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DATE OF INTERVIEW: 3rd April 2018
It was an incredibly sad day when it was announced nearly two years ago that longstanding Eluveitie members Anna Murphy, Ivo Henzi and Merlin Sutter would be parting company with said band. But, a rather shiny silver lining would form shortly thereafter, with the Swiss trio announcing their post-Eluveitie musical allegiance in a brand new band, Cellar Darling. A mightily impressive debut album was unleashed last year, 'This is the Sound', that saw the musicians spread their collective musical wings beyond the genre parameters of their former band, to deliver a diverse range of hurdy-gurdy infused folk/rock/metal compositions. On UK shores at the start of April for a short run of headline shows, Metal Discovery met up with the talented trio in Manchester for a natter about endings and new beginnings; the album; dancing; Queen and cellars...
METAL DISCOVERY: How’s the transition been from being in a very successful band to starting something brand new? Has it been refreshing and challenging to try and build up a whole new fanbase, and the band’s profile?
MERLIN: Well, you’ve answered your own question, really…
(Anna Murphy on Cellar Darling's creative emancipation and diversified sound)
"...in Eluveitie, which was obviously a really successful band in that genre, we were still very limited, musically. They have their set arrangements and it’s not very experimental and so, now, it’s like we can run free!"
Cellar Darling in their dressing room at Rebellion, Manchester, 3rd April 2018
Photograph copyright © 2018 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MERLIN: It’s been all of those things, yeah. It’s been challenging… some parts have sucked but, overall, it’s been really good, very refreshing and it’s an adventure. I love playing this music.
ANNA: No regrets.
MERLIN: No regrets, no. And very happy to be here, less than a year after the album has come out.
MD: When you broke with Eluveitie after so many years, was there a general feeling of liberation, in terms of your creativity and being able to flourish as musicians more on your own terms?
ANNA: Oh yeah, definitely. And we’ve also learned so much. Because in Eluveitie, which was obviously a really successful band in that genre, we were still very limited, musically. They have their set arrangements and it’s not very experimental and so, now, it’s like we can run free!
MD: You can cover Queen!
ANNA: Yeah! [Laughs] And now, we have this feeling, even more, that we can break out and do what we want. On our debut album, we were still a bit timid and exploring different things, and now we’re more confident and can just go explore.
MERLIN: Yeah, it’s gonna go downhill from here!
ANNA: Yeah! [Laughs]
MD: ‘This is the Sound’ is a very diverse album, so did the musical diversity emerge from a sense of creative liberation?
MERLIN: In a way, I think it emerged from setting no barriers, whatsoever. We just played what we felt like. There was no plan or anything; we just did what we did and that’s the journey of discovery. We didn’t know what it would sound like in the end, so we found out when it was done.
MD: The album’s title sounds like a bold statement, so is it intended to taken that way; in that you’re telling people, “This is the sound of our band and we’re proud of it.”?
ANNA: Yeah, it has that ring to it and we knew that it would, that it sounds like a very bold thing to say. But it’s more, for us, it has the meaning that we are happy about having found our sound, because we didn’t even know if we would find anything. It’s obviously much easier if you can get together and decide, “Okay, we’re gonna be death metal band.” Or, “Okay, we’re gonna sing about pirates.” You know, you already have this starting point, which helps you a lot. We didn’t have anything, so we just dived into it. And so, for us, it was a proud moment when we suddenly realised, okay, we just wrote an album, somehow. So, that’s kind of what it means.
MD: All the songs have a very natural, organic flow and feeling to them, so did that partly derive from your decision to all write together, in a rehearsal room, which is, I gather, how the album came to be?
ANNA: Yeah, most parts, yeah.
MERLIN: I think that helped, for sure. We did a lot more of that than before.
MD: Did you write everything in the rehearsal room, or did you all bring ideas and then developed those?
IVO: It was very mixed.
ANNA: It was mixed, yeah.
MERLIN: These two have a lot of the ideas that they bring in but, in the end, everything was played together in the rehearsal room and allowed to flourish.
MD: So, parts got rewritten in the rehearsal room, and progressed to become what they are?
ANNA: Yes, some more than others. It’s always a bit different.
MD: Some of the tracks - particularly ‘Six Days’ and ‘Hedonia’, but also ‘High Above These Crowns’, ‘Fire, Wind & Earth’ and ‘Redemption’ - have a prominent storytelling vibe to them, where it feels like narratives are being driven along by the music as much as they are the lyrics. Is that the intention, where you were trying to tell a story through the instrumentations as much as the words?
ANNA: Definitely, yeah. The lyrics usually come after the music. Actually, with ‘Six Days’, it came at the same time, which is very weird; like, that usually never happens. But I never sit down and think - oh, what am I gonna write about? Because the music is already telling me what the song is about, so that just happens.
MD: So the music actually inspires the lyrics, then? You listen to the music and then decide what the song needs to be about based on the way it sounds?
ANNA: Yeah, exactly.
MD: Going back to ‘Hedonia’, it’s a stunning piece of music. Melodically, it’s a sublime piece of music… but I understand very few words of Swiss German, so what’s the story behind that piece?
ANNA: It’s a very abstract song.
MD: Okay, so even if I understood Swiss German, I’d still be asking you the same question!
ANNA: Yeah, you would!
MD: [Laughs]
ANNA: You would think that I wasn’t in my right mind when I wrote it, which I wasn’t. It’s about the end of the world, but the end of a fictional world called Hedonia. It’s a hedonistic world where everybody’s drinking wine and making love and everything’s fine. And this dreamer, who is basically asleep, but he’s kind of mentally ill, as well, he’s watching the scene die; like, everything’s just withering away and all the colours are fading. But he doesn’t realise that the world is ending because he can still feel the sun shining, even though it’s not there anymore. And that’s kind of what it’s about… [Laughs]
MD: Kind of depressing, then… but it sounds optimistic!
ANNA: Yeah, this upbeat and really fast hurdy-gurdy tune… it’s supposed to be a bit sarcastic. It’s what’s going on in his head but it’s not what’s happening on the outside.
MD: Let’s hope that doesn’t turn out to be prophetic, with an imminent apocalypse, what with everything that’s happening in the world right now!
ANNA: Sure, yeah!
MD: ‘Rebels’ is a very interesting composition - the bridge sounds very ABBA-esque, and other passages have an almost Muse-like/Matt Bellamy quality to them. Influences at all? Or am I way off the mark there?
MERLIN: We all love Muse.
ANNA: Not consciously, but we all like Muse, yeah. Who doesn’t?
ANNA: Well, yeah.
MERLIN: I’ve never heard that comparison.
ANNA: My mother listened to a lot of ABBA.
MD: I think it was the vocal phrasing and melodies in the bridge that had a kind of ABBA vibe. You’re also fans of ABBA?
IVO: Yes.
MD: I mean, who can hate ABBA?
MERLIN: Right.
ANNA: Yeah, that wouldn’t make any sense.
MD: Apart from the people who do hate ABBA… but they have no excuse!
MD: What tracks do you find have been getting the biggest crowd reactions? I’m guessing ‘Avalanche’ prompts some big sing-alongs?
ANNA: Yeah, I think ‘Avalanche’, probably.
MD: I have to be really honest, when I first heard the album, when I was reviewing it, the repetition of the word “Avalanche” became quite annoying, for me. But, the more I listened to the song, the more it grew on me, and now I’m hooked and can’t get enough of it!
ANNA: Yeah, it got a lot of controversy because of that and I think you have to… the mantra has to change your mind, like it did with you. You kind of have to understand why it has this monotonous repetition; it’s supposed to be like a curse… yeah, like a mantra, kind of thing. But, yeah, for some people, it’s too repetitive. That’s fine as not everybody has to like stuff.
IVO: True.
MD: But that one goes down well live, with a lot of people singing along?
IVO: Absolutely.
MERLIN: I hope so, yeah.
MD: So what other songs have been going down well live? I gather you’re playing the whole album on these dates?
ANNA: Yeah, we kind of have to… [Laughs] I think ‘Black Moon’ and ‘Fire, Wind & Earth’…
MERLIN: ‘Challenge’, maybe, also. After ten years of Eluveitie, we’re used to the place boiling. There’s a mosh pit, there’s dancing, there’s high energy. And, now, we want to play different music and we want to have more diversity, but that also means the crowd isn’t going to be jumping all the time. So, we’re wondering if they think we suck or is it just how they listen to music?
ANNA: I think they just listen more instead of…
MERLIN: Yeah. At least, that’s what I hope!
ANNA: [Laughs]
MERLIN: But, yeah, it’s a different energy in the room.