Michael McKeegan – Therapy? – Interview12th July 2016
Since the early nineties Therapy? have been a major force in the Alternative Rock/Grunge scene and hot off the heels of their 2015 Infernal Love tour Therapy? were back on the stage at the Stone Free Festival this June, but before hand we managed to sit down with their gentleman bassist Michael McKeegan.
AATR: Basically before we get started a huge thanks for taking the time to chat with us and answer a few questions for the website ALL ABOUT THE ROCK. We’ve obviously had an opportunity to come down to the STONE FREE FESTIVAL to cover it – what’s your thoughts on the line-up for this weekend?
MICHAEL: It’s great, obviously tomorrow is slanted towards a bit more proggy kind of doings but yeah it’s great. Really pleased with the line-up for today – when we were initially asked to do it, it was ALICE COOPER and THE DARKNESS and ourselves were the names that had been bandied about, and we’re big fans of ALICE COOPER and obviously THE DARKNESS. And then it was nice to see MICHAEL MONROE being at it, VODUN and THE VIRGINMARYS who… I love their new album, so It all came together really nicely, lots of bands that I’ve been… as a fan I’ve been looking forward to seeing for a while and a few old favourites as well, so it’s a good mixture.
AATR: Now you’ve got obviously way over 2 million albums sold worldwide [MICHAEL: About 2 million yeah or maybe more than that… I think TROUBLEGUM was about 2 million] and 20 years in the business, do you still get the same buzz out of playing live as you used to 20 years ago, has it changed?
MICHAEL: Well it’s probably quite hard to quantify cos 20 years ago, it’s clearly a long time (laughs), I think… I’m speaking to the band as a whole… I think definitely – we kind of enjoy it more you know because we kind of… well I look back to what our concerts were like in 1994 and there was a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy, but maybe the dynamics weren’t as good as they are now, the last tour we did we played like 90 minutes, a 90-minute set, and we couldn’t have done that in 1994-95, you know, even though we were younger, had more energy and all the rest of it but just because we kind of didn’t know about pacing and stuff like that, and I think we kind of … I think we’re definitely better players now and I think the band as it is now. Neil is kind of the new guy but he’s been in the band 14 years now so he’s… and he’s been in the band twice as long as the original drummer for example, so he’s a big catalyst in everything sounding really good and as a three-piece you’re only as good as your weakest link you know, so everyone’s very focused and stuff like that.
But that’s from a purely technical point of view, but passion-wise yeah I definitely do.
AATR: You’ve also just announced that you’re going to do an acoustic tour with only a small number of gigs planned, during which you’re going to play our album WOOD n WIRE, are you planning to expand that?
MICHAEL: Well, at the minute those… there’s actually 8 shows at the minute in Belgium and Holland but there will be more shows added to elsewhere not in those countries… But yeah yeah it’s something we’ve been planning for a while and it’s just finding the right time to do it because you don’t want (laughs) you don’t want people to think this is maybe your new direction or indicative of what the next album is going to sound like. I think with DISQUIET it was really well received with the fans and stuff and it’s kind of… we’ve been out kind of 12 months… we’ll be out 18 months touring it, so I think everyone’s kind of got the point that we’re a full-on energetic rock band but we’re doing an acoustic thing so we’re kind of… I think if we’d maybe disappeared for 5 years and then come back doing an acoustic thing, it might be a bit like “Oh really? Ok”. So this is kind of tying up a lot of loose ends from the DISQUIET album and just stuff that had. We’d been asked to do this for the last 10 years you know, cos we have done little acoustic things here and there but mostly for a radio session or like a fan club type thing but never a proper show. Which is nice for us cos then we have the luxury to actually go in and properly re-work the songs for that set, not just strum them unamplified which kind of works in some ways, such as unplugged but I think people will get more from that. Yeah it’ll be good, it’s good. It’s like 20… 27 years on the go, it’s always nice to see there’s a new thing to try a new challenge.
AATR: Have you got any thoughts of recording acoustically or putting out a live album from this tour?
MICHAEL: We might, we might, we’re just… Our manager’s over today so we’re just going to talk about a few things there, and maybe a record, maybe a live album from the tour or something like that… Cos it wouldn’t be something we would do a lot, so it would be good to document it either in the studio or on stage because we’re not going to be doing it for the next 20 years you know, the amps are coming back like next year if you know what I mean. Yeah, no but it’ll be good – to be honest I haven’t actually thought that far ahead (laughs).
AATR: You’ve just obviously come off the back of the album DISQUIET, which was very much to my ears back to the roots of the likes of TROUBLEGUM – was that done purposefully; were you trying to go back to that early 90s grunge or metal scene?
MICHAEL: Not really, we had songs that we were working on, new songs obviously, and we’d done the TROUBLEGUM 20th anniversary tour and we’d been playing that set for a while, and straight off the back of that we then went into continue rehearsing and working on the songs. We’re not the kind of band that spends a lot of time sitting around a boardroom table plotting; it’s more a case of the energy and excitement of that tour translated into rehearsals. Whereas maybe if we’d come off 3 months at home, those songs might have been a bit more laid back, you know “Just do it in half time, that’s nice that’s nice”. Whereas it was more like “Yeah come on, let’s come on! Double-up that bit!” So the spirit of TROUBLEGUM was there in the room, probably quite unintentionally.
And then once we had the songs up to speed lyrically, Andy was saying well it might be quite cool to look at what that TROUBLEGUM character’s doing 20 years later. Because TROUBLEGUM is written from a main protagonist point of view – it’s almost like an exaggerated cliché version of an angry 18-year-old. So 20 years down the line, that guy’s hitting 40, what’s changed, is he still angry? You know, and it worked on that level… It’s like, who are we as a band, and as people, and also for the audience that really related to TROUBLEGUM. Is there an element of them they can look back and go “Oh right ok.” It was kind of a good feeling, and it was a nice concept and it kind of worked on a few levels – it could be quite “It’s TROUBLE GUM part 2!” soundbite, or you could go “Well what have you done in 20 years? Think back…” And I think a lot of people kind of liked the idea of it you know; there’d be no point to try and make a record that would sound like it was recorded in 1994, that’s not really what our band is about, but it was almost like bringing an updated version of that lyrically and sonically. There’s certain motifs that run right through THERAPY?’s sound anyway, not unique to TROUBLEGUM, but I think on this one there’s more classic hooks in the guitar, maybe less experimental things, there’s no instrumental on the album for example. A lot of times “Do we need to play this riff sixteen times? No fuck it, let’s play it four.” You know, succinct, to the point, and that was probably half energy coming off the tour and then half when we were in pre-production going “Come on, it’s a great riff, but less is more” type thing…?
AATR: And do you think that the look and the feel that you had with your albums in the last 20 years is part of the reason why you’re still here 20 years later, as opposed to some of the other bands of the 90s era who imploded towards the end of it? Your desire always not to make the same or repeat an album again, to move on?
MICHAEL: It’s not repeating something, but repeating it weaker, making a weaker and weaker photocopy, a weaker facsimile of something that was originally beautiful and great. Ten versions later it’s like “What?” – it looks and sounds horrible. But being in a band can be a fucking nightmare especially if… you know, there’s interpersonal relationships, there’s different weird things going on, financial nonsense and all the rest of it. I can’t speak on behalf of other bands, but I think because we just had that passion for what we were doing, and we’d “Never say die”.
And I kind of understand – all of us understand – that life is a bit like that and you can’t expect your band to be going like that. No one can expect their career or relationships… You have to work at everything and sometimes you’re only in a relationship a couple of years. And we did have massive commercial and critical dips when people weren’t interested in us – you know, the new and bright shiny in thing had come along, but we ourselves had been the bright shiny in thing and we’d benefited and enjoyed that as well. So I think that’s how it works, you can’t be the bright shiny new thing for 25 years, you have to go through that period… And then you come into that other period where you become a legend (laughs embarrassed) because you’ve stuck it out for that long and people go “Actually that lot are alright”, and they go “Ah I love this one!”.
The good is that we never split up. We were always making music so we were always touring, we were always making records. We have 14 albums now that’s pretty good going so we’re just really pleased now we’ve got that legacy, but I often think there’s new things to come, new things to try, like you said about the challenge, “Let’s do a full acoustic gig, 90 minutes, how’re you going to do that?” Right ok, well you rise to the challenge, rather than go “Let’s just make a copy of an album that was great, and another copy of that.” In rock and certain genres of music – well what are genre things – there are templates which are classic: ACDC, THE RAMONES, BAD RELIGION and that’s really great but I think our records – we always sounded like us – but there’s no boxes to tick or “right we need that bit and that bit, and that’s a template”. You know, the ACDC template, the RAMONES template, it’s fantastic, I wish we’d thought of them, but they’ve got them, they’ve got the monopoly on them. That’s not really for us and I think we just like doing slightly different things and I think our fans know that it’s not just going to be the same as last time yeah, you know cos we’d be on TROUBLEGUM version 10 or 11 now and I wouldn’t really be interested in that.
AATR: What are your influences from a modern sound now, new bands that are coming through, you mentioned the VIRGINMARYS [MICHAEL: Yeah their album’s brilliant] are there any other bands you’re excited about?
MICHAEL: Actually VODUN they’re playing today, and… I liked their previous band INVASION, I thought their record was great and then I never heard anything more about it and then someone mentioned to me that two of them used to be in INVASION before and the record’s great, really good. Not necessarily an influence cos I think we’ve been playing together so long it’s kind of gone beyond that if you know what I mean? Not in a big-headed way obviously, we listen to lots of stuff. I like a lot of black metal and stuff like that, and we’re never going to sound like a black metal band but there’s certain sonic things and energy that you can pull things from those kind of bands. An American band NAILS – I just got their new album which is really good, it’s brilliant. And I’m really looking forward to seeing MIKE MONROE tonight cos I think his last album was absolutely brilliant, and the band are great. So it’s kind of a good time for music. The most recent KILLING JOKE album – it’s probably my favourite album in the last 5 years. I just love everything about KILLING JOKE and they just got everything right on it, or they just distilled it magnificently.
AATR: So you’ve got the WOOD N WIRE acoustic tour coming up – any other thoughts for what you’re doing afterwards, have you got any festivals in the pipeline?
MICHAEL: Well we’ve got festivals this summer and then we’ve got that stuff later in the year but we’re just starting to kick some new ideas about. Now we’ve got these shows in November & December time, just work out what we’re doing there, before them and after them. So there are a few ideas floating about but we haven’t actually sat down and said “Right let’s start work”, there’s always things ticking along. The old mobile phone is full of ideas and riffs and it’s just going through those… I’m going back… this is from 2014 so it’s like 120 different sound files of ideas. Not saying there’s 120 good ideas but if one of them is good (laughs) – what is it my wife said, “It’s better than none”. So yeah we’re all chipping away at good stuff and then it’s just a matter of… Yeah we did the INFERNAL LOVE tour which was obviously focused on that album, but we haven’t really had a new materials session yet – but that’ll be in the next few months. You don’t want to jinx these things but I would hope maybe 2017 would be a new record cos that’s two years since the last one. But if it’s not… if we’re not 100% jumping up and down about it… you know, we’ll do it when it’s right; we’re not just going to bash out an album just for the sake of bashing out an album, I don’t think that’s fair on the fans, or fair on the legacy of the band. So it’s always there on the back burner.
AATR: One last question: 20 years of interviews – what one question would you wish you’d been asked but have never been?
MICHAEL: “Michael why are you so gorgeous?!” (laughs) You know what, we’ve probably been asked them all. You know, there’s been some of the rudest, intrusive, personal questions ever and some of the most, you know, “I’ve now idea who you are, I might as well as be interviewing the postman” type thing. You do get asked about your music a lot which is what people want to hear about, but I quite like interviews if people are into movies or different things… I actually met a good friend of ours, a guy called Nicke Borg, he’s in the BACKYARD BABIES, Swedish guy, and he’s got really into horse-riding and it was one of the most brilliant, fun, surreal conversations. I said “How does a guy from a rock and roll band get into that… Did you grow up with horses?” and he said “No” and it was fascinating, cos you see him like this tattooed guitar slinger, kind of punky, and it was fascinating. So there’s always those sides to people you never really hear about. I don’t have anything as exotic as that – I like going to the cinema (laughs).
Disquiet is the fourteenth studio album by the band, and the first album to be released on new UK label Amazing Record Co.
Featured image credit: PG Brunelli