Shortly after SXSW 2008, Anny Randel spoke to Cormac Neeson, the front man of The Answer, over the phone just outside their practice room back in Ireland. Here are a few excerpts from the interview! (I tried to leave in the traces of his really beautiful Irish accent, but to hear it for real you’ll have to catch them on tour.)
Savvant Music – Are you guys still in the US?
Cormac Neeson – No, we’re not. We’re actually back in rainy Ireland, cold rainy Ireland. We were back halfway through last week. We were in Austin then we went on to Los Angeles for a few gigs and also to meet some producers with our next album in mind. So, ah, yeah, we’ve had a bit of a comedown I’d say. Going from SXSW which was absolutely amazing and then that was our first time in LA, and that was, what a great time, so now were back to bread and water at home here trying to get some more new material right there. We’re going to do the next album hopefully at the end of April, start of May time so we’re just getting all the stuff together.
How did it go in LA, your shows and meetings with potential producers for the album?
It was amazin’, our heads were spinning, but we met like nine or ten producers ….so, it was a lot of information and it kinda took us a few days to get home and get our thoughts together and to really start to compute everything that went on, you know? But the gigs were great, and we played The Viper Room, and we played a venue called Spaceland. And we got a surprisingly good crowd at both the gigs, actually, we weren’t really expectin’ anybody to turn up except for the people that we had invited, but a few people had heard of us on the Internet and … that was a welcome surprise you know. We just enjoy the whole American vibe and have a good time when we’re there.
Are The Answer planning any additional U. S. touring?
The priority at the moment is to get the second album recorded, and we’re gonna be going out most likely to L.A. to do that, so we’re gonna be there most of May, June, July time, and then as soon as the album’s done and dusted I think we’re gonna have a September release date, touch wood, so we’ll do a few festivals in the summer time and then get straight into the touring… I would imagine that America will be pretty far up there priority wise, so … everybody should keep their ear to the ground.
What’s your dream or vision for The Answer? Where do you see yourselves taking this group?
Right now I would say what’s going through our head every moment of every day is this next album. You know we want this to be an important collection of music. Our first album wasn’t even released in the States. I think we’ve sold a hundred thousand plus records in the UK, Europe and Japan, so we really feel that we want to make the next step on this record. First of all, get a release in the States and move it from a hundred thousand to a couple of million all bein’ well. [Laughs]
We enjoy the life that we’ve got. We’re making music and we’re living off our music so want that to continue and to continue for quite some time, so it’s important that we deliver a really good second record, and I think we’ve definitely got the songs to do that.
Who writes your music?
We all do. All do together, and as opposed to, you know Lennon and McCartney partnerships where usually one guy wrote it and both of them put their name to it, we actually all do our fair share of the writing. And generally what happens is we’ll go into the practice room, all start to jam through different ideas that the boys have had, maybe one or two or whatever, and then we’ll get them all out into the open and we’ll all carve them into songs, make sure they’re nice an’ interestin’ and make sure that there are a couple of hooks in there and we’ll do it that way.
Alternatively, sometimes Paul will come out to the practice room with a verse, a chorus and a bridge – the bare bones of a song and he’ll give it to me first, and I’ll write some lyrics and stick a melody over it, then Mickey and James will jump into the equation and everybody will throw in their fifty cents worth, and by the end of it we normally have a pretty decent song … So, there’s usually two ways we do it, but both of which are quite democratic, I think, compared to the way a lot of other bands that we know do things.
What kind of places do you guys get your inspiration from? I thought it was kind of interesting that you have this really excellent song “Preachin’” that’s about a Baptist minister, right, and here you are these nice boys from Northern Ireland. What makes you write a song about a Baptist minister?
Well, you know, I mean, Northern Ireland has had it’s share of religious contention. … I don’t generally like to play that up too much. It is what it is, in our opinion. We’ve all lived through it, but it can’t help influence, I suppose, some of the things I’m gonna write about. But from a lyrical perspective, I always prefer people to ask… I mean, you don’t ask about individual songs because I’m really open minded, but it comes to inspiration, I could write lyrics from a story I’ve read in the paper, I could write lyrics about a person I’ve met, about an event I’ve witnessed on the news or first hand. Pretty much anything that turns my head I’ll kinda go and write a song about it.
So, what did get you to write this song about a Baptist minister?
It’s kind of take it’s leaves from a lot of the things that the old blues artists would sing about back in the day of delta blues music, you know Robert Johnson, Son House and all people like that. But I must say, I just kind of saw some comparisons between what they were singing about – obviously completely different context to our own – but I thought to myself, I suppose if we start singing about a Baptist church over in Ireland it could mean something completely different to what the old blues men were singing about, but I thought it was a really nice kind of duality there you know… And Paul came in with a nice specialty guitar one day, and we all took it from there.
We caught The Answer‘s gig in the Kerrang! Showcase at Latitude 30 in Austin, Texas during SXSW 2008, where fans were jumping up on stage with the band. We thought you handled the crowd amazingly well. How did you feel about it?
It was a good crowd. As you know the SXSW gigs can sometimes be kind of overrun by industry, and they don’t generally create that nice an atmosphere for a rock and roll band, but that particular gig did catch the essence of a good rock and roll show. It was a fun gig.
Which of The Answer‘s songs do you like the best?
I’m allowed to start plugging the new stuff, am I? We wrote a song that we actually played at the Latitude 30 … called “Comfort Zone.”
That’s a song that … starts off a bit more laid back than some of our songs, but builds all the way through it. It’s the first song that we’ve written in DADGAD, you know, which also I find very interesting because it’s actually a turning that a lot of Irish traditional guitar players, which I’m also interested in, are playing. So when ever Paul and I [started playing] around this kind of DADGAD idea, I think everybody just kind of jumped on it immediately and got really excited about it all, and it was one of these songs that came together, you know. We played through it a couple of times late in the day, and then I drove back to Belfast and actually stopped by the side of the road because I was, you know, humming it to myself the whole way home, and I got the bare bones of a lyric in my head. So I pulled over by the side of the road and scribbled down the lyrics! [We looked at it the next day to see how the lyrics fit] the music and in this case it really slotted down nicely and everyone got very excited. It was one of those nice moments in the creative process. You know, it wasn’t too much of a struggle, it all came together and at the end of the day we had this beautiful song … to use for the next record.
And I suppose off the first album, I really like “Come Follow Me” and “Under The Sky.” “Under The Sky” actually would probably be my favorite off the first album because it was one we actually completed in the studio on the day. You know, we weren’t going in with a complete song, and again, it was one of those moments whenever it just kind of came together. I think the type of music we write and play kind of lends itself to that type of organic, natural feel where we’re not kind of breaking each others back trying to make things work. You can play around ideas all day, all week and at the end of it you have nothing to show for it– it should come easier than that, and “Under The Sky” was one of those that did.
Yeah, yeah! Deep Purple as well. We’ve been lucky [in our support roles]…The biggest one of all was obviously The Stones. We played a gig with them at Belgrade in front of 80,000 people… in Belgrade, Serbia … Since the war, they’re still quite new to these big rock gigs – they had a lot of fun and everybody’s so crazy about the music and the fact that The Stones bothered to go there. It was a really nice atmosphere, and by far and away the largest crowd we’ve ever played in front of.
From a showman’s point of view, Mick Jagger’s definitely a … legend and that, you know. Paul Rodgers … he actually got up and played a couple of songs with us… and that was real highlight because he would be my favorite singer in the world… I would be heavily influenced by his type of singing. But from a front man just controlling a large group of people, there’s nobody better at it, I’m convinced, than Mick Jagger you know. I thought The Stones would be great and that I’d really enjoy it, but I was absolutely blown away by it! And most of that is Mick Jagger’s charisma – it’s just a sight to behold.
How long have The Answer been together as a group?
And, if you don’t mind my asking, how old are the members of the band?
We’re all in our mid-twenties.
Well, seven years probably seems like a really long time to you guys, but from a rock and roll perspective these days, you’re still a pretty new group and yet, you guys have a really, really great presence on stage.
Thanks, thanks, I mean, It’s something that wasn’t always there, … I think we’ve spent more time together than [with] family, friends and strangers put together for the last seven years, so we got to the point where we know what each other’s going to do up there, and it’s nice because it means the boys can go off on a jam at some point and it doesn’t all fall apart like it maybe would have done in the early days, you know. … We’re all very comfortable with what we’re playing on stage and we just get up there and make sure that we enjoy it, relax and have a good time.
How long have you been with your label, Albert Productions, and how has the label impacted you as a group?
A good question… I think coming up to two and a half years, I’m gonna have to guess it.
[The relationship is] working pretty good, I have to say. They’re one of those labels that you know in this day and age that they’re a rarity in that they believe in giving bands time to develop and mature and reach their peak rather than demanding it from the very offset…
You know, we’re watching so many major labels fall into a whole world of trouble and going bust, and bands getting dropped or getting tied to their contracts and really having a horrible time of it. But we’re quietly working away in the background. We believe we’re quite secure in our position within the label, and we think we’re a large part of their plans which is all so a great feeling. Ourselves and the label are all kinda getting our heads together and really looking forward to making this next album, and hopefully as I say turning a few heads, and hopefully the label and ourselves will do well from it, you know.
Were you all in any bands prior to The Answer?
We were all in bands before this one, and where we live we’ve all been brought up … a couple of us were taken out of Belfast at an early age, and myself and James plus Paul … have lived in the countryside our whole lives. Where we were brought up there’s not much else to do but start a band, or develop a drinkin’ habit!
We’ve all been in bands from age 14 upwards, but none of the bands really we took even half as seriously, obviously, as we take The Answer. It wasn’t until the four of us stepped into a room together we realized exactly the kind of music we wanted to play, and how seriously we wanted to take it, and how much of our lives we wanted to dedicate to that thing, ya know? And, so it was great, I wouldn’t change it for the world … but I’m glad we all met each other.
How did you meet?
I was actually in New York, whenever I’d left school and went to New York to work, you know, … I got a letter from Paul and Mickey sayin’.. they’d heard of me from singin’ in another band and that they were starting a rock and roll group and that if I was coming back to Ireland any time soon to look them up and come round and try out for the band. As it turns out, I was goin’ back to go to the university in Belfast like a week later, and whenever I did this on the first word of my first lecture I ended up sitting beside Paul Mahon, who was doing the same thing in the same degree as me, which was completely bizarre! And on a strange, strange twist of fate, and we got talkin’ obviously, and we realized who we were and “Ah shit! You sent me a letter in America and, all right, you’re Paul!” And we arranged a practice the following Saturday, the boys picked me up… We played some… covers and … everything just felt right! So, we got James on board shortly after that on drums, and that was that, you know?
As we signed off the phone, I’m thinking that Neeson’s final words to me were meant for all of The Answer fans. He said, “Thanks for your support, darlin’! We appreciate it.”
You can buy all of their current albums on iTunes, but as yet the physical albums are only available in the United States as imports (you can order them from TheSavvantStore.com, but as imports, they are pricey). The Answer’s new album is expected out this fall, and they are working on obtaining US distribution.