It’s not often that a band twenty years into their career get a new lease of life but for Therapy? their twelfth album ‘Crooked Timber’ finds the band very much back on their game. Ironically they’ve looked back to move forwards, revisiting their early sound for a first record with the DR2 label. Andy Cairns and Michael McKeegan met State to tell us why, for them, three is the magic number.
Was getting a new record deal an important part of the process?
Andy: The best thing we did was that we signed the deal nearly two years ago but decided not to go straight into the studio to make a record for the sake of it. We needed to go away for a little bit, having got to the point where every other year we’d release a record and tour Europe. We felt that if we did the same thing we’d end up making the same kind of record as the previous three so we said, let’s reconvene in six months time and see we’re at. Also we didn’t write any songs beforehand this time, we worked on them from the ground up which made it really exciting for us. Every day we’d go in and say well, I’ve been listening to a bit of dubstep or Charlie Mingus, why don’t we try something like that? It was nearly like some kind of bizarre project. The band’s been around for a while, it was time to have a bit more confidence in ourselves rather than writing songs that we thought people would like.
Did you get caught in that trap?
Michael: You can over think some things. One thing we’ve all learnt from this record is that if you’re playing something and it feels good that’s probably a good enough benchmark without sitting and listening to it forty times. This record was much more about going into the room and firing up and it felt very natural in that respect.
How important was getting the right producer in Andy Gill (ex-Gang Of Four)?
M: We’ve tended to land two kinds of producers over the twelve records that we’ve made. The rot set in after the nineties after we had some deal of commercial success. Unless a producer was artistically strong and single minded they were always aware that we’d sold a couple of million records so maybe they shouldn’t change things too much. They ended up trying to appease the record company, our fan base and the band. Andy was happy to work with us on our terms.
He’s an interesting choice. Your roots were always very much as an alternative, indie band rather than metal…
A: I’m not really sure how that happened. Around about ’93 when bands like Nirvana and Alice In Chains came along indie and metal had a moment together. Then we made the -Troublegum’ album and the metalheads loved it and it is a very crunchy sounding, rifftastic heavy metal record. A lot of people got into the band who maybe wouldn’t have liked the more indie friendly records but also people who loved the earlier experimentation backed off. That record was meant to be homage to the pop punk of Ulster, almost the Undertones meets Metallica.
Did that success become a hindrance for you?
A: We constantly throw curveballs at ourselves but we do have to reap the revenge of the fans. We followed that up with -Infernal Love’ which was very dark and had us dressed up in frilly shirts with stick on moustaches. We got letters saying that we were a pack of c***s and that people were burning our records. The Americans didn’t get it at all.
When you first sign to a major they send the young guy down who looks after Monster Magnet and Soundgarden but when you’ve sold a few records all of a sudden the guy in a Janet Jackson tour jacket turns up and doesn’t have a clue. We were doing Top Of The Pops once and this guy turned up and told me to have a shave. I just wasn’t cut out for it.
Did returning to a three piece help you regain your focus?
M: That was really important for the future development of the band. It happened in a bizarre way when we had to do a gig as a three piece due to illness. It was like you were cheating on your missus or something, that was really good but really wrong. Everything just fell into place.
A: I got awful lazy as a guitar player. Those early records were really inventive but I just ended up playing Ramones power chords which was very generic of me. You have to do a lot more work when there’s only there of you.
M: A lot of the bands we would have been influenced by, early Police, Husker Du, had that three piece thing. There’s something about it.
-Crooked Timber’ seems to hark back to your early sound….
A: We always used to be influenced by free jazz, techno, stuff like that and with this record we’ve brought that back in. There’s krautrock on the title track, a bit of Stravinsky, dubstep influences on some of the rhythms. Andy made a couple of points, one of which was that we used to have a killer bass and drum sound that got lost somewhere down the line so we made Michael’s bass sound really loud and dirty again. The other thing was that my accent used to sound like me and at some point it drifted across the Atlantic. He told me to sing like I would talk, without turning into that bloke from Coronation Street.
Those influences wouldn’t be blindingly obvious though.
A: The important thing is that we are a rock band and we arsenal we use to push out of the speakers is guitar, bass and drums. If we want to use a dubstep rhythm we play it on those instruments and it sounds like us.
M: When you hear bands say they’ve got a jazz influence you normally run a mile but we are up for doing new things in the context of what we’re doing. If you listen to the original inspiration it’s a million miles away which is great. That’s better than a Therapy? record with a drum -n’ bass beat.
How do you think your audience will take to the record?
A: Our hardcore fan base who’ve been there since the start are quite patient with us. What does tend to happen with records like this is that it polarises the metal community, while ironically some of the more unusual press who wouldn’t normally touch us really like it. I think it’s healthy when people don’t really get it, its better than them just thinking it’s alright. The great thing too is that people are discovering us from three albums ago and didn’t realise that we’ve been going for years.
How connected do you still feel to the Northern Irish scene?
A: There’s a unique atmosphere there. I’ve been reflecting on it a lot recently. I never thought it at the time but I think during the Troubles music was a lot more special simply for the fact that hardly any bands came. When any band played there, whether it was the Human League, Erasue, The Jesus & Mary Chain or Metallica and Anthrax people would go and that accounts for their eclectic music taste. It meant that music was a form of escapism for us. It was impossible to get gigs and a lot of acts remember that, it means a lot more because they had to put so much graft into it. Our fan base started in Dublin way before it did in Belfast.
‘Crooked Timber’ is out now on DR2 Records. Therapy? play Academy Dublin on May 15th