Interview With 'Therapy?'
Ahead of the release of their new studio album 'Cleave' (read our review here) Scott, had the pleasure of having a quick chat with Andrew Cairns, vocalist/guitarist of Therapy? for what will be the websites 200th interview. Here is what they spoke about.
So "Cleave" is released at the end of September. The single "Callow" suggests some self reflection which I think is always part of the Therapy? set up. Is there a theme running through the album and was it inspired about anything in particular?
'Callow' is emblematic of the general theme of the album, 'Cleave', which is one of division and it's potential consequences. Brexit and Trump were the initial sparks for the creation of the lyrics and we deal with that through songs like 'Kakistocracy' and 'Dumbown' but with other tunes such as 'Crutch', 'I Stand Alone' and indeed 'Callow' we look at division of the self and how anxiety can have potential disastrous consequences. The word 'Cleave' itself means both to prise open and to cling to and with that in mind we're trying to examine how we existentially deal with separation and community of the self and the wider society we live in.
How does the idea of an album come together? Does everyone pitch in with ideas or do you head into a practice room with things relatively in place?
Every album is different. With 'Babyteeth' it was piecing together fragments of riffs I'd written and putting them in an order that would let the drums shine. With 'Troublegum' most of the melodies were written on an acoustic guitar and brought to the table as finished songs with a few tweaks before recording. 'Cleave' was written collectively so we would start by one of us sending a riff or idea via phone to the others who would then listen to it, decide if they could add anything to it, then say yay or nay to it being a 'keeper'. After a few weeks of this we block-book rehearsal space and jam out the collective ideas. The ones that feel good to play get kept. I then go away with my lyric book and see if any of the music will be complementary to the ideas I have. We then get together again, this time playing the music with singing and lyrics added and whittle away the ones that don't work. When we have a batch of songs we're all happy with we send them to a producer (Chris Sheldon in this case) who listens objectively and makes minor suggestions that we may have been too caught up in the project to spot. After we've collectively decided on the album tracks we record for two weeks and mix for one week.
You were back at Blast Studios to record "Cleave" which is your fourth album to be done there. Is there anything in particular that draws you back to the North East studio? (Btw, I loved the photos at South Shields from the inlay of "Disquiet")
We've been using Blast Studios since 2008 when it was under the ownership of our label boss and friend, Eric Cook. We loved the studio and the City of Newcastle so much that we always return there. Blast Studios has everything we need, the staff are helpful and knowledgable and it fits really well with our hard working ethics. Those photos in South Shields were fun to do. It's a striking part of the North East.
Between starting and finishing the writing and recording process for the album do you find the songs change much? Do you get chance to experiment in the studio or do you focus more on how they originally sound?
Again, it depends on what kind of album we're trying to make. With a song-based album like 'Troublegum', 'Disquiet' or 'Cleave' the songs remain as they are after we've collectively made the call. Other albums like 'Nurse', 'Suicide Pact You First' and 'Crooked Timber' are more open to experimentation and can change shape as they go along however if you're not prepared or are under-funded it can turn out to be a very expensive way to make a record.
I think there's a real dark sense of humour that often gets overlooked in the band. Do you think it's an important factor in the band?
That sense of humour is inherently in our personalities anyway. It's an Irish trait I think, especially from the North of the country where it was a way of dealing with the absurdity of life in the region for many people during the 70's and 80's. You can find it in the works of Joyce, Behan, Beckett and, wonderfully, Spike Milligan.
You've signed to Marshall Records for the release of this album. What drew you to them?
It was a worldwide deal and the main man, Steve Tannett, had worked with us before when we were on Universal records in the 90's so we knew we were in safe hands. I like that the label is trying to bring new life into the Rock scene with a ton of younger bands.
I've been lucky to see you guys live over the past few years a few times now. Do you find touring enjoyable still? What do you like about it and is there any part you could really do without?
We all adore touring. We've always seen ourselves as professional musicians not Rock stars so gigging is what it's all about. Without the fans we would be nothing so getting a chance to play to them is the most important thing for us. We're fortunate in that we all like travelling and are culturally open-minded, every day is a new adventure. The only down sides are when you get sick thousands of miles from home as it can be a wretched loneliness or when you have a crap, local promoter who hasn't bothered to put up any posters or alert local media and social media about your gig and then complains backstage to you, five minutes before you take the stage, that it's not sold out. These are minor complaints. Touring rules.
You toured "Infernal Love" (possibly my favourite T? album) in full a couple of years ago. How did you find performing it in full? Was it good to revisit it after the initial release?
I was dreading it as it was seen by the mainstream media as the album that 'killed' the band by straying so far from the 'Troublegum' template that so many commercial Rock fans loved. When it was released we lost three quarters of our fan base because "it didn't sound like 'Troublegum'" and it was a catastrophe that we never fully recovered from for many years. I always hated it a little bit to be honest. However, playing those songs live after twenty years it was obvious how much those songs meant to so many people so I'm so very glad that we did it and it also helped to get rid of some demons for me too.
What's life like on the Therapy? tour bus nowadays? Are things a bit more sedate?
No! For me, yes, I barely drink and don't touch drugs any more. The rest of the band love beer, wine and Jager. I'm always the first one to bed and the first one up in the mornings. The other guys can still party like they're 18, I don't know how they do it. The gym, running and watching football keep me sane and music lifts my spirits.
Are you invested in music much when you're not in writing/touring mode? Do you still go looking for new bands that you've not heard previously or do you stick to older favourites?
I always look out for new music to listen to. I've got my fave websites I visit for recommendations, I get new music from Michael too and I'm guilty of getting lost down the YouTube rabbit hole on many an evening when searching out new tunes.
What plans have you got in place for the promotion of "Cleave"? Are you planning far ahead for tours and gigs or are you looking at things more on smaller chunks?
We certainly plan to tour 'Cleave' until at least the end of festival season 2019. After Christmas we'll be doing more theatre/club shows right up until the festivals. If we're not working on new material by September 2019 then we'll still tour 'Cleave' until we've exhausted places to play. Every piece of opportunity we have is self-made. Most mainstream Rock media ignores the band so we have to tour live to create our own platform to be heard on.
I've really enjoyed the live Acoustic albums you guys have put out, there's always a great atmosphere with them. Do you approach these type of gigs differently to normal touring?
As you can imagine they are a lot more laid back. We don't need all the amps and cabs for a start. It's a great way to sit back and just enjoy the simple things like chord progressions, melodies and narrative-weaving in a chilled atmosphere. It's completely different from the full on electric gigs so doing them every now and then is a refreshing change. Setting up the guitars ourselves and driving ourselves from gig to gig is a real throw back to our early years and its a tremendous amount of fun.
Next year sees the thirty year anniversary of the start of Therapy? Do you have any plans to commemorate this or are you going to look at things later on?
Yes, we have plans but we will work them around still promoting 'Cleave'. Its all in the planning stage at the minute but its to big a milestone to leave with some form of celebration.
Quite a few of your peers have broken up or been on extended breaks over the years. What is it you think that keeps you releasing albums and touring regularly?
We enjoy being musicians. We always have new ways to be surprised and keeping an open mind and positive outlook makes all the challenges we face less intimidating. After we finish recording and touring a record we move on to the next one and don't dwell on anything other than the task ahead.
Finally, if you curate your own celebration of Therapy? who would you fantasy book? Who would you want on the bill to make it perfect?
Jesus Lizard, Helmet, Silverfish, Idles, La Faro, Black Midi on the Rock stage, Bonnie Prince Billy and Townes Van Zandt on the Acoustic stage and Burial and Clubroot on the Electronic stage. On the party stage it would be Bikini Kill, X-Ray Spex and Arctic Flowers.
Check out the bands new lyric video for latest single 'Wreck It Like Beckett'.
Website - www.therapyquestionmark.co.uk
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/Therapyofficial/
Interview - Scott Hamilton