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INTERVIEW – CORMAC NEESON, The Answer – March, 2015

| 30 April 2015 | Reply

INTERVIEW – CORMAC NEESON, The Answer – March, 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

If The Answer sounded like they were treading water a little on 2013’s New Horizon, then their latest album, Raise A Little Hell, should dispel any such notion.

The Answer Cormac Neeson 01

A raucous tumble of leather-throated rock n’ f’n roll, Raise A Little Hell sees the Irish band bashing doors in and kicking jams out over the course of twelve high octane tracks that play to their many strengths.

Singer Cormac Neeson says he was happy with the initial reaction to the album, when we called him for a chat recently.

Cormac: It’s got a good reaction so far, I have to say. I think we knew we were on to something good pretty early on in the writing process. We kind of decided at an early stage just to cancel out all forms of background noise. We weren’t writing this record for our Napalm management. We were writing this one for us. It sounds like a given but sometimes that background noise can really twist the record in weird and wonderful ways. This time around it kind of felt more like we were writing our first album all over again, just purely for the love of making music. I think it makes for a pretty free sounding album. It’s quite diverse. There’s a lot of flavours on there and you can clearly hear that we’re having a lot of fun making it. It came out well.

Shane: It’s interesting that you use the words “a free sounding album”. One of things I scribbled down in my notes was it seems like it’s possessed with a real looseness and a sense of fun that maybe was a little more lacking over the last couple of records.

Cormac: Yes. I think you’re right, man. New Horizons is quite an intense, hard-hitting sounding record. I think this time around there’s a little more lightness to the touch, if you know what I mean. We just wanted to get in there and make a lot of noise and have a lot of fun doing it. That really opened up the whole writing process again and we got our mojo back to a certain extent.

We started jamming in the rehearsal room for hours at a time like we used to back in the day and everybody was contributing to the songs. This record is very much ‘by the band for the band’. We definitely all kind of mucked in and really just set ourselves a target of enjoying the whole process. Because we’re five records in, and it was like… Why are we doing it? Why do we do this? Why do we traipse around the world playing a different city every night, living in a bus a lot of the time? It confirmed that we just like making music, and I think you can hear that kind of joy of music making in the album this time around for sure.

The Answer 01

Shane: That’s another point I was going to discuss with you. Being five albums in, if it is just a matter of creating and loving making music, can you not just do that amongst yourselves at home and not have to worry about this huge, big world out there and go and get real jobs, for instance?

Cormac: Don’t ever mention the phrase “real job” in my presence again [laughs]

No, I think the writing and recording music is one side of what we do but taking it out in the road is a whole other side of things that is equally important to us. It’s a massive part of our identity, is our live show. To have a record full of great music and not to take it out into the great big, bad world out there just wouldn’t work for us. I know there are plenty of artists and bands that prefer to stay in the studio all day, every day a year at a time and they don’t really like the whole live scene that much. We were a live band before we were a studio band and that love of playing live music has never left us and never will.

Shane: You recorded with Will Maya this time around. I think he mixed New Horizons, is that right?

Cormac: He actually mixed a few songs on New Horizons. He’s basically been around since album number one. He was the in-house engineer with Albert Productions. Through him we put out our first two records. He’s kind of been ever-present in the background and he’s a great friend of ours. Whenever he hears that we’re making another record, he’s the first guy on the phone going let me [produce] it, and we never have done until this point, [laughs] for one reason or another.

Again it comes down to not over-thinking things this time around. Very often we review seven or eight potential producers and listen through them and listen to their records. Will rang us up and said, ‘listen, let me do the record’, We know he’s very talented guy, and we’re comfortable around him, he’s a good friend, and we just rolled with it.

He took us over to Spain where he recently renovated his great grandmother’s villa in a small town just outside Madrid. We moved in there. It was a residential studio and we slept and ate and drank and most importantly made music all under one roof and it was just a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I think the fact that he knows the kind of musicians we are, the kind of songwriters we are, he knows how to get the best out of us, it made the whole process a lot easier than most and he really kind of pulled it out of the bag in this one for us.

Shane: That must have been a nice experience with sangria and tapas all around.

Cormac: Yes. It was pretty out there actually. When we arrived Will told us that the annual fiesta was about to begin which was basically a week long festival where people travel from far and away to come to this small town and watch bulls run through the street in the morning and they get drunk all afternoon. Then [they] go to the bullfight in the local bullring in the centre of town in the early evening, and then continue to get drunk until the small hours of the following morning. This happens non-stop for a full week. If you step out of the studio you can hear the music from the festival PA just blasting a couple of streets down. It really kind of fed into the record – it was a proper party atmosphere the whole time we were recording.

We would start our day by going and watching the bulls run in the morning, then we would have a couple of beers right after like the rest of the town, then we’d go and work all day. We’d go out for a few beers maybe about midnight that night by which stage the rest of the town had got completely plastered drunk and was kind of falling all over the place, literally getting shovelled off the ground and sent home. It was just a bizarre surreal experience from start to finish.

Shane: It sounds like that in the grooves of the record too. Like it said, it really sounds like it’s a pretty loose fun album. Tell me about the record cover. What was the inspiration behind that, talking about a sense of fun?

Cormac: Obviously the record itself is essentially a good time rock n’ roll record. We wanted the cover to look like it was fun, like, a bit more of an album cover that makes you think that The Answer aren’t taking themselves too seriously. Our label artist came up with these cartoon alter ego characters which he turned into a full-blown animated caricature album cover.

The Answer - Raise A Little Hell cover

Storm Thorgerson designed the album cover for New Horizon. You know his work. He did all the Pink Floyd stuff and his cover is quite proggy looking and makes a massive statement with very powerful imagery. Storm passed away since then, so it was impossible to continue to go down that route because nobody could really better that – he was the master of that kind of album cover, so we wanted something completely different from that. When we realised what kind of album Raise A Little Hell was going to be, then Sebastian Jerke, the artist, suggested the idea for the characters, and we thought, ‘yeah, you know, get some sketches out and show us what you mean’. Once he got them over to us we could help him do a work-up. It’s a fun cover for a fun record.

Shane: Cool. You guys have never been shy about releasing acoustic versions and cover songs as b-sides or bonus tracks. Do you have anything special in the box to accompany this album?

Cormac: Yes. There are a couple of reworked tracks from the record we’ve done acoustic for a couple of bonus tracks. There’s three bonus songs on the special edition of the record that we worked up with the rest of the songs on the record. They just didn’t quite make it on there, but they’re proper good rock n’ roll songs and they’re worth checking out for sure, you know. That happens every time we make an album. We’re always left with a few extra songs. We’ve never been one to stockpile songs for future records. We always rather just get them out there in one way or another so that when it comes around to making another record we’re starting with a clean slate. As a result it makes for a lot of bonus material over all five records. There’s some really good quality material there which I would imagine very few people get to hear but it’s out there if you want to go and find it.

Shane: Absolutely. The double album bonus editions of your previous albums are fantastic. There’s all sorts of cool stuff in there.

Cormac: It’s always been the way. We throw our hearts and souls into the project. As a result we end up with way too much music but that’s a good problem to have.

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Shane: Yes, definitely – better than the alternative! The Answer spent a year or so supporting AC/DC, of course, back at the end of the decade. You seemed poised to jump up a couple of rungs on the ladder of success at that point, but it almost felt like the band stalled. Is it possible for a working rock band to be financially successful and independent nowadays?

Cormac: Yes. I think so. We’ve been doing this for a living for ten years now and obviously we’re not as stratospheric as AC/DC by any stretch, but we’re making it work. I think the secret is to get a good functional team behind you. Get decent management, and ideally a label that have a vision and are going to support you in what you do. Besides that, the most important thing of all is to make sure that you’re putting out a high level of quality material. We’ve always had that internal quality control. We never short change our audience. There is never any filler in our records.

Whenever we get up on stage, we give it everything we’ve got, if it kills us – we want to make sure that the audience go home with smiles on their faces. That’s been our philosophy and it’s worked for us so far and long may it continue. The more success, the better. We don’t shy away from success by any stretch but at the moment it’s working for us and we hope that this record could maybe be that platform that we could step up and take it to the next level. We just keep up the music and keep trying to make it work and hope that we’ll get a few breaks along the way but right now it’s working just fine for us.

Shane: You have a reputation as being one of the most fearsome live bands in the world. If I was in a band I certainly wouldn’t want to follow The Answer on stage.

Cormac: I’m glad that we inspire that kind of fear.

Shane: Lyrically speaking over the five albums, you’ve had a resolutely upbeat, very positive, and sometimes almost spiritual set of lyrics and messages in your songs. I asked [guitarist] Paul Mahon in late 2013, when I interviewed him for the last album, whether that meant that you a glass-half-full kind of a band. He said that the three of you were but he was a bit more realistic. Is that how you see things?

Cormac: I definitely think all four of us are quite different people, actually, given that we’ve lived out of each other’s pockets for going on 15 years. I think maybe that’s where it works for us. Where we meet in the middle is what The Answer actually is. Our musical tastes or personalities are across the board. We definitely have our own opinions and our personalities are quite different.

Me, personally, I am very much a half-full kind of guy. We’ve been through probably the same amount of shit that most people have been through in the course of 15 years. You have to take some punches along the way but we wouldn’t still be doing this if we didn’t have the right attitude to it all and have a sense of optimism that keeps us moving forward. You need that spirit I definitely think, and I read a lot of the lyrics and I think you’re right – you’re picking up on that… all my lyrics are from the heart but a lot of them just are distant and real life experiences. Maybe I twist those experiences a little bit for the sake of the song but it all spawns from truth. That kind of optimism, it’s positivity. I’d like to think it’s a genuine passion. It’s sharing an experience, that’s for sure.

Shane: Even a song on the new album, like Gone Too Long, which could be a subject which could be approached in a very negative way. You’re literally apologizing ‘for all the shit I’ve done’, I think is one of the lines in the song. Once again it’s an uplifting song. It’s a positive song. You’re making amends and looking back presumably vowing to make changes.

Cormac: Yes. That song, it’s apologetic but it’s looking forward at the same time as well. The same goes for the song The Other Side. It’s actually a tribute to my own father. He passed away 11 years ago. I’ve always been a little bit wary of writing a song that directly deals with my dad’s passing because I don’t want to be that guy who writes a nostalgic song and everybody goes, ‘ah, poor guy’. I would feel like I’m using my dad’s memory in the wrong way for that. But at the same time, it’s always a constant presence in my mind and it seeps through a lot of the lyrics I write, just not directly.

I’ve never been opposed to finding the right way to pay a tribute to my old man. I think on The Other Side, I just about managed to do that and I think that it celebrates his memory and it’s thanking him for the legacy he left behind and the impact he’s had on my life. Initially the music was written some time before the lyric was and the music was so upbeat and powerful I thought this could be the platform to write that song. I managed to get a piece of lyric that I was happy with at the time. Always looking forwards as opposed to back, man – I think that’s the secret.

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Shane: Excellent. The album is called Raise A Little Hell. When you guys go out on the road, are you raising hell?

Cormac: [Laughs] Sometimes. Yeah, we do enjoy ourselves out there. I think you have to. It’s part of the life that we lead. I don’t think we’re quite in the same league as the Motley Crue’s in this world, but we give it a good old go. [laughs]

Shane: Very quickly because I’m just about at the end of my time. Will we see The Answer in Australia to support this album?

Cormac: I really hope so, man. We’re touring. Our schedules run right up to the end of our summer at the moment – we’re in the UK, then Europe, then America, then back to Europe for festivals and then back to America. September, October time I’m constantly – believe me when I tell you – I’m constantly onto our booking agency saying, ‘man we have to get back to Australia in a couple years. We need to get down there before they forget about who we are’, we’re trying our best.

Category: Interviews

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