Band looks to have the answer to keeping rock alive

The Answer play big, old-fashioned, stadium filling rock – yet they sound remarkably fresh. Mark Butler speaks to the Irish rockers.

Less than two hours before I’m due to interview Cormac Neeson, lead singer of acclaimed rock band The Answer, I receive a phone call explaining that he has lost his voice, and can’t talk.

The news is not a complete surprise. Neeson’s remarkable wail is one of the band’s most distinctive attributes – and it’s bound to take its toll on the vocal chords. And then there’s the ‘rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle’.

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“We’ve just played four shows in a row and we’ve really gone for it,” explains bassist Micky Waters, who steps in at the last minute to take on the press duties.

“Because our new album came out yesterday, we went for a few drinks too. Cormac’s got to take it easy today.”

Waters is speaking on the eve of the band’s UK tour, which calls at Sheffield and York along the way.

“We can’t wait,” he says. “It’s going to be a real party. York Fibbers was the first venue in England that we ever sold out, and it was one of the best receptions we ever had. York may not have the reputation – but it’s a rock ‘n’ roll town.”

The Answer has every reason to be excited right now. They’re a band on the up, 10 years and three albums into a career that has seen them pick up awards, play stadiums with AC/DC and The Rolling Stones, and emerge as a leading proponent of classic rock. They muster no-nonsense heavy anthems complete with catchy power riffs, foot-stomping drums, wailing guitar solos and Neeson’s shrill, full-throttle vocals. And despite hailing from Downpatrick in Northern Ireland, they have tracks with All-American titles like Nowhere Freeway and Tornado – the epitome of classic rock ethos.

For Waters, who founded the band with guitarist Paul Mahon at the age of 15, it’s the only kind of music he’s ever wanted to play.

“Classic rock has so much power and energy,” he says. “We have so much fun playing it. Myself and Paul’s fathers were both rockers, and we grew up with 80s rock ‘n’ roll on vinyl as well as contemporary bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. We’re a bit of a hybrid of the two types.”

Waters has no time for the ‘rock is dead’ mantra bandied about by the music press.

“It’s true that rock is less prominent right now,” he concedes, “and it would be really bad if all we had was X-Factor for the rest of eternity, but there are lots of 18 and 19-year-olds forming rock bands. That appeal will always be there.”

Amid all the synth-pop and slick R&B populating the modern airwaves, The Answer’s brand of rollicking old-school rock feels surprisingly refreshing. In thrall to the classic sounds of the 70s and 80s stadium rock giants, with so few rock bands of this type doing the rounds, what once was familiar seems sprightly and fresh, and their new album’s title, Revival, seems all-too appropriate.

“We thought bigger and I think we’ve grown up a bit, musically,” says Waters of the record, which was recorded in Texas with Grammy-nominated producer Chris ‘Frenchie’ Smith. “Chris brought a lot of production value and worked us hard – almost to breaking point.”

The band got their breakthrough in 2005 when their single – aptly titled Keep Believin’ – started turning heads in the UK. They won critical acclaim and influential fans such as Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, and found themselves supporting The Rolling Stones and The Who.

Then, in 2008 they were invited to open for AC/DC on the Black Ice World Tour.

“At the time, it was the biggest tour ever conceived,” recalls Waters. “We were performing to crowds of up to 90,000 people a night, and there’s no competition for that kind of experience.

“We had the time of our lives. AC/DC are my favourite band, so it was quite surreal hanging out with Angus Young and the guys. They looked after us, and we found we actually had a lot in common. We were all just working class lads playing rock ‘n’ roll.

“We had a complete blast,” he adds, with a laugh. “It was a circus. After three weeks on the road our livers and our minds were destroyed.

“It keeps you young. All the veterans we’ve met – the Ronnie Woods and Angus Youngs – are very young-spirited. The rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle’s not as glamorous as people assume, but it’s certainly an adventure.”

Newcomers’ classic sounds hailed by music press

The Answer were formed in 2000 by guitarist Paul Mahon and his school friend bassist Micky Waters.

In 2005, Classic Rock magazine voted The Answer Best New Band 2005.

2006 saw debut album Rise released to rave reviews from Kerrang! and was nominated for Classic Rock magazine’s Album Of The Year and Best British Newcomer in the 2006 Kerrang! awards.

The Answer play Sheffield Academy on October 15 (£13, 7pm, Tel: 0844 477 2000) and York Duchess on October 20 (£13, 7pm, 0844 4771 000).

Their new album Revival is out now.