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Interview with Michael McKeegan (Therapy?)

Irish rockers Therapy? are set to release A Brief Crack of Light, their long-awaited new album and first since the highly acclaimed Crooked Timber in 2009. Formed in 1989 by singer and guitarist Andy Cairns with drummer Fyfe Ewing and bassist Michael McKeegan, the band first gained minor exposure with two mini-albums and a major label debut before breaking into the mainstream with 1994’s Troublegum. Following the hit singles Die Laughing and Trigger Inside (as well as fan favourite Screamager), the band returned a year later with Infernal Love, which would include the tongue-in-cheek Loose and the controversial ballad Diane.

After the release of two further studio albums, Semi-Detached and Suicide Pact—You First, Therapy? issued a decade-spanning retrospective entitled So Much for the Ten Year Plan, which in some ways would mark the end of their commercial era and the band’s retreat from the charts. During this time they would produce a series of underrated albums, most notably 2004’s Never Apologise Never Explain, before releasing a two-disc live record entitled We’re Here to the End. In anticipation of A Brief Crack of Light, Therapy? issued a new single, Living in the Shadow of the Terrible Thing, which initially made its debut during a series of live shows last year.

Michael McKeegan looks back on twenty years in the industry and the making of Therapy?‘s latest album.

In 2000 Therapy? released So Much for the Ten Year Plan, which compiled fan favourites from the band’s first decade together. Having produced five more studio albums since then, did you consider releasing a second retrospective to document your next ten years?

People have been asking for a live album pretty much since the band started and when we knew our 20th anniversary was coming up we thought that was as good a time as any to do one. It was a great experience recording it as we did three specific gigs in the Water Rats club in London, the crowd were well up for it and I think that energy really translates onto the album. The tracklist has everything from our very first single right up to the (then) latest album with all the hits, b-sides and other stuff thrown in; it’s a pretty comprehensive tracklisting.

Having not been as much of a singles-orientated group as you were in the 1990s, how has downloading and file sharing affected how you market and release your music and have you felt a negative influence from how music is now obtained?

To be honest I never really saw us as a ‘singles’ band, though we have had quite a lot of ‘hits’ so to speak. The main artistic focus was always to make albums which were meant to be listened to as a whole. Having said that, the success of the singles really helped with drawing attention to the band profile and the albums they were on especially when we were starting out in the 1990s. The whole file sharing/illegal downloading thing is a massive subject so I’m not going to even try and get into it in this short interview but I do think there are a lot of positives with the new ways music can be accessed online. We’ve embraced the bits of it we feel comfortable with and the ones which we think can get our music out to the people who like it. One of my main problems is that due to the sheer amount of music people can access the attention span has got so very short (and I am including myself here!), hence a lot of people only give new records a cursory listen, skipping through the intros and the like. We’re lucky in that our dedicated fans like to get more into our records and (hopefully!) have a more ‘immersive’ listening experience, not just flick through and listen to the most immediately ‘catchy’ tunes for example.

Andy Cairns has said that The Head That Tried to Strangle Itself first started life as a techno tune called Dooms Night, while Teethgrinder also had a dance feel to the rhythm section. Do you feel that in some ways you are just as inspired by dance music as you are by rock?

Regardless of genre I think if it’s good we’ll enjoy and possibly be inspired by it. I think a lot of bands get caught up in only listening to ‘their’ genre. I think that’s limiting your scope and range of inspiration somewhat. Books, movies and art also have a major bearing on how we approach our songs, not so much a literal influence but just a thought, a vibe, emotion or an atmosphere that they all can provoke.

With ticket prices becoming ridiculously expensive in some venues do you feel that you have to work harder to give your audience value for their money?

Definitely! There are also so many bands out touring now we always try and make sure our shows are as brilliant as they can be. Not necessarily explosions and stuff like that, but we like to keep the energy level as high as possible and to ensure that everyone has a good time. I hate to go see a band I like grinding out the songs looking like they’d rather be somewhere else.

Do you ever grow tired of Therapy? and have you considered a music career outside of the band?

There’s actually so much going on with Therapy? I doubt I’d ever grow bored of it. We always tried to do what we liked and play the music we love so I think that contributes immensely to why we love it. Outside of music I haven’t really ever considered anything else… I’ve been doing this since I was nineteen-years-old so I’m pretty much a ‘lifer’ at this stage. Solo project? I enjoy the band environment, the gang mentality, the camaraderie and the way everyone can put a unique twist on the music.

Could you imagine Therapy? venturing into a different medium, such as scoring soundtracks to movies or computer games?

Yeah, something like that would be a good experience. As with all these things it’s a matter of the right project and the timing. We’re always open to offers of more left of field things.

Having recorded eleven full-length albums over the last two decades, there are a lot of songs that do not make it into your set lists and more casual fans are not as familiar with. Out of your entire repertoire which songs are your personal favourites and which encapsulate the true spirit of the band?

Wow, that’s a tough one; I do like them all for different reasons, that’s the cool thing about having so many albums. I suppose I’ve really enjoyed the albums we’ve done with Neil in the band. When he joined and we stripped back to a three-piece it was like we formed a new band. All the energy and drive came sharply into focus and I think we’ve really nailed the sound on Crooked Timer and the new A Brief Crack of Light album.

How involved are you with fan interaction on your website and social network sites? Now more than ever musicians can receive real time feedback from their fan base, is this something you make the most of?

It really depends. I don’t like the band to bombard people with too much stuff, especially if it’s not really that interesting. Obviously if we’ve news or info or something to share then we’ll let people know, but I’m not so interested in bothering folks with what the weathers like, for example, unless it’s particularly out of the ordinary! Some artists really work it big time, that’s cool as well.

How does your upcoming album A Brief Crack of Light differ from your previous releases and do you write albums with an overall theme or do the song have no relation to each other?

I think the album themes normally become apparent once the record is finished and we get a chance to listen to it as a whole. This one is similar, I wasn’t aware of any ‘main’ theme until I heard the mastered/sequenced version a few times and then I picked up on some clear musical and lyrical threads running through it.

You are set to perform a series of five dates in the UK in April following the release of the album. Do you intend on adding more dates later in the year and are you hoping to appear at some festivals to perform your new material?

Absolutely, we’re working on more dates at the minute. We’re really looking forward to those shows in April, they’re kind’ve like ‘dipping our toes’ with regard to the ABCOL record as we’re the special guests to Skindred. I think the plan is to do a headline tour later in the year; we’ll have a longer stage time for example and will represent more of the new stuff (and obviously older stuff, both well-known and obscure) at those shows.

Having been together for so many years, would you say that each album represents a specific period in your life, both as a band and an individual?

I suppose so; when I look back or hear a certain album it really does conjure up images of what was going on within the band and in my personal life at the time. Hence some albums I really enjoying listening to and some I always associate with maybe some not so great times; it’s funny to have that kind’ve ‘document’ of where you are as a person and as a musician.

Therapy?

Therapy?

Over recent years vinyl has enjoyed something of a revival, do you still listen to your old vinyl and do you think it is a shame that downloading has slowly replaced the experience of buying a CD and LP and looking through the artwork?

Man, myself and the rest of the band absolutely love vinyl! Unfortunately, on a purely practical level, it’s hard to travel with vinyl, so that tends to cut down on the on tour record splurging… a real pity as we get to visit some killer vinyl shops. For me personally I do buy vinyl, I do buy CDs, but the majority of my music I buy online, purely for convenience and ease of access. Some of the more obscure stuff can work out really expensive when it has to be shipped from Europe or further afield. And yes, we were delighted when our label wanted to do a limited vinyl of our new album; the coloured disc looks great, really pleased with it.

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