Swiss musician and engineer Anna Murphy was last in Australia when Eluveitie toured here recently for the first time ever. Having served in the band for a decade, she left after drummer Merlin Sutter was effectively punted from the ranks. Guitarist Ivo Henzi also left and in doing so, the three musicians combined forces to start up a new band called Cellar Darling, using a moniker from Anna’s solo material. Touring Australia again for some intimate club shows, Anna and cohorts will be performing new renditions of her solo works as well as the odd classic Eluveitie track. Loud recently caught up with Anna to discuss her new direction and some of the challenges ahead.
What can we expect form the tour you’re bringing to Australia?
A very eclectic show with my solo material and we’re going to do a toned down acoustic set in the middle of it where we’re also going to play some Eluveitie songs. We will also do some slightly harsher version of my songs to make the whole show a bit more metal and rock. It’s going to be nice.
A hurdy-gurdy fills out the sound a fair bit. Do you use the drone strings when playing it?
I actually do not because a drone can only be used when the key of the song stays the same because it is just one note. So as soon as it changes, it will sound bad. The drone is used in a lot of traditional music which is written for that purpose but my songs don’t really function with drones. I’ll use them during recording songs but live it is not possible to do it because I’d have to take it out again.
How do you play it to make it move fluidly so it doesn’t sound stilted in a live setting?
A lot of practice and nerves. Generally, it sounds a bit different and screeches here and there plus does some other stupid shit and it can be a pain in the ass to make it sound nice. It just takes time, nerves and some good equipment. I chose it because it is weird and I like weird things.
Acoustic instruments are notorious for feedback issues when playing live so how do you keep it under control when playing live with drums going on as well?
My instrument is pretty easy because it has a line input so we’re not using microphones and up until recently, I was only using an electronic hurdy-gurdy which doesn’t have an acoustic body so that was perfect to play in a rock band setting. Now I’ll be using my fully acoustic one which will pick up some stage noise but it will still sound fine.
You should get a signature model hurdy-gurdy.
Yeah, I actually had one but it is the property of Eluveitie so it is their instrument.
There is no real standardised model for these sorts of instruments though. Does that make it hard for pre-production if you’re not sure what it will sound like once recorded?
Yeah exactly, you have to get one made. There is not a factory for them. It is always a surprise.
Today, recording is completely foreign to the analogue world of previous engineering methods.
If I could use analogue equipment I would love to but I simply cannot afford it as it is so expensive and really I have learned the digital way. I am open to all kinds of stuff and I’d really love to get an analogue compressor.
Studio desks back in the early nineties were pretty cutting edge if each channel had a built in compressor unit and noise gate but outboard gear was better. Now it is all just software based.
I have to say, there is a lot of analogue versus digital conversations going on but they are kind of ridiculous because in the end it is about the song and the band plays. Some might be able to tell the difference but the software simulation is so good these days that is even simulates the frequency noises that analogue equipment makes.
How much of your live set will be solo material?
I would say about ninety percent of it. We’ll play a few Eluveitie songs, my newly released single and there might be some more surprises in store that we might perform.
What led you to playing the flute?
I played the traverse flute for a long time but I played classically but then at some point when I was in Eluveitie there were some songs that had no hurdy-gurdy in them so I wondered what I should add. Then I just picked up a tin whistle which Chrigel [Glanzmann – Eluveitie vocalist] showed me how to play so I just decided to play that since I had some practice from playing the traverse flute. The whistle is much easier and it is a nice little instrument.
Did you struggle with these instruments live during festivals when you cop sound bleed from the other stages?
Yeah it is a bit hard because I used my vocal microphone which is EQ’d and gained to my vocals so the flute needs a bit more gain since my voice is loud but the flute is not loud enough. That caused problems at times but since they were three of us playing the flute, there was enough of it on stage.
So when you say you trained classically did that include doing exams?
Oh no, I am not a trained musician at all. I don’t know notes but I learned the traverse flute the classical way by taking lessons with notes and so on but I couldn’t actually read them. I just knew where one of the notes was and so then I just calculated where the notes were. Usually I would listen to the piece that I had to play on CD and then I would just play it by ear because I couldn’t be bothered to learn all of that other stuff so I kind of cheated my way through that one.
Did getting into flute ever get you into Jethro Tull’s music?
I know of them but not that well. I am not a folk musician in that sense because even though I enjoy it I don’t play that kind of stuff. I did with Eluveitie but I would say my own music has more classical influences than folk influences.
What would be the direction of your new band, Cellar Darling?
It is just a blend of us three [with Merlin Sutter – drummer and Ivo Henzi – guitars; both also former Eluveitie]. It is pretty well balanced as I wrote some songs and our guitarist wrote some songs so we’ve combined our styles into a unique sound which has more classical influences. I’ve never heard anything like it but it is definitely very heavy music with some pop and rock influences.
I’m guessing this is a more democratic way of doing things.
Definitely because I wasn’t aware of the concept of people sitting together in a rehearsal room or studio and actually writing songs together. I always thought that wasn’t an efficient way to work because with Eluveitie the core songwriters put together a song and then you might add things or arrange something but it was never like a unity that worked simultaneously on a track. Now, we did the opposite thing and booked the studio for ten days to do songwriting and just sat down together and wrote songs. It just happened out of nowhere and was very cool. I wouldn’t have known it would have worked but it did. It is produced by us with the assistance of my boss at Soundfarm studios, Marco Jencarelli, one the last day who gave us some input and some arrangements changes in a producer type of role.
Do you enjoy the non-musician aspects such as wearing a producer hat?
Sometimes it is a very good mix but sometimes I feel I should distance myself a bit from it because it get overwhelming. I am functioning as an engineer, a producer and a musician so that sometimes I feel the music could be better if I take a step back and tell myself to just be say the singer on a certain day. Other times I like doing the other things but a producer hears things differently to a musician so it can be confusing when you’re doing both roles. I like being creative as that is my main focus in life but as far as being the front person of a band, I am not quite sure of being that central type of person so that is a bit challenging but at the same time exciting. I like exploring new things.
What would you say has been your career highlight in context of a range of things including Eurovision, guest appearances and being a part of Eluveitie?
Touring in general is a great privilege and the amount of tours I have done are insane. I’ve been able to experience a lot of the world in a bus or a plane to play for all sorts of cultures and people. That is the biggest highlight because it is not easy to do. You don’t just need what it takes as a musician because there is also a lot of luck and being somewhere at the time right. I consider myself very lucky. Touring Australia was great and I think they were some of the best shows I have done and I enjoyed playing the two hour set. The crowds were amazing with people there being so friendly.
It must have been challenging to say goodbye to Eluveitie.
It was very hard and maybe that is why those shows were so good because I was in mentally in a very weird place. It is also a good thing because I can look back with fond memories of the ten years with that band but I am also looking forward to doing something new, even though it is never sure what is going to happen. The uncertainty makes it exciting and what I want in life is for every day to be different or even chaotic in some way and now that is definitely the case as an independent artist.
26/8: Bald Faced Stag Hotel, Sydney NSW
27/8: The Tote, Melbourne VIC