Latest release: Distant Satellites (Kscope)
Formed in 1990, English band Anathema have endured industry dramas to evolve and meld musical styles with a sense of balanced maturity rarely seen in rock bands that would have once been considered their peers. Their craft is music that is evocative and captivating for the listener, flowing effortlessly between dense musical layers to raw, emotionally exposed melodies. Finally touring Australia for the first time, Anathema’s multi instrumentalist co-founding lead guitarist Daniel Cavanagh spoke to Loud Online about the ongoing quest of translating life experiences through song.
Anathema fans in Australia will finally see the band live. What caused the delays?
Other than the fact that it is on the other side of the world, the management structure wasn’t in place to make it happen. We were without a record deal for seven years so going to Australia wasn’t highest on the priorities. We could have gotten a record label but what we really needed was the direction and focus of a manager and it was really only at the beginning of this year when that came about.
So does that mean you feel obliged to deliver a career spanning set list when here?
I don’t know about that, actually. There might be a few that are disappointed that it is focused more on the modern stuff but what we might do is some kind of encore that includes some of the older tracks because we’ve never been there before. But, we’re of the opinion that the last three albums are the best. That is not to disregard the old stuff but if you’ve done a lot of records, you cannot play them all. The only way to get around that problem is to play specialised shows in which you perform entire records or do specialist set lists. But this is a show of the band as it is today including songs like ‘Distant Satellites’ [title track from new album] and so on.
Is there a lot of live production to replicate studio created sounds?
No, it’s all there because we’ve got a good rhythm section and we use electronics. If the rhythm section is together then the rest should follow from there. The only way that we’ve ever been complicated has been in making a lot of layers. We’ve never been complicated in terms of loads of riffs, time signatures and all of that bollocks. It is just not how we do it and none of us listen to music that is like that. It is just one of those things. We have been called a progressive band by chance as it is not something we ever set out for and we don’t mind either way what people call it. We’re a rock band with various sides to it like emotional and heartfelt elements but it is a melodic rock band.
Are you expecting to have the second half of the latest album called electronica?
I’ve heard it all before. I had shit from ten and twenty years ago when we changed our vocalist. So, I really don’t care anymore. If people want to take it that way it is absolutely up to them. If they want to buy it or not, I am absolutely fine either way, if they want to drop opinions on You Tube, I’ll laugh. It is our music, it is our life and we’ll do it our way. We don’t owe them anything, that’s the way I see it. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for people supporting the music in whichever way they choose to do so but I am also equally alright with it if they choose not to. But if people say that we shouldn’t be doing this or that, I basically ignore that because it doesn’t make any difference.
Does working with a producer like Steven Wilson encourage you to be utterly creative?
Steven was very limited in his role with this record. It was Christer-André Cederberg’s record [made in Cederberg Studios in Oslo, Norway]. Steven is a big name and he did a good job mixing two songs [‘You’re Not Alone’ and ‘Take Shelter’]. He is a good guy, writer and mixer – a peer, if I can put it that way and somebody that we look up to but this is Christer’s record and he didn’t just go the extra mile, he went the extra five hundred metres after that.
Also, the songwriting section of the band did pre-production with him in Portugal.
Yeah, he was involved from the first notes of the first demos until the final note of the final mix. The only reason that Steven got involved was because Christer was taken ill in hospital and so couldn’t finish the record on schedule. I panicked and thought, ‘we need somebody as good as Christer and somebody who is going to be able to do this’. If we are going to get somebody to mix a few songs, I want it to be Steve Wilson. He happened to be free and he did a fantastic job in a very quick time. I was amazed because he really is good, you know. But like I said, it is Christer’s record because Steve worked for four days whereas Christer worked for four months, at least. I’m not belittling Steve at all, am just telling the facts. I think that Steve was instrumental in our rebuilding in 2010 with We’re Here Because We’re Here and he was a big part of that in making the sound.
Did any of the songs on the latest album come from those 2010 era demos?
The songs ‘Take Shelter’ and ‘Distant Satellites’ were available from 2008 or 2009 but I am not so sure that they would have turned out like this if they had been done at that time. They would have still been electronic in one way or another, particularly with ‘Distant Satellites’. This was the right time for these songs but the electronic second half of the album actually has the oldest songs on the album.
Was there any fear that almost creating two album halves could feel disjointed?
I could have re-arranged the songs into another form and I sometimes wonder what that would be. I think it would still be a good album with some songs appearing in a different running order. But I still would have ended the album on those two songs; there is no doubt about that. I just might have started with a different format but it is fine as it is.
Definitely, it is a great album and works well with building moods. Instrumentation in your band is interesting given people change instruments sometimes or overlap.
Well, Daniel Cardoso [drums] can play almost anything so he has a high standard of musicianship. He plays guitar, piano, drums and also sings. He is probably more used to Anathema behind a drum kit than behind a piano because I can handle piano anyway. I like playing piano and it is my thing as that is what I do. I write on the piano and I play it all the time so having that option for Daniel is probably more useful to Anathema because he can do different types of rhythms and maybe a bit more difficult or groovy complicated stuff. He is more used to Anathema in that form. But the songwriting key of the band is still and always will be myself and John Douglas [keyboards and percussion] and Vinnie Cavanagh [vocals and synth] because that is how we’ve done it since the beginning and with the influence of Darren White and Duncan Patterson [ex vocalist and bassist respectively], that has been the songwriting format almost since the beginning. That is how I want to keep it because I don’t want to break that chemistry.
With the songs and vision to put something down, does the producer impact on tones?
Yeah, he does and there’s a lot of talk, actually, sometimes too much and not enough going with feeling and playing. But it is all productive, even if it is a long and laborious process working through a maze to get to the final product. It is difficult to do that when there are a lot of opinions flying around but we get there in the end. The final decisions are down to us but the production side is also creatively involved.
You mentioned tinkering away on the piano to come up with ideas such as on ‘Ariel’.
I would say ‘Ariel’ and ‘Anathema’ are my two favourite songs that I have written and ‘Distant Satellites’ is great. I also really like ‘The Lost Song – Part Three’. The ideas fall out of the sky, land on your mind and into your fingers. Then you work on it from there. You do try to record it before you forget it. In fact, ‘The Lost Song’ trilogy of songs is all based on me trying to remember a piece of music that was forgotten. I did record it but it was lost from the device that I was using in an unfortunate accident but I couldn’t find another demo. I was determined to try to remember this thing but I couldn’t remember it. But in trying to remember the chord progressions and the rhythms, the other three songs all came from that. So, maybe it was for the best.
With the arranging side of things, is there a democracy in the band?
No, there isn’t. Final decisions go down to the one who wrote the song so in eighty or ninety percent of the record, it’s me whereas Vinnie and John are a little more closely tied together. Also, Vinnie will be more involved in John’s material but we do listen and everybody has a say, particularly in the creative heart of the band but the final decision is not a vote, it is a decision made by the writer, after listening to all of the opinions.
There are a few guitar solos on the latest album but given the way the sound of the band has changed since the early days, is the metal influence still there in the music?
It remains part of my heritage and there is no doubt about that but it is only one of a number of influences. There’s also piano, orchestral, electronica and vocal. The rock guitar impact ranges from Metallica and AC/DC to Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Sabbath, QOTSA to Nirvana to U2 to Dire Straits, primarily Mark Knopfler. Metal was an integral part in my growing up as a musician but it is not a way of life for me in terms of music.
You’re also a big fan of Kate Bush. Does some of her music or at least lyrical phrasing flow into the music you create?
No, not particularly, she is just someone that I adore. It is as simple as that. When I write songs, I don’t really think about other bands much. She tells all kinds of stories. I love what she does but half the time I don’t know what she is singing about. It just makes sense in some surreal way but there are all kinds of stories behind her lyrics.
How much time do you spend on the lyrics for Anathema songs?
I pore over every single word; I go over them again and again. Sometimes they come quickly as was the case with the song ‘Anathema’ and sometimes it takes a long time. They are always honest and heartfelt and are not stories told to finish records. They actually happened. But, I don’t read the old lyrics and I really wasn’t much of a lyricist until about 2002. So, I don’t know that it has changed in that time, I just consider I’m honest about my feelings and that is all I’m doing. Some might find the lyrics simple but being heartfelt works in the overall scheme of the music.
In this day and age, would you say technological advances in recording techniques have been to your advantage creatively?
Not yet, but that could change if I get more into computer music or into programming. If that happens then that will be relevant to me but at this point in time I am still happy to write on a grand piano and use my imagination. That is how I do it so in my field thus far, not much has changed but for the producer and the other guys, it has changed. I haven’t taken the next step of being creative with computers just yet.
Anathema tours Australia this month:
21/8: HiFi Bar, Brisbane QLD
22/8: Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW
23/8: Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC