The Answer 
'We Are What We Are - The Answer Reveals Itself!'
The Answer is a Northern Irish hard rock and blues-rock band from Newcastle and Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland. They have achieved success with their debut album Rise selling in excess of 30,000 copies in the UK & Europe, 10,000 on day one in Japan and 100,000 worldwide.
Formed in 2000 by guitarist Paul Mahon, whose father was a jazz trumpeter and member of seminal Irish show band The Freshmen, mentioned it to bassist Micky Waters, an old school friend who had been in numerous cover bands around Belfast. Soon both James Heatley, who had played as Ash’s stand-in live drummer in 1993, and lead singer Cormac Neeson were recruited and the band become a foursome.
Having released their debut album in 2006 (Rise), they followed that up with Everyday Demons (2009), Revival (2011), New Horizon (2013), and have now brought out a stunning fifth album Raise A Little Hell. Produced by Guillermo Will Maya and mixed by Chris Sheldon, the band that has already toured with AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Aerosmith is now out and about in America opening for Whitesnake.
Featuring larger-than-life riffs, unforgettable melodies and a return to their raw bluesy roots, Raise A Little Hell presents a collection of hard hitting anthems that point to the spirit of AC/DC and Thin Lizzy. A truly memorable album for your next long road trip, windows down and sound system cranked to the max, I sat down with lead singer Cormac Neeson to discuss all-things The Answer ... and more!
The Answer got together in the Spring of 2000, so who is the one responsible for this?! “The band was originally Micky and Paul’s kinda love child, you know. It was those two guys that first got together in a room and started writing this blues-based rock and roll. They then said to themselves ‘we’re gonna need a singer and we’re gonna need a drummer’ and that’s where James and myself came in. From a very early stage, the four of us were right on board with it all and very focused on trying to do something with the music rather than just playing a few gigs around Belfast, going our separate ways, not really taking it seriously. Everybody was kinda right on it from an early stage and we knew we had a good strong band and that we could all write songs. At a very early point we were talking about trying to get our music over to London and get a record deal and get out of Belfast,” he gently laughs.
Well, it took 6 years before the debut album Rise came out, so a lot of music must have been written in the lead up that never saw the light of day! “Yeah, there’s a lot of demo’s we did, for sure. It was all very self-sufficient at that early stage as we were putting all our gig money into a pot and that would pay for making the demo’s. I think there were three EP’s that we made off our own bat and sent away to various record companies, but it wasn’t until the third one fell into the hands of a guy who went on to become our manager for seven years, that he heard something in the music and started setting up showcases in London. We got a record deal from that and it all took off from there. But it was all valuable time, cutting our teeth as a live band, it meant that by the time we got our chance we were ready.”
Has it crossed your mind that come your 10th anniversary next year, you could release an album of unreleased demo’s, perhaps? “Possibly, possibly. It’s not really crossed my mind at the moment, because it’s like, we’ve never really been a band for looking too far back, you know. If we’re in a creative place and we’re thinking about what the next release is gonna be, it’s always about the next bunch of new songs.”
I guess the big question is, why was the band named The Answer in the first place?! Given that, in just searching for you guys on Google, other similar named bands such as The Answer to Classic Rock and The Answer Band both came up first! “With the name, the music and everything that’s gone forward, it’s all been part of what’s got us to here now, to Freedom Hill, about to step up on that big stage with Whitesnake, you know. I think we’re very proud of our name, and even though it’s a big statement to call ourselves The Answer, obviously,” he laughs, “the deliberation about whether to go for it or not was much less of a big deal than one would think."
"It was really a case of the four of us not being able to agree on a name that anybody liked. One of the first gigs we played in Belfast, the promoter rang us up and told us he was putting a few posters together, but he still needed a name for us. So he said, “What’s it gonna be? What’s the answer gonna be?” And we all just kinda looked at each other and James just said ‘why don’t we just call ourselves The Answer?’ And so we all agreed that was it, that was good.”
I find this new album, Raise A Little Hell to be full of very old school rock, not commercial fluff, but tracks that sound as if you were smiling your way through the songs. So, how have you yourself always perceived the bands motivation for being a band that records this kind of music? “I think the latest record is case in point with regards our motivation which has always been there, because we love doing it. It seems obvious, but we don’t take it for granted that we’re out here in America making music for a living. We feed off that energy and this time around, for this particular record, we’ve come through a bit of to and fro, with regard record labels and management, and everything else. The record beforehand was quite intense and quite angular with regard us venting our frustrations.”
“This time around we were in a better place, and we were able to just go to Spain, move into a residential studio and just make music and just try and do it as well as possible. There’s no better feeling in the world than going in, all the songs coming together and everybody’s loving it. The music is always where the four of us meet in the middle and this record, you mentioned smiling our whole way through it, well, it was a celebration. There was actually a full blown Fiesta going on in the Spanish town as well, which helped to add into the flavor of it all. It was very much about let’s get in here and do what we do and do it well. It’s not rocket science,” he smiles
Looking back to the very first album’s sound, Rise, to this latest fifth release, what do you see when it comes to the bands evolution over the past near decade? “I would like think that the songs are better crafted. I think we’ve come a long way since our first record came out nine or ten years ago. I think we put a lot more thought into the song content, and the structures of the songs now. We’re just trying not to waste a second in there, you know, because we value the opportunity to get in there and say something and express ourselves and hopefully connect with our fan base. I would imagine the production is going to sound a little more raw this time around, because we focused very much on trying to bring out what made this band unique - part of which is the four piece set up.”
“And that meant kinda going against our instincts to layer up the guitars too much, or the backing vocals. Because a lot of the backing vocals on this record Micky sang, because that’s what he does on stage, you know. As opposed to just putting me in a room and me giving it the full Queen treatment. So, yeah I’d like to think you can hear an evolution, a subtle one, but there’s no doubt in my mind we’ve evolved as a band over the course of the five records.”
You’ve gone on to open for such acts as AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Aerosmith and now Whitesnake, so please reveal what has been your go-to memory of any of those tours thus far “The first thing that comes to mind is the night I drank contact lens cleaner, because we’d run out of alcohol … and it did not taste good,” he laughs. “I can’t remember what the end results were, because it’s all a bit hazy anyway,” he adds, now broadly smiling.
Some of your previous album covers feature a lot of arms open wide characteristics, why is that? “Well, The New Horizon artwork was created by Storm Thorgerson, and he was the guy who did all the famous Pink Floyd record covers and what not. He sat through and listened to all the music, interviewed the band, got together in his head what was going on, and sent us through like 15 hand written sketches. All completely different, all kinda making different statements, you know.”
“And it wasn’t so much the arms out, but the notion that the bird cage instead of a head, and the pigeons flying out it, just made a lot of sense. That record’s very much about a band trying to break free from the shackles of its past. Not to sound overly melodramatic, but that cover just worked for the music.”
“And the previous record we’ve got a girl coming out of the river naked, and the title itself, Rival, we wanted to conjure up that old school image of things getting cleansed, you know. So, it’s all always directly inspired by the music and the message that we’re trying to put out there.”
For this new album, Raise A Little Hell, you have gone with an artistic, cartoonish vibe to the cover art. Why the change and who did it? It’s a very different kind of record, which we’ve already kinda talked about here before, throwing into the equation Storm’s passing it was kind of like there was no point in going down that road again without Storm at the helm. So, we were looking for a completely different take, and an artist called Sebastian Jerke approached the band. He’d done work with our record label before and he kinda suggested this comic book alter ego appeal, which when we first heard of it, we thought he’d been smoking too much of the whatever,” he laughs. “But we went away and thought about it.”
“It happens so often in the music business where people hit you with these crazy ideas and you just don’t take them seriously, but you go away and think about it and it actually starts to make sense after a good nights sleep. So, we just went with it and he came back to us with the makings of what became the cover. We thought it looked great, looked colorful, and fun. Because this record’s fun, you know, and it all just made sense.”
You put this out via a Pledge Music campaign, which seems to have been very successful, so could you have released this new album without Pledge Music? “Yeah, very much so. We’ve got great support from our record label, we’re very lucky with that regard. The Pledge thing was a pre-order campaign, as opposed to an out and out let’s make money to be able to make a record, kinda thing. So, it was just a really well run pre-order campaign, that’s all it honestly was. So, we gave our fans a lot of opportunities to pledge for these add on’s. Something as small as a hand written lyric sheet, a signed drum head, and the other end of the scale had one of Paul’s guitars on there and we even went a played a couple of house gigs. And there was everything in between, so it was just a creative take on promotion that worked out for everybody involved. So, it just made sense.”
OK, now it’s time to take a few of the songs from the new album and have literal fun with them!
‘Cigarettes & Regret’ - Do you smoke … and what is still today one of your biggest regrets? “I don’t smoke regularly any more, although I did smoke for many years, so I just dabble,” he smiles. “One of greatest regrets is not getting back to the States sooner than we have done. Since the AC/DC tours it’s been six years, you know. So I regret not being able to follow up on that as much as I would have liked.”
‘Whiplash’ - Have you ever suffered whiplash due to an accident … or via actual lashes to your body?! “I’ve been shaken up a few times now,” he gently laughs. “That song and title actually came form our drummer, James, and I know he has suffered whiplash from any actual car accident! Having said that, I don’t know why he’s kinda taken that accident and put a bit of double meaning in there, but everybody in this band has stories of getting put through the mill.”
Do you have a quick band one you can tell us now? “One of our first ever gigs in Belfast, a fight broke out and turned into a full out brawl. One of the people in that brawl was James’ cousin, and I’ll never forget that on the last beat of the song, James threw the drum sticks down and jumped straight into the fight! He then got the guy who was punching his cousin in a head lock, took him downstairs and put him out the fire escape! So, he did the job, for sure, that night.”
‘I Am What I Am’ - So what exactly are you then? “I’m a scruffy, wide-eyed Irish man trying to make it in a rock ‘n roll band,” he loudly laughs. “That’s about all this is to that!”
Did you ever have a nickname growing up? “Just Cormo, you know. I remember I used to learn the Irish language, when you used to get sent away from your school for a few weeks in the summer, and everybody used to call me Cnámh, which is Irish for Bones! Because I was just skin and bones back in those days.”
‘Raise A Little Hell’ - Where were you the last time you raised some hell and what was the outcome?! “We were actually raising hell last night! We embarked upon the Holy Trinity of bar stops, because we’d been traveling all day from Minneapolis and we wanted to get drunk and get drunk quickly! So, we just arrived in time for the Happy Hour in the hotel and everybody was entitled three alcoholic beverages, so we hit that up and we then walked to Hooters, where we had some fine American cuisine, and then we got a taxi to the Tilted Kilt. It was a good night and yeah, there’s a couple of photos kicking around, but they will be destroyed,” he laughs loudly, once again.
What, to you, makes this band different from most all the others out there today? “Well, we all went to the same secondary school! But I didn’t know the boys, as they’re all a couple of years older than I am. So, we’re from the same school, and essentially the same town, give or take three miles here and there. So we’re four very local lads, you know. And we all still carry with us that Northern Irish small town mentality, to a certain extent. The humorous side of it, and we can appreciate the stupid stories that you read in the local paper, and we appreciate a character when we meet one."
"So, I just think the bond in this band goes a little deeper than just four guys trying to make it in the music business, you know. It goes back a bit further and I think it’s what’s kept us so strong as a unit for over 15 years now.”
OK, I’ve waited this long to bring this questions out, that I simply cannot wait to ask you any longer: If you are The Answer what is The Question?! “If I told you, I’d have to kill ya,” he smiles.
Well, as that was the first auto-pilot answer you’ve given me all day, what can you add to that to make it a little more special for the magazine? “I really hope nobody else ever asks me that question again,” he laughs.
Finally, we at Exclusive Magazine LOVE Penguins, so we were wondering if you did also and /or if you had a personal story about one, perhaps? “I do indeed like penguins. You know, ‘Happy Feet’ is up there as one of my favorite movies, and sometimes I would take a few of the dance moves from that movie and put it into our own stage show,” he laughs one last time, smiling broadly.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
The Answer @ Twitter