It's In The Way That You Use It
19 April 2007
Words by Simon Milburn
Irish bred hard rockers Therapy? have had their fair share of ups and downs over the course of their lengthy career. Sure, plenty of bands have as well, all to varying degrees, but there's a stalwart consistency to what they do, and an attitude and perspective on things that plays as much a part to their longevity as does the passion of their fans and the flat out, unabated enjoyment of the trio in doing what they do. They've survived numerous trends of varying degrees over the years and seen many a band and “next big thing” come and go, but as regular as clock work, vocalist/guitarist Andy Cairns, bassist Michael McKeegan and drummer Neil Cooper have continued to release album after album, with every other release being a bi-polar opposite of the other.
With a new label behind them in the form of the U.K.'s Spitfire Records, and a new album in tow, One Cure Fits All, Therapy? are back and for the first time in some time, their material is being made available in Australia through mega metal distributors Riot! Distribution, who also handle the likes of Nuclear Blast Records, Earache Records, Relapse Records and HydraHead Records amongst many others. So with a new and local push behind the trio once again, it was time to catch up with vocalist/guitarist Andy Cairns about everything happening in the world of Therapy?, starting firstly with the band's opening slot for metal legends MotÃ¶rhead on Halloween 2006, which for Cairns was excited enough to write about post-gig on the band's website. “It was really good. We weren't sure what to expect. We're all huge MotÃ¶rhead fans and I've seen MotÃ¶rhead quite a few times before. But I think because we were playing with them in the same theatre, we were all very excited,” explains an enthusiastic Cairns. I caught up with Cairns to discuss any chance of a long overdue return to Australian stages, the dynamics of their passionate fan base, the challenges and changes with recording their latest effort One Cure Fits All, the band's refreshingly positive outlook on not only the 17 year history but also what still lies ahead for them, and the niceties of still being able to enjoy career firsts at this stage of their career including the aforementioned opening slot for MotÃ¶rhead.
“It was such a busy day that we got in there - we had an instore to do in a record shop - and then we were over and the gig basically started quite early. So we went on and did forty minutes of our set which was great and then we got a chance to watch MotÃ¶rhead after the show. I really, really enjoyed it. The only thing was that it was just too short for everybody because The Olympia Theatre in Dublin (Ireland) has a very strict curfew. It was a very long day but before you knew it, the whole night had ended y'know?” laughs the vocalist. “But it was very, very enjoyable. MotÃ¶rhead played a brilliant set. It's the first time we've opened for them. We've shared a stage with them before years ago; about five years ago in Swansea in Wales there was a festival which MotÃ¶rhead headlined and we were on just before them, and that was good. But this is better because it was in a theatre, so it was a lot louder in there and a lot more intimate atmosphere.”
It's interesting to notice that even after Therapy? being together and slogging it out on stages around the world for some 17 odd years, that the trio can still enjoy some firsts with their career such as opening for MotÃ¶rhead.
“Oh completely! Also, it's the kind of thing where a band like MotÃ¶rhead...I mean, people have said to us over the years “you guys have been around for a long time”, and we always pointed to bands like MotÃ¶rhead, Ramones, Supersuckers, Metallica - bands that are around for longer than the kinda five year period which tends to be the norm these days. And it was great to do that! It's still good after having been around the world ourselves and played a lot of gigs ourselves, to still do things as you said - you put it right, Simon - it was a first for us to be sharing the same stage with them in a club. That was great!”
Seventeen years is a long time in anyone's language to do the same job. In the ever changing music business, it may as well be a lifetime with many acts never surviving a fraction of that time. But Cairns has somewhat of a different take on his time with Therapy?.
“To be honest, first of all, it went very quickly. Whenever we actually look on paper at the longevity of the band, it does seem quite shocking to me. It doesn't seem to me like 17 years because I think there is something in rock 'n' roll and in music in itself that does tend to keep you a bit more younger in outlook and spirit. So I think the thing is that I never think in terms of 'we've been around for 17 years' or 'we've got another record and another tour coming up'. But whenever you look at it on paper, or whenever you talk to someone about it, it does seem a hell of a long time! But it's just flown by to be honest.”
His perspective of his tenure with Therapy? is nothing but positive when asked what words he would use to describe the last 17 years with the band.
“I think it's all been constructive and good. People that sort of know the band know that we've had our ups and downs with regards to popularity and sales and this kind of stuff. I think with us what's made us still be around is really that we came from Northern Ireland which is a small country, and really to get any attention and concerts, we had to work really hard. It was kind of about four years before the band really broke through and made any friends outside of Ireland and England. I think what that did was that was four years of hard work set us up so whenever any success we did have came along, we really appreciated it. And then similarly, with the sort of big 90's success, whenever it waned, it also meant that because we considered ourselves a hard working band, we were better equipped to deal with it than other bands. I don't know about Australia, but I think Australia's probably has got more of a culture of bands earning their dues, but I think really in England, as you probably know, there tends to be a band will release their first album that will sell a million copies and then the next album doesn't do so well, and then they split up. That tends to be more of the norm as opposed to people working at it hard. So, it kind of meant for us, we always considered ourselves a hard working rock 'n' roll band as opposed to kind of just a fashion thing.”
It's all about perspective as Cairns declares that he and his band mates focus more on the “now” rather than the past.
“Yeah, we do, because I think the thing is that we really, really enjoy doing what we do. We genuinely do. I think for us it's always about what we're gonna do next. For example, this record is coming out in Australia which the last one didn't, and we're doing this interview with yourself today, and that's a bonus. We're enjoying kind of promoting this record in Australia and we've been talking to people about coming back over to Israel for a couple of gigs over there, which we haven't been to for years. We're going back to Spain next year, which we haven't been to Spain for four years. So whenever we hear about things like this, we concentrate on it and of course, at this minute, we're also thinking about making a new record because hopefully we'll be getting together to write the new record soon for release either late this year or sometime. We do get too hung up on the wrong side of the music business. I mean, at the end of the day, and most bands say this and it is true, it's all about the music. At the end of the day, it has to be about the music. I think if you really get into it for the wrong reasons or when you've got a little bit of fame and recognition, if you start maybe deviating from what you were originally in the band for then it can go wrong. For example, we turn up at the MotÃ¶rhead gig the other day and we're all excited to be playing. People in bands that we know that are friends or colleagues, and they go on tour man and they're like 'Oh God, we gotta do a show tonight. We're in Germany. It's cold. I wanna go home. I don't wanna play.' I think that if we ever had that attitude, then we'd decide to call it day.”
Therapy? has had an up and down career which has seen them drop in and out of flavour of the month as the tides of the music industry have turned. But when it comes down to it, if you enjoy what you do and can deal with the good and the bad of any situation, then that is half the battle.
“Well that's what you have to do, and at the end of the day, it's all the way that you decide to deal with it. As I said early on, we take what we do very much seriously creatively wise, but with regards to the whole surrounding business, we take it and we'll make what we can of it. We don't kind of get bogged down. We know that to a certain extent, there are certain obligations that we have, but also, we're all smart enough to know that if it's not enjoyable, then we should move on and do something else, either within music or maybe just take a break and just go away from it for a while. You've probably seen it yourself from your end. You see so many people kind of beating themselves up in this business over nothing, and it's never really worth it at the end of the day.”
After 17 years, the trio are at a point when it's hard to faze them especially after surviving a lot of changes in the music scene since their inception. Regardless, and more importantly, they are still enjoying what they do and that in itself is a part of what Cairns believes makes it difficult to rattle their cage.
“That's part of it, and I think another thing is, because of the nature of people that we are, we haven't panicked. Say for example in '93 or '94, we were riding really high in Europe and then what happened was the whole Oasis, Blur, Brit-pop thing happened and people in the industry said 'Grunge, metal, rock - it's all dead. Brit-pop's in. You guys are finished.' So we kind of rode that storm out. Then, kind of towards 1999 and 2000, the metal press were saying to us 'It's all about hip-hop. It's all nu-metal. This is the future of metal. You guys are finished.' Of course, that passed as well. We hear it every three or four years that we're finished because something else is gonna take over the whole world. It's like everything else and it has been since music began - these things move in cycles. We just do our own thing. We would never try to align ourselves to any particular movement to be trendy and at the same time, we've never been old fashioned and ignorant and not realized that something new can be also seen as something inspiring and exciting. What we've seen from other people, maybe say for example, something really takes over. A lot of bands tend to panic and think 'Oh my God! We should maybe be doing this thing. This is gonna be really big. What are we doing? We need to change!' Then people kind of get confused and forget what they meant to be doing in the first place, and I think the thing with us is that it is a part of the extra fluff that kind of comes with part of the music business - every time something new comes along, everyone genuinely gets excited and they also tend to think that it's the death of something which is maybe seen as passÃ©. I think with Therapy?, we always kind of consider ourselves as slightly...I don't know, we've never been part of any particular scene so, we might not be the trendiest band in the world, but it also means that we don't die when that scene dies as well.”
With the music scene being even more splintered into genres and labels more so than ever before, Cairns isn't quite sure where exactly Therapy? fit within the current musical climate.
“I don't know. I've seen and talked to loads of young bands that have just really surprised me recently. Quite a lot of younger bands in the U.K. and Europe that are making records, people have said to me 'Oh when we were kids, we listened to Therapy? and you were an inspiration!' I don't really know. I've got a bit more of a perspective on it recently just from talking to others journalists. I kind of think we never really fitted it to any genre such as grunge, but I think in the '90s, because we all had short hair and our songs were short, and we were influenced just as much by punk rock as we were by metal, I think we were a part of those bands like Helmet and Faith No More that kind of began to break metal out of the old fashioned, traditional, long haired, denim...I'm not knocking that at all, but you know what I mean? We were a part of it when it started to change. I don't know whereabouts we fit in now. I certainly know we feel an awful lot of respect from an awful lot of other younger bands that we play with at festivals that we meet, which is always really flattering and surprising. But I think really we're seen as a kind of, I dunno, some kind of band that follows their own path regardless,” laughs the vocalist.
Follow their own path is exactly what the trio have done with their most recent effort, One Cure Fits All - and it's a path that the band clearly wanted this new album to go down.
“Oh very much so before we even started writing it! We always do, the next album we do is a reaction to the one that came before it, to the frustration of record companies and management. Once we get on something, we never stick to it. We like to freshen things up. With this record, the last record Never Apologise, Never Explain, was very much in the mould of some of our older records like Suicide Pact - You First or Babyteeth. It was very much a big sludge of a record, a sort of sonic assault, very heavy, very densely recorded, and a very agitated approach to it. But with this record, we wanted to make it a bit more soundscape-y, sort of a bit more melodic, and certainly a few more hooks in it. Because it was recorded in two weeks, it's still got a sense of urgency but we sat down and said “Let's make this one more melodic.' What we've done is, we started this thing where, we started it actually with High Anxiety which we recorded three albums ago, and what we wanted to do was we'd spend more time writing the record and rehearsing, and then we'd record them all in two weeks to keep the energy up. But it meant that as opposed to spending what budget we had in the recording studio for four weeks, we'd spend more of that money to hire a little place out and rehearse in it so that we knew the songs inside out. So what we had to do we'd kinda go in at ten in the morning and finish at one in the morning but it was all work, work, work when we got there, and that kept the momentum going. It's very, very hard work but I actually the results it gets. Certainly in the past we've made records where we've had months to work on them and we've found that with some of the tracks that we're least fond of it's because we've maybe gotten lost a bit with the technology and lost focus of what the original track was meant to be.”
With the digital age of music being a talking point amongst all with an interest in the music business, Therapy? embraced the MP3 technology to the point that it aided them in the writing process for their latest album.
“Well, Never Apologise, Never Explain we booked a lot of time in a very tiny room and rehearsed like crazy and that kind of adds to it. We wrote together while we were all there, we strung the songs together and I wrote the lyrics after the rehearsals. So, the whole thing kept a very claustrophobic feel. With this record, we all live in different places. I live in Cambridge in South-East England, Neil lives in Darby in the North Midlands (U.K.) and Michael lives in Belfast in Northern Ireland. What we would do is we'd send each other MP3 files of the stuff we'd been working on at home, and Michael would send a bass line to Neil and he'd add a drum beat, then send me the bass and drums and I would go and stick some guitars over it. We had all these little MP3s flying about with different ideas. Then we all got together for, I think, three and a half to four weeks, just to bash all the stuff out and add the lyrics and vocals, so it kind of came about that way. Because we were going for more of a melodic feel, the structures and everything in the songs are slightly more traditional, the verse-chorus-verse, guitar solo, chorus twice kind of approach, maybe not as obvious as some other melodic rock bands, but very much, that was what we were trying to achieve. We kept all the hooks in.”
But the use of digital music files to assemble the songs themselves not the only thing new for Cairns this time round. The biggest change for the vocalist/guitarist this time was the recording of his vocal tracks for One Cure Fits All.
“This time, the producer Pedro Ferrerer, he actually took quite a different approach. The way I like to do vocals is that I like to go in and do them pretty much live with a hand held mic and do two or three takes and then see which one I like the best. I've always done that, even back when we were on Universal Records in the 90s, I've always enjoyed that. But Pedro actually wanted me to make sure I did warm up exercises for my voice which I've never done, believe it or not, after all this length of time. He made me sit down with an acoustic guitar and play over the track a lot of times to warm my voice up, and was really, really a task master to make sure the vocal performances were ahead. So that was different for me, because I'm very impatient. Once the backing track's done, I'm like 'Gimme the mic, let's go! Let's nail this in a couple of takes.' He's like “Woah, woah, woah! Hold your horses! No, we're not gonna do this this time 'round.' Because we had only two weeks, at the end of every night, I'd sing for a little bit. That was quite unusual for me. I would still be saying, 'Yeah, that last take was great Pedro. Let's go with that,' and he's going, 'No, it's shit. It's shit! Listen back to it! You're all out of tune.' So that was quite an unusual approach,” laughs Cairns.
Cairns' wings had been clipped somewhat for this part of the recording process, and it was something that he found both strange and difficult to deal with at the same time.
“Well it was with the vocals because with the guitars and drums, he was very, very much open to 'Let's capture the mistakes, let's get it as live as possible.' But with the vocals, he really felt that the vocals would tie the whole thing together, which is quite unusual, because I've always thought that even with the more melodic records, because of the nature of the band, the vocals are nearly like another instrument. They always sit nicely in the mix and they're not too melodramatic or anything like that. But this time around, he just wanted to nail them right, so it was strange.”
With all now said and done, the response that One Cure Fits All has received certainly has swung in favour of the trio with the music press, and as always it seems, their diehard fan base is split down the middle once more due to the Jekyll and Hyde nature of their albums.
“Well the press response over here has been very good. The press response in the U.K. and Ireland can either be hot or cold depending on what's flavour of the month. With this album, it was very, very good. The reviews were great. Regarding the fans, it's really funny with out fans. Our fans are very, very loyal, the hardcore fanbase, but there's two camps. There's the people who like Troublegum, Semi-Detached, High Anxiety and One Cure Fits All. They like the melodies. They like straight forward lyrics and they like big, hooky choruses. Then the other half of our fan are the ones that don't actually like the melodic stuff. They like Suicide Pact - You First, Babyteeth, Never Apologise Never Explain - that stuff that sounds like it's been recorded in a bunker about 50 feet below the ground, and is being performed by maniacs. That's really funny. We meet Therapy? kids after the shows and they fall into one of the two camps. With this one, it's bizarre because I've just seen from talking to fans and meeting them after shows, they either really, really like One Cure Fits All and think it's fantastic and they love the melodies or they kinda go, 'When are you gonna make another Never Apologise, Never Explain? When are you gonna make another record that sounds like someone being slain alive?'”
As you'd expect based on Cairns' positive outlook on all things Therapy?, he's able to view the polar opposite comments from fans as nothing but inspiring.
“Oh completely! The one thing that all Therapy? fans do acknowledge is that the next record is always gonna be different from the one before it, which I think, from talking to people, whenever we do signing sessions and meet people after shows, what gets me is the two things about Therapy? fans that really, really make me proud is that usually we are their favourite band, and normally when they bring in things to be signed and they have everything, and they'll be totally honest and say 'I hated this record, but I love this record. This record was shit, but this was a return to form.' I love that because I used to do that with my favourite artists when I was growing up, people like Iggy Pop - his solo records, some of them were awful and some of them were works of absolute genius. The Ramones, same kinda thing. That's what I really like about it, and I think that's what people that are drawn to the band like - you're never quite sure of what you're gonna get.”
A new lease on musical life has been provided to the band via their signing with Spitfire records which has seen their most recent efforts made available down under amongst other places, which is another boost for the band.
“It's really good. We were talking to some people at the record company about it and they were saying that with the last few records...We like people to be frank with us. The way Therapy? are, we don't like people at the record company or management to have to tip toe round us. So many bands don't like being given bad news because it can bum them out and that'll ruin that nights performance. We've always been like, 'Give us the truth. How bad are things or how good are things?' The guy from the record company over here was saying when we first signed to Spitfire, he was phoning up journalists and going, 'Would you like a copy of the new Therapy? album?', and he was saying that 90 percent of them were replying, 'Are those guys still going? Are that band still around?' He said after that album and after Never Apologise, Never Explain, no-one says that. Everyone knows the band's back. Sales have picked up a bit and the band's profile has gone up again. So, things like that are really, really good. We've soldiered on regardless anyways, but to hear that all those doors have opened again for us in places were going back to or currently have been, y'know, certainly from the response we get in places as well, I think it's just like everything else - we never actually went away. The true faithful have always been there, but it's just a matter of kinda getting people in the general world of rock 'n' roll to know you're still around and there's only one way to do that regardless of what band you are, and that's to keep yourself out there and keep at it.”
Speaking of the land down under, it's been a dozen years since the group graced our shores for the one and only visit to date when they played at the only incarnation of the Alternative Nation festival in 1995.
“That's right, yeah. We wanna come back. We keep said this to the record company and we've said this to our management as well. We've done a few interviews as well for this record and said that we would go down there tomorrow if we got the phone call. I think it's a matter of trying to get the expenses tied up and making sure we can get down there. It's an ongoing thing - we constantly bring it up when we have our meetings. We wanna get back there! The short time that we were there we really enjoyed and I've got a lot of time for Australian music from way back from when I was a kid, I used to be a big fan of The Church. I remember getting The Unguarded Moment on ten inch (vinyl) and playing it every single day for about a year. Other bands like The Coloured Balls, people like that and Bored that we liked whenever Therapy? had first started. The Saints of course, as well! We'd like to go back there and give it another go, because we enjoyed our time down there last time!”
Therapy?'s latest album, One Cure Fits All, is out now on Spitfire Records through Riot! Distribution. For more information on Therapy?, check out www.therapyquestionmark.co.uk.