RUSHONROCK editor Simon Rushworth caught up with frontman Cormac Neeson to talk angst, ambition and that artwork…
rushonrock: New Horizon is the beefiest Answer album to date – was a heavier sound the intention and has Paul [Mahon] purposefully changed his guitar tone?
Cormac Neeson: I think it is the heaviest record we’ve made. But I think part of the heaviness and intensity is due to the stripped down nature of the production. There are very few overdubs on this record. What you hear is actually Paul’s signature guitar sound but for some reason or anther we’ve always struggled to make an album that properly reflects the four of us rocking out on stage. People talk about trying to capture the live sound of a band on record and I think that’s what we’ve done with New Horizon. In the past that sound has always been partly lost in a fog of overdubs and studio tricks. This time we worked out a proper discipline that we could stand everything we did up against. The result is a more raw sounding record. I think it’s kind of like the Led Zeppelin scenario. With Jimmy Page it’s only really his relatively clean guitar tone that you hear on a lot of their recorded material. This time I think you hear the real Paul Mahon and the real Answer – the band you listen to at a live show.
rushonrock: How much of an influence was your producer [and ex-Little Angels singer] Toby Jepson?
CN: Toby was a big influence in the studio. He brought in a few fresh ideas and a whole fresh approach. He wanted us to make an intense 10-track hard rock record and he didn’t want us to stray from that path. We were all on the same page and all working to achieve the same end result. That approach saved a lot of time. It ensured the record achieved a sharp, punchy edge.
rushonrock: Four albums in is the recording process any more or less enjoyable?
CN: I enjoyed making every one of our albums. I love that side of things when you’re in a band. I love writing music, getting into a studio and laying it down. But it was a lot of fun this time. As a band we always enjoy getting into the studio and getting our work done. There’s a really good atmosphere in the studio and that was very important this time around. A lot of the music on New Horizon rests on a very natural and well defined groove. I think we captured that. But so much of it s down the fact that the four of us are in the studio together, looking into each other’s eyes and getting our hands dirty.
rushonrock: Leave With Nothin’ boasts a particularly strong vocal and sees you at your emotive best – is that fair comment?
CN: I never write lyrics whimsically. If there’s a line that I put down then it’s from the heart. The whole record’s lyrical theme is kind of spawned from that one place. It’s spawned from one continuous train of thought. There’s an emotional release going on throughout the record where all of us are releasing a pent-up frustration that has built up over some time. I’ve always said that the greatest form of therapy for me and the other guys is songwriting. Every song is a little note to self. With this record we’ve been able to vent our emotions: New Horizon is not entirely angst-ridden because there is some hope and optimism in there. When I’m writing lyrics – for Leave With Nothin’ or any other song – it’s a work in progress until we hit the studio. At that point I’m totally confident with the statement I’m trying to put across and it’s all about finding the most powerful way to say it. It’s something I need to do. I need to challenge myself.
rushonrock: You say that New Horizon’s lyrics come from one continuous train of thought and at times it comes across like a concept album – was this intentional?
CN: I think if there’s any concept at the heart of the record – and it’s certainly not a concept album – then it’s the idea that the songs are drawn from the band’s real-life experiences during the last few years. It’s not just a lyrical thing. The way the other guys felt when we were making the record comes across in the way that they play. It contributes to the heaviness, the intensity and the aggression you hear on New Horizon. It’s a very accurate reflection of how we felt during the last couple of years.
rushonrock: Aside from your music it’s the longevity of the band’s original line-up that sets you apart from so many peers – what’s the secret behind your unity?
CN: There’s no clever answer here. We just make sure that we have a really good, regular barny to clear the air. If anything is bothering any one of us then it’s best to get it out in the open. It’s always best to talk about things and that’s just like any relationship. This wouldn’t have lasted if we didn’t know how to communicate with each other! A band won’t last six months if it doesn’t have some kind of chemistry at its heart. In that respect we hit the jackpot. We have four guys who really complement each other professionally and personally. There are no egos and no divas. It’s a very democratic band from songwriting to expressing ourselves on stage. Everyone gets their fill.
rushonrock: Does it help having a psychology graduate in the ranks?
CN: I think if anything that works against us!
rushonrock: You’ve started a run of 40 gigs in 50 days – is that a challenge you relish?
CN: Definitely. We love playing live. It’s always been so important to this band. It’s a way of defining The Answer – who we are, who we were and who we might be. The challenge of taking the new music and blending it with the old stuff excites me. This latest run is quite a big old tour and I hadn’t actually sat down and looked at the schedule in too much detail. I’m anticipating a long old slog but we live for the next show. That’s what gets us through.
rushonrock: You have Tracer opening up – another cracking act on what is a mouthwatering double bill…
CN: It’s a fantastic bill. Tracer are a superb band in their own right. I’ve been looking forward to taking a real high calibre rock n roll band on the road with us and seeing what we can do. We did the same with The Union last time out and it guaranteed the fans value for money. That’s so important right now. You can’t rely on a local band opening up for you anymore – there has to be something extra on the bill. Every penny counts. And we always want the bands we play with to be part of the overall gig experience. We’ve also got Cage The Gods up first. They’re another great band – relatively new to the scene but worth turning up early for. It’s a three-band bill and I’d suggest you catch all three bands!
rushonrock: You’ve used an iconic Storm Thorgerson image on your album sleeve – what was it like working with him before he passed away?
CN: He worked to a tried and tested process and it was incredible to be a part of that process. It began with him giving the record a number of repeated listens so he could get a feel for the music. Then the process moved to a 12-question form that all four members of the band were asked to complete. It went out to all of us but we were not allowed to discuss our answers or comments as a group. At that point Storm focused on the individual. Then it was a case of opening up the floodgates and everything going into the pot. It was a very thorough process that involved him getting immersed in the project. After a while the sketched concepts started to come through. All of them were brilliant and all of them were very different – it was just a case of choosing one for the finished album. From a personal point of view it was a very interesting process. Storm was obviously very ill at the time and yet he was still throwing himself into projects like this. He was put on this earth to contribute to popular culture and will be remembered for leaving behind an incredible legacy. To be a small part of that legacy is amazing.
* Read a review of The Answer and Tracer on their UK autumn 2013 tour here: http://bit.ly/HdQC6O