So Much For The Ten Year Plan (2000)
by Stuart Bailie
Andy Cairns and some mates recently got talking about the 90’s and how rock and roll had conducted itself during that strange decade. Sure, some of the music had been fine, but there was one aspect of the business that they couldn’t really get a handle on. It was the syndrome of the career bands who had drawn up a ten year plan early on.
Andy and his fellow band members thought this was hilarious. Especially when you measured it against the Therapy? flight path. After all, they had made the most contrary swerves and changes, challenging their audiences when they might have taken a more predictable route. They could have bummed a ride on any number of lucrative youth movements, but the band tended to duck out of the way when the going became profitable.
Often, their fans would admire Therapy? for their broad-minded musical tastes, for their Anti-Midas tendencies. Not so the record company chiefs, who would frequently despair. But here’s the punch line. After ten intense years, Therapy? are making some of their best ever music. Morale is high, the live shows are magnificent and the band has transcended the world of buzz bands and happening scenes. Their instinctive method has prevailed. Here then, is a guide to their retrospective album, So Much For The Ten Year Plan, with comments from Therapy? guitarist and frontman Andy.
Meat Abstract (MFN, 1990)
Released on the band’s own Multi Fuckin’ National label, this marked the beginning of the Therapy? odyssey. Recorded at Homestead Studios in Northern Ireland in a frantic, alcohol-fuelled spree, the trio of Andy Cairns, Michael McKeegan and Fyfe Ewing (from the hinterlands of Ballyclare and Larne) were already putting together a monstrous sound.
Andy: “Originally it was me and Fyfe. We put together Meat Abstract, which was quite dark. We needed a bass player, and Fyfe said there was someone at his school who liked really extreme heavy metal. I had visions of someone with really long hair and a studded wristband. And then Michael turned up. He was the most unassuming guy in the world. We gave him the demo tape and then he turned up and played it better than us.
We pressed up a thousand copies. We sent them to radio and the press. John Peel played it in about a week. Later, Silverfish were playing with the Revolting Cocks in Scotland. We took the ferry over and stayed in a mates house. Me and Michael met Gary Walker from Wiiija Records. The next night we gave the single to Lesley from Silverfish. And the next Thursday it was Gary from Wiiija on the phone, wanting to know if we’d do an album. It was the most amazing thing in the world.”
Babyteeth (Wiiija, 1991)
The UK media quickly warmed to the band, aided by a bunch of rabid live shows that often culminated with Michael waving his naked arse at the crowd whilst the other chaps howled sundry abuse. Babyteeth comprised of Meat Abstract, Punishment Kiss, plus five new tracks, recorded over a long weekend, again at Homestead. Babyteeth reached the top of the NME Indie Charts.
Andy: “All I remember about that session was being more in control, it was a long weekend. We’d learned what we were doing right. We were doing it late when we were in the mood and making it exciting.”
Pleasure Death (Wiiija, 1991)
Another mini album, this time recorded at Southern Studios in London. The album birthed Potato Junkie, an intensely great statement about the burden of Ireland’s literary heritage. To this day, gig-goers delight in singing along with the chorus line “James Joyce is fucking my sister”.
Andy: “Pleasure Death was a pretty heavy album, with massive guitar chords and shoutey, screaming vocals. Wiiija didn’t have a lot of money at the time, but they wanted to do another album. So by the time Pleasure Death was ready, Southern Studios were more involved. Because Southern were connected to Touch and Go in the States, which were our gods of a label, we were delighted.”
Nurse (A&M, 1992)
The major label debut. The band’s profile was high, grunge was breaking, but Therapy? went elsewhere.
Andy: “When we signed to A&M in 1992, everyone expected us to become a grunge band. But we were so beliggerent. So I cut off my hair and then we came out with stuff like Teethgrinder which had a lot more in common with post-punk bands like Gang of Four than grunge.
For producers A&M suggested some big-name grunge guys but we chose to use our own sound guy, who hadn’t done very much records before. It did sound a bit thin but when I look back on it, if we had made a big loud rock album in a grunge style, we’d have been pushed under the carpet whenever grunge died. So it kinda worked for us. But that’s when I said, fuck it, I wanna make a punk album. That’s when Troublegum came along”.
Troublegum (A&M, 1994)
Amusing, sinister and madly hummable, this was the band’s chance to threaten the mainstream. Produced by Chris Sheldon and leading with Screamager on the Shortsharpshock EP (1993) the band hit Top of the Pops, following up with Turn (on Face The Strange EP) and unleashing series of fine singles such as Nowhere. It was time to make international waves and to tour with Ozzy.
Andy: “They were great pop songs, you couldn’t go wrong with them. There are songs like Knives on that album with the lyrics ‘I’m gonna get drunk, come around and fuck you up’. It wasn’t a song about Mansonesque maniac, it was the hilarity of a loser in a room. But we looked insane at that time. So it probably helped to fuel the fire.
The option was taken up for the next album. I thought it was fantastic to play all over the world, to actually go to France and play for 2000 people. We could always see through what it was. It was the honeymoon period. But being the chancers that we are, we just thought, fuck it, we’ll take it for all we can.”
Infernal Love (A&M, 1995)
Straight into the follow up. However, a public primed for happy-to-handle punk anthems was in for a challenge. This time there were cellos and peculiar ballads. Belfast DJ David Holmes had linked the songs together to make it sound other-worldly. This wasn’t what the capitalist textbook demanded.
Andy: “We released Screamager in ’93 and by ’94 the Green Day had totally broken the States. I remember delivery Infernal Love to A&M in LA. The look in their faces was pure horror. It was mental time. We came back from touring Troublegum and had two weeks off for Christmas 1994. And of course we had no songs written. We had six weeks at Real World to start from scrath. Right up until the last two days, I was coming up with vocal melodies and lyrics.
It was one of those kind of albums, loads of nonsense and mischief. One minute we were on stage doing the pogo-friendly kinda angst-ridden, pop-punk that was Troublegum. Then the whole boat stopped rocking and all of a sudden we were all dressed in red, with teddy boy haircuts playing this gothic stuff with cellos. What the fuck happened there?”
Semi-Detached (A&M, 1998)
Fyfe left the band in January 1996. Rather than reconfigure as a trio, they decided to bring in long time guest Martin McCarrick on guitar and cello, plus new drummer Graham Hopkins. They spent the summer of ’96 touring America and Canada, bonding as a band. Meantime A&M was an ailing company, finally dissolving into the Seagram Empire. Church Of Noise was another spikey comment on the Northern Ireland situation.
Andy: “In 1997 we started Semi-Detached. I was getting married, and then I went through a period when I wasn’t well. We didn’t really know what we wanted to do. We kept putting it off because we weren’t happy. People at the record company were panicking. So the album was done in dribs and drabs. We finally nailed it in one four week sitting.
It wasn’t a fully realised album. There’s some bit I like, but it’s not really focussed enough. A&M came apart and we found ourselves without a deal. To be honest, that was the best thing that could have happened to us. We were getting lazy and uninspired and few people were helping us. It was really horrible and we were caught up in the middle of that”.
Suicide Pact—You First (ARK 21, 1999)
A classic affirmation. No flim flam, no compromise. Accompanied by a fierce tour, and signed to a new record label, this was the sound of a band who were dearly in love with rock and roll once more.
Andy: “When we did Suicide Pact, we shut ourselves away in Putney. Graham started off by breaking his arm. 1999 was a horrible year. We had no label, no deal, and we just hid ourselves away and rehearsed. We’d got out of that Corporate rock trait, when you’re thinking, ‘is this as good as such and such?’ We just thought, if the four people in this room like it, then that’s all that matters.
In the early days, we looked like geeks, like kids next door. But we had this air of confidence. We knew we could play, we knew we were in a good band and we knew that no-one else in the fucking world sounded like us. When we worked on Suicide Pact, that feeling came back naturally. We actually reclaimed control.”
Bad Karma, Fat Camp (ARK 21, 2000)
Two new tracks to accompany this ten year compilation.
Andy: “With Bad Karma, I wanted to do a really dumb rock song with loads of energy. I’ve been listening to a lot of old New York Dolls stuff. I wanted this track to be like the Sonic Rendezvous Band meets MC5, with bits of the New York Doll’s Jet Boy and bits of AC/DC. I knocked it out in my bedroom on a four track. Fat Camp was written the way that we’d worked with Babyteeth. It srarted off with a riff like The Stooges, and then it goes into this mad Guns N’ Roses meets Miles Davis bit in the middle. And then it goes back to the Stooges again.
We’ve really got into it once more. I’ve probably bought more records, CD’s and tapes in the last two years than I had done between 1992 and 1996. I’ve completely fallen in love with music again”.