“When the SOLAS (light) don’t fill, the darkness kills.”
In 2015 the Northern Irish rock band The Answer released their fifth album called Raise A Little Hell and after they returned from the US Raise A Little Hell Tour they started thinking about making a new album. Two months ago I saw The Answer live on stage opening for Whitesnake in Tilburg (The Netherlands) and at the end of their gig they played two brand new songs from the upcoming album. I was amazed by the rather completely different sound of these songs from the new album called Solas; especially the title track was an amazing song with obvious Celtic influences. So now I had time to talk to guitar player Paul Mahon about Solas and a couple of other interesting things about The Answer and Ireland.
So, Paul how was it to play with Whitesnake again?
“Good, we are kind of old friends and it was the third time (2006, 2011) now that we played together and it is always a pleasure to play with Coverdale and Co.”
You played two new songs from the forthcoming album Solas, how was the reaction of the audience?
“Well, rather good, I think…We were a little bit nervous about playing these new songs as they are rather different from our other material, so; especially a song like Thief Of Light is kind of mellow, but the Whitesnake audience seemed to like it. On festivals when we were on the line up with metal bands it was more difficult for us to play those new tracks; which is rather obvious of course.”
Well, the new album is called Solas, the Gaelic word for light, and to me it is a completely different album. I would describe it as a modern, brave rock album with lots of Irish musical influences. Do you agree?
“I do, well after the Raise A Little Hell album we wanted to something different, we were thinking of other musical styles and directions and so we approached this new album in a completely different way. We started jamming in the studio and so the songs came together in a very creative way, so we ended up with rather dark cinematic rock songs filled with lots of cultural Irish instrumentation and even Latin and Gaelic choruses and chants. The lyrics on Solas are more personal, open and more emotional as the album was partly inspired by Cormac’s trip from the edge of the abyss (the problems of his newly born son) to a place where fortunately the world no longer seems too dark. Solas was also a slow burner, at least for us, as we normally finish an album in two or three weeks; but this one took six months!! The Irish influences are obvious and the musical arrangements are rather different, but I think that it still is a typical Answer album. We felt that the first place to start with was our Irish roots, our Irish culture, politically and musically, so I hope that everyone likes that new approach, as we certainly did.”
So, did you also “use” influences from other great Irish musicians like Rory Gallagher or Van Morrison?
“Rory has always been an influence in our music, I always felt very close to him and Thin Lizzy and The Bothy Band are also great Irish bands that influenced The Answer a lot.”
So, let’s elaborate on a couple of songs from the new album, if that is all right with you…
“Sure, with which one would you like me to start?”
The musical highlight, at least for me, the epic Battle Cry.
“Battle Cry is a great track indeed and our starting point for that song was a sort of Latin feel and we built that one up in the studio bit by bit. It was a difficult song to record as it was a kind of experiment with new ways of recording and writing. The chorus is in Gaelic and I am really looking forward to playing that song on stage.”
I think that it is a very brave song and a turning point in the sound of the band.
“Well, I think you are right, it is a brave track and it sounds new and rather epic.”
Beautiful World is co-written with producer Neil Davidge (Massive Attack), how did that come about?
“Neil is an old friend and his influence on Beautiful World is quite important as it was a new challenge for us to co-write with him as he implemented some great ideas into this song, so that you get the idea of a cinematic landscape and lots of atmosphere. Beautiful World would have been a completely different song without the aid of Davidge.”
Demon Driven Man, a traditional Answer blues song?
“Yep, you nailed it. I think that this song will sound familiar to our fans, although through the use of the mandolin it gets a kind of blue grass feeling and that is something we have not done before.”
Real Life Dreamers features a duet with Fiona O Kane, how did she come into the picture?
“Fiona is a well- known singer in the Irish music scene and as we were using Irish musical influences why not use a “typical” Irish female singer. It is never easy to bring in a new musician into a band, but I think that it worked out all right I the end.”
Will you release a single from the new album and which track could be radio friendly enough to do so?
“I do not know if we actually are going to release a single, but the obvious choice for me would be the title track as that one will have a definite certain impact.”
Solas is a brave album to release, so are you not afraid to loose old fans? And maybe gain some new fans with this new record?
“We are still The Answer, so I am not afraid that our “old” fans will not like Solas, I think we will definitely gain a larger audience with the album.”
The Answer has always been very popular in Germany, what could be the reason for that?
“I think it is our style, our live shows have always been popular in Germany as the crowd over there really gets into our live shows. Ever since our first German Tour with DAD they liked and embraced us; maybe it is our musical mix of blues, rock and metal they enjoy.”
In the USA The Answer has never really had a musical breakthrough, so far that is, is Solas an album that is more “suitable” for the American music market?
“Well, we have neglected and lost the moment in America the last years that is true, but we had a big profit and impact with our second album Everyday Demons. We are going back in the near future and we will start again over there with our new album, count on it.”
Plans for the near future?
“The Solas Tour starts in the UK on 11 November with ten shows and then we will tour Europe extensively and maybe in the further away future The Answer will also release a DVD from a good live show somewhere in Europe, maybe Germany….”
Last question, what is your favorite track from Solas?
“Right now it is Thief Of Light as it is an uplifting and rather different song.”
Thanks for your time Paul and see you on tour.
“Thanks for this interview and supporting The Answer.”
Interview by Martien Koolen
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