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Paul Mahon The Answer - Interview
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The Answer

Acclaimed Irish rockers the Answer released their latest album "SOLAS" on October 28 via Napalm Records. As the press release says: "While some may see this as a departure for the band, this album continues their amazing career and further expands upon the amazing musicianship of the band."
And yes it is different, not the traditional Blues-fuelled Hard Rock we've come to love from Ireland's finest - we caught up with guitarist Paul Mahon to find out how the new expansive sound came about.



Mark: Hi Paul, thanks for taking the time to talk to THE ROCKPIT today, how are you? And are you ready to talk about 'Solas'?

Paul: Not too bad, not too bad, let's do it!

Mark: October 28th sees the new album from The Answer drop, and the press release is right. This is not your typical The Answer classic rock album, not what we've come to expect from your last four albums?

Paul: It was kind of the product of a lot of different circumstances, we'd just come back from America on tour with Whitesnake, and it (the tour) had done quite well, but the reaction to 'Raise a Little Hell' wasn't quite what we'd hoped for or what we thought the record deserved and it was starting to become...well let's just say maybe there was a feeling that we were going down a dead end. We felt like we were making better records while the reaction was kind of going it the other direction. And we were kind of at a loss as to why. There were also other things going on in our lives at the time - we had two new fathers in the band which changed the dynamic significantly, and Cormac particularly had a very difficult time, his son was three months premature, so he lived in the hospital for about six months and I think making another Answer record was the last thing on his mind. And all that came together to make a moment of uncertainty for the band and it's future, and I think we spent the most time apart that we'd had in I guess 15 years. So it was very different times for us... And then Cormac and I started writing for the record and that was different as well, as we didn't think "Let's make the next Answer record", we started writing for fun! We'd meet once a week and I think we created differently, we were just writing songs and having fun with that. And we also have our own studio in the house now so that gives us more time without worrying about the financial constraints of recording, or even having a schedule, so that gave us a new freedom.

Mark: So was the idea, just that, to sit down, don't plan anything, have some fun and see what happens?

Paul: Very much so, that's how it started. And then we took it a bit more seriously as we went along when we realised that we had some good songs happening. And some of them were different, or they had a different direction to where we'd taken songs before. There were some early discussions about exploring our Celtic roots a little bit and that became a starting point, but for me personally that wasn't going to sustain a whole record, but it was a part of it.

Mark: It is a very different record and you do see lots of hints and shadows of a lot of different artists and genres. To me it sounds like a very mature album, but also diverse, not in a 'look at me' kind of way, but a very organic one. And the reaction to the single that is getting airplay at the moment seems very positive too?

Paul: Yeah, I think so, the first two tracks we released to radio I think are one side of the record, the more atmospheric, cinematic side of things that came from us having time in the studio to make bigger productions. (The studio) allowed us to take more time, rather than be a band in the room and try to capture it life. It was a different way of doing things.

Mark: So once you had that initial material was there more sense of a mission, maybe to get out there and make a modern day rock album with less sonic constraints that you normally impose of yourselves?

Paul: I think it kind of took shape as it went along, the only mission statement we had was to do something different to what we'd done before, explore our Celtic roots and more acoustic sonics on some of the tracks. As we went along the atmospheric stuff came along and we wanted to blend the two, so on tracks like 'Thief of Light' I feel it works well on that where we were able to blend the two.

Mark: How did you find it as a guitarist, there's some great guitar on there, but I guess a lot that you wouldn't normally put on an album by The Answer? Did it free you up or did you feel a little apprehensive about what you were going to release to the public?

Paul: I think both, certainly I was apprehensive because I think my role in The Answer as a guitar player is a great place to be, I have a lot of freedom and I guess when the band started it was really an opportunity to showcase the guitar. So it did feel a little bit that was taken away and that was disconcerting; so I had to find another role in the band for me, and that became in the production.

Mark: How did it feel for example strapping on the mandolin on 'In this Land'?

Paul: Um, it was total learning experience (laughs) and I think as a guitar player and a musician I like to be in control and know what I'm doing. When you've played (the guitar) for that long you have muscle memory and you can do things off the cuff and improvise, with the mandolin I can't do that, it's a dozen strings on it and you can approach it as a solo instrument, say if I was playing with an acoustic guitar in a live setting the mandolin is even more effective as a solo instrument, but it does have its intricacies, the tuning is upside down to a normal guitar so I was learning things backwards! That led to a few happy accidents and some not so happy accidents! It kind of took me out of my comfort zone, you know.

Mark: So how do you feel about playing the album live? You've a big tour coming up with The Dead Daisies, are you going to be taking the acoustic instruments on stage?

Paul: We're exploring that as we speak at rehearsals, I think how we make the record itself work live is a challenge. I think before we used to embrace the four of us playing and as soon as we knew that we couldn't recreate every record with just the four of us we found our live sound. But I think there's a certain tension to do that in the live moment people don't notice enough. But I think I'll play the mandolin and Cormac will have to play some acoustic as we need that solid rhythmic bed beneath the electric so he's learning to do that as we speak as well.

Mark: Have you decided yet which songs you'll be taking out on stage with you?

Paul: I think we're rehearsing nine or ten of them at the moment. I think we've tried them all, the only one that might be tricky to do it 'Real Life Dreamers' as we'd have to get a female vocalist in on that but I think on the UK tour we will have Lynne Jackman and she sang with us on 'Nowhere Freeway' (from 'Revival') so there's the possibility of doing 'Nowhere Freeway' and even 'Real Life Dreamers' too. But I think we could do certainly do nine or ten of them.

Mark: I've seen a number of descriptions of the sound of the title track 'Solas' but how would you describe the new sound?

Paul: Um, I think there are certain signposts on 'Solas' from things we've done in the past, I don't think it's such a digression as some might say, even if the production standard is a little different.

Mark: Some are seeing it as a walking away from your sound but I just see it as putting the emphasis on different elements in the mix? Bringing out some of the subtleties that you don't always get to hear from a straight 'four to the floor' Rock band?

Paul: Yeah I think that was the starting point for the track itself ('Solas') was that loop, I think we were trying to do a bit of a '...Levee Breaks' take and that was because we were writing and producing in isolation and not in the same room as we had been in that past and you kinda had to make loops to make it work. Maybe in the same room we'd have gone for a more human take on it, but we decided to explore that more machine-like groove. I think that it sounds like an extension of some of the things that Zeppelin might have done, or like we've done in the past but not as complicated. I think on early records for us on 'Rise' for example a song like 'Come Follow Me' has six or seven different riffs in it and that used to be kind of like the benchmark where you and to have a riff just as good as 'Come Follow Me' and follow it up with another one. And you know it's tough to write stuff like that over five albums. 'Solas' maybe has three parts to it and each is different, it's simpler and maybe it's taken us all the other albums to be able to do that?

Mark: I'm really enjoying the album at the moment, every time I listen I find something new and I hope and think that's what fans will make of it when they hear it. Just now to take it all the way back, what was it that started you off as a musician?

Paul: I think first and foremost I was a listener and a fan. I think the earliest piece of music that really made an impression on me was Dire straits 'Money For Nothing': just that opening guitar riff and as a kid I just wanted to be able to play that. But the first step was just to have a massive record collection: I became a 'train spotter' and had all sorts of music. Then initially I thought about being writer, going to gigs and writing about that, becoming a journalist. But then the band started and it just went from there. And I guess too I was fortunate in that my father was a musician. He had kinda the life of being away on tour and not having a normal 9-5 existence, and that wasn't discouraged so when it came around for me I was able to embrace that too. Initially he was against it but when he saw I was serious and gonna stick to it he helped out too.

Mark: I think fathers have to be like that don't they!

Paul: They do yeah, either by telling you not to do it and making you more determined or getting behind you! (laughs)

Mark: After making such a statement as 'Solas' what do you think is going to happen next for the band?

Paul: Hopefully it will change people's perceptions of us in the wider world and get a few people outside the traditional rock field to listen to us. And also to show there’s still life in Rock and Roll, that you can create new and exciting music; that it doesn't always have to be four to the floor and three chords.

Mark: So do you see this as an evolution, a reinvention or a new start for The Answer?

Paul: I think it's a little bit of all of those and certainly a new birth. I think we've always evolved a little bit but we've probably not got that much credit for that, but I do think we've always tried at least one track on each record to point down a new avenue but I think on this record we've done nine or ten of those tracks. I think it's definitely a new beginning. We did a couple of interviews recently with the whole band together and you kind of learn how everyone is thinking about the record in those interviews. We know each other so well now! I kinda learned from that that the next one we can do even better! I'm kinda excited by that!

Mark: That's a great place to be. Do you have any particular favourite moment from the album?

Paul: I think it has to be 'Solas' - there's always a song on each album that to me really encapsulates everything we were trying to achieve and I think that has a little bit of everything. I also really like 'Battle Cry'.

Mark: A great song I think 'Battle Cry' has to be one of my favourite moments too. Just to close with a couple of quick questions we traditionally ask every new interviewee: If you could have been a fly on the wall in the studio for the recording of any great album, just to see how the magic happened, what would it have been for you and why?

Paul: That's a tricky one, there's so many! I'm gonna say probably something I've not read about 'Jane's Addiction - Nothing Shocking'. That was kind of one of the first albums I heard, it was kinda Metal but not Heavy Metal, it was like it came from a completely different place, and I'd love to know how those guys came up with that right in the middle of 'Hair Metal', and with Thrash just staring, it was a complete left turn and I don't know much about it, so I'd have liked to have been in L.A. and seen how it was done.

Mark: A ground breaking album. And to close with the really easy question: what is the meaning of life?

Paul: The meaning of life. That's a tricky one, I think it's just that you need to have something that makes it worthwhile getting out of bed every day that you can put your heart and soul into. Now that could be music; or that could be someone you love, it could be family. But you need that reason.

Mark: Thank you so much Paul, it's been a pleasure talking to you and best of luck with the album.

Paul: Take care, thank you.


12.11.16 UK - Aberdeen / Lemon Tree
13.11.16 UK - Glasgow / Classic Grand
14.11.16 UK - Sheffield / Corporation
15.11.16 UK - Newcastle / Riverside
16.11.16 UK - Holmfirth / Picturedrome
18.11.16 UK - Doncaster / Diamond Live Lounge
19.11.16 UK - Birmingham / Academy 2
20.11.16 UK - Brighton / Concorde 2
22.11.16 UK - Norwich / Waterfront
23.11.16 UK - London / Electric Ballroom
25.11.16 NL - Utrecht / Tivoli
26.11.16 BL - Vosselaar / Biebob
28.11.16 CH - Pratteln / Z7
29.11.16 IT - Milan / Magazzini Generali
30.11.16 DE - Munich / Backstage Halle
01.12.16 DE - Berlin / Musik & Frieden
03.12.16 DE - Hamburg / Knust
04.12.16 NL - Amsterdam / Paradiso Nord
05.12.16 DE - Bochum / Matrix
07.12.16 DE - Aschaffenburg / Colos-Saal
08.12.16 FR - Paris / Le Trabendo
10.12.16 ES - Madrid / Sala Caracol
11.12.16 ES - Barcelona / La2 Apollo
13.12.16 FR - Toulon / Omega Live
14.12.16 FR - Lyon / Transbordeur
16.12.16 IT - Treviso / New Age
17.12.16 IT - Grottammare (Ascoli Piceno) / Container
19.12.16 AT - Vienna / Szene
20.12.16 AT - Velden / Bluesiana

Tickets available from The Answer Official website

Interview by Mark Rockpit on October 2016