Carrying on with the party
Michael McKeegan and Martin McCarrick of Therapy?, who are in the middle of a comeback without ever really going away, discuss the revitalised band, their new album and drummer and their wild reputation.
They may not be as famous or as popular as they once were, but Therapy? are still one of the biggest and best rock bands Ireland has ever produced. They hit the heights of stardom with the hit EPs 'Shortsharpshock' and 'Face the Strange' and 1994s "Troublegum" album. They could easily have continued to capitalise on this power punk formula, but instead, in 1995, they released "Infernal love", a much harder album to get into. Lyrically it was much darker, it had more songs with cello, the choruses were nowhere near as catchy and it alienated a lot of fans.
It would be very easy to say that, since then, Therapy? have disappeared into obscurity and are only now clawing their way back into the headlights and highlights with this years powerful, riff-fueled "High anxiety". It would be easy to say that and it would be wrong. Therapy? just went underground around 1995. They've had members join and depart, they've toured constantly and they've continued to record and release excellent and challenging albums.
A few hours before their Dublin show, Michael McKeegan (bass) and Martin McCarrick (guitar and cello) are sitting in the lobby of the Camden Court Hotel. They're just after arriving in the capital for tonight's show. Later on, they'll meet up with Andy Cairns (vocals and guitar) and Neil Cooper (drums) for sound check, but right now they're eager to talk about how the recording of "High anxiety" went and what the very immediate future holds for them.
"It was good," Michael says of the recording. "It was a very quick process actually, because the deal sort of fell into place with Spitfire, sort of November time, and basically, as soon as we signed the deal, we hooked up with Neil and we just went off and spent about two weeks rehearsing and finishing off the songs. And then we literally went from there straight into the studio and recorded it in three weeks. Before signing the deal, there was quite a lot of ideas, sort of demos and four tracks and things, lots of riffs and Andy had written quite a lot of the lyrics. So when they were all pretty much finalised, it was just a case of sitting down and arranging the songs in the way that did them justice, or finding the middle ground where the four of us met.
"What I think, in the past, we have done," the bassist continues, "is actually gone into the studio with just rough ideas and that sometimes can be really brilliant, because you have a lot of potential to where you can go with them. Sometimes you can lose sight of what was good about that initial idea, then you ruin it. So I think, for us, it's defiantly better to have at least played the songs altogether a few times and have an idea of the melody and have a lot of the lyrics written. 'Cause there's nothing worse than trying to force things. The deadline's looming and you've got six songs to finish off. You tend to get a bit desperate as creativity dries up."
Therapy? have been back on the road now for the past few weeks and, according to Martin, the new songs are fitting nicely into the set, but, as for favourite songs to play live, "they sort of change all the time actually. 'Stand in Line', seems to be a big favourite with us all at the moment. I don't know why, maybe it's because it's big chunky Sabbath riffing or whatever. It's got a hypnotic quality about it that's really cool. All of it really. They're all different to play live, like 'Rust' is a great song to play live because again it's got that hypnotic quality, which is really good.
"I supposed we've played probably about nine of the songs live a such," Michael continues, "and we probably play about seven or eight of them in the set. It just sort of depends. We try different things out and some work better than others. We've only actually been playing 'Stand in line' in the last week or so of gigs, so it's quite fresh too, so that's good, you know so we probably won't be getting… not bored, but once we kinda think to play another song, we'll start playing another one. So it sort of goes in cycles."
On the message board of the band's website, www.therapyquestionmark.co.uk, a few months ago, the band ran a poll to see what songs fans would most like to hear them play live. When this subject is brought up, though, Michael lets out what can only be described as a chuckle, while Martin mumbles "yeah" in the same sort of way you would if your aunt pulled out naked baby pictures of you in front of your new girlfriend.
Michael, between bursts of laughter explains, "that kind of back fired because, well, they picked three songs. 'Straight life', 'Potato junkie' and 'Teethgrinder'. 'Straight life' we'd played live a few times, but 'Potato junkie' and 'Teethgrinder' we've probably played thousands of times. We were sort of expecting them to pick some obscure, forgotten gem that we never really played live. So it kind of back fired, we'd planned to play 'Potato junkie' anyway."
"We did work out at one point a few years ago that we had played 'Teethgrinder' for every single show for five years," Martin says. Since getting back on the road though, they have dropped it from the set. "There's so many songs that don't get played and people want," Martin continues. "From people shouting 'Animal bones' to people shouting things from 'Semi-detached' or 'Infernal love' and it's really difficult to find a good balance of all the different songs, without making it 'let's play the new album plus greatest hits', so it's always good to do something unusual. I think everyone's heard 'Teethgrinder' enough really. It's a great song, it's still brilliant to play, but it would be nicer for us if they chosen something that would have been fresh for us as well, 'oohhh 'Dancin' with Manson' haven't played that for a while.'" Martin admits, though, "it was really interesting seeing people's choices".
"The guy who runs the website literally printed off every song that got a vote," Michael explains. "There was two and three votes for really obscure b-sides, which was kind of cool in a way. There was quite a few votes for 'Nice'n'sleazy', the Stranglers cover we did. It took us two hours to do it. I love the Stranglers, but I don't fancy doing Stranglers covers when we've got so many good songs of our own. We'll probably do a tour later in the year where we'll pick ten songs that we think will be suitable to fit in with the set we're doing now. People requested 'Misery (acoustic version)'", he says laughing. "Like we're really going to bust out the three stools and acoustic guitars. I think if we made it a bit more rigid and said, 'look this is the pool you can vote from'..." When I point out that this kind of defeats the entire purpose of the exercise, Michael says it's "any Therapy? song you want to hear. Any colour as long as it's black."
Also planned for this tour was the recording of Therapy?'s first ever DVD. The live footage was still a day away from being shot at this stage. Along with that concert footage, Michael maintains there will probably be "some bits and pieces we were filming out in Europe. We filmed a couple of the shows just with a camcorder and a lot of backstage tomfoolery. That'll be one DVD and then there'll be another DVD with it that'll be… not a documentary as such, but kind of like early footage, all the different line ups and all the bad hair cuts and you know, all that kind of thing. Probably a lot of backstage stuff. Hopefully the recording of the 'Suicide-pact' album. We did a lot of videoing there, which was quite good fun."
When asked if this will feature the infamous 'Speedo menace' video, footage of the band running around naked while recording 'Suicide-pact; you first', Michael says "we'd love to put that on it, it's just we don't really know where the tapes of it are. The master tapes have seriously disappeared.
"I'm sure they'll show up somewhere", he adds with a laugh. "That would be another cool thing to put on it and then probably… I don't know about the actual format, I don't know if we can put all the promo videos on it, 'cause there's nearly twenty of them. But we made a couple of promos that were never actually shown and ones that just didn't really work out, so it would be good curios for our fans that have never been shown anywhere. That are just sitting on a reel someplace."
"There's bits of TV footage and such from maybe a TV programme in Wales," Martin continues. "But it was done as if we were making a video, so there's sort of things are interesting to look at again. Most dedicated Therapy? fans will probably have the 'Lonely, cryin', only' video on the ' Lonely, cryin', only' CD, so it's easy, you know, to leave something like that off and put something more unusual on. Just make it a bit more interesting. It's going to be quite interesting going through everything to just decide." Here he pulls a horrified face and gasps in feigned shock "Oh my God! What was that?"
Since its release, "High anxiety" has been receiving some great reviews. The only problem the band has with this is that many of these reviews are labelling Therapy? as comeback kings. "It does annoy me a bit," Michael explains. "I remember when we did 'Semi-detached' and 'Shameless'. 'Suicide-Pact' is different, because it was really split down the middle, but I know 'Shameless' and 'Semi-detached' got brilliant reviews and everyone loved it at the time. We did long tours for those albums, playing a lot of those songs. I think with this album it's probably the most convincing Therapy? have sounded. I think that maybe with 'Semi-detached' there's moments of brilliance on it, but there's a few bits on it where we kinda staggered a little, maybe also with 'Shameless', maybe the focus wasn't there.
"But I think with this album it's quite single minded in its intent, as was 'Troublegum', and that wasn't an intentional thing. It was just circumstances and the band and the songs that were written and just the way it was put together. That's the only comparison I think. It's by no means a rehash, I think it sounds rhythmically and guitar wise very, very different to 'Troublegum'. I think it's like, this album is sort of, distilling all the best bits of Therapy?, adding something new and putting a bag load of energy into it and looking to the future."
Speaking of the future, what does that hold? "Well the future at the minute is doing soundcheck," Michael jokes. "Apart from the DVD and the tour later in the year, we don't really have any major, major plans, because we're not that sort of band. We're doing some festivals in Europe over the summer, but it's just to keep at it, keep going. I don't want to be going on stage tonight thinking about the next album, really, you know what I mean? I think that will come naturally when the time comes to do that record and I'll be thinking about the Belfast show tomorrow. Tonight I'll concentrate on doing the Dublin show. For us, it's best to things as they come 100%, rather than doing something half-cut, while you're trying to organise your movie career. On the phone."
This tour is also introducing the newest member to the Therapy? family, Neil Cooper, to fans. Neil joined Therapy? in 2002 after Graham Hopkins decided he had enough and went off to forge a new career for himself with Halite (originally known as Hopper). He has previously drummed with The Beyond and Cable and is Therapy?'s third drummer since their inception well over a decade ago. "We did one festival with him, last summer, in Portugal and that was the first time he'd played," Martin says. "He did one rehearsal and then he came and did a show before we had a permanent drummer, and he was brilliant then. It was a bit of a wild card to know whether or not he'd fit in. I think we all secretly thought he would, but when he came down to rehearsals to start working on the record it potentially could have been an absolute disaster. We could have gone 'oh my god this guys awful'.
"But, no it worked out really well, it was almost immediate. It brought some new life, a bit of electricity to the band and certainly a bit of energy was lacking in the, sort of drum area, for the year or so before that. When Graham wasn't so interested in the band, but was still part of the band. But obviously his feelings towards Therapy? were kind of fading and he was more interested in something else and that's fine. But we needed that sort of energy there, we needed that fire back. Neil sort of brought that with him, really quite naturally. He has really good ideas musically as well, but he doesn't want to… he's not going to jump and suddenly start playing the guitar or something. He's quite happy to be behind the kit and he's got great ideas. And just personality wises he sort of fits in with us very easy. He's very laid back and very easy going at the moment."
"He's maybe of a similar age group as well," Michael continues. "He's been in a band that were signed to a major label that were touted as the future of metal. They did a lot of touring in the States, toured with the Chili Peppers, toured with Soundgarden. He knows the ropes well enough not to turn into a gibbering idiot, but he also has enough of an excitement and passion for music, which we also share. He's not going to sit there going 'yeah, yeah' at the back. He's really open to listening to new music and new ideas, so it just seems to fit as well." "Plus he's kind of mad, which sort of helps," Martin adds. "He's got the dark streak," Michael continues, clearly warming to the theme.
While we are on the topic of madness and dark streaks, one thing that has to be asked about is that of Therapy?'s almost legendary status as big drinking, party monsters. This is met by a huge burst of laughter from both men. Martin says conspiratorially "they're all true, double them in fact. Double them and double them again." "There's a lot of ones that never got out," Michael confesses, but refuses to take it any further. "I think we know how to enjoy ourselves, let's put it that way," Martin says, steering the conversation back onto more sturdy ground. "The main way we enjoy ourselves is by playing live and for that we don't need to be fuelled by drink or anything, it's just that's what we really love. But we just like to carry on with that party, way into the night, far too late. We should know far better by now."
"But it's always a reward," Michael continues. "If we do a bad gig we won't be partying late. We'll be lying in our bunks in sackcloth, beating ourselves. Purging ourselves for our sins. But if it's a good gig yes we will celebrate. I never really saw the point of being in a band, you play a gig, people are really interested in your music and into what you're doing and want to talk about certain things and you get in a limousine and go straight back to your hotel and go to bed. Also you've got so much adrenaline running through your system you couldn't sleep anyway." After tonight's performance I think it's safe to say that there wasn't a lot of sleeping done on the Therapy? tour bus.
by Ken McGrath