Tucked in the basement bar of The Pheonix Artist club, The Carouser grabs a pint with The Answer.
The Northern Irish band are just coming to the end of a short second tour for their latest album Solus and are looking forward to releasing their new track “In This Land”. Frontman Cormac Neeson reflects on the album, tells us about their journey back to their roots and the thing that the Irish are famous for – drinking.
How was headlining for the Planet Rock festival?
Honestly, it was amazing to get the headline slot. Turning up, not knowing what to expect- it was pretty amazing. We just played a couple of gigs in Ireland so we ironed out the creases, you know?
We played a lot of new material. We did a six week European tour just before Christmas and about 9 of the 11 tracks from the new record, we consciously chose not to play anything from the new album. It was quite a nervous moment stepping up there with the new material.
In the new song “In This Land”, could you explain the concept behind the characters you mention – Smokey Joe and the mystery men?
I’m paying tribute to some of the greats that came out of Northern Ireland like Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher and “Hurricane” Higgins. I also wanted to kind of capture the grass end roots of where we’re from because I spent eight years working in a bar when I was a kid. And like everyday, I was amazed by the colourful array of characters that would walk through the front door of that bar, ya know? Smokey Joe kind of came straight out of that experience of working in a bar when I was a kid. It was the first kind of balance between the great and the good. And the not so great and the not so good.
Smokey Joe was an actual character, a real life guy. The mystery men is referencing these kind of armchair politicians that are a dime a dozen back home that think they’ve got all the answers. They’re quite happy sitting at home with a glass of whiskey in their hand, sorting out the world’s problems rather than getting out and doing it, you know? It’s quite a short song so I was kind of limited with the kind of characters that are getting in there. I was really trying to cram in a little slice of day to day Northern Irish life.
Are most of your songs influenced by drinking then?
I’d like to think that some of the songs definitely are influenced by drinking, yes. Especially on Solus there’s a lot more to it. I think this record has afforded us the opportunity to go a bit deeper than kind of sex, drugs rock and roll. Definitely in every record you’ll find songs on there that have maybe a more serious message than going out and having a good time. There’s nothing wrong with that and I’ve definitely written a lot of good time rock ‘n’ roll lyrics. This album has kind of liberated us to a certain extent. We weren’t writing it with anybody in mind or what people might expect from The Answer. We were really kind of mixing it in, pushing our own boundaries and experimenting with different genres. So the lyrics will reflect that.
Some of it’s come from a harder time in my life. Just before we started writing the record my baby boy was born very premature, he was in the hospital for the first four months of his life. Especially if you’re an artist or musician or songwriter, the best way to deal with it, with that kind of trauma is to express yourself through music and I tried very hard to do that. Our “Irishness” is very much tied up in this record and the drinking culture is a very big part of it. So it sort of is but it’s not central.
Does politics play a part in the “Irishness” of the record?
I definitely try to comment on the drama that exists in our country and that’s not just about politics, it’s about the social situation, geographical situation and our bright colourful history as well. We wear our Northern Irishness as a badge of honour. We’re very proud of the people we’ve become off the back of the very unique situation that we’ve been in and we’re still in I suppose.
What would be the track that your most proud of in this album?
I’m really proud of this album as a whole piece of work. A few songs, “In This Land”, “Being Begotton”, there’s quite a sonic vibe going on. Kind of a trippy one. “Thief Of Lights”- a song you wouldn’t usually find in our first five records. I think it’s a good example of the evolution I was talking about. Just having fun writing songs again because it feels good and there’s a vibe in the room and you just run with that. There’s no background noise from management.
We got the opportunity to write it with Neil Davidge (producer) from Massive Attack. So that was pretty cool. In the early days we would have not been collaborating with Massive Attack. But I love the balance between his world and our world and we managed to blend those two genres together and made a pretty powerful song.
I guess your Irish Identity is key for The Answer now?
It is now yeah. It was never really expressed properly through our music. And that always kind of jarred with me a little bit. I’m really glad that we’ve finally been able to make that record.
Is there anyone different that you’ve been influenced by in this record?
More traditional folk. Like all of us have grown up in more traditional families and I could start riding off bands that you’ve never heard of but there’s kind of traditional Irish music gods in our country. Chris De Burgh came out of that scene. Paul Brady… All of these great bands that kind of in their own day, in the seventies, they were kind of pushing the boundaries of how Irish people were perceived and kind of made it cool.
There was a load of hippies kind of smoking whatever and making trippy Irish music. We were fed this stuff growing up as kids and I used to write in Irish language. Gaeltachts they were called where you would go away in the summer for three weeks, hang out with some friends and you were only allowed to speak Irish.
The language, the music and the culture is a massive part of where we’re from, you know? On the record you’ll hear Irish instrumentation making its way through bouzouki playing, there’s mandolin on there, there’s a samba band on there too randomly as well. It’s not just Rory Gallagher and Thin Lizzy but there’s kind of more organic grass roots folk.
You’ve been doing this a while now. Is it still fun being on tour?
Absolutely, you jump in that tour bus and it becomes your bubble for the next six weeks. A normal life, normal rules don’t really apply and it’s very self-contained environment. Three to four weeks are kind of nice you know but anything more than that my little boys are starting to forget who I am and that’s never a nice feeling.
“In This Land” is out St Patricks Day. Buy their album Solus here.