10 Février 2019



Interview Michael Mc Keegan (face to face)

I’m meeting with Michael McKeegan, original and current bassist, one of the founding members of Therapy? in a meeting room of La Maroquinerie venue. Michael is relaxed, nice, smiling, relatable, and is gonna grant me 30 minutes of his time with great kindness, answering every one of my questions ... and share his passion for death metal (really!!!).

Hi Michael, it was interesting, I tried to look it up on the internet and it didn’t show your past dates, can you tell us about the tour?

Tonight is the last night of the European tour so we’ve just done like fifteen shows. And then last year we’ve done another fifteen shows in Europe and fifteen shows in the UK. It's been about ten weeks of touring a bit with this year. On Wednesday, we’ll fly to Finland to do three shows there and then we'll do  an Irish tour in March and we got something like eight or nine festivals coming up. Well that's the thing with the website, when the day goes, the date goes off. We have done like fifty shows maybe with this album.

Is it your first time here in this venue in Paris ?

No we’ve been here a lot. We were there in 2006 maybe. It was the same venue. We played the Divan du Monde twice. We played like an Irish pub down there in Pigalle. I believe we played in Paris something like twenty times over the years.

I noticed that Chris Sheldon produced "Cleave", your latest album. What was it like to use the same producer as before?

Originally, when we started to have songs written, we started discussing about the producer and we thought that maybe we would produce ourselves and get someone to mix it. Then we thought about who would make our songs sound good. Chris Sheldon's name came up. Chris was open to mix it. He’s got his own studio. He said "it's OK if you guys want to send me the demos, I will give you some feedback and then we can work out when you want to record and I‘ll tell you what I need". And then it just got to the stage where he said “you know what? I will just produce it because I'm about to do everything anyway”. So that was good. It was good because the first time we worked with him was in 1993. It was nearly twenty-five years to the day. We had been in touch over the years. He obviously worked on a lot of different projects. So it was actually really cool to come back together and add that to our experience. Sometimes you're going in the studio and you meet the guy. And then it takes a week or more to get comfortable with this guy. With Chris, it was clear and direct for him to say “this is great”, “this is not so great”, “do it again”. So it was really constructive, we had a very good time. It was easy for us because by the time we got in the studio, we knew the songs really well and we could play them live. Lead and backing vocals were all done and dusted. So there was not the pressure to write songs when you're in the studio, which would have been terrible. I think the “no pressure” approach really stands out in the mix.

You mentioned Chris as value-add to the songwriting process but it sounds like the songs were already written before you got into the studio.

Some of the modifications Chris added were like “you're playing that song too fast” or “these vocals are not loud enough”. He would say for some sections “you don't need this section”, “it is too long”, “just cut it out”. Or even “play that longer because it sets the atmosphere”. We had producers that do nothing but hit the record button. Some would tell you what the lyrics should be like. Chris is right in the middle. He can be right under the bonnet. He didn't need to do that much because we had worked so hard before then.

You already have fifteen albums out, what is so special about this one?

This one really comes from a sincere place. We did like a classic "Troublegum" (1994) tour and we would play it and additional B-sides. And that was really good fun and we also did like an acoustic tour which was like in the natural opposite, with acoustic guitars and so on. And then we did the album "Disquiet" which felt really good. I felt we were really playing to a strength in "Disquiet" (2015). And I believe that with "Cleave" (2018) we have refined it even more. So it's like all the really good parts of Therapy?. We wanted to make it sound contemporary as well as we wanted it to be a great sounding and energetic record, something that we could play live. It is quite direct and again some of that was a reaction to the acoustic show because we rearranged songs for the different instruments. The acoustic show was heavily mentally draining. Because there's no wall of amplifiers. It’s really bare, if you sing out of tune everybody hears it. So that was really stressful so you understand that it felt good to be back with amplifiers and be like “Ahhhhhh” (mimicking a stampede). So "Cleave" is really interesting in that way. It's not like we found God or anything. No radical change in our lifestyle. It came together well and people seem to like it.

Yeah, so fifteen albums out, probably over two million albums sold, what is the next challenge for you guys?

This will probably sound naïve but I still believe this is a new band. I still think we've got a lot of things to do. Having been through this big success in the 90s, we now know better what things to focus on. The rest of it comes and goes, it's not important you know, it's nice being on the cover of magazines. It is nice but I'd rather make a really good album than being on the cover of a magazine. We are a bit more protective of what we do. I believe a lot of people talk about "Troublegum" but if you ask ten different Therapy? fans, five out of them will say "Troublegum" and the other five will mention other albums. I think that we are just concerned to make better albums, better shows, just not falling into an easy routine. You know it's that thing where we talk about these bands and I love them but look at AC/DC, Motörhead, The Ramones, Bad Religion they all have a template, it is the best template you’ll ever find. You will not get better than this, but these are The Ramones rules, the AC/DC rules and we're not really that kind of band. We don’t have that kind of formula set yet and that is what makes it exciting when we go into the studio. We don't know which way it's going to go, so that's quite cool.

Does it mean you don’t want to be perceived as predictable?

I wouldn't make a jazz album just because we don't want to be predictable. It has to be passionate, also you want to do what your heart tells you to do, but you don't want to be lazy and do something calculated. This is strange but it normally balances itself out.

A question I like to ask is if there is one song that currently represents what you guys are about with this band?

One song has been going down really well at the concerts and I'm just talking about the live reaction. The song “Success… success is survival” it has a big riff, a good groove, good lyrics, good melody. You know we finish the set with it and people really seem to go for it and love it. If you don't like that song you're probably not going to like the rest.

Aside from this release in September 2018 and this touring, why do you guys have going on?

Well next year is 2020 and it's going to be our 30th anniversary. So the plan is to do a 30th anniversary tour. We got something over ten or so festivals coming over this summer. There's a few things for the end of the year as well but we don't want it to be too close to our anniversary tour. We might just go write some new songs just before the anniversary and do the anniversary tour and then make a record after that. There’s quite a few countries that we haven't been to with "Cleave" so maybe the plan is to go there. Anyway those things always change so we’ll see. There will probably be another video for the album by the end of the year as well. There will probably be something like four videos out of the album.

Did you change labels recently?

This is actually the first one on Marshall records. Bizarrely there are mostly guitar bands on this label. Most of those bands are doing their first album. Because it was Marshall, you know just like Marshall Amps, I would've thought there would be more classic rock. They’ve got like an old girls band and a few different bits and pieces. Also a Japanese instrumental band which sounds pretty crazy. There are also a couple indie bands but they’re all starting bands, so we stand out pretty much in their catalog. We also benefit from the fact that there is our old A&R (Artists and Repertoire) guy who was with us when we were with Universal. He is an old punk rock kind of guy and he fought for us. We got a little bit of history with him so it's nice, it's good.

Are there any bands that you're currently listening to and would recommend or should I say what's on your playlist?

I'm listening to the latest At The Gates album “To Drink From The Night Itself” which is good. I love At The Gates. Also listening to a death metal band, Tomb Mold, a Canadian act. I also listen to a Norwegian band which is called Obliteration which sounds like early Autopsy. I'm also like obsessed with the “Born again” album, the Black Sabbath album. It’s got Ian Gillan singing on it. It is such a weird album because you know it is not really Black Sabbath and it's not Deep Purple either. I didn't realize that it was supposed to be with a different name, like a supergroup, but Don Arden who had just started managing Black Sabbath at the time decided that they would get more money if they called it Black Sabbath. Me and the crew are arguing about it, so it's a good talking point. I also listen to early The Police songs. Sometimes you know is just so preferable to listen to something that is not too heavy when you're on tour.

I noticed that you get a ton of songs during the set.

You know, pushing for fifteen albums is really hard so we get something like twenty-six or twenty-eight songs depending on the night. There are always something like ten people telling us “you didn't play this” or “you didn't play that”, anyway. You know it's the new album tour so we want to play it. But we're not stupid so we want to play hit songs that people came for as well. We try to balance it out and we switch things around.

Michael can you tell us about your routine for warming up every night?

Normally about an hour before the show I'm putting my stage clothes on. Well it's black jeans and a black T-shirt. Hopefully they're dry from the night before …you know we don't get the chance to do laundry every day so sometimes they’re sweaty and smelly. I just play some scales and stretch a bit. We have always a setlist print out so we just go through it and discuss it. OK we’ll go from this song to this song straight in or maybe we will include a gap, you play that beat twice. Andy speaks pretty good French and German so he’ll have an exchange with the public obviously so we’ll need to make room for that.

We talked about your exposure in the 1990s, you've known record sales as opposed to nowadays where record sales may be a thing of the past. Do you believe that the Internet has affected you particularly? What is your take on it?

I don't know because bands do things for different reasons, in the 1990s we were almost too heavy for the alternative scene. But maybe not heavy enough for the metal scene but we had fans from both sides so we were kind of "in a good place". In England with this whole Brit pop thing and of course when we started there was this grunge thing as well. So we didn't really fit in. We were not from Seattle and obviously we were not gonna play grunge. The good thing is that when those scenes were kind of massive we didn't really go massive. But when they dropped we didn't drop that far either. So obviously a bit after "Troublegum" (1994) and "Infernal Love" (1995) it went fairly down but progressively it moved back up. In the last ten years especially and specifically in the last five years it went back up again. I know how it goes. I knew bands I listened to when I was younger and they were THE band …then you lose interest. Life gets in the way, people got jobs, a family and all of a sudden they don’t go to gigs anymore. However in the last five years a lot of people came. Two things, new people come see us, maybe their parents listen to us and also older fans, older people come. It happens every night, you get five or six people to come up to you and tell you “well I haven’t seen you in twenty years”. But we were always making records and touring then I don't believe the Internet hit us that much, we were doing our thing anyway. We are music fans and there is always a way to make money quickly but you might not be around in five years time. So we probably went for the slightly more difficult option and made sure that we would be around in ten years time. We play the long game. We are lifers, we never split up. A lot of old bands, they were on magazines covers and bam… they weren’t there anymore. We've always been at it and it's been good like that. And when you are the shiny bright new thing which we were in 94-95 everyone loves you and then you're not the new thing anymore… and then you become what is called legendary. But to me, having lasted for years doesn’t mean we are legends. Legends are Motörhead or bands like that. So you move from being “new kids on the block” then it dips off, and then it comes to the stage where you do your thing in the most honest way. Sometimes it happens that you get people responsible for festivals that tell you that when they were fourteen years old, you were their favorite band so they insist on having you booked for the show. It builds and builds. I really can’t complain, the tours have been great and it's gonna be great and is going to be great tonight.

Will you do some covers tonight aside from "Isolation"?

We usually do "Isolation" but aside from that, it’s up to Andy. You know, anyway, he starts the songs.

I am a drummer myself and I am still really fond of Fyfe Evans’ style (their first drummer). Magic groove, a bit like Stewart Copeland.

Yeah Stewart would have been a great influence, for sure. Fyfe wasn't very social and he didn't like touring. It all seems like a very long time ago now. When he left, that was it, never saw him again. We always say that if we bumped into him in the street we would go for a beer, that is for sure. I understand, he was in the band for five years, and these were a crazy five-year run. Just really pleased that we have Neil now.

Is there a question you would have liked to answer?

Oh my God… pffff… maybe the only thing that I would add, because we get that a lot through the social media, “why don’t you play in my town/my country?”. The only thing I can say is we would love to if we're asked. That is the only honest answer. When we put together a tour, our agent talks to his contacts and if they don't respond with an invite, it ain't happening. We cannot fly over and turn out and say “we demand to play”. That’s the reality of it and sometimes people have trouble admitting it, but it is what it is.

Well thank you Michael, you’ve been very kind.

You're welcome. Thanks a lot!

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