We were fortunate to catch up with Paul Mahon prior to The Answer delivering a belter of a show to Nottingham. We talked about the band name, Googling themselves, the X-Factor, touring with AC/DC, collaborations, writing and recording material and much, much more!
Here we are then with Paul Mahon from The Answer, and launching straight into the first question. Do you ever regret the name The Answer, especially during interviews?
(Laughing) Initially, and the first time around, yeah I did. I really wished people didn’t ask me why it was called that. You know how many times a day I heard “well what’s the question if you’re The Answer?”. You know all the stupid answers we gave you know. If I told you I’d have to kill you, that sort of thing. I got well sick of all that already.
Yeah, in the majority of interviews I’ve seen or read with you guys it’s often been there. It is a difficult name though. I mean do you ever “Google” yourselves, that mount of irrelevant hits you get is astounding. It makes it quite difficult.
Yeah, yeah, there’s a couple of different things come up. There’s a band in Sweden, a Christian band in America and of course recently there’s the boy band from X-Factor USA or whatever it’s called over there.
Were you aware of that?
Yeah. Someone on the Facebook page, and on the website got onto it pretty quick, but we’re biding our time before we come in with a lawsuit. (laughing).
I don’t know how far they got though. Do you guys get to watch any of that stuff then when you’re out on tour or are you pretty much just cocooned in your own bubble?
We’re pretty much in the bubble, but the other night actually, in Sheffield after the gig, Cormac had a few beers, opened a bottle of wine and sat up and watched the X-Factor. Don’t know what to read into that really sometimes (laughing).
What do you think of the whole X-Factor reality music TV thing. Is it just force feeding the whole music industry?
I’m really sick of it you know. I remember the BBC one, what was it ‘Fame Academy’, that was the rival. I didn’t mind that so much because it was a bit more personal you know. They kind of developed the people more as human beings as well as artists. But the X-Factor is just the lowest common denominator, you know, throw it at the wall and see what sticks. I don’t like it the way that people only get to watch that for an hour an hour and half on a Saturday night and you get to think that’s what music is, you know. There’s no more Top Of The Pops, there’s just Jools Holland, there’s no more kind of TFI Friday thing. People used to catch that that weren’t big fans of music, but that kept them up to date with what was happening with music and youth culture, and that’s all gone. So people think that the X-Factor is youth culture, so I’m a bit disturbed by that yeah.
But do you not think that because of that it’s pushing the more “rock” fans out to live gigs? I mean we’re in a state financially, but there are still people heading out to live gigs now.
Yeah, but I also think that’s a knock on effect of the iTunes and downloading culture. I mean that’s kind of changed things up a bit too. We come from the buy the album, take it home and listen to it era, although we missed the vinyl culture only really caught the tail end of it. It was more the CD, but it was the same for the religious experience, maybe not as good artwork but you know.
I know exactly what you are saying though. So, the other week I sat down and watched ‘412 Days of Rock N Roll’, your tour DVD with AC/DC. What really struck me is, it doesn’t quite come across as being as glamorous as we’d like to think. Is it really “living the dream”?
(laughing) Erm… moments of it are yeah. But even on the early days of that AC/DC tour which is quite well documented, you see some of the rough and tumble of it. Buses are brilliant, love living on a bus, but without being too vulgar, you can only spend a ‘number one’ on a bus. So sometimes (laughing), if you’re parked up in a car park in the back woods of America, finding a proper toilet can be the most important task of the day.
A bit like going to a festival then isn’t it…
(laughing) Yeah, yeah…
But 412 days, that’s one hell of a long time, didn’t you end up wanting to kill each other?
Erm, yeah… we had moments where we tried, but then we got out of there and chilled out a bit. I think we do get on like a family, we have our ups and downs, but we do have the support that a family would give brothers and sisters. We were always friends before we started the band, and as you get to go on, you become a bit more mature about it, and you understand when people need support and when they need a kick. You learn to balance it. We definitely learnt on that tour how far we could push each other, and when you need a bit of space you know, or else we’d have split up now.
The other thing that came across, at least for me, is that Brian Johnson came across very much like a father figure.
Yes, he was.
Is that right, do you speak to him now about where to go, get advice from him? Did they give you advice?
Oh yeah loads. I mean on the first day Brian came in, you know saying ‘hello’ and we were all very nervous. He said not to be nervous and I’m bricking it myself, you want to see Angus and Malcolm, they’re in there shaking, and all musicians get nervous, but we’re here because we deserve to be and I really like you guys and you deserve to do well.
Did you ever feel, sort of, totally overwhelmed by it all? I mean looking at the size of some of those venues…
Yeah, initially yeah. I mean the first couple of shows were quite overwhelming. I mean those were the biggest audiences, but we did two gigs with The Stones and they were pretty big, but they were kind of ‘in and out jobs’, whereas we had like 30 dates ahead of us, which spiralled into 412 days, it’s a different mindset. So yeah it was overwhelming and you think how are we going to get from here to there. You’ve got the press coming in and the PR’s are all over it. The first couple of weeks are a bit showbiz you know, and we’re not showbiz people(laughing). It can be overwhelming from that side too.
Well that side came across, you did seem to have your feet on the ground. I mean, how do you come off something like that though? When it all finishes, is it just…
It’s tough yeah. I mean we did a tour here ourselves. That was right after it. I think that was quite cathartic and a good experience for us to do our own stuff, you know play for a good hour ten, hour twenty minutes each night. You know play to our own fans, that kind of helped ease us back in. Then it was Christmas and then we started writing our next album. It was a little bit like, I remember hearing Slash say after the Use Your Illusion Tour, after two years on the road he got back and was like “what now?”. So yeah it felt a little bit like that.
I guess with the timing of the release of 412 days, and the new album and your tour we don’t really think of you taking time off to record albums. I was talking to Scott from Rival Sons at Sonisphere and he was saying about how they took 20 days or so from start to finish to write and record their album. How do The Answer go about recording yours?
Well it’s definitely not as quick as that. We spent about 9 months writing. I think we learnt from Every Day Demons which was done very quickly. It was written and recorded from literally nothing in maybe six seven months. We thought we’d maybe rushed that so we took a bit more time with this one. The recording was maybe four or five weeks in El Paso and then two weeks in Austin Texas. So kind of around two months to do the recording.
Do you write on the road? I mean did you have anything planned? Do you just sit down and say right let’s write an album, or does it just organically grow?
It’s a bit of both, it’s organic. I mean there were a couple of riffs like ‘Trouble’ from the new album came from sitting down on the back of the bus on the AC/DC Tour. You know a couple of riffs like that, but never finished songs. You need to get away. I think there’s always a bit of inspiration that comes from being on the road but you need to get some objectivity from it before you can delve into it and get what’s really happening. So we tend to go home, get some rehearsals going and jam around ideas to find the best ones and take it from there.
You guys were actually at Sonisphere Knebworth this year, sorry we didn’t catch you, we were watching Slipknot
(laughing) I understand that one…
So the thing is when you get something like that, and you think yes we’re playing Sonisphere, do you ever like look at the clashes and think, oh shit?
(laughing) Yeah , yeah we looked at that one and thought ah… “we’re fucked here”, but happily enough we have a good core fanbase and we hadn’t played much in the UK in the past year or so, so they were happy to come out and we had a decent crowd. I think if it had been a bigger tent or an outside stage then it would have been pretty grim, but it wasn’t too bad(laughing).
Going back to promoting the new album, we’ve got a collaboration on ‘Nowhere Freeway’, how did that come about?
Well that came up from Frenchie, the producer. He came up with what about doing this song as a duet. The lyrics are almost two characters in the story. We were kind of “don’t know, maybe”, but the album is all about trying new things and doing stuff we wouldn’t normally do, so we embraced it. We looked at a couple of people and Mickey had seen St Jude in London a couple of times, they’re known on the scene as having one of the great up and coming female singers, so we approached her and she was too happy to do it. So we got her in and she banged it out in a day. It was seamless. It’d be good to get back down and do it live.
Have you got any other plans for joining up, or is there anyone you would like to collaborate with in the future? Especially baring in mind everyone is talking about Metallica…
(laughing) and Lou Reed! I’m trying to think, you know I remember we were thinking of doing a whole album, well it was ‘Everyday Demons’, we were thinking about doing the whole album live, and we thought to do the songs justice we might need another guitar player, because there would be no overdubs. I think, you know, maybe Billy Gibbons or someone in there you know.(laughing)
Awesome, didn’t The Black Crowes do that with “Before The Frost”?
Yeah, they did didn’t they.
That’s one thing, you are a one guitar band, have you thought about adding another guitarist to the touring lineup, or are you totally relying on loop pedals or whatever.
Yeah, actually I have started messing around with the looping pedals, but it’s more of a gimmick than taking the place of another guitar player. It’s something I always thought about as the band came up, you know it would free me up a bit more and serve as a counterpoint to feed off one and other. But I think one of the charms of The Answer is just the four of us trying to make it happen. You know us on backing vocals and Cormac playing harmonica, you know, maybe he’ll play acoustic guitar on some songs, not on this tour, but in the future. I think there’s a charm in there, and it gives the live aspect of the band in terms of the album, something different from the studio. So we’re not just regurgitating that note for note. Which is what we’re trying to do (laughing), but because it’s just the four of us it comes off a bit rawer. But maybe touring with a keyboard player, we’ve thought about bringing someone in there. If it does get a massive production, then maybe we’ll get a guy in for a few songs. (laughing) If my guitar tech leaned to play, he could perhaps stand behind and strum a few chords.
That’s one thing talking about playing. Some of the lead breaks on this album, you are a closet shredder aren’t you?
Yes, totally (laughing).
Do you ever just really want to let rip? You know, ditch a bit of the bluesyness and tear it up?
(laughing) You should hear what I get up to at home. Yeah, I’ll always have that itch. But you know, the band you’re in, you are kind of you are what you eat. So the shred gets neglected, and I’ll not be doing it everyday, otherwise I’d be so much better at it. The Answer doesn’t call for that all the time, just calls for a little bit now and then. But on the new record again Chris “Frenchie” Smith was instrumental again in just saying, if you want to shred, then let me hear you shred. Normally if I didn’t pull it off people would be like, no go back to the bluesy thing, whereas he was very much let’s have another go at that, and if I got it it’s like that’s fucking awesome. He kind of really built my confidence up that way. It was experimenting, and I was like this is in me, so lets do it. I think it complimented the songs, it’s never just for the sake of being a shredder.
No it does fit, and I”l admit when you started to go for it on Waste Your Tears, I admit I had to look on the liner notes to see if this was still you (laughing)
(laughing) That’s ok.
No seriously it’s awesome, and it could be good to get someone else in, but where do you go next as The Answer?
There’s a European tour coming up after this one. Then we’ve a big show in Belfast in The Ulster Hall with another Belfast band Therapy? So that’s kind of a bit of a homecoming, dream come true kind of thing. The first real gig I remember going to was Therapy? in The Ulster Hall in ’92 so to be back doing the same venue with them is pretty special. We could get up and do a little collaboration at the end. Beyond that we’re going out in Europe with Whitesnake and doing a few of our own shows. Think that’ll take us to the middle of December. Then there’s talk of going to Japan maybe next year.
You are going to get Christmas off though?
Yeah, I’ll get Christmas off. Then we hit The States, because the album comes out in January there. Come back around this way February and March… Europe again, then hit the festivals.
Do you ever get a bit worried about being known as like the ultimate support band?
Yeah, well that’s what we gotta break away from on this tour and with this album. That’s the challenge. I think with the AC/DC gigs we played to a lot of people and I don’t think we have reaped the benefits of that yet. We need to let them know we were the guys that supported, and this is our new album you know. Just give it a shot, we’ve got a good chance of stepping it up and becoming an arena, stadium band in our own right. I think the current climate with the economy and with music, you know we’ve got to step up.
Well, we think you really deserve to do it and we’ve been following your rise so far from the beginning. I’ll let you get off and get ready for tonight’s show. As always, it’s been an absolute please and we’ll catch up soon.
No worries, thank you, I really enjoyed that. Enjoy the show!