Back on the road to revisit their classic, 20 year old album Troublegum Therapy are revisiting the past to connect with the future.
Plenty of bands dust down their old releases but therapy come armed with one that has never dated and is a stark reminder of the time they bridged a lot of gaps in the music scene and helped to push rock onto the agenda and help create the space that makes it the mist vibrant and forward looking musical form of these times.
Therapy somehow managed to combine the ferocity of punk, the question marks of post punk and the small town fire of rock music and make it into music some sort of hybrid pop music-this was big Black if Albini had been arsed about connecting with the poisonous mainstream.
LTW has some history with the band- the youthful teenage members used to come out my band the membranes when we played occasional shows in Ireland and in the early eighties I produced three tracks for them – covers of Wire ‘Reuters’, the Stranglers Nice n Sleazy and the membranes Tatty Seaside Town as the b side to their top 20 hit Trigger Inside.
I caught with Andy Cairns, vocalist and guitar player from the trio to discuss what therapy has done for him…
You’re back on the road agin
‘It will be good fun when we set out round the UK. It’s the 20th anniversary of Troublegum tour which will be great to revisit and then loads of festivals and tons of shows later in year with the new album which we are working on right now.’
What’s it like revisiting the album? Do you really get back to the moment and the 20 years evaporate?
‘I totally agree it doesnt seem that amount of time ago. Without sounding like an old git it really doesn’t seem like 20 years ago. Whenever I sit down and play something off the record or play something live it always feels fresh as it always did. What we have been doing this time round is that as well as playing the whole album is to play the tracks that came out around it. There was a lot of EPs that came out round that time as well and really good b sides and we thought we should go and revisit them and also visit the cover versions we did like the Membranes Tatty Seaside Town and the b sides that we have not played for 18 years. It was really good discovering a lot of those songs and it struck us how amazing and somehow prescient and ahead of its time a lot of that stuff was with the rhythms and stuff.’
You always had an interesting relationship with rock music-very much a rock band but with a lot of curveball influences.
The one thing that we were shocked by was that tracks like Speedball, and I don’t know if it was a good or a bad thing almost, but were almost predicting new metal. We were eventually left thinking ‘oh dear!’ because a lot of nu metal I didn’t particularly like but in some ways a lot of what we were laying down was like a blueprint for no solos, short hair and funky drums metal…’
You grew up out of punk music and you were versed deeply in post punk and you somehow ended up as a rock band!
‘When I grew up I never really liked metal-one of misconceptions is that we grew up listening to metal but Michael is the one with an encyclopaedic knowledge of heavy rock and its sub genres. I was a punk when I grew up. It was a suburban thing really. We had lots of pals who liked music that wasn’t mainstream. O had pals that liked psychobilly , goth , punk and metal and we would hang around eachother’s houses. I had friends who were onto Iron Maiden and Motorhead and I would play the Ramones and they would like it, they would connect with the long hair and leather jackets. I liked Motorhead straight away because to me it was like a speeded up Chuck Berry and that mix n match was our background . It was all outsider music for us. We never heard any of it the on the radio but Buzzcocks, the Ramones and Motorhead would sometimes get on Top Of The Pops- it was ugly music for ugly people like us to a certain extent !’
Did this kind of music reflect coming from Northern Ireland during that period?
‘This was something we discovered when we went to play these places that are unstable politically or with a penchant for violence and that was that their culture had something about listening to agitated guitar music that resonated with that culture. When we were growing up in Northern Ireland there was the Protestant Catholic divide and we were sick of it. We had seen what it had done to our parents- this unnecessary divide. We didn’t want anything to do with it and punk had a lot to do with the change in attitudes. You would go to these clubs in the ghost like city centre of Belfast at night and go and see bands and you would see people you weren’t meant to associate with there. I had missed the first wave of punk because I was too young, but for someone my age the tail end of Rudi, Outcasts and the Undertones was enough and there was also new bands like Birthday Party and Joy Division that struck a chord with us because it was so violent and literate and that was the important thing for us.’
You arrived in a weird period after the noisy American underground of Big Black and before Nirvana and you were sort of like standard bearers of rock music for a period of time…
‘Interestingly it was Big Black that united the three of us. We were good mates in the band already and when we heard Big Black that was the glue that brought us together. We are actually from East Antrim and we all lived 12 to 14 miles from Belfast and we moved to Belfast when the band formed but it was East Antrim and places like Ballyclaire and Larne that were our background, places that were like redneck America . You would hear about these little villages where someone had decapitated rabbits heads and put them on a car windscreen or someone else had broken all the windows of the local church and drawn a huge pentagram on the door and when we heard Big Black with the picaresque scenarios that they were painting we felt connected because we were
seeing this on a day to day basis and that really inspired us.
The thing about metal that was disappointing to Therapy was that it was very easy for people to take the moral hugh ground and say these guys with facial hair are just metal metalbut in the middle of Britpop we did an album called Infernal Love and it’s opening track is jazz noise in 6 /4 time in the middle there are These Mortal Coil style strings and we had the press calling us trad metal and we were thinking what’s trad metal about a band that did that sort of thing! what was trad metal about a band with stick on moustaches playing jazz noise- it wasn’t Saxon!’
It’s frustrating this fear of rock- this misinterpretation of the inventiveness and boundary breaking of rock. This idea of rock being dumb and radio DJs doing ironic devil signs even after all this time after nirvana…
‘I’Ii guess rock music doesn’t do itself any favours really-any time it breaks new ground there’s always the hint of gumbie being let back in again. There will always be cock rock bands who are semi popular reinforcing the stereotype of what it’s perceived to be about.’
Where do you sit now?
‘I guess we are the elder statesmen of a scene that never existed!
‘What we stand for now is like the ipod shuffle- we are like the human shuffle. We took everything on board from acid house to hip hop to rock n roll and we mashed them all together. We didn’t have a look or genre to fit into. When we did Castle Donnington in 1994 we were being taken to the side by lots of people in the metal press who were saying to us that this could go horribly wrong. You are on the main stage on the same day as Aerosmith and there could be bottles of piss being thrown at you. When we played we went down really well- a music magazine at the time said that this was the day that changed music because a short haired band had played Donnington and had played a Joy Division cover which was really quite an achievement when you think about it. When you look at any rock festival now there are loads of different bands on the bill with short haired bands who even have samplers with them and some of them are not even heavy! it’s a wide open playing field now. Then it was a big deal for a short haired band to play at the time. We went down really well and after that lot of metallers suspicions of us disappeared and they started buying our records. People in the sticks who now bought the records liked what they heard and it made us pretty big.’
What direction is the restless band moving in now with the new album due this year?
‘We have just finished writing and rehearsing the new album. We have 18 tracks in the bag recorded. There are bits of everything in there- it’s a heavy record but with lots of melody as well. The last couple of records we were mixing it with dancehall on the drums and on Crooked Timber before that we were listening to dubstep but with some really off kilter guitar on there as well. With a lot of tunes on this album we are trying and get the right context to make them sound really fresh.’
Do you listen to all these influences anyway or do you specifically listen to them to push yourselves?
‘We genuinely listen to all kinds of music. On ‘Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder’ we were listening to Kevin Martin and Bug at the time which is quite aggressive industrial dancehall. He put out a great compilation album of dancehall which we really liked. ‘Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder’ was pretty much like Killing Joke – we said lets put kevin martin beats behind this looped guitar and that how that tune came about. We would never say let’s make something because it’s trendy because that would backfire horribly if we did. I think this year has been so amazing for music. There are lots of new bands that are really good from the punk scene which is really healthy across the world and stuff like Raptor from Brazil, Arctic Flowers in Portland and in Leeds there is Autobahn and Eagulls- there is an unusually healthy rate of indie rock bands appearing and also lots of electronic music which we really like. then there is some great noisy stuff from Bristol like Mum Dad, Terminal and Whiplash on b side amazing piece of instrumental music. It makes it hard for us because we like tunes but we also think how do we make this more interesting and move away from just the powerful 3 minutes it was originally. Sometimes we mess with it too much and have to have a quiet word with ourselves and get back on track!
We have a tendency to over think things. We will have the melody and we will fart about with it with lots of drums. We have always been obsessed with drums and rhythms and we have been lucky to have had fantastic drummers in the band. We write down the chords and the lyrics and then we think how to make this more interesting. We can be in studio all day working on the drum part until Michael, who is the band fantastic archivist and also the voice of reason, will suddenly say ‘stop what are we doing!’ because we get bogged down in the drums and he will play original mp3 of the track which he has kept being the archivist and say ‘lads this is what it started out as let’s get back to what it was!’
What are you now? a rock band? What?
‘Not being pigeonholed can have disadvantages because people like categories. If you go into any metal shop they have a sections like a grunge section and then these little arcs of scenes and we were never part of these and we get left out of all that and when magazines make their revisionist histories of what went on we get left out. At the end of the day, to be honest, it’s why we are still here and we have never had to break the band up. We have always had enough following worldwide to keep the band going and keep our heads down when things weren’t going as well. I think we will always be outsiders, where we are from is slightly unfabulous and that works to our advantage with one foot on the ground of where we want to go.
Where is rock music now? what has given rock music a bad name is that people are using the trojan horse of Emo and they are really pop bands with tattoos and hair cuts- the boy band punk bands that are not punk at all put together by some management somewhere and that stuff doesn’t do rock any favours. Rock is in rude health but just not on the radar of the mainstream radio.
When Nirvana happened it was during a recession and when people said the guitar was dead and I think you need these factors to be in line for something to happen. People always want to kill rock off. People are now looking back at Britpop in Britain which for years was seen as the last great bastion but is now seen as a dirty word. There was good bands there and I’m not sure why we always have to have these great seismic shifts in attitudes about our culture.’
oh look there’s a scene!
‘That’s a good name for a book…!’
That’s the nature of the UK – we create these great scenes and then discard them
‘I had on old flatmate in east London and he was obsessed with NME. He would buy every single and album of the month and then sell them a few months later because they would have been out of fashion. He would take records down to Record And Tape Exchange and I would say to him ‘are there any of these records you actually love?’ and then I found that he had this secret stash of records that he was embarrassed about and I was a saying you don’t have to hide them. There is no ducking stool for people who like bad music!
It’s like that thing with Guilty Pleasures- that get out card…like with soft rock or something and all those nights people play it under that banner of being a guilty pleasure. Why do you have to lie about it. I would be proud of liking Toto if I did. It would not enter my head to say I didn’t like it.’
Lyrically the band were always full of frustration, has this changed?
‘That’s the one thing it’s still the same subject matter but with a 20 year on perspective. During the time of Britpop people would say how can you still be angry when you are 30? and I would reply ‘how can you not?’ When I was as growing up people left home at 19 and married the girl down the road and then you see them again at 35 two timing their wives, an alcoholic and you wonder about all the great advice they gave you about the lyrics. There is still also a lot of literature that comes into the lyrics and also we just see what is around us and the frustration and how we fit into the world and how people fit in with eachother and that’s what drives the songs at the moment.’
That short vinegary burst of hatred that makes you hold grudges were too wearing though so I let that go but there is still enough vitriol in my system.
You get more wisdom as you get older…
‘I ask myself where is this wisdom! where is this holy wisdom you are meant to have at 40- where has that gone!
Where do you do well?
We haven’t been to South America for a long time but we used to do really well there.
There are places like East Europe and the Balkans which are great for us, Denmark and France used to be great but a bit more flat at the moment. We also play really interesting places like the Reunion Islands off the coast of Africa! We are open minded and we will play where we are asked to play. There is also North America where Troublegum and Baby Teeth were popular but it’s really expensive to tour it…We are a hard working band and people respect that and don’t forget us.’
Speaking of geography where is all the band based these days?
I’m in Cambridge and Neil the drummer is in Derby where used to be in Cable who you once produced. He’s got a great story about you when they were recording their album with you and the band ended up having a fight with Oasis and you had to break the fight up like you were the referee!
Michael is still in Northern Ireland. He’s happy there. I was there for a while but when I got married it made more sense for me to move because when I was living in Ireland leaving my partner on her own whilst we were away touring for months on end didn’t seem fair. These days it’s not a problem where the band lives because you can send ideas and mp3s online and get together a few days before a tour and it all works out ok.’
Therapy? are the classic small town band….
‘We have quite inquisitive minds and we are not cool. When we first went to Wiiija Records, the label boss Gary walker would take us out and he would be embarrassed because we would go and say hello to these bands and he would say ‘please don’t say hello to that band!” In London you had to have a respectful distance and you were not meant to blow your cool.’
Where does Therapy? go from here?
“It’s not about being comfortable. It would be pointless. If we got to the point when the music was not doing it for us, and we would rather stay at home then we would pack it in. But we love playing music. If it stops being magic then we would jack it in. Things get harder when you get older- there’s things like families and being away from home but the gig at the end of the day’s driving always makes it really worth it…’