Interview: A Therapy? session with Michael McKeegan.
When one talks about the music scene in Northern Ireland, there really hasn’t been one band or artist more dominant throughout the 90s, 00’s, and now in 2016 and still showing no signs of slowing down, then one can only be talking about Antrim’s own, Therapy? ‘Tides’, the third single from the bands 14th studio album ‘Disquiet’ is due for physical release in April. Bassist and resident Evil Priest, Michael McKeegan took some time out to chat to Shaun Neary before the band headed back out on the road.
Thank you for taking the time out to have a chat with Pure Rawk. How has 2016 been treating you so far?
No problems at all! So far 2016 has been great, we’re just back from a short run of shows in Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Switzerland and France all which went really well. They’re countries we haven’t played a lot in the last few years so it was brilliant to get back and play for enthusiastic crowds. Now we’re just gearing up for the UK “Infernal Love & More!” shows which start next week.
Going back a couple of years. Therapy? received the Oh Yeah Legend Award at the NI Music Prize in November 2014, sharing the honour with the likes of Gary Moore, The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers. I was fortunate enough to be at Mandela Hall in Belfast for that event, but what did that night mean to you, back then and looking at it now in retrospect?
Apart from the fact it was a brilliant night and we all had a lot of fun, it was indeed a massive honour to receive the award. We grew up listening to bands like the Undertones, SLF, Gary Moore etc. so to be considered in that same company was amazing. Really chuffed and I think, no matter what people say, it’s always nice to be recognised in your home country.
Tides is being released on April 15th, the third single from Disquiet but it will be the first single from the album to see a physical release. Does Record Store Day falling on April 16th have anything to do with this? Or were there other reasons for moving back from digital only to hard copy?
To be honest I hadn’t even thought about the Record Store Day thing! Erm, I’m sure that can only be a bonus to the release but it was a simple matter of scheduling that this date was chosen. With regard to the hard copy, I think the label has been encouraged by the feedback to Disquiet and a lot of the people who buy our music like a physical release. As a collector of vinyl/CDs myself I do always try and seek out the hard copy if possible.
You spent last year promoting both the 20th anniversary of ‘Infernal Love’ and ‘Disquiet’ on tour (with dates still ongoing for 2016). Is there any additional pressure in terms of playing a classic album from start to finish, while at the same time promoting new material? Does performing ‘Infernal Love’ live take away from the pushing of the new album?
Initially when we agreed to do the “Infernal Love” (and “Troublegum”) dates we knew there might be a bit of confusion with regard to which show people were going to get on the night but I feel in most places we’ve done a “Disquiet” run of shows and then done the ‘album’ shows. In fact it’s worked out really well, on the Disquiet shows we play 8-9 songs of the new album and then on the “Infernal Love” shows we do a second set of tunes and there’s at least 3-4 Disquiet tunes in there as well. Certainly no one has complained as yet and I think do the “Troublegum” and “Infernal Love” shows have got a few of the older fans back out to see the band (I do appreciate not everyone wants to see a band play mostly new stuff) and we’ve had some great feedback from them. It’s all worked really well I feel, the only downside is remembering which ‘head’ one has to wear at which show, there’s a huge amount of songs in the ‘pot’ now which means we’re constantly rehearsing and revising the tunes.
On the subject of anniversary editions, both ‘Troublegum’ and ‘Infernal Love’ got remastered and expanded for their 20th anniversary. Are there any plans for a beefed up version of ‘Nurse’ for its 25th anniversary in 2017?
No plans as such, that would be up to Universal Music who own those albums, as “Troublegum” and “Infernal Love” were the biggest sellers of that era it seemed logical they’d do them first. There is a great remaster of Nurse in the Gemil Boxset we released a few years ago and I do have a lot of cool archive stuff (demos, studio out takes) if an expanded version was ever planned.
Do you enjoy performing full albums live, like the ’Troublegum’ and ‘Infernal Love’ anniversary tours, or does the novelty wear off fairly quickly?
I actually really enjoy doing those sets. We were never the type of band to record a couple of ‘single’ type songs and then pad the rest of an album out with filler so each song has its own unique character and vibe. Obviously with an album like Infernal Love the mood is key so we’ve been enjoying the challenge of recreating it live especially as there is a lot of extra instrumentation on there. Also when we toured those albums in the mid-90’s there were quite a few songs we never or rarely played live so it’s been good to re-visited and reclaim them for the live show. The audience reaction is key though, it’s amazing what a positive response we get playing those songs, it’s very much appreciated from our end.
Over time, you’ve had many guests join you on stage during performances, Lesley Rankine, VerseChorusVerse, Nathan Connolly just to name a few. Is there anyone yet that you haven’t had share a stage for a song or two that hasn’t been scratched off the wish list yet?
James Dean Bradfield and James Hetfield are two that spring immediately to mind.
Ian Curtis and Joy Division have been obvious influences throughout the bands career. Have you seen the Joy Division documentary, or the Anton Corbijn movie?, Or have you read either of Peter Hook or Bernard Sumners books?
I haven’t read the books but seen that movie and several documentaries (of varying accuracy and quality). Amazing band, the songs still sound powerful and the mood of those records is incredibly immersive. I have that Heart & Soul boxset which is a great overview of the band from their formative years onwards, I’d recommend that to anyone looking to check them out.
Your first release, ‘Babyteeth’, was produced by Mudd Wallace who sadly passed away at the end of December. How influential was Mudd’s input to the sound on ‘Babyteeth’?
Yeah, it was incredibly sad to hear he’d passed away, great guy and a big part of the NI music scene. To be honest we couldn’t have had a better producer for our first recording as he was really keen to ensure we were happy with the sound and entertained our more off the wall ideas. I imagine a lot of provincial producers at the time would have tried and talked us out of making some of those choices, Unfortunately we didn’t have a lot of time to ‘produce’ the songs as it was a very quick session, we just banged out our (at the time) live set and then added overdubs and mixed it quickly. Interesting fact about Babyteeth, as the budget was so non-existent Mudd let us record on the end of other bands tape reels. This was cool until we needed to get the masters for the release of Babyteeth and he couldn’t find where “Animal Bones” was. As a result the version you hear on the record is a rough mix taken from a regular cassette we had been listening to at home. The final mixed version never turned up, I think it was stuck on the end of some other bands reel and recorded over in due course.
During the few periods of Therapy? downtime, Andy has put out a couple of solo albums. Are there any plans for any solo projects from any of the band in the near future?
Andy and myself have a noise/ambient/spoken word project called East Antrim and have recorded 17 or so pieces which we hope to release soon and Neil and Andy have another drums/voice project which they’ve been working on. Like a lot of these things it’s down to time and getting a window to release them, obviously Therapy? is busy at the minute so that’s always the number one priority.
An obligatory obvious question! From 1989 to present, a career that spans four decades, is there one particular point in the bands career that you could take a look back and say “I probably would have done this differently?”, or has everything gone to plan in all of that time?
To be honest I don’t have any moments like that career-wise, it’s all worked out pretty a-ok as far as I’m concerned. Everyone’s sane, we all get on great and there’s a lot of creative energy in the band, no regrets at all.
So what’s next for the band once the tour finishes up?
We do these UK shows then have a couple of shows in Turkey then a load of summer festivals and probably continue working on new material. There are a few other vague plans coming together at the minute but as with anything in rock and roll, let’s wait and see.
Currently, Therapy? are on tour, in the UK. Upcoming dates include The Sugarmill, Stoke on the 11th of March, The Rescue Rooms in Nottingham on the 12th of March and Whitby Gothic Weekend on the 22nd of April. Once again, we’d like to thank Michael for taking time from the bands hectic schedule to talk with us.