Interview with Therapy? Vocalist Andy Cairns
by Mick Stingley for KNAC.COM (July 10th, 2003)
Besides opening for The Rolling Stones in Europe recently, Belfast, Ireland’s Therapy? are enjoying a warm reception to their latest release, High Anxiety, a metal-y punk ’n’ roll effort on their new label, Spitfire.
Singer Andy (Andrew J.) Cairns took time from their European tour to speak to me, for KNAC.COM. As we got to talking, Andy and I wandered around a myriad of subjects. Perhaps it is the Irish in both of us—a gift for gab as the case may be—but the hour went by too quickly, and our conversation is edited here given our propensity to go off-subject. Andy talks in a raspy Irish brogue and is immediately disarming. For those that love Therapy?—and those that don’t—Andy Cairns is THE guy you want to hang out and talk to and drink with… (especially Guinness!)
[Interview conducted by phone June 3, 2003]
Hello, Mick—how are you?
KNAC.COM: Good, good… how are you, Andy?
Cairns: I’m fine, thanks a lot… I was just going to say, that’s a very Irish name you’ve got there…
KNAC.COM: (laughs) Which part?
Cairns: There was a “Stringley” or “Stingley” at my school…and “Mick”…well…(laughs)
KNAC.COM: Hey… let’s get to it! I like the new album…
Cairns: Oh, cheers… that’s brilliant, dude…
KNAC.COM: Right on… so, where are you calling from just now? Belfast?
Cairns: We’re actually in Cambridge, outside East London in England.
KNAC.COM: Oh, you are! But you hail from Belfast?
Cairns: Uh, yeah, from Belfast. I’ve recently moved to England ’cause my wife’s English so I’ve been living over here the last few months…
KNAC.COM: Well, given where you come from and where you are living now, how do you feel—or do you care—if the elections to the General Assembly ever take place since they cancelled elections under the “Good Friday Agreement”?
Cairns: Yeah, I think it’s important they do take place. I think any kind of electorate in the country that takes place needs to be pushed forward… and I think people really need to know the truth. The Good Friday Agreement is great, but they really need to move it forward—it’s been stuck at the same, the stalemate, for quite a long time, so it really needs to move on…
[The Good Friday Agreement was, more or less, to set into motion the self-governing of Northern Ireland in a three-tiered body comprised of an all Northern Irish Assembly, a joint North-South Irish Ministerial Council and an Irish/UK Council. It has been irrevocably stalled by political infighting… since its inception in 1998.]
I get a funny feeling that a band’s that been around and made 9 records in 14 years… if they’re offered a chance of us, or a band that’s on a major record label that’s full of 21 year-old kids that have tons of money, who’s gonna get the gig, you know what I mean?
KNAC.COM: You grew up… around all ‘the troubles’ in Ireland… the violence—especially in the North… how did that influence your music?
Cairns: Yeah, yeah… it—well, it didn’t really influence the music itself much directly, I think what it did influence was that music was one of the things that both communities tended to bond around… I mean, out of different bands I’d played in and different musicians I’ve known it’s one of the few things that—especially during the great political strain of the troubles—would cut across the divide. The band at the minute has both Catholics and Protestants in it; it’s never genuinely influenced the maybe the kind of music as much but maybe the harsh sound of the music might come from the surroundings. But lyrically, it’s never come from that. But politically, though, it’s definitely brought together the two communities… for us… It’s one of the things that in Belfast tends to happen—people from both sides of the divide will come together in bands.
KNAC.COM: That’s encouraging… good to hear. So let’s talk about your music and what’s new. You’re on tour now… getting ready for a tour?
Cairns: Well, actually, we’ve been touring for the last month around Italy and Central Europe, and we’re going over to Ireland actually tomorrow—Dublin, Belfast—and then we’ve off to the festival season in Europe.
KNAC.COM: Any U.S. plans?
Cairns: Well, we really want to come over. Though we’ve never been that popular in the States, we’ve had a lot of people that we’ve kept in touch with, plus there’s a lot of hits from the website and such, it’s kind of the thing that now that we’re not on a major label—A&M used to bring us over there all the time to support major bands and things. But we’d really love to do it the old-fashioned way… so if the record gets a good-enough reaction and Spitfire want to give us some kind of tour support then we’ll come over at the drop of a hat. We’ve always had a really great time over there—we’ve made quite a lot of friends—but we’d like to come over and get a good two months touring of the record at least.
KNAC.COM: You worked with Ozzy Osbourne sometime back… Were there any Ozzfest possibilities this year?
Cairns: Not this summer… I don’t really know. I get a funny feeling that a band’s that been around and made 9 records in 14 years… if they’re offered a chance of us, or a band that’s on a major record label that’s full of 21 year-old kids that have tons of money, who’s gonna get the gig, you know what I mean? I mean, we could always ask, you know what I mean? But to be honest, we’ve done the whole thing in the past—we’ve done shows with Ozzy in the States, we’ve toured with Rollins, with Helmet, with Jesus Lizard, Nine Inch Nails… The thing that I’d really like to do this time around would be to come over and do the club shows, tiny clubs whatever… the old-fashioned way, which we never did. Whenever we were on A&M we were kind of straight over with a big press package full of hype from Europe and the States didn’t bite… but this time around I’d like to go out and make friends by gigging really, really hard.
As well as doing your Manchesters and Londons and your Dublins and Glasgows, we’d also play these places that were slightly out of the way… and the kids are always really glad that someone’s made an effort to come to their town …
KNAC.COM: Are there some places over here that you’d especially like to come to?
Cairns: To be honest—the more obscure the merrier. The likes of the New Yorks and San Franciscos and all that… We’ve been there quite a lot of times and we’ve always had a good time but I think it’s really important, if we want to make a few friends and build up a fan base… you know what I mean? I think it’s important that we play the places where people never go… that’s how we certainly did it in Europe. As well as doing your Manchesters and Londons and your Dublins and Glasgows, we’d also play these places that were slightly out of the way… and the kids are always really glad that someone’s made an effort to come to their town, so… to be honest, I’d be more excited about playing someplace I’ve never heard of than I would about playin’ New York.
KNAC.COM: In the meantime, you’re touring Europe in support of High Anxiety, you also have a video on the disc for If It Kills Me…
Cairns: Yeah… and we’re actually filming the Mandela Hall gig on Friday for a worldwide DVD release… now while there is the other video out that’s been show on some rock shows, this thing we’re doing on Friday will be a two-DVD set: a live concert in our home town and the second one will be a two-hour documentary on the history of the band, which will be good ’cause it’s getting an international release and that’ll be good for the people in America that never got to see the band live or anything.
KNAC.COM: Are you out playing a little bit of everything or are you just concentrating mostly on the new album?
Cairns: What we tend to do the first half of the tour tends to be like seven songs of the new record, eight songs… and as the tour goes on we incorporate more into it. It depends where we’re playin’—if we’re headlining our own show, and we have like an hour and three quarters to play, then we’ll play most of the new album and tons and tons of stuff from the older albums. If we’re playing a festival where we’ve got like forty minutes, the best thing to do there is to play like five tracks off the new album and five tracks that people already know.
KNAC.COM: And playing those festivals… do you guys get to ‘party’ a lot afterwards, or…
Cairns: Do we party? Oh, yeah…
We’re not the kind of band that if there’s kids hanging around the tour bus that we’re going to go and tell the tour manager to lead them away and have them shot, you know?
KNAC.COM: Or do you feel that you’ve maybe toned it down a little as you’ve gotten older?
Cairns: I thought we had until we got back last week… we still party… we can still put younger bands to shame… I think the hard narcotics have been knocked on the head—I think for us it’s more… We’ve a saying over here called, “Back On The Beer”…and it’s that maybe you’ve sown your wild narcotic oats, and you kinda realize that you’ve maybe done your system a bit of damage… and then you begin to rediscover the joys you had when you were sixteen of drinking a nice cold beer… so we drink a bit of beer and maybe a bit of fine whiskey… and, we still party hard… thankfully, none of it is chemically fueled these days, you know?
KNAC.COM: Thank God! You mentioned earlier about playing shows where most people don’t or won’t play… when you’re touring, as you are now, are you accessible to your fans after your shows and things like that? Do you get a chance to meet with them?
Cairns: Completely—always! We’ll always go out and meet people. We’re not the kind of band that if there’s kids hanging around the tour bus that we’re going to go and tell the tour manager to lead them away and have them shot, you know? We always spend time with them [as] we always have done. It’s nice since you always get to meet new people as well… It’s always really, really good to talk to people who are buying your record, your concert tickets and your t-shirts. It’s also handy if you go somewhere that’s in the middle of nowhere like some industrial estate, it’s always good to hang out and talk with people afterwards… they know their way around, if you follow…
KNAC.COM: …Sure do… Now getting back to the album… tell me a little bit about Hey Satan—You Rock…
Cairns: Well, that’s a completely sarcastic piss-take… I don’t what it was like in the US, rock may never have been out of fashion, but in the UK at the minute, all of a sudden, rock is in fashion. Now rock used to be really, really derided for years in the UK and the scene was this terrible music that no one liked… then the press couldn’t really avoid it because bands like Slipknot and Linkin Park started selling records and it’s really increased now, even going through bands like the Foo Fighters and The Datsuns and people… and then this is really good that kids are getting into rock music at a younger age… but it was just written about sitting in a shopping center in England and watching younger and younger kids appearing in Slipknot and Linkin Park sweatshirts and also in these same shops seeing the prices of these same sweatshirts going up and up and up… You could almost say it’s a marketing man’s dream now the younger kids who could want to wear these things with “People = Shit” on them and things like that. This is no disrespect to Slipknot whatsoever, ’cause I think they’re a fine band, but it’s just the people that obviously—now that rock’s become a bit more fashionable—the powers that be will start incorporating darker and darker images into their advertising because now they know that will sell to younger and younger people. The song initially started out as a sort-of Johnny Cash song… but it morphed into this pseudo-Motorhead thing…
And he didn’t like The Stones, either, he said, because he believed that they were middle-class white guys pretending to be working-class black guys…
KNAC.COM: I was thinking that it had a little bit of a Misfits feel to it, actually…
Cairns: Yeah, there’s definitely a Misfits feel on little bits and pieces over the record… I think what that is… I mean, I’ve loved the Misfits for years, but I could never really put my finger on why… and I realized that when I was brought up, my father was never really into The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, he was always kind of into American ’50s music—Del Shannon and people like that… Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers… The first time I heard the Misfits as a kid I thought, “This is absolutely incredible!” it’s soulful and punk and then I realized as I got older that a lot of the vocal melodies probably reminded me of all those old ’50s records…. so—on the record—that’s maybe where it comes from.
KNAC.COM: So growing up was less Beatles and more doo-wop? Your father’s influence?
Cairns: Not directly at the time, obviously, ’cause it was my father’s music and it was bor-ing! (laughs) As I got older I actually quite admired the fact that my dad didn’t like The Beatles. When I was going through my heavier punk n’ metal phase and I was trying to expand musically, I was asking my father if he had any Beatles records, ’cause everybody at school knew everything about The Beatles… and my dad just said that he never liked them: he thought they were too clean cut. And he didn’t like The Stones, either, he said, because he believed that they were middle-class white guys pretending to be working-class black guys…(laughs)
KNAC.COM: (laughs) Your dad sounds like a great guy!
Cairns: The only stuff he had was like the really old ’50s stuff like Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly and things like that… so I got ’round to listening to that… and things like that.
KNAC.COM: What of the punk stuff influenced you when you were growing up?
Cairns: Well, the first punk band I loved was The Buzzcocks, when I was about 12 years old… and then I really kind of got into like, The Clash, was totally into the Clash for a long while… I kind of lost a little bit of interest until the first American wave of punk came over, like Minor Threat and Black Flag came along because—sort of in England and Ireland—it went punk and then “post-punk,” so I was kind of getting into like Gang of Four and Joy Division and I was getting into early REM records and I kind of thought that now that I’m 16 or 17, I’m probably not going to listen to punk the same way again… then I heard My War (by Black Flag) and thinking, “Oh, ho! Fantastic! Here we go again!” And then I completely went down that road of Hüsker Dü and got into Dinosaur Jr. and The Minutemen and bands like that… Meat Puppets…
I think looking back on it—there’s some fantastic songs written—but the whole thing seemed just kind of wealthy and right-wing and conservative… it didn’t really fit. I mean five good-looking guys in Duran Duran on a yacht in “Rio” really said absolutely nothing to me about my life in Belfast.
KNAC.COM: You never got struck by the “New Wave” of bands that came along? Did you hate them? Like them? As most of those first bands out were coming from your side of The Atlantic and they set off such a huge explosion with the beginning of MTV—I’m curious to know how that impacted you.
Cairns: Well, eh… I don’t really know, because I was still in school while that was kicking off, and I had been disillusioned with the UK punk scene, and found myself—I found the same energy and anger in bands like Joy Division and The Birthday Party… and even early Sisters Of Mercy records, I was kinda listening to that…
KNAC.COM: Not to interrupt, but dude, I fucking love the Sisters Of Mercy…
Cairns: Oh yeah? Great sound… still like ’em a lot! Gang of Four and Killing Joke and bands like that… I mean, my wife is very much into all that other, ‘New Wave’ stuff, stuff that she grew up with… Duran Duran and that kind of stuff…I don’t really know…. I think looking back on it—there’s some fantastic songs written—but the whole thing seemed just kind of wealthy and right-wing and conservative… it didn’t really fit. I mean five good-looking guys in Duran Duran on a yacht in “Rio” really said absolutely nothing to me about my life in Belfast.
KNAC.COM: With that last sentence in mind… what were you feeling when you wrote If It Kills Me?
Cairns: That was written… on my own one night in the back of the house… and it all started…. I started writing songs (again) the way I used to see when the band started years ago, where I would get a drum machine and just put trance-like riffs over it and work in vocal melodies… and then when we’d take it into the band, we’d work it out and make it sound like Therapy? And that was kinda like a really droning hypnotic Killing Joke riff and I was having a really good night actually, and I was just thinking… I was having an awful lot of shit going on in my life and the sort of gist of the song was just that if it kills me, I want to make sure that those close to me that I love and respect will be alright, and that at the end of the day that the only thing that matters is that the people that I love and respect are fine.
KNAC.COM: With good songs like that—personal, and powerful—what are your hopes for the album… with the new label?
Cairns: Well, I think really, that after 14 years, we’re just really, really glad to get this one out. I mean, the only thing about it was that we got a new drummer just 10 days before we went in to record it. And we had just these songs written at home, so the whole thing was done incredibly fast… 2 weeks to record and a week to mix… and we wanted to do it as much as possible. The good thing about it that it’s given us a great deal of sense of purpose and focus that we were maybe lacking for a couple of records… and certainly on If It Kills Me, I wanted to develop the sound of the band more in that kind of way just to make things more slightly like the band used to be… so I think what we really want to do at the minute is just get out there and show people what the new line-up sounds like and what the songwriting is—in my opinion anyway—has gotten slightly better than the last two records, and hopefully just move from there. I want to show people that we’ve still got “hundreds of energy” and we’re still up for it and we’re gonna be around for another few records, yeah?
… the DJ that was on the main rock show actually declared live on air in front of 7 million people that the album should be burned! And we thought it was the best album we’d made in years and still do!
KNAC.COM: Okay then, how would you describe Therapy? to someone who’s maybe never heard you?
Cairns: I would say like, kind of… the generalization is “twisted punk-metal-pop”…I would say…
KNAC.COM: With High Anxiety and bringing that sound out, do you find—as you’ve spent the last 12-13 years on labels—how do you feel about being in a band as a primary source of income? What is the pressure to perform like? Does it come from others, or do you only recognize the pressure you put on yourself, if any—or both…or none? What is the relationship between art and commerce for you? How do you feel about the “record business”?
Cairns: Well the thing is, we started off doing our own records, which we paid for ourselves, then we were on an indie—we were on Touch And Go in The States which was a really nice experience. Then we had four years with a major label worldwide, and we’re weren’t that naïve when we entered into it—we knew exactly what we wanted—if we did sell a lot of records, then we would be on the treadmill and have to make that crossover and be U2, Bryan Adams, Guns N’ Roses or whatever, which we didn’t do… and then we found ourselves on an indie that was owned by Universal Records, so that was like splitting the difference. ARK 21, an indie, but still distributed by Universal, then we find ourselves on Spitfire, which is a rock label… so it’s taken us 14 years being in a rock band to end up on a rock label!
I don’t know, I think we’ve gotten a great deal of wisdom about it. I’m certainly not bitter about anything, you know. We did four albums on a major and then we got dropped because only one of them significantly sold and the rest of them didn’t… but you know, we’re totally realistic with a band like us—the way we look, the way we sound, the kind of lyrics and songs we write, you know? We had one album, Troublegum that did sell well, that was in ’93, ’94 when we were in the right place at the right time, post-Nirvana, you know… choruses and big guitar licks… so it’s given us a great deal of wisdom which is probably why we’re still around, and it’s also given us a great deal of freedom which I think—going back to the art-commerce argument—the fact that we made an album in 1999 called, Suicide Pact—You First, which the main radio station in the UK—which played us every album up until this point—the DJ that was on the main rock show actually declared live on air in front of 7 million people that the album should be burned! And we thought it was the best album we’d made in years and still do! So I mean everyone at the company was going—“You see what they said? You see what they said? You’ve committed commercial suicide!!!” Blah-blah-blah… and we said, “Look, we’ve made this record (Suicide Pact—You First!) and compared to some of our other records, there’s no choruses or catchy melodies, but we think it rocks! We’re going to tour it for nine months and if we can survive the tour and the band doesn’t split up, then we can do what the fuck we want.” And we did that… and we’re still together.
It’s important to keep yourself happy and be able to sleep at night for Chrissakes… If you want to write commercial songs, then by all means do that! If you want to write songs for Britney Spears or whatever—but it’s whatever so-called “alternative” bands write pop songs and then get a certain sound and try and gloss it up as “genuinely challenging”—once you get over that certain divide when you’re working with major companies, you’re going to have to shit or get off the pot really, you’re either going to have to decide to become “the next U2” or decide to be more artistically free, which is what we did.
KNAC.COM: But you never set out to be the next U2 or the next whatever…
Cairns: Not at all, no… we always considered ourselves musicians first, and as long as we can make a living out of doing this and we can still feel that we can do what we want. We’re the kind of band that record companies don’t even bother to check anymore, they seem to feel that they can trust us, and we’re realistic. We’re not going down to say, “We’re going to give you an album that’s going to sell 3 million—can you give us loads of money in advance and we’ll give you the next Nevermind or whatever…” We don’t do that. With Spitfire, we went in and said, “We’re gonna make a record, we’re writing it at the minute, we’re not sure what it’s going to sound like. We’ll let you know whenever it’s arriving on your desk…” and to be fair to Spitfire, they were pretty good about it… A&M would interfere every now and then… ARK 21 were pretty good… I think we sort of got the message across… (laughs)
But when we did the next record, the entire creative A&M crop was at a meeting before we even played a bloody note. And the very term used was, “We see you guys as The European Metallica!”
KNAC.COM: What kind of interference would A&M run?
Cairns: Oh, God! Well, before it happened, it was ’92, grunge and Nirvana, so they were signing fucking any band with a guitar and dirty hair, and I think they saw us as the Irish Nirvana, and the first record did whatever it was—I think 100,000 copies worldwide, and they thought, “Well, this is okay, so we won’t interfere…” Next record, which was Troublegum in that year sold something like 600,000 copies [It has since gone platinum.—Mick]—which completely shocked the band, nevermind the record label! So the record label all of a sudden felt, “Right. We’ll get involved here.”
Now, I would like to think as an outsider that, if a group of individuals had made a record and, okay there was money being put into advertising and radio and whatever, and it sold 600,000 off the band’s own steam, then why wouldn’t you just let it be natural? But when we did the next record, the entire creative A&M crop was at a meeting before we even played a bloody note. And the very term used was, “We see you guys as The European Metallica!” And this is before we even wrote the fuckin’ thing… so we’re looking across the table at these guys that look after Janet Jackson, that look after Bryan Adams, that look after Sting… and you know the only reason they said “The European Metallica”? it’s that they do not know, at this point in the mid-90’s, they knew of no other rock band apart from Nirvana, than Metallica! They had no idea… and then it got to the point that they’d be down at the studio every week and then at one point, when they sort of realized they weren’t going to get a Metallica album, they changed their tack—we were “Depeche Mode with guitars!” Then we had to point out that Depeche Mode had already used guitars on Violator….so this kind of thing went on for a while… and then in ’98 with Semi-Detached, the record was made in 5 or 6 different studios since the label didn’t like what they were hearing, and they wanted to “brighten the sound up” and all this kind of crap… so we got out while the going was good! (laughs)
KNAC.COM: Wow! (laughs) The Irish Metallica? Depeche Mode with guitars? That says so much about the music industry… that’s hilarious! It sure sounds like Spitfire is treating you a lot better anyway…
Cairns: Well, it’s like any other record label—ask me in a year’s time! (laughs) So far things have been fine, we don’t have any complaints…
KNAC.COM: And where is that DJ who said your album should be burned?
Cairns: She’s still on Radio One… she played this album actually—she likes this one!
KNAC.COM: What’s her name?
Cairns: Maryann Hobbs… although she’s still got a job! She’s all right actually… we did an article with her for the Shameless album on her show—it was just Suicide Pact that she refused to play… which is a pity ’cause I think she missed out on one of the best albums made in the UK in the ’90s—in my humble opinion! (laughs)
KNAC.COM: Well, let’s hope the future brings a day where some record label is telling a group to “the next Therapy?”….
Cairns: Eh… maybe this time next year they’ll be telling us we should be “the kind-of Irish Linkin Park”! (laughs)
KNAC.COM: (laughs) God, I hope not! (laughs) Andy, we’ll keep an eye out for you…
- Heavyfuckingmetal (Gaesteliste.de, 2003)
- Interview with Andy Cairns on Shameless (Pixelsurgeon, 2001)
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Reviews of ‘High Anxiety’
- Sorted magAZine (2003) “… it rocks like a proper motherfucker.”
- KNAC.COM (2003) “… aptly-titled album that cooks with speed and harmony ….”
- Hot Press (2003) “… you’ll be glad to have Therapy? back on your couch.”
- Rock Sound (2003) “… label Spitfire must have been creaming their pants ….”
- Classic Rock (2003) “… Therapy? are a necessary evil once more.”
- View all reviews >