Interview: Therapy?

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Posted on 8th Nov 10 by | comments 2

As part of celebrations for their twentieth anniversary, Northern Irish legends Therapy? embarked on a number of fan-favourite shows, some centered around 1994 classic Troublegum. Part of the itinerary was Cork, where for the Jazz Festival of October Bank Holiday, they treated long-time fans and newbies alike to two amazing sets spanning their recorded career and […]

As part of celebrations for their twentieth anniversary, Northern Irish legends Therapy? embarked on a number of fan-favourite shows, some centered around 1994 classic Troublegum. Part of the itinerary was Cork, where for the Jazz Festival of October Bank Holiday, they treated long-time fans and newbies alike to two amazing sets spanning their recorded career and beyond. Drop-d, personally has been a lifelong fan, so when the opportunity arose for us to get an interview with the boys in black, we jumped at the chance. And so, we sat down with them before their Sunday gig at Cyprus Avenue, and proceeded to pick their brains…

D: Ye’re here for two nights for Cork Jazz Festival, how are ye finding the experience and have ye had the chance to sample the atmosphere?

ANDY CAIRNS (guitar/vox): It’s everywhere, ya can’t really miss it (laughs), when we checked into the hotel there was a jazz band playing, there was a jazz band being piped into the foyer, and every bar, all 90 bars in Cork have music. I quite like it, I don’t mind a lot of jazz. I like listening to stuff like Eric Dolphy and stuff like that. I really like the atmosphere and some people were having a very good time last night. (Michael McKeegan laughs)

D: Last night’s show had such energy and such a vibe, it was incredible, how do ye keep it up after twenty years?

ANDY: I think, we all enjoy doing it, it’s that simple, it honestly is, because we always get surprised by how many people we know, or are our peers, that actually don’t enjoy doing it.

D: Really?

ANDY: Yeah, they don’t enjoy going on tour, I mean, they might enjoy going into studio, they quite enjoy the creative process of putting a record together, but quite a lot of people don’t enjoy touring. They don’t like being away from home, they don’t like having to travel on a tour bus or sleep in hotel rooms. We’ve always taken to it very well, so that makes it a lot easier, ’cause we’ve always wanted to be musicians, and travel.

D: Ye’ve a new live album due, We’re Here to the End, and that was recorded over three nights in London at the Monto Water Rats. How did ye narrow down your back catalogue into a neat, 2CD live album?

NEIL COOPER (drums): Well, it was different sets every night, but you’re right, putting together a setlist is an absolute pain in the backside most nights. But the live album came out really well, it’s got 36 tracks on there, and we went into the studio with three evening’s worth of material, and we were surprised of how much of it was usable, y’know? So the album’s sounding great.

D: Is there any tracks you regret leaving out of the setlist? It’s pretty much the essential Therapy?, but were there any bits and bobs you’d have liked to put in for yourselves?

ANDY: There always are, I mean, I Told You I Was Ill didn’t make the cut, did it? (NEIL: No.) We did… there was four tracks that didn’t make the cut, and I Told You I Was Ill, which I really like, just didn’t sound right, and we didn’t wanna go down that road of patching it up in studio too much. Ten Year Plan, which I love, it’s on one of my favourite albums, Suicide Pact (-You First), it didn’t sound right, the guitar was making this funny sort of buzz, and then we made, well I made an absolute bollocks of Lonely, Cryin’ Only, just sang completely out of tune and I Am the Money, we had a vocoder on it, which worked well in rehearsals, but I think I set too much effect on it (laughs). There’s YouTube footage of it, it’s like Stephen Hawking trying to sing Iggy Pop (Neil and Michael chuckle).

D: As part of your 20th anniversary celebrations, you’re also on a series of Troublegum-themed shows. First of all, how does it feel to revisit Troublegum? And is it weird to go down that road just off of Crooked Timber being released last year and the strength of such fresh material?

MICHAEL MCKEEGAN (bass): No! I’m not getting sick of it at all, the band is going so well, and Neil is playing an absolute blinder, so it’s pretty good to revisit the Troublegum stuff and Infernal Love songs.

D: Yeah, we’d a bit of fun with Epilepsy last night.

ANDY: Ah, cheers. (Neil laughs)

D: Another question is, there seems to be a trend of bands going into studio to re-record their classic albums, your Demolition labelmates Twisted Sister redid Stay Hungry

MICHAEL: Aw, I didn’t know that!

D: Yeah, Exodus re-recorded their first album as well. Is there any chance of you revisiting the studio for a redux of Troublegum?

MICHAEL: Nahhhh. I think you can always remaster it rather than re-record it.

ANDY: Yeah, the live album’s there for that purpose, really.

D: And the live album makes a nice counterpoint to the usual greatest hits malarkey, ’cause you’d had So Much for the Ten Year Plan already…

ANDY: And So Much for the Twenty Year Plan was suggested by some people, but we said no, to be honest, we don’t really regret anything we’ve done in our career, but Ark21, who we were with at the time, were still part of the Universal umbrella, so even though we were on an indie, we were on an indie owned by a major, and that was kinda… they wanted to put that out. We’d just done Suicide Pact -You First. The fans liked it and it was critically well-received, but it didn’t sell well at all, and what happened was Universal panicked and it wasn’t worded this way but it was kinda suggested that it was damage limitation, that they could maybe put out a best of. I mean, we were glad to celebrate the fact that we’d been around ten years, but listening to it now, I’m not keen on the tracklist, it could have been done so much better.

D: 20 years of touring, and all the hardcore Therapy? fans are gonna have read the tour stories online, but for the Therapy? virgin, for lack of a better term, can you give something of a potted history of Therapy? High points, low points, anything you’d have done differently, nothing ye regret?

ANDY: Erm, not really, the one thing we do little of, and it never ceases to surprise people is we very, very rarely cancel shows. We cancelled one gig in Switzerland ’cause I’d gastroenteritis, we cancelled a gig once at Brixton Academy. In 20 years, we’ve cancelled something like two gigs.

D: That’s an amazing track record.

ANDY: We’ve always played through illness or whatever, and it’s like… we’ve heard stories, y’know, people we shall not name have driven up to gigs and went “We’re playing here?” “Yup.” “I don’t wanna play here” and grabbing the band and driving off.

D: For god’s sake. That kind of ego just leads to a band’s downfall, if they don’t show fans their respect back, y’know? But ye had your start in 1990, demos aside, with the Meat Abstract single. How would ye compare your situation starting out in 1990, with John Peel and the single, with that of a new band starting out today? And does the internet play against new bands on account of so much content being out there?

NEIL: I personally don’t envy new bands at all. It’s brilliant because there’s so many places you can get your music played, but it’s almost like saturation. You just mentioned John Peel, and we would all sit at home, years and years ago, and it was almost like that stamp of approval, and you still need that, a little bit, ’cause it kind of puts you out a little bit. It’s everywhere, it’s hard to actually… if you just sit and click through MySpace and go through a thousand bands you might find ten who are brilliant, and the rest are not worth the time, because everyone can do it. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that everyone can do it, but it kind of makes it hard work, when you’re just trawling, trawling, trawling…

ANDY: I must admit, I feel for a band these days starting out. I think, as Neil said, it’s fantastic you can get stuff done, but I think what happens now is record companies, especially the majors, are expecting the bands to deliver everything for them. They’re expecting the band to build up a fanbase and friends on MySpace and Facebook, and they’re expecting to sign a band that’s recorded their album to the laptop in their bedroom, and all they have to do is pay for marketing. A band like us, before we signed to Demolition Records, our manager thought, the band’s been around, I’m gonna go back to some majors this time and see what the crack is. We were kinda wondering, as we’d been down that route, but he says “no, no, no”. He met with two or three majors on our behalf, just to test the water, and it was funny, they all came back to him and said “if you give us an album, we’ll put it out”. If it’s all done and it sounds like Troublegum, and it’s all recorded, we’ll put it out, we’ll spend money on the marketing.

D: “If it sounds like Troublegum” being the crux of that statement.

ANDY: And if it’s recorded as well, they’re not even gonna give you that 20 grand to go to studio and pay for it. You give us the album, it sounds like your old commercial stuff, we’ll put it out. So they’re getting an album for nothing and putting it out there and spending a few bob on marketing.

D: But last night, you played a lot of old material, Drop-d was delighted to hear some of your new material, but a lot of long-time/older fans were very quiet during Exiles and Clowns Galore. What do you think of the whole thing of old stuff vs. new stuff in a set like this? I mean, it’s nostalgia for an older or casual audience, but it’s frustrating for a lot of younger or more hardcore fans that have been following what the band have been doing presently to see people go silent for something they spend so much listening time on.

ANDY: That’s a really good point, because we toured Crooked Timber twice when it came out, around Europe, we did two European tours in a year. And it tended to be all the younger people that knew all the words of Exiles and I Told You I Was Ill and Crooked Timber. And the younger kids, and we were really chuffed to have younger people coming to our shows, they seemed to be more familiar with them, we were in Hungary as well and they were very, very familiar with the stuff of One Cure Fits All and Crooked Timber. And I think it’s that classic, I can totally understand people in their thirties and forties that have been with the band from day one, probably, they might own ten Therapy? albums, but five of them will be Troublegum and five will be copies of Infernal Love which they’ve worn out. I mean, I don’t mind, at the end of the day, it’s like Iggy Pop, and he’s made some great records and some records on which I’m not so keen, but I’ve got them all, if I go and see Iggy Pop there’ll be a couple of tunes I’ll want to hear more than others, and I think when you have a body of work like we have, it’s only to be expected, really.

D: Yeah, I suppose that’s true, given the nature of the occasion.

ANDY: Yeah, I mean, if I go to see a band that’s been around for a long time, for example, I went to see Stiff Little Fingers, late last year, me and Michael went, and they’ll play, hand on heart, I’ll get very excited for Suspect Device, Alternative Ulster, all the stuff I heard when I was 13 and grew up with.

D: For the 20th anniversary there was talk of reissuing Babyteeth and Pleasure Death. Has anything concrete ever come of this?

ANDY: Well, we met with Harvey Birrell twice last year, he came to a London gig in November, it’d been remixed, he’d talked to Southern, Southern were up for it, he’d dug out some old live stuff, ’cause Harvey used to be our sound engineer as well as the producer, he dug out a whole concert from the time of Babyteeth and Pleasure Death, and he said he’d got some really old photographs, and he wanted me and Michael to write sleeve notes, and he got in touch with our management. But we haven’t heard anything of him since. And I know the album’s available on Boomkat, it’s on iTunes, it’s on Southern‘s website. I don’t really know what’s happened there. I mean, Harvey, bless him, we’re hoping to see him at our London show in November, and we’ll pick his brains on that, but as far we know, everyone was cool with it, we were cool with it, Southern were cool with it, the management, so I don’t know, is it just with everything else that’s happening in the industry, they’re cutting back, but I know that it was remastered, and redone.

D: Hard to see something like that happen at the moment as Southern were such a prolific label at one point.

ANDY: I’m very confident it will happen, it’s just that when you look at how many bands Southern have, I suppose, are they gonna push a young American act on Quarterstick or something like that, or re-release a band that’s twenty years old? The priority will be to the younger, upcoming band and fair play to ‘em. I do think it will happen.

D: Crooked Timber was released last year, after, not so much a hiatus on account of the webgig and the radio sessions album, but ye sounded a lot more refreshed and a lot more inspired. Can ye give us an insight into the creative process behind it?

ANDY: Well, we deliberately took time off after we’d done High Anxiety, N.A.N.E., and One Cure Fits All, which all happened in quick succession ’cause that’s what old-school Therapy? used to do, we were uninspired, not in a bad way, but we needed something fresh, and I think, really we took our time over it, and then we got back together, in a rehearsal room where Neil lives in Derby, and we just approached with a completely open mind. And it was really exciting again, because we had to be quite courageous about throwing in some of the stuff we wanted to do, like Krautrock style on Magic Mountain, the dubstep style on Exiles. We really liked it, we put a lot of care and time into writing the songs, it’s very uniform as well…

NEIL: Very much built it from scratch as well, rather than “here’s a riff, here’s a song”, it was very much in the rehearsal room, kinda jamming around stuff really.

D: And it all comes across on the record as very cohesive, very inspired, a couple of lads getting together for the first time in a while.

NEIL: Well, you can look at something like Magic Mountain, which is a bit “off-track”, some might say, it sounds like one piece of work, which I like, it’s not just a case of two singles on there and a load of filler.

MICHAEL: When we started doing the record, we were quite adamant that you don’t want, as Neil said, two great songs and the rest is like, filler. Every song exists in its own wee place, y’know?

D: That’s how so many bands should go about their music these days as well, as you mentioned, too many bands are happy with just singles and filler, which wore thin with Britpop.

ANDY: That’s actually what happened, producers used to say, we’d meet producers on major labels who’d say you just need two good songs. In the ’90s, the big thing was put the hit single on first. Even Andy Gill, bless him, was talking about in the ’80s, what a lot of bands, like The Gang of Four when they were on EMI, he said that they would always be told to put the best songs on the first four tracks. And it didn’t really matter ’cause he said the lad that buys it in the petrol station, on his way to a conference meeting sticks it on, and y’know he’s only gonna listen to the first four tunes. And that happens. Bands still do that, someone like, and no disrespect to them, bands like Kings of Leon, that last album, my wife really, really liked it. And the three tunes were like, inescapable, you’d have to build a scaffold around them in stadiums to escape. Those three tunes, my wife’s played me the whole album, and I couldn’t name ya any of the songs bar those three singles.

D: Mention of Andy leads nicely to the next question, what was Andy Gill like to deal with? We’ve all heard the stories of Andy being a difficult producer, I mean the story of Flea handing him excretions in a box comes to mind.

ANDY: I think I can imagine how Americans wouldn’t get him, ’cause he’s quite eccentric. And that’s one thing, especially about English producers, there’s a hint of eccentricity about a lot of them and what they do, they spend so much time cooped up. But Andy is a really lovely guy, he’s very… nothing bothers him, he talks in a completely calm way no matter what’s going on, like “Hmmm… the studio’s on fire”. (laughs all around) I think with a lot of musicians, especially those who have… Attention Deficit Disorder, as a lot of musicians do have, they want something happening all the time. I think the thing about Flea, he told us a couple of Chili Peppers stories too, from his side of things, that that was when they were a lot of hard work. They’re all clean and sober these days but that was when they were harder to get along with.

D: But that must have been such a contrast, as well, such a co-operative label and such a good producer, in comparison to One Cure Fits All, which Spitfire didn’t exactly go out of their way to help out.

ANDY: No, they didn’t. What happened was, Spitfire was going through a transition back then, it didn’t even get released in America, that record, the guys over there didn’t get it, they were a real metal label, Spitfire in America, and they didn’t… if it wasn’t wearing camouflage shorts and waving a pointy headstock, they really weren’t interested.

D: But going back to how you mentioned Magic Mountain would be considered kinda strange or out of the way, in a lot of people’s opinions, I read on the site that a twenty-to-twenty-five minute version of Magic Mountain exists…

MICHAEL: The whole story is somewhere (laughs).

D: Is there chance it’ll see release at some point?

ANDY: People say, “well, why didn’t you put it on the Crooked Timber Gold Edition thing?”. It is really, really long, ’cause it was a jam, started out as a jam. And the original version’s got a weird mix. The original version, Andy Gill edited it, and put a lot of effects on the guitars and stuff, which we wanted, so it’d make it sound really psychedelic and spacey. But the original mix is quite flat, so it doesn’t have all the whistles and bells, the sonic whistles and bells, so it’s twenty minutes long and it’s quite flat!

D: Speaking of archive material on tape, Drop-d read a blog post a while back on the site that Mike was digitising old material, going through the old tapes and mini-discs and such. How’s that going?

MICHAEL: It’s an ongoing project. (Andy laughs) It’s literally twenty years of “play; record”. There’s a lot of hard-drives in my house, let’s put it that way.

D: Fantastic. Any chance of an Ash-style archive, of rare materials? Ash kind of put up an archive…

MICHAEL: Did they? I didn’t know that.

D: They’ve a fan forum, where fans can upload their own bootlegs and the band have more than contributed with just about everything in their files that wouldn’t require them to have to go through Infectious, management and so forth.

NEIL: And then what, you just download them for free?

D: Yep.

NEIL: Ah, okay!

ANDY: Is this finished material? ‘Cause we have tons and tons of 3-quarter-finished songs and songs without proper lyrics and all this kinda stuff. I don’t know if there’s a great deal of completed songs and completed melodies and arrangements. An awful lot of the stuff we’ve got, we maybe started and abandoned, some tracks, like Michael sent me a couple of tracks around Infernal Love which didn’t quite make the cut, but they were half-finished and the lyrics were half-written.

D: Did that all go to The Casey Jones Reaction (sideproject) then after?

ANDY: No, no, no. Casey Jones was its own thing, Casey Jones’ stuff was written for Casey Jones. But a lot of this stuff was around Infernal Love, and again around the time we did Suicide Pact-You First, we were really into Thin Lizzy, and we’d all these kinda songs like Hang On, it was really Thin Lizzy with these twin guitars and all. They never saw the light of day and we brought them into Jack Endino, we had a tape of ‘em, when we were doing Shameless, and the label said “While you’re there, while you’re recording, have you any bonus material?”. We’d been in Seattle two months. We hadn’t had the chance to write, he said (putting on accent) “Have you guys got anything?” We said we’d some demos. (accent) “Yeah, Lizzy, man! Let’s hear them.” And we stuck them on. (accent) “Oh, man!” (laughter) “That sounds like Night Ranger!(raucous laughter all around).

D: Fuckin’ hell, but the Ash thing is more live bootlegs than anything else. Which leads to the question, (Drop-d has) read the stories behind the songs on the website, and I’ve noticed a couple of your favourite versions of early songs from Babyteeth and Pleasure Death. Will there be, at anytime, an official release of one of those shows?

ANDY: Of the live versions?

D: Yeah, say for example, your gig at the White Horse in Dublin.

ANDY: We have that entire concert. It’s a good idea, but not something that would be a priority now. I mean, to be honest, the version of Fantasy Bag that’s on We’re Here to the End is the best version of it. It’s better than the version on Pleasure Death.

D: Ye’re now working on the new album, and ye’ve uploaded pix of this to Facebook. How’s it going?

NEIL: It’s going well! We’ve got seven firm ideas so far, more bits and bobs kinda floating around. It’s one of those things where we’re kinda chipping away, so we’ll be writing while we’re away on the European shows, soon as we get back, back into the rehearsal room again, and then back into the studio again, hopefully before Christmas, and get the body of it recorded, to get it released in the New Year. So we’re kinda pencilling in a release date. So everything’s kinda taking shape now. And so far it’s sounding really good.

D: Would you care to give us any spoilers about the direction the new album will take?

ANDY: Ah, they’re kinda like… (thinks, Michael laughs). They’re fucking fantastic. There’s one track called Plague Bell which sounds like Slint meets Black Flag, it’s brilliant.

NEIL: It’s all quite dark.

ANDY: And a lot more discordant guitars, very, very Therapy?-sounding, the very jazzy one, what did we call that one? Ah…

MICHAEL: Why Turbulence?

ANDY: That’s it, Why Turbulence? Which is what a famous physicist once said, can’t remember who he was, have to Google him, but when he was asked if he met God what question would he ask and he said “Why turbulence?”, because it’s one of these things they can’t quite explain.

D: It’s great, ye seem really inspired and while Crooked Timber brought ye a new lease of life, and ye seem very comfortable with your past as well, it’s great to see ye inspired and moving forward too. By the hints you’ve given this doesn’t sound like it’s gonna be another Crooked Timber.

ANDY: No, it’s a bit deeper and darker, it’s taking the thing that we had with Crooked Timber, we liked the fact that we didn’t try and revert back to writing songs to type. We’ve taken that ball and run with it, it’s a bit deeper and a bit darker. It’s a bit groovier, to be honest with you.

D: In sort of the Mingus way?

MICHAEL: The Mingus way. (laughs)

D: One of the highlights of the last album for (us) personally. One last question: what does the future hold for Therapy? in the long run? You’ve been here for twenty years, do ye see yerselves going another twenty?

ANDY: I don’t know, I never thought we’d be around twenty years; because we’ve thought like that, I suppose it just caught up with us. But we’ve got this live record and we’ve got this new record which comes out next Easter, and then we’ll be touring that, and that’s the next year sewn up for us. I just take it one album at a time and I really, really enjoy it. I think if we would have sat down in the mid-’90s and made a Ten Year Plan, if it had a hiccup in it… we know lots of bands that sat down and said “our album didn’t sell as well as the previous one” and then split up. Every band has done, TerrorvisionReef, The Wildhearts, Skunk Anansie. And all those bands, that just seems to be normal, I remember going to see a band, an indie band, and I won’t name them, ’cause they’re very nice people, their album stiffed, they came to Cambridge, then their second album stiffed, they had a meeting, and their tour wasn’t selling well either, so they announced they were splitting up, so their ticket sales would increase and they said “Aw, we’ll probably come back in a couple of years”. Why didn’t ya stick by it and say “the album was great, if people didn’t buy it that was their loss”, rather than going, kinda letting the public dictate the style you write songs in?

D: Well, it’s always meant to be about the band, if you’re a real fan, you’re gonna follow through on what’s happening.

ANDY: It’s not even about that, I only looked at it personally, I wouldn’t expect a band I admired to just play things I wanted ‘em to, and I know people buy records, and come to the shows, and buy T-shirts, so we’ll never lose sight of that, but I think it’s also patronising and insulting to the music fan, if you kinda give them what they want all the time. I’d like to think, if we do something, people are open-minded enough to say, “I see what they did there, I didn’t like it, the feel of it, but fair play”, rather than making the same album. Unless you’re AC/DC or Motorhead, it’s impossible to make the same album again and again and retain any of your integrity.

The tape stopped rolling there. The lads hung about for a bit, signed up the neatly kept 7″s Drop-d had brought and made chat about the night’s setlist. And all Drop-d could think about that entire night, as Therapy? unleashed a set full of old and new material, some Judas Priest and Misfits and even a brand new tune, Living in the Shadow, was whoever said you shouldn’t meet your heroes was full of it. Fan-fucking-tastic!

The new live album, We’re Here to the End, is available now from all good record retailers and online through Blast/DR2.

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About Mike McGrath Bryan

Drop-d.ie's managing editor and news slave since November 2010, and a full-time freelance contributing journalist. General speccy four-eyes and what have you.

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2 Responses
  1. mickey on November 9, 2010

    that was one hell of an interview, very interesting and entertaining! well done

  2. 9lives on December 22, 2010

    Great interview … just got the live album dropped on my doorstep in the US and looking forward to it immensely.

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