Published Nov 01, 2019Metal pirates Alestorm returned to where X marked the spot only to discover the buried treasure was gone: there were no more 8-foot inflatable rubber ducks.
When their go-to online retailer ran out of supplies, these swashbuckling metalheads were left without their key stage prop. The worst part? The Scottish-born band couldn't go out and pillage — as pirates do — what they needed. The manufacturer had ceased production, they'd cleaned out the remaining supply, and their stock had been crowd-surfed into deflation.
"There's no more ducks left in the entire world," reveals vocalist-keytarist Christopher Bowes, before clarifying, "Of that particular kind. Obviously there's ducks; ducks still exist."
Fortunately, the enterprising band were able to bring bigger and better ducks into existence by contracting their production out to China. Sure, that came with its own problems — as Bowes explains, "It's a bit of a language barrier to explain that you want a nine-foot tall duck" — but at least they're custom, meaning they come wearing eye patches and emblazoned with the band's logo.
They'll be making their debut at the band's 15-date cross-Canada tour that starts today, which leads to some additional problems.
"I think we did a reverse Spinal Tap. You know how in Spinal Tap, they get the Stone Henge and it's kind of tiny by mistake? We've sort of done the reverse, and this one's way too big," admits Bowes. "They might not actually fit into some of the venues we're doing on this Canadian tour we've got coming up because we're playing a lot of places — let's call them intimate rooms. That's the spin people say, isn't it? 'Oh, we're playing an intimate tour to get close to our fans.' No, we're playing a bunch of shitholes! We might have the issue that the duck is bigger than the entire venue."
Transportation also might serve as an issue, as the old ones would deflate and fold up into a handbag, whereas these ones weigh around 32 kg deflated.
"I don't think we're going to be throwing these into the audience because they'd crush a person and then they would die," says Bowes, referring to a regular end-of-show ritual. "This could be just a really bad idea. It might even catch fire and explode under stage lights, you know? That's a risk we're all willing to take."
In order to understand that willingness, one needs to understand how the band went from "pirate metal band" to "duck metal band."
Alestorm were tapped for the second iteration of Full Metal Cruise back in 2015 and informed, while out at sea, that they couldn't hang a backdrop but could project a digital image. Unfortunately, all their artwork lived in the cloud — inaccessible without the internet. Between all the members, only keyboardist Elliot Vernon's computer had a photo: a banana with a duck's face. They superimposed it, alongside Alestorm in a "cheesy font" on a rainbow background. Bowes recalls the reaction.
"The crowd goes completely wild because this is the stupidest thing ever."
Naturally, they doubled down on this and printed it as an actual backdrop, but when they had to compete with Sabaton's "big stupid fucking tank" (Bowes' words) on a tour, they bought one of the ducks for which they've become known and placed it atop the covered drum riser.
The band took it in stride when fans began to expect that they continue with the massive mallard, even making merchandise adorned with ducks (in both the banana and rubber variety).
"Let's face it, people come to see the duck and then they begrudgingly listen to our songs. That's the way it goes now," admits Bowes.
Fortunately for the venues, the audience tends to listen to the lyrical message of songs like "Drink" and "Rum." There have been instances where clubs have ran out of rum mid-show. It's appropriate that the band would invite a response similar to Pirates of the Caribbean's Jack Sparrow's, "But why is all the rum gone?" Bowes considers their take on piracy more on the Disney side than the Renaissance fair one that finds some attendees decked out in authentic 14th century pirate costumes.
"Some people take the whole pirate thing a lot more seriously than us," opines Bowes before addressing their as-yet-announced six LP, which will include a cover of a 17th-century traditional Scottish pirate song. "The new album is all about pirates, still. I mean, it's increasingly bizarre pirate things, but it always comes back to involve a ship and an eye patch and a bottle of rum: classic pirate goofiness."
It's the kind of fun-loving attitude that has the band's captain prioritizing visiting the ship in the West Edmonton Mall, a replica of Christopher Columbus' Santa Maria, ahead of all else on their Canadian run. He's also interested in eating a "Pirate Pak" from west coast staple White Spot, which serves the meal in a cardboard container that resembles a pirate ship.
Ultimately, the tour is to appease those who complain a band isn't truly doing a North America tour when it only hits Toronto, Montreal and maybe Vancouver. Bowes laughs as he cheekily states, "We're going to do your entire stupid country. We're going to go to everywhere, and if you don't like it it's your own damn fault. We're just doing this to shut people up."
If a lot of people don't turn out, he says they might not return. Not that he really cares; he fantasizes about playing a huge open-air festival, even naming Heavy Montréal, and placing an even larger duck in the middle of the crowd.
"That'd make me so happy. I don't want to see people. I want to see 60-feet tall ducks in the crowd."
11/01 Quebec City, QC - Impérial Bell *
11/02 Halifax, NS - The Marquee Ballroom *
11/03 Moncton, NB - Tide and Boar Gastropub *
11/05 Montreal, QC - MTelus *
11/06 Ottawa, ON - The Brass Monkey *
11/07 Toronto, ON - The Opera House *
11/08 Toronto, ON - The Opera House *
11/09 London, ON - Call the Office *
11/11 Winnipeg, MB - The Park Theatre *
11/12 Saskatoon, SK - Louis' *
11/13 Edmonton, AB - The Starlite Room *
11/14 Calgary, AB - Dickens *
11/15 Kelowna, BC - Rutland Centennial Hall *
11/16 Vancouver, BC - Rickshaw Theatre *
11/17 Victoria, BC - Upstairs Cabaret *
* with Aephanemer