Therapy? leader Andy Cairns on new album Hard Cold Fire
David Roy speaks to Therapy? leader Andy Cairns about Hard Cold Fire, the Anglo-Irish alt-rockers' new album fuelled by Brexit-broken Britain...
THERAPY?'s new record is called Hard Cold Fire, an excellent title and one which has a particular resonance for Co Antrim-bred band members Andy Cairns (vocals/guitar) and Michael McKeegan (bass).
Continuing the alternative noisemongers' tradition of looking to literary influences for inspiration - they have previous form with folks like Beckett, Nabakov and, most notoriously, James Joyce - the phrase 'hard cold fire' was coined by Louis MacNeice in his 1931 poem, Belfast, titled for the city of his birth:
"The hard cold fire of the northerner
Frozen into his blood from the fire in his basalt
Glares from behind the mica of his eyes
And the salt carrion water brings him wealth."
Cairns discovered the verse shortly after learning of a significant connection between the late poet and the area where he and McKeegan grew up.
"I was listening to a Radio 4 documentary about Louis MacNeice and it mentioned that he had lived for a while in Carrickfergus," enthuses the Therapy? frontman, who lives in Cambridge these days.
"Obviously, that's in east Antrim, and I grew up in Ballyclare and Michael is from Larne. I already knew some of MacNeice's stuff, but that just sent me down a rabbit hole - and then I found that brilliant poem.
"It mentions mica and basalt, which are found throughout Co Antrim, and I think it sums up the kind of stoicism of people from our region. In a certain way, that's had a knock-on effect with the way we are as a band: we're belligerent and rugged and we kind of just get on with stuff."
Of course, the poem had a more obvious appeal for a man who has spent most of his life keeping an eye and ear out for good titles (and there'll be another one of those along in just a moment):
"'Hard cold fire' just sounds very 'rock', doesn't it?'," chuckles Cairns.
Album title sorted, all the band had to do next was come up with some songs to go with it, a writing process which began way back in 2019 prior to the onset of the pandemic, which of course then delayed everything - including Therapy?'s planned 30th anniversary celebrations for throughout 2020, which they've only just recently completed.
'Happily' there was plenty of other nasty stuff going on in the world and on their doorsteps which helped inspire a record which leans into the catchy/crunchy side of the Therapy? sound rather than their more esoteric moments - a sound crystalised in the heavy pop-punky clatter of the record's lead single, Joy.
While that tune, along with its similarly tooled lyrical counterpart Woe, the superb Sabbath-esque pummel of Ugly, melodic/melancholic Slint/Fugazi/Cure hybrid Days Kollaps and storming album opener They Shoot The Terrible Master (a nod to to an infamous speech made by US author David Foster Wallace shortly before taking his own life) find Therapy? successfully mining inner angst for inspiration, elsewhere Cairns and co delight in holding up a funhouse mirror to the bin fire that is life circa 2023, addressing everything from rampant consumerism (Bewildered Herd) to the plight of refugees (Two Wounded Animals) and even the north's surging suicide rates (Mongrel).
"Most of the anger on this record is directed outward, at the post-Tory far right, as opposed to inward as was often the case in the past," explains the singer/guitarist of Hard Cold Fire, which was produced by regular Therapy? collaborator Chris Sheldon, knob-twiddler on 2018's Cleave, 2003's High Anxiety and their Top 5-making 1994 breakthrough album Troublegum.
"This time, a lot of the 'ire' is coming from having lived in England for the past 20 years and noticing that recently, post-Brexit, it has started to resemble the way it used to be when I grew up in the 70s in the north of Ireland. There's a similar kind of sense of hatred and division.
"People I know who have wives or partners from the EU, they have said almost exactly the same thing to me - and I don't know where it's going to end. I sort of thought, post-Covid, that things might actually get better. But it's actually gone the other way.
"There's a tension there where it's almost like people think these could be the 'end days' and so they're all fighting for their own little patch. It's disgusting.
"Even with something as simple as 'road rage', it's gotten to the point now where suddenly people's default setting 'I'll kill you!'. Everything is so incendiary all of a sudden, and as someone who comes from the north of Ireland, that's not a term I use lightly.
"I'm constantly in the state of thinking 'this is gonna kick off here'. I was in a well known supermarket the other day and an old lady cut the queue - and the way this young person spoke to her just astounded me. I've never heard someone in the north of Ireland speak to an elderly person like that."
Which brings us nicely to recent single Poundland of Hope and Glory. Belting out its super-catchy chorus - "It's not Jerusalem, Jerusalem is just a city in the Middle-East / It's not Jerusalem, Your Jerusalem is just another myth" - Cairns vents his frustration with the pompous, post-Brexit "we've got our country back" colonialist myth-making mentality of English nationalists which seems increasingly disconnected from harsh reality.
"I came up with that watching the Inside No 9 Proms special and then the actual Proms on TV," he explains.
"I was thinking about how the William Blake poem Jerusalem has become this 'anthem'. But meanwhile, the NHS has gone to pot, there's food banks all over the place and the amount of homeless I see in the town I live in has gone through the roof.
"My wife works in care and things are being shut down, left, right and centre. My brother's a nurse and he's seeing the world falling around his ears. So it's not really a 'land of hope and glory'. It's not a 'green and pleasant land' - it's a green and unpleasant land."
Having said all that, Cairns admits that he's conscious of being more reactionary himself these days, something he attributes partly to just getting on a bit.
"I suppose it comes with age," muses the 57-years- young rocker.
"I find it a lot more comfortable to be reactionary now that I'm older, and the political landscape has changed a lot too now.
"Probably, if I'd written a song like Poundland of Hope and Glory in 1992, my parents' windows would have been put in."
It seems the Therapy? leader draws the line at the band ever penning proper politicized polemics - especially not when there are pun-tastic titles like that of the aforementioned tune just begging to be deployed.
"I don't think we could ever go full-on Rage Against The Machine," chuckles Cairns.
"I'm more into the likes of Flann Obrien, Spike Milligan, some Beckett and even some of the more whimsical Joyce writing, which was all leavened with a kind of dark humour.
"So our stuff will always have those dark Irish witticisms in it somewhere to temper it a little bit."
Sure if you didn't laugh, you'd cry.
:: Hard Cold Fire is released on May 5 via Marshall Records. Pre-order online via therapyquestionmark.co.uk