig. But if not that one hopefully he’ll catch another one. So he might be at the gig, you never know.
UCR: That would be amazing! And maybe you can cover a Killers song in return.
Mike Peters: We’ll have to do The Alarm’s version of “Mr. Brightside”.
UCR: I would love that! I have to tell you, I love Sigma. I think you guys did a fantastic job on this album. From what I understand this is a sequel to the album Equals. Is that correct?
Mike Peters: To be honest, it’s come from the same creative experience really and the creative starting point as Equals. Originally we thought about putting a double album out because so much happened in such a short time in our lives. With all the experiences we had to endure between myself and Jules. Being diagnosed with our various forms of cancer and relapses and how we dealt with those. So that really became the genesis for the material. So yeah, it was originally going to be a double album called Blood Red Viral Black, which is now the title of the first song off of Sigma. But at the last minute we thought “Well hold on, I don’t think the world has the attention span anymore for a double album”. So we thought let’s take another look at this. There’s a huge sea of humanity out there. Let’s create a release cycle where we can feed it into the conversation at the pace of the world these days. So we put Equals out a year ago and we knew that a year and a day later we were going to come with the Sigma album. We just didn’t tell anybody at the time. It just meant that we could keep track of our audience and our new fans for a longer period of time and share our music in a creative way and in a way where people could get to know it. And the opening song in Equals ties into the last song on Sigma so they sort of tie it all together. When you get to the end of Sigma you’re almost at the beginning of Equals. Or when you’re at the start of Equals you’re at the end of Sigma. It just makes the circle complete and ties the two projects together. Both albums were made with the same producers, the same musicians, and the same mindset across the record. The outcome is slightly different because when we started the journey we weren’t sure what life would hold. There was a lot of uncertainty around us. But we were able to walk that journey together and make it through to the other side. That gave us a lot to talk about, a lot to sing about, and a lot to write about. Hence the two albums. And we’ve shared it in a communal way.
UCR: It seems like all too often bands who have been recording music for as long as you have run out of things to write about which tends to make their more recent releases, not as interesting or enjoyable. In your case, you’ve had so much life experience. Especially in recent years. I can really feel the freshness of the music and the weightiness of the topics. I think its some of your best work.
Mike Peters: Well thank you! Look, when we started The Alarm, my aspiration was to make music for a long time. A lot of people may judge The Alarm on the first one or two albums and made their decisions based on that. To me, that’s just looking at half not even half really of the structure we’re trying to build. I think now with Sigma and Equals you’re starting to see the house. Now you’re starting to see that we’ve remodeled and built on this foundation and made something that you can now fully evaluate. It’s not just a judgment based on our early music. You have to look at the life cycle of a band and all the records in between. That’s how I want The Alarm to be judged. In the fullness of times not in the thrill of the moment or the first flush of success that the bands had. When we’ve created a body of work that stands up and can be seen in context from one side of the story to the other. It sounds weird but, we’ve had amazing reviews. I think it’s weird because we’ve never really had unanimously great reviews for a record we’ve made. But with this one, it has been incredible right across the board. We’ve all been taken aback and thrilled. I think it just validates it. We’ve never been the biggest band in the world. We’ve never had number one hits, but we’ve made a lot of music and a lot of records and that counts for something. Certainly for us and our fans. We’ve made some human connections through our music that continues. And that’s the endeavor. We’re really thrilled to be still in this band. Thrilled that we’ve still got a story to tell. And thrilled that we have people who want to come and see us where we can play 40 shows right across the American continent. We’re so lucky to be alive and in this position right now. We can’t wait to share in that thrill with our audiences. It’s going to be an amazing tour. We have some great bands coming with us and we have a great way of presenting the tour to involve the audience and give them a voice. We want to hear from our fans really. Younger members of the audience can learn about the origins of how the band began and how the first records were brought that created this relationship that’s still going strong.
UCR: And when you say you’re going right across America you’re not kidding. When I was looking at you’re tour dates I noticed that sometimes you’re doing up to five dates in a row! How do you do that? How are you able to preserve your voice? Have you just done it for so long that you just know your voice? Or do you have a technique that has worked for you?
Mike Peters: I’ve always tried to look after my voice. Yeah, I’ve had a couple of car crashes now and again. I’m a human being and things happen. But it’s not very often. I take care of myself. I’ve got a robust singing voice and I build it and train it before I go on tour. I do a lot of work to train the muscles for all the singing. I’ve been doing it for a long time and I love doing it so it’s something that comes quite naturally. I think I benefitted a lot in the 90s. I taught myself how to go play acoustic shows just on my own without the band to just sort of hide behind if you like. And it’s very naked and vibrant to be out there as a singer-songwriter when all you’ve got is your voice and an acoustic guitar. That taught me a lot about where to sing and how to sing and how to train your voice for a lot of touring. I’m sure I’ll be in good voice by the time I get to Salt Lake!
I was impressed with Brandon Flowers when I saw The Killers perform. He came on at Cardiff Castle and performed in full voice for 2 hours and he comes straight offstage and he’s talking to me for ages and everyone else at the gig. And he has this massive gig at Glastonbury the next night. I said to him, “You just sang your heart out and you’ve got Glastonbury tomorrow! I’d be in my hotel room resting my voice.” And he says, “Na, I work hard on my voice and train it hard.” And he was confident in his ability to deliver the next night. And I really respected that. He was very dedicated to his next show. And that meant a lot to me that someone like that, young guy, but clearly focused and dedicated to his music and his audience to make sure that The Killers were properly represented the next night at Glastonbury. And I did see some of it on TV. We were playing at our own festival the next day but when I got back to the hotel I was able to see some of their set. And they sounded brilliant. It was amazing.
UCR: Somebody very close to me was recently diagnosed with cancer. By the time this interview is posted, she will be halfway through her chemotherapy treatment. I shared with her your story of being a three-time cancer survivor and the story of your wife, Jules survival from cancer. I asked her if I could ask Mike Peters a question for you what would it be? And she wanted to ask, how you stayed so optimistic when the process can be so exhausting?
Mike Peters: Well my answer to that on a personal level is I never wanted the cancer to take one second of my life away from me. I was lucky that my mindset was set in the fact that I was diagnosed on the night before I was supposed to go on tour to America in 1995. And I don’t know if it was fear or not but I decided to go on the tour. I actually postpone the treatment. It just sort of saved my life really. Even when I would come home from the chemotherapy, and I was tired, I went out for a walk. I thought, “I’m going to go outside.”. The first 100 yards were tough. But then you regain your strength and I learned to live in the moment again. Cancer I think is quite a devilish disease. It doesn’t just attack you physically, it attacks you mentally. And it speaks to you and says “You’re tired. Go lie down. Go to sleep.” And I think it sort of lures you into a place where it can do it’s worst work. I think you have to sort of banish those voices from your mentality and say, “ No I’m not going to go to sleep. I’m going to do the opposite. I’m going to go for a walk. “ Or if it says, “You’re tired,” you say, “No I’m not, I’m going to put my trainers on and go for a run.”, or “You should have the day off. Don’t go to work tomorrow”, “I am going to go to work, and I’m going to see my friends and show them I’m on my way back.”. That’s the mindset I’ve always adopted with cancer. And it’s so difficult to stand up to the disease and the mental side and the voices that it’s putting into your brain. The bad thoughts. But music reinforces that fight. I always had music playing when I was going through chemotherapy. I was in my first chemotherapy session and the song “In a Big Country” came on by “Big Country” and I heard the lyrics “Dreams stay with you…Stay Alive on the Mountain Side”. Just hearing the words “Stay Alive”, that reinforced that thought for me. And that became the dominant thought in my mindset and it banished the other thoughts and the negativity that cancer puts in your mind. And that’s how I’ve always approached it. I have to say that it comes from my parents. The strong family upbringing that I’ve been very lucky to have and a great soundtrack of music to keep me going.
UCR: Thank you so much for that. I’m really looking forward to sharing that with her. And really anybody else who is in this fight right now.
Mike Peters: Give her all the very best wishes from me and Jules. We’re with her. She’ll win this battle of her life. Her eyes will shine brighter when she’s finished the treatment and can say goodbye to cancer.
Throughout the Sigma LXXXV Tour, Love Hope Strength (co-founded by Mike Peters), will be hosting bone marrow drives at each concert aimed at finding donors for people suffering from Blood Cancer who need a transplant for a second chance at life! The charity has already registered over 200,000 individuals and located some 4,000 plus potentially lifesaving matches. Visit www.lovehopestrength.org for more information.
For tickets to the Alarm’s August 8th show at The Complex go to www.smithstix.com