Life today is good for Mike Peters. He’s in two bands, his third solo album is due this week, he has plenty more albums in him, and he’s living like there’s no tomorrow.
He has incentive: Three years ago, his doctor told the former Alarm leader that he had lymphoma. Part of him was in denial, another was preparing himself to die.
His spiritual side won.
“At first, I found it very hard to accept what the doctor was telling me,” Peters said recently. “I thought, ‘I’m not ill. No way. I don’t feel ill.’ There’s no cure for cancer, but there is a greater plan out there, and you have to find it.”
Because he had a busy touring and recording schedule ahead of him, Peters convinced doctors to hold off on radiation treatments for three months. It bought him time, allowing him to study up on the disease and alternative healing methods.
“I read all these books about self-healing,” he said. “I went to a faith healer, and she told me green was a powerful color. I dressed in combat fatigues, because she told me I was in a ‘psychological combat zone.’ At that point, I was ready to accept anything. I thought I was the crazy one for turning down the treatments, but you just have to follow your instincts.”
Peters kept his illness to himself and his circle of family and friends. Fans of the affable singer-songwriter, who fronted the popular Welsh rock quartet The Alarm from 1981 to 1991, were kept in the dark. For his own good, he wanted everything and everyone to be positive.
“I was lucky, one of my friends that I did confide in was a guy named Chris Anderson,” Peters said. “He was great when I was going through my personal situation. But within weeks of me being given the all-clear by the doctors, he was diagnosed with cancer himself and he only survived another six months. He went from looking fantastic, then – wham – it took him so quick. He left a wife and a lovely kid behind. That was another reminder for me, doubly emphasizing what could’ve happened to me. There by the grace of God go I. It put everything into even more perspective.”
Peters returned to the studio in 1996, finishing his second solo LP, “Feel Free.” While “Feel Free” was understandably introspective, considering the circumstances, Peters says his Eagle Rock/Velvel debut album, “Rise” (due Oct. 13), is “truly the new me.”
“Here I was pretty much preparing myself for the end of my life,” he said, “then I had a huge turnabout and was given an all-clear. When you go through an experience like that, it does focus your mind. It made me sort the wheat from the chaff. There was a creative destruction I went through musically, mentally and physically, the way I live and the way I conduct my life.
“If a lot of things weren’t working, I figured, ‘Well, let’s move on to something else.’ I’ve done that at various times in my life, like when I started The Alarm. There was a song we did called ‘Unsafe Building’ about burning the bridges and leaving your past life behind and moving forward and not being afraid to take chances. There’s definitely an element of that in this new record. There’s a line in (the new track) ‘Ground Zero’ about ‘from new destruction comes new creation,’ and I’ve definitely been through that with this album. That’s why a lot of people are attracted to this record; it’s rooted in stuff that you know about me and it’s rooted in similar foundations to what began The Alarm.”
The Alarm scored 14 U.K. Top 40 hits and a slew of successful albums, eight of which charted in the United States. But after 10 years, even though the friendships were intact, the magic was gone. The band broke up in 1991, and Peters went in search of himself.
“I felt that since I had left The Alarm, I’ve been trying too hard to make music and trying too hard to justify myself and trying to fit way too much into the records,” he says. “It’s natural when you’re on the rebound from a band, and I’ve tended to be on the rebound for quite some time.”
Peters flourishes with “Rise.” Sandwiched between the scorching, electronic-tinged opening and closing tracks “White Noise Part II” and “White Noise Part III” are songs of faith, hope and clarity. The U.S. release contains three bonus tracks, including a raw, snarling version of Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message.”
“I first heard it performed by Grand Master Flash when he was supporting The Clash on tour,” Peters said. “It was sort of verbal punk rock; I heard a lot of similarities between that and (Bob Dylan’s) ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues.’
“Some DJs in Wales heard my acoustical version of it and asked me if I could send them the vocals, because they wanted to do a track based on sounds they were importing into their computer. I sent them the vocal and they sent me the track back and I thought it was amazing. When I went in to make the record, I took them into the studio with me and I had them set up in a studio next to mine.
“We would have these kind of musical editorial meetings in the morning and I’d play them what I had been creating with my band and they would say, ‘Can I have a sample of the drums and a bit of the vocals?’ Then they would disappear into their labyrinth of technology and we’d reconvene again in the evenings and I would say, ‘Well, I would like that back for my track. I’m going to take that passage to link me from this track to that one.’ I used them probably in a way, say, the Beatles would use the sitar on ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and go off on tangents for a few seconds in the midst of their beautiful rock music. I took some of the science of that from what the Beatles applied in the ’60s but in a different form in the ’90s, using electronic music as a setting for these songs I had written.”
The first single, “Transcendental,” in fact, melodically owes a great deal to John Lennon, circa “Mind Games.”
“I’m a massive Beatles fan, and I always have been,” Peters said, “but it’s only been with this record that I’ve really allowed for that to influence and color the songs in an obvious sense. Up to this point, it wasn’t obvious that Mike Peters was a Beatles fan in the music from The Alarm or since. Again, with this record, with all I’ve been through, I wanted to make a very open Mike Peters record, which reflects the love of music that I have, and that’s rooted in the Beatles. I don’t live that far from Liverpool so that’s a natural influence that I’ve allowed to come out by being a bit more open to who I am and something I’m not.”
Former Cult guitarist Billy Duffy performs on “In Circles,” which he co-wrote with Peters, and the fierce “Burnt Out Syndrome.” They enjoyed their collaboration so much they have teamed for the side project Colour Sound; a limited, four-song EP is available on Peters’ Web site. They hope to release a full-length album next year.
As for “Rise,” Peters says he’s expecting nothing but hoping for everything.
“I find that people are sort of suspicious of records these days,” he said, “because they get so overhyped and they’ve only got one song on them that sounds good. Bands are having huge careers on one song now; their whole career lasts five minutes. I’m not competing on that level with those kinds of bands. I feel I made a record that’s as good as anybody has made in a long time, I really believe that. I know it’s a great record, I’ve made enough bad ones to know a good one.”