The Answer: Pure rock’n’roll pleasure!

The Answer

Is they any genre more instinctual than rock’n’roll? For the Northern Irish musicians of The Answer, who are depicted as savage beasts on the cover of their new album, Raise A Little Hell, there probably isn’t. As singer Cormac Neeson confesses in the following interview, it was precisely their instinct the band chose to follow this time, after putting themselves and their environment in question for New Horizon, a year and a half ago.

The Answer have put introspection behind them, and delocalized the recording of their new record to Madrid, a city famous for its warmth and its sense of partying. But they did more than just take it easy in sunny Spain: after all, making and recording music really is hard work. Cormac tells us the whole story of the band’s fifth album – a story that revolves first and foremost around pleasure.

The Answer - Raise A Little Hell

« Yeah, whatever you do for a living, the challenge is to make sure it never feels like a real job. »

Radio Metal: Jamming has always been a big part of the writing process for the band. Was it still the case for this album?

Cormac Neeson (vocals): Yeah, it was. The writing process kind of evolved a little bit through the years for The Answer, but the principles have remained the same. We do still get into the rehearsal space, just plug in and go for it for four or five hours. We just keep everything and then set through the jamming, take out the best riffs, the best melodies, the best ideas and turn these ideas into songs.

Do you think it’s the best way to write honest and breathing music?

We also go off on our own as individuals, trying to write songs, bringing these new songs in the rehearsal space, and then everybody else has their say. So we kind of write songs in two different ways, but a lot of the magic in our band does happen whenever you’re just in the moment, not really thinking too much about it, just letting things develop organically. Jamming is definitely an important part of our sound.

I remember that for the album New Horizon, you said that before writing it, you had discussed about it and made a game plan. How has this affected the very instinctive jamming part of the writing process?

Yeah, that’s a good point. I think this time around we definitely didn’t really have any real plan, other than we wanted to just kind of block out any background noise. We didn’t want to let any pressure from record labels or management or even our own fans affect the creative process, so this time around it was a little bit more free and relaxed than perhaps on New Horizon, which made for possibly a more enjoyable experience. It was kinda like writing and recording our first record, we were just making music for the sheer joy of making music again which was a great feeling. We didn’t really set ourselves an exact guide line, we just let music take us wherever it was gonna take us. We just really focused on having a good time and enjoying the whole process and kind of recapture what it is, what made us be the band in the first place, that freedom. That’s what a song like « I Am Cured » is actually about: clearing the background noise, kind of being free from external pressure whenever it comes to do what we do best and that’s making music. Clearing your head and rediscovering your mojo and being able to do what you do to your best of your ability.

Paul [Mahon] has actually described this album as some sort of “musical reboot”. Is it something that came out very naturally while writing the music?

Yeah, I mean the whole process for this record was very natural. We just really wanted to be able to, as I said, enjoy the process and express ourselves as individuals and as a band. I think we definitely did get back the basics. A lot of the principles that we always had maybe got obscured a little bit on our last two or three records. We definitely brought that all back again. I think this record is one of these albums that will probably remind you of our earlier stuff but you can tell that we learned a thing or two along the way.

On the cover we can see the band members drawn in a cartoon style in a bestial appearance. Is it how you feel when walking on stage? Becoming beasts?

A little bit [laughs]. I think our stage personas are kind of exaggerated versions of ourselves. So that definitely did fit into the concept of the album artwork, but I think that the most important thing to convey with this was the sense of fun, of a band having a good time and not taking themselves too seriously, so the comic book drawing definitely set that tone.

Is it actually what rock’n’roll is all about for you? Liberating the animal in us?

Rock’n’roll is very much about liberation, yeah… It’s an exhilarating feeling, getting up on stage and playing your music and having people sing the words to your songs back to you… That’s why we do what we do, because we love making music. It’s kind of a therapy: whenever I get up there I can vent aggression or my anxieties or any negative emotions… I can vent it all whenever I’m up on stage singing my songs.

Is it important for rock’n’roll to be instinctive?

I think so, yeah. This time what we did is we write a bunch of songs but leaving a lot of space for being in the moment in the studio and see the magic that happen. There were three or four songs from the record that really were only half finished when we went to record, and that part of the process is just getting a good vibe in the studio and a little more jamming, keeping things nice and relaxed and just seeing where the music take us.

The Answer

« You have to be a little bit selfish with the music that you make to begin with. I mean, you also have to take a step back from time to time to remind yourself that you’re one of the lucky ones who can make a living from making music… »

Why did you choose Spain to record this album?

It was our producer’s choice really. I mean, it wasn’t a hard decision to make. You know, whenever you tell four Irish guys: « We’re gonna take you up to sunny Spain and we’re gonna make music for a month », it was an easy decision to make! Our producer recently renovated his great-grandmother’s house, which he had been left in her will, and had turned it into a full residential studio. So we could sleep, eat and make music all under one roof which was fantastic. On top of that the recording of the album coincided with these annual fiestas there in Spain, which pretty much means it was like Saint Patrick day for fourteen days in a row, and everybody would just go out and get really drunk all day and all night! We obviously couldn’t do that because we had work to do, but we were able to go there at night once we had all of our recordings done and just soak up the atmosphere and have a good laugh with a lot of very, very drunk people, get a little bit crazy.

Madrid is a city that is cheerful, very dynamic, people are always speaking very loud and there’s always something that’s going on, even at night, so was it the perfect atmosphere to get in the mood to record this album?

It is the perfect atmosphere, yeah. It was the best of both worlds. With the residential studio you could close the door and lock yourself away and just concentrate on the music, but then whenever you need a little bit of rest, you got that vibe and atmosphere that the Spanish people give you, just really soak up and enjoy, and use this as inspiration whenever you’re trying to come up with more ideas for songs.

You said that you tried to make music for the sheer joy of it. How do you manage to keep that spirit after an exhausting tour, for instance? How do you manage to still be passionate about music now that you do this for a living?

Yeah, whatever you do for a living, the challenge is to make sure it never feels like a real job. I mean, I just think it begins with the songs. We always keep things fresh and interesting whenever we’re writing new songs. We genuinely make the music and we only put an album out there if we know we’re gonna enjoy taking that album on the road. You have to be a little bit selfish with the music that you make to begin with. I mean, you also have to take a step back from time to time to remind yourself that you’re one of the lucky ones who can make a living from making music… That has always been my dream as a kid to be able to get up there to play shows every night, spend a month in Spain and write and record an album. You have to appreciate that for what it is, that’s a very powerful thing, and I very much feel like that’s why I do it, it’s actually a sheer joy.

You’ve already started playing some of the new songs live. Is it important for you to test some of the songs before putting them on an album?

It always helps. It doesn’t always work out to be okay but normally a record’s written whenever we’re off on the road and the next thing that we would do would be to promote the new record. It doesn’t always work like that but when we do find ourselves with a few gigs in the middle of the writing process, we absolutely do test out new stuff just to get a feel for it. I mean, very often at the end of an album tour you have discovered all these little twists and turns the songs can take in a live environment, which really sometimes pisses me off because I always think if we would have known that a year ago we could have used some of those twists and turns on the record but that’s an ideal world. Yeah, whenever we start writing songs, we do have one eye on playing them live, so as soon as we get a song together we like to road-test it and see how the audience takes it.

Being played live, is it the purpose for any The Answer’s song?

It’s not the sole purpose but it’s definitely part of the overall picture, and I think our live act is very much a massive part of the band’s identity. The last few years have been a continuous cycle of writing songs, recording songs, touring with those songs and then you get back into the rehearsal place and start all over again… It all balances out. I mean, the studio time complements the touring and the touring complement the studio thing.

Interview conducted by phone 13th february 2015 by Philippe Sliwa.
Retranscription & traduction: Chloé Perrin.
Introduction: Nicolas Gricourt.

The Answer official website: www.theanswer.ie.

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