"It was like Guns N' Roses being lectured by anarchists": Therapy?'s Andy Cairns picks the 10 songs that define his career

Andy Cairns 2023
(Image credit: Tom Hoad)

Formed in Northern Ireland in 1989, Therapy? have never snugly fit in with other bands. Noise punks with an ear for massive anthemic melodies and alt-metal riffs, they invaded international charts through the 90s whilst forging a unique and uncompromising career in the decades since by continually tinkering with their sound. 

But the way Andy Cairns sees it, what else was a weird, music loving boy to do at the height of the Troubles? "I was always into obscure music and didn't really know anybody else where I grew up that was into Young Gods, Ministry, Big Black," he admits with a chuckle. "Michael [McKeegan, Therapy? guitarist] liked Voivod, Napalm Death and thrash metal, Fyfe [Ewing, original Therapy? drummer] liked hardcore punk and Sonic Youth type stuff. We didn't look like rock stars, like Guns N' Roses or Billy Idol, we were just three bozos from these little country towns who loved Husker Du and all these bands on SST Records." 

With their sixteenth studio album Hard Cold Fire earning rave reviews and Andy branching out with new group JAAW, we asked Andy to pick out the ten songs that he feels best define his career to date.

Metal Hammer line break

1. Therapy? - Meat Abstract (Babyteeth, 1991)

"We wrote Meat Abstract in 1989 and to give it some context, the Troubles were raging in Northern Ireland. We were doing a lot of gigs through this brilliant thing called the Warzone Collective, this very punk, DIY thing. I didn't really like a lot of metal at that point - I was more into dark dance stuff, but I could play the riffs and we were listening to a lot of Young Gods and early Swans. Fyfe hadn't heard new beat, this Belgian dance music I was dabbling in, so I sent him some and Meat Abstract came about with me trying to write a new beat riff on the guitar.

At the time, a lot of the crust punk bands followed a formula; when we wrote Meat Abstract it was the first time I thought 'this actually sounds like the music we listen to'. The lyrics dealt with strange characters at you could only run across in County Antrim in Northern Ireland, so this one was based on a newspaper article where someone had come home and had stabbed one of their parents, then when the police turned up they were wearing a t-shirt that said 'no-one knows the trouble I've seen', the opening line of the song.

It was the first ever Therapy? single; these days Northern Ireland is very different to how it was, there's lots of places to play in Belfast but back then it was just the Warzone Collective. You'd be lucky if you could get a support slot with a big band, because most wouldn't come over due to the political situation. But we went to this little studio up the road, saved up the money from our crappy bar and factory jobs to put Meat Abstract out as a single. When we started out, we never thought we'd make the kind of music that could be released, then when we got 1000 copies made up, they were sent to my house and I remember calling the guys to just stare at them. Bands these days want to sell out Madison Square Gardens; looking at 1000 7" singles in my kitchen was my Madison Square Gardens!"

2. Therapy? - Potato Junkie (Pleasure Death, 1992)

"U2 released Sunday Bloody Sunday and pretty much every time we were interviewed, the two questions we'd get were 'why's there a question mark in the name?' and 'being from Northern Ireland, why do you not sing about politics like Stiff Little Fingers and Sinead O'Connor?' And it was like, we do, just in our own way. I like touching on things that are happening with a darker way of looking at it, and 'James Joyce is fucking my sister' is this surrealist narrative about how in the post-U2 years parts of the country really leaned into 'isn't it brilliant? Let's go see where James Joyce wrote Ulysses', and me feeling like part of my upbringing was being fucked with by someone selling the culture. 

Musically, I have this terrible habit of getting obsessed with things, and at that point it was Jimi Hendrix. I never really cared for Jimi Hendrix growing up; I was a punk, but I heard Fire and it was like 'what is this sorcery?!'. I came in with the riff to Potato Junkie and Michael was like 'this is amazing!' but Fyfe just goes, 'it's a bit rawk' ha ha. I sold it to him as it sounding a bit like James Brown, so he went with it and inevitably when we started playing it at gigs, people would come up afterwards like 'what's the one about James Joyce?' Noise rock didn't really have slogans, so it was a bit of a novelty and it had this visceral energy  that people loved." 

3. Therapy? - Nowhere (Troublegum, 1994)

"Nowhere always takes me back to a time of my life before I discovered bands like Big Black, Einstürzende Neubauten and Discharge. We'd done Screamager in 1993 and that'd been quite successful, getting us into the charts. Chris Sheldon had produced it and he was now supposed to do the full album, but we'd planned Screamager as a tribute to the Ulster punk we grew up on: Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, Defects. 

It was really successful, so Chris said 'do you have another' and it was like yeah, because I'd seen Nowhere as being like Another Girl, Another Planet by The Only Ones meets Husker Du and a bit of Thin Lizzy. He loved that, so we followed that path for Troublebum and even though Screamager is the one people think of because it did really well across Europe, Nowhere to me was the one where Undertones met Thin Lizzy. It's a melodic punk song played with a bit of swagger, and to this day it's the song I like playing most from that period."

4. Therapy? - Jude The Obscene (Infernal Love, 1995)

"Because of where we'd grown up, there was a darkness around us that we'd been born into. Every time we left the country it was like 'have you ever seen anyone blown up?', 'do you know anyone that's been shot?' and it was like 'yes and yes, but we don't want to talk about it'. Unfortunately, because Troublegum was a success, it brought along a lot of things with it that we weren't really prepared for. 

We'd been interviewed by a magazine and I admitted I hadn't really touched drugs much and I wasn't a big drinker, so it was only when the band were forming I started dabbling. Somebody then wrote into the next issue using that quote and saying 'your life is a waste - please die'. The magazine printed it with a "hey, steady on now" from the editor, but I couldn't believe they chose to print that. It got me thinking about when I was really young - maybe six or seven - and I'd get bullied at school. I got many kickings, so I had to learn how to defend myself. One time, an older lad tied me to a lampost and started breaking bottles above my head. People walked by until a very older lady threatened to call the cops, and Jude The Obscene is about that, realising there are people out there who don't give a fuck."

5. Therapy? - Six Mile Water (Suicide Pact - You First, 1999)

"Suicide Pact was our 'fuck you' record. Fyfe had left and we had Martin McCarick join the band on guitar, which didn't go down well with some people because we were no a four-piece with a different drummer. We'd been dropped by a major label and put on a subsidiary, so we figured we'd just make a 'fuck you' record which as cathartic as you can imagine! 

It was full-on noise rock with distortion on pretty much everything, whenever we were doing rehearsals Martin would ask if we had anything low-key to give us a bit of breather. I'd been listening to lots of Mogwai and came up with Six Mile Water which was basically Mogwai mixed with early R.E.M.. The lyrics dealt with the people I'd left behind in Northern Ireland; Six Mile Water is the river near Larne where Michael McKeegan and Fyfe had lived and Ballyclare where I lived. As a kid I'd sit there lot and dream about what would happen when I grew up, so the lyric 'sorry, I'm not ready for home' was me saying I'm still on this adventure, so I couldn't come back."

6. Therapy? - Crooked Timber (Crooked Timber, 2009)

"One Cure Fits All wasn't our best record; it wasn't well received and our fans didn't particularly like it. So we took a step back for the follow-up to figure what comes next. I was listening to loads of dub and krautrock, but a band like Therapy? still needs to be something we're all comfortable playing. We wanted a producer who could understand all our different influences and Andy Gill had done this record for Killing Joke and was one of my favourite guitar players besides - listen to something like Stories, that's just me trying to be Andy Gill in Gang Of Four - so I managed to get his phone number and he was an absolute sweetheart, he agreed to produce the record and really loved what we were doing. 

That record gave us a shot of life as it was very well recieved, which was great because an album inspired by dub and krautrock could have gone a very different way! We had a lot of fun messing with those songs - there was one time where we just went round and round playing Crooked Timber for like 20 minutes in an extended jam. We brought it back for a recent tour and it felt as good playing it then as it did when we wrote it."

7. Therapy? - Die Laughing ft. James Dean Bradfield (Greatest Hits, 2020)

"I remember when the Manic Street Preachers came out, they were on this called Snub TV and I thought it was amazing. I brought the vinyl of their first album just as we were going on tour, so I was in the back reading all the lyrics and thinking how incredible they were, like Guns N' Roses being lectured by anarchists. When we went to do Troublegum, Manics had just done Gold Against The Soul so I was showing our producer Chris Sheldon it as an example. 

Well, when we went to tour Troublegum, the Manics had just done Holy Bible so they ended up opening for us in France, so I got to know James really well. He told me Die Laughing was his favourite song, so when we revisited it for our greatest hits [in 2020], I called and asked if he wanted to be part of it. We're both big fans of Stuart Adamson from The Skids and Big Country, so he was like 'I've done it, but it's a bit Big Country' and I was just like 'FANTASTIC!'. He brought lots to it and that solo is incredible. It was so nice to go back and revisit that with someone I consider a friend."

8. Ricky Warwick - Celebrating Sinking (Hearts On Trees, 2014)

"I got to know Ricky Warwick when he was in The Almighty through Chris Sheldon. Ricky had grown up in Northern Ireland until he was 14 and moved to Scotland, and when I got to know him I found out we had the same sense of humour and whatever. We were both living in Dublin years later and we started going to the pub together, watching shows and whatever, and we'd jam Stiff Little Fingers covers together, but we'd never actually written together. 

Ricky moved to LA and he was like, 'we never did get to work together' even though we'd lived in the same place for ages. So he asked if I had any ideas and I did - Celebrating Sinking was about this mentality inherent to people from Northern Ireland, people like Alex Hurricane Higgins or George Best, people that liked a drink and ended up sabotaging their career. The biggest example of that is the Titanic - we're literally celebrating a boat that sank! So I'd written this song and sent it to him in really rough form, and he put it onto his next album as a classic rock'n'roll song. We've been through a lot together, so it warms my heart to see him do so well in Black Star Riders."

9. JAAW - Bring Home The Motherlode, Barry (Supercluster, 2023)

"It never ceases to amaze me how many of our peers in the 90s are still stuck in those days. I don't go for that 'the best music came in the 90s' - no, the best music is yet to be heard. I went to see this amazing band from Brazil called Rakta, who play this neo-psychedelic pagan horror krautrock type stuff, and when they played London Iggor Cavalera got up with them.I found out Iggor lives in London and is in this crazy band called Petbrick, so I discovered them and found a bunch of brilliant bands on this label God Unknown. 

I ordered a load of albums from there and I get this message from the label manager thanking me. He mentioned he'd been speaking to Wayne Adams of Petbrick, would I be interested in making music with them? So I agreed to go down and meet them, and ended up spending time with the guys from JAAW. They all loved Therapy? but I was clear I didn't really want it to just sound like that, but thankfully we were making music that sounded like all our individual bands. I did two days in the studio on guitar, two on vocals and then that was it - we were done! Wayne is such a talented producer and JAAW blows my mind - he brings this wide eyed wonder that I just adore. I'm so proud of this album and it proves that no matter how long you've been doing stuff, there's still something you haven't tried."

10. Days Kollaps (Hard Cold Fire, 2023)

"A lot of my favourite Therapy? songs are the ones that come together really quickly. Therapy? have a terrible habit of overthinking things and tweaking with key changes or whatever, but Days Kollaps was done in like half an hour and the song itself reminds me of Slint meets The Cure. It's got this bittersweet optimism that I think is very Therapy? and I've been rehearsing it a lot for this upcoming tour. It's probably my favourite song that we've written in recent years."

Hard Cold Fire is out now via Marshall. Therapy? tour the UK in December, for full dates visit the official website.

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.