Simon Rushworth caught up with frontman Cormac Neeson as the Irishmen seek to crack the big time with their best album yet.
RUSHONROCK: The new album title hints at The Answer’s rebellious side re-emerging – are the band in the mood to Raise A Little Hell right now?
CORMAC NEESON: We didn’t want to over-complicate things with the record. We just wanted to get into the studio, make a new album and have a good time doing it. The result is a good time rock and roll record. We didn’t over-think things and I think the title references our mood at the time! We’ve always tried to bring the party as a band. We have done since day one. Our live show is always meant to resemble something of a celebration and we’ve always tried to replicate that on the records. We want our audience to go home with a smile on their faces and we want the people who buy our records to feel the same. There’s nowhere we’d rather be than up on stage but we have to make the music that puts us there in the first place.
RUSHONROCK: The album artwork is distinctive again – does it matter that you find the right image to fit the album?
CN: It always has been. This time our artist did really well to reflect the mood of the record. When Sebastian Jerke fisrt came to us with the concept we thought he’d spent too much time in a dark room smoking something he shouldn’t have been. We thought let’s see what he’s on! But in all seriousness he’s done a brilliant job.
RUSHONROCK: With a second album in 18 months is the band enjoying a rich vein of creative form right now?
CN: I think we are. I think we’ve always managed to strike a good balance between honing our live act in conjunction with the creative side of being in a band. We’ve always been happy to roll out a new record – it’s the old Northern Irish work ethic living on through The Answer. A lot of people ask us how we manage to put out so much new music when we’re often on the road. But if you’re a full-time musician there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t maintain a high level of creativity. We use that to the best of our ability but Raise A Little Hell did, even by our standards, come together very quickly.
RUSHONROCK: Is there a blueprint for the perfect album by The Answer or is the recording process more organic than that?
CN: I think it’s always an organic process once we hit the studio. If anything we try particularly hard never to make the same record twice. Every new album starts out as a blank canvas and we challenge ourselves to make the next record even better than the previous one. We like to keep things nice and fresh. If we’re excited by what we’re doing then hopefully the fans will feel the same. This time round the only remit was to have as much fun as possible making Raise A Little Hell and to take advantage of the fact that we don’t have to worry about anything going on behind the scenes. We’re in a position where we can let management and the label take care of all of the things that get in the way of making a record. When we entered the studio we were pretty close to knowing what we were going to do but you have to leave some room for manouevre – you have to capture the vibe and the atmosphere of that individual studio and the mood of the moment. In that respect some songs change and some new songs appear.
RUSHONROCK: Where did you find the time to begin writing Raise A Little Hell?
CN: We were already putting ideas together at the beginning of the festival season last summer. We were busy most weekends but we’d find a couple of days during the week to work on songs. We had some time at the beginning of the summer to make a start and pretty soon we managed to get a few songs finished. Suddenly the floodgates opened and there was no stopping us! As a band we have to make a call a few weeks before we get into the studio that the time for starting new songs is over. We need to focus on making the songs that we already have really, really good. We’ve always been in a position where we head into the studio with too much material. With Raise A Little Hell we went in with around 14 songs and most of them were finished.
RUSHONROCK: How excited are you to take the new songs on the road?
CN: We rehearsed them the week before the tour just to make sure we were in a position to put the finishing touches to a few of the live versions. We wanted to finalise a setlist that spanned our career and that we felt comfortable with but that’s easier said than done. With this tour we’re really throwing ourselves in at the deep end with the songs we’ve chosen. We’ve dropped a few songs that we’ve pretty much played on every tour to date for the last eight or nine years! It’s important to freshen things up a bit. We have a brand new record that we’re very proud of and we want to put those songs into the public domain as quickly as possible. We wrote these songs in a live environment. There were occasions when we’d write them on an acoustic guitar but it didn’t take long before we were plugging in and turning it up. Even in the studio we work in an as-live environment so we know the new songs will work on the road.
RUSHONROCK: Were you a little disappointed that New Horizon didn’t make more of an impact in terms of sales?
CN: It’s hard to gauge because these days it’s not a true measure of success. The bottom line is that not many people buy music any more. We’re continuing to put out records in the traditional way because we’re great believers in the record as a creative statement. We believe in having the physical album with artwork, liner notes – the full package. But you only have to look at the fact that streaming is being taken into account when judging chart positions – that says it all. The best way for us to judge how successful we are is by looking at the people who come to our shows and if they’re having a good time we must be doing something right. As far as New Horizon is concerned we haven’t really come up for air since the start of that recording process so we see Raise A Little Hell as stage two of a new era for The Answer. Ask me the same question in another six months’ time! But we’ve just signed a deal to make another two albums with Napalm so that will be four records we’ll have released through the label. We like working with them, they are incredibly supportive and we share a vision of where this band is going. Perhaps that’s how you can judge our success.
RUSHONROCK: What’s your view on the live scene in the UK right now?
CN: It’s a mixed bag. It really does vary from city to city as far as I can see. It’s still centralised in major cities and the ‘scene’ in London, Glasgow and Manchester is getting stronger and stronger. In those cities more and more venues are popping up making it more competitive and giving bands more choice. On the other side of the coin it’s been a tough time for a lot of people in terms of finding the money in their pockets to support live music. Attendances across the board have slipped as a result. But as a band you rely on your ability to put on a good live show in order to sustain your career.