The Band That Tried To Strangle Itself

8 05 2009

As I’ve mentioned before, Therapy? are one of my favouritre bands. They introduced me to punk rock, I formed my first group because of them and I’m now happy to say that after half a decade of interviewing them at different points in their career I’m on friendly terms with the boys. This week they play two Irish shows and I’m hoping to be at at least one, so it seems as good a time as any to re-publish my interview that ran in AU #55. (

It was one of the my favourite ever T? interviews and helping out for the photo shoot (which took place in my house) was surreal, but really fucking cool. Any, enough slabbering-here it is.

The Band That Tried To Strangle Itself

On the eve of the release of their 12th record ‘Crooked Timber,’ Edwin McFee meets NI legends Therapy? to talk about health scares, solidarity, Axl Rose moments, why Andy Cairns’ Da thinks ‘Infernal Love’ is “shite” and much, much more.


“I had a health scare about two years ago,” begins Therapy? singer/guitarist Andy Cairns, as he and his band-mates [bassist Michael McKeegan and tub thumper Neil Cooper] settle into AU’s couch to sip on their mugs of tea. “There was a problem with my lungs and I waiting for test results to come back and it wasn’t looking too good. Thank fuck everything was alright, but I had that classic waiting for the results dread and it got me thinking about mortality again. In many ways I think of ‘Crooked Timber’ as my mid-life crises record as the lyrics are all about dying. Not a single day goes by now where I don’t think about death”

While it wasn’t the answer I was expecting to my simple enough question (that was “how the hell do a band in their twentieth year come out with such a sprawling, inventive and at times downright insane slab of wax such as ‘Crooked Timber’,” for those keeping score) it explains a lot. Tracks like ‘the Head that Tried to Strangle Itself, ‘I Told You I Was Ill’ and ‘Enjoy the Struggle’ bleed with bravado, passion and lunacy and it’s heartening to see the former AU cover stars releasing some of their best work when by all accounts they should be making dodgy acoustic albums/doing reunion shows like the rest of their peers. But then Therapy? were never ones to follow convention, were they?

“The new record was actually really quick to make and I think the time off did us a lot of good” says Andy. “ To be honest, what had happened with us was that whenever we were doing ‘High Anxiety’/’Never Apologise Never Explain’/’One Cure Fits All’ we got into that circuit again of doing a record, going on tour then doing another record straight after. That’s what it was like when we started the band too and we felt like we needed a break. I think if you tour too much people can take you for granted. We’ve got a fan-base worldwide, but we were worried that if you go on tour people would be like ‘oh it’s Therapy? They’ll be round next year.’ So we thought it would be good to take time out from the public eye and also have a little think about what we wanted to do instead of just getting into a formula.”

And if the formula-bucking sonic “fuck you” that is ten minute instrumental ‘Magic Mountain’ is anything to go by, we’d safely say that Therapy? are far from going through the motions on their new one…

“I think the best thing about writing this record was that we had no agenda or preconceived ideas,” offers founding member Michael. “With some of those songs we could’ve went in with ‘producer’s ears’ and said ‘cut that bit and cut that bit’ but we gave everything a chance, whereas ten years ago we would’ve discarded it. Everyone felt really confident with what we were doing and we didn’t have the whole ‘that’ll be a hit’ mindset.”

“Also, because we had a bit of time we could go home and let an idea mature and that definitely helped,” adds token Englishman Neil, who still gets referred to by fans as the new boy despite being in the band since 2002.  “If something didn’t work we could take some time and try and figure out ways to make it suit. We started to really enjoy our jam sessions and songs like ‘Magic Mountain’ all originated from that. We played off each other a lot more instead of the usual verse/chorus/verse/chorus punk songs.”


In many ways, their cavalier “damned if you do/who cares if you don’t” attitude  reminds this writer of the ‘Infernal Love’ and ‘Suicide Pact-You First’ eras of the band. Both times (’95 and ’99 respectively) the boys had their backs against the wall and were making music for the sheer thrill of it. While musically ‘Crooked Timber’ is very different, there is a distinct air of abandon on the record that’s in tune with those releases. Sadly though, over the last few years the words ‘Infernal Love’ are something akin to ‘I paid your mother for sex’ in the Therapy? camp, so AU takes the opportunity to good naturedly chastise them for being ashamed of one of the most important records in Irish history. Don’t believe me? Download ‘A Moment of Clarity,’ ‘Jude the Obscene’ and ‘Me Vs You’ for proof, punker.

“We’re fond of it now, but at the time it was hard to love,” says Andy, noticeably squirming in his seat a little. “Looking back, it’s like those Looney Tunes cartoons where you have a devil and an angel on your shoulder and because it came out during Britpop (and we’re an Irish and British band) we didn’t do ourselves any favours with the stick-on moustaches and red frilly shirts. In those days it was like a year of being told you’re shite, you’re shite, you’re shite. My Da even went-‘I don’t like that new album son’ [laughs]. It went from ‘Troublegum,’ Top of the Pops and having critical acclaim to stick-on moustaches, red shirts and cellos and that’s it-you’re shite. You go home at Christmas to escape it and you get it there too [laughs]. It got to be a psychosomatic thing for me. When anyone mentioned ‘Infernal Love’ I broke out in a rash and acne and my glasses went like this [moves glasses off his face like Eric Morcambe]. It must’ve been traumatic post album stress or something like that. With hindsight, now I’m proud of it. In the middle of everyone trying to sound ‘Cockerney,’ we came out and did this album.”

Over the last two decades, Therapy? has every right to be proud of their impressive arsenal of anthems though. Whether it was the industrial madness of that first seven inch single ‘Meat Abstract,’ (’90) the utterly life affirming ‘Shortsharpshock’ EP (’93) the fist in the air, sabre-rattling ‘If It Kills Me’ (’03) or the Charles Mingus aping ‘Enjoy the Struggle’ (’09) the boys from Ballyclare and Larne have been nothing short of inspirational to two generations of punk and rock fans. In fact, not only did this writer form his first ever band as a direct result of hearing ‘Teethgrinder’ (’92) and the aforementioned ‘Shortsharpshock’ EP, but I’ve got the band’s question mark heart indelibly inked on my fore-arm for life. Yes, dear readers, the music of Therapy? can be life changing, but when talk turns to their legacy, they look quite sheepish.

“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? and they were acting more like rock stars more than the band were.

“It is nice to hear that our music meant something to people though. We do meet bands who big us up when we see them and it’s not something I expect to hear but it is good to have people say seeing your band changed my life because it makes you realize that it hasn’t all been in vain.”

As all three members of Therapy? pick through my records and odd collection of action figures (not only are we doing our interview in AU’s home, but the photo shoot as well) it seems that there is a determination for the band to let not anything go to their heads. In many ways it’s a throw-back to their early days, when they were three penniless noise merchants with short hair who saw bands like Guns ‘N’ Roses as the enemy. Somewhat spookily, in a bizarre turn of events, the trio ended up supporting the anti-christ that is Axl and Co. in Dublin in ’05 and it’s an event that lives on in infamy in Therapy?-lore as the ginger frontman got his revenge on our heroes by doing the unthinkable…

“People forget now, but when we started the band Guns N Roses were the enemy,” remarks Andy. “GNR were everything that was wrong with music at that time and Axl Rose’s demands in those days didn’t sit well with us. In the early days if I put a guitar solo in a song Fyfe [Ewing, former Therapy? drummer ‘89-‘96] would throw his sticks down and refuse to play it. There was a phrase we used to use for something we hated and that was ‘that is so GNR.’ God forbid someone used a wah wah pedal! [Laughs].

“So yeah, we were offered a headline slot on the second stage and I remember three songs from the end GNR (who are notorious for going onstage late) decided that for once they would go on early when we were playing [laughs]. Three songs from the end there was a massive exodus out of the tent and I just thought-this is typical. Of all the nights they go on early, they do it when we’re playing. We were riffing away and loving it and all you can hear it ‘It’s So Easy’ kicking off and that was the first time I wanted to shout ‘come the fuck back, you fickle cunts’ during a gig.”


Speaking of gigs, this year sees the much anticipated live return of Therapy? with dates in the Nerve Centre in Derry (May 14) the Academy in Dublin (May 15)  and an as yet unannounced (ssshhh! It’s a secret!) slot at this year’s Oxegen already on the cards. There’s also a Belfast date in the winter in the works too, so that’ll appease anyone who missed out on the band’s recent headlining slot at Do You Remember the First Time in the Ulster Hall last month. Speaking of which, at the time of our interview, it’s the morning after the show and there are smiles all round whenever it’s mentioned.

“I thought Do You Remember the First Time was a brilliant night,” grins Andy. “The atmosphere was amazing both at the front and backstage. For once it was almost as if NI turned round and said ‘look we have a scene here and we’re proud of it’ and the last time I saw that was during the punk scene of the 70s when I was 12 or 13. It seemed like for years it was such a fractured thing and then with the rise of various magazines and lots of new bands people rediscovered their pride. It was a fantastic night.”

“It doesn’t take much to support the scene,” he continues. “We’ve recorded in Seattle with Jack Endino [‘Shameless’ ‘01] and when you get there you realize that for a city, it’s not that big, but the music scene had a sense of solidarity that made people take notice. The fact that all these bands like the Melvins and Mudhoney and Nirvana all hung out with each other isn’t that strange but by mentioning each other in the press it helped promote the scene. A lot of the stuff that was going on was pretty disparate musically and worlds apart, but they put on a united front and I think that’s what’s happening now in NI. Last night there were totally different bands on the bill but everyone was egging each other on to do well.”

With Therapy? finally being recognized as God-Fathers of our current scene (incidentally the band were full of praise for And So I Watch You From Afar’s debut) and a new found confidence giving the band a certain swagger, it’s a good time to be a fan of the trio. About ten years ago the group’s life expectancy looked a little grim but thankfully nowadays Andy, Michael and Neil can confirm that they’ve no intentions of ever splitting up. ‘So Much For the Ten Year Plan’ indeed.

“I think that the pace has changed at the moment. People take their time with things,” concludes Andy. “I think with the advent of the internet, people see music as more precious. People who bitch about downloading and all the rest are annoying though. If we were 14 we’d have fucking loved it. My son is nine and he loves the computer and knows how to work it and I was thinking if I had a computer in my home when I was 12 or 13 and I had access to all this stuff I’d be on it all the time and that’s not even before I got into the pornography, that’s just for music [Laughs]. But yeah, we’re enjoying ourselves and see no reason to call it a day. We never had a ten year plan and you can mark my words, we never will.”

‘Crooked Timber’ by Therapy? is out now on DR2 Records. The band play the Nerve Centre in Derry on May 14 and the Academy in Dublin on May 15.