Q- I don't often ask this question, but I am curious here – what lies behind the band name? Does it refer to an alter-ego?
AlterRed: The name came about by accident. When I was in my old band I was asked to submit a photograph for an article in Rock Sound magazine. The photo I chose to use had been photoshopped and had subsequently been saved as filename “MikEy_Altered” (i.e. it was a picture of me that had been altered!). When the article was published the name MikEy Altered was mistakenly quoted as my stage name. It just kinda stuck from there. I decided to use it as the project name for this my solo work. Of course, googling for the word “Altered” and hoping to find a band might prove a bit tricky so Vix Vain suggested we add another R and make it AlterRed.
What prompted you to perform live with such theatrical stage shows?
I’ve always loved an interesting stage show. I think it comes from my love of theatre, movies and graphic novels. I think deep down inside I’d have loved to have been an actor! [Laughs] I’ve also been a big fan of Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, Rocky Horror Show and many others for as long as I can remember, so when we sat down and thought about how we’d like to present AlterRed onstage we wanted to combine all these influences and interests and do something a bit different.
There is a very strong and distinctive visual style to the band. Is this important to you or just to make it more interesting for your audience?
I do think it’s important to make the show interesting for the audience but I’m more about making it interesting for me and finding an audience for the show I want to do. As we’re playing characters so to speak, it’s really important to feel the character, to role-play it, so the costumes, make-up and image in general really help create that illusion.
Your approach to the whole making music thing seems pretty serious. I know you're studying music at University at present. Are you hoping/planning to make a career out of it?
Nah not at all! If I’m honest studying commercial music has, if anything put me off wanting a career in music more than ever. I used to want it all, the whole fame and fortune and success thing, and of course the idea of being able to make a living from the thing I love is so appealing, but I’m aware of the compromises I’d have to make to my style and attitude in order to make money from it. I have far more to gain from music by doing whatever the hell I like and not caring how many DJs play my stuff or if it’s dancefloor friendly enough. That said I take my songwriting and my performance pretty seriously because when it’s right I absolutely love it. There’s nothing else like it in the world.
I know you'd self-released an EP beforehand, but how easily did the first album “Mind Forged Manacles” come together? Did you consciously approach "MFM" as a concept album?
Oh, it was a long and frustrating journey, mainly because I wasn’t very clued up on production at the time and couldn’t find the right people to work with to help me produce it. It took a good two years of shopping it around, learning the ropes myself and ultimately being absolutely sure I had done the best job on the production that I was capable of. Of course, I look back on it now, and there are a dozen or so things that I’d have done differently! As for the concept I’d say the albums kinda slip in and out of the narrative. Some songs were very much contrived to be part of a story whereas others were more just in keeping with the attitude of the protagonists or the challenges they face.
Did you have much ambition for the first album?
I just wanted it to be good and for the fans of the live shows to click with it. I’m happy with the very positive reviews it got and that we’ve managed to sell out of it so quickly, but I don’t think I had a target in mind for it.
What most pleases you about that now, given that you have a bit of distance/perspective?
I’m really glad I began with several different musical styles in one album. Songs like Emily, The Patient and One of my Mornings all having a dark-cabaret feel, then Like April Fools, Losing Your Shine and Broken Glass being a bit more synthpop, and then Amphetamine Chic, Fleshbind, Nothing Less Than Violence and Sex, Death or Money being a bit heavier and bit more rock industrial. The album as a whole pretty much covers my three main musical influences.
How early did you realise there was possibly a trilogy in there?
[Laughs] The minute I realised that first story ended with the creation of the main character! It was clear we could go on to do more with him so it seemed the most natural thing in the world. I’m loving it, to be honest!
Is AlterRed basically a one-man band in the studio with (musical and theatrical) assistance for the live performances?
Pretty much, although Jack (Hell) does contribute a lot when it comes to the live bass and guitar stuff. It’s been ace having him work with me on the second album. Of course Vix Vain does all the imagery and photography herself. That’s entirely her domain.
The new album “Dollstown” continues the narrative from "MFM", so how did you tackle making it a work in its own right and not just an extension or more of the same?
Essentially I didn’t make it an obvious story which would be then continued in subsequent albums. If you want to just listen to it as an album you can do just that. But if you want to pay closer attention to the lyrics and work out what’s going on with Dr AlterRed then you can do that too. It sits very neatly in both worlds, in that regard.
How would you choose to summarise the 'story arc' so far?
I think "Mind-Forged Manacles" still exists online somewhere as a short story, but I’ll explain a very basic version of it and add "Dollstown" to it too. Respectable psychiatrist Dr AlterRed has a patient called Emily whose mental state reminds him of himself and his own issues. Through his interviews with her he discovers that she and many other aspects of his broken mind are all personifications or metaphors for his troubles. They manifest as various characters, a clockwork doll, a mechanic, a mental patient, the queen of hearts, Emily’s spectral and malevolent twin, Eve.
Ultimately Dr AlterRed’s mind collapses on itself resulting in him being institutionalised. After some time he is released from hospital and goes back to his hometown but things have changed. He begins to see faceless dolls everywhere. He realises that this is all the work of Emily’s twin, Eve; a part of his mind obsessed with his destruction. Finally he realises what he needs to do in order to finally rid himself of all these demons of the mind and sets about destroying them one by one until only he and Emily remain. He finally sees Emily’s death as his liberation but realises, all too late (as she circles the drain, in fact!) that she was a much bigger part of his personality than he had thought. Dr AlterRed, as he is left at the end of Dollstown is isolated and totally alone now… the next part of the story will be very dark and focus on his isolation and how he deals with it.
Which tracks are your personal favourites and why?
I really love performing "Fleshbind". I think it’s because when we play it live I ad-lib Smokey Robinson’s "Tears of a Clown" at the end and get to unleash a bit! I also really like "The Drug Named God" as it was written as a bit of a tribute to Chris Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennet and a few other atheist philosophers. From "Dollstown" I really like "Eve" as I found the writing of it quite challenging. Adding a single viola to the end as well as a discordant piano took a fair bit of fiddling to get right, plus I like how blunt and honest the lyrics are. I also really like "A Different Face". It’s got a few nods to glam rock, cabaret and synthpop all in one song. And of course "As She Circles the Drain" as it’s the song in which Emily dies. Tonally it’s quite uplifting despite the theme being dark and of death. That was pretty much what I needed from it. Sort of like seeing a loved one passing away after months of painful illness.
It seems you want to leave some sort of legacy not just add to the 'noise' out there?
I’m not sure I do, to be honest. Although I do flatter myself that there are a fair few more bands adding characters and theatrics to their live shows now, where they hadn’t before. I think that’s an ace thing.
You've headlined smaller gigs and supported some well-known acts at bigger events – what shows/tours stand out for you so far in your journey?
The Cochrane Theatre was very enjoyable as I think we allowed ourselves to go that bit further with the theatrics. Also it was a stunning theatre and I got a wonderful compliment from Patrica Quinn (of "Rocky Horror" fame) afterwards.
What would you like to achieve with AlterRed?
I’d like to eventually be able to play full on 90 minute shows and put on the full stage show that I have in mind. That would be awesome.
Which other currently active artists do you admire/listen to?
I listen to Bowie and Depeche Mode an awful lot, as well as Manson. On the scene I like what Global Citizen are doing with their very dark electro thing. I really like Deviant UK and think Jay is an awesome frontman. Unapologetic, bold and authentic… quite rare in EBM! I also recently discovered Heretics, who have really impressed me. They remind me of what it is I like about electronic music.
Are there any artists you especially admire that you believe are unsung and deserve more attention?
It’s usually the ones who aren’t doing it for more attention or for status but who love the music and love performing that I genuinely admire. I think there are a few too many bands out there that seem more interested in bragging rights than actually making and performing music.
You've got a strong a distinctive voice which, let's be honest is pretty unusual on the scene you're part of. Have you had any vocal training?
I did train as a soprano in my teens for the school choir, and I have given vocal coaching, so I do know a little bit about how to sing. I’d like to get some proper vocal training, though. There are a few things about my voice that niggle me a bit and I’d like to improve on them.
I originally thought the backing vocals on "And We Disappear" were female - but apparently they are your own!?
Actually they’re Mark (Red)’s, my keyboard player! We spent a bit of time getting a falsetto sound out of him. I think it works quite well too!
You're about to embark on a UK tour supporting The Cruxshadows. What are you looking forward to most about that prospect?
Oh I love touring! Last time we did a UK tour (with KMFDM) we had withdrawal symptoms afterwards! I’m looking forward to playing up north again as we don’t get to play there very often. Also looking forward to the massive aftershow party!
What was the first record you bought? Do you still like it and have it?
I’ve been asked this many times and I’ve noticed I give a different answer each time! I think it was Bowie’s "Let’s Dance", but I might be wrong! Yeah I still love it and still have it, though I doubt it’s in decent condition!
What are some of the best gigs you've ever been to?
Laibach in Birmingham was pretty impressive. I’ve also enjoyed a fair few Download Festivals, too. But my all time favourite gig has to have been Alice Cooper at Wembley Arena. Amazing performer!
Can you confirm the third AlterRed album will be the third (and concluding?) part to the Patient trilogy?
It’s actually called the AlterRed and Emily trilogy. I’m really not sure yet. I’ve just started writing songs for the third album and have promised myself I’ll write two albums worth of material before deciding. I have several ideas based on the narrative, especially knowing that I’m starting with no dolls, no characters at all just AlterRed in isolation, but I’ll see what else comes out before deciding whether it’ll be the final part of the story.
Followers of yours on Facebook will know you're into your films – particularly fantasy/SF. Are they much of a direct influence on your music composition and songwriting?
Oh definitely! I am totally a movie fanatic, in particular sci fi and fantasy as you say. In fact I think I might have gone into movie making or acting had I not become a musician… hey, maybe I still will! Seriously though, I take as much inspiration from my favourite films and film-scores as I do from bands and albums. In particular I love Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman and Elliot Goldenthall and also Chris Nolan (obviously!), Tim Burton and Ridley Scott. I could go into much more detail but I think I’d go off on one a bit!
Do you already have ideas for an album outside of/beyond the trilogy – if so, any teaser comments you can share with us?
Not really. As I said earlier I’m having ideas for album three at the moment and as it stands it could go either way.
Was there a question I didn't ask that you'd have liked me to? If so, what was it? And would your answer have been?
Nope, I think you covered everything!
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Official AlterRed website: http://www.alterred.co.uk