Photos courtesy of Amazing Record Co.
Northern Ireland’s Therapy? have been clubbing us over the head for the last twenty-five years and change with giant, metallic, dive-bomb riffs come steeped in some of the cleverest, catchiest hooks you’ve ever heard. It’s head-banging, heart-pounding riff-rock you can damn well sing your heart out to.
The band’s fourteenth album, Disquiet (out March 20th on Amazing Record Co), sees Therapy? return to familiar ground trod on their 1994 smash, Troublegum. It's a de facto sequel, coasting the familiar waters of existential angst and bringing back the anthemic qualities of Therapy? records of yore with big melodies and sing-along choruses cloaked in sheet-lightning riffs. Longtime fans are in for a treat.
“Vulgar Display of Powder”, which we're streaming below, is just such another perfect example of how Therapy?’s hand-of-Iommi thunder, migraine-tight drums, and main man Andy Cairn’s razor-barbed words all conspire to get stuck in your brain like a virus.
We spoke to Cairns about the sequel process, feeling out-of-step, and finding the silver lining.
Noisey: At what point in the writing process for Disquiet did you decide the new record would be a conceptual sequel to Troublegum?
Andy Cairns: From the very first song, really. The first song written was “Still Hurts”, the album’s opening track, and I needed a way in, to look for an angle. Our 2009 album Crooked Timber was about consciousness, while Infernal Love was about desire, and with this one, I’d written ‘Still Hurts”, and I thought, “Well, what would the protagonist of Troublegum be doing now, twenty years later?” So this is probably where he's at now. All the other lyrics and melodies came really quickly after that.
There are all of these wonderful callbacks to earlier work on the new record, like the riff in "Helpless Still Lost" that harkens back to "Little Tongues First" (from Suicide Pact—You First), or “Torment Sorrow, Misery & Strife” strongly recalling the mood of “30 Seconds” (from Infernal Love). Do you feel like Therapy? has come full circle with the new album?
For a little while there, off the back of bands like Green Day and Foo Fighters, a lot of melodic rock music was very popular worldwide, and because Troublegum had such catchy choruses, I think we strived as a band to distance ourselves from that—much to the frustration of the casual Therapy? listener, as well as the hardcore fan. So with this record, we thought, “Well, let’s go for riffy melodic Therapy? music again; let’s see where that takes us.” To come back to your question, it has kinda led us back to what we do very strongly.
We listen to absolutely everything, and for a long time it was very difficult for us to just leave things out when we’d rehearse. Because we are all so inspired by new music, and constantly listening to different kinds of music – so we’d rehearse and come up with five or six ten- or twelve-minute songs that tend to meander, or they’re very complex. The strength of a song like “Still Hurts” is that it’s so direct, it cuts away all the bits we don’t need. If we’d written that song three years ago, it'd have been five minutes long, probably had a breakdown riff in the middle, and two or three other bits and pieces added on to it, with loads of reverb on the vocals. This time 'round we were really into going direct with the songwriting.
In “Idiot Cousin”, you sing about Therapy? being the odd-band-out in the scene, when you first appeared. Was it this feeling of isolation, even within your own peer group, that drove you guys early on? Does it still?
Oh, very much so; even when Therapy? sold a lot of records, had a higher profile in the media, and were appearing on the cover of magazines—we still felt like three guys that were slightly out-of-step with what was going on in the rest of the world. Even when we had some dalliance with the mainstream in the 90s, we still didn’t think like rock stars. Look at Layne Staley, Chris Cornell, or the Manic Street Preachers—those guys are rock stars. We looked like the guys that went scavenging through the bargain bins in the punk shop in Belfast. We were kids, and didn't develop any airs or graces of rock stardom, and I think that’s one of the few things that have kept us afloat over the years.
Being from Northern Ireland was another thing that shaped us. A lot of bands didn’t come and play there in those days. A lot of bands, because of the political situation in the 1990s, felt slightly nervous about making the trip over here. So what ended up happening was, any band that came over, we would go and see them; literally from The Smiths, to Metallica, to Anthrax, to The Jesus and Mary Chain, to Erasure, or Suzanne Vega—simply for the fact that it was a gig in town. It all just became about a sense of community with whoever listened to music. There was a great sense of people helping each other out in the community, and the tape-swapping circles that we moved in. Nobody really got ideas above their station, and I think that was a really, really good apprenticeship for us later on in the world of rock'n'roll.
Nestled between the despair and anger that have populated every Therapy? record, there is always a sliver of hope that shines through. To what would you credit your music's perpetual silver lining?
Northern Ireland, where I grew up. I suppose we didn’t know it at the time, we grew up in the middle of very politically unstable and agitated times—and music, specifically punk rock and metal, had a great sense of togetherness and community. Protestant, Catholic, Republican and Unionist—the kids didn’t care, they just wanted to go to the shows. The night-time curfews, nobody going out in the evening because it was too dangerous. But it gave us a chance to say, “Hey, we’re going out, everything is alright, no one’s gotten shot, no one’s gotten hurt, no one’s gotten beaten up.”
On top of that, it’s trenchant in Northern Irish and Irish people, even right back to people like Samuel Beckett: "I can't go on, I'll go on." There is a resilience to people there; living on a small island helps as well.
What’s your personal favorite Therapy? lyric?
One that kinda sums us up—the isolation, where we’re from—is the line in “Screamager"—"Your beauty makes me feel alone." I think that’s one of the ones I like best.
Your last North American date was a one-off in Toronto in 2007, and prior to that it was early 2000s. With the accessibility of the new record, and with signing to a new label, do you foresee a time when Therapy? stages a return stateside to do at least one last tour?
Well, we’d love to, and the record company that we’re with at the minute has offices in North America. We still get lot of mail and requests from people asking us to come to the US and to Canada. Actually, one of our record company guys is in the States at the minute talking to people about the possibility, so fingers crossed! We've always wanted to go back over the last few years. For a little while in the 1990s, we were regularly over once or twice a year, and it became less and less, but we really want to go back.
'Disquiet' is out March 20th via Amazing Record Co.
Kyle Harcott is getting nostalgic on Twitter - @kyleantivenin