Therapy?’s 15th studio album, Cleave, is out today. Their first recording for new label Marshall Records, the band describe the album as, "A scathing, incisive state-of-the-nation address, investigating the schisms in contemporary society and the motivations of those seeking to propagate disjuncture."
With that in mind, who better to guide us through the album than Therapy? frontman Andy Cairns?
Wreck It Like Beckett
This song originated with Michael. He told me he had a riff which reminded him of She Watch Channel Zero by Public Enemy and he sent me over a bass riff, a guitar riff and a drum beat. I thought the riff was incredible, and so we chopped it up in the rehearsal room, to make it more stop-start, like [classic Therapy? tracks] Knives or Screamager, and that really worked. Lyrically, it’s about trying to start anew. The reason that [Irish playwright and poet] Samuel Beckett is referenced in the title is that each time Beckett began a new project he used to imagine that he was sitting at a desk and could swipe his arm across the desk to clear away all the sheets of paper so that he could make a fresh start. This is a song that sets the album up as a new chapter for Therapy?.
Michael actually sent me this riff too. It was mid-paced, with a heavy groove, a bit like Helmet. We’ve had a song idea kicking around for a while based around the line ‘It’s okay not to be okay’ and when we got this riff it was such a great head-nodder that it reminded us of something like Unbeliever from Troublegum, with that same kind of chunky riff. Lyrically, it’s about division again, the division between the haves and the have-nots. There’s an awful lot of anger and frustration out there right now, and you look at this wealthy country and how it treats people, and so this song is kinda saying ‘You’ve got a right to be pissed off.’ People in our country don’t kick off against injustice enough…
Callow is one of two songs on the album that I wrote start-to-finish. Everyone who knows anything about our band know that I love Hüsker Dü and The Buzzcocks and Ramones, and this is another melodic punky song in the vein of Nowhere and Screamager and Lonely, Cryin’, Only, with maybe a hint of the Manic Street Preachers The Holy Bible too. My son Jonah is really into a rapper called Lil Peep, which sounds to me like emo with trap drum beats, with lyrics about fucked up and lost and lonely he feels, and I managed to get Jonah a ticket for his show in London last year. A few months later he said to me, ‘Lil Peep is dead’, and I could see that he was really affected by it: I realised that, for him, this was like the passing of John Lennon or Ian Curtis or Kurt Cobain.
In some of his music, Lil Peep talked about the antidepressant Xanax, the over-use of which has become a real problem in the UK, and while I was thinking about that I remembered a Stephen Fry quote where, after he was prescribed antidepressants to combat his manic depression, and he said that he felt like a zombie for months. He said something like, ‘If you take away my demons, you’ll also take my angels.’ His point was that, yes, there were dizzying heights and terrifying lows without antidepressants, but he’d rather have that than constant numbness. So this song is talking about how we negotiate the chaos of life right now, and to understand why someone might numb out so that they don’t notice our divides.
This was co-written by Michael and I. Michael had an idea which was reminiscent of Killing Joke and I added some Black Flag descending chords to it. Going back to something I touched on earlier, this is a song about class division. There’s a line ‘I wasn’t born pretty, I wasn’t born rich, everything I’ve got I’ve had to fight for’, which references the idea of one’s environment and background and upbringing, and how depressing it is that people currently seem really determined to divide the country into categories of people. I’m living out my inner John Lydon a little with the vocals here.
Success? Success Is Survival
This reminds me of something like Perversonality from Nurse, it’s a big, stomping tune, with a bassline from Michael and my chorus. The idea behind the lyric started with Leonard Cohen. I was watching a Leonard Cohen documentary and someone was speaking to him backstage somewhere in 1977/’78 and asked him, ‘How do you define success?’ His answer was, ‘Well, for me, success is survival’. This is probably the most overtly political song on the record, without explicitly naming and shaming anyone. My wife works for a charitable organisation and she works a lot with the homeless, and so I see first-hand what she has to deal with. Just trying to survive now seems even harder now than it used to be. The opening line paraphrases Samuel Beckett, where he said, ‘The cream of this country, rich and thick.’
Save Me From The Ordinary
This originated with a bass and drums line that Michael wrote. He wasn’t sure that it was something I would like, or something that we would do, but once Neil played drums on it, it made sense. Its initial title was Quotidian. Lyrically the idea came from watching Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin, which is a great film, about a little man getting caught in the cogs of a machine. Beckett was always enthralled by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films because he saw a lot of sadness in man’s pathetic attempts to wriggle free of troubled situations and there’s something of that pathos here.
This is the second track on the record that I wrote from start-to-finish, in this instance on an acoustic guitar, sitting at my kitchen table. While thinking about duality in personalities, I thought about how much certain people change when they add alcohol, and so this is about alcohol addiction. It’s not pointing fingers: with any big major fuck up that I’ve made in my life or any seriously rash decisions I’ve made that I’ve come to regret, alcohol was always involved. The melody line here is almost like a country song, with an element of our song Die Laughing too.
I Stand Alone
We had this riff which was kinda …And Justice For All-era Metallica-meets-The Young Gods but we just couldn’t get it to sound like Therapy? And then Neil suggested we try it with a similar approach to how we wrote Skinning Pit or Fantasy Bag on Pleasure Death and that seemed to work. The verses remind me a little of Nine Inch Nails. Lyrically it is inspired by Gaspar Noé’s movie Seul Contre Tous (I Stand Alone) which is a brilliant film about a middle-aged butcher in Paris who has the ultimate mid-life crisis, completely melts down and goes on the rampage.
The music here is 100 per cent Mr Cooper. Neil bought himself some sampling gear and keyboards and music software and he sent me a piece of music which had him drumming and playing the bass and guitar parts on a synthesiser. It sounded like a bizarre but brilliant Daft Punk track, with a really great riff. Because it was played on a keyboard we spent ages trying to transpose it to the right key so that we could play it, but we copied Neil’s synth parts on the bass and guitar and then I added the lyrics later on.
The lyrics were inspired by a conversation I had at a dinner party immediately post-Brexit. My neighbour was hosting this party and at some point the conversation, inevitably, turned to Brexit and I said that I disagreed with it. This middle class, middle-aged man said, ‘Well, if you don’t like it, you can always go home.’ I looked at him and said, ‘What, next door?’ That kinda summed up Brexit to me, that this guy actually felt empowered to say something like that now.
I think this is my favourite track on the album. Michael wrote the verses and pre-chorus, and I wrote the chorus. Initially this sounded like Portishead, with a very slow trip-hop beat and what sounded like a double bass playing a descending line, but Neil thought it was missing something, so then we added an almost black metal pre-chorus. Then I wanted to add a huge chorus that would lift the song right up. Lyrically, this song is completely autobiographical: I’m prone to depression at times and having talked about other people’s depression on Callow, this is a more personal take on it, where I tried to think of how I feel when I’m really, really down and make the lyrics as frank as possible.