Words and Interview Joel Parnell.
In many ways, rock music today seems to have gone full circle. Compact discs and even downloads are considered uncool and vinyl LP’s once again reign supreme. We’ve seen just about every imaginable subgenre of rock have its moment in the spotlight and it seems we’re just now coming to the end of the age of ‘Indie’. Though whatever trends come and go you can be sure that there’ll always be a place in people’s hearts for no-bullshit, balls to the wall rock’n’roll and Northern Irish band The Answer are living proof.
They’ve spent the past 15 years and five albums laying down almost nothing but classic, Led Zep inspired heavy rock and it’s taken them to places most rock muso’s can only dream of. Supports for AC/DC, Deep Purple and Aerosmith (just to name a few) don’t get handed out to just any old chord bashing yobbos.
I sat down with The Answer’s charismatic frontman Cormac Neeson and asked his thoughts on playing classic rock in 2015.
CN: “We do listen to a lot of seventies rock and roll music, you know, guitar based, blues driven rock. We just do that because that’s what we love doing. To turn our backs on that just wouldn’t be staying true to our musical tastes. I think the challenge for a band like us is to take those influences but twist them in such a way that they have some kind of relevance in modern music, so we do try very hard to make sure that we’re not just rippin’ off Led Zeppelin (and that) we’re doing our own thing, we’re writing our own songs and making music that is fresh to our ears and hopefully fresh to our fans’ ears as well.”
For the band’s latest album, Raise A Little Hell, Cormac and the fellas made a trip over to Spain to record with their friend and producer Will Maya (Breed 77, Panic Cell, The Mirage, Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden), Brigade).
CN: “Our own home studio is in Northern Ireland and it pisses rain for about eight months a year over here so when our label suggested we go to Spain to record it wasn’t a hard decision to make. On top of that, our producer is a Spanish guy and he just recently renovated his Great Grandmother’s home, which he’d been left in the will, into a beautiful residential studio. We basically flew into Madrid, made our way up to this small town just north. We offloaded our gear and just slept, ate, drank and made music all under the same roof in this little town in the Spanish mountains, it was a pretty cool place to be, very vibey. We were lucky enough that the annual fiesta had just kicked off when we arrived, which basically involved bull running in the morning, a lot of afternoon drinking, bull fights in the early evening and then a lot more drinking into the little hours of the morning. For us, obviously we had a lot of work to do, so we couldn’t really indulge as much as the locals. What we would do, is we would get up in the morning and watch the bull runs, go back to the studio and maybe work for ten or twelve hours and then we’d go out and just kind of have a few beers, to clear our heads, but at that stage the whole town had got completely plastered, you know, they’d been drinking all day so at that stage it was kind of like walking around Dublin on St. Patricks Day for like fourteen days, which suited us just fine, obviously.”
JP: “Did you get in the bull runs at any stage?”
CN: “I did, once and it got a little bit too close for comfort. I didn’t do it again after that. I didn’t wanna come home with any unexplainable injuries. It’s very rare that you leave Ireland to record a record and come home with an injury, so I didn’t want to change that (laughs).”
Though the method is tried and true, it’s important to add some dynamic and versatility to the style of music The Answer play to avoid getting too repetitive and going stale. Even AC/DC, a band notorious for having achieved massive success by writing the same song 387 times, have had to mix it up from time to time. I asked Cormac how he thinks their latest release stands apart from their previous work.
CN: “I think with this one we kind of returned a little bit to the bands old school values, you know? We tried very hard over the course of the writing process to really block out any background noise or any external pressure, whether it be from record labels or from management or from our own fans. You know, everyone has an opinion as to the kind of record The Answer needs to make and we just tried to really lock ourselves away from all that and focus on just getting a good vibe in the rehearsal space and writing good songs, getting over to Spain and doing those songs justice in the studio. As a result of that, I think this record’s very ‘free’ sounding, it’s quite a liberating record and it was liberating to create. I’d like to think that it inspires similar emotions to listen to it. You know, it’s quite diverse. We don’t want to just get pigeonholed as a band that can only write a four to the floor rock and roll song, there’s nothing wrong with that and we do do that but there’s been more to The Answer than just that and I think this record reflects all that.”
JP: “How do you feel about the ‘vinyl revival’ that’s happening right now? Are you a CD’s man or do you prefer LP’s?”
CN: “A bit of both actually, I mean I do collect vinyl records. I got myself a record player about six years ago which is kind of ahead of the curve, ahead of the revival that everybody’s talking about but it bodes well for a day off (from being) on tour and when you’re fishing around for vinyl, more and more mainstream music shops are stocking almost as much vinyl as they are CD’s. Which is pretty crazy, it’s such a complete reversal to the way it was going for a lot of years. I do think that music sounds better on a vinyl record, there’s just something about it, it’s a lot warmer, it feels very organic. So the whole ‘vinyl revival’ suits me just fine.”
JP: “What’s on the turntable at the moment?”
CN: “I discovered a band called The Cadillac Three there just at the end of 2014. They’re a Nashville based bluesrock band and even though that’s kind of the area that we specialise in, it’s really tough to find other bands doing that similar kind of stuff that I can really appreciate. I don’t know whether I just don’t want to give other bands credit or what it is but if I stumble upon a record of the same ilk as what we’re doing and it really gets me going, then I’ll listen to it constantly, for months, you know? This Cadillac Three record, that’s one of those albums.”
Cormac remembers the bands formative years in Northern Ireland…
CN: “There’s lots of Northern Irish bands that people might not be aware of, (laughing) unfortunately. When we started out, it was a little bit of ‘us against the world’. I’m talking purely about the Belfast music scene, where we cut our teeth and got our first gigs, before we headed over to London and got a record deal and stuff. It was quite an ‘Indie’ orientated scene at that time and to do the kind of music that we do definitely was not very ‘cool’ but to us, that’s what made it cool. There were a couple of bands around at that time, a band called Dirty Stevie and a band called Swanee River, both of whom are no longer together but they were doing just balls out rock and roll music and the three of us, we’d organise our own gigs. We’d had many a night kind of crying into our pants about how the Northern Irish music scene was so narrow minded and so cliquey and everything else but I imagine if you talked to any band they’d have a similar kind of story about their local music scene. That’s just the way it is. But I mean, now there’s more and more rock and blues bands coming on to the scene in Northern Ireland and across the board. You’ve got bands like Rival Sons and The Temperance Movement breaking into the mainstream and it just seems to me like it’s become more of an accepted practice to get up on stage and play bluesrock and roll, which is good for us.”
…And their first trip to Australia
CN: “I remember our first tour in Australia was with a band called Eagles Of Death Metal (at this point I interject with an enthusiastic “Farrk yeah!”) who are fun guys to be touring with. Australia is a fun country to tour. We’ve a lot of happy memories, met a lot of great people and had a lot of… sore heads the morning after shows. We’ve been to Australia a couple of times now and we always get made to feel very welcome and we’re looking forward to getting back there as soon as possible.”
JP: “If you guys are The Answer, then what’s the question?”
CN: “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”
The Answer’s Raise A Little Hell will be released 9 Mar 2015 in Australia on Napalm Records via Rocket Distributors & on Nerve Gas.