Tomorrow I’m off to straddle the Sperrin Mountains in Co. Derry to cover Glasgowbury for Hot Press/watch head-liners Therapy? tear the festival a new one. In the meantime I figured it might be a good idea to post up an unedited transcript of an interview I did with Andy and Michael from the band last month (that ran, in part, as the lead feature in this month’s Big List).
There’s lots of interesting bits and pieces in there, so enjoy.Oh, and if you spot me at the festival tomorrow…mine’s a pint!
First off, the current record’s been out for around five months now. How are the new songs going down live now that people have lived with the LP for a while?
Andy Cairns: “The new tunes are going down great. We were expecting ‘Living in the Shadow of the Terrible Thing’ and ‘Why Turbulence?’ to be popular riff storms, but we’ve been blown away by how great a reception ‘Get Your Dead Hand off My Shoulder’ and ‘Ghost Trio’ have been getting.”
Some of the new material caused more than a few (favorably) raised eye-brows. When you were writing the likes of ‘Marlow’ and ‘Ecclesiastes,’ were there ever concerns the songs might alienate some of the T? faithful?
Andy Cairns: “We didn’t worry about how they would be received…I think if we started doing that it would make it difficult for us to ever write music. ‘Ecclesiastes’ actually started out as a Will Oldham/Bill Callahan style tune, just an acoustic and a voice but Neil and Adam [Sinclair, engineer] suggested adding the huge, gated drum sounds which in turn suggested to me-Kraftwerk-esque vocoder. So in the end we went from lonesome balladry to lonesome robot.”
With that in mind-did you consider making a record of ten tracks of instrumental and chilled out sci-fi ballads and leave the crunchier material like ‘Why Turbulance?’ for another record?
Andy Cairns: “Funny enough, I’ve been getting back into riffs again. I’d gotten frustrated with them for ages and just wanted to do something a lot more atmospheric with the guitar and vox. Since finishing ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’ I’ve been listening to Nu-Kle-Er Blast Suntan, Unsane and some heavy bass and I can hear the call of the riff again. Of course if we did that we’d have to make a second, ambient album too…..”
Who sings during the chorus of ‘Marlow?’ Is it just Andy or are there backing singers? I’m hearing what sounds to be a female voice in there..
Andy Cairns: “It’s all me. The high pitched vocal are my voice through an Electro Harmonix F/X unit and pitched high.”
What’s your favourite track on the album and why?
Andy Cairns: “I like ‘Get You Dead Hand off my Shoulder.’ I love the lurching rhythm of it and when it all locks in it feels great to play.”
‘A Brief Crack Of Light,’ to my ears, sounds like a game changing record and there’s a nice balance between classic alt rock songs and new, exciting sounds. Did you deliberately sit down and decide to push the T? sound into new and different territories?
Andy Cairns: “Because we are always listening to lots of different kind of music we’ve developed a work method where we don’t question trying anything new. We’ll always give it a go and if it fails then we move on. I’m sometimes envious of ‘formula’ bands like the Ramones, Motorhead and AC/DC, where you just make the same record again and again. It must make it a lot easier for both band and fans. However, I don’t think we’d swap our open-mindedness for anything.”
I understand there’s some material left over-will that surface at some point?
Andy Cairns: “There is. I think there’’s four or five songs at least. ‘Dark Naughty Steps’ is Jamaican dancehall meets Fugazi, ‘All Low no High’ is very poppy (in a Buzzcocks, QOTSA way)….for various reasons they didn’t sit well with the other tracks.”
‘The Buzzing’ is a pretty complex track. Was it difficult piecing the warring melodies, dynamics and time signatures together?
Andy Cairns: “With ‘The Buzzing’ the lyrics came first and then the rhythm of the words themselves came next. The song itself is about not being able to escape your own thoughts and the ‘phantom chatterbox’ of consciousness. To emphasize this we deliberately changed the music underneath the vocals as it went along. We wanted to try and suggest the world slipping under your feet.”
Lyrically, I get the impression that the Andy Cairns of 2012 is a lot happier than the person who wrote ‘Nurse’ et al (“I have everything I need/food, shelter, family/People that love me” from ‘Why Turbulance?’ stands out in particular). Would you agree?
Andy Cairns: “I think so. Well, I get by but these days… I’m a lot more Zen in my
approach. We’re quite spoiled here in the West and don’t realise how lucky we are at times, but yet look where greed has got us. I still get angry, pissed off and at times inconsolable, but who doesn’t? Life goes on and it’s cruelly short. Make the most of it.”
On the live front-some the set staples were left out on a few dates of your recent tour of Europe (Germany etc). How did that go down and how important do you think it is to rest some tracks? (Personally I would’ve loved to have seen a full “Neil-era” set).
Michael McKeegan: “To be honest, writing a set list gets harder and harder every year. It’s a bit of a balancing act…we’re always excited to play the new songs as they’re the freshest ones for us and then obviously there’s a big back catalogue of work that people love to hear. We always try and get a good mix of the older songs which we feel compliment the newer stuff. The tour earlier in the year was quite short and we have a much more extensive tour planned for Oct/Nov/Dec, so we’ve been chatting about getting deeper into the old stuff and
dusting off a few obscurities as well as playing as much as the new album as well. Plus a slew of hits no doubt…could be a long set!”
So next month you’re head-lining Glasgowbury. I remember talking to you guys about it three years ago at Oxegen-are you pleased that the stars have aligned and you can play it?
Michael McKeegan: “Absolutely. It’s got a deserved ‘legendary’ status now and we’re delighted to finally be playing there. Fair play to Paddy for persevering with the booking, we’re all fired up for it.”
How long are you guys playing for/what can we expect?
Michael McKeegan: “Aim to maim…that’s the plan. I think our set length is probably 70 or so minutes which is good for a festival headline. I suppose the biggest bit of news is that Alan from LaFaro will be drumming with us! Neil’s had to sit out a few shows due to a longstanding family commitment so (with Neil’s help and LaFaro’s blessing) we head-hunted the best young drummer around to fill in. We’ve been rehearsing and it sounds fantastic, he definitely will be doing the songs justice.”
Are you planning to catch any of the other acts? If so-who? (Empty Lungs, Boxcutter, Swanee River and Triggerman are all worth a watch).
Michael McKeegan: “That’s one of the greatest pleasures about playing a festival where the line-up is really strong…wandering about and hopefully catching a bit of all the above plus LaFaro, Axis of and Pocket Billiards. I’m also looking forward to stumbling across someone I’ve never heard of before, that’s another cool thing about festival shows.”
How important do you think events like Glasgowbury are for Irish music?
Michael McKeegan: “The fact that all the bands are pretty much local is amazing…it shows the diversity and talent out there on our doorsteps and I hope the wider media at large will be taking an interest and covering the bands beyond the festival.”
On a related note, I was bummed out to see T? weren’t included in the BBC’s recent “The Great Northern Songbook” gig at the Ulster Hall (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-18167909). Personally a track like ‘Die Laughing’ would’ve sounded perfect backed by the Ulster Orchestra. What are your feelings on the (glaring) omission?
Michael McKeegan: “I wasn’t really aware of it until lots of people began to flag it up…it possibly was a big omission on the part of whoever shortlisted the songs. With regard to being included or not, I do think from day one we’ve always been ‘outsiders’ and that suits us fine. The people that know the band absolutely appreciate and recognize the band’s legacy and influence-not just in NI but on an international scale-so we’re very happy and comfortable with the band’s standing in that respect. We were delighted to see Ash win with ‘Shining Light’ that’s a cracking song.”
In general, how do you feel about Therapy?’s legacy? I remember once seeing an interview (possibly on Noisy Mothers on ITV) with you backstage at Donington ’94 and saying how U2 made it almost impossible for other Irish bands to get noticed by a label, unless you sounded exactly like them. It almost goes without saying that T? were the main act to break that cycle-does that make you proud that you helped open up the door for lots of different music in NI and the rest of Ireland?
Michael McKeegan: “It’s pretty amazing, we’re all very proud of it…we get a lot of love from bands from all over the place, old and new, so I suppose we’ve been doing something right over the years. I’m also pleased we’ve kept on trying to progress with the music and not fall into the ‘nostalgia’ type thing which a lot of bands who’ve been around 22 years might do. With regard to the U2 comment, it goes back to that ‘outsider’ thing…when we first moved to Belfast all the bands either sounded and looked like U2 or Guns ‘N’ Roses…we didn’t fit in at all so we had to do our own thing. When we did our own single, started to put on our own shows and toured outside NI I feel that showed people that a ‘local’ band could make their mark regardless of what the industry at large felt. It’s been a brilliant old trip so far I have to say.”