Success is survival

José Carlos Santos books a Therapy? session with bassist Michael McKeegan.

On their 15th (!) studio album, Northern Irish rockers Therapy? keep forging their own path, having thrown out the manual for good behaviour of big bands a long time ago. Their latest records, particularly 2015’s acclaimed Disquiet, have actually seen them hardening their sound, always exploring and trying new things but at the same time going down a path akin to genre luminaries such as Unsane, Helmet or even Big Black, all of them huge inspirations to the songwriting. New album Cleave offers ten more uncompromising ragers that seem to follow no rules once more. “We often joke about the Bad Religion, AC/DC or Motörhead thing, and in a way it would be awesome to have a formula,” says bassist Michael McKeegan, founding member alongside frontman Andy Cairns, one of the most knowledgeable heavy music fans you can ever chat with. “It would make it kind of a no brainer, but with the way we are as people and as musicians, quite restless, it would be very restrictive. I mean, of course, if you hit upon a great formula like what the Ramones had, for instance, why would you ever mess with that? But ours is a broader approach.” And it’s funny that we’re having this discussion right now, because for all its departures, the Cleave project is in fact connected to several people from the band’s past, starting with their new record label. “Yeah, interestingly, the guy who is the boss of Marshall Records was our A&R man for Suicide Pact – You First, so we have a bit of history with him,” Michael reveals. “That record came out through Ark21, through Universal, and he fought in our corner quite hard for it at the time, because that was a very… It wasn’t what Universal wanted, really, on many levels,” he chuckles. Always the rebels. “So yeah, Steve was a very good ally to have in our camp, so when we heard that he was with Marshall, we were interested. It would be easy for them so sign a lot of blues rock bands, something more ‘trad’, in association with the amp, but he said he just wanted to have exciting bands on the label. I think we’re the only established band on the roster, everyone else is putting out their debut albums. That’s cool.” The other familiar face is none other than producer Chris Sheldon, who’s done a couple of records with Therapy? before, namely their famous ultra-classic Troublegum. “We just picked up where we left off with him, really,” Michael says. “We have a similar sense of humour, similar reference points musically. He’s in there from dawn to dusk, moving the mics and stuff… It’s all very down to earth. We actually got an Airbnb to stay in, all four of us, for the recording period. We cooked dinner and stuff like that, it was very much a team effort. No one was scuttling off to their hotel suite or dining in fine restaurants! Funnily enough, when we started, in January 11th this year, it was almost 25 years to the day that Chris came in the first time – it had been on January 7th 1993 that we recorded ‘Screamager’ in Black Barn Studios.”

The band’s approach might swerve from record to record, but interestingly their major influences have remained more or less the same over the years. It’s all a question of how to interpret the stuff that inspires you. “Yeah, each time you go back to a classic record you might get different ideas,” Michael agrees. “Even stuff like Strap It On by Helmet, going back to a lot of those records… I actually went back and listened to a lot of Bad Religion too, I love No Control, those records are fantastic. It’s good to go back and revisit a lot of those things that we were listening to in 1989, when we were finding our feet. I’m pleased there’s a few things on this new album that we’ve never really done, but we’ve obviously kept the integrity of the basic sound. I think it’s quite a tough-sounding record. For example, whenever there’s a lead guitar part, there’s no rhythm guitar, it’s just bass and drums. That’s a classic noise rock thing, that massive crushing bass that Unsane and early Helmet had. Also outside that genre – Van Halen, no rhythm guitar; Pantera, no rhythm guitar, you know? So it was a conscious effort that I think makes the sound tougher, it pushes that dynamic. Bass-wise, personally, I want to have a weight and distortion to it.” Heavy, tough and deep, what else do you need from your rock albums? And how many 30-year-old bands do you know that still keep delivering all that consistently? In the words of one of their new songs, “success is survival”. And Therapy? seem to be surviving just fine.

Cleave is out now on Marshall Records |

This feature was intended for publication in ZT issue 086, but due to lack of space it’s landed here for you to enjoy online instead. Subscriptions and single copies available here:

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