Anathema have always been an innovative band, and one with such a diverse back-catalogue of music. We meet with Anathema’s vocalist, Vincent Cavanagh before their show at the Manchester Academy to discuss the future, family and Lars Ulrich!
“We’re one of the best bands in the country”
S] What was the development for the direct for the latest album? Was it a natural progression or something you planned in advance?
V] “That never happened on this album.”
S] Do you not think?
V] It happened 12 years ago.
S] Not with the different styles for each album?
V] “The most notable was on ‘Alternative 4’ which was primarily a piano-based album with clean guitars, with a lot of space in the sound. That was really the biggest change in our sound. It’s funny that people seem to think that we were playing heavy stuff only last year but we weren’t. It was a long, long time ago now. I see everything we’ve done as a logical and natural progression because we write in that way. We write from a perspective of instinct and intuition rather than something that’s carefully thought out and logical.
We’re more right-brained when we write music and what comes out is what we hope is an accurate reflection of how we are at that point in our lives and in our emotions. I think that a lot of the stuff we do is very emotionally driven and it’s very much visceral rather than carefully constructed, it’s much more feeling-based really. And, I think the sound of what we’ve done nowadays has just expanded in different directions, it’s become more sophisticated. It sounds as if a lot of thought has gone into it, but I guess that’s just a case of us maturing and becoming better at constructing what we do.”
S] What do you feel has inspired this album the most, if not musically but perhaps emotionally or life events?
V] “Absolutely. Everything in life is hugely inspiring to us, like yourselves, like anything. The major things that you go through in life; the things that change you as a person, the people you meet, the events you go through, the things where you’re not quite the same afterwards. And all these things contribute to one person’s personal evolution and you learn and grow, then progress and move forward. If you’re creative at the same time then hopefully you can channel the creativity to reflect what you’re going through in life. With us it’s a bit different really, there are two sides of it. You have the creative side of being in the moment where it is beyond thought, it’s beyond calculation. The calculation comes later on in the sense that once an idea is already finished and you’re trying to put together an album you can say, ‘okay, which songs create a balance, a cohesive whole’.
That kind of thing you have to think about but if you’re creating music it’s more subconscious than anything else. It’s a case of you could be sat at a piano and, what I’ve been doing a lot recently, at a keyboard but using different sounds, synthesizers, atmospheres. Something that will move me in a certain way so I’ll get into a certain way of mind and that will end up leading me down a way that I wasn’t expecting and what happens then is that when a tune comes to me I’ll repeat it until it gets to that stage that it’s kind of a self-hypnosis. So, you get into a certain frame of mind and if you do it often enough, what happens is that the rest of the picture happens in your mind, you feel how the rest of the instrumentation is going to sound, you can start to hum a vocal line, that kind of thing. It all happens at once really; you can hear it all at once.”
S] So, it kind of writes itself?
V] “Exactly. It’s important to remember that in music in particular, out of most forms of art. I think the only one comparable to that really is painting. If you’re painting from scratch and have that kind of idea in your head, it leads you on and it is a similar way with music. It’s like being on a river in a way and you can steer your way along but ultimately you’ve got to reach your destination. And the destination is when the idea itself is completed and it’s not when you think it’s completed. On the way on the river you may have various obstacles and they may be things like your own ego which might say, ‘actually, you know what, I haven’t put a clever enough lyric in here, I haven’t put a guitar solo in here’, those kinds of things.
And when the idea has reached its destination, when it’s complete and there is nothing else you can add to it, then you know it’s right. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Eric Satie’s music? it’s piano based stuff, a guy from the earlier 20th century in France. You would have heard some of the most peaceful, beautiful melodies, very sad but also uplifting melodies and chords ever heard in any music, and it’s just piano. Now imagine if he was a keyboard player in a band today and he wrote that, you know there would be a guy coming along who would say ‘You know what this needs, we need a guitar solo here, and I’ve got a great lyric for that part’ And the [Satie] guy’s going to go, ‘No! I’ve gotta fight with you on this or I’ll leave the band because it’s finished, and it’s just the piano. You couldn’t even put a cello on it, there’s nothing else you could add to this. Anything more you add from this is going to subtract from what it already is.’ And that’s really important to remember in music, as with painting, knowing when not to put a colour on. You don’t always need to put the brush to the paper. It’s instinct really.”
S] We’ve never understood why you aren’t as big in England as you are in the rest of Europe.
V] “Yeah, I think there is a certain amount of stigma attached to the name in the very early days from coming from the metal scene. So since then as the band evolved, back in the mid 90’s when we stopped playing that kind of music. ‘Eternity’ was really the last one but even on that one there were moments of rock. So the next album, ‘Alternative 4’, was when we completely said that okay, this band is something completely different and I think maybe at that point, perhaps the thing to do would be to change the band name because we could never have predicted that people would still associate us to this day with what we did when we first started.
But I guess that the audiences are increasing. Steadily, the record sales are going up, we’re getting better press, better reviews, that band is healthier and better than it ever has been so we’re just going to keep at it. Do we change the band name now? Well then, if we do that would have to drop all the old songs that we love to play, the ones we’ve just written on the last album. I guess the best thing to do would be to just keep at it and I think it will turn around eventually. I’m positive about it, I’m very positive about it. I think personally we’re one of the best bands in the country and we have been for a long time and I don’t mind saying it because I believe it now. For years people have said it, like five-years-ago and I was saying, ‘not quite’ but we are now.
It’s wide-screen viewing, I like to call it, a broad range of stuff but it’s rock really isn’t it? It’s foolish to try and sub-categorise rock sometimes with things like ‘art rock’, ‘atmospheric prog rock’, ‘post progressive’, we’ve had, and it’s just rock! It’s guitar-based music, but, having said that we’ve got a fair amount of piano on our songs, and we’ve been using the orchestra more on this album. The next couple of things we’re going to do, we’re going to be getting more into orchestration and piano based melodies. I think again, just trying to pursue that sort of sophistication and more soundtracky stuff, that sort of classical ‘vibe’, I hate that word ‘vibe’! As well as with the guitars. And there’s always electronic music, there’s nothing to say that we won’t move into that area. I personally write and play electronic music on my own. John does, the drummer, so there’s nothing to say we can’t do something like that with Anathema. Limitless. It’s all valid really. There’s a certain depth of feeling that this band has that we always have to stick to, I think that’s the only rule really. Musically it can be open but the feeling has to be there, that depth has to be there.”
S] Is there any particular place that you really like to play?
V] “America! And Japan and Australia. I’d love to break America, especially the kind of music we’re playing these days. It would translate fantastically for an American audience; I think they’d love it. Because there’s nobody really like us. Porcupine Tree have done really well there the last few weeks and I guess I’d like something similar for us if we could get over there and tour. The record is going to be released over there on May 24 and we’re starting the promotion for that; we shall see where it takes us. I really hope to get over there and tour this year and then carry on from there really. And then Japan – again, I’m hoping to open up a few doors there. And Australia’s another kettle of fish all together! I don’t know anything about Australia but I’d love to get over there. The one thing about Australia though is that we’d all be doing the accents and after two weeks we’d forget what we actually spoke like!”
S] Do you think your audience differs in different countries, such as Japan or in Europe?
V] “No, not really. I think it’s pretty much a broad range of people; you’ve got very young people, older people, some metal heads, more progressive heads, some people who are into normal rock music, pop music, anything really. Especially the last few years it’s been more of a broader mix than ever, I think it’s good actually, it shows, that it doesn’t matter what sort of music you’re into, what backgrounds you have, what age you are, there’s a lot of people that connect to the music. It’s cool as we’re just writing for ourselves ultimately, and then we see who likes it. And it’s great to see such a broad range of people. We’ve got Good Charlotte next door at the moment and everybody looks the same and then whilst that’s cool, you know, for us I’d prefer to have a more diverse audience.”
S] How is it to work with family members and close friends? Do you think it’s easier?
V] “Without having something to directly compare it to of course, because I’ve only ever been in a band with my brothers, I believe it is easier actually. Only for the fact that I think it would be very difficult to be in a long standing personal and professional relationship with someone for more than 10 years if you just placed an advert in a magazine or in a rehearsal studio because you would have to be extraordinarily lucky to find people you would want to spend the rest of your life with. At least with us we’re stuck together whether we like it or not! And then there’s John and his sister who we’ve known since childhood so it’s two families really. I don’t feel that John is any less my brother than Danny or Jay, or vice versa, everybody feels like the same to me. I think we’re much stronger for it because if you have problems like we did in the past you know, just part of growing up I suppose, once you’ve got over them, you’ve got that bond then that can never be broken no matter what. You’ll always be there for one another. And I think as a family unit it’s held us together, being in a band together, more so than if had all lead separate lives since our teens, we may not have been so close now. I’m closer to Danny than, I am to any bloke in the world. And John as well, the two people I feel closer to than anybody, and that’ll be there forever.“
S] How was it to rework some of the older songs for ‘Hindsight’? Did you enjoy looking at them in a new way, with fresh eyes?
V] “It held the songs under a naked light really; we stripped them down to the bones. It was also the perfect opportunity really because we knew it would be a massive jump forward with ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ so it was the perfect time to take what we did and shine a new light on it and say, okay, this is what we can do with that and it was just the perfect link. There were one or two omissions from ‘Hindsight’ that we’ve been working on since from the very early stuff but I think after that it’s done and I’m still talking like, grand piano versions and string versions of some of those early melodies, we’re working on that at the moment. That’s going to be in some form or another, coming out.”
S] Do you enjoy the contrast of playing festivals alongside indoor venues?
V] “What I really want is to play more alternative rock festivals rather than metal festivals, which are the main ones we play. We played some rock festivals, and some blues festivals and some mixed festivals, especially in Europe, this year we’re doing the prog stage at High Voltage. So things are slowly opening up but not fast enough for me! I want to play Rock Am Ring, Roskilda and I want to go to America for Cochella, and Fuji Rock in Japan and I want to do V! I don’t see why not you know! They’ve got Slipknot playing, fu***ng hell! Why can’t we? We just need the chance to get people who are into Radiohead and so on, people who are into forward thinking modern rock to get a chance to hear us. [laughing] Why can’t we just get a break you know?! I know they’d like it!”
S] Are there any bands or acts that you really admire at the moment? Something you’re really listening to a lot?
V] “Yeah, I’m listening to a lot of, not so much bands to be fair, but mostly composers. People like Clint Mansell, modern day classical soundtrack and modern contemporary classical crossovers. Clint Mansell, Max Richter, Johan Johansson, that kind of thing. They’d be my three biggies at the moment, I’m really loving their stuff, the atmosphere, the drama, the epic quality of some of their stuff is something I find lacking in bands. Some of the amazing electronic production of people like Trentemoller, who I think is doing excellent stuff.
Deadmau5, you know, he gets a lot of flack now because he’s famous but his production is fucking awesome, superb, absolutely a pleasure to listen to. It’s really intense and I’m waiting for Aphex Twin’s new stuff. I know he’s been out live again recently so I’m waiting to hear him again. I still love me Warped Records’ stuff, I still occasionally go back into Constellation Records archive, people like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Frankie Sparo, that kind of thing. A band I’ve rediscovered recently in the last couple of years, that I’ve always loved is The God Machine from 1992/93, they did two albums, the first album, ‘Scenes From The Second Storey’, fucking awesome. That’s early 90s, way ahead of its time, really good. Who else? Not much in the way of bands. I’ve always liked ‘…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead’ actually, I’m eager to hear their new album. I haven’t heard it yet but I’m going to be checking that out.”
S] Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?
V] “I’d collaborate with anybody! I’m a bit open-minded, yeah, I’m really getting into production and doing stuff myself on my own little home set up, some I’m doing a few remixes at the moment. I’ve sang on Petter Carlsen’s new album, he’s been around with us on the whole European tour, he’s going to be doing the French leg again. His music has that melancholic edge but it’s really kind of uplifting as well. He’s got a voice like a cleaner Thom Yorke, Thom Yorke kind of slurs a little bit, Petter’s got this tone to his voice, it’s always well pronounced and its crystal clear. It’s beautiful to listen to. It’s just one of those sounds you love to hear.
So I sang on his album and that’s called ‘Clocks Don’t Count’ – just came out, it’s really good, I recommend it whole-heartedly! It’s like Radiohead, the vocals are just as good and what better compliment can you pay? I did some backing vocals for a French band called ‘Devianz’, I’m not sure if it’s coming out yet, I’m just waiting for the news from them, what they’re doing with it. But other than that, I’m just doing my own kind of thing, I’ve got loads of my own music, nothing connected to Anathema at all, musically or otherwise. I don’t know in what way that’s going to come out, I hope it will come out in some form or another this year and I’m just in the middle of working on it so I’m really busy with this for the next two months after that’s finished I’ll carry on with that, maybe in the summer I’ll get to record and see how that goes. It’ll be totally different to Anathema.”
S] Though you sort of answered this earlier, where do you see the future for Anathema?
V] “I want to keep putting out quality stuff. We’ve raised the bar with this new album so we have to top it next time around. So the next album has to beat it and then beat it and beat it. I just want to do it quicker and quicker if possible, and the only plan that I’d like to stick to is to work fast, and put things out regularly. That’s the only thing because, musically it could be anything and I can see where it’s going and I’m very happy with the directions we’re taking in the future, again, it’s going to be more sophisticated. I think really, we should start to develop the visual side of the band as well because we rarely do photo shoots, we don’t do videos, we don’t even have any kind of visuals on stage so I think we’re missing a trick there. And I’m a very visual sort of person, I always have a hand in the artwork, so I’ve got quite a few good ideas about where we could take it, I just need people to work with. I need people who have the equipment and can translate the ideas. I hope to do that, more visuals, quality output more regularly. And travel the world, get to America, break into America as quick as we can, then Japan and Australia and then I’m happy.”
S] What is your opinion on downloading as a non-mainstream alternative band?
V] “I can’t understand mainstream bands moaning about it anyway because, if anybody’s getting hurt from it are the bands just starting up. Because if you’ve got a debut album that you’ve paid, say you’ve got the band into $50,000 debt because you’ve had to rent a studio and get a bank loan and record your album and you try to self release but someone gets it on the internet and next thing you know, all your sales are down then its hurting people like that more. So the big bands have got nothing to complain about because they’ve already got the fanbase, people are always going to buy their stuff, they can always go on tour and sell t-shirts and all that. Now, for a band like us? I absolutely welcome it and encourage it because I think we should be creative enough to adapt to the situation. It’s a multi-faceted thing, downloading, as multi-faceted as people are themselves.
I’ve downloaded music, sure, but I will go out and buy it as well. If I want to support the artist I’ll go out and buy it, if I want to download anything for research purposes or anything like that and I don’t want to buy it, well, if I can get it, I will. And I don’t mind saying it because a lot of people do, let’s not bullshit anybody. But I’ll definitely go and check a band out live. Live music is where it’s at. And I think for bands like us it’s especially important because for one, you’ve got to be absolutely great live to be a good band these days, you can’t just do it in the studio because you’re not going to earn any money off your albums. So you’ve got to get out there on tour and be *h**-hot live. Which is good, because if you can’t do it live then you’re not a band.
We played with Metallica at Sonisphere last year in Romania and they were really bad. Lars Ulrich is an absolute joke! He should stop moaning about that and practice his drums more often to tell you the truth. We wouldn’t be able to tour South America if it wasn’t for downloading, because if a band is good enough, people will support you. The people who say downloading is hurting the industry are underestimating human beings, because they are more complicated than that. Never will one person say I only download music, or I only buy music, it’s not like that. We’re right there behind the bands, as a creative person, it should challenge you, the gauntlet as now been thrown down, you’re not just producing a series of mp3s any more, what your doing is using high quality, 5.1 surround sound which can’t be boot-legged anyway, and the you do a very interesting, highly interactive package that can create a life of its own, something that can continue to grow as you get into it.
I think that’s the future really, with the packaging of artwork, so it’s never-ending really. It’s like, if you give away with your album, some stem files of the audio plus some basic mixing software – I think Mogwai did that a few years back – it’s fantastic. The person can then take all of that away, mix the stuff and do anything they want with it and that’s just awesome. You could never do that before, the possibilities of packaging are opening up because people really want to buy special packaging these days. Vinyl is coming way back these days too, top quality heavy duty vinyl, people are putting double albums together, putting together great artwork, like Radiohead’s new album, you can buy the mp3s, pay a bit more and get the full quality audio, and then you can get a big elaborate box-set, that’s where it’s going, it’s superb. I can’t see it being any better than that. I think the best thing a band can do is release it on their website, especially ones with a certain kind of following. The mechanisms of the industry are necessary for promotion, and we still need that for the moment in America. But, we’ll see where we are in a few years time. It’s exciting!”
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