Cormac Neeson, frontman of Co Down rock group The Answer, tells JOANNE SAVAGE why their new album is their heaviest yet
The Answer’s brand of stomping hard rock, heavy with infectious, hardcore guitar riffs and angst-ridden lyrics, has taken them gigging across the globe, even supporting such huge names as the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple and Aerosmith, AC/DC and The Who.
The talented foursome, who formed the group 13 years ago, jamming in each other’s living rooms and playing to packed out pubs in Newcastle, have just released their fourth album and are about to embark on a 40-date European tour after playing at Belfast’s Limelight tomorrow (October 11).
Their sound has always had strong retro influences, full of cresendos of rock melody that call to mind Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Pink Floyd, but obviously with a contemporary spin and notably Northern Irish accents.
Long-haired, charismatic frontman and singer/songwriter Cormac Neeson typically pens defiant, punk-spirited lyrics which are set to down and dirty riffs; Paul Mahon on guitar, James Heatley on drums and bassist Mickey Waters make up the group.
Their 2005 debut album Rise grabbed the attention of the rock world quickly, selling 30,000 copies in the UK and Europe and a staggering 10,000 on day one of release in Japan. It was the cool, committed rock on Rise that secured a slew of tour dates with rock royalty like the Stones and Whitesnake. Kerrang! gave the album a glowing review.
“It really packs a punch,” says Neeson of album New Horizon, which he feels draws on influences like Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden.
“This is our heaviest record so far for sure,” adds Neeson. “It’s raw and and it has teeth. I think it represents a period of unrest we went through a while back; maybe there’s some existential torment in there.”
I wonder if they had their hearts broken, or if the pressures of touring got to them, of if there was in-fighting in the band - what was the cause of all this unrest?
“Well we’ve all had our hearts broken - who hasn’t, it happens to the very best of us,” laughs Cormac, “but that wasn’t it - we had to make difficult decisions behind the scenes and that seeped into our creative process.”
Surely the very best hard rock comes from unrest?
Not that New Horizon is a huge departure from previous material, which might be described as heavier-than-classic rock with a blues twist - sweet but sinfully raw and raucous.
New Horizon was recorded with Little Angels man Toby Jepson and Neeson lists his favourite tracks on there as Spectacular and Call Yourself a Friend, Speak Now, Burn You Down and Scream a Louder Love.
“Call Yourself a Friend is a song that digs pretty deep and I think here we really spread our wings and show the world what we can really do. We use light and shade really well and it builds up to become the most rocking track on the album.”
The Answer haven’t yet built the kind of reputation enjoyed by other Ulster rock exports like Ash and Snow Patrol - yet they are indisputably just as talented; it seems there is still some level of disconnect between their sound and mainstream music-lovers. Could it be that we’ve become too used to the measured, sanitised, hugely mainstream rock that has surrendered much of its grit and edge to fit a corporate packaging?
Some describe The Answer as trapped in a past era of bell-bottoms, free love, Hendrix and flower power, but it’s unfair to see their influences as negatively retro; if much of the best rock was produced in the 70s why shouldn’t its melodies and moods feed into contemporary material? “If we have retro influences then I think that’s cool and valid,” adds Neeson.
The band are especially looking forward to their Belfast gig tomorrow: “We’ve always felt the love from our local fans and there’s a buzz here that is close to our hearts. Once we get on stage we want to blow people’s heads off and make sure everyone has a good time.”
I wonder if, once they’re out on the road, gigging across the continent, just how wild and rock-n-roll things will become?
“Let’s just say there’ll be no peppermint tea on the tour bus,” laughs Cormac. “But I couldn’t possibly tell you what goes on,” says Neeson. “What happens on tour stays on tour.” Spoken like a true rockstar.
The Answer, Limelight 1, Belfast, Friday October 11. Visit ww.ticketmaster.ie.