Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sitting in on a Therapy? session with Cairns | Interview

Therapy? from left to right, Neil Cooper, Andy Cairns and Michael McKeegan. (Tom Hoad photo)

By Andy

I once sang with Therapy?.

It wasn't planned or anything, but that's how the best things happen sometimes. You just go for it. Maybe a few beers and some adrenaline gives you a push. Follow your instincts and give it a shot.

It was 1996 and the pummeling yet melodic Irish steamroller paid a visit to the Cactus Club in San Jose, Calif. Cat and I had seen them play in San Francisco the previous evening, so we were primed for some more chaotic action.

When the song "Loose" entered their set, I was ready to pounce on bassist Michael McKeegan's microphone for some backup vocals. Before I knew it, I was on stage next to the energetic four-stringer, and the friendly chap moved to one side and gave me the nod to sing along. Fucking great.

Unfortunately, Cat dropped her point-and-shoot camera and the batteries ejected and bounced across the floor. So, the moment isn't on film, but it's etched into our memory forever.

Last Sunday, while speaking to singer/guitarist Andy Cairns, 52, by phone in the UK, I mentioned the gig and he burst out laughing and noted that he remembered that night. He was stoked to know it was me who finally resurfaced after all those years to touch base with the Therapy? camp for an interview about their new, just-recorded album and an in-depth discussion about music, life and our beloved Husker Du.

Along with original members Cairns and McKeegan from their 1989 launch, longtime drummer Neil Cooper rounds out the band for their 15th studio album. Next month, they'll hit the road supporting The Stranglers on a 22-date UK and Ireland jaunt.

Let the interview commence:

*** Tell me a little bit about the new album from what you can unveil right now.

We wanted to go for something really kind of exciting sounding and a bit more like the classic Therapy? sound. We got that, the tracks are all really good. It's got everything that's good about Therapy? It's got catchy choruses, really great guitar hooks and really interesting rhythms, all with a really growdy noise-rock base. We're really really happy with it, I personally think it's one of the best albums we've done in years.

*** Nice. We're excited to hear about that. Where'd you guys record it?

We recorded it in a place called Blast Studios, it's in the northeast of England, it's where we recorded our last four albums. It's a really good vibe up there, the people that own the studio are friends of ours. We knew everybody up there, the engineers -- the studio dog. So, it's good to go up there and kind of work somewhere where we feel really comfortable.

(Editor's note: They recorded from Jan. 15 to Feb. 6 with friend Chris Sheldon producing. The 12-song album is untitled at present and they hope to release it worldwide in September.)

*** You guys implement a wide range of sounds and emotions all throughout, is it a pretty draining process to put these songs together and record them as well?

I've never found the recording difficult. I think we find the writing is the most difficult part for a band like Therapy? because we've got such a broad (range) of musical tastes and we all have our own particular way of playing. The thing about Therapy? is it's always got rhythmical interesting drums which are inspired by different genres of music. We've always got the really solid noise-rock base. With me, it's guitars, you're gonna get kinda Husker Du meets Ramones, but with kind of tremolo-pick leads. But then again, we listen to all different kinds of stuff, so when we get together as a band, we kind of have to iron out all these influences that we've been listening to to make it all sound like Therapy?

And we're very meticulous about that, so we rehearse for like three or four days at a time, take a couple of days off, go back rehearse another three or four days. In recent years, because we spend so much time doing the rehearsal and we go into the studio, by that point and time we've pretty much decided what the record's gonna sound like and what the arrangements are, so recording it's actually quite good fun. Whereas, maybe some point about the late '90s, early 2000s, we would still be arranging in the studio, and that wasn't fun -- that was horrendous. It was a long, laborious process. We just make sure we're as prepared as possible.

(Editor's note: The vocals are usually saved for later in the day, since singing about an intense theme is probably not best to tackle at half past 10 in the morning when Cairns has just rolled out of bed, he laughs.)

From left, McKeegan, Cairns and Cooper. (Tom Hoad photo)

*** What's on your mind nowadays lyrics-wise. You're always digging into that human mind, and the highs and lows and everything.

What we've done in the last few years, is we've always tended to take a concept of a theme, so the album kind of sits together. Some of our better-known albums have got themes through them. Whether it's "Infernal Love," which is about human desire, or whether it was "Troublegum," which is about alienation filtering your younger years. The last album, "Disquiet," was about wrestling with your consciousness as middle age approaches. So this new one, really, the theme in that is fracture and division. Fracture and division in politics, fracture and division in borders and also fracture and division in psyche. So it's almost like, I would say it's a bi-polar pop record. It's very melodic, but there's a song on it called "No Sunshine," for example, which has got the most catchiest Husker Du chorus, but the verses are like Portishead at their darkest, and the instrumental sections are pure black metal. That kind of sums up the lyrical issues of the songs as well, are about why people keep prying each other apart when they should be clinging to each other now that the world seems more at loss than ever.

Obviously, that reflects what's going on around us living in Ireland and the UK with this whole Brexit thing we've have going on trying to break away from Europe. Most people under 50 years of age don't wanna do that. It's insane. You look at what's going over the rest of the world, the rise again of the far right in certain places which is terrifying. So, really we've taken this record as an opportunity to look at why and how people have brought themselves into this situation and how they respond to so many fractures and divisions in their society. And also within their own mind.

*** We always kind of count on you guys for digging into stuff like this and what a lot of people are thinking about, and it kind of helps us all along the way to try to understand and try to solve things as best we can through music.

Yeah, I hope so, because we can only sing about what we see. If people can relate to that, then great. We know that a lot of friends of ours all over the world are going through the same thing at the minute -- they're frightening times. And hopefully you can cling onto music and friendship as much as you can to get through those times.

*** When you're writing these songs, from day one until now, it's gotta be a pretty cathartic experience for you to get a lot of this stuff out that's been eating away at you.

It is, I've got a certain way of writing and what I do is I write constantly. I've got two or three notebooks and I've got notes on my phone that I write. For example, we finished the album, as I mentioned, just last week, it's all done. So I've started writing other things again. For example, when we go in to do the next record, I'll have maybe, say, a year's worth of little notes, material, songs, song titles and things. And then we decide what the theme of the record's gonna be, so I'll look through all my notes and lyrics and find out what's relevant, and put the rest to one side. And then once we record them, I take every single piece of note that's in my phone, and I delete it and then I get all the booklets and the books and the notebooks and papers that I've written over the last year on one of the new albums and then I throw that in the trashcan. And that's the most cathartic moment, 'cause I know that I can move on to something else. That's done, it's almost symbolic.

*** You've guys have been doing this for a long time, obviously, what keeps the juggernaut going there for you guys?

Ha ha! Well, it's a couple of things. One of 'ems, we always mention this to people. The oldest one that we have is, years ago, myself and Michael McKeegan the bass player, we were going to a place called Wolverhampton to do a show, the band had only been existing for about three years at this point and time. And we'd been talking to some friends of ours that were in another band that got a record deal in the '90s and they were complaining about going on tour because they hated it. And they hated leaving home and they hated being on a bus, they hated being in hotel rooms together, being in the van and all this, and being away from friends. And meself and Michael were walking backstage and we said, "You know, that's pretty lame. If you're gonna be in a band, and be a musician, if you don't enjoy it, you really shouldn't do it. 'Cause it's not fair on yourself, it's not fair on your fans, it's not fair on all the people that are helping you out." And we sort of looked at each other and said, "Let's make a pact, if ever we get to any venue and me and you look at each other and go, 'I don't really want this today,' then it's time just to say goodbye." Fortunately, we've never had that so far. We've been very lucky as well to have a drummer Neil Cooper who joined the band several years ago, an old friend of ours, and he's been the same way.

(Editor's note: Cairns noted the importance of keeping one's mind and eyes open to new music, and not to become the guy who sits in the corner of a room and spouts off about how great everything was in the past. He likens that to one's brain de-calcifying, freezing and rotting away. The Therapy? guys are open minded, and sounding like Therapy? is in their DNA, but they'll always try new things and go new places.)

*** You've always got your favorites, but you do have to reach out and be in the now as well, which is important.

Yeah, I think even in everyday life. I can sometimes look at my parents or some other parents' friends or even contemporaries of mine who are nothing to do with music and they've got themselves in such a stale rut. Samuel Beckett the writer said one time that habit is a terrible deadener. It deadens all your senses and it deadens all your energy. I think he's true, if you just get into such a routine habit, then the attrition of just the everyday, the normal, it can just eat away at your soul, and you don't learn anything new, you don't feel as if you've grown.

I love it whenever I see like people that are 60-70 taking up new languages or deciding to go free-falling from an airplane or deciding to run a marathon or something like that. These are the things that keep you active and keep you alive.

Husker Du-ish art.

*** Our discussion veers into Husker Du territory.

There's never been anybody else that's ever sounded like them. The thing with Husker Du, they spawned so many thousands of imitators and nobody could ever get it right. There's a certain sound that they have, where it's just every single molecule in your body moves when they play. It's just something about those three guys together, it's just incredible. Some people criticize the records, the way they sound, but I think the records are incredible. The "Metal Circus" record, the guitar sound on that, there's no other person in the world who ever got that guitar sound.

(Editor's note: Cairns laughed away when noting that he tried to mirror Bob Mould's guitar sound on "Metal Circus." He read on the web about Mould's backline, strings, etc., but to no avail. He couldn't nail it.) 

And also Grant, God bless his heart. Grant's drum sound is something of an impulse jazz, really -- the drumming was incredible. And Norton's bass lines -- the whole thing was incredible.

We like the melody of Husker Du. And I think, looking at those guys, actually it just taught us that there's something about (how) the melody rules at the end of the day, and we got that from Husker Du. 

(Editor's note: And they added that into their initial Killdozer, Slint, Jesus Lizard and Big Black crunch concoction.)

*** Cairns was obviously gutted when he learned of Hart's recent death. Therapy? covered "Diane" on "Infernal Love" in 1995, and unfortunately they had to scrap a European tour with Hart in recent years. Cairns last saw Hart perform a "transcendent" solo gig at a packed London club in 2013, where he played "2541" and tossed in a snippet of "You Are My Sunshine."

I don't think there was a dry eye in the house by the time he finished the song.

*** Cairns grew up in Northern Ireland and the punk blasts of Ulster bands like Stiff Little Fingers, the Undertones, the Outcasts and Rudi -- along with the Sex Pistols, the Clash and more -- struck a chord with him from the ages of 10-12. Later, he embraced Gang of Four, Joy Division, The Stranglers, Flux of Pink Indians, DIRT and others. When he became disillusioned with punk, it was early REM and Rain Parade that soon entered his record collection, and then the Huskers. 

It wasn't really until I heard Husker Du again, that it completely and utterly reignited my love of punk. Growing up, my influences were always punk based, it's always agitated guitar music what got to me and especially if it was slightly darker in nature.

(Editor's note: Therapy? has cast a wide net with its sounds over the years, and I would be remiss not to mention bands that Cairns noted like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Scratch Acid, Sonic Youth, Tad, Metallica, Anthrax, NWA, Public Enemy along with Krautrock and Belgium New Beat styles. American '80s punk and hardcore was a biggie as well, and Cairns was thrilled to know that I had seen bands like the Adolescents and many others in their formative years in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas. On a recent band tip, Cairns noted that he digs the punk-goth sounds of Portland, Ore.'s Arctic Flowers.)

Filmed at a public ice rink in Helsinki, Finland. "A nice touch of the absurd," Cairns laughed.


  1. Great guys,waiting for the new records,I became a fan when I bought nurse on the nineties,come to Chile. Tune www.djlonchoradio.com

  2. jesus, the ice skaters just skate by mr Cairns not knowing who the man is ! shame on them...

  3. Haha! Ice skaters beware, Therapy? music may cause you to fall.