This month, Scottish pirate metallers Alestorm began their biggest tour of Canada. On Nov. 15, the band’s “Grand Tour of Planet Earth” brings them to the Rutland Centennial Hall.
We caught up with frontman and lead keyboardist Christopher Bowes to talk about how they pick their setlist, musical influences and giant inflatable ducks, among other topics.
Here are some highlights of that interview.
COURIER: For readers who don’t know Alestorm too well, what can people expect from an Alestorm show in Kelowna?
BOWES: It’s fun, it’ll be a party. It’s just crazy chaos. We have some of the more energetic fans, especially for a band who’s . . . not that heavy a band. We’re essentially happy pop metal — easy-listening metal, I guess. Usually bands in our sort of scene, the fans are just sort of bopping their heads, maybe having a little dance, but our fans go crazy. Some people get terrified by that. Just watch out. People drink a bit too much, it gets rowdy, but it’s part of the fun. It’s absolute chaos, and everyone gets into it. Everyone sings along, we play a bunch of songs, we’ll insult everyone, tell them they’re all dreadful. Just good, painful fun.
COURIER: Most of your songs are fun, they’re about drinking or sailing; you’re a pirate metal band, so you sing about pirates a lot. But there’s actually a lot of variety in your songs, musically as well as lyrically. So I was wondering: how do you manage to maintain both that musical and lyrical variety while staying really essentially on topic about pirates?
BOWES: People often ask “how do you manage to make so much stuff with a very limited subject matter?” but I feel like it’s pretty easy to make anything be about pirates. You cover all the basic topics like digging for treasure, walking the plank, yar, ahoy, cutlass, peg-leg, hook-hand, parrot, you know? But really, you can take any subject . . . like, Batman, I love making things about Batman, I think he’s a great example of stuff. You can make a song about Batman fighting against pirates, or Batman joining forces with pirates . . . it’s not hard to make any subject come back to a ship and some alcohol and a guy with a sword. They’re pretty basic topics. There’s no limit. I think it’s kind of fun when we can take the stupidest thing and make it about pirates.
Our next album, it’s getting ridiculous. . . . And I guess musically, we don’t restrict ourselves at all. We just do whatever we want. It’s kind of like punk-y sort of music, just simple, punky riffs.
COURIER: What would you guys say are some of your influences that people might not expect?
BOWES: When this band started, the whole thing we were going for was copying all those prominent folk metal, epic metal bands at the time. Finntroll, Korpiklaani, Turisas, they were the big names back then. But that was never really where my musical roots lay. I was always into sort of extreme, symphonic, pretentious, over-the-top black metal with narration and things. My favourite band growing up was this band called Bal-Sagoth from England, and they’re like this crazy symphonic power black metal band. . . . They released this phenomenal symphonic, epic metal with more keyboards than guitars. And that’s what inspired me, because I’m a keyboard player . . . So it was like “oh wow, there’s this band making epic, heavy, catchy, brutal metal with a keyboard” and that made me think “I can do this, I have a place in the world, I can play my keyboard in a metal band.” Before that, I just thought metal was Pantera, System of a Down, these guitar-based bands. So that’s where it all came from for me. . . finding out the keyboard can be the lead instrument in a metal band.
COURIER: You’ve been touring (your current album) “No Grave But the Sea” since 2017. What’s your favourite song to play live off the new album?
BOWES: It’s got to be “F---ed With an Anchor.” It’s all about the songs that people love to sing along with, and that is the ultimate sing-along. People love swearing. It sounds like a bunch of drunk sports fans singing this happy song, and it’s great. That’s the essence of this band. That sort of nonsense. And that song is so much fun to play live.
COURIER: What were you doing before this tour? (Alestorm started their Canadian tour Nov. 1 in Quebec City.)
BOWES: Well, (the last time we played a show was) back in September . . . I’ve just been sitting on my butt, writing songs mostly, writing the next album. Looking forward to getting back out there and doing what we do best.
COURIER: Any chance we might hear some of that on this tour?
BOWES: Nah, not this tour, unfortunately. We like to play songs that people know, because what happens is we’ll play . . . one of the weirder, rare tracks from deep inside our third album, or whatever, and we just kind of get strange looks from people. People want to hear the fun hits, so we play all the songs that people love. We just want to make people happy.
COURIER: And you guys have two keyboardists in your band, right?
BOWES: Yeah, I believe we’re one of the few (maybe) only, major metal bands that actually has two keyboard players. I think it’s very rare these days to even have one, because everyone just puts all their crap on a backing track. You can understand why, it saves on costs: you can either have a keyboard player bring all his gear, or you can just have an iPod. But we like doing it all live . . . It’s that punk-y thing I mentioned before. It’s dumb and stupid: we’ll stop halfway through and insult someone and start again.
COURIER: Your last show (before this tour) was in Johannesburg on Sept. 27?
BOWES: Yeah, that was our last show, yeah.
COURIER: In that show, you threw a giant inflatable duck into the crowd, and you had mentioned that you’d been touring with them and you no longer had any giant inflatable ducks left.
BOWES: This is true. When we started getting these ducks, we were looking for a stage prop online and we found this website had this ridiculous seven foot tall giant inflatable duck, and I thought “I want it.” So we bought one, and then it started to get a bit bad, you know the plastic wears out. So we thought “he’s going to die soon, let’s just throw him into the crowd,” and people loved that. So we just started doing that more and more, throwing this duck into the crowd. Then we’d go to the website, buy a new one. . .
So earlier this year, March or so, I wrote the company saying “hey guys, I’d like to buy five more of your inflatable ducks,” and they said “we stopped making those, there’s no more.” They knew there was one on eBay, but that was it, so we bought the very last duck, and there are no more of those. So we spent most of this summer trying to source inflatable ducks, and it’s really hard to find a big old inflatable duck like that. But in the end we found some place in the evil empire of China. Some online daft stupid “We’ll make anything you want for money” thing, and we’ve commissioned custom giant inflatable ducks. I think we’ve done a reverse Spinal Tap and they’re really big. Like, really really big. And they weigh a f--king ton. I’m not sure we’re even going to be able to get them on an airplane anymore, so we’ll see.
COURIER: So the inflatable ducks aren’t gone, then?
BOWES: They’ve come back in a new form, we hope. There’s a chance the guy at the airport will say “you can’t bring this on an airplane.” It’s literally too heavy for any kind of oversized baggage, so . . . we’ll see.
Alestorm plays Nov. 15, 7 p.m. at Rutland Centennial Hall with Aephanemer and other bands. Tickets are available through eventbrite.ca.