CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Alarm’s Mike Peters was writing new songs during 2020 but had largely “put off” the idea of making a new album with the band in the midst of a global pandemic.
“I figured, ‘Who’s going to want to buy something right now?’” the frontman says by Zoom from his home in Wales. “And it’s not like there’d be any touring to support it, so why bother?”
He changed his mind on Jan. 6.
Peters was on the phone with a Washington D.C. attorney who also works with the Love Hope Strength cancer charity he started with his wife and Alarm keyboardist Jules Jones Peters. “He says, ‘Switch on your TV,’ so I did and there was the (U.S.) Capitol building behind occupied,” Peters recalls. “He had business colleagues in the building and was very worried about them. It just seemed to be a real global moment right there.
“And then, I think, some of the news commentators started using the word ‘alarming’ when they were talking about the situation. I kind of thought, ‘Right…It seems like this is calling out to me.’”
The result is “War,” the Alarm’s 19th album. The hard-hitting 10-track set was written and recorded remotely by the band, along with producer George Williams, in just 50 days. The final mixes were completed just a few days before its Feb. 25 release, Peters’ 62nd birthday. Peters and company even sent blank CDs to fans who wanted to pre-order the album in order for them to burn copies as soon as it was released.
“It was a real, proper, spirit of the moment, trigger-point thing,” Peters says with laugh. “I wanted to make it and have it out and in people’s hands as soon as possible. I was quite shocked I felt like I wanted to make a record in this time, but I couldn’t deny the impulse.”
Peters, who had been hosting the “Big Night In” Facebook Live series with Jules during the lockdown, marshaled the rest of the Alarm — including guitarist James Stevenson and drummer Smiley [cq] — in a hurry via Zoom. The group had the surging opening track, “Protect and Survive” together within the first 24 hours, “and we were off from there,” with producer Williams coordinating the three-ring recording circus and Jules also filming the proceedings and sharing footage online throughout the process.
“It’s funny. I’d put on social media that we were going to do this at night, when Jules was in bed,” Peters says. “When you woke up and found out, she was like, ‘What?! Are you sure you’re gonna be able to write 10 good songs, write lyrics in that short a time? Can we deliver?’ I said, ‘I dunno. Let’s find out.’ But really, if I can’t write a song right now, when there’s so much going on, then shame on me.”
Peters also took some inspiration from a reliable source. “I’d been given that new John Lennon (compilation), ‘Gimme Some Truth.’ I was reading about ‘Instant Karma;’ He said, ‘I wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch, released it for dinner.’ I thought, ‘Let’s go that route. If he did that, we can do 10 (songs) in 50 days.’
“I just trusted on instinct, really. We could do something that was relevant to now — as long as it come out NOW.”
“War” is, without question, a work of its time — as evidenced by song titles such as “Still Unsafe,” “Tribes (Stop the War),” “Warriors,” a cover of Massive Attack’s “Safe from Harm” and “War (It’s Not Over Yet).” The Alarm is no stranger to socio-political commentary, going back to “The Stand” and “Marching On” from its debut EP in 1983, and there was no shortage of topics to draw new songs from at the start of the year.
“We’d all lived with a sort of American invasion of sorts into our homes wherever we lived because of the constancy of Donald Trump on TV,” Peters explains. “It was global news, all day long. And with the fight in the (Capitol) building, the impeachment — it was all going on. So, it was right there for us.”
Peters gives full props to Williams for making “War” work, from setting the timetable to working out a schedule and keeping the band on pace — working five days and finishing two songs each week before they were mixed. “We didn’t have Saturdays or Sundays, so we could clear our ears, clear our imaginations,” Peters says. It also helped that the group took on and finished one track at a time rather than bounce between them as they normally would during an in-person studio session.
“We were able to give each (song) our full attention, which was nice,” Peters explains. “We weren’t trying to work on 10 songs at the same time. It was almost like recording singles, which we haven’t done since the earliest days of the Alarm. We all felt inspired that we had to make our contribution to this track now, or it’d be too late.”
The Alarm is biding its time until it can get out and play “War” and its other favorites on stage again, but Peters isn’t sitting in idle until then. He and his wife are planning to start the Big Night In series again during July, with hopes of being able to host small live crowds at the show as well. More new Alarm music may be in the offing as well — specifically the songs Peters already been working on but set aside due to the pandemic and, subsequently, “War.”
“Before Jan. 6 I’d pretty much set out what the next Alarm album was gonna be like,” he recalls. “I’d recorded what I think are really exciting demos, songs thinking about after the pandemic, post-Trump, post-Brexit, just life ahead. I played then to the producer and the band and they were like, ‘Wow, Mike, you’ve really raised the bar with what you’re trying to do here.’ And we’re still excited about it.
“So, in a way, we’re gonna get two Alarm albums out of this period, instead of one.”