Therapy? frontman Andy Cairns speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan ahead of the trio’s acoustic Cork date next month, on the band’s past, their present, the future and their Cork connections.
With nearly thirty years on the road, and fourteen full-lengths under their belt, Belfast post-hardcore trio Therapy?’s odyssey has taken them to the stages of the world, through best-selling records and a dedicated following that has stuck with the band through thick and thin. Over the years, however, the band have purposely kept home visits short and sweet, in order to maintain the sense of occasion inherent to their Irish shows, which makes next month’s extensive acoustic sojourn all the more surprising. Guitarist/vocalist Andy Cairns is excited for the Wood and Wire tour. “I’m really looking forward to the gigs, as I don’t feel we play Ireland enough, not through any lack of desire on the band’s part but a lack of offers (laughs). I’m looking forward to Cork, Belfast and Limerick the most. Cork because I love the place, ditto Belfast, and Limerick because it’s been so long since I’ve been there.”
Taking as noisy and varied a back catalogue as Therapy?’s and retooling it for the acoustic idiom presents a series of issues all its own, both in terms of arrangements and in choosing a setlist that reflects their career and expectations of fans. “The first challenge is keeping the intensity of the songs, without huge banks of amps and propulsive, frenzied drumming. Different songs call for different approaches, and some of the tunes just don’t work at all in an acoustic environment. For this Irish tour we’re going to try and pick songs that are definitely shaped by the country itself. Either through lyrical references, or musical influences, and ideas behind the songs themselves. Chatting with the crowd is a good way of making it an engaging experience, and I’m sure the audience won’t hold back either.”
Last year saw the band release their most recent long-player, Disquiet. Rooted in the band’s poppier leanings, the record plays on the paranoia and dissatisfaction first given voice on 1994’s Troublegum album, revisiting the latter record’s conceptual protagonist in middle-age and finding that rage has given way to despair. Cairns gets into the process behind the album’s writing and recording. “Disquiet was one of our melodic forays that started with Skyward on (debut album) Babyteeth, galvanised on Troublegum and continued in High Anxiety (2003 record). It was written in my kitchen on an acoustic guitar over the space of a month and then iPhone recordings were sent to Michael and Neil for their opinions. From such traditional foundations the songs themselves are more of the verse/chorus template than our previous two records, but as lyrically I was exploring the whereabouts of the protagonist of the Troublegum album, it was a conducive medium for the project. It ended up being a popular record with our fans, and charted in some countries, which was a surprise. Songs like Still Hurts and Tides will probably be in the set list for a long time to come.”
As much of a treat it’s been for longtime and lapsed fans to hear the band returning to more immediate material, it doesn’t come without a bittersweet note for the boys in black, having put massive effort into the cerebral and groovy direction of the their records prior. “Much as we enjoyed the creative process involved in making the previous two albums, we found it frustrating that so much of the content was unnoticed or misunderstood. Enjoy the Struggle was influenced lyrically by Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus and musically by the riff from Mingus’ Haitian Fight Song, however one critic claimed it sounded like Zakk Wylde. Bad Excuse for Daylight starts off with an appropriation of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps before going into a rhythm section that has its timing based on a section from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. One wag claimed it sounded like “cavemen banging sticks” and in the Nabokov-saturated A Brief Crack of Light album the mix of Slint, Beckett, African highlife and dub went unnoticed by people curious to know “where the tunes have gone”. Both these albums were such a great working experience, and a lift for us as a band but we were hugely disappointed that people didn’t get it. The nature of the band however, means that we shall return to these waters in the future.”
Helping the band negotiate the waters of an ever-changing musid industry in recent years have been Amazing Records, the spinoff label from the popular UK digital radio service. Cairns expresses his satisfaction with the label and his preference for the model over crowdfunding and the like. “It’s been okay. Amazing Records have been fantastic. They’re a very young label, staffed by young people, and seem keen on the band.We know that we could always go down the crowdfunding route if we need to, but as I’ve mentioned, some of our musical choices have often left some of our fans bemused, and the crowdfunding always seems to go hand-in-hand with people forking out disproportionate sums of their precious money, in return for extras like ‘a day ice-skating with Michael McKeegan’ or ‘an eating competition with Andy’ etc. They might also enforce a caveat that in return for their contribution, there is to be no mention of high fallutin’ authors or dalliances with jazz, no-sir-ee, just riff, after riff, after discordant riff, with lots of shouting on top.”
Is it not a tad strange, though, after being in such a forward-thinking headspace all these years, to be in the position to be looking back on your body of work and seeing a demand for reissues, anniversary tours, etc.? “Yes, but we are a working band that needs to pay for rehearsals and storage space, new equipment and pay our mortgages. We still get stimulation from new music, literature, cinema etc., so we’ll not be curling up into a pub rockin’ third act at any time in the future, besides it’s a lot of fun to play classic songs to an audience that know every lyric, lick, bass fill and snare hit.”
The band returns to Cyprus Avenue on the 28th of April for their Cork stop of the tour. Having emerged from the Irish scene of the early nineties, Cork is an important locale for the band, as Cairns reminisces on. “I absolutely love Cork, it’s one of my favourite places in the world. First time I visited was on a camping trip when I was nineteen, and I had a great time hanging out in the town and going to different bars with some locals we hooked up with. Nancy Spain’s was a lovely gig and being put up by the lads from Judgement was a fantastic way to spend an evening.We played an odd showcase gig in ’91 at Henry’s with Toasted Heretic and Sultans Of Ping which was good craic, mainly because those bands were fun to hang out with, and had a very memorable show there later on with our friends Babes in Toyland. I remember going to Comet Records with Lori from Babes, and seeing that our albums were number 1 and 2 respectively in the Indie charts. The crowd for the show was full-on, our equipment broke down and I went into full Graham Norton mode and did covers of Jolene and Neil Young while it was sorted.”
Not that their love affair with the town is anything to do with nostalgia, with the band making somewhat of a home in Cyprus Avenue in recent years. “Cyprus Avenue is always such a pleasure to play. We did a gig there once during the Jazz Festival, and opened our set with a few bars of So What by Miles Davis, which completely went over the audience heads. Later on we rampaged around the town and I woke up the next day with one of the worst hangovers I’ve ever had in my entire life. Cork is also responsible for Cathal Coughlan, Rory Gallagher and Noel Redding to name but a few. Crosshaven is also where the legendary Bobby Tambling of the mighty Chelsea FC lives, and of course Trish O’Callaghan, a wonderful artist who was responsible for the cover art of our Caucasian Psychosis album release.”
The future lies ahead of the trio, and in short order, at that: a new album is planned, but under tight wraps at present. “We’re currently writing new material and look likely to set foot in the studio in July this year. We’re all pleased with the direction it’s taking, but will be keeping quiet about it until it’s done.”
Therapy? play Cyprus Avenue in a special acoustic tour on Friday April 28th. Tickets available now on cyprusavenue.ie.