Interview by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
We spoke with Andy Cairns [Vocals/Guitar] of Irish band Therapy? before their second of two shows at the Button Factory in Dublin. He told us about why they play so rarely on their native island and what inspired him to write anthemic tracks like ‘Screamager’ when he was still a schoolboy.
Alan: Hi Andy. It’s a pleasure to meet you. How was the first Dublin show last night?
Andy: It was really good. We weren’t sure how it was going to go. Obviously tonight was the first show that was booked, so that sold really well and it was sold out. Last night wasn’t looking as if it was going to be that busy, and then on the night it was. I was surprised. We played the Infernal Love thing, and it was a very polite audience to start with, but then we realised that it’s a very dark record and people were just standing there listening. I could see everyone singing all the words and I think the album meant a lot to people. Then when we came on for the second mixed set people went bananas and started jumping about. It was an amazing gig.
Alan: Did you bring a cello with you?
Andy: We didn’t, no. We looked into it. One of the reasons Therapy? is still around is because we’ve always been clever with budgeting. And we looked into bringing a cellist, but a cellist is 300 quid a day plus flights and expenses. If we were playing the 3 Arena, then maybe, but when you’re doing two nights at the Button Factory, it doesn’t make sense to spend 1500 quid. So we have a sampler and we have a keyboard with a synth. So the sounds are all there, they’re just not played organically.
Alan: When you started rehearsals for the Infernal Love shows, were there any tracks that maybe you hadn’t played in a while, that caught you by surprise? Like an old friend that you had forgotten about?
Andy: There’s a track called ‘Bowels of Love’ which we had never played live, even when that album was out. We had to get my guitar technician to play the guitar part because there’s a cello on it, so I have to play it on the synthesiser. So that took a bit of work. And also because it’s like a Nick Cave ballad, it’s very unlike anything Therapy? does, so that’s quite a surprise. It went down well last night, but you could see that people didn’t know whether they wanted hold up a lighter or sway their arms or just stand there. And then some of the other ones, like ‘Me Vs You’, which we didn’t play very much when the album was out either, sound great. It probably sounds better now than it did when we originally played it.
Alan: Do the songs still feel relevant to you, considering you wrote them so long ago?
Andy: It’s hard singing the lyrics, because it was such a really really awful time in my life. It was horrible. 1995 was probably the worst year of my life. Thinking back, when I’m singing the lyrics, about why I wrote them in the first place, and that’s quite difficult. But as I said on stage last night, I made a point of saying that we can wallow in self-pity or we can turn tonight into a celebration. So we try to get people to sing along and turn it on its head a little. I think it was something that needed to be done and it’s out there. It’s not a comfortable record. We played Troublegum a few years ago, and it’s such an anthemic album, and it’s a joy to play that because everybody knows all the words and it’s a big party. Infernal Love is a bit different because it means a lot of things to different people and we also said last night that some people who love that record were probably going through a bad period in their lives themselves at the time, and they would listen to that record at 4am in the morning on headphones in the dark. So to come and see me jumping around on stage like a buffoon, maybe wasn’t what they had in their mind when they were going to come and see it.
Alan: The last time we saw you playing in Dublin was a few years ago on Georges Dock. That was an unusual gig.
Andy: My trousers split! We were all wearing suits and four songs in, my trousers split all the way from the backside to the crotch. I had to do the rest of the gig hoping my guitar wouldn’t give away any secrets. But that was good fun. We knew exactly what it was. We didn’t come over expecting it to be Live Aid. We knew it was a tourist thing. There were people who didn’t know who the band were, and it was free. But it was good craic. I enjoyed it and the people that were there seemed to enjoy it.
Alan: I have seen you say that the reason you don’t play more here in Ireland is simply because you’re not asked. I find that very surprising. Do you?
Andy: Yeah. Especially festivals. Even in the North. We never get asked. People like us here. We play club gigs. They sell well. People play us on the radio here, not as much as they did, but we still get played. We get interviewed like people like yourselves. But festivals won’t touch us with a barge pole.
Alan: But would you want to play a festival like Electric Picnic anyway?
Andy: I’d like to give the band a chance for the new generation to hear us. We do get younger people coming through, especially in mainland Europe. We’ve just come back from a tour there and Disquiet got really great reviews. Most of the shows were sold out and there’s younger people coming along to the shows. I’m so glad we have a generation of fans that like us in Ireland, but it’d be nice to give us a chance to reach a fresh set of ears.
Alan: As a fan I’ve always been surprised by how few Irish gigs you play, given that you’re from this island.
Andy: It’s bizarre. Every year we say to our management and our agent “What festivals are coming up? Can we play?” But no-one asks. We’ve even had our agent call agents over here and say “Why not?” And they say “Maybe not this year”. No-one’s ever come out and said “You know what, they’re crap. I don’t like them”. I would take it a lot easier if I met an Irish promoter who said “Your band’s crap. You’ll never play a festival again.” And I would think ok, they don’t get us. But people always say “Oh, great bunch of lads, great band, and we know all the tunes”.
Alan: Maybe you fall between two stools. You’re not pop and you’re not metal.
Andy: It’s one of those things. Two years ago we did Hellfest and we went onstage and we had a full crowd and the crowd went mental. And next year we’re doing Wacken in Germany. We can do that and then we can also play an Indie festival in Hamburg among people like Sonic Youth. Some people have a misconception of the band. Some people in the Indie world think of Therapy? and they assume that we’re like Sepultura or Pantera. Not that we don’t love those bands, but they think it’s de-tuned and aggressive. And then some people in the metal world think it’s not heavy enough. We don’t have long hair, we don’t have the spikes.
Alan: Is your plan to continue playing Infernal Love in the new year or will you focus on Disquiet?
Andy: I think we’ve got seven Infernal Love shows in the UK, because the UK heard that we were doing shows at home and they got in touch and said “You’re only doing London. Can you not play Sheffield and Scotland?” So we said we’d do seven there for the fanbase in the UK and I think there might be a couple in Holland and Belgium. But then that’ll be it. That’ll be enough of Infernal Love at that point. I know we’re releasing a double A-side as a physical single in March. We’re doing ‘Tides’ and ‘Insecurity’. So we’ll hopefully pencil in some more gigs on the back of that.
Alan: So now you’ve done anniversary tours for Troublegum and Infernal Love. Do you see yourself doing anniversary tour for other albums coming up like Semi-Detached and Suicide Pact?
Andy: I think because, worldwide, they’re our biggest selling records, I suppose that’s why we were asked to do those shows. It depends what the circumstances are. If someone wanted us to playing a Semi-Detached show, we’d have to think. It was done as a four-piece with a different drummer and with a cellist and rhythm guitarist. What would we do? Would we get a friend in to play guitar and cello. I don’t really know. To be honest, our reasoning behind doing those two albums was, as you said earlier, trying to get shows in Ireland was nearly impossible, and we thought if we do things like this, it might help. So we did a sold-out show on Troublegum in Vicar Street hoping we’d get a festival on the back of it. We didn’t [laughs]. So we’re doing the same thing with Infernal Love. Probably next year we’ll not get asked to do any festivals. I’d rather do a varied set. These things are a necessary evil really. Don’t get me wrong, fans absolutely love it, and it’s good to revisit the old songs, but unless something really special comes up… I’ve always thought Suicide Pact – You First would be a good album to do live, but then again it wasn’t a very big seller. The fans that like us, love it, but would we get 200 people in Dublin if we played it live? You have to think is, “Is it pleasing for band and fans?” The one thing that we’re always aware of is we don’t want to do something half-arsed, because it’s not fair on fans. Especially in Ireland where people travel from all over the country. I don’t want somebody coming up from Cork or the west to see us and for it to be a shambles and have them waste all that money and time.
Alan: I saw you played a gig in Utrecht recently and it was recorded for a 360VR project. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Andy: The people that work at our new record label Amazing Records, they’re younger people than we’ve worked with before. We’re getting to that stage now where we’ve been around 26 years, and when we sign to a record company, everybody at the record company is younger than we are. It used to be the other way around. And they’re pushing this Google-box technology. We were touring Disquiet earlier this year and there had already been talk about releasing ‘Tides’ as a single at some point. And some people involved with the label got access to the technology and they filmed the sold-out show in Utrecht. They filmed not just the ‘Tides’ song but the rest of the concert. The ‘Tides’ footage will come out as part of the single next March, but at some point the whole thing will be available, maybe online, so it won’t be like a DVD. We did see a demo of it. We were given the headsets and we watched it. My 16 year old son who loves technology was very impressed. We haven’t released a physical single in quite a few years. I think 2009 was the last time. So this one’s actually going to be available in the shops. Good old-fashioned CD as well as the download.
Alan: You’ve covered quite a few songs over the years. Did you play with any during the Disquiet recording sessions?
Andy: Not really. We had been playing a bit with a few different songs. There’s a song by an electronic artist Burial called ‘Pirates’ and we did a version of that but it was really sparse. It was just drums and a bit of guitar feedback. We’d have to tweak it if we ever released it. Live, we did a cover version of the Britney Spears song ‘Everytime’; the one that’s in Spring Breakers. We only did it for a laugh one night. But that’s it really. There’s a couple of things we wouldn’t mind having a look at. Whenever we rehearse, we do covers all the time. If someone’s been listening to something, we’ll play bits and pieces. There’s an electronic artist called Sophie and it’s very very pop. The last track of the album is called ‘Just Like we Never Said Goodbye’, and it’s got that chipmunk thing with the vocals. But if The Cars or Weezer had covered it, we’d be talking about it. I’d love to do a cover of it, because the version on the album is a synthesizer and a voice and a couple of drum hits, but it’s an amazing pop-punk song. Not even pop-punk, it sounds like new-wave. The album only came out about six weeks ago. If you listen to it, the first thing you’ll hear is that chipmunk voice and you’ll think “oh god, that’s awful pop”, but when you listen to the melody it’s a really clever song.
Alan: What one album changed your life the most?
Andy: The first album, as opposed to a single, was Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures, because I was into the Buzzcocks and the Pistols and the Clash, but I was too young to have been there when it happened first time. I was thirteen years of age when Unknown Pleasures came out, and I got it, and it was this mysterious thing. And I suppose I was becoming an adolescent then and I began to get hung up on stuff. So that was the first record where the lyrics meant so much. I found out that Ian Curtis read J. G. Ballard, so I’d go into the school library and try and find that. He would talk about T. S. Elliot so I’d get The Waste Land. And that was probably the first record that changed my life. I bought myself a bass guitar and started to teach myself to play, and started to write songs because of that record. The main riff from ‘Screamager’ was originally a bass line I wrote when I was about fifteen. Same thing for ‘Die Laughing’ and ‘Opal Mantra’, those were bass lines I had written. So that’s probably what turned me into a musician.
Alan: And what three albums could you not live without?
Andy: An album by the Electronic artist Burial called Untrue. Big Black – Atomizer. And The Ramones – It’s Alive.
Alan: And is there any band that you would love to tour with?
Andy: As a band opening for us, or just being on tour, I really like a three-piece band called Nervosas from Ohio. An incredible band. Mickey, the guitarist has got such an unusual guitar style. She’s just great. I think the fellow that plays bass and sings is originally from Dublin, but he moved to Ohio when he was fifteen. And it’s really wired. It’s a bit like The Wipers. Bits are like Joy Division, but it’s punky. Regarding doing shows, I’d love to do a tour with Queens of the Stone Age.
Alan: The current line-up or the early line-up?
Andy: Any line-up, but my favourite Queens of the Stone Age record is the first album. We saw them playing at the Hurricane festival and they were a three-piece and that record had bits of early Buzzcocks and bits of Sabbath. Tracks like ‘The Bronze’ which has got an incredible guitar solo, I preferred all that a lot more than Rated-R and Songs for the Deaf. So probably that line-up.
Alan: Have you anything you would like to say to your Irish fans who don’t get to see you very often?
Andy: Well, if last night was any indication… Just watching the faces in the Button Factory smiling… The amount of support… I walked down to the gig and I got a load of people coming up to me saying thanks for coming back. All I can say is thanks so much for the support. Sorry we haven’t done more gigs. Sorry we haven’t’ played more festivals. We would love to.
Alan: Well we hope to see you again soon.
Andy: I hope so too. We like coming to Dublin. We like coming to Cork. There was talk earlier this year about doing an Irish tour; doing Galway, Castlebar again. We’d love that. It is out of our hands. But hopefully if the people who put tonight’s gig are watching then maybe we’ll get a call.
Alan: Well we’ll wrap it up there. Thanks very much for taking the time.
Andy: See you later. Have a good night.