New Day Rising: An interview with The Answer

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Paul Mahon (Guitar)

With The Answer being seen as one of the most promising bands to emerge from 2006, followed by a year long worldwide support slot for rock titans AC/DC, the thought of them headlining venues such as the Islington Academy nearly ten years later is something no one predicted. Equipped with a respectable run of albums that range from the blues-rock guitar tone of the '70s, to more modern hard rock guitar riffs, the history of The Answer is already a long one, but one that is hopefully paying off by now.

With the previous four releases covering such a wide range of genres, their latest effort Raise A Little Hell is one that brings The Answer back to their roots with a sound more reminiscent of their debut, and album which kickstarted the retro rock revival of the last decade. On the subject of the bands recent return to a more classic sound, lead guitarist and driving force Paul Mahon found the process much more relaxed; "This time we decided not to over think it too much, we just came off the third album Revival which was a very collective album and some people thought maybe it was too much and maybe we were losing our audience or confusing them a bit. I also think coming out the other side of New Horizon we felt a little constrained and that didn't please us so on this one we definitely set out to not worry about that at all. All four of us are directors and always write songs with very different style and directions, so we decided to embrace it this time."

But although for the past ten years The Answer appear to have been very much in control of their work and the direction of their sound, behind the scenes, like so many other bands, this was not always the case. Finding the best way to write and record an album is hard for any band, whether it is working with producers, getting writers' block, or even trying to capture a certain style, the smallest change can cause the biggest repercussions; "We've started to find a way that works for us, I think every album was a learning experience to see what works creatively and what works in getting the best recording done and the best performances. We find certainly the way we've always written still works, it starts with the drummer James and myself in a room just jamming and then the rest of the bands adds itself to that. And then of course we all write songs individually and bring them in and that's something that I think has got a bit broader as we've gone on, knowing everyone's doing it gives us a much larger pool of material. So creatively that's how we work and recording we have kind of tried everything. On the second album, after touring everyone said 'You are so good live, you've got to record live', and we tried that and it worked a little bit, it was good in some ways and in some ways it didn't work and you know we were back to writing a massive studio record which Revival was. Then we went back to live and on this one I think we have to retain a certain live element and energy. To capture the energy that you have on stage, its not as simple as putting a band in a room and recording it, you have to manipulate it in different ways to get that power and it took us a while to realise that. So on this one, some tracks had the bass and the guitar live, sometimes it was all wired up and sometimes if the drums had to be very precise but we still wanted a bit of spontaneity in the guitar's and the bass, we would record those together. So even though we were over dubbing it, it brought a performance element to it that you don't have when it's just you and the engineer. Along the way, we found a way that works for us and the new album, which is definitely aggressive in some ways, contains that live energy but doesn't miss the subtleties that we can capture in the studio so we are quite happy with that."

Just like many other bands The Answer have songs fall out of their album production sessions which many fans think are so good, its hard to believe they are not on the original album. Whether added on the end of a special edition version, or simply released on singles, for the most part B-sides are loved and sought out by fans everywhere. For The Answer, that desire to provide fans with those "collectable" extra songs comes from their own love of doing that; "Growing up myself when I was really into a band I went out and got a single, then the 12 inch. In fact I got all formats because they all had different tracks on them and I wanted them all. It was kind of a thing for me to collect those and when I was maybe 12 or 13 years old Smashing Pumpkins were one of my favourite bands. When they released their B-sides album, I had all those tracks already because I had bought everything and I think that was definitely something we wanted to do. Now we have a studio at home now, I enjoy doing the production side of things, its not a chore for me to do that, its something I enjoy doing and it leads to us being a bit more productive and having more tracks."

However despite The Answer's love for B-sides and the vast amount released over the past decade, they've not gotten to the point where they can no longer incorporate them into a touring setlist. "We used to play B-sides when we didn't have as many songs, but now we have five albums to chose from. We want to play probably 90% of the new album, but then people want maybe two or three songs off each other album that they want to hear, so we don't really have enough time to do all that. We did a song pool for this [UK] tour and if there were a B-side that people really wanted to hear, we would do it."

Despite The Answer still being relatively young, the band is heavily reliant on the old school virtues of the artists that inspired them to play. Whether it is the style of music, release of B-sides, or the frequent release of albums, The Answer has fully taken on the role of the 'classic rock band', especially in regards to their line-up. "Its probably one of the reasons why we are still around. It's very much the cliché of a family, we certainly have that. We were all friends before we began and I know afterwards we would still be friends. Obviously after a long tour we kind of go off to our own corners but we still hang out together. I think that it's very important in the longevity of the band, and our relationship is based on learning to living with each other. As we have gone along the way, we have become a bit more considerate, some days some people are down, some people aren't so good in the morning, some people have their own little quirks and we are a little more patient with that. Now we understand and give each other the space each other needs and it shows on stage. When a band starts changing, it tends to be the end of the band, so many great bands can still become a money-making entity that puts out records and plays your favourite song, but if you replaced someone who was a core member of the band, you need someone special to come in. I think you have two options; either you have someone who comes in and does the job, which isn't really a part of the band, or you have someone who has a big personality who can come in. Say the Chili Peppers when [Hillel] Slovak died, I'm sure they thought that was in but then [John] Frusciante came in and he was equally his own man and it worked. And with the likes of Skynyrd, there's maybe one guy left, so there's two sides of the coin there. Actually I was listening to Chinese Democracy on the way here this morning and it's a completely different band. Its good in some places but it's a bit all over the place, not as cohesive as Axl [Rose] probably would have liked it."

But unlike those legendary bands such as Guns N' Roses and Smashing Pumpkins, something different about The Answer is the absence of an "icon" member. Many bands have a Slash, an Angus Young or even a Billy Corgan, and there is no doubt certain bands' success can be in some way related to having that iconic figure that dominated the media and the stage. It's an aspect which Paul Mahon has often thought. "It's refreshing for me to hear that because we would have seen Cormac as the star member of the band. The blueprint of the band was very much like Zeppelin, where we were a power trio. We would initially, not be in the background so to speak, but we would be doing our job so Cormac could go out front and do his thing. But equally it was going to offer us each a chance to step forward and let us have our moment. I get a few and Mick and James have worked them in too, so I think that shows a good balance. Maybe if we played the media game a little bit more it might have benefited us for a broader audience at one point but I think that our overall equality is a strength."

Despite The Answer's strong back catalogue and old-school ethic, arguably the most important aspect of the band is their live performances. Gracing several continents whilst supporting AC/DC and albums released in countless countries, The Answer appear to have played their cards right, but have somehow seemingly fallen short of the mark such high-profile exposure has afforded bands like Royal Blood and Rival Sons. In spite of the opportunities and the band's relentless hard work, the band are still to be picked up in a major way in the US market and seem to have, in recent years, lost their connection with the UK too. "America was something we regretted not being able to get back sooner. Because we played to so many people on the AC/DC tour, they were ripe for the taking if we had got a new record out there. It was just unfortunate for us when the opportunity was to go there, we were just splitting with the record label Spinefarm and changing management. So all that kind of really upset the balance so we had to take care of that and concentrate on doing a new album and getting back in the UK to consolidate our fan base. I thought we would have got more off the back of the AC/DC tour, I think we probably stayed on it too long. We did maybe neglect building our own audience in the UK and Europe, which was doing quite well before that. We were taken out of that market place for pretty much a year, we did some shows like Wembley and the other stadium stuff with AC/DC but we maybe did four or five shows of our own which is not enough. So maybe we missed a trick there but its good to still be coming back and be able to do these venues. With the way the record industry is going, it's regressing a little bit and unless you're a major label band, it's hard to compete. We are still keeping our fan base in the UK and Europe so yeah we would like to be bigger but we are thankful for where its going to!"

Even with the band not reaching the level of fame that they had once anticipated, nothing has stopped them dreaming big. Whilst the bands focus is on creating the best experience for the current tour, they are still tweaking things for the future; "Little things like having a set light show can make a massive difference to the ambiance to the gig and how it looks. A couple of times we have had a dedicated lights team and then there was talk of on this record, having some sort of representative of the cover on stage, but we kind of got into early planning and didn't get to see it through. But its definitely something that with the next album, as we take things up a bit bigger, we will bring a bit more production to the live shows."

Whilst current problems surround tackling America and reclaiming their once strong UK fan base, the future is still looking bright for The Answer and although headlining Wembley Stadium is far from reach, the groundwork for a promising and eventful career couldn't be stronger.

Written by Ellis Davis
More: Interviews,

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