It hasn’t been easy being a member of The Answer in recent years. The initial flush of success that saw the Irish band notch up a string of hit albums in the UK and bag support slots with such high profile supporters as AC/DC and Paul Rodgers was wearing off, and the music business was slowly grinding the down. Worse, singer Cormac Neeson went through his own personal trauma when his newborn son became seriously ill.
The solution? Tear up everything they’d done before and veer off into uncharted territory. Their new album Solas ditches the blues rock for a darker, more experimental approach that is influenced by everything from Led Zeppelin III to King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp.
You can hear the startlingly brilliant title track exclusively below, but first guitarist Paul Mahon looks back on the trials that produced it.
The new song, Solas, is a real departure…
“Yes. I think that song is a summary of everything that’s new on this record. There’s a little bit of Zeppelin in there, but it’s much more of a cinematic sound and has that machine-like groove. I think people will be pleasantly surprised. On every record, we tried to do a track or two that comes off the beaten path. But on this album, we ended up doing ten of them.”**
Why was that?
“Last September, we’d just got back from the States. We’d been on tour with Whitesnake. At the end of every tour, you go, ‘What next?’ But this time, we were stumped. Like, ‘Do we just make another rock record and go through the motions?’ No one was excited by that. Everybody was burnt-out by that point. It felt like we’d been in a van, just looking at each other, for ten years. We were thinking, ‘How do we move this on?’ And we didn’t have the answer. There was definitely a point where everyone had gone their separate ways. Cormac had his first child, and was having a difficult time…”
His baby son was seriously ill. How did it feel to watch that unfold?
“It was very painful. For anyone’s child to go through that sort of pain, it’s heartbreaking. And there’s not much you can do to help. The best thing I could do was be ready to make music again. We were thinking the band was over, but through his pain, we made something really cool. I think people will hear that in the record.”
Solas means ‘light’ in Gaelic. Is that significant?
“Yeah, it’s the light we were trying to find in those dark days.”
How did you turn things around?
“It took a month or two. Without even thinking about it, we’d meet up during the week and have a little songwriting club, almost. Just for fun. We touched on something a bit more Celtic and acoustic-based, took it from there. The more we explored it, we found it wasn’t going to just be Celtic. Y’know, Americana, bluegrass, kinda put it back in the blues-rock thing and see what came out. This time, it was way more melody-driven, rather than riff-driven.”
Was that comfortable for you?
“It was disconcerting at the beginning, because it feels very counter-intuitive. I wasn’t sure if anything would happen with the songs. I’d listen to the demos and think, ‘Are people gonna go for this?’ Then, we played it to our producers from our first record – Andy Bradfield and Avril MacKintosh – and they said, ‘This is exactly the road you need to be going down’. When they wanted to get involved, I felt, like, ‘We’re definitely doing the right thing’.”
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Should your old fanbase be concerned?
“Oh no, there’s still loads of guitars on there. I think of it the same as when Led Zeppelin did III. I’m sure, at the time, that sounded like a complete departure. But you listen to it now and it makes perfect sense. There’s still classic elements of The Answer. I think Cormac’s voice is really the iconic calling card, and it’s still there. The guitar is still very prominent, but it was more about the different sounds, the different sonics. So it was influenced by listening to movie soundtracks, y’know, Twin Peaks, things like that. Kinda like Robert Fripp’s approach on Heroes.”
What do you think of Cormac’s lyrics on the album?
“It’s probably the best lyrics he’s written. He’s very open. He puts it all out there. He allows himself to be vulnerable. As a frontman, that’s very hard to do, because you’re meant to be the strong guy at the front who has no weakness. All my favourite lyricists, that’s what they do. They bare their souls, for better or worse.”
Does it feel to get this album out there?
“Yeah, it certainly does. I’m proud of what we did. And it’s exciting for the future. We know we can do it this way. We have that freedom.”
Solas is released through Napalm Records on October 28th, and is available to pre-order now.
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