Therapy? Interview

25 03 2009

As promised, here’s the Therapy? interview that ran in last Friday’s Telegraph. A longer, very different 2500words version will be in April’s issue of AU (it’s much more magazine-y and a lot less newspaper-y!) but for now content yourselves with this one.


It’s half one on a sunny Tuesday afternoon and Therapy?, one of my favourite bands of all time, are sitting in my house drinking tea and nursing hangovers from the night before. The boys (singer/guitarist Andy Cairns, bassist Michael McKeegan and tub thumper Neil Cooper) are in town to promote their new record Crooked Timber and also managed to fit in a headline slot at the local band extravaganza Do You Remember the First Time at the Ulster Hall the night before (which explains the hangovers). Although there were many highlights during the gig, the main stand-out moment was watching the trio play a version of Teenage Kicks backed by Ash, Duke Special, Snow Patrol and the other ten acts on the bill. It was a performance that said- finally, after 20 years of making music, Therapy? are getting their dues for being one of the most ground breaking and inspirational acts this country has ever produced. In true T? fashion however, the band are keen to play down their role in Ulster’s musical development.

“You know what? We’ve never thought of ourselves in terms of having a legacy or being icons,” offers Andy. “We don’t like to get stuff like that into our heads as there are so many bands who seem to unravel once they get even a modicum of success. I don’t know if it’s a whole naivety thing being from Ballyclare and Larne, but we never developed that at any point. Even when we were on a major label and having records in the charts, we were never like that. It wasn’t an affected pose with us, we just didn’t understand where that attitude came from. Strangely we have had various people around the band (techs and so on) who had that attitude from being associated with Therapy? though and they were acting more like rock stars more than the band were.”

In many ways it’s surprising to hear the singer speak so modestly about his band’s remarkable achievements. To put it into context, this is a band who have ten albums under their belts (as well as two mini albums) have influenced two generations of fans to pick up a guitar and make a noise of their own and who can pack more drama, emotion and ambition into one song than most bands manage in a lifetime (don’t believe me? Download A Moment of Clarity from their ’95 album Infernal Love for proof). In this writer’s opinion they’ve every right to be big headed, but in many ways their humility is one of the main reasons why they’re still packing out venues around the world 20years on from when they first started in Belfast.

“It is nice to hear that our music means something to people though,” admits Andy. “It’s good to hear people say ‘seeing Therapy? changed my life’ because it makes you realize that it hasn’t all been in vain.”

If Andy sounds more than a little wistful, it’s because the 43year old has recently started to think about his own mortality and jokingly refers to Crooked Timber as his “mid-life crisis record.”

“I must admit, this new one is probably a mid life crisis record,” he laughs. “Every single day I think about dying and I never used to. I think a lot of it had to do with a health scare I had two years ago. There was a problem with my lungs and I had to wait for my test results to come back and it wasn’t looking too good, but thank god everything was alright. I had that classic ‘waiting for the results’ dread and it got me thinking about my mortality.”

Boasting references to philosophers, writers and composers, Crooked Timber is a sprawling album that seethes with invention and creativity the moment you press play. It also sees the band take their musicianship to new levels and is a sonic two fingered salute to critics who mistakenly wrote them off as a bunch of heavy punk/metallers during their ShortSharpShock ep/Troublegum commercial peak. 

“A lot of people who know the band from Troublegum think all we do is three minute pop rock songs, but there’s more to this band than just that,” says Andy of their ’94 breakthrough album. “Older material like Loser Cop is a free form jazz song and there are bits of new beat and techno in our stuff too, so we’re bringing those influences back and enjoying them while doing it. It’s still cathartic noise, but there’s an intelligence to it. One thing that winds me up is that people who are ignorant of the band pigeon hole us and write us off. We love heads down, no nonsense mindless rock music but there are so many levels going on in this band that some people don’t see. A lot of the rhythms, chord structures and bass lines are quite diverse. I think the great telling point is whenever people try to cover any of our songs. They always get it wrong.

“My favourite records are ones that are creatively interesting rather than catchy,” he continues. “I’m not being facetious here but I think Troublegum was in the right place at the right time-they were pop songs played heavily and very much in vogue, but the stuff I go back to of ours are Babyteeth, Suicide Pact-You First, Never Apologise Never Explain and this record. That’s what I perceive in my head to be what the band is. Troublegum was a detour in many ways.”

Somewhat refreshingly, despite selling a few million records, headlining festivals alongside monsters of rock such as Guns ‘N’ Roses, Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne and generally being something akin to royalty in Northern Ireland, Therapy? are still music fans at heart and haven’t forgotten the reason why they are in a band in the first place and that’s to write songs.

“I’ve worked in so many sh*t jobs in my life and being given the gift to make music for a living is a wonderful thing,” reflects the frontman. “Whenever I was 14 or 15 and listening to music I used to fantasize about being in a band and doing interviews. I just don’t get how people can get fed up with that. I think whenever you stop listening to new music it’s time to give it up and fair play to bands like Snow Patrol for having new NI bands open for them on tour. I’ve a lot of time for those boys.”

Andy and the band also have nothing but good things to say about the local scene here too and even though the singer now lives in England, he keeps up to speed with what’s happening as much as he can and is full of praise for the new And So I Watch You From Afar album, which I play to the band before our interview.

“That And So I Watch You From Afar album is amazing,” he concludes. “I’ve heard their stuff before and they’ve really upped their game. It’s a superb record. Generally though, there’s a lot to be proud of in Northern Ireland right now and there is a real sense of solidarity going on. The last time I saw something like this was during the late 70s punk scene when I was 12. It seemed like the scene here was fractured for years but now people have rediscovered their pride which is absolutely fantastic and if we’ve contributed to a small part of that them I’m genuinely thrilled.”


Therapy? release Crooked Timber on March 23 via DR2 Records. The band play the Nerve Centre in Derry on May 14 (ticket prices TBC and will be available from 02871260562) and will play an acoustic set and sign copies of their new album in HMV in Donegal Arcade, Belfast at 5.30pm this Monday.


Edwin McFee