Therapy?: “A New Lease on Life, Really”

Off the back of their biggest album and European tour in years, Northern Irish legends Therapy? take on a five-date Irish tour in March, including the brand-new Cyprus Avenue on March 23rd. MIKE MCGRATH-BRYAN talks with frontman and guitarist ANDY CAIRNS about the band’s new album ‘Cleave’, and the tensions that brought it about.

Millions of units shifted, thousands of road miles on the clock and fifteen albums deep into a wide and varied discography, Ballyclare/Larne-originating trio Therapy? have, over the course of nearly thirty years, gone from noisy upstarts, to mainstream superstars, to gatekeepers of the Irish underground, approaching touring and recording with the same grit and gristle as they always have. A few days removed from a month of UK and European touring, though, and it’s a relaxed yet chipper Andy Cairns at the other end of the phone, audibly happy with how things have gone. “We did two-and-half weeks in Europe and two-and-a-half weeks in the UK, both of them were sensational. We’re really buzzing at the minute. A lot of the gigs in Europe, the venues were moved up, and were bigger than we’ve played in years, and in the UK, if we didn’t sell the venue out then attendances and tickets were better than they’ve been in years, so it was all really positive. We’re playing really well as a band, y’know. We’re all really fit, we’re all up for it, and we’re getting a good mix in the crowds. It’s a good night out and it’s given us a new lease on life, really.”

This upturn in fortunes comes off the back of the release of the band’s newest long-player ‘Cleave’, the band’s biggest mainstream success in years. Greeted with critical acclaim and an enthusiastic response from the band’s fanbase, ‘Cleave’ is the band’s highest-charting LP in years on both sides of the Atlantic, and has done well across the continent. “The first thing we’ve noticed is the punters love it, a lot more than any other album recently. I felt they liked ‘Disquiet’ a lot, and I felt they liked ‘A Brief Crack of Light’ a lot, but the punters seem to like this more than any album we’ve done in years. Something about it, I don’t know if it’s the sound, or if it’s the attitude, or whether some of the songwriting adheres to those classic Therapy? tropes, there’s something about the whole package that seems to resonate with people this time around.”

The record is Therapy? in prime alt-rock form, a handful of serrated shards of distortion and volume, bookended by melody and refrains the likes of which will be instantly familiar to lapsed fans revisiting the band after their major-label years. No surprise, then, that they were joined behind the desk by a longtime collaborator in Chris Sheldon, producer for some of the band’s most immediate and impactful records, including 1994 Mercury Prize nominee ‘Troublegum’. “Chris, we’ve known on and off since 1992, and even when we weren’t working with him on a regular basis we would still see him occasionally, socially. And he kind-of knows, because he was there near the start, when we were making records in the ‘Troublegum’ mode, he knows what makes us tick. He’s really, really good as a producer in that he’s bulls**t-free. He doesn’t hide behind anything. He won’t waste five hours using a Chinese gong on a track just to placate the drummer. He will literally say, if the song’s not ready, ‘guys, this isn’t ready, go back and finish it.’ If the song’s too long, he’ll say ‘this needs cutting out’. And we’ll argue the course with him, and we’ll get some middle ground, and it’ll all work for the record, but he’s about making sure the record is really, really good. The other thing, too, is with the amount of time we’ve been around, working with someone you respect and get on with means an awful lot, because it means the whole recording process and creative process goes a lot more smoothly.”

A constant in the band’s discography has been adhering to loose concepts across an album, a creative trait that has allowed them to explore social alienation, political divisions, mental health/illness, and philosophy with consistency while the band’s sound has morphed across line-ups. No time like the present, unfortunately, then, to examine the fears and anxieties of modern life, than the current hellscape of reactionary politics and resultant social issues. “I can pinpoint exactly where the album lyrics came from. Nine times out of ten, when Therapy? writes an album, we’ll write the music first, and I will concurrently write the vocal melody. But lyrics aren’t normally done until we get an idea of what it’ll be all about. We have certain themes running through all our records, but we hadn’t had a theme for this one yet, we had all the vocal melodies, the music was finished, but I was having trouble finding something to hang a theme around the album with. We were having dinner with some friends one night, a classic middle-class English dinner-party. Someone mentioned Brexit, someone brought it up, and I said, ‘y’know, as someone that’s lived in a divided Ireland all my life, as someone that’s seen sectarianism, I really don’t see what benefit we can have from separating ourselves from our European cousins.’ At which point a middle-class Englishman turned around to me and said, without any irony, ‘if you don’t like it, you can always go home’ (laughs). And I said ‘I beg your pardon? Do you want me to go home two doors up the road?’ He said ‘no, you can always go back to Ireland’. So, this is what it’s done to people, and that’s when I started writing about division. And I tried to write from the point of division, I didn’t want to write a specifically ‘Brexit’ record, I used that comment from that pretentious buffoon to jump off and write about division within ourselves, within our countries, and the emotions we give and take from each other. At no stage on our fifteenth album did I want to write a Rage Against the Machine or Stiff Little Fingers agitprop album, because I wouldn’t be very good at it.”

Leadoff single ‘Callow’ is possibly the most immediate example of where the band is at in 2018, addressing the burgeoning issue of prescription medication abuse in a knockabout, almost poppy fashion. While the song was approaching completion, the passing occurred of rapper Lil’ Peep, sadly taken at 21 years of age by an accidental overdose of anti-anxiety medication prescribed for mental-health issues. The reaction of Cairns’ son to Peep’s death spurred on the song’s lyrical content. “Unfortunately it tends to happen, whether it’s Jim Morrison dying, or the suicide of Kurt Cobain, a glorification of the use of Xanax came in the wake of Lil’ Peep’s death, certainly some of my son’s circle of friends were buying Xanax online, and people were nodding off and passing out at parties, seventeen-, eighteen-year-old kids. The whole Soundcloud rap thing, face tattoos, emo crossed with hip-hop, Xanax went hand-in-hand with that. It was all over the press, all over the Internet. But also, whenever you find out that loads of Xanax is being bought online, it’s being prescribed, to kids, which is quite horrifying. One thing I do want to clarify, though, I’m not anti-antidepressants, I think some people see that as the only course that will work for them, and certainly my father had a horrendous breakdown about twenty-five years ago and Prozac was what saved his life. But for certain people it can be like putting a Band-Aid over an enormous scar, and I think talking to people works better.”

Following the band’s touring success on the continent, it’s time for the boys in black to take it home, with a five-date tour in March playing the country’s non-capital cities for a change, including their first all-electric gig in Limerick in nearly two decades. The band’s Leeside stop takes in their customary gig at Cyprus Avenue, playing the newly-constructed ‘new’ room in the venue complex, but also a flying visit around the city. “We’ve been badgering away for a year now to get fully electric shows in Ireland, and it’s never been the right time. And obviously, we’ll have to come back and do Dublin and Belfast at some point, and there’s a few more places we’d like to play, like Kilkenny and Waterford. But, y’know, we’re very, very excited to be coming back. Cork is one of our very favourite cities, and favourite venues, on the entire planet. We always manage, quite rightly, to turn the gig at Cyprus Avenue into a weekender. We normally get over the day before the gig, get out to the gig, go out with friends, and then spend half the next day there getting dinner. So, in March, we’ll have a big star on all our calendars. We’re going back to Derry to play an electric show, Galway, in the Roisín Dubh, which we love, Dolan’s is always a brilliant gig and I love Limerick as a city, and of course we’ve been to Dundalk numerous times but it’ll be good to come back with a full electric show.”

Therapy? play the new Cyprus Avenue on March 23rd, 2019. Tickets are on sale now from and The Old Oak. The band’s new album ‘Cleave’, is available now on CD and vinyl from Golden Discs on Patrick Street, and across all digital services via Marshall Records.

Bitch Falcon: “We Lashed It Out”

With international touring and national media attention under their belt, Dublin-based alt-rock three-piece Bitch Falcon are ready for Indiependence Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan chats with the band about their year so far.

Almost a generation removed from the original grunge and alt-rock explosion of the early nineteen-nineties, it’d be very easy to be cynical about the return of those filthy tones and wider DIY/hardcore influences to Irish music. Indeed, listening to certain major-label entrants to the genre in recent years, one would almost think that these outfits were being courted solely to fill a publishing gap. Enter Bitch Falcon, a three-piece that came together to pay homage to frontwoman Lizzie Fitzpatrick’s riot-grrrl inspirations with gut and gumption, immediately cutting a swathe for themselves through Irish music, with early singles setting the tone for a more hard-rock inflected direction in the past two years, influenced by line-up changes and seemingly endless gigging, including most, if not all, of the rapidly-growing Irish summer festival circuit. These changes have been most readily apparent in recent single ‘Of Heart’, a mid-tempo, grinding rocker delivered with a snarl and buried under a tonne of distortion.

But after putting the effort in on the foundations for growth, the real work begins in earnest, with recording on the band’s first full-length finally underway. Drummer Nigel Kenny digs into the production process so far, a far more involved endeavour this time around than on previous single-oriented sessions. “We completed a lot more pre-production, and brought in Stephen Caffrey from Sun Studios to record and work on demos, so we could get a better idea of how we wanted things to sound before we committed it to “tape”. Once we’d recorded those and figured out what we wanted to do, we brought in (producer) James Darkin to have a listen as we played them in the room. He made some great suggestions in the arrangements which we tweaked and then booked four days over a Bank Holiday in Herbert Place to lash out six tracks. A lot of the work was done before this, due to better planning but then as we started to track, more ideas started to come in and these got thrown in the pot. There was no real large outcome decided for these songs, we had to record two singles and when you put a kit in a room, you might as well get as much down as you can, to get as much value out of the session as possible, so we said we’d record everything that was finished. It was when we heard those six tracks, together with some James Darkin magic over them, that we all looked at each other and said, “this is half of a really good album”. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

This past March, the band’s tireless grind in the live sphere paid massive dividends, as they signed to international tour bookers UTA’s roster for UK and international bookings, sitting alongside such names as Biffy Clyro and Muse. With festivals and touring ahead of them for the foreseeable future, Kenny discusses how the deal has changed things for the three-piece. “A very unexpected happening if i’m honest. A good agent was always on our list, to help us get playing in as many places as possible, but we didn’t expect to get someone of Sean Goulding’s level on our first try. He is booking some of the biggest acts in the world right now, so it was a bit of validation that I think our self-confidence as a band might have needed. We’ve been around for a while, we’ve dedicated everything to it. and when perhaps things haven’t moved as quickly as anyone would like, it can start to niggle away at you. Getting on the UTA roster was a little pat on the back, and a confirmation that they think a lot of people will want to see us play live.” Vocalist/guitarist Lizzie Fitzpatrick is quick to note the major festivals for which the band has been confirmed under the deal. “We have a few dates booked already out of Ireland, namely Welcome to the Village festival in the Netherlands, and 2000 Trees in the UK which is really exciting. Hopefully we’ll be touring as much as possible in the next year, to start capturing an audience outside of Ireland.”

Saint Patrick’s Day saw the band head to London for Music from Ireland’s festivities, as part of a joint effort from Culture Ireland and First Music Contact to ready Irish musicians for UK touring and exposure. A rare acoustic session was followed by a full-band performance in a market of all places. “It was loads of fun. FMC put on a few things outside of Ireland, along with their conference showcases, so getting a gig over in London around then is good, great to catch passers by in the markets. It was baltic, though, my fingers have not forgiven them!”, says Fitzpatrick. Adds bassist and Corkman Barry O’Sullivan: “The first one was an acoustic gig in a cafe, which was great craic. I ended up setting up and sitting in a chair next to two customers in a tiny corner. I’m not sure if they loved it, or if I ruined their day.”

The band played It Takes a Village festival this past April, joining a line-up of predominantly Irish artists in the East Cork holiday village of Trabolgan. The nostalgia factor for the local audience was considerable, but the appeal of a big weekend of tunes in a childhood landmark wasn’t lost on Fitzpatrick, either. “Yeah, I think that festival has such a great potential to be one of the best getaways in Ireland. It’s mad being at a little resort filled with adults being on the piss, similar to being in the Gaeltacht or something, only with no bean-an-tí after you for smoking a spliff out the back” This was followed by a clutch of UK dates in May, in support of hardcore outfit Black Peaks, currently experiencing something of a moment amid a wider audience, which has helped Bitch Falcon find their feet across the water. “Really great band and sound lads. The crowds were really receptive, and it’s the reason why touring with an established band in an unknown territory is so valuable for audience capture. Also being on tour is so much fun, meeting new bands, getting an idea of the scene in different areas, and pulling yourself out of your own comfort zone in Ireland.”

The band’s most recent misadventure saw them play with nineties indie lads An Emotional Fish on the Late Late Show, ahead of nostalgiafest Féile Classical, happening this summer in Semple Stadium. Kenny gives us the rundown on stepping out on the country’s light-entertainment showcase. “(laughs) It was gas. I think my mother texted every neighbour and relation in the world. It’s amazing what going on the Late Late does to a mammy! The whole thing was a bit of a whirlwind. I was getting off a bus in Wicklow to go to my niece’s confirmation party when I got the call asking if we’d back up An Emotional Fish. We hadn’t any time to rehearse, and just had to wing it on the day. Unfortunately Barry had to drive to Cork to go home to vote, so he wasn’t there, but myself and Lizzie had a great day hanging out with Jerry, Dave and Foxy in the sunny environs of Donnybrook. Rehearsals were really well-organised and straightforward. We got three runs on the songs, it felt good, and then we just went off lol’ing around the place. We got a tour of the Fair City set, and interrupted filming with some obscene conversations while trying to find a pint somewhere. Then we lashed it out, got to hang out with Barry Murphy and Ryan Tubridy of course, who is a gent, and stayed suckin’ down that free booze til about 2am.”

Amid all of this chaos, and the sight of milestones blowing past the band, they’re coming back to Cork to play Indiependence festival this August, nestled alongside other quality Irish artists as North Shore math-rockers And So I Watch You From Afar and Dublin doomsayer Kojaque. Fitzpatrick is enthusiastic. “We played Indiependence two years ago, and it was great, nice big crowd in a tent, hopefully we’ll blow the top off this year!” Adds Kenny: “Really looking forward to it. We played it a couple years ago, and were genuinely surprised at the reaction we got. It’ll also be a chance to catch up with some of our mates who are playing down there that we don’t get to see that often.” It’s seemingly prelude to an even more insane schedule over the coming months, as Kenny tells us more music, and the band’s debut album, lies over the horizon. “We’ve just announced support to a one-off The Frames show in September, there will be a tour around October, another release and then we’ll keep writing and recording that album!”

Versive: “Why We Keep Doing What We Are Doing”

With exposure on Kerrang! Radio in the UK and contention on the Irish download charts, Dublin alt-rock outfit Versive stand ready to try their luck with America. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with guitarist Conor Walsh ahead of their upcoming Leeside excursion.

Since assembling in 2015 from the wreckage of Dublin’s late-2000s pop-punk scene, four-piece Versive (not to be confused with now-defunct Cork electronic-pop trio Versives) have diligently been writing and releasing material, keeping a steady gigging pace and quietly becoming something of a hot proposition for fans of the broad ‘alt-rock’ brushstroke. In that short space of time, something more mature and brooding has emerged, maintained by a collective effort, says guitarist Conor Walsh. “When we recorded our first song ‘Blackout’, in Manor Park studio, the tone of it came out very raw and darker than our previous projects. Thanks to that one song, we all knew what direction to take the band. We are all heavily influenced by loud rock guitar bands, like Foo Fighters and Four Year Strong, hence why we have three guitars. We also all listen to many different genres of music. All that fused together… makes the sound of Versive. For the first E.P., I mainly wrote all the music, and Kelan (O’Reilly, vocals) did vocals but for our newer stuff, everyone is involved with writing, which makes life easier for me (laughs).”

Most recent single ‘Blind’ was released in September via U.S. label King Sound, ahead of more tracks to be released shortly in an as-yet indeterminate format. They’re shaping up to be something special, inspired by the Stateside journey the band took to work with their heroes and  get them done. “So we went over to the States last November, and started demoing tunes for our next release out at Wachusett Recording Studio in Massachusetts. The new songs are produced by Michael Harmon and Alan Day (guitarist/vocals of Four Year Strong). Thanks to these lads, they brought our sound to the next level. We are feeling pretty good about them. Some of the songs are heaviest we have ever written and some have a slightly lighter vibe to them. It’s just a good mix of everything.” Having previously worked with UK label Scylla and Dublin concern NVR MNT, the band’s latest label dalliance finds them at the centre of their own work as musicians, with guidance on hand, according to Walsh. “There is no difference at all, at the end of the day, the label doesn’t do the work, the band does. The labels we have been part of and are currently, with are there for support and to guide us if we have any questions. But for the most part, we are still DIY as f**k. Just the way we like it.”

Single ‘Pretend’ last year charted on the Irish iTunes Music service, brushing off the mainstream sales charts, and placing highly on a rock singles chart dominated by casual fans’ endless consumption of genre standards. What was that like, and is there still merit in charts as a barometer of taste/opinion in the streaming age? “It was amazing to have the single get into the charts, we weren’t expecting it. And the fact it happened for ‘Pretend’ and ‘Blind’ is kinda mind-blowing. It shows that people still listen to rock music, and not just that silly mainstream pop music.  Although it’s not that important to get into the charts, it sure is a nice feeling that people went out of the way to purchase our music. We actually released our first physical CD last month into Tower Records, and we sold out of stock twice in the shop within a few days. That really showed there is a demand for physicals, which meant more to us than the charts. I hope people continue to support music and buy their favourite bands’ releases, it’s the reason why we keep doing what we are doing, ‘cause the fans support us.” The aforementioned single also premiered in the UK via Kerrang! Radio, whose namesake magazine, are now under new management and seem to be taking their duties as gatekeepers for young rockers a bit more seriously, as opposed to simply making a rock-themed yoof lifestyle mag. Despite the premiere treatment over the airwaves, exposure from the enduring weekly has been elusive. “I had no idea they are under new management, and to be honest we have had little dealings with Kerrang!. We are delighted that they played our music, but when it comes to the magazine and the people that run it, we haven’t really been in contact at all.”

The band haven’t been the only ones benefiting from an upswing in Irish music, as well-documented within these pages in recent years. In light of a lack of prime-time exposure on Irish media, independent music of every stripe is reliant on community effort and support from within. This has historically included word of mouth and the thumbs-up from trusted sources for more casual listeners. Walsh briefly name-checks a few going concerns he’s been into as of late. “There are some badass bands around Ireland at the moment, the bands I’ve been really digging lately would have to be Just Mustard, Tanjier, Overhead the Albatross and Screaming Giants.” Versive are playing Fred Zeppelin’s on Friday the 18th, with support from young Leeside alternative bands Skies Behind, dealing in self-proclaimed ‘Irish pop-punk trash’, and Primus-esque messers Red Sun Alert. Ahead of stepping foot in the big red room upstairs again, Walsh recently did a bit of research. “We played in Cork two years ago at the same venue and it was a great show, so we are expecting to have a great time. I checked (the supports) out the day they got announced, they seem cool and look forward to rocking out with them.”

This date acts as prelude to a busy summer for the band, and a rehearsal for a much-busier touring schedule for late in the year, hitting Irish cities and generally keeping the momentum up. “Releasing our new tunes by the end of the year and our next single “The Problem”, which will be (out) over the summer. We also have a full Irish tour in the works for November, so we are looking forward to announcing that in the coming weeks”.