Tim Hughes talks to Cormac Neeson, the frontman of hard-working Belfast band The Answer about their tour

When asked to describe his music, Cormac Neeson is unambiguous.

“Rock,” he says with a shrug. “That’s it really.”

The frontman of Northern Ireland band The Answer is charming and eloquent – but his clipped reply speaks volumes.

For almost 14 years his band have been quietly building a fan base with their honest brand of well... rock. And they have done that by not-so-quietly powering their way through a relentless live schedule and four albums.

It’s heavy, heartfelt stuff, packed with explosive riffs and visceral attitude.

I caught up with Downpatrick lad Cormac at his home studio before the band take to the road for a tour which reaches Oxford next month.

“I’m in our studio running through some live ideas,” he says. “We record everything but our albums there and are lucky to have it.”

Starting off with a handful of self-financed releases, The Answer started to make waves in 2005 with the release of their debut single Keep Believin’. The subsequent buzz saw them named Best New Band at the Classic Rock Awards. Their 100,000-selling debut album Rise, released the following year, cemented their reputation as masters of the anthemic rock anthem, with tunes like Under The Sky, Into The Gutter and Come Follow Me. Their second album, Everyday Demons, released two years later, went down so well they were signed up as chief support to AC/DC for two years.

Between stunts on the road with, probably, rock’s most famous bad boys, Cormac and his bandmates continued writing, honing their songwriting and expanding their sound. They came up with Revival and, last year, New Horizon – which finds them on typically thunderous form: a blend of confident swagger and raging energy.

“I like to think we’ve got better at what we do,” smiles Cormac.

“The more you do it, the better you get and the more you are able to master your craft. We managed to record ourselves how we sound live – which is when we feel at our most powerful. But that sounds easier than it is in practice.”

The album, produced by Little Angel Toby Jepson, reaffirms The Answer’s position as Northern Ireland’s biggest rock band; leaders of a resurgent scene which is laying to rest the ghosts of its troubled past and finding unity through live music.

“I’ve lived in Belfast since I left school, but if you compare life there now to how it was when I was a student, it’s unbelievable,” says Cormac.

“For the past 10 years, every month a new bar or restaurant has opened up, and the music scene seems in good shape. As far as rock music goes, there is a very much a community spirit with seven or eight really good bands regularly playing gigs in different combinations and helping each other out.

“When we started we were the only rock band on the scene, the exception to the rule, and were looked down upon. But it turned out to be the way to go.

“I wouldn’t claim responsibility for the success of the rock scene at the moment but a couple of bands emerged after we had a sniff of success.

Becoming one of the biggest bands in the province did not come without its pitfalls though. “It’s important not to be sucked into a small town mentality,” he says. “You could let it go to your head.

“You get the adulation and the crowds and all of a sudden you think you’re a rock star before you’ve even left Belfast. “You need a bit of common sense.” He goes on: “It depends on your ambition. If all you want is to pull a couple of chicks in Belfast and get the adulation of your peers, that’s fine – but don’t look down on bands that don’t fall into line.

“Our ambition was always to go to London and get a record deal.”

Like all the best bands, The Answer have managed to bridge Northern Ireland’s divided society – with a fan base from both sides of the city’s Peace Walls. “Music transcends that nonsense,” he says. “Even when Northern Ireland was at its lowest point, there was a punk scene which was a reaction to the depressing nature of society. It was saying it didn’t want to be a part of that. Music always brings people together. I couldn’t tell you a single band that draws a line in the sand with that regard. “It would be alien to the concept of being in a band to not want to play for people willing to spend a couple of pounds on tickets to see your show, and that’s all there is to it.”

Last time they hit the road, it was on a 40-date tour of major cities. This time they’re taking a different approach.

“The tour’s called The Road Less Travelled, so we're going to all the places we’ve never been before,” he says.

“We are taking the album to smaller cities and towns and a lot of places we’ve either never played before or haven’t played for some time – like Oxford. It’s about getting our music into those lovely intimate settings – and rocking out for people tired of having to travel 40 miles to see us.

“We are writing real music and bringing it to the people.”

And, he says, he can’t wait to meet the fans who have carried this loud bunch of Ulstermen on their course to rock domination. “At every gig we play, we meet the people who hang around. We’ve always done that and hopefully always will. That’s very much part of the band’s ideology.”

And do the band have any amusing anecdotes of life on the road? Cormac laughs. “Oh yeah,” he says. “But I’ll have to tell you all that over a pint.”

The Answer play the O2 Academy Oxford on Saturday, March 8.
Tickets are £14 from ticketweb.co.uk