The Answer and The Dead Daisies start their co-headline tour of the UK this weekend alongside special guest Lynne Jackaman. RUSHONROCK editor Simon Rushworth caught up with Answer frontman Cormac Neeson days after the band bagged our Record Of The Week award for new album Solas.
RUSHONROCK: When you first got together as a band to discuss Solas how did the conversation go?
CORMAC NEESON: I think the crux of it was that we wanted to make something properly different. On every record we make there are a couple of songs that are leftfield and all of the bonus material is leftfield. But those songs have never formed the foundations for a whole record. As a band we wanted to make that happen. We wanted to have the courage to experiment and have fun. I suppose it wasn’t a big stretch – we just wanted to do what we’ve done throughout our career! But we’ve never made that approach the central pillar of an album. Until now. So that was it. We didn’t know exactly how it would pan out but that was part of the fun underpinning the whole experience. Once we were up and running and recording with that open mindedness it just seemed entirely natural. We burst out of any pigeon-holing and it was a very liberating experience. It became clear it was going to be something big and bold and – in our minds – special. Now it’s done and dusted I think we can say we’ve done ourselves justice.
RUSHONROCK: Were you always confident that Solas would live up to expectations?
CN: Firstly we didn’t really pander to anyone so it was always in our hands. Our own record company and management didn’t hear a note until the record was finished. We recorded it over six months – that’s a long time to be off the grid in terms of record companies and management getting itchy feet. We just felt that if we sold it to them with enough passion and conviction then they’d trust us. Solas has really rekindled the fire in the band. It was a chance to explore our Celtic heritage and turned out to be an amazing experience.
RUSHONROCK: The opening line of the title track asks ‘Do you ever wonder the reason that we’re here’ – was it deliberate to kick off Solas with that line bearing in mind your past and what the future holds?
CN: I suppose it’s a very fitting first line for the first song. On Solas the lyrics come from a deeper place than I’ve ever gone before. I try to attach meaning to everything we do. On Beautiful World I’m talking from a particularly dark place where life isn’t as rosy as I thought it was. But the themes and sounds we explore throughout Solas mean the lyrics lend themselves to a deeper and more meaningful slant.
RUSHONROCK: There are some big, brooding, atmospheric intros ushering in many of Solas’s best songs – was that part of the creative shift?
CN: There’s something cinematic about this album and its sound. That’s just the way it developed in the studio. A great bonus was the producers that we managed to acquire. They did our first record. In our heads there were always going to be these big soundscapes and Andy [Bradfield] Avril [Mackintosh] were perfectly placed to help us achieve that. They spent the last 10 years making Hollywood soundtracks. We just asked them: ‘Why don’t you guys come and produce Solas for us?’. Avril said: ‘Are you serious?’ but pretty soon they were in our studios doing pre-production. They came over for two-week periods. We’d work with them and they’d take all of the stuff back to London. We were all working 12-14 hour days for five or six months. There’s a lot of work went into Solas but we didn’t have the time to put that kind of shift in in the past. We were always up against the clock. Sometimes when you’re in a band you find yourself selling yourself and your songs a bit short because you have to be in and out of a studio. With Solas we followed the whole process through. We knew what each song demanded and did it justice.
RUSHONROCK: You closed this summer’s Ramblin’ Man Fair set with two new songs prior to the release of Solas – were you able to gauge the reaction there and then?
CN: We’d been playing those songs – Thief Of Light and Solas – during the course of the summer festival season so we had an idea they’d been pretty well received. Those shows were more about celebrating the 10th anniversary of Rise but we wanted to convey to our audience that that was ‘then’ and this is ‘now’. On paper it made perfect sense! But it was nerve wracking in reality. As far as Thief Of Light is concerned I mostly sang that song with my eyes shut during the summer. I was a bit more confident with Solas – it’s more of a groover. But over the course of the whole summer the reaction to the new music was very positive. We’ll be doing a lot of stuff for the first time when we’re on the road with The Dead Daisies and it will mean a very different Answer set.
RUSHONROCK: How much of a challenge do you face fitting the ‘new’ Answer into a traditional Answer set?
CN: It’s not so much about how the new stuff fits in. It’s more about how the old stuff fits in around the songs from Solas! It’s very important that we play a bunch of the new songs in the live arena. That music needs to transfer onto the stage. That alone is a challenge – there’s more going on within the new album than we can manage as a simple four-piece so we’ve had to look into using loops and the like. There may also be a couple of guest appearances as and when it’s necessary…. At the start of the recording process everything was experimental but every so often we’d find our sweet spot. We were totally out of our comfort zone and it will be the same once we start playing these songs live. We’ll introduce select tunes from our back catalogue to complement the new tunes and I don’t think it will be impossible to craft the right set by any means. For all that Solas represents a new direction and a fresh start we didn’t simply pluck those songs out of fresh air. We’re still doing what we do in our own style – we just need to be a bit more selective when we finalise the setlist.
RUSHONROCK: You used a few special guests during the recording of Solas including Quireboys’ favourite Keith Weir. How important were his keys to the sound of the new record?
CN: Keith is a legend of a man and as good a keyboard player as you’ll find. The fact that he lives a few miles away from where we were making the album helped! We only got him in for a day – but what a day. He just had to learn the songs on the spot and add his magic. You can really hear his beautiful Hammond playing coming through on the last track Tunnel. Keith, Fiona [O’Kane] and the Streetwise Samba Band from Belfast – who appeared on Battle Cry – all added a special touch to Solas and helped us to evolve as a band. One of the real benefits of making a record on your home turf is being able to tap into all of this local talent. There’s something really organic and beautiful about Solas in that respect. The people we invited to play on the record are serious musicians who really give a shit – and who gave their time. It wasn’t rushed and it felt right.
RUSHONROCK: How excited are you about taking Solas on the road?
CN: the new tour is a really exciting double header: two bands with plenty to prove and Lynne Jackaman opening up. It’s going to be fantastic. There’s nobody on that bill who is making up the numbers. I love The Dead Daisies’ old school rock and it will provide the perfect contrast to our new material. I’m hoping the fans will appreciate the contrast and that they can see how the classic rock genre can evolve and develop. I’m hoping the contrast won’t be lost. There’s nothing worse than going to see a band only to realise that the other band is just a different version of the first one. That won’t happen on this tour. And Lynne is a great addition. Her acoustic set will be something else. You’re going to see three bands doing their damnedest to inject some new life into rock!