Mike Peters’ celebrated Welsh rock band bookends their 1990 bareknuckles classic with an even more urgent collection of songs
Welsh rock band The Alarm have released more than a dozen studio albums during their four-decade career.
But with their latest release, WAЯ (out on February 25), they took a different approach than they’ve ever done before. Frontman Mike Peters announced in January that the band would write, record, and release this album–all within a 50 day span. It was, Peters says during a Zoom video call from his home in Wales, his way of processing the pandemic, politics, and other upheaval plaguing the world today.
Disgusted with the news – particularly reports about the way certain politicians were conducting themselves, Peters had switched off the TV last year. Instead, “I started listening to John Lennon during the lockdown,” he says.
VIDEO: John Lennon “Instant Karma!”
Still, Peters couldn’t entirely escape the news. He was on a call with a friend who told him that rioters were storming the U.S. Capitol Building in January. “It made it quite real because [my friend] had some friends and family members that were in the Capitol Building while it was happening,” Peters says, “and I just thought, ‘We’ve got to write about this now.’” After all, he points out, “We’re called The Alarm – we should be doing something about this, writing about it, documenting it in some way.
“I felt very compelled by what happened in the Capitol Building,” Peters continues. “I just felt like it was one step too far out from what we we’re all trying to pull together to come through the whole pandemic situation. It just felt like, ‘Why is this happening now? Why can’t this be called off? Why doesn’t the man who’s in charge put a stop to this?’ It felt so unreal. So I felt quite angry about that.”
The creative fire lit, Peters realized that if he started writing and recording right away, he could release the album on his birthday on February 25. This timeline also fit with his recent revisiting of John Lennon’s work: “I was playing ‘Instant Karma’ and I remembered that he released that one fast…he actually did it over ten days,” Peters says, “so I thought maybe we could do something similar.”
VIDEO: The Alarm “Fail”
Peters formulated an ambitious plan: not only would the album be released digitally, but there would also be LPs and CDs. Even before he finished any songs, he already knew what the album cover artwork should be: a drawing of the Capitol Building. He hand-painted the covers himself, sending them out to fans who preordered the album via the band’s website. On the day of the album release, those fans received the digital files from the band so that they could burn their own CDs.
“It was real instant record. I wanted it to be like a Polaroid of the times we’re in, so we take the photographs, it comes out, and that is it,” Peters says. He also adds that while he was initially inspired by troubling events in the U.S., this album is in no way anti-American: “I love America and I love the Presidency and the benefits America brought to the world. I just felt Donald Trump turned himself into a maverick, power crazy, distorted figure of what the President should be, and his hatred for people he considered beneath him, it just was so horrible.”
Peters hopes WAЯ will encourage empathy instead, noting that he was also triggered to write about the underlying effects the pandemic is having after hearing numerous stories about people suffering from substance abuse and disintegrating relationships because of the stress from the current situation. “I think there’s still a lot of scars to come from this. We’re so focused on getting our vaccines and coming through this, but there’s a lot of damage caused,” he says.
Peters knows this from deeply personal experience. “I’m a cancer patient myself, and I had to have all my treatment meetings over the phone with my doctor, it was no longer face to face. In the first lockdown, I relapsed. Luckily, it didn’t go unnoticed and I was able to switch to a new treatment regime to keep me going.”
Peters worries others won’t have the same outcome: “I think there’s a lot of people out there [who are] not going to be so lucky. There’s a lot of people who have become afraid to go to the hospital because they think that’s where they’re going to catch COVID, so they don’t go there, and then potentially there’s a lot of other illnesses that are building up in people that are going to cause some problems, and they’re going to be discovered to have a disease that’s far more advanced than it would have been had we not been in this situation. So some of the songs on the album try to reflect that a little bit, as well.”
But while WAЯ is a serious album, it is also an uplifting one, with an ultimate message of optimism and hope. “I try to fortify the human spirit through listening to this record,” Peter says. It is, he says, the same way The Alarm have approached things right from the beginning. “If you play this album against Declaration, which is the first Alarm album from 1984, then they’ll sound massively different, but the spirit is still the same.”
Peters says he began his music career after seeing the Sex Pistols in concert. “I saw Johnny Rotten up front in 1976, right in front of my eyes, singing ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ I didn’t know what ‘anarchy’ meant, but I knew he meant it by the look in his eyes,” Peters says. “I knew it was for real and I just thought, ‘I want to do that kind of thing and become a writer.’” He says he was also heavily inspired by The Clash and the Buzzcocks, with that punk ethos of raw honesty still coming through in his songwriting to this day.
“We try to just keep it real as much as we can,” Peters says. “I think that’s what ties us together with our audience. They see that we’re not perfect. We’re not always going to get it right. That’s a reflection of life.”
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As a result, The Alarm have become known for having one of the most fiercely loyal fanbases in rock. “The audience have stuck with us, and we’ve stuck with them, and together we’ve helped each other through some tough times, I think,” Peters says.
Now, Peters says, it will be easier than ever for the band and their fans to continue this reciprocal relationship. “We’ve launched this new platform called The Alarm Central. It’s the new future of communication. It’s like an all-in-one website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Spotify, iTunes – it’s everything in one. It’s a fantastic way of bringing fans in for direct communication. For people who are deeply interested in The Alarm, this is the place to be.”
Adding WAЯ to The Alarm’s universe is important, though Peters is realistic about it, as well. He does not expect that this will change the band from their “cult artist” status – and that’s okay.
“We’re all in this big highway of rock and roll, but we’re on the inside lane,” he says. “We see these bands coming in the overtaking lane: whoosh! And they’d overtake us and go on to huge success. And I said, ‘One day we’ll catch them up and we’ll all be the same again.’ And we might go further than them. We might go longer. We might not get bigger, but I’d rather be making a record in 40 years’ time than making one record and having four years of success, then nothing.
“There’s a lot of bands we’ve seen in wrecks along the highway, and we trundled past them and we’re still making records today, so we must have been doing something right!”