It's been said many a time that rock 'n roll is a dying breed. I disagree. Sometimes bands come along that shine so brightly that their light is undeniable; when we are caught within their glow we are mesmerised. This is The Answer. Welcome to the rock 'n roll revival.
In a recent chat with Cormac and Micky I discussed with them their latest album, touring with AC/DC, and the new single 'Nowhere Freeway' (featuring Lynne Jackaman of Saint Jude), amongst a whole load of other stuff.
'Revival' (aptly named) is the kind of album that makes you feel part of something special. Since its release in October 2011, 'Revival' has been received with open arms. Years in the making, the guys pulled out all the stops to get this record just right, including heading to El Paso in Mexico to record it.
"It's like a proper kind of sanctuary for musicians. You were able to just focus on getting a good live performance, but you also felt like you were doing something special. We felt like we were here to record a classic album, and that's obviously the way you want to be feeling whenever you're in the middle of the recording process," said Cormac of recording 'Revival'.
Micky told me: "It was sort of residential, which kind of suits us; we can focus. It's a very alien place for us to go, it was a secluded out-in-the-desert kind of vibe, so it definitely added to the whole mystery of the thing, you know."
New single 'Nowhere Freeway' (video below) has just been released, and it's fantastic, by far my favourite song on the album. If you haven't heard it, it's a duet featuring Lynne Jackaman from Saint Jude - I wanted to know if the track was written specifically with Lynne in mind:
"No, it wasn't," Cormac said. "It was initially written as a two-part harmony between me and Micky, but we felt this album could benefit with a duet and, you know, getting a female vocalist in for a change of flavour.
"I think just across the board on this album. We challenged ourselves and pushed ourselves further than we have gone before, you know, and we actually came back from America with all the tunes tracked. We were listening back to 'Nowhere Freeway' and the two-part harmony and the narrative working its way through the song seemed to really lend itself to getting a female vocalist on board, so we decided that we'd go and kidnap Lynne and hold her for ransom."
"Plus she can really hit some notes that I can't, being a chick and that," Micky added.
"It hits the nail on the head for what we wanted to achieve, it's a proper duet and Lynne gives a great performance; I think on the day in the studio it wasn't until the end of the session and I was kinda just slagging her a bit, saying 'come on give it a bit of welly!!' You know? 'I know you can do better than that', kinda thing, and she was like 'Right let's do this', and it was literally that last take that made it onto the album. It's great."
My other favourite track on the album is 'Trouble'. I love the heavier, blusey riffs and, of course, the accent of the harmonica. Micky told me: "That's another track that kinda comes alive. They all are great, but at the minute I am really liking 'Waste Your Tears' - we've been closing on it every night on this tour and it's one of the best closers we've had I think, and I really enjoy playing that track."
My favourite thing about The Answer is the distinct blues sound that they incorporate into their writing; this doesn't come around often in a lot of bands, although they are out there. When The Answer started it was great to hear a band that incorporated it into a more current sound.
Cormac commented: "I hear what you are saying in the sense of there is that distinct lack of connection right back to the blues of it all; it's about taking the essence of that and threading it in a way where it's going to sound contemporary. That's the age-old challenge of any rock'n'roll band I think."
Interested to delve deeper into the inner workings of this album, we started chatting more about the challenges of writing, performing and producing an album of this standard.
"We started writing and recording right off the back of the AC/DC tour. We left that tour feeling very damn good about ourselves; we were in a good place as a band. I think our biggest challenge was bottling that energy up and releasing it into the songwriting. We knew we had an album like 'Revival' in us, but obviously bringing it all out is a completely different challenge, it was just about making sure that we didn't get weighed down by the pressures of needing to deliver, and everything that comes with this."
'Revival' is a very different album to the previous 'Rise' and 'Everyday Demons'. Cormac explained the difference between the albums and told me why 'Revival' is so special to the band:
"Well, 'Rise' was an album which essentially was a collection of songs we had been writing since the band's formation. It took us three years to get a record deal, so we had a big bunch of songs there to pick and choose from. 'Everyday Demons', the second album, was completely alien to us and we just had to write an entire album from scratch in three months. This time round, I think it has come more easily, like earlier I was talking about the pressure of having to make sure every song counts, the way modern music is, you have to do your best at all times.
"This time, we knew that we had it in us. It wasn't quite as much of a challenge, which meant that we were able to focus on what we were good at, bringing the most out of the songs; expressing ourselves as we wanted to, individually and collectively as musicians."
From one end of the spectrum to the other, Micky told me what his highlight of making the album was: "I think actually in pre-production when our producer Chris French-Smith came over, and having it all actually gelling together a month before going out to record, it was a real highlight for us because we worked really hard for six to seven months previously, writing the songs, getting natured and nurtured.
"He came over and helped us a little bit with the vision of it, to think a bit bigger and make it happen. That's when we got really excited about going in the studio."
I watched the making of 'Revival' and you can see him on the floor, altering pedals, making sure that the sound was just right: "He's completely wired up, you know," Cormac enlightened me. "He's like a mad professor in the studio, he has that way about him, but that was perfect for the kind of album that we wanted to make. It really suited us down to the ground. All the time we spent in El Paso was great; it was like songwriters'/sound recorders' paradise."
The Answer can be forgiven for taking so long between releases, especially since they spent the best part of two years on the road with AC/DC. I had to ask if there was anything they might like to share from that tour. Micky (careful not to give anything away) told me: "Every day was an adventure, it really was. They were really cool with us actually - they are a bit older now, it's a lot more chilled, now the tour is a bit more of a family thing really, apparently for the first time.
"According to their crew, it has been very different on previous tours, but this time around they were looking after us and we were getting up to all the madness. There was a lot of madness on that tour, that's all you need to know," he laughs.
Cormac recalled a time on tour: "I remember going on a two-day bender in New Orleans with our sound guy, drum tech at the time. We were in the taxi on the way home. When the dust had settled, we hit this pile of traffic on the roads. It was like 5.00am on a Sunday morning and I was saying, 'why would there be traffic, must have been an accident' and they said, 'Cormac, it's rush hour on a Monday morning! Everyone laughed. 'Oh right, I need to get to bed'."
I can imagine on a tour of this magnitude, things can get carried away, and time can get lost in a sense. Cormac answered: "Well, that's why we had to make the DVD, to catch up on time, and kinda take stock and get some sort of grasp of what happened In that year-and-a-half," Cormac told me.
Micky added: "It's nice to have that time of our lives documented – it brings back memories."
The Answer are currently touring Europe throughout January, and then they head to Japan. In March, they are touring back through Ireland and the UK with 'The Union'. It's going to be a great tour, continuing the mission to re-ignite the rock 'n roll revival. The Answer weren't always as big as they are, they had to start somewhere. I asked what influences they each had in common, but also those that were different.
Cormac: "I suppose I'd be into straight-down-the-line soul records, some of the old stuff like Otis Redding and all that. I suppose I'd be into those blues musicians a bit more than the boys. But do you know there is a lot about our musical taste where everybody meets in the middle. The blues is obviously a big part of the band. You know, we all agree up through the Nirvanas and the Pearl Jams at this stage."
Micky: "I think they are probably our common ground, the sorta nineties thing, but I'm a big fan of the eighties Metal stuff."
Cormac added: "See, I wouldn't be so fussed with the eighties stuff, Paul is as big a Van Halen and Motley Crue fan as you're ever gonna find."
Micky responded: "That's more our side of it, Cormac is into more the soul and blues side of it and we kind of meet in that modern, more nineties thing, and obviously rock or the British Heavy Metal scene."
As we all know, The Answer are from Ireland, so I asked them how playing in Ireland was any different to playing in the UK and what the music scene is like over there, especially when they were breaking out.
Cormac: "It feels like much more of a local thing in Northern Ireland. The all-round Northern Irish scene is quite compact; all roads lead to Belfast essentially," Micky explained. "It's only a Belfast or a Dublin gig that feels anything like London or anything of that scale."
Cormac continued: "When we were cutting our teeth, we were pretty much the only rock 'n roll band making noise with the exception of maybe one or two. Since we've gone out and done more things, there are more and more bands.
"There are a bunch of bands now who have obviously said - 'fuck the indie kids, I'm gonna go out and do what I love doin. I'm gonna rock out'. As a result, there are now, on the Northern Irish scene, about eight or nine really quality rock'n'roll bands kicking around.
"There's Swanee River, who we did this leg of the Irish tour with. They are very blues rock. Million Dollor Re-load are kind of AC/DC-esque, Trucker Diablo, good, solid Northern Irish rock, Last Known Addiction, Band Wagon, that's just to name a few. It's properly happening right now."
Speaking of new bands, if you're new to the industry and new to being in this crazy game, I asked what advice they would give the up-and-coming new bands.
Cormac advised: "I would say to make sure in their own minds that's what they really want to do, make sure you have a group of musicians around you that you are gonna get on with and have good chemistry with. If you have good songs and the work ethic then go for it, you know, because all it takes is a lucky break, and the world needs good ass-kickin' rock bands."
So there you have it. It has been an absolute pleasure meeting the guys and having this chat. Make sure you catch The Answer on their tour with The Union in March.
Welcome to the Rock'n'roll Revival!!
02 – Dublin – Whelan's
03 – Belfast – Mandela Hall
04 – Cork - Cyprus Avenue
06 – Leeds – Cockpit
07 - Glasgow – Garage
08 – Aberdeen - Lemon Tree
10 – Wolverhampton – Wulfrun Hall
11 – Nottingham - Rock City
12 – Newcastle – Academy
13 – Manchester - Academy II
15 – London - Electric Ballroom
16 – Bristol – Academy
17 - Brighton - Concorde II
'Revival' is out now via Spinefarm Records
All articles are © Michelle Nevill