Talking 25 years of Troublegum, the record that made Therapy? rock stars

Frontman Andy Cairns looks back on how the trio's 1994 masterpiece has helped keep them around to celebrate it while still ripping up stages around the world

Who can remember the first record they bought as a youngster? An unlikely scenario these days as many teenage folk opt for the streaming services. But there was once a time that many an eager adolescent would walk into a music store, buy a disc, cassette or piece of vinyl for the very first time and listen to it non-stop. Some would even buy an album on the release date! A rarity in the 21st century.

A colleague in work told me this week they remember buying Troublegum by Therapy? as an wide-eyed 15-year-old on the very day the album was released 25 years ago. It is a record that gets the head banging and the fists pumping. One that showed the world during the '90s that the Northern Irish can be pretty good at rockin’ out.

Indie metal trio Therapy? show no signs of decline. They are still releasing high decibel albums and are back on the road, kicking off a run of dates at the Nerve Centre in Derry~Londonderry this Wednesday (March 20). The three-piece tour Ireland, the UK and Europe before returning back to Belfast in August where they will support punk legends Stiff Little Fingers. Culture NI caught up with singer and guitarist Andy Cairns and discussed the milestones the band will be entering.

Therapy? have had a remarkable and long-spanning career. It’s the band’s 30th anniversary year. Congrats! Have you celebrated yet? Any birthday cake?

Andy Cairns (AC): No celebrations yet, thanks. We’re going to be doing that in 2020 as we’re marking the self-release of our first single ‘Meat Abstract’ in 1990 as the beginning of the band’s adventures. There will be special shows and, hopefully, some cake too.

Many bands start off in a garage or a freezing rehearsal space. How did the band first get together in 1989? And once the three-piece was set up, how did you rehearse back in the formative years of Therapy?

I first met Fyfe Ewing (original drummer and co-founding member) at an Aid for Africa Festival at Jordanstown University late 1988 when he was drumming in a punk cover band called League of Decency. 

Initial rehearsals were in his spare room in Larne but as that wasn’t the most practical set up we moved to Melville House in Newtownabbey, a space that was rented out to bands by the Musicians Self Help Group Of Rathcoole. It was perfect for us as we could play as loud as possible. Our first two albums Babyteeth (1991) and Pleasure Death (1992) were mostly written and rehearsed there. Both those records went to Number One in the UK Independent Charts so we’re very grateful to the good people in the Rathcoole Collective for helping us find somewhere to be creative.

Another milestone for Therapy? is recently celebrating 25 years since the release of critically acclaimed and hugely successful album Troublegum. How did that record change your lives?

That record had a profound affect on our lives. It moved us from being a curious, cult-like band that made funny sounding rock music into a well known act that sold records, appeared on radio and television and graced magazine covers. When the album became a success it meant we would spend the next 12 months away from home. To this day people still love that record and it’s one of the reasons we still exist.

The sound of Troublegum is direct, it punches and has a very honest, 'no holding back' energy. How did you come up with and produce cathartic anthems such as 'Screamager' and 'Nowhere'?

It all started with 'Screamager'. Out of the three of us I was ‘the pop guy’ in the band, someone who had a soft spot for melody. This came from an adolescent diet of Buzzcocks, Ramones, Stiff Little Fingers, Undertones and Rudi. 'Screamager' was a song that I brought into rehearsals, albeit in a different form, and ran it past the others. It was the polar opposite of our noise-rock vocabulary but we were eager to see if we could make it work. We liked the finished result and after that came 'Die Laughing', 'Nowhere' etc all using the same vibe and template. I’ve always thought 'Nowhere' was like a crash between Thin Lizzy and Stiff Little Fingers. 

What separates the songs from generic pop-punk is the rhythmic invention of Fyfe Ewing and Michael McKeegan who add an agitated edge to the melody. Those guys are the glass on the beach, the razor blade in the toffee apple.

Troublegum received a nomination for the Mercury Prize Award 1994. As a band heavy on the distortion, what did it feel like rubbing shoulders with Blur, Pulp and the M People who won the award?

We knew that we deserved to be there because the profile of the band had increased to that level but it didn’t make it any more comfortable for us. I remember watching other musicians at the awards ceremony and how they seemed to have developed an arrogant sense of aloofness, they knew they were pop stars and they knew they were better than the proles. We never had that thankfully. We enjoyed the after party more than the event itself.

Therapy? are about to embark on tour. It’s been a decade since playing the Nerve Centre, Derry, where the band perform this week. You’ve been all over the world and played many huge festivals, but what does it feel like playing to a local crowd?

It’s good to be home. Derry has given us so much great music over the years and it’s going to be wonderful to return to the legendary Nerve Centre with local heroes Wood Burning Savages sharing the stage. Our manifesto hasn’t changed in 30 years of live shows, always enjoy it and put everything into it.

Therapy? play the Nerve Centre on Wednesday, March 20. For tickets go to https://nervecentre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873596668. For more tour dates and tickets visit the band's website, http://www.therapyquestionmark.co.uk/tour.