INTERVIEW: The Answer – Paul Mahon
Fans of The Answer have been waiting almost seven long years for the follow up to 2016’s wonderful album ‘Solas’, and judging by early reviews (including our own) it seems all are extremely excited and relieved to hear the outstanding ‘Sundowners’ is every bit as good as expected. Even band members were never quite sure if another full length album would see the light of day, with a global pandemic throwing the Northern Ireland rockers a curve ball beyond everyone’s expectations. But once they had regrouped and returned to the studio, the instant chemistry returned and the result is a fabulous 70’s infused blues rock gem to be loved by all.
We caught up with guitarist Paul Mahon to talk about those doubting times, writing and banding ideas about on zoom and how simplifying things seem to have been a blessing in the creation of ‘Sundowners’.
Sean: Hi Paul, it’s Sean from The Rockpit. How are you?
Paul: Great thanks mate.
Sean: Normally I would be sat in my office in sunny Perth in Western Australia but I’m currently sat in a kitchen in South East England with my laptop perched on a cooker hob, while linked to a old Samsung mobile hotspot and its 2 degrees centigrade outside [laughs].
Paul: It sounds grand [laughs].
Sean: Firstly, a huge congratulations for the new album ‘Sundowners’. It’s fantastic! Seven years we have had to wait and what a return.
Paul: Thank you. I’m so glad you liked it. When you say seven years it seems such a very long time and at one point I seriously thought we wouldn’t get the chance to do another record so I was very happy to get the call from our manager when Golden Robot got involved and we got the opportunity to reform the band again and record ‘Sundowners’. We were very happy to get the opportunity.
Sean: Do you think those seven years really helped freshen things up because the album sounds so vibrant.
Paul: Yeah, I certainly think so. We were probably allowed to be much more objective that we were before because with the break I really thought we wouldn’t get back together and as the years passed I kind of mentally removed myself from The Answer and it gave me the opportunity to give myself time to listen to the albums more as a fan which gave me a different perspective on things. I was keen to start writing again and it definitely influenced how we went about it. Any band who has done it for as long as we have and who have six albums under their belt gain a lot of experience and you kind of know what worked and what didn’t. You look at what you can change and do differently. Having that break allowed us to get in that head space and allowed us to come back at it from a different angle and much more reenergised. I think we have made a much better record than if we had just followed up right after ‘Solas’. It’s been really positive.
Sean: We were treated to the first single ‘Blood Brother’, which was absolutely superb and really whet out appetites from more, and just when we thought it couldn’t get any better the next two singles just teased us with how good ‘Sundowners’ was going to be. I’m still finding tracks on the album that sit forward even more for me. It’s so great when you listen to an album from start to finish and hear so many potential singles right there in front of you.
Paul: I think so too. ‘Want You To Love Me’, ‘Livin On The Line’… there were a couple of other tracks, maybe ‘Cold Heart’… they were talked about as being singles and maybe ‘All Together’ as well. We were quite fortunate that the songs came out that well, once we came to recording them. I also think there are some album tracks on there that are filler [laughs] – they don’t stand on their own as such and need a few listens to grow on you and give the album some longevity.
Sean: Funny you mention ‘Want You to Love Me’ as that is one of my favourites on the album at the moment.
Paul: OK, well that one came from one of the very first sessions we did once we got back together. It was one of the first riffs we did and that came out exactly the same on the album – we had that format straight away. It was actually one of the ones that we were sure if it would make the final cut.
Paul: Yeah, it was kind of one the B-list when we finally went into the studio but we listened to it when we got in there and we thought that we definitely had to give it a craic. I remember hearing it back for the first time once that backing vocals and keyboards were on it and I thought, “Oh wow! That’s incredible!” We knew we had something there. It’s so trashy it kind of pulls a different kind of sonic for us which we have been trying to get on previous albums and never quite achieved it. I don’t know whether it was by accident or through producer Dan Weller who really helped to get us into a different kind of sonic that we have been trying to achieve before and never quite got exactly what we wanted, I think. Production-wise we are the happiest we have ever been than with all the albums we have done previously.
Sean: I see it was April 2022 that you guys headed into Middlefarm Studios in Devon. How was that chemistry like getting back together in the room after so long?
Paul: It was really good. I think to kind of step back from it a little bit was good for us. We met up for three sessions together before covid hit… we kind of knocked the cobwebs off by then and the chemistry was really flowing by then. It was a real bummer when covid hit because it kind of killed the momentum. After so long a break and getting back in to it and everything was good and we were all really excited, it suddenly looked like we might not get to finish what we started. I think there was uncertainty for everyone all over the world. We kept writing and talking over zoom, like we are now, once a week then we had one week together in August 2020 when we did some demos in Ireland and then we didn’t get to see each other for another year. We did the same thing across zoom, firing demos back and forth, got together in Ireland for a week and then went to Devon. So it was kind of a very different way preparing to write an album with zero pre-production and even with the producer Dan, we’d never actually met him in person until we arrived at the studio which is vastly different for us because we always did around three weeks pre-production with the producer in the past, you kind of really get to know them, know if it’s going to work or not. But this time we were all very relaxed and maybe in some ways not being super prepared this time allowed the songs to breath a bit more and allowed us to discover new things in the studio as we did it so your kind of hearing the same as we heard it for the first time, whereas before everything was really planned within an inch of its life. Maybe moving forward this is a better way for us to do it.
Sean: Its incredible that with all the hurdles such as covid and writing over zoom, you’ve produced, as you’ve just said, quite possibly the best album so far and by using untried techniques to get the band back together. The results are quite staggering considering just how different you have had to approach this album.
Paul: We are a band who thrives on playing together. It’s always been like that… being in the same room, jamming together. Every album always starts with us getting in the room together and just jamming, listening to what we’ve done and finding the things we really like and that will set the tone for each album. And of course after that we would go off and work individually and bring songs back in that make the albums too but that initial period usually sets the tone, the style and the feel. We kind of managed to do that before covid started but if you said to me that we were going to be making a comeback album and that it was going to be as important as the first album and you’re going to do it over zoom… you’ve got three songs to start with and the rest you’re going to do back and forth, you’ve got one week this year, one week that year and then you’re going to record it, I would have said, “Ah Ah, no way – It’s impossible!” When we started doing it I really thought it was going to be a waste of time, that it was going to be terrible [laughs]. It was like having your hands tied behind your back… but it worked! With the songs we were very focused and tried not to over complicate them. Before we would try to put too many things in and maybe too many ideas but this time, just through circumstance we made them simple and then we didn’t have the chance in pre-production to throw everything at it. Once we got in the studio we tracked it all live too on a 16-track tape machine so that was a different thing for us too. WE had to be on our toes but it had a real nice ebb and flow to it. With the tape we would only have three or four takes of a song, then would have to rewind it and go again. So, you’re really kind of switched on for those fifteen minutes then have a break, then we’d come back. It was a really nice way of doing it I think. Quite challenging but also with that break in between you got a chance to chill out and I think that really helped with the vibe of the record too.
Sean: I’m always intrigued to know, when a band goes into the studio, just how many songs you take in with you for say, an 11-track album.
Paul: I think we had about fifteen or sixteen – we went in with about seven tracks to start off with and then we just got to work and at the end of each day we would sit in the kitchen in Middlefarm Studio, listen to some music, have a few drinks and then listen to the songs that we weren’t sure if they would be on the record. What we had done that day would kind of influence us. The album would start to take shape and we could hear what songs were going to work – that really helped us to pick the others. I think once we had five or six songs tracked it really became apparent what type of song we needed. Some of the songs we left off, certainly two of them could have been singles and were really good songs. This is something different for us because before we would have put those on the album… maybe stylistically they didn’t fit with the rest of the album but because they were such good songs they would have made it on and possibly made the album a little bit disjointed. I think I mentioned it before but ‘Want You to Love Me’ wasn’t a dead cert but it very quickly became one. It was one of the songs we listened back to and realised it was going to work really well. Maybe we heard it as an album track first but as we listened more, we saw it could be a potential single – brilliant! Another one we didn’t think was going to get on was ‘Get on Back’. We needed something a little different on the album and it seemed to fit that break. It’s a little bit quirky and a little bit different from what we had done before. I think it comes with a maturity and objectivity that wasn’t there before.
Sean: Well, on the back of ‘Sundowners’, tour dates have been announced – sadly Australian fans of the band can’t get too excited just yet – but you guys must be just as excited to finally get back out there and play live again.
Paul: Yeah, we can’t wait Sean. We did one show before Christmas for Planet Rockstock and that was our first one in nearly six years. We were really excited about that and we were quite nervous as you would expect – we were thinking can we still do it, the world has changed so much since the last time we were out there doing it but in the end it was just like old times and muscle memory comes back and with the crowd, if you’re doing your job they will do half of it for you. We managed to play three of the new songs – I think we did ‘Sundowners’, ‘Blood Brother’ and ‘Livin on the Line’ and of course now we are just itching to play the rest of the album. So, we can scratch that itch later this week in Blackpool at the Waterloo Bar on the 16th March.
Sean: Having listened to ‘Sundowners’ extensively over the last week, I can safely say it’s an album you could play from start to finish live and just every track would just work – it really is superb. You can just feel it has a live session feel to the album. It’s like you guys are playing live in some small bar and someone has recorded each and every track.
Paul: And that’s the kind of vibe we’ve always been trying to go for. I remember after releasing ‘Rise’, getting a phone call from a producer Ben Grosse, who had just finished working with Alter Bridge among others at the time. He was looking to do the next album and one of the things he suggested was that he wanted to record it live, either in a stadium or in a club or something. He suggested we just rent a club for a month and just play there and he would record it, which was a pretty off the wall idea for a bands second album. So certainly it was the idea behind how we recorded ‘Sundowners’ but without hiring a club for the month [laughs].
Sean: Well it certainly works and I can’t wait to get my review up for ‘Sundowners’ – it really is a cracking album and a fine return to form for The Answer. I just want to wish you and the guys all the best for the album and subsequent tour – We know it’s going to be well supported. We really hope to see The Answer get out to Australia on the back of this album too and regards to all the guys from us.
Paul: Well thank you Sean and I will certainly pass on your regards to the guys. Thanks for the support and if you guys make enough noise out there in Australia then I’m sure Golden Robot will get us out there sooner rather than later.
Sean: That would be great. Thanks Paul. Stay safe.
Paul: Thanks mate. You too.