The BIG Über Rock Interview – Andy Cairns (Therapy?)
Written by Alistair Wiseman
Saturday, 20 October 2018 04:30
After having been to both Andy Cairns’ solo acoustic tour and the ‘Wood and Wire’ tour, I was wondering if Therapy?’s next release might have been something a little less musically violent! Instead ‘Cleave’ appears actually more aggressive.
When I was invited to chat to the Northern Ireland trio’s charismatic frontman, I started by asking if it was it intended to be like this? A cognitive compensation perhaps, or did the themes they cover in the material just naturally merit the sound?
We had always intended to make album number 15 an electric affair. We have talked about an acoustic album of original songs but if we were to do it then we’d try to do it properly and make an acoustic record that reflects another aesthetic of the band. It would have to be of the lineage of Slint, Bonnie Prince Billy, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Johnny Cash, Hilary Woods, Townes Van Zandt. It’s something that we’d definitely like to make happen in the future.
Again using the acoustic set as a basis, would you say it’s altered how you sing? 15 studio albums in it’s obvious you’re not going to be unused to performing but to my ears, the vocal on Cleave appears crisper. Is that purely production or is there something that, having been stripped down to the basics, has bled over and insinuated itself into techniques?
Singing so much over the last few years, including the acoustic shows, has kept my voice in regular use. Rehearsing at home with an acoustic and giving up smoking years ago have also helped. My voice has a tendency towards a ‘dry’ sound so I have to be careful and have lots of hot drinks with honey and lemon. Back in the day I used to take speed, drink cider, smoke weed and cigarettes. I’m surprised I could even talk never mind sing.
The lead single, ‘Callow’, talks of mental health. I was reminded of Stephen Fry talking of bipolar, and how without it he would never have been so creative. The positives can outweigh the negatives. There is ambiguity in the song. The “medicine” could be a perceived as a person thrusting their version of help, or it could indeed be the use of a pharmaceutical product. The whole song could be a reference to how medicating can leave someone no longer themselves, because without the “demons” the “angels” also cease to be thus negating the whole personality of the individual and leaving them basically, to paraphrase, catatonic and blankly staring at a wall…. or of course it could just be referencing a person who is being told “Stop trying to change me!”. Is it one, the other, or both?
“It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing-they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”
I presume this is the quote? This is part of the inspiration for the song as when I first read it was was immediately sent back to my own, troubled, early years and indeed some of the turbulent episodes in recent times. In the lyrics I’m using ‘medicine’ metaphorically. From my own experience neither drugs or self-medication helped and therapy had only limited success.
All of these things seemed to involve removing the spark of my creativity. Yes, I had terrifying lows that followed the euphoric highs but at least in a small window I would have been enabled to do something positive like writing lyrics, coming up with a melody or playing new music. Adopting a lifestyle free of narcotics and introducing a better diet and exercise worked for me but it took a long, long time. Some friends of mine have got better recoveries from their own turmoil by taking various drugs. Change has to come from within regardless of the catalyst being self-propelled or officially administered. We would surely all like to come through the other side with our unique identities still intact.
How many people do you think will google ‘Kakistocracy’ upon seeing the title? It’s a word which has been used over the last few months a lot referring to Trump and May quite rightly in my opinion. Was it a word you already knew or did you search for something which summed up what you were looking for? Entertainingly, my spellchecker wants to convert it to “Aristocracy”.
I hope everybody Googles it! I came across the word in a novel I was reading a few years ago and wrote it down in one of my notebooks. The nature of the song seemed a perfect fit for the title although the word ‘Kakistocracy’ doesn’t lend itself to vocalisation in a melody. That’s interesting about your spellchecker. Fine lines…
‘Kakistocracy’ is suitably angry. I currently live in Wolverhampton, where homelessness is something everyone encounters if they venture into the city centre. We live in a world where frankly no-one has to be homeless, but the powers that be judge that “fiscal viability” trumps humanity and so chooses not to give people a roof. Should there be more bands putting out songs like this? I recall a few years ago Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name of’ becoming Christmas No.1 due to a public drive. Perhaps something more akin to ‘Kakistocracy’ might make a difference if pushed down a similar route if enough angry could be harnessed?
We would love it if the people got behind this but that’s up to the people themselves. If they want to involve the masses and rally round this song to highlight the plight of homelessness then we would be delighted and fully support it. The age of Kakistocracy unfortunately goes hand-in-hand with apathy so it’ll take a few determined souls to get the ball rolling. No one in this century should be homeless. My wife works with homeless people on a daily basis and says that most of us in the West are only three events or three missed pay-cheques away from a similar fate.
‘Crutch’ is my favourite song on the album. It reminds me of ‘Unrequited’ and personally reminds me of exactly the same person it did 20+ years ago on ‘Troublegum’. Do you do that with songs? Write something specifically as a progression of something you’ve previously done? ‘No Sunshine’ felt like a nod to your spectacularly maudlin version of ‘You are my Sunshine…’ too.
I don’t do it intentionally but I suppose coming from the same psyche there will be an element of a feedback of emotions rising and falling and fading in and out of consciousness as different events happen in life. ‘Unbeliever’ dealt with the huge insecurity I felt in my earlier years and a mindset of resignation moulded from years of rejection and regret. ‘Crutch’ is dealing with my addictive personality, specifically my relationship with alcohol.
More than any other drug it is this one which has caused the most damage in my life. Any catastrophic events from my past usually involve the booze. It was always so easy and never involved calling a dodgy dealer yet it has wrecked relationships and fucked up my work so very many times. Ive also been unfortunate to know people who have died from alcoholism and grew up in a housing estate in County Antrim where drinking was indulged as a sacred panacea when in reality it was tearing homes apart. Maybe there is a weariness in the vocal delivery because with an alcoholic their behaviour becomes tiring and predictable.
Speaking of cover versions, are there any songs you’d like to cover, or conversely wish you hadn’t… Abba’s ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ perhaps?
We love that Abba cover! It’s an amazing song, not as good as S.O.S mind. We play covers in rehearsal all the time, usually to warm up at the start of a session. Tackling Abba, OMD etc are a lot more fun that running through hackneyed rock covers. We don’t know what we’ll try next.
‘Cleave’ is an album I think could easily be grabbed by people and used as an outlet, a vent, just like ‘Troublegum’ was and probably still is. It’s full of relatable and recognisable themes, and because of this it hits home hard to the listener. Music gives a person self-expression even though it’s not that person who wrote it. It gives them a point of reference and a way to present how they’re feeling to someone else where their own words might fail. I doubt very much this is accidental. Perhaps, it might be time to drop the question mark and instead use an exclamation mark instead?
Thanks for your kind comments, that means a lot especially as music helps me through life on a daily basis. It’s a magic glue that seems to keep us from fraying too far.
As for dropping the question mark and replacing it with the exclamation mark… noble an idea as it is we would have some explaining to do for the legions of Therapy? fans who have question mark tattoos. Joking aside, our fans are the reason we’re still here. Without them we would be nothing. Thanks from all of Therapy? to all at Über Rock.
• ‘Cleave’ is out now. You can get your copy HERE.
Therapy? tour in November:
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