Ben Sledge 9th June 2018
Xander and the Peace Pirates are modern pioneers of blues, sending a message of peace and love through their music to anyone who’ll listen. And while the “Peace Pirates” may seem oxymoronic, and their mantra of “Keep Peaceful, Keep Piratey” even more so, it kind of works. The Overtake chats to singer and guitarist Keith Xander about peace, music, and his hook.
“The earliest inspiration I can think of was Woodstock videos in 69. I watched Hendrix and Santana, you know, just amazing, and the whole thing of peace and love, and the way they bring people together and the power of it just really struck me. I remember thinking this is it now, I want to play music.
“I was encouraged by a teacher at school, because before that I wasn’t encouraged at all. A lot of people said I wouldn’t be able to play obviously because of the missing right arm, and, because I was wearing my hook in that particular music lesson, he said ‘why don’t you just give it a go with the hook?’”
Xander was born without his right forearm, but an accident as a teenager left him on life support and then bedbound, and with nothing else to do he picked up a guitar.
“At around the age of 15 I had a serious accident, I fell off a fence and impaled myself on a fence post. We were playing football, me and my brothers, and basically it ruptured my internal organs, I smashed my spleen into 10 pieces, I collapsed my lungs, I couldn’t breathe. It was just terrible. Anyway, after life support and all that, it was a turning point.
“Before I was more into skateboarding and things like that, quite physical stuff. I always used to go out and do mad shit, which is why I always hurt myself. I’m quite an accident prone person anyway. It forced me to sit and, because I couldn’t do a lot else, play the guitar for hours on end. I watched Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robin Ford, and all these other great guitarists I discovered, and that’s when it really started to take off for me.
“Obviously you hear that saying ‘everything happens for a reason’, but you start seeing that these bad things are often good things in disguise, they force you down a certain road that your soul is obviously meant to take. And you start to realise, this is what I’m supposed to be doing obviously. Life’s pushing me in this direction so I might as well go with it.”
It’s all about your perception of things isn’t it? What might seem dark to one, is seen to another that it’s shaped them into who they are
Xander laughs now as he recounts these traumatic stories, and it becomes obvious that he looks at life in a positive way. The path that he has taken to become a musician has certainly worked out for him, as it’s unlikely he would be recording his second album at the moment if he’d followed his skateboarding dreams.
He plays guitar in the same way that he learned at school, using a standard split hook, with an elastic band wrapped around it and a pick wedged in. It’s simple, but it works. As well as being inspiration for the second half of the Peace Pirates’ names, it seems symbolic of Xander’s easy-going attitude and positive outlooks. Hook for a hand? Stick a pick in it.
“I mainly just use the hooks because they’re easy to use, and I’m so used to just picking up a guitar, having a little strum, and if I’m out and about I’ll be wearing my hook. I wouldn’t be opposed to trying something specially made, but the things that I have had specially done have never really quite worked for me. It’s just becoming accustomed to something.”
No-one’s special, we’re all made of the same shit. As far as I’m concerned, anyone can do anything
When asked about his attitude to life, Xander answered with as affirming and positive an answer as we’d come to expect.
“It’s all about your perception of things isn’t it? What might seem dark to one, is seen to another that it’s shaped them into who they are, and helped them to discover what they’re capable of. Overcoming adversity is a powerful thing, it’s an inspiration to people isn’t it? People are always inspired by people who overcome something, whether it be their mental illness or their physical limitations, if we can overcome these things, then it’s an inspiration to someone else to say ‘well you can do it do’.
“Especially when people come up to me and say ‘ooh I couldn’t play like you’, well of course you fucking can, it’s just a concept about yourself, an idea that you have, that you’re not worthy to be as good as so-and-so. No-one’s special, we’re all made of the same shit. As far as I’m concerned, anyone can do anything.”
His positive messages extend further than himself, however. This is where the Peace Pirates come in. Xander and the rest of the Pirates preach acceptance and understanding, something they feel strongly about.
“The message behind the music is a message of love and acceptance and seeing past our differences really. Let’s stop this shallowness and war and pain and suffering when it’s really not necessary, it’s all self-created.
“I think music has that power. You’re all there for one reason, to be in this kind of beautiful presence of music, so it’s something to be really respected, something powerful.”
The band’s Twitter feed matches the messages promoted by their songs, and as such it is filled with anti-war messages, encouraging their followers to love one another. It’s a refreshing change from the all too common corporate feed simply promoting albums and shows, and it feels like the Peace Pirates genuinely want to promote some change in the world.
“Violence is just not working, is it? It’s just not working for anybody. I do understand that people believe there’s an enemy, that there’s such a thing as an enemy, but in reality they’re just concepts, and then the other side starts to believe ‘oh you’re my enemy’. It’s happening within us, and it just seems so insane.
Some people are like ‘just stick to the music’. Well, have you listened to us? Fucking listen to our album.
“As soon as all of us start to see that each individual has a part to play in their own evolution, to see beyond these restrictions of causing suffering to ourselves, and then to others because of a belief. That it’s okay to bomb little kids and kill innocent people, just for power. It’s unnecessary. These wars are being fought, not for ourselves, they’re being fought for an idea that’s not ours. It’s quite clear that we’re being manipulated.”
He takes his musical and activism inspiration from Woodstock and the artists that played. Xander fits the “old school hippy” vibe, and it’s easy to imagine him chilling there in ’69.
“That was a turning point for me, what was going on in the sixties, and I kinda see that happening now, with a lot of musicians. But it’s not even protest, it’s just what’s right.
“Some people are like ‘just stick to the music’. Well, have you listened to us? Fucking listen to our album. Where do you think it’s coming from? What’s the motivation? Woodstock was happening largely because of what was going on, the Vietnam War and the anti-conscription stuff.
“That’s what I loved about Woodstock, and I could see the power in it, you know. People were speaking out against it, which they should. If you have a realisation that that’s not the answer, then something needs to be said. Whether people like that or not, it needs to sink in.”
Xander feels like the message is getting through to people, perhaps due to the effect of their music, or maybe due to a shared human consciousness.
“The same goes for us, you’re getting more people that are anti-war, more people that are kinder to animals, start thinking about animals and how they’re treated. It’s a slow process, it was a slow process for me too, to realise that this is the biggest holocaust ever.
“Just because they’re animals, it’s accepted. I understand why people eat meat and dairy, and I’m not one of these people who is like meat is murder, but you’ve got to respect people’s decisions to an extent. It’s not so much about eating meat, obviously on some level we’re omnivorous, but it’s the mass cruelty is the side to it that’s the problem. And that’s just another form of war really.
“It took me a while to make the transition and realise. I’m a vegan, it was more that I don’t want to be putting that stuff into my body. It was a gradual thing, I don’t think many people go ‘I’m just going to change’, it’s like an addiction isn’t it? Meat is tasty!”
It doesn’t matter who you are, the Peace Pirates have a message for you. And their message is of acceptance, so we don’t think they’ll be following down the Morrissey route any time soon, which is always good. Keith Xander especially has made the absolute most of a bad situation, and he is using his platform as a way to help others to do the same.
“It’s all a message of love and acceptance and seeing past our differences really. Let’s stop this shallowness and war and pain and suffering when it’s really not necessary, it’s all self-created.”
Ben Sledge 9th June 2018