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12th February 2011
Evolving beyond the ephemera of their death/doom roots from the early nineties, Anathema's music has progressed over the past few years to bear a greater affinity with the innovative songwriting of bands such as Radiohead and Pink Floyd. And, in one sense, they have now transcended the influence of any other band, forging a sound and style that is uniquely their own which has come to fruition on latest album, last year's 'We're Here Because We're Here', their long awaited follow-up to 2003's 'A Natural Disaster'. Recently awarded Classic Rock's prestigious '2010 Prog Album of the Year', it seems Anathema are finally garnering the wider attention and popularity they've long deserved peripheral to the metal genre. In Nottingham for the fourth date of their current UK/French tour, the band's frontman, Vincent Cavanagh, spent half an hour chatting to Metal Discovery a short while after their mind-blowing set in the Rescue Rooms...
METAL DISCOVERY: How have the other shows been so far on the tour…has there been three shows before this one?
VINCENT CAVANAGH: Yeah, this is the fourth. Another four in the UK and then over to France for nine.
(Vincent Cavanagh on Anathema's close bond)
"...we’re in it for life; we’re the two families you can’t split up even if you wanted to."
Vincent Cavanagh backstage at the Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, UK, 12th February 2011
Photograph copyright © 2011 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: I was reading your guitar tech’s blog who said when you last played Glasgow at the Cathouse it was a bit grim.
VC: I liked it.
MD: Yeah, he said the venue seemed better this time.
VC: I liked it last time as well. I’ve always liked the Cathouse. I’ve always liked it in Glasgow.
MD: Obviously a different perspective he has then.
VC: Yeah, yeah, he’s not necessarily representative of the people in the band. But, yeah, I love Glasgow.
MD: ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ is an absolutely beautiful album, and oozing emotion…albeit a long time coming, but some of the songs, I think four of them, have been around for some time and appeared online about four years ago…
VC: That’s right, yeah.
MD: Was all of the material developed over a long period?
VC: Not all of it. ‘Dreaming Light’, for example, came very late. Some of it was written and developed in the studio as we were recording it. ‘Dreaming Light’ was one of those. There were extra songs as well that we recorded at that time and we were kind of feeling which way the album was gonna go, and it’s a very delicate balance between an entire enclosed trip from start to finish where everything is as important as everything else and there’s no extraneous material there. It’s all got a flow to it, and a meaning, and a coherence to it, and we spent a lot of time working that out…even right down to song keys; tempos; the joins between songs; how songs related to each other thematically and where they shared the common ground. All of those songs on the album, they all had a purpose on that album. There are three others we recorded that they had to be together, those other three, and if you put those three on the album then it would’ve been too long. It wasn’t a case of taking one off or two off, but all three had to be taken off because they fit together as a whole. We write a lot like that sometimes and we know that two or three ideas, or even five more different ideas go together so we know then that when it’s completed, how it plays out. The three that didn’t make it to ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’, we’re still working on and I’m sure we’ll put them out in another way.
MD: Do you think developing material over such a long time period, it benefits from having that kind of breathing space?
VC: Yeah, absolutely…I don’t know…sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Like anything with music, and ask any musician, I don’t think there’s any real rules or formula to it. You know, things can happen, but you can’t put out something that isn’t complete.
MD: Yeah, exactly, and something that you’re not happy with yourselves.
VC: Yeah but, I mean, it’s different when you’re actually writing the music, and when you’re in the moment of when that idea comes to you, that’s completely different to compiling an album and the structure of the album, and what instrumentation is gonna segue two songs into each other, and that kind of thing. That’s more of a thought process but the actual writing isn’t really thought based…it’s more instinct and intuitive.
MD: Which is what all good music should be.
VC: I guess so, yeah.
MD: Music sounds more natural when it’s innate.
VC: Yeah, because if you’re playing all the time anyway, things just come to you, and that’s the way we are. I mean, not to set out to do something; you’re just playing all the time and then something happens. It’s kind of more subconscious than conscious really, and it’s better to allow that to happen, and to really just switch off your logical side of things and not think about it too much.
MD: Do you find yourself getting too close to the music so you can’t regard it objectively?
VC: Yeah, absolutely. What happens is, you’re so involved with this thing that sometimes you need to find the objectivity in the idea, and it’s not always easy but you have to do that. That’s kind of like spoiling the fun, you know.
MD: Obviously there’s so much emotion on the new album in the songs, but when you listen back to it do you feel that emotion yourself, like when you’re performing the songs and listening to the recordings, or do you get different feelings from those two things?
VC: Yeah, I listen to it very, very sparingly. I haven’t listened to it now for a very long time. I listened to it for, maybe, a couple of weeks after it was finished but, after that, I just don’t listen to it anymore. Bob Dylan once said that listening to his own albums is like staring into a frozen mirror; the reflection is always the same. And I agree with that, really.
MD: Do you deliberately give yourself a bit of distance by not listening to it for a while?
VC: Well, I play it, and that’s how I go through it. And every single time I play it, I have to mean it.
MD: Steve Wilson, of course, mixed the album and did an amazing job, but was there ever any possibility he could’ve produced the album too?...I seem to recall down here at Rock City in 2007 when you supported Porcupine Tree, either yourself or Steve said that he’d be producing the album…
VC: At that time, yeah, but what transpired was…instead of going into the studio and having a set schedule and doing it all that way – which is the only way we would’ve been able to fit it into his – instead of that, we decided to record it all ourselves, which meant no deadlines. I mean, we weren’t expecting him to take that much time out of his life.
MD: It’s quite a philosophical album title, like a more blatant take on “I think therefore I am”…the Descartes kind of philosophy…is there supposed to be any deeper meaning behind it?
VC: No, it’s not existential at all. It actually comes from a song that was sung in World War I. A guy with a Victoria Cross for keeping up the morale of the men, and he basically sung “we’re here because we’re here” to the tune of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. The reason it helped the morale of the men is because it was like a sardonic joke about the horror and the madness that they were in. In that way it was, I guess, a bit existential, but it was more like sardonic. There was no explanation for it really; there was no rationality behind that war and what they were facing. But, having said that, throughout all that adversity, they even felt through a simple song, and lots of songs, not just that one but lots of songs at that time, a brotherhood and a strength that really held people together. And we kind of appropriated that towards our own experiences together as two families growing up all of our lives and all the things we’ve been through. It’s about all of our lives since we were kids and everything we’ve been through, and everything that we will go through for the rest of our lives because we’re in it for life; we’re the two families you can’t split up even if you wanted to.
MD: Plus Les!
VC: Plus Les, yeah!
MD: The name ‘Paradigm Shift’ was mentioned a few years ago as a working title for the album – why was that abandoned? A very good title.
VC: Yeah, but it had been done and other people had used it. It was a case of we knew the music was taking a huge, huge step in a different direction and it was also like a personal evolution thing as well.
MD: You won Classic Rock’s ‘Prog Album of the Year’ recently which is amazing commendation, of course, but what album would you have placed at number one yourself?...and you can choose your own album!
VC: If Radiohead didn’t do an album…
[Danny Cavanagh walks through at this point and answers the question…]
DANNY CAVANAGH: Do you know what, I don’t really listen to that much modern rock music anyway, but I’ll tell you who’s good and a bit proggy, but you’ve never heard of him, is Petter Carlsen, a Norwegian friend of ours. He’s the biggest talent I’ve ever met. That’s guy’s up there with…he’s close to Thom Yorke. He’s not far away.
VC: Most of the music I listen to is like contemporary composers, classical music, and electronic music. That’s what I’ve been listening to in 2010. I don’t listen to bands. I’m not interested in bands.
MD: I’ve read fans post comments online saying that the new stuff is not as great as ‘Judgement’ or ‘Alternative 4’ – how do you regard those albums yourself now?
VC: Yeah, they’re alright, yeah. They’re not a fucking patch on our last one, but everyone’s entitled to their opinion.