Uber Rock at Sonisphere 2014 - Michael McKeegan and Neil Cooper - Therapy? - Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Eamon O'Neill   
Sunday, 27 July 2014 04:00

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After a run of shows celebrating the ‘Troublegum’ album in recent years Therapy? followed up that success by agreeing to perform another of their albums in its entirety at the UK Sonisphere festival. ‘Infernal Love’ might be 19 years old, but it has lost none of its claustrophobic dark and twisted passion. Here bassist Michael McKeegan and drummer Neil Cooper talk to Uber Rock’s Eamon O’Neill about the making of the album, frilly shirts, false moustaches, mountains of cocaine and all. They also discuss the aftermath of the success that ‘Troublegum’ brought and how it lead to the departure of one of the band’s founder members.


First off, I have to confess that ‘Infernal Love’ is my favourite Therapy? album.


Neil Cooper (NC): As far as confessions go that’s pretty good.


Michael McKeegan (MM): You’ve come to the right show!


Are you looking forward to playing it for the first time today?


MM: Absolutely. You know it was really interesting going back and relearning the songs. Because obviously, a lot of them we didn’t even play back in the day. It was a good process just going through it all and working it out and realising that it all stands up really really good. It has aged well, as they say.


What about for you Neil, you obviously didn’t play on the album so was it more of a challenge?


NC: It’s a weird one actually because I obviously knew the album [to listen to] but then when you sit down and play it and ty to work out the parts, you get under its skin. It’s a different viewpoint. But it’s great. I’ve really enjoyed it. With some of the songs that the lads don’t know completely inside out we were kind of finding our feet together in a sense.


MM: It’s sort of supercharged them.


NC: It’s a great record. It’s as simple as that, and it’s always going to be a joy to play.


It’s not your typical rock album. The first track ‘Epilepsy’ for example features what could be described as a jazz section.


MM: Well that was just, what’s the most polar opposite thing you could think of that could go into that song? I mean the song’s called ‘Epilepsy’. We could have just put a traditional middle eight in, or a guitar solo, or an instrumental break but we thought, well let’s just break it right down. Even the way it’s recorded is like an old jazz record, the drums are panned one way and the bass the other.


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Did that style come naturally for you or did you have to sit down and listen to a few jazz records first?


MM: I would never profess to be able to play jazz but I think there’s elements of it with for example ‘Baby Teeth’ – it’s got that kind of jazzy swing in it. Like a lot of the elements we use like the dance beats and some of the riffs and the vibes, you don’t want to fully copy that as it sounds a bit shoehorned in. That was just kind of our take on it, but to make it sound like Therapy?


Were there any songs that have presented any problems or you’ve found more difficult to get your teeth into in rehearsal?


MM: Not really. The first rehearsal was good in that we just worked on the songs, starting from the ground up and made sure that the three of us were playing everything really tight. And then that’s when we worked out all the samples and some of the extra parts. I’ll not spoil it but it’s pretty true to how the album sounds. We spend a lot of time making sure the sonics are right and also making sure it looks right. We’ve got a good lighting rig in.


And the false moustaches?


MM: Well we’ve got on [the real thing!]! They’re real! People go “are you going to wear the fake moustaches” and we go, “well we kind of are” [wearing the real thing].


That didn’t stop Andy first time around, did it?


MM: Well we had been in the studio recording and Andy was clean shaven and so when we went to do the shoot for the cover it was like, we thought we’d kind of play with it because Andy was known for the goatee and we thought well, this might be a bit of fun. The punchline is almost on the last page of the [CD] booklet where it’s hanging off him, so that’s like ‘the reveal’. We thought it was funny! (laughing)


Are there any songs on the album that you haven’t played live until today?


MM: ‘Bowels Of Love’ I don’t think we’ve ever played and I think maybe we’ve played ‘Jude The Obscene’ three or four times. It was mad playing it [Jude The Obscene], I was going, “why do we never play this?”


NC: That’s the bizarre thing, I mean the album feels great to play. It’s one of those things where we’ve said for the next tour we’ve now got this whole batch of songs that we can just drop in.


Have you any plans to take the ‘Infernal Love’ show on tour the way you did with ‘Troublegum’?


MM: I don’t think we’d say no to doing something like that, but we haven’t really even talked about it.


NC: The ‘Troublegum’ thing wasn’t like we decided, “right, that’s what we’re doing next year.” There was an invite to do it. But we’ve enjoyed doing this so there’s no way we’d say no. I mean, we have got the new album in our heads


MM: Yeah, the next chunk of touring we’ll be doing will be with the new album. It doesn’t seem that long ago that ‘A Brief Crack Of Life’ came out, but it was three years ago. But we’ve obviously been touring that, and then the ‘Troublegum’ shows, and the reissues this year. I think that that’s one of the pleasures of having been around for twenty-five years. It’s not like we’ve only got twenty songs. It’s nice to be able to go back and do the anniversary thing, it’s more like a celebration. We’re not taking it ‘seriously’, well, we are taking it seriously but it’s more of a fun thing. And it’s a treat for us to do. It’s a good celebratory upbeat vibe.


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For a dark and twisted album!


MM: Which is a massive irony, I know. It’s a different mind-set altogether. I think if you’re going out on a Friday night you probably put on ‘Troublegum’ and when you’re hungover on the Sunday that’s when you play ‘Infernal Love’. There’s definitely a different vibe to it.


‘Infernal Love’ featured Martin McCarrick heavily on cello. Was there any thought of bring back Martin for the gig?


MM: No, we didn’t really consider it. When we did the ‘Troublegum’ thing it wasn’t as though we were going to get Fyfe [Ewing, original Therapy? drummer] back. For me and Andy, Neil is the drummer in Therapy?


So how does the likes of ‘Diane’ work live?


MM: Well it’s like a sample thing, which we used back in the day. It’s a four piece cello part which Martin would play over the top of with Andy doing the vocals. Technology has obviously come a long way, but the meat and potatoes of it is obviously the band and we’ve been working hard, all the backing vocals are there and the samples.


NC: I mean the textures, we had to kind of sit and say, well, we need this part and that part, is that part absolutely necessary?


MM: It’s that kind of record. It’s a lot about the dynamics.


I remember reading an interview with Andy a few years after the album came out, and I think he summed it up as; “frilly shirts, false moustaches and piles of cocaine.”


NC: (laughing)


MM: (laughing) Some or all of those elements might have featured (!) It was kind of, an ‘odd’ time, it was just sort of where we were at that time. I think when you’re in the middle of making a record you don’t really question the nuts and bolts of it. You’re right there and you’re busy and you’re focused on doing the record. And it is maybe like three or four years later you go, “why was I doing that?” We were in that Real World studio for quite a long time and there was not really a lot to do, so you kind of cut loose whatever way you want to do it.


Your final date on the original ‘Infernal Love’ tour was at The Ulster Hall in Belfast on 30th December 1995. It was to be Fyfe Ewing’s last show with the band.


MM: That was at the end of a great run. We had played Dublin the night before and that was a great show, and we were just kind of looking forward to coming home for Christmas and celebrating the New Year. It was one of those things where it was Fyfe’s decision, and I think that something had to give because I don’t think that he was enjoying the touring at all. If you are in any kind of way unhappy touring can exaggerate any stress or problem in your life to a ridiculous angle where you can’t even think straight about a lot of things. So me and Andy weren’t surprised, put it that way. We respected his decision. It’s not for everyone.


I suppose that success had been building and then the band just exploded with ‘Troublegum’. Do you think that the pressure was just too much?


MM: For Fyfe yes, that was the main thing, but probably for all of us. Everyone dealt with it in a different way. In a way it was kind of good because we regrouped and we really worked out what was important, and that’s when we were able to say, that has to stop, more of that, less of that. And we were able to work out ‘do we want to continue doing this?’ Absolutely, ok. It was the same as when Neil joined. It was like a breath of fresh air, a good refocusing, being able to go, ‘why is that happening? We need to address that’. Everything from really small things to quite big things. So I think in a way if Fyfe had stayed in the band we probably wouldn’t be here today as Therapy? or even as musicians. In a weird way it kind of did us a big favour, just like when Graham [Hopkins, former drummer] left it kind of done us a big favour as well.


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Are you still in touch with those ex-members?


MM: I’ve seen Graham since, but I haven’t seen Fyfe and I haven’t seen Martin. With Fyfe, it was kind of like the shutters were down once he left, which is a pity, because if he walked in here I’d love to see him, even to see what he’s been up to. But we’ve got friends in common so we know he’s doing all right.


You were at school together weren’t you?


MM: Yes, but ironically we didn’t really know each other at school. We were both into music and you know what it’s like at school, he likes noisy music, I like noisy music lets swap records. And that was kind of how it came together.


It must be odd to be on the outside of things and still seeing the band you started going strong.


MM: I never really thought about it like that. It must be quite odd.


NC: I suppose it’s a weird thing in the sense of like a relationship. If you break up with somebody and they meet somebody else you can’t jump back in and go, oh, hang on a minute.  


MM: Especially after you’ve left, that’s just the decision you make.


NC: From my experience, you get so insular. You do get very strong because the three of us have an idea and a plan of what we want to happen and what we don’t want to happen and we watch each other’s backs. The flip side of that can be that you become too insular looking inwards. And sometimes with people leaving or different influences coming in it can kind of wake you up a little.


MM: It’s like you don’t question the status quo, and it’s good to shake it up. We meet other bands on tour and they hate it, they’re like ‘oh no, we got to go and play’, and all they want to do is go home.


NC: I genuinely don’t understand it. I know bands who literally just do not get on. With us we really get on, and even when you’re on tour for three months and someone says, you know what, I’m going to go downstairs and get a coffee and just sit on my own and get some peace and quiet. You let them get on with it. Everyone needs that space.


That’s obviously why it still works.


MM: People are always moaning about it [touring], and I just say, well, don’t do it then. I don’t care how good someone is as a creative or as a player, if I can’t get on with them on a personal level or I can’t respect them as a human being then I’m not going to be in a band with them.


NC: And what always happens is that they end up in our dressing room ranting and raving about their band mate. And you’re going, we don’t even know you and you’re slagging off your band mates to us!


MM: Just go and tell him! Over the years we’ve learned that if something is bugging us we will say to each other and that clears the air. And inevitably it will get rid of a meltdown at 4am somewhere obscure where it all builds to a point where it gets out of hand. And we see bands all the time building towards that point. Just tell the guy that he shouldn’t wear the red shirt on stage! Just tell the guy that he needs a new deodorant.




Are you wearing the red shirts tonight?


MM: No, that might be a tribute band step too far. That would be like The Australian Therapy? Show (!) We did say that it might be funny to do it but then we thought that no, we’re doing it respectfully. I think that with ‘Infernal Love’ one of the reasons that it freaked people out was the pictures of us in frilly shirts. The first single was ‘Stories’ and that [cover artwork] had us in the frilly shirts whereas if you look at the album sleeve it’s just us in black. And I firmly believe that if that was the first image people saw, of us in the black it wouldn’t have been such a big leap sonically when they heard the album. I think all they saw was frilly shirts: they’ve lost the plot.


I wanted to ask about the ‘Church Of Noise’ single. Originally it was supposed to feature a sample of the controversial Northern Irish Politian and Preacher Reverend Ian Paisley.


MM: The Paisley sample was actually at the start of that song before the main riff. But when you say to the record label there’s a sample from Ian Paisley on it, then the lawyers go, “are you sure about this?” And then you go, “you know what, to be totally honest, you know what Northern Ireland’s like. It could come across in such a bad way.” So we thought it was better not to do it and not have to deal with whatever. Stuart Baillie who does the Oh Yeah! Centre in Belfast was doing an interview with Andy about Northern Ireland and Paisley was there on the street and Stuart asked him something about music, not about us in particular just music in general. It was just a brilliant kind of antiquated view of rock music. It was brilliant, especially as it was ‘Church Of Noise’, it would have been perfect. Even if it hadn’t been Ian Paisley it’s a great line.


Do you think that maybe it would be a little more acceptable today that things have calmed down in Northern Ireland?


MM: Well you wouldn’t want the talking point of your new album to be “Ian Paisley’s singing on it”. No, he’s not! But it would be a minefield back home trying to explain that one.


After today you’ll have played your two high water mark commercial albums. Are there any of your other albums that you’d like to play in full?


MM: Actually on both the ‘Crooked Timber’ and ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’ tours we played all the songs off the album, though not in order but during the course, as we probably will do with our new album. That’s something we started doing consciously for the last two albums, which is important to do , but of the other ones that we haven’t looked at, I think maybe ‘Suicide Pact’ would be good. It’s kind of a little entity all of its own. Or even stuff like ‘Baby Teeth’.


NC: Yeah, I think ‘Baby Teeth’ would be good.


MM: We played a gig in Belfast once and I think we played all of ‘Baby Teeth’ during the set but not in order. And then people go “Why don’t you play anything off ‘Baby Teeth’”, and we go. “We played it all two nights ago!” and they go “Oh really, well I might have been in the toilet when you played ‘Skyward’”.


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One final question for you both then. If you could see any band doing any album, what would it be?


MM: Maybe Thin Lizzy doing ‘Live and Dangerous’. I’ve seen them recently and I’ve seen Black Star Riders as well and they do a really good job with that.


NC: I’m going to be cheesy and say Dead Kennedys ‘Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables’, with Jello and seeing it back in the day in a shitty club.


MM: Down the front, getting Jello in a head lock. As a studio album I think maybe DJ Shadow ‘Endtroducing’. As an album it’s one of those records that I like to listen to from start to finish because it’s quite immersive. I mean you don’t play it every day of the week but when you do you go, wow, I’ll just sit here for the duration.


That’s all quite a contradiction musically that kind of sums up Therapy? really.


MM: Yeah, The Dead Kennedys and DJ Shadow. Maybe we’re somewhere in the middle!




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