Latest release: The Optimist (Kscope)Website: www.anathema.ws
Over the years Anathema have evolved into a pioneering and inspiring band pushing the envelope of post-progressive rock. Most recent release The Optimist has seen them masterfully further delve into an underrated classic album A Fine Day to Exit with a unifying thread. It has also provided a means to express personal explorations almost vicariously through their ever expanding emotional and densely layered music. The band will soon be here in Australia for the third time and their latest tour is one that Anathema fans and progressive music aficionados combined should not miss. Loud Online caught up with bass player and live production mastermind for the band, Jamie Cavanagh whilst he was in the process of getting ready to set up for another show on the impressive tour that will soon be heading our way.
As this is the third time you’ll be coming to Australia, what can fans expect from the latest tour?
Well, it’s a new album. So it is a new tour based around the new album. The first few times we’ve done different things such as a medley of older material. This set list I think is going to be more based around the set list we’ve been doing on this tour which has been going down very well. So, without giving too much of the game away, there will be a lot of new stuff and some things from one or two records that people will not have heard live before, anywhere in world really. So that is going to be quite good. We’re stepping up on the production side of things and looking to get some video projections. So it is going to be really cool. I’m looking forward to it.
I believe there might have been a suggestion to play The Optimist in full. Is that correct?
No, that’s not right. It might have been said originally as a plan but I don’t think that is the case now. See, the thing is, if you do one whole new album, how are you going to keep their attention, you u know what I mean? What if somebody doesn’t like the new record? It is easier to mix everything up.
There are a lot of atmospheric parts in there that would make it difficult and too ambitious.
Yeah exactly, you’ve got to throw some faster stuff in there as well and mix things up.
You mentioned the video production for the live show. Are these American location visuals relevant to the flow of the album?
Yeah, there are and there was some filming done in the States and we are planning on doing some more as well. Our video guy, Omeed [Izadyar – director] is based out in LA and he took some trips out to film some stuff for the ‘Can’t Let Go’ video which is in 3D. I love that video, it is awesome. Obviously Travis Smith, how did the artwork, made a journey and started at the co-ordinates of where the front cover of A Fine Day to Exit happened [refer to the song ‘32.63N 117.14W’]. He made a journey up north from there which is part of the narrative of the storyline. If you look at the big photo book of the record, you can see lots of pictures involved in that journey. As I said, we’re looking to go back to America because we didn’t get a chance to go to the West Coast the last time we were there so we’re going to go back there next year which means that we’ll be able to film some more coast stuff.
The latest album is not a concept album but there is a narrative in it, linked to the A Fine Day to Exit album. What was the inspiration to go back to an old album, in a sense? Was there something that was unresolved that was perhaps bugging the band on occasion?
Maybe it was a sense of something that was unresolved but it was not something that was bugging us. I think it was more because, well, that album was overlooked originally when it first came out. It was a drastic change in style from Judgement and it marked a new era of the band. It also marked my return to the band as well because when I heard that one then I knew that they were going to change their direction and that is when I became interested in being a musician in the band again. Yeah, A Fine Day to Exit was a great record in my opinion. Maybe it should have had a different running order or a couple of things changed but it certainly really worked and the story of what happened to the guy, nobody really knows. It looked like a suicide but in the band’s eyes it was more of a faking of his own suicide to start anew. So the question that John [Douglas – drums] came up with in the studio then was, ‘what happened to that guy? What happened to him next?’ and so from there you can work out a sort of narrative and base a few of the ideas around that. That is how we did it in the studio as well, with Tony [Doogan – producer] who was really into the idea and he just basically said, ‘let’s not make it a concept album but let’s keep all of these ideas in mind and make sure that they go in’. The end of the album is open ended. That’s what it does but maybe we’ll return to that one in seventeen years’ time, you never know.
Did you get involved in any of the arrangements and instrumentation for the album or was it largely Daniel [Cavanagh – lead guitar] and Vincent’s [Cavanagh – lead vocals and rhythm guitar] concern?
As far as the arrangements go, it was all Dan and Vinnie for this record. I do all of the live production stuff. So I help with how it is going to look. How things appear in the live production is my environment. So, everybody plays from their strengths.
On the live front, you’d have heaps to do. Also, the most recent album has a big drum sound to replicate live plus some electronica.
Yeah I do, there is plenty to keep me busy. We’ve also got very good sound engineers. It is a great drum sound on the record and we’re most definitely capable of reproducing that sound live. The electronica all goes in and Vincent is doing a lot of synth and electronic stuff live on this tour. So he is using Ableton Live, the vocoder which he has always been using and also Omnisphere [Spectrasonics] which is a great synth programme. So he has three keyboard set ups and he does all sorts of spinning plates, we call it.
As part of the rhythm section, do you mainly stay in time with John or do you also look for sonic cues from Vincent?
It depends on the song. For some songs you can float around a bit. For example, ‘Simple Mistake’ is a song where you’ve got three different time signatures playing at the same time and so pick one, ha ha. In that song, you sort of pick up on the one that flows but if generally always goes around with the drums, yeah. You’ve got to keep a solid base to all of the other floaty things that are happening around it.
So in that light, it is very challenging for you as a bass player?
Ah, everything is challenging for the whole thing. Basically, you do your best, don’t you, every single day but yeah, it is very emotive music and so you’ve got to bring that across in the right way. The rhythm section is really tight and because we enjoy doing that, it keeps a solid base for all of the other things that are going on around it.
Could it then be said that Vincent and Dan are reliant on you in the live setting?
No, I wouldn’t say that. I would say that everybody is reliant on each other. It is one whole team, you know, most definitely. As I said, I do a lot of the extra live stuff so that the way that I function in the band as well is that I do all of the lighting design, stage design and video projection. I do all the tour management, half of the time. I am tour managing this tour as well. I love it, I know what I’m doing and I’ve been doing that for years. I’m on stage right now and am about to put my markings out and put the risers out to exactly where they need to be and then I’ll do the lighting focus and carpeting and then I’ve got to bring in the backline. I’m going to set the whole day up. Yeah, I like to keep busy.
So, based on tour dates, I assume you’re in Germany at the moment?
Yeah, the Live Music Hall [Cologne – Live Music Hall] which is a nice big venue and it is sold out.
Wow, when you go to so many great venues in Europe, how to decide on which one to film such as the show that was filmed in Greece?
Yeah, next time we do a film we might into doing some sort of concept around the West Coast of the States and we’ll make it like a road movie. I don’t know about that yet though because we have done a few concert films now. Obviously the one in Plovdiv, Bulgaria was amazing [Untouchable] and then after that when we got the chance to go to Liverpool Cathedral [A Sort of Homecoming] we decided, ‘okay, well, we’re going to film this one then’ and that was great. We don’t necessarily need to make videos for every record because there have been quite a few. But if we’re going to do something we’ll try not to make it a standard concert next time but might try to do a road movie or make some sort of documentary. I have no idea how it is going to pan out but I think that it is a cool idea, anyway.
How do you do live increasing production so that it doesn’t feel totally choreographed?
The hardcore fans that turn up to every show, I know a few of them and they love the new stuff. But yeah, most people love all the new stuff and it has been a gradual evolution. Everyone that is involved in it is still there. Nothing takes away from the performance and you always do your best. The only thing that would take away from the performance is like now when you’re doing eleven shows in a row and you’ll wake up feeling very tired with a whole day ahead. We’ve been on the road now for 50 dates over 60 days. It is a lot, you know.
That is brutal. I’m sure you’ll look forward to Australia as it is a fairly relaxed environment, as I’m sure you’d know.
Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to it. I love Australia and I’ve been there a few times. I’ve been there with other bands as well and I really love going there so I’m really looking forward to it. It should be great.
Obviously the live show you’re bringing this time will be a much more involved show than the previous acoustic tour? Do you hire a lot of backline gear or bring your own gear down?
What we’re doing now is that I’m actually finishing off all of the backline hire and all of that. Yeah, we hire some things but we bring the essential things over. There are some essential items that we will definitely always bring such as guitars, pedal boards, effects, synths and the kick pedals, things like that where you need your own thing going. The rest we just hire in like amplifiers and backline, various keyboards and things. It is not a great deal of stuff but we’ll obviously look into getting video projections as well.
As a bass player, do you like to have a large, thumping bass amplifier or prefer using a DI method?
I bring my own. I’ve got a Darkglass Electronics Microtubes 900 [900 Watt amplifier]. I’ve got a B7K [Darkglass Electronics Microtubes B7K pre-amplifier] on the floor and a compressor so I’ve got my own amplifier and pedal board which is basically carry-on [luggage] which I’m going to bring over. I’ll hire an Ampeg [amplifier] as a spare. It is all live gear. I’m also using Fender American Deluxe Jazz basses. I love them.
Anathema put out some great vinyl releases. Is that the kind of format that the band collectively gravitates towards?
It is just great that vinyl is coming back. It is something that K-Scope and the band are interested in so I’m really glad it happens. A lot of people like it. There are a lot of vinyl collectors so I am just really glad that they are there. However, I don’t listen to vinyl anymore. I haven’t got any vinyl because I had my vinyl stolen three times so I gave up. I used to be a collector but my house was burgled three times so I don’t bother now. Most of my stuff now is digital. I’m just happy for the lots of people that can listen to it.