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Therapy?

The alternative rockers from Therapy?, who recently gave a few shows in The Netherlands and released their latest album ‘Cleave’, might be a unusual choice for an interview in Lords Of Metal, but mind you: their band members are more metal than most of you. Especially their bassist Michael McKeegan. After interviewing several times dictator Andy Cairns in the past (he once was willingly enough to sign the panties of my former girlfriend. It was a washed one, no worries…), this time Lords Of Metal had the pleasure of asking Michael some pain-in-the-ass, silly and provocative questions. Because we’re an e-zine that is mainly, but not solely, focused on metal, we thought it would be interesting to ask him also about his musical taste and his first musical steps, which appears to be rather heavy. Well, so far the introduction: here we go!

Door: Evil Dr. Smith | Archiveer onder alternative / pop

Hello Michael. You have a Dutch wife. Congratulations with your geographical correct taste for women. But why did you steal her from us? Don’t you have nice ladies in Northern Ireland?
Thank you! She is indeed a very nice lady with very good taste in music and food, so that's cool!

On September 15th you started with the European tour, all the bloody way up north in Helsinki, Finland. How did it went? A bit sturdy?
Show was a one-off gig on a boat so was a new experience for us. Thousand or so crazy Finnish rockers going mad for 24hrs or so. Was good fun, we threw in a few new songs and looking forward to getting back to play there next March.

So here we are with the next episode in Therapy?’s career: ‘Cleave’. I was kinda surprised by the catchiness of the record. All the stubborn, obstinate Helmet, Unsane and Big Black noisey riffs are [almost] gone and it sounds like a return to form. Andy says in several interviews “The album sounds like ‘Troublegum’ meets ‘Nurse’ but made for the 21st century”. Do you agree, or do you have a different/extended feel about it?
We spent quite a bit of time making sure all the riffs, beats and vocals were hooky and memorable... that was sort've the intention when we went into the rehearsal room. Personally I find the record harks back a tiny bit to the year 1993 when we did the three EP’s (Short Sharp Shock, Face The Strange and Opal Mantra) and there are some stylistic nods to that period. Obviously with a contemporary sonic approach of course!

You hired the same producer who also produced ‘Troublegum’ (and ‘Semi-Detached’ and ‘High Anxiety’ as well, by the way): Chris Sheldon. His name is almost automatically a guarantee for a successful alternative rock album: his mixing and producing curriculum is quite intimidating and enormous, so it’s not REALLY a surprise your album sounds less ‘angular’ and ‘uncommercial’. And quite dated and vintage. Not vintage 60’s, but vintage 90’s. And why not, we’re almost thirty years further, with all the autotuning, triggering and ‘dehumanization of music’. Is that his influence, a mutual process, a decision made beforehand, or.. well, just tell me.
We didn't really discuss the sonics of the record beforehand with Chris as we all have quite distinctive sounds and playing styles and trusted him to capture them in a way that was sympathetic to the songs. He did spend a bit of time in the room with us playing the songs as well, suggesting some arrangement and tempo ideas so he a had a pretty accurate idea of how the band sounds.

The day I received your music from your promotor [Ron], it was the very same day the news told us that Jill Janus took her life. She was well-known in the metal scene for the (beautiful) face and voice of Huntress, but she was also suffering from bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder, schizophrenia and, if that wasn’t enough, in early 2018 she was diagnosed with uterus cancer as well. I assume Andy is the main man responsible for your lyrics, but I understand that the themes on ‘Cleave’ also deal with psychic diseases like depression, burn-outs and other fears. For instance the song ‘Callow’ deals with the (zombielike) effects on being too dependable on medicines, isn’t it?
Yes, it was very sad about Jill, a big loss for the metal scene. Andy does indeed write the lyrics so I’m not the best person to guide you through the themes etc but yes, they do touch on mental health and the various ways in society these manifest themselves. Also the theme of ‘division’ is a bit factor in the lyrics (hence the title 'Cleave'), in the UK we have the bullshit of Brexit, in the US a President who wants to build walls and divide people plus there is a worrying rise of far-right politics across the globe. We come from Northern Ireland and we have seen first-hand the effect ‘division’ has on people and communities, it has a massively negative influences on everyone and everything.

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Trivial nerdy question time! Everyone is talking and writing about ‘Cleave’ as your fifteenth album. To my knowledge it’s your thirteenth full-length. Does everyone suffer from the same dyscalculia, or do they count the EP’s ‘Babyteeth’ and ‘Pleasure Death’ as well? Speaking about EP’s: ‘Cleave’ is a rather short album, your shortest album since… ‘Pleasure Death’. Kinda like the ‘Reign In Blood’ of alternative rock.
Yes, we always count the mini-albums as separate albums as they were recorded in different sessions and have quite different approaches. With ‘Cleave’ we wanted the maximum impact (like ‘Reign In Blood’ as you rightly say!) so we wanted it to be the kind of album as soon as it finishes you want to play it again. I think in this day and age, unless you are playing more expansive or soundtracky music, no album needs to be longer than 40-45 mins. We actually recorded two other songs for the album but when it came time to sequence it, we found they didn't ‘sit’ with the other songs. Two great tunes but they just jarred a bit with the running order.

There it was, Slayer: the second metal reference. Time to dive into your metal connections. And that started already before Therapy?. You played in the crossover thrash metal band Evil Priest in the late 80’s, together with your brothers Charlie on drums and Ciaran on guitar. It was all pretty amateurish and supposedly not too serious, regarding what I am hearing on YouTube. Yes, even YouTube dug up a recording of your obscure first steps. What can you remember about those days?
Indeed, I grew up on metal and that led me onto the NWOBHM, thrash metal, death metal then on into black metal and all that dark noisy stuff! The band Evil Priest was never very serious, we had a limited playing ability and wanted to copy that Venom/Possessed/Bathory sort of thing along with a lot of punk influences like the humour of the Dead Kennedy's etc I suppose it was just frustrated kids in a boring-ish environment trying to have some fun and excitement. We did a couple of gigs and rehearsed quite a lot but nothing ever really came of it.

Was the name of the band, which is/was your nickname as well, from the Death Angel song ‘Evil Priest’? I wouldn’t be surprised, because the crossover thrash/thrashcore does have some similarities with their sound.
We actually had the name before we heard Death Angel. In Ireland at the time there was a lot of rumours of ‘evil’ clergymen doing terrible things and abusing their position so we of course thought it would be a suitably blasphemous name. Of course in light of all the recent revelations about the Catholic church we were spot on with the name. Scumbags! And of course as we loved “The Ultraviolence” it was double confirmation when we saw they had a song called the same.

Did you used any ideas and/or even song[part]s from Evil Priest during the first days of Therapy?
No I don't think we did, or if we did I can’t remember.

Since the inception of Therapy? you almost solely focused your music career on this band. Besides the very short-lived Sons Of Massey [with your brother Charlie again] in the late 90s I couldn’t find any other projects of bands. Only the last couple of years I see some other activities with for instance East Antrim and Haunch. The latter one released also an album, ‘Lay My Bones Beside The Others’. What can you tell me about those projects? And I don’t want to disturb you or ruin your ambitions, but I listened to the sole song on YouTube from Haunch which was uploaded in January 2018, and I was… the third listener.
Hahaha...yes, the Haunch thing was a low-key bit of fun really. A friend had built a studio and wanted to test it out and do a recording. He and a friend had a load of songs so we did it quite quick. I don't think we were ever in the same room together either when we did it, the wonders of modern recording technology. But it was really good fun and I always like to play bass, makes my playing in Therapy? better also!

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On the official Therapy?-site you mention your favourite bands and before this interview I didn’t expect your taste was so “Lords Of Metal-approved”: Carcass, Napalm Death, Death Angel, Dark Angel, Death, C.O.C., Motörhead, Neil Young, The Melvins, Acid Bath, Morbid Angel, Slayer, Clutch, Kreator, Deathrow, Snuff, Mercyful Fate, Anthrax, Testament, Entombed, Mr. Bungle, Mayhem, Emperor, Marduk, REM, Agents Of Oblivion, Brad, Weezer, Electric Wizard. Fuckin A man, you’re (almost) totally metal! (By the way: thanks for mentioning Agents Of Oblivion, I didn’t know that Acid Bath-spin off. Sounds not metal at all, but bloody awesome.) Okay, question. Finally. Never thought of playing metal again? W.H.Y. N.O.T.?
I’m made of METAL, my circuits GLEAM! Like I said I grew up in a very exciting time for ‘metal’ music so I heard a lot of the good stuff first time round. Starting with Thin Lizzy and Black Sabbath then hearing Maiden, Motorhead etc then Metallica, Raven, Anthrax and onwards into thrash, death and black metal. Really cool times to be discovering these new scenes. And no, no plans to play ‘metal’ again, I get a good metal fix with the intensity of the Therapy? sound!

To be the devil’s advocate: your choices are all very “political correct music”. Don’t you have no guilty pleasure? Dancing on the table with Rihanna, singing along under the shower with Abba, listening to Richard Clayderman when you have a romantic evening with your wife? (If she’s a real Dutch girl, she would punch you in the face for putting up Clayderman and immediately file for divorce).
Don’t get me wrong, I also listen to a lot of non-metal and ‘uncool’ stuff (though of course I think it’s all COOL if I like it). I grew up on The Carpenters, Simon & Garfunkel, Dolly Parton, Elvis as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes. One of my all-time favourites has to be Cat Stevens as well...so not very metal eh?

But still cool though, even Dolly. Do you have any good metal tips for our readers? And it can’t be obscure enough. (And to give you one as well: try Thy Catafalque, a progressive avant-metal band from Hungary with [space] black metal influences. Especially ‘Rengeteg’, which might be my favourite metal album of the 10’s)
Cheers, I am gonna check that album out, I have heard the name but need to investigate. New(ish) metal bands I can recommend are Tomb Mold, Howls Of Ebbs, Rodent Epoch, Ondt Blod, Haunt, Slaegt, Cloud Rat, Endless Swarm, Sepulcher and many more. Some brilliant recent albums from some older favourites as well: Voivod and Deicide!

Don’t ask me why, but I just think you might have a big record (vinyl and/or cd) collection. Is it, and if not: why not? But when it is: could you mention some of your most precious (metal AND non-metal) items in your collection?
It is quite big, lots of vinyl and of course cd’s. A lot of my ‘precious’ stuff is only precious as they are albums I bought when I was in my teens, the Thin Lizzy albums and Black Sabbath stuff. Mostly all battered and played out originals plus a lot of the thrash albums are all there...Whiplash, Kreator, Artillery. I do have a lot of 7”’s as well which are rare/valuable but I don’t think I'll ever sell them. I did however sell all my original Burzum vinyl when it became clear he was such a Nazi, I didn't want to have them in my house so they had to go.

One more thing about this: What was the first metal album that made a real impact on you? It would be funny if you going to say now Death Angels’ ‘Ultra-Violence’ and if this is actually true: have you ever played together with them? Would be great package, because the both of you have quite a reputation being awesome on stage)
It would probably be AC/DC “Highway To Hell” or Iron Maiden “Killers” as they were two of the first ‘proper’ metal albums we (my brothers and I) bought. Of course the cover of the Iron Maiden album was a big attraction! Never played with Death Angel which is a pity as I still love them and their recent albums are great (along with the last Testament album, best older thrash albums of recent years!).

Like I said, you got quite a good live reputation. But in your career there’s only one live dvd and one live CD. Finally there was a second live album last year: ‘Communion (Live At The Union Chapel)’, but it was self-released. I even missed this one. Why self-released?
‘Communion’ was an acoustic live show and we recorded it at the Union Chapel which has an incredible atmosphere and acoustic. We were sort've between labels at the time so we felt that making it a limited self-release would be better than trying to find a label to put it out. We wanted to save the first release on the new label to be a proper electric, noisy studio album, hence ‘Cleave’.

You played at Wacken Open Air in 2016. I think that’s not an usual place for you to play, in front of an [orthodox and devoted] metal crowd. Weren’t you a bit nervous how it would turn out beforehand? And will you be playing at other metal festivals in the future?
Maybe on paper we were the ‘odd band out’ but we played after Marduk and before Mike Monroe so I think we fitted nicely in between both of those ;) My only concern was that our set was at the same time as Iron Maiden on the main stage, but I’m pleased and proud to say our tent was packed with 7,000 maniacs from start to finish. It was a very special show from our point of view!

Some shorties now. What’s your least favourite song to play live, but which you actually [have to] play live, because it’s a crowd pleaser.
To be honest I struggled with some of the ‘Troublegum’ songs a while back but when we did the anniversary shows I went back and re-learned the songs exactly the same as the studio versions which really helped me focus on getting them tighter and more fun to play. I don’t think we ‘have’ to play any songs every gig, I can honestly say we enjoy playing the hits as the crowd really love it and it’s a joy to play them. The fact they are great songs also helps!

Which song would you really want to play live, but you don’t (because Andy hates it, or Cooper can’t drum it, or whatever reason).
I would like to play ‘Safe’ from ‘Semi-Detached’ sometime but we never really did it, even back in the day. No reason either...I do think it’d sit in very well with the new 'Cleave' sound as well.

We’re going to see you again in January in The Netherlands (in Maastricht, Amersfoort and Amsterdam). I’ll bet the set list is not quite finished yet, because I can’t imagine that you will only play two songs from your new album, like you did in Helsinki. Which songs are nominated to be played on stage? And which shoes do I have to polish so that you will play ‘Neck Freak’ as well?
Well, the [first leg of our] tour is done and we played between eight-ten songs from ‘Cleave’ each night and it went great, people were singing and dancing along which was fantastic to see. No ‘Neck Freak’ though, we did play that a lot on tour maybe 5+ years ago so it’s sadly now on the back burner. Apologies.

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To conclude, I have (another) request. I bought once a T-shirt at your merchandise. It was the Punk Floyd shirt (a bit like the pic above). I think it’s a totally awesome and funny shirt. Unfortunately, I lost it. Albums are re-released every now and then, so what about a re-release of that shirt?
MM: I actually think we did do a new version of that, maybe 10 years ago or so!

Therapy? will be on tour again in January 2019. Check their website for the dates, or our gig guide for their shows in Holland for more information.

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