- by Tom Dumarey
Back in 1994, there were so many albums coming out that I still hold dear to this day. Call it my musical blueprint if you will. There were releases by The Offspring, Helmet, Bad Religion, NOFX, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Weezer, Sugar, Samiam, Lush and many, many more. And then there was a band out of Northern Ireland called Therapy? who blew me away with 'Troublegum'. That album came with a shitload of nasty riffs, hyperactive drums and hooks for days. It's a very recognizable sound and one that - in spite of the occasional more experimental release - they stuck too in the years and releases to come. Which brings us to 'Cleave'. We caught up with vocalist/guitarist Andy Cairns to talk about the band's fifteenth album and first release for Marshall Records, which will be out September 21.
PRT: First of all, congrats on the new album… it sounds absolutely amazing!
Andy: Thank you so much! We're glad you like it and thanks for having us in Punk Rock Theory.
PRT: You named the album ‘Cleave’, which has two meanings: ‘to split or sever something’ but also ‘to stick closely to something’. Is it that duality of the word that appealed to you?
Andy: Yes, very much so. The themes of the album are duality, division and inner and outer conflict. All sparked by a bullshit Brexit and the shock of Trump as President. We noticed a racist element increasing in the UK post-Brexit, someone even told me to "go home to Ireland" and we've all got examples of that kind of unenlightened behaviour happening. Tracks like 'Dumbdown', 'Kakistocracy' address bewilderment at the abuse of democracy while tracks like 'Crutch' and 'No Sunshine' take a look at the aftermath of psyche-crippling alcoholism and bi-polar disorder ripping the ego asunder.
PRT: Was ‘Cleave’ a relatively easy album to write?
Andy: It was. We wanted the songs to have a brevity and focus that made their point, disturbed the air pushed from the speakers and left a questioning silence in their wake.
Initial ideas were bounced around in mp3's to each other and then we block booked rehearsal room time to play them live and arrange them into a shape we were happy with.
We started rehearsing in early November 2017 and by the second week in January 2018 the album was recorded.
PRT: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like you really started playing to your strengths with ‘Disquiet’ and now again on ‘Cleave’ (Not saying the other albums were crap!). Is that the ‘stick closely to something’ part of the word cleave put into action?
Andy: I think we realise that we work better as a band when we play to our strengths. Hooky riffs, melodic choruses, churning bass lines and distinctive, propulsive drums. We've enjoyed our forays into the avant garde ('Crooked Timber') and experimental ('A Brief Crack of Light') and may well return to that approach in the future but for now we're very happy to stay in the same groove.
PRT: You recorded the album with Chris Sheldon, the producer with whom you previously recorded ‘Troublegum’ and ‘Semi Detached’ in the 90ies. I read that he had kinda retired… was there a lot of convincing needed?
Andy: Not at all. We had resigned ourselves to recording the album ourselves and getting Chris Sheldon to mix it, but then he called me out of the blue one day to tell me he'd love to produce it too. We were very excited and grateful.
PRT: What is it about him that made you want to work with him again?
Andy: He's a talented producer that is familiar with what we want from our songs and our instruments. He's also a very positive guy and brings an inspiring attitude to the recording sessions. There’s no unwanted drama and no time wasted on mollycoddling egos!
PRT: Seeing as it was twenty years ago since you last worked with him, was it easy to get back to how you worked together in the past?
Andy: Oh yeah. He's one of our friends and even if we don't see him for a long time we picked straight back up from where we left off. There’s a strong connection and bond there from all the hard work and achievements we shared in the 90's when we were a struggling band still finding our way and he was a fledging producer.
PRT: You signed with Marshall Records for the new album. Other than free amps, what made you decide to go with them?
Andy: It was a two album, worldwide deal with an option for a third album thrown in which is amazing for a band around for nearly three decades. Plus the guy running the label, Steve Tannet, has a history with the band as he'd previously worked with us in the 90's so we knew he was a stand up guy.
PRT: Therapy? was already around well before social media. Which made me wonder what you thought when you first had to deal with things like Facebook, Instagram,…? Blessing or a curse?
Andy: Oh nothing but blessings. it took us a bit of time to adjust because in the early days of us using social media a lot of our fans weren't up to speed with the technology either. I’d still like to make more use of it. We're still learning and learning new skills is advantageous in any field in any walk of life!
PRT: Having been a band as long as you have, what is it that keeps you motivated to start working on a new album? Are there still goals you would like to achieve?
Andy: Being musicians instead of rock stars is the most important thing in this bands longevity. When ambition turns toxic it can twist good people into assholes and there's nothing more pathetic than status anxiety manifesting itself into a musicians outlook on life. Keeping lines of communication open and treating people fairly will always carry more weight with us than people who would crawl over their Grandmother to get up the next step on the ladder.
We still have hopes of our own but they involve making more, even better music and being able to go to as many places as possible to play this music to other people.
PRT: If the story of Therapy? were to be made into a movie, what genre would it be?
Andy: It would be in the genre of absurd cinema, like Brazil by Terry Gilliam or The Trial directed by Orson Welles. A bunch of young men from a small, politically divided country try to make music in difficult surroundings and then head out into the world where they face joy, anger, corruption, ecstasy and an awful lot of terrible sandwiches.
PRT: What’s up next for you once the album is out?
Andy: We'll tour Cleave until the end of next Easter. If it does well then we'll extend that tour. Regardless, we'll hopefully be playing festivals next summer and working on new material and plans for our 30th anniversary in 2020.