The Answer - Winter 2016

For more than a decade, Irish rockers The Answer have consistently delivered the very best in classic rock. Typically but not exclusively drawn from a blues-rock influence, their body of work has been recognised by the rock press elite and by some of the biggest bands on the planet. The last 18 months has seen their 5th studio album Raise A Little Hell go straight to the top of the rock charts and huge tour celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of their debut record Rise. Extensive high-profile support slots with bands such as Whitesnake and festival appearances followed. To the casual observer, here was a band riding the crest of a wave. But it hasn't been like that. 2016 has seen the band take a period of reflection and re-evaluation, resulting in the decision to take a new direction for the latest album Solas. The music industry has been a fickle beast but The Answer understand all to well that if you are to choose music as your mistress you need to deal with her mood swings. They have taken brave steps but they have paid off – big time. Solas is very different to any album they have made before, dark in places and extremely emotive in others. As a single, cohesive entity this record makes a poignant connection and absolutely takes the listener on a deep and enchanting journey. Individually, each track does of course satisfy and holds its own but it's as a collective that Solas’ true strength and impact is felt. An excellent example of the sum being greater than its parts. The Answer have clearly been on a voyage of change. We catch up with guitarist Paul Mahon in Birmingham ahead of their co-headlining slot with The Dead Daisies to get the full story.

Guitarist Paul Mahon meets a young fan

Solas is a new direction for The Answer, certainly a deviation from a pure blues-rock approach that sees you exploring traditional Celtic influences. I think there’s also a strong story-telling quality to a number of the tracks. David Bowie once said that one of the secrets to his success was reinvention. Are we seeing the reinvention of The Answer?


Yeah I think it's certainly about closing the first chapter of the band. It think with 10 years since Rise came out, we did a tour in the summer just playing Rise stuff. That kind of seemed like a time, not to break with past but to close the book on one and start another. I think Solas is an album that is markedly different than what we've done before and even a casual listener can hear that. So I think we started with the first record of the new period, we in some ways purposely went quite diverse and different from what we've done before and accentuated some of those elements a little. 


It's been reported that following the release of your last album, Raise A Little Hell, as a band you went through a period of re-evaluation. Was it really a cross roads about your future as a band? 


I think so yeah. Looking at it today it seems a long time ago and that the future was never in jeopardy but it certainly was. We had a tough year, particularly for Cormac (Neeson, vocalist) with the birth of his first son who arrived 3 months premature. Raise A Little Hell kind of spilled into that period of time. I think that was a very hard period for him, and things outside of the band for everyone kind of became a little more important. As you get older your priorities change and certainly when we came back from America, financially things weren't good. Raise A Little Hell, I really like the album better than New Horizon but in terms of sales and in terms of critical reception, it was going worse. So it was a very tough period for us. We didn't know what to do and I did think coming back from the Whitesnake tour that maybe we wouldn't do another record, or that if we did it would be the last one. So it took a period of reflection and I think writing the record was part of that – quite therapeutic and cathartic – and it helped us find our next direction and really brought us all together again.


I wanted to ask you about one particular song from Solas: Real Life Dreamers - it's a song about a path that's been taken where things may not always have worked out as expected but it's also a positive song about self-belief and following your dreams. Is this perhaps the most auto-biographical of the Solas’ tracks? 


I think coming out of the other side, one of the themes we explored was when you are at rock bottom in the darkness, you can only go up and find the light. I think by the time we get to Real Life Dreamers we've found the light and hope is back, and you don't have to be number 1 and be a millionaire to still have that hope. You can still have it when you are in the gutter looking at the stars. So we kind of got back to that point. In terms of auto-biographical, I think there's other songs, maybe Solas is one. I think that's lyrically some of Cormac’s frustration from what we were going through. I think probably Being Begotten as well, also In This Land. I suppose it's autobiographical growing up in Ireland and maybe some of the lyrics and stuff are, not throwaway, but more of a commentary than autobiographical. Real Life Dreamers is kind of the other side of it. I think Solas is typically autobiographical of what we were all going through at that time. If you listen to it I think there's a lot of lyrics which are really reflective of our life, much more so than there ever was before. 


You are currently 7 shows in to what is quite an extensive UK and European co-headlining tour with The Dead Daisies. Tell me about your relationship with The Dead Daisies and what it means to be sharing a stage with them.


I know the guys quite well from when we toured with Whitesnake a lot. Doug Aldrich was in Whitesnake so I know Doug very well and I consider him a friend. I know Brian Tichy from the same band and I’ve met Marco Mendoza a few times from when we played with Thin Lizzy. So it has a real family atmosphere. We've got Lynn Jackaman opening up and she joins us for Nowhere Freeway. So there's a real camaraderie between all the bands and it feels like a travelling family, and I think the two bands complement each other quite well. With The Dead Daisies they're a little bit different from what we’re doing, especially on the new album, but I think somehow it works together and when the audience comes they get something different from both bands. I think that's why the shows are selling out and going well.


You mentioned Lynne Jackaman who you collaborated with on Nowhere Freeway from the Revival record. What are your memories of recording that song together?


I remember that we recorded in a couple of different studios. It started out in El Paso. The basic tracking was there. I remember that kind of being when wehad just come off the AC/DC tour and we felt that going into that record we wrote some of our best material and Nowhere Freeway was already going to be one of the singles. You could tell. Our producer, Chris "Frenchy" Smith had this idea. Because it was going to be a big single, he wanted to make it a duet which was something we’d never done before. He had a couple of ideas of who would sing it and we kind of had a listen to them and Lynn was the one we liked the most. So we actually did her part in London when the album was being mixed by Chris in his studio in Crouch End. She’s very off the cuff, she came in, did 2 or 3 takes and that's the result!


You've clearly been playing some of the Solas tracks at the UK shows. What has the fans’ reaction been to the new material.


It's been good! We debuted 2 tracks during the summer - Solas and Thief of Light - and the reaction was good then. I think because we were playing a full Rise set then it was a good time to get a sympathetic ear. They went down well. And then on this tour we are doing 9 songs from the album in the set, maybe only 3 old ones, so it's quite ‘new-album heavy’. We decided to be brave and just come out and play as much new stuff as possible and see how the audience reacted to it. And it's been good! Obviously there are some people who come and they want to hear Preachin’, they want to hear Under The Sky and Come Follow Me but we've done that for 10 years and we just did it all during the summer so we wanted to lay ourselves on the line. But it's a different album to the show now. Cormac plays a bit of acoustic guitar and I think that interplay between the 2 guitars provides a new dimension to what we've played before. I play a mandolin, Micky’s playing some acoustic and some electric on a couple of tracks so there’s a new sort of guitar interplay that is very fresh for us and doubly so for the audience. So even if they might miss their favourite tracks, I think they're enjoying these new elements. 


What is the emerging 2017 calendar for a The Answer?


We're doing the Monsters of Rock Cruise in February, which will be nice – a nice bit of sun! Then we do some Irish shows at the end of February and we might do another UK run around April time. We will see how things are going. And then it's festivals for the summer. So lots more touring and hopefully bigger and better venues.

As our conversation comes to a close, it's very apparent how much of a year of change 2016 has been for The Answer. What started out as real doubt around the band’s future has concluded with what we believe to be their best album to date. But Solas is much more than that. It's actually a ground-breaking album for the rock genre as a whole, and The Answer should be incredibly proud.


Enjoy the video for Solas’ title track below and find out more at www.theanswer.ie.