Therapy – You Need The Lows To Appreciate The Highs

Ian Maleney spoke with Michael McKeegan of Therapy? about festivals, major labels and his advice for bands following in their footsteps.

Ian Maleney spoke with Michael McKeegan of Therapy? about festivals, major labels and his advice for bands following in their footsteps.


There are few bands around who have gone the distance as resolutely as Larne-natives Therapy? Emerging at the peak of the grunge era, Therapy? found themselves at the forefront of a new wave of heavy music on this side of the Atlantic. With a career that has seen them sell over two million records, play to millions of people, release hit singles and even scoop a Mercury Prize nomination, the drive to move forward is still very firmly in place. Michael McKeegan was a founding member of the band way back in 1989 and has remained a permanent fixture ever since, alongside guitarist and singer Andy Cairns.

Now forty years old, the bassist remains as passionate as ever, and is looking forward to playing his first ever festival in Cork at this weekend’s Indiependence. After spending over twenty years playing festivals across over the globe, what attracts him to a festival now? “I suppose it’s the same for every band. It’s more about the day and the event. There’s obviously people there to see certain bands and there’s people there seeing bands for the first time and people who are just there for a good day out and to hear some good music. When we’re doing our own headline shows, I always imagine people would know a bit about you, maybe they’ve seen you before or bought the records or something. So we tend to tailor more towards that, you know, a festival isn’t really the place to pull out an obscure B-side during the set. Festivals are good though, there’s a lot of random elements that come into it and you just have to go with it and that’s quite exciting. There’s always a couple of things that crop up which are what make those kinds of shows memorable.”

Have festivals changed much since the early days of the band? “Very much so! A lot of festivals, when we started, involved playing on the backs of lorries in fields and in the corners of football and Gaelic fields and some guy selling beer out of the back of his car! Obviously festivals are a big, big thing now, especially in the UK. Somethings don’t really change though, there’s always a chaotic element. You’re kind of at the mercy of the weather and all that. Some festivals are really civilized and that’s good to play, but then they lose some of the vibe. Some of the festivals we play are really, really primitive. We played this one we played in Germany last year, Dockville, that was just really post-apocalyptic. We rolled up on the last day to play and it looked like the bomb had gone off and people were scrabbling for existence. It was a good gig though, it really suited the vibe of what it was, down in the docks in Hamburg; a really industrialized area, over-cast skies and loads of moody kids. It was a great show, we really enjoyed it. With a lot of the bigger, more corporate festivals, everything is branded and at a lot of them you can only buy the beer that sponsors the festival, which is one of my pet hates. You’re paying through the nose for an over-priced beer that you don’t even really like. I think things like that, from an audience member point of view, can be very frustrating.”

A brief chat about some of the music going on in Belfast at the minute throws up electronic cult hero Boxcutter as a highlight for McKeegan, a somewhat unlikely name to bring up considering the obvious gap in style between his own music and that of his Northern compatriot. But McKeegan is adamant about the diverse influences that continue to inform him and his band-mates. “The kind of band we are, you know, we’re don’t come off stage and listen to the Foo Fighters,” he explains, somewhat diplomatically. “I mean, I like the Foo Fighters but we don’t really listen to that much straight-forward guitar stuff. I think you need those external influences otherwise you become a bit stale. I’m not suggesting that we’re going to go dance or anything like that but I think you need to be aware that a guitar doesn’t need to play the same barre chords over and over again. I think there’s an energy to good electronic music which is similar to that energy in punk rock and metal music. I guess all types of music can have that kind of energy, that kind of visceral type thing, and it’s been created by someone with real passion for it. It’s not just, this is fashionable, this is trendy, let’s hop on a bandwagon here.”

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