Interviewed by Adrian Hextall (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
With their 5th album about to be released and the tenth anniversary of their acclaimed debut ‘Rise’ upon us as well, it’s already shaping up to be a great year for Northern Ireland’s The Answer. To tell us a little about what they have in store for fans and what the new album ‘Raise A Little Hell’ means to them, Myglobalmind spoke to front man Cormac Neeson.
MGM Let’s begin with the new album ‘Raise A Little Hell’. I’m sure that’s something you’re excited about and want to talk about. It’s due out March 6th, isn’t it?
Cormac It is, indeed. Yes. That’s correct.
MGM Listening to it, it seems or feels, to me, to be a little bit more rock and roll, similar in style to The Faces and The Who. It felt like you were stepping away from the Zeppelin-esque vibe that you’d been compared to in the past?
Cormac It’s one of our more diverse albums. The Who is not a bad reference because those guys always made great records with a lot of different flavours, a lot of light and shade on there. They’re one of those bands that we rarely get mentioned in the same paragraph as, but at the same time, we have listened to a lot of The Who, especially in our earlier days, and they had a lot of influence on album number one. We even used to dabble with different samplers, 808 samples and stuff, in our quest to fame, the follow-up to Baba O’Reilly. You’re not the first person to draw that comparison, with this record, so it’s good that those influences are coming through.
Also, it’s one of those records where you hear our influences. We’re doing great bands, like The Who, justice but at the same time, we have gotten quite good at managing to carve out our own little slice of rock and roll real estate. This is album number five, and we’ve been working hard, for all these years, really trying to develop our own sound and our own identity. When you play rock and roll music, it’s important that you’re trying to do something fresh. We have finally go that balance just right between tipping our hats to the bands that we’ve listened to all our lives, but, also being able to stamp out what it is that we actually do, our own sound, our own identity.
MGM Absolutely. The album definitely has a very fresh sound. It’s also a very big sound, as well. The production side of things sounds absolutely fantastic. Who did you work with on that… It has an awful lot of depth to it.
Cormac We worked with a guy called Guillermo “Will” Maya, who is a long-term friend and a guy that’s been involved in our work since our first record. He was the in-house engineer at Albert Productions, who we were signed to for our first two records. If you scan across our back catalogue, Will’s name comes up quite a bit. He’s also the one of these guys, as soon as he hears, gets a sniff that we’re making a record, he’ll be the first guy on the phone, saying “I’m in”. We haven’t given him a whole record, until now. It was in keeping with the spirit of this particular project in that we didn’t over think things. If it sounds right, we just went for it, and Will felt right. We’re good friends. He knows the band. He knows what kind of songwriters we are, how to get the best performances out of us, and those kinds of sensibilities really shine through in this record because he knew what guitar tones Paul needed and what microphones I should be using. He just got us from A to B an awful lot quicker because of his in-depth knowledge of the band.
MGM What took you down to Spain to do it? Is that where he’s based? Or did you just fancy Madrid because it got you away from everything?
Cormac We really fancied Madrid. He’s recently renovated his great grandmother’s Spanish villa. It was actually a town just north of Madrid, up in the mountains. He’s turned this place into a residential studio, but still held onto to a lot of the old features of the building. There’s a lot of atmosphere around the place, a very particular vibe. We were able to move in there and sleep, eat, drink and, most importantly, make music, all under the one roof. That was fantastic. It did help that, as soon as we arrived, the annual Fiesta kicked off, which meant, essentially, getting up at 10:00 in the morning, going and watching bulls through the town, with a load of crazy Spanish people running ahead, before these bulls, going back to the studio and working for 12 hours. In the meantime, the rest of the time, just got completely messed for a week. I’m talking craziest St. Patrick’s Day ever fest, you know?
Then we go away for a couple beers, around midnight, and clear our heads. The whole time, we’d just be a walking and talking.
It all fed into the general vibe of the project and made for a really fun experience. Recording a record has to be fun. That’s why we do it. It’s the joy of making music. The location really enhanced that for us, this time around.
MGM I’m not surprised. Listening to the album, you can certainly here that energy, and “fun” would be the right word. You can tell you guys are really into this. You’re enjoying doing it. It doesn’t sound like you’re going through the motions or anything.
Cormac It’s always a danger, when you’re five records in, that you could get a little complacent and, as you say, possibly go through the motions. Every record, for us, is a fresh challenge. The big challenge, every time, is making it sound fresh, keep things interesting for us and keeping that hunger alive. I think we did it. It reminded me a lot of writing our first-ever record, whenever we were just music for the sheer hell of it, the joy of it. It recaptured that sentiment.
That’s definitely helped this record.
MGM I agree with that. It’s also your second one on Napalm, isn’t it?
Cormac Yes. We just signed up for another two records with those guys. It’s good to have a bit of stability, as well. Behind the scenes was quite volatile for us, for a while, with changes in management, labels and everything else that was going on. Again, to have a stable platform and a label that’s committed to a shared vision – and will support you, financially, which is really important – and lets us get on with doing what we do best, which is making music.
MGM If they’ve signed you up for another two, the commitment is clearly there, on their side. That has to be a positive for you because it means you don’t have to worry about those sort of things and you can focus on the music, can’t you?
Cormac Absolutely. It’s quite rare for a record label to make that level of commitment, in the modern music business. It seems pretty old school, and that fits us just right.
MGM In terms of promotion and the like, on the back of it, as well, I’m assuming there will be a 2015 tour on the back of it all.
Cormac For sure. The tour kicks off on the day of the album’s release, on March 6th in Belfast. That takes us all around the UK, over the month of March. Then we head to Europe for the month of April, and America, for May. We have a bunch of big, summer festivals over a large part of the summer, and then we head back to the states, again. The next six months are really busy, but that’s why we do it. It’s always great taking an album’s worth of new material on the road.
MGM In terms of your tour, is that with you guys headlining or as you’ve done in the past, where you’ve managed to pick up a really decent support slot with one of the big stadium acts?
Cormac It’s very much our own headline tour. We have been lucky in the past and picked up a lot big support slots, but there comes a time where you have to step up to the plate, yourself. Our heads are very much in a place, now, where it’s all the better, our own headline show.
MGM If we go backwards, on the big tours that you’ve done, I saw you back in November 2004 supporting The Darkness, at Brixton Academy, that being the first time I ever saw you. After that, you played at Hyde Park Calling with Aerosmith headlining. Of course, you had the AC/DC world tour, have those bigger tours and bigger support slots been helpful? Or do they become slightly detrimental in the fact that you’re never actually playing to your own crowd? You’re just hoping to pick some new fans up?
Cormac That’s the age-old question. It definitely has done us no harm. You get out there, and you put your name out there to a lot of people. All those gigs that you’ve mentioned, especially gigs like The Darkness and the Aerosmith gigs, our fans who come to our shows now, they still talk about those being the shows where they first saw us and have been hooked ever since. It’s a very positive experience for everybody involved because it gets our name out there. Also, you learn a thing or two, watching those guys do their thing up there. They’ve been doing it for so many years, and they’re masters of the art. You learn a few things about your stage presence and whatnot. You learn from the big acts as well, because they’re playing hit after hit every night, and that rubs off on you, as a musician and a songwriter.
The AC/DC tour, it was the best year and a half of my life, but there came a time where we did have to go to the guys and say, “Listen. We’ve had a good time here, but we need to get off this tour, go back and make record, and get back to building our thing, from the ground up.” It is a bubble. You can get lost in the bubble and never return. I think we called it just about right. We had 118 shows with those guys. Once the third or fourth American leg wrapped up, it felt like it was time to go home, make our third record and get back on the road, doing our own thing. We have had the best of both worlds.
MGM I presume, when you are working so hard on a tour, your ability to write does diminish. Does it?
Cormac It kind of does, but at the same time, we came off that tour with a whole new set of life experiences to draw on. You’re doing a tour, having your eyes and ears open. While you maybe don’t have the space and pace to really get down to the actual shaping of songs, you’re picking up ideas along the way. You’re recording rifts and melodies on your phone and stuff. Then you come back, and you take all that into the studio. That forms the beginning of the writing process.
MGM By being able to get off it, and then focus on it, it helps you freshen up and put your energies back into building your own brand and your own music back up again.
Cormac Absolutely. That’s the cycle with business. You write a record, and you record it. Then you take it out on the road. Then you get back to the studio, 12 months later, and start all over, again. That’s the way it’s been, for the last 10 years, for us. We’re old hands at it now.
MGM With the ‘Rise’ 10th anniversary upon us, and the fans that still talk about things like the tour with The Darkness where that was launched. Is there an anticipation you might do something to celebrate that?
Cormac Hopefully, we won’t be too busy to celebrate it. It’s not so much the 10-year thing as it is we have five records done and we’re still going strong. That’s pretty amazing. If you said to me, 10 years ago, that “You are going to go on, make five records and still be doing your thing,” I would have taken that. We have been given the opportunity to do that, and have the support to get in and make so much music. It was the dream, as a kid, whenever we first got into this band. This is what we wanted to be doing. To have the chance to go ahead and do it is pretty special.
MGM That’s got to be the right answer. There will be a lot of bands out there that would purely focus on “This was our big début album. It got loads of great reviews. We should just take that back out on tour.” As you say, you have this really fresh-sounding, big, new album, rightly so. You will be excited about playing as many songs off that as possible, on the upcoming tour, as well.
Cormac We will, for sure. We’ve always very much been a band that looked forward, rather than back. We always try to keep improving what we do. We’re always trying to increase our foundation, and take the band and the band’s music to the next level. That doesn’t change just because it’s coming up to the 10th anniversary of our début album.
MGM Just going back to that time, you picked up the award with Classic Rock, for best new band. Did that prove a good thing? Or did it hang, as a little bit of a lead weight, around your neck? Was there almost too much expectation and put you too much in the spotlight, whilst you were trying to develop your own thing? Or did it really work in your favour, and that’s one of the things that helped you land the big tours?
Cormac Awards, accolades and stuff like that, we don’t really ever give it too much thought. We just get on with doing what we do. Whenever we talk about it, here and there, it was a very positive moment for the band. We hadn’t even released our début album when we picked up the Classic Rock Award, so it really helped propel us to a certain extent. It definitely helped us to get early tours, like The Darkness and the bigger tours as well. It was all part of a strong platform from which we launched our careers.
MGM In terms of the upcoming tour, you’re taking around the UK, do you know what you’re doing in terms of venue sizes? I presume you’re going to be taking London in.
Cormac In London, we’re playing the Islington Academy, this time around. The London shows are always great for us. The last couple of times were sold out at the Electric Ballroom. This time, we picked Islington because we’re running a pledge, pre-order campaign with this record. Part of the pre-order is a post-London show, acoustic gig. Islington Academy has the benefit of having a couple of venues under one roof. We’re playing to the main stage. We’ll get up and play our plugged in rock and roll show. Then, when we’ve ended there, the smaller venue, play a bit of an acoustic show and have a bit of an after party. It’s all tying in to that campaign.
The venues, in general, yes, you’re talking like Islington Academy, those venues. The UK is a great place to start an album campaign because that’s where it all began for us. We get a lot of love, when we travel around, from city to city. We’re looking forward to getting started.
MGM Who are you taking on tour with you?
Cormac A band called Bad Touch, who are an up-and-coming Black Crowes-esque rock and roll band, who we played with at Steelhouse Festival over the summer of 2014. They introduced themselves. They were lovely guys, put on a great show and we thought –
MGM “We could work with you”?
MGM Sounds like it could be a good fit, as well. It’s not just a case of your label, for example, throwing another one of their bands onto your tour because they need you both out. You actually have somebody you want to play with.
Cormac Yes. We would generally have a lot of freedom in those kinds of areas. We can choose our support acts because, at the end of day, we’re going to be looking at these guys and listening to them play, night after night, for a month. They have to be good, and we have to be compatible.
MGM Is that something you guys like to do? A lot of your headline acts, the bigger the bands get, the more they only ever seem to almost fly into the venue at the very last minute and then come on-stage, for their own show. Do you guys like to go out, hear your support bands playing and watch them live, as well?
Cormac I very much do. That’s part of the whole experience, being able to go watch a good band play for 45 minutes, before you get up and do your thing. I love discovering new bands. I love coming across bands that I’ve never heard before, and they get up there and blow me away. I always have my eyes and ears open, so I’m always looking out for new talent. After the show, we’re definitely not the kind of band that jumps straight into the car and gets shipped off to our hotels. We like going to merchandise stall at the front, go to the table or somewhere like that, then have a few beers. Anybody that wants to come and hang out, come up and say hello and get their record signed, or whatever they want to do…
MGM That’s a nice touch. You know it’s appreciated, as well, I think.
Cormac We’ve done that from day one. We will continue to do it for as long as people want to talk to us.
MGM You mentioned the love of discovering new bands. Who have you found and who would you recommend?
Cormac Cadillac Three would be my big discovery of 2014. They are a band from Nashville. They played with us at Planet Rockstock, over in Wales, in December. They are a down and dirty blues/rock and roll band, from Nashville, who write really good songs. If you haven’t heard them, I would definitely recommend checking them out. This album is called Tennessee Mojo, their début album. The title track is one of the dirtiest blues-rock songs you’re ever going to hear.
MGM Thank you for that. I’ll check that one out. Thanks very much for your time.
Cormac Thanks, very much.
The Answer start their UK Tour in Belfast on Friday March 6th