Posts Tagged ‘Living In The Shadow Of The Terrible Thing’
Michael McKeegan (Therapy?) talks to T2T ahead of their Winter Tour
In a world where there are too many artists who are over hyped and yet distinctly average… I could list them but I will save my bile for another day, it is always a shame when those bands that truly deserve the accolades seem to be criminally under appreciated. In my opinion Therapy? are one of those bands who have constantly delivered over the years but fail to get the recognition they are due.
From the humble beginnings of the raw power of Baby Teeth and Pleasure Death, through to the seminal Troublegum album, the commercial peak of Infernal Love and Semi-Detached and then their last ten years seemingly more ‘under the radar’, Therapy? have produced a sound unique to themselves and a back catalogue of songs few artists can match.
Their latest album ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’ is no exception, critically acclaimed and showing they can indeed still Rock like the proverbial Monkeys. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Michael McKeegan, bassist and founder member only hours before the band were heading off to Germany to begin their Winter Tour. Relaxed and happy to take time to talk and despite my immediate slip into ‘geek’ mode by regaling him with tales of Therapy? items I have in my personal collection we crack on…
So on the eve of their extensive European tour, culminating with a run of 13 UK dates, I wanted to know how touring differed to the old days.
“It was probably a bit more chaotic back in the day” Michael chuckles as he reminisces “Technology is a wonderful thing, mobile phones, Skype, most of the venues have Wi-Fi so you can keep in touch. I remember going on an American tour and no one had a mobile phone, we didn’t even have an itinerary we just had a couple of phone numbers for the guys”.
We laugh at how things have changed over the years before Mike concludes “I am going to sound like an old fart but we were going to payphones with rolls of quarters to make long distance phone calls home and in those days you would spend a lot of time in one way systems as you had no sat navs!”.
So what of ‘The Chaos’ these days I wonder… “At the end of the day the core element of the tour is playing the concerts, it’s not a jolly or a holiday” he stresses “we really enjoy what we are doing but we are really focused on making the shows really good, it is very professional in that aspect. Of course we will have a bit of fun; we have a lot of friends out there we will catch up with”.
As a band who have never been adverse to hitting the road and playing shows I had to ask whether the guys had any pre-gig rituals they went through or any superstitions they had picked up over the years.
“No voodoo or any weird ritual like that” he jokes before admitting “We don’t really like anyone in the dressing room an hour before the gig. We have guitars we warm up with and get into the zone. We are not one of those bands that just walk on stage; we kinda have to build up to it and getting in the right frame of mind for what we are doing that night. You just need to get your head in that space, it is 90 minutes so it is quite physically demanding, there are a lot of songs and just the three of us so we all have a big role to play”. He adds “we have had people in the dressing room five minutes before we go on but then you are a bit ‘Oh my God, what’s going on’ and it throws you off a bit so we do just have to say to people.. GET OUT!”.
With ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’ marking their 13th studio album release, not to mention numerous EPs and Mini Albums, all of which contain essential Therapy? tunes, the idea of picking a set list for the shows seems like a daunting one. With such an extensive and well-loved back catalogue just how does the band choose the tracks for their shows?
“We’ll probably play 7 or 8 of the new songs and then we’ll probably pick older songs that work with them, for example today we were working on 3 or 4 songs that are in the same tuning as the newer songs. We play them as a block so we don’t have to play a song and change the guitar… play the song… change the guitar… things like that to make the show flow a bit” pausing to think Michael adds “There are a few things we have rehearsed that I don’t think we have ever played with Neil (Cooper – drummer) so hopefully a bit of a break for people who have seen us a few times over the last 10 or 15 years there should be things we haven’t played in a while… the trickiest one is festivals where people are like right, you’ve got 40 minutes… “ he laughs again.
This leads us on nicely to the debate about playing ‘The Hits’, there have been a few bands over the years who have tried to distance themselves from some of their biggest tracks *COUGH* Radiohead *COUGH* and don’t want to play them live. With the likes of Stories, Church Of Noise and of course, Screamager up their sleeves did they ever want to shy away from any of these classics. Michael assures me simply “They are really great songs so it is a pleasure to play them” explaining further he adds “We are lucky we have those kind of songs, things like Turn that was a hit in the UK or Diane that was a big single across Europe , you have those kinda of Top 40 hits as you’d call them as well as things like Potato Junkie, Crooked Timber or Living In The Shadow (Of A Terrible Thing) from the new album that people really respond to. It is a really nice position to be in” he says earnestly, before concluding “You need to be pretty miserable as a musician not to be pleased with that”.
Wanting to look at it from both sides he concedes “I can understand why some people who have maybe done something, how can I put it, unnatural and are then kind of bound by it, you know, a song they were perhaps not a 100% into at the time… I can see how that would be really annoying”.
This got me thinking though, if any track is potentially on the table, were there any tunes that Michael wanted to play but the rest of the band had vetoed… “Not really, we are usually on the same page for what fits together” he ponders this for a second before slyly adding “I’ve been in the band from the start and we’ve pretty much played every song”.
I’ll be honest, as a huge fan of Therapy? it is taking a supreme amount of effort to try and keep on topic, there are so many questions running through my head and time is running out. As always though my attentions turn to the digital revolution and the slow demise of the traditional formats and so we move on to talk about the medium of ‘the album’.
Therapy? have always taken pride in their albums and the way they are put together but I was curious as to whether this approach was changing in the face of the ever evolving industry.
“I think it has always been an album” Michael assures me “with a beginning and a definite structure to it and the (tracks) running a certain way. I know it may sound ridiculous but if you listen to the records we really take the tempo and the key of the songs into consideration. We will always try and structure it as a live set”. Thinking for a moment he expands further “You can’t come on and play all your faster songs first, or all your slow songs first, you need a sense of dynamics and we normally like it to be as a good live concert would be, to keep and audience captivated”.
“We have been quite off the mark with what we initially thought might be singles” he confesses “Everything is treated with the same amount of care on the record, it is never ‘well that is obviously the single’ and then spend the time on that and bash out the other 9 or 10 songs. It has never been like that, the focus is always on everything”.
“To be honest, with the way we work you never really know until it is all mixed, that is one of the exciting things about making a record for me personally and the other guys. The runt of the litter can sometimes become the most amazing thing once everyone has done their bit on it”. I am intrigued to know which songs they had initially thought of as singles in the past and how history could have been different if they had, had their way…
Pondering this Michael reveals “off the top of my head, when we did Troublegum we as the band thought Unbeliever was the first single and the Record Company said ‘You’re Insane, it’s Nowhere!’” to which he concedes “and it was a Top 20 hit”. Adding to this is he goes on to say “With Semi-Detached I think we wanted Straight Life as the first single and the label said ‘You know what Church Of Noise should be the first song on the album, great riff, boom boom boom’ and it went over a lot better than the Straight Life would have in retrospect”.
Michael is quite prepared to admit that on these occasions the powers that be were right and reasons “But you know what it is, if you are working on a project and quite close to it you take it really personally, well we do, so sometimes you need someone else to say look, this is really good and you’re missing a trick here and I think we have learnt to take it on board”.
It is clear from talking to Michael that he is still dedicated to the band and committed to putting on the best live shows and producing the best albums possible. Having been a fan since 1993 and followed the band ever since I can honestly say that Therapy? continue to release exciting records, ‘Crooked Timber’ and ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’ are up there with ‘Nurse’ and ‘Troublegum’ as far as I am concerned but I wanted to know what Michael’s favourite album was. Obviously the ‘correct’ answer on the day before they embark on a tour to promote the latest album, is the latest album, but I figure we take that as a given, so I press for an answer.
“One of my favourites is definitely Babyteeth just because it was the first record and I think if we had never done anything after that we would just have been really pleased with it and how it sounded” and as he wisely points out “without it there would have been no Troublegum or Semi-Detached”.
“I know it is the party line and a bit of a cliché but I am really into ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’ because we have been playing the songs so much” this is however more than just the usual ‘this is the best thing we have ever done’ speech as he justifies this statement by explaining further “ We spent a lot of time on them and it was kind of old skool the way we did it, rehearsing it and recording it, so there is not a lot on there that we didn’t know how it would work (live)”.
So is does this mean the best Therapy? album has been recorded? “I always say that the next record has got to be my favourite or why else would you bother making another one? I think that forward motion is really important for a band, especially one that has been around as long as us. You need to find new sounds and a new spin on what you do, it keeps the energy going, rather than becoming a tribute to yourself and rehashing it with less and less energy every time” thoughtfully he sums it up “It is a good challenge”.
With this time is up… well I have enough time to get Michael’s personal Top 5 ‘Introduction to Therapy?’ tracks, hand-picked tunes from across the bands extensive back catalogue. If you want to know what his choices were then you will just have to tune into my radio show ‘The Lock In‘ on Voice FM to find out (available on Listen Again – 18.10.12 Part Two).
A Brief Crack Of Light is out now and you can watch the video to the first single ‘Living In The Shadow Of A Terrible Thing’ below. To find a full list of all the upcoming Therapy? shows along with all the latest news, visit the official website HERE.
2009s Crooked Timber heralded a huge return to form, not that they had slipped that far but the edge was back, that trademark rattle in the bass and those frenetic rhythms were all present and correct.
So that all bodes well for their new album ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’ due on the 6th February, preceded by lead track ‘Living In The Shadow Of A Terrible Thing’, a little tease before the main event.
And deliver it does, the sound of a mental breakdown in just under four minutes. An apocalyptic beginning gives way to metallic, sinuous bass before the anguished tones of Andy Cairns declare ‘I experience time as a terrible ache’ and we haven’t even reached the chorus.
As with the best Therapy? tracks, ‘Living In The Shadow Of a Terrible Thing’ makes you want to head bang and seek psychological help at the same time, dark, disturbing and bloody marvellous. What can I say but Hats Off To The Insane.