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HomeMusicInterview: Paul Mahon from The Answer discusses new album 'Sundowners'

Interview: Paul Mahon from The Answer discusses new album ‘Sundowners’

Northern Ireland hard-rockers The Answer have been making music for more than two decades and this year they will release new album ‘Sundowners’, their seventh studio album.

Comprised of Cormac Neeson (Vocals), Paul Mahon (guitarist), Micky Waters (bassist) and James Heatley (drummer), the band released its debut album ‘Rise’ in 2006. Known for their electric live shows, The Answer will be heading out on a UK and European tour starting in March.

I caught up with guitarist Paul Mahon to talk about the band’s new album, discuss touring and to find out if meeting your heroes can live up to expectations…

Hi Paul, thanks for taking the time out of your day to chat, how are you?

Yeah not too bad thanks Neil, how are you?

I’m good thanks,  I’m excited to delve into this new album of yours. I’ve been following you guys for a long time, since you first toured with AC/DC on the ‘Black Ice’ tour. I was at the London gig for my 18th birthday! So firstly, how does it feel now to be back? 

It’s surprising, I guess we’re getting back into the swing of things again, you know. We haven’t done many shows since we’ve been back together but we did the record and all the extra stuff that goes with it and we’re starting to do interviews and stuff now. So in certain aspects it feels like you’re back on the treadmill like it was a few years ago. But to go back to when it did actually restart, it was definitely surprising, because when we finished our last tour with Mr. Big, we kind of knew that it was going to be the last tour in a while so it took a little bit of time to readjust. I think we had our first rehearsal back together in August 2019. It was great to see everyone again but we’d been out of the trenches for a while, a bit rusty and yeah, I wasn’t sure if we’re still cut out for it (laughs).  But we kept going and we had another two sessions before the first Covid lockdown. We were just starting to get going again, it felt then, you know, maybe we could make a go this again. Of course, at that stage, we had signed a deal with with Golden Robot Records… so we kind of had to (laughs) but it felt like the right thing. The chemistry was back and we started to feel the songs we were writing were good enough to be on any of our albums. With the Covid interruptions, we had to keep writing the way we’re talking right now (over Zoom) or else it would all stop. So it was just, you go off and work on ideas by yourself and come back once a week. With Cormac, I could play him some stuff, he played me stuff, then we would go off, he’d record some vocals and send it over and we’d keep going back and forth like that.

The Answer
Credit: Golden Robot Records

A bit of a nightmare really?

Well, it was at the beginning but then it was kind of a blessing in disguise because usually when we write together, it’s everyone in the room and that’s the way that the most exciting ideas come when you’re jamming and you know, the chemistry is back and you can anticipate each other’s moves. But then this way we’re a bit more more considerate with the song writing and you can get more of your ideas really into it because you aren’t all you know, shouting at each other and stuff. It’s more considerate but maybe we’re all a bit more mature too now. So that aspect of it worked well and also, because you had to work fast, you didn’t overthink anything too much. There were a lot more ideas.

What was that feeling like when you were finishing the tour with Mr Big knowing that it could be the last tour and why now would you rekindle it?

I think there’s unfinished business for everyone. I know I felt that. I guess I was surprised how quickly everyone wanted to do it again. I hadn’t heard anything for about two years and then the manager just phoned up out of out of the blue, that summer of 2019. Usually when I hear from him, it’s trouble. It’s something about money or something bad. I probably didn’t answer it straightaway, he’d have to call me three or four times (laughs). Then he said ‘there’s a label from Australia that’s interested in signing you, it’s quite a good deal and if it had come along a few years ago, I’d advise you to take it as well. So are you interested’? I thought, yeah, why not? During the Mr Big tour it was probably the most soul destroying time of the band, because during the whole thing, there was no album to promote, we knew we weren’t going to do another album. I don’t think people were 100% into it anymore; it was like a third or fourth place playoff in the World Cup or something, what’s the point?

What did you get up to in the time that there was nothing going on? Cormac was doing his own bits and pieces with the ‘White Feather’ album but did you have a break musically or were you still dabbling? 

Yeah, I did some producing with some some bands from Belfast. I had a studio in my house in Ireland and I recorded some solo artists and bands so that kept me busy. Mickey worked on sync music and ad music so I worked on that with him a little bit and did some mixing for him. He was doing some producing too so he would produce it and send it to me and I’d mix it. Also I had my first child just before the Mr Big tour, so I missed a couple of months there. You know, that kept me busy for for a few years (laughs). I’ve got two now, first was a boy and I’ve just had a girl, she’s fifteen months now. 

Congrats, that’s awesome! Let’s talk about ‘Sundowners’, the new album coming out in March. I think it’s unashamedly The Answer but a little bit grittier. How would you compare it yourself to previous releases?

I’ve heard people say it’s the album that could have come after ‘Rise’. It’s definitely still The Answer. We probably simplified things a little bit more, I think. Certainly, since ‘Rise’ with every album we were trying to push the limit a little bit in terms of songwriting and and what we could do and I think maybe by the time of ‘Revival’ we’d gone as far as we could within the style of music that we do and the next step probably would have been a little bit more proggy which would have not been what we wanted to do or maybe we could do. So we tried to pull that back for ‘New Horizon’ and maybe it didn’t work for us. I think this record is of more of what we should have done then. With ‘Everyday Demons’ we tracked a lot of that live. All the guitar, bass and drums were all tracked live together and then there was a lot of overdubs after that. ‘New Horizon’ was all all done together too. Then this time, it was the same. I remember after we’d done three tracks, I was talking to the producer, Dan and I was like, ‘when are we going to start tracking’ and he said, ‘well, we’ve got three songs’. I thought we were just laying down guide tracks and checking everything was working. I hadn’t even changed my strings for six months (laughs). 

So the first three tracks on the album are very dull sounding guitar wise then and it suddenly gets brighter after track four? 

Yeah exactly (laughs). When we talked to producers we wanted to work with, what we talked about was that some of the records were getting a bit over produced for what we were and we wanted to bring it back and make it sound more gritty like you said and we had tried that before and it didn’t work. So that was something we’re trying to work out. Where did we where did we go wrong?

Well, I know you’re using more fuzz effect wise as well as single coil Telecaster’s rather than the Les Paul’s of records past. 

Exactly. It’s interesting you could pick that out. That was one of the things Dan that came up with, needing more fuzz on the record. He actually didn’t say to go single coil, that was just that were a few Strats, a nice Tele in the studio and the Les Paul as per usual. We didn’t say okay, we’re only using single coils on this record. It kind of went that way as as we recorded it.I think I played Les Paul on one song; ‘California Rust’ but I think that’s maybe the only thing we re-tracked from live. I put an overdub on it with the Tele and it sounded better. So we got rid of the Les Paul and put two overdubs on it with the Tele so the album ended up being all Strat and Telecaster.

Sacrilege! 

Yeah yeah (laughs). I toured with a Strat before on the last tour. But if we finished one song and then went into ‘Under The Sky’ or ‘Come Follow Me’, I wouldn’t want to have to change guitar again. 

The Answer
Credit: Golden Robot Records

Out of interest, do you run through amps or more modelling pieces when you’re recording?

I’d say it’s 99% amps on ‘Sundowners’, there was maybe one track I did with a neural DSP plug in, but even then, we’re probably just mapping out some sounds. I used to be always Marshall and still will be live. I usually run a JMP and an 800. 

When it came to recording the album, from going back and forth over Zoom, did you have all of the material together or was it a case of whittling it all down because you had too much potentially?

Yeah, I think we maybe had eighteen demos and probably I’d say about fifteen of them were contenders for everyone. So we got to eight where all five of us were wanting to do that that track. Then there’s four or five we had to decide on and we did that in the studio. As the album went along, we could hear more of what it was going to be and what it needed to be. It was a really cool place Middlefarm Studios (in Devon) to record and when you leave the live room, you walk out into the kitchen. It’s got an awesome record collection just along the wall and we’d just sit around the table every night and pick the demos we weren’t sure of and someone would keep score of what people thought. It just whittled it’s way down through doing that. In terms of song structure, they were all done beforehand apart from ‘No Salvation’. That came together differently in the studio. It was much faster originally and I think we came to track it one morning, and we’d been listening to stuff over breakfast. I think someone put on Alabama Shakes, which I’m not a massive fan of but it seemed to the suit the vibe. We went in the studio and played and I think the vibe of whatever track of Alabama Shakes it was, took over and we started playing at about half the speed. The engineer Pete came in and started jamming on the Hammond and unbeknownst to us, Dan was in the control room and he hit record and then that became the skeleton of the track.

On the road, it’s a bit of a revival of The Answer, are you going to mix in tracks of the old stuff or focus more on the new record?

I think with any band anytime you do a new record, you want to play every song off of it, if you like the new album which we do this time but also we’ve been away for a long time so I think you have to be aware. Fans will be coming and they want to hear certain tracks. I’m sure there will be three or four from ‘Rise’, then maybe a song from each record after that and the rest try and keep it the new album. We’ll have rehearsal in February so we’ll decide then. 

I’d say ‘Cold Heart’ and ‘Oh Cherry’ are my top two off the album, have you got a favourite of the band or your own?

Yeah, probably ‘Cold Heart’. I think that’s probably my favourite of it. It was one of the ones that came just before the first COVID lockdown and when we did that, I thought, that’s kind of what we’re about. That’s The Answer and I really like the production job done on it. He took it to maybe a bit more Lo Fi than we would have done before especially on the drums, like the snare, he managed to get James to tune that that right down. I think the tempo of it’s a bit slower. Usually, we’d like to push the tempo, you know like the way we do live but that was something I think that I wanted to do as well was pull it back a bit and not rush too much. I think it was one of the tracks that when we sat down it crystallised what we wanted the album to be. 

Having played tours across the world, from toilet venues to stadiums as well do prefer the intimate, sweaty type of venue or is it the biggest stadium stuff that is more of a kick these days?

No, I like them both. I think as long as there’s a good crowd there. I’d prefer to play like The Thekla (Bristol) and it’s sold out and everyones going mad and it’s sweaty. I love that. I’d rather do that than, you know, play a 1200 person capacity venue and there’s only 500 or 600 people there.

They say don’t meet your heroes. You guys have played with Whitesnake, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones. Is there anyone along the way who you’ve met and they are actually really cool?

Yeah, they’ve all been all been pretty cool in their own way. I think two people that really stand out are number one; David Coverdale because we toured with Whitesnake maybe four or five times through different periods so we got to know him a little bit through through that and even from the first tour we did with with them, it was quite cool because I think the Quire Boys got thrown off that tour for bad behaviour and we get on the tour for good behaviour. We were kind of told you know, don’t be getting drunk and going over to Coverdale, just stay in your lane. We played in Newcastle and we were minding our own business in a dressing room that was miles away and we’re rehearsing for an acoustic session and there was a knock on the door. The tour manager came in and said ‘David wants to see you’ and we thought David who? So we asked can we just finish this song for a minute (laughs) and he said ‘no, it’s David…Coverdale who wants to see you’ and David came in and he was very charismatic and very friendly. He was like that through the whole tour. You could go and talk to him in the dressing room, he wasn’t wasn’t too precious and at the end of the tour, he gives us this number and email and stuff. He ended up getting on with Mickey really well because he ended up interviewing him for Planet Rock. He’s kept in touch through the years. He’s quintessential British. I was quite surprised Newcastle was a home gig for him, he doesn’t sound like he’s from that neck of the woods. 

Brian Johnson from AC/DC is the proper Geordie. Did you get much time to hang out with them at all?

Yeah, a little bit. We’d see them every day but they would come in maybe an hour before the show. They’d be in the dressing room and then they would leave pretty much straight away after, you know, 10 or 20 minutes after. Of course, as you can imagine, Brian was the most friendly and I would see him every day. Phil Rudd was very friendly too and he’d come in every day. Angus and Malcolm, a couple of times, we’d be in the dressing room with them and you know, it’s just sitting with guitars and Angus would be playing Howlin’ Wolf or something. They’re very, very down to earth but of course we’re very respectful so you know, we weren’t in there knocking back tequilas (laughs). But yeah, really nice guys. 

So last question just to end on a bit of fun. If you could create your ultimate band lineup with one singer, bass player, guitarist and drummer who would you pick?

Oh, that’s a tricky one. Okay, I’d take take Paul Rogers on vocals. I’d take Alex Van Halen on drums. Who would I take on bass? John Paul Jones on bass. Guitar, I’d take Jeff back as he can play lead and I’ll play rhythm (laughs). Yeah. Sad day the other day, I thought he’d be around forever. 

Thanks for your time today Paul, I’ll be seeing you on the tour. Look after yourself. 

Thanks very much. Appreciate it. 

The Answer release new album ‘Sundowners’ on Friday 17th March 2023. For more information, to pre-order the album and to buy tickets to the band’s March tour please visit https://theanswerrock.com.

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