Interview with Cormac Neeson (The Answer)

Northern Ireland’s The Answer are back with their fourth album New Horizon. Mick Burgess chatted to lead singer Cormac Neeson about the new album and working with legendary artist Storm Thogerson.

Your new album New Horizon has just been released. Are you pleased it’s finally out?

I am indeed. It seems like an awful long time for us. We’ve had the album in the can since Christmas so it’s been a big ask for us to sit on it for this long but the time is right for us to put it out on the 30th September. Based on the reception our first single has received, it bodes well. I think we’ve made a very strong record.

How long has the album been in the making?

It didn’t take us that long. We just knuckled down writing for the record last summer. We had a couple of months throwing everything against the wall hoping some of it would stick but it wasn’t until we got producer Toby Jepson on board that the songs that actually made the record started coming together. We went into the studio with all of the songs written bar one called “Speak Now” that was written in the moment when we were all set up in the studio. It’s always nice when something like that jumps out at you. The whole process has been a really enjoyable experience.

How do you see New Horizon as a progression from Revial which came out a couple of years back?

This was the first time as a band we’ve sat around together and made a conscious decision regarding the kind of album we wanted to make. We wanted a mission statement that was to establish the groove early on in each song. We played the songs again and again until we were really sitting in that pocket where the music could really reach out. At the same time we wanted to make a great Hard Rock record as well. In the past we’ve had a strong Blues influence in place of dare I say contemporary Hard Rock. It’s easy to forget that Rock didn’t stop in 1979. There were many great bands after that like Rage Against The Machine and Soundgarden and bands like that. They have had a massive influence on us but most people tend to focus on the Led Zeppelin’s and Free’s of this world. There’s nothing the matter with that but our influences are wide and we have tried to draw on all of those for this record.

The album features 10 tracks with no flab or filler and is quite short by today’s standards. Do you think that too many bands these days try to put too much material on a record and end up diluting the quality as a result?

I think it’s down to the artists really.. There’s some long records that are great and free flowing but in our case we just wanted to make a 10 track punchy Rock ‘n’ Roll record and we had to be quite disciplined in our approach so we didn’t get waylaid and end up with a 70 minute jamathon.

How many songs did you record for the album?

We intended on recording twelve and dropping two for the 10 track record but we ended up with an extra unplanned song that we wrote and recorded in the studio. We had 13 which is in stark contrast to the 18 or 19 that we usually have. On our last record Revival, we had so much material left we reissued it with a bonus disc as it was not doing anyone any good just lying there and nobody being able to hear it. In this case we just stuck to the mission statement and recorded a smaller number of tunes.

Was there not the temptation to use some of the extra tracks from Revival for your new record?

Whenever it comes round to record a new album we always feel it’s best to start with a clean sheet and leave older songs behind as they belong in that moment. It makes it current and contemporary to start writing fresh material rather than using older songs.

How did you decide which ones to use and what to leave off?

You can usually tell what works together and what doesn’t so it tends to work itself out without too much effort. It’s hard leaving one or two off the album but they are never totally lost as they usually end up as bonus tracks or B sides.

Toby Jepson from The Little Angels produced the album. How did you first hook up with Toby?

It was one of those things where everything just fell into place. Our management had been at a meeting with one of their other acts and a guy from the label Cooking Vinyl came in and said that he’d heard that we were making a new record and he suggested Toby. I gave him a call to see if he knew his stuff. We chatted on the phone about everything from Rock’n’Roll to the changing weather in Scarborough which is where he’s from. We got on great and he came over to Ireland and worked on a couple of songs and he brought something to the table at that early stage so we thought maybe it was just meant to be. A month later he was living in Ireland for a month and a half working with us. We also wrote a couple of songs with Toby which is the first time we’ve ever co-written with anyone else. He really brought a lot to this record. He’s a great guy who’s been through it all and can sift through all the nonsense of the industry and get through to what really matters. He’s a real kindred spirit.

The cover features artwork by the legendary Storm Thogerson who has sadly recently passed away. Who came up with the idea to work with Storm?

It came from a meeting we had with our label. Our A&R man came over from Austria to see how we were getting on and to make sure we were spending the labels money wisely and we were discussing our favourite artwork. 9 of the 10 covers we mentioned were by Storm Thogerson. We cheekily suggested Storm but we didn’t think anything would come of it. A week later they told us that Storm wanted to work with us which was amazing.

Did you meet with Storm to discuss what you wanted?

They have a set process that involves listening to the music over and over again and each band member gets interviewed individually and as a band. We were asked to put forward any information that we thought might be relevant to the record and it all got put into the melting pot. Storm came back with 10 suggestions and all of them totally different but all of them made sense for the record. It was a tougher decision deciding on the cover than deciding which songs to put on the album. We all agreed that the bird man idea was the way forward. Storm was thrilled with that as that was his favourite as well.

Your album must be one of the very last projects that Storm worked on. You must have mixed feelings when you look at the cover?

He’s such a great loss to the world of music. It was his job to put the icing on the cake. He was so professional and talented and I know that Storm and his team took such care over as they knew it was Storm’s last piece of work. We’re just so glad that it came out as such a strong, iconic image. It’s a small part of his legacy but he excelled himself again. It’s by far and away the best album cover we’ve had. We’ll have trouble topping that one in the future, maybe we’ll use one of the other nine designs he came up with.

In October you’re heading off on a 12 date UK and Irish tour. Are you looking forward to getting back on the road?

Spending so long in the studio does tend to give you itchy feet. The UK and Irish dates roll into a month of dates in Europe so we have a good 6 or 7 weeks on tour and we kick off in Belfast on 11th October and then a week or so later we’re up in Newcastle on 23rd. We’re looking forward to getting back out there.

How many new songs are you planning on adding to the set?

We’re currently trying to piece together a new set for the tour. We’ve got all 10 new tracks rehearsed and on any given night we’ll play 6 or 7. We’ll probably shake it up each night. It’s a nice problem to have, having too many songs to choose from. It’ll be a great show with plenty of old and plenty of new songs too. We’re very excited about the tour and can’t wait to get started.

You’re playing Newcastle on 23rd October. You’ve played at the City Hall and The Academy before. They say that the Northern are different to those down South. Do you notice different crowd reactions in different regions?

No two gigs are ever the same. We felt at a very early stage that we were taken in by the Newcastle crowd, we were really made to feel welcome by them and we’ve had a long relationship with them since then. The Geordie audience is hard to resist, they are so into their music.

You’ve toured with some of the biggest names in Rock including AC/DC and Whitesnake. What did you learn from those bands on those tours?

We learned a lot; how to connect with a big audience, how to discipline ourselves to get up night after night and play. You learn that your heroes of the Rock world that you’ve looked up to all of your life are just regular people and that there’s no need to waltz around backstage like a diva. You just need to get up on stage and let the music do the talking. We’re always learning and there’s new tricks to pick up on. I’m constantly walking around with my eyes open while on tour to see how we can make ourselves a better band and every tour we do, we become better at what we do. It’s a constant learning experience for us.

The AC/DC Black Ice tour was a particularly huge one. Did you get the chance to hang out with them backstage?

Yeah, sure. We got to know them quite well. That was such a big tour, we did 118 shows with them and we were welcomed into the inner sanctum at an early stage. The first gig we did in Pennsylvania was just a small one……just a 15,000 seater, which is an intimate show for AC/DC. That was the first night of the tour and they were as nervous as we were and they had no idea it would be as successful as it was but there was a knock on our door half an hour before we went on stage and it was Cliff and Malcolm. They just popped their heads round the door and wished us luck and that set the tone for the tour.

Brian Johnson is from Newcastle. Did you have any trouble understanding his accent?

Brian would come off stage and into our dressing room and crack open a beer and just chat onto us like he was in some pub back on the Tyne. He’s still got his accent but we could understand him fine. I think he appreciated having a bunch of Irish lads who he could share a beer with. We got on great with those boys. They couldn’t have been nicer to us.

On your current tour you are taking Australian band Tracer out with you. That’s a great choice. Did you suggest that or was it something that the promoter wanted?

We’ve been after Tracer for a while. We’re strong believers in having a good support band as it’s part of the package and you want to give punters value for money. Tracer are up there with the best of them and a great live band so it’s a really strong package for the fans. We’re sharing a bus with them too so they are going to be welcomed into The Answer family.

After the UK shows are over where do you head next?

Our UK leg ends in Brighton then we head over to France and work our way right through Europe including Germany, Italy, Switzerland to name but a few. It’s an extensive tour across Europe and we’re looking forward to getting over to those places again. Touring is such a massive part of what we do and we love to play as many places as possible.

What are your plans after that?

At the moment we’re purely focussed on promoting the new record. We really believe in it and think it’ll do well for us so we just want to stay out on the road and tour and we’ll see what happens after that.

The Answers’ new album New Horizon is out on 30th September.

The UK tour starts in Belfast on 8th October and ends in Brighton on 27th October.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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