Few bands embody the spirit of their country more than Therapy?. Since 1990 the band, formed in Ballyclare, have had bust-ups and breakdowns, reshuffles and renewals, and a mid-90s peak with 1994's Troublegum. They've endured, and today they prosper.
Troublegum gave Therapy top 40 singles in 'Nowhere', 'Turn' and 'Die Laughing', leading to worldwide recognition. Now celebrating their 20th anniversary, they have Troublegum album performances in London and at the Belfast Festival, and a 36-track live album We're Here 'til the End coming out in October.
The band's fourth release, Troublegum took the rock world by surprise. While the Red Hot Chilli Peppers performed dressed as lightbulbs and Kurt Cobain shot himself amidst global fame, Andy Cairns, Michael McKeegan and then-drummer Fyfe Ewing were nipping to recording sessions in Randalstown, County Antrim.
'We recorded Troublegum in bits and pieces,' says singer and guitarist Cairns. 'We produced the songs up in Mudd Wallace's studio. I've still got one of the Gibson SGs I used. I used an Explorer as well, which is now with one of the editors of Men's Health magazine! I had an F1 Telecaster, which is with the producer Chris Sheldon. There was a Hamer as well, which has been smashed into pieces.'
'Mudd was going "let's go get some beers!",' says bassist McKeegan. 'But Chris Sheldon was saying, "let's not". Recording was quite straightforward. Troublegum was the first time anyone had produced us, so to speak, as opposed to just putting microphones in front of our equipment and recording. Chris had a few theories about sound; try this, try that. It was really quite civilised.'
One of Cairns' broken guitars is behind glass in Belfast's Oh Yeah Centre, though it's a Telecaster smashed in the Mandela Hall long before Troublegum was recorded. 'It's from 1991 or 1992,' he says, 'from when we were touring Pleasure Death and Nurse.'
Therapy? have a long-standing history with the Mandela Hall, where the Troublegum shows will take place, and with the Ulster Hall. In 1994 they finished touring with an Ulster Hall finale, supported by Joyrider and Ash. 'There was a real buzz in the air,' says Cairns. 'It was a completely local line-up. We'd had three UK Top 40 records, so it was a good night to be in Northern Ireland.'
'We grew up going to gigs at the Ulster Hall,' says McKeegan. 'It was quite a seminal venue, and still is. Without being too cheesy it was nice, at that time, to bring a bit of the focus to all the great local music.'
That performance was matched when Therapy returned in 2009, performing at the sold-out multi-band gig 'Do You Remember the First Time'. Re-opening the Ulster Hall after its £7.43m refurbishment, the gig put artists such as Duke Special, Foy Vance, and The Divine Comedy onstage together, performing one cover and one original.
'When we started off in Larne and Ballyclare,' says Cairns, 'we were laughed at when we went to Belfast. When we went to the Limelight to try and get gigs, around 1990, I was a chubby guy with a goatee, Michael had the little glasses, Fyfe was really tall and gawky. So what I loved about the Ulster Hall re-opening was all these different bands, everyone mucking in.'
One of the oddest things about Therapy's is that they've brought joy to rock fans by performing some pretty misanthropic songs. Troublegum includes a heavyweight Joy Division cover, 'Isolation'. It was recorded by chance. When they played the song in Randalstown it was the first time producer Chris Sheldon had heard it.
In addition to 'Isolation', Cairns considers 'Unbeliever' a favourite track. 'I really like the tone of it,' he says. 'It's got a really nice, just-the-right-side-of-hip-hop groove, from Fyfe. And 'Brainsaw', I thought it was quite a good way to end the record.'
Known as Therapy's pop-punk album, Troublegum comprises 14 tracks in 42 minutes, and won Kerrang! magazine's album year of the award. The songs are unrelenting, beginning with 'Knives'. At the very end, they include a wry 55-second take of 'You Are My Sunshine'.
'The playbacks were so intense,' says Cairns, 'that at the end that we'd go, "you are my sunshine...", like Eric and Ernie on the Morecambe & Wise show. We were joking that we should have something to lighten the mood.'
Though Therapy have since released eight albums, as well as a ten-year retrospective and a two-disc collection of BBC sessions, these shows and the anniversary album doesn't spell the end. They won their warmest praise in a decade for Crooked Timber, released in 2009, prompting a 'golden deluxe edition' with extra tracks and remixes. They're recording a new album for 2011.
'We're making the most of it,' says Cairns. 'Since Crooked Timber we've been playing to more people in more parts of Europe. The records are beginning to sell a bit better, and as a band we've really really gelled. So we'll do all this while we've got something to give.'
'It's as if there's three versions of the band,' says McKeegan. 'One today, writing new songs. The second version is out playing the Crooked Timber stuff, and the third version is going out and doing the anniversary/Troublegum 'great hits' type of thing.
'The anniversary is this year and that's the end of it. Next year's all about the new album. But it's also something good for the fans. We realise there's many people who've lost touch with us over the years. Maybe these shows can be a little prod, to remind them of how good we are!'
Therapy? perform Troublegum at the Mandela Hall, Belfast, on October 15. LaFaro and Axis Of support. Click here for further information.