Irish-Anglo three-piece Therapy? have been preaching from their disquiet church of noise for over two decades now. Led by frontman Andy Cairns along with co-founding bassist Michael McKeegan and long standing drummer Neil Cooper, the trio have recorded one of rock’s most celebrated albums in 1994’s ‘Troublegum’, as well as one of its most misunderstood in 1995’s ‘Infernal Love’. A unique act that even Cairns admits are difficult to pigeonhole, we caught up with the band leader at the Stone Free Festival in London, to chat guitar solos, difficult follow ups, and more. A trigger inside: Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Andy, How are you enjoying Stone Free festival?
Really enjoying it, yeah. I was very surprised how well we went down. So far it’s been great.
There seemed to be a lot of Therapy? fans watching your set today.
Yes, I was surprised there was as many as there were, because it’s more of like a classic rock festival. But then again, now that we’ve been going twenty years –dare I say it – and we’ve made a couple of what people in the metal scene perceive as a couple of classic records; ‘Troublegum’ and ‘Infernal Love’, I suppose that we have earned our place here.
Times have changed a little.
It’s always funny because it’s still fresh in my mind that when Therapy? came along, the people that liked the likes of Bang Tango, Faster Pussycat and Guns ‘n’ Roses saw us as the enemy because we were short haired c****. A lot of people took umbrage at us, whereas if you go to Download [Festival] now, there’s a lot of short-haired people at it; a lot of punk influence, a lot of electronic influence, and things have changed.
You we’re definitely the sore thumb sticking out in a way, during that post-grunge phase.
We fell in that really bizarre place where grunge ended and then there was nothing until nu metal came along. There was us in that spot, and I remember between ’92 and ’95 we were on the cover of Kerrang! quite a few times. And then when nu metal came along that was it - we were sort of forgotten about.
At the same time you were seen as an indie band as well.
Well that’s why it’s sometimes odd at a festival like this, because there’s a certain look that people associate with rock music and we always looked weird. We didn’t look like a grunge band, we didn’t even look like a punk band, we didn’t look like a classic rock band, so people were like; “we’re taking a bit of a punt if we like Therapy?”
You came along at a time when guitar solos were becoming incredibly unfashionable.
I remember with a lot of people initially, the solos were a big thing, and I was like, no, you work with the tools you have. I’ve got nothing but admiration for someone that spends the hours of the day practising sweep picking and can do all that kind of stuff - it’s great, and I would never ever slag anyone off for doing it. But I think a lot of those people felt threatened. People would come up to me and go; “you can’t even play the guitar and play as good as me and my band”!
So you were actually getting that from fellow musicians?!
Yes! I remember one of the lads from Horse London – he’s a lovely lad actually, Damon [Williams] – and he came over with Ricky Warwick when I was living in Dublin, and he came into the house and I had a few beers in me and we were passing the acoustic, and he was like; “is this what you do for a living”?! Because obviously, you know, you’re meant to sit down and blow peoples’ minds. Ironically enough, I’m a much better guitar player now than I was when the band started.
Your style was relatively simplistic but it perfectly suited the music.
Well I mean, it’s like a lot of the things that I like. Don’t get me wrong - I have sat down of an evening and done some sweep picking and I’ve played pentatonic scales and really fast up and down the neck and phrygian scales. And you know, I’ve got grade five on piano, and I played trombone at school - I’m not somebody that’s completely rudimentary; I have a got a basic in theory and knowledge of it, and I think what it was with me, I like things stripped back. Also, I like everyone to be into it, and I do think that when you do that whole Satriani / Vai / Malmsteen thing, it’s really, really amazing looking, but it alienates a lot of people as well.
I can’t imagine that sort of thing in Therapy?
No, it wouldn’t have suited; It’s pure technique. It’s like, I would never, ever want to drive a Bentley or a Porsche, but if I sat in a Porsche going around a track with somebody, I would go; “oh my god, this is amazing”. It’s an amazing car, it’s fantastic, whereas I kind of like an old nineties Saab, it does it for me.
I grew up listening to The Ramones, and I’ve often wondered does it stick in peoples craw, if you are like a shit-hot shredder who has sold 500,000 records if you’re lucky, and you look at Billy Joe Armstrong, Johnny Ramone and Kurt Cobain. It must hurt. A few people I know are really, really shit-hot guitarists, but they can’t write a song, because they know too much.
Moving on, and last year the band played a run of ‘Infernal Love + More’ dates; how did you enjoy those shows?
I absolutely loved the two Dublin ones. I used to go to gigs in that venue all the time, but we never played it - we’d never been on that stage. The first night was pretty good, but the second night, that was one of my favourite gigs of the year.
What was it like revisiting the material? I was struck with how short the album actually is.
I think that because with Therapy? we’re straight, direct and to the point, and with songs like ‘Die Laughing’ it’s over in two and a half minutes. With ‘Infernal Love’, Therapy? fans think that because of all the gaps [in the album being filled with ambiance] between the songs, they’ve got it in their head that it’s like this sixty-minute earful; a prog opus!
Was it tough to revisit what was a dark period for the band?
It actually put a lot of demons to rest for me, because that was the one record which I think our trajectory from releasing ‘Babyteeth’ to ‘Troublegum’ was completely all ‘up’, and ‘Troublegum’ was the one that kind of - if you’re looking at it from a ruthless career point of view - it was the one where the next stop after Brixton Academy should have been Wembley Arena. And then you come out with an album like ‘Infernal Love’, and all of a sudden it comes out and people don’t like it, Fyfe [Ewing, original Therapy? drummer] leaves, and the thing then becomes a different beast. You go from being an band that’s on the way up, to a band that’s a cult concern, which suits us because that’s where we started.
It was the first time you experienced a real backlash, wasn’t it?
I just remember when we released it, so many people, from the record company going; “all right, it’s ‘different’ from ‘Troublegum”, to the fans when they first heard it, getting sacks of mail from people all over the world going; “what the f*** is this?!”, to our road crew going; “do you reckon this is going to sell? I’ve just bought a house”. How much pressure’s that?
That backlash is difficult to understand; the first single ‘Stories’ wasn’t a far cry from what had gone before.
I think to be honest, if we’d have come out with what we normally wore, in just all black, and not had the band on the cover, if it had been like a [long-time collaborator and ‘Troublegum’ sleeve photographer] Nigel Rolfe photograph and then us on the back then no one would have batted an eyelid.
You’ve done ‘Troublegum’ live quite a few times. Is it a bit of a noose around your neck at this stage?
Do you know what?, Lemmy said it best, bless him. Somebody once asked Lemmy; “do you get tired of people saying; ‘Motörhead, ah - Ace Of Spades!”?, and he said if you’re going to have one memorable song, make sure it’s a good one. And I think with us, I’m just really grateful that we’ve made our little imprint. You actually ask any rock fan if they’ve heard of Therapy?, the people that don’t know us will go; “oh yeah, question mark, ‘Troublegum’”.
I’ve heard that at this stage it’s sold over a million copies.
‘Troublegum’ still sells every year. I get royalty statements, and every single year it still sells, out of all the records. I don’t know what it’s sold now, but about three years ago it reached the million mark, and it’s still selling.
Does that amaze you?
It does, I mean I remember at the time, the year it was out, it sold 600,000 copies, and in the last twenty years it’s sold 400,000 more. It’s became that thing where it’s never become a noose around our neck; it’s almost become something where we have to be careful we’re not lazy, because we can always fall back on it, and after a while people get bored with that. The good thing about ‘Disquiet’ is we put that record out, and all of a sudden our fans loved it; the people that we call the ‘floating fans’, the people that maybe liked ‘Troublegum’, they came back.
Next year is twenty years since Semi-Detached was released. Would that be an album that you’d like to revisit?
Well, ‘Stay Happy’ is one of my favourite Therapy? songs, but it’s a weird one, because we did that album, and that line-up that we had, it came into fruition on ‘Suicide Pact, You First’, the following album. But that record, Semi-Detached, it took too long to make. We got Graham [Hopkins] in on drums, it took three years to make, and it was like literally because we were still touring ‘Infernal Love’.
Three years between albums was a massive gap in those days.
Yeah, it was, and by the time we got the album done, we did two or three attempts at the songs, and it just didn’t gel – not for any particular reason, the chemistry just wasn’t there. I think it could have been a lot better, the record. Some of the demos of stuff like ‘Don’t Expect Roses’ were way, way better than the album versions. We didn’t have a producer, and the record company heard a few of the tracks - they heard ‘Lonely Cryin’ Only’ and ‘Church Of Noise’ and they thought; “oh this is kind of back to the two and a half minute poppy things, get Sheldon in again”. So we got Chris [Sheldon, producer] in again and at that point in time, even Chris had moved on. Chris had done us, he had done The Almighty, he had done 3 Colours Red, and he was even getting a bit bored. All of us, the lot of us were jaded.
It was nice to hear ‘Lonely Cryin’ Only’ back in the set today. The last I remember hearing it, I think was at a gig in Belfast’s Empire around 2000.
I loved that gig. That’s when I got a bottle of poitín for Clutch. Clutch were on tour with us all around Europe, and they always got stoned, so when they were in Ireland they said let’s get drunk. So they went; “well, what do we drink”, and I went; “poitín - it’s moonshine from Ulster”. I phoned my dad up and he went and he got me a bottle of poitín. So I turned up in Clutch’s dressing room with this bottle, put it on the table and said; “lads, welcome to Northern Ireland!” *laughing* They weren’t big drinkers, and all I remember is talking to them after that Empire gig and them going; “dude! What was in that bottle, man”!
Looking forward then, and the band have some acoustic shows coming up.
We’re really looking forward to it. It’s going to be the whole band this time, not just me. We’re going to sit down and do loads of tracks we haven’t done before in the band for a long time. It’s really exciting. We’re looking at the tracks and we’re saying; “how do you do these?” Certain things might sound good, like the early Zeppelin, when they went acoustic. It’s going to be something like that, in that style, something a bit like Nirvana unplugged, just making it so that the songs shine through.
Back to today and are you going stick around and catch Alice Cooper's set tonight?
We’re going to watch The Darkness, who I like a lot. We know those guys and they’re lovely. We did a South American tour in - I think it was ’96 - opening for Alice Cooper, and we did Chile, we did Brazil. It was Alice Cooper, Megadeth, Faith No More, Therapy? and Paradise Lost.
That’s an awesome bill!
And it was football stadiums! We got to see Alice Cooper every single night. We hung out with Faith No More quite a bit because we’d met them that summer. My favourite story is we were backstage in Buenos Ares and Faith No More and us had just played, so they were hanging out in our dressing room. And a cop walked in with two of his mates and asked; “can we get some stuff signed for our kids?” So there’s three cops in there getting stuff signed, and one of the guys was chatting to me, and Roddy Bottum [Faith No More keyboard player] reached over to his holster, brought out his gun, pointed it and went; “freeze!” The other cops got out their guns and went; “freeze!”, and it was like a standoff in a Tarantino movie! Then all of a sudden the cops just start laughing; “you crazy guy! You crazy American!” I nearly shat myself, honestly. For about three hours later, my heart was still racing and there was no blood in my face!
Finally, are you thinking about another album yet?
In September we are going into the studio, and the first half will be doing new material, and the second half will be rehearsing for the acoustic tour. When we finish the acoustic tour we we might go back into the rehearsal studio to see how far we are. If we have ten, twelve tracks, great. If not then we’ll go back in the studio again in January.
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Therapy?'s 'Wood & Wire' acoustic tour kicks off in the Netherlands on 15th November. For a full list of dates see the Therapy? website.