"I don't think I'd have enjoyed a stay in a South American prison": Therapy?'s Andy Cairns has learned some important lessons from three decades in rock

Andy Cairns 2023
(Image credit: Tom Hoad)

When Therapy? released their debut single in 1990 the world was a very different place: Green Day, Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana were still ropey local bands, YouTube, Twitter and Spotify didn't exist, and the UK had five weekly music magazines that covered rock music: Sounds, Kerrang!, NME, Melody Maker and Record Mirror. Now there are none.

All these years later, Therapy?'s commitment to the cause remains steadfast, and frontman Andy Cairns can look back over almost three-and-a-half decades in rock 'n' roll without a trace of bitterness, and with few regrets, a rare achievement in his line of work. Here's what he's learned from a life in the game.

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A big mouth doesn't make you a big man

"When we started out, I was always slagging everyone off. Post-Oasis, there's a rock 'n' roll textbook rule that states you must be mouthy, but back then we were just three bespectacled, chubby hicks from the sticks and that was our way of dealing with our own insecurities. We got asked about U2 a lot and I was always criticising them as the enemy, but they got their revenge cleverly without really saying a word against us. We were at the MTV Awards in Berlin in 1994 and U2 were there and Bono walked over to us with everyone watching, sat on my knee, smiled and said 'God bless you my son' and just walked off. And that just made me look like a lightweight."

Band discussions are best conducted when sober

"When Neil (Cooper) joined the band we made a vow that if anyone pissed off anyone else we'd sort out the problem there and then rather than let it fester and have someone explode while we're drunk on a tour bus in France at 3am. We'd learnt this from experience. One night when we were rehearsing to make [1992's] Nurse we went to the pub to come up with some ideas and had a drunken fight, and we all walked back separately to our rented house and then smashed up the equipment. Michael (McKeegan) had a Walkman which was on auto-record, and it recorded the whole thing: it was just nonsense - 'You're a cunt'. 'No, you're a fucker!' Michael still has that recording somewhere..."

Any loser with a guitar can find 'companionship'

"People have an attraction to guys in bands. Suddenly you don't have to spend all night trawling the cattle market bars, trying out your one-liners and getting rejected over and over to get laid, girls already know who you are and they're interested in you without you having to break the ice. That kind of thing was just such a novelty to me. But it's easy to abuse that. You find that a lot of creative people who have the chance to have great sex every night of the week would rather stay in their hotel room and worry about the Scandinavian sales of their latest album."

Cock rock is a dangerous game

"We toured South American once with Faith No More and Megadeth and all the bands were continually getting spat on. One day in Chile I'd had a few drinks before we went onstage and half-way through the set, when the spit get coming, I just stopped a song, dropped my trousers and started waving my cock about. That really annoyed the crowd for some reason, so obviously I kept doing it. The next day we were playing in Buenos Aires and so we decided to change our flights to get there earlier: when we bumped into [Faith No More vocalist] Mike Patton there he said 'You guys were really lucky', because apparently about two hours later the cops had turned up at the hotel to arrest me for indecent exposure. I don't think I'd have enjoyed a stay in a South American prison..."

Rock stars are an odd breed

"We did a cover of Iron Man with Ozzy Osbourne for the Nativity in Black tribute album [to Black Sabbath] and we met Ozzy when he recorded his vocals and he was absolutely lovely. Then a few weeks later we read in Kerrang! that he thought our version was awful: he said, 'The band were shitting themselves'. I was pretty vocal about our disappointment because I just couldn't understand why the guy who'd said 'Thanks for doing this' was then saying we were rubbish. Then about a year later Sharon put us on a few American shows with Ozzy and we got on great with him and I thought 'Well, he can't hate us that much...'. Sometimes it's best not to over-think."

Big isn't always beautiful

"When Troublegum was successful, people began to look at us differently. Our A&R man said 'Troublegum has done half a million, so the next album needs to do one million'. We were being marketed as 'A European Metallica-meets-Depeche Mode' and that wasn't really what we were about, so we were a bit restless. If you have a successful album you're meant to keep your eyes on the prize and - quote - 'give the kids what they want', by essentially making the same album again, but we didn't play that game. Our next album Infernal Love was meant to be a big mainstream rock album, but we'd be out in a rowing boat in a lake at 2am, off our heads, recording geese and ducks for a sprawling piece of noise called Duck Symphony... The absurdity of it appealed to us, but perhaps it wasn't for everyone."

Life in the fast lane will take its toll

"I've had my fair share of stupid times with alcohol and drugs, but my biggest melt-down didn't involve either. We were running late delivering Infernal Love and we had to go to Portugal for the photo shoot, then go to LA, New Zealand, Australia and Japan before going back to Europe: by the time we hit Japan I was going slightly insane - I couldn't sleep, I didn't know where I was and my nerves were shot to pieces. I was in a lift with one of the crew and he said 'I think you're beginning to crack up' because I was ranting and raving, just talking gibberish. But a doctor in Tokyo prescribed me some really heavy tranquilisers and they kept me sane until I got home, and I made a conscious effort to slow down a bit after that."

Success comes in different forms

"I'd be a liar if I said I didn't want to be selling more records and playing to more people, but I still get letters from people all over the world saying how much this band means to them. A guy once came backstage at a show in Scotland and he'd got 'God give me strength, God make me well', a lyric from our One Cure Fits All album, tattooed on his arm before he went in to have an operation to combat cancer: if our music can still affect people on that level I'm perfectly happy with that."

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.