April 10, 2019 Interview – Anna Murphy of Cellar Darling Talks The Spell
Switzerland’s Cellar Darling are masters of storytelling set to Progressive Folk Metal stylings. Formed in 2016, the three piece delivered their stellar debut, This Is the Sound, in 2017, and, yes, introduced the world to a new sound. Like a Metal fairytale that incorporated Progressive Rock with Folk Metal instrumentation and storytelling, and yet delighted in darkness, their debut was artistically macabre and beautifully sincere.
Now they’re back for more! On March 22nd, the trio delivered their sophomore disc, The Spell. The story of a girl who falls in love with Death, the album explores all the nuances of its tale through exceptional musicianship, beautiful storytelling, and the dramatic vocals of Frontwoman Anna Murphy. Also a talented multi-instrumentalist, Murphy recently sat down to discuss songwriting, the rapport between herself and her bandmates, the yin and yang of The Spell, touring, and much, much more.
Cryptic Rock – Cellar Darling has only been a band for roughly 3 years, and The Spell is only your second album. That said, what have been some highs for the band’s career, thus far?
Anna Murphy – That’s so hard to say. For me, the past is usually just a huge blur and I tend to not think about it too much. I really live in the present. Personally, what I enjoy most about Cellar Darling is the creative process, when I can get away and indulge in a pool of ideas and melodies and forget about the real world — that is in the end what it’s mainly about for me. When it comes to our career, multiple other factors should be listed I guess, the biggest one probably being Nuclear Blast. It’s amazing that they signed us just after hearing two self-produced songs! It definitely gave us the boost we needed. We’ve also already played some amazing shows and tours — ProgPower USA, a tour with Lacuna Coil, Summer Breeze Festival, and many more.
Cryptic Rock – There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay in the present, but reflecting back on your success can’t hurt either. Now, obviously yourself, Merlin Sutter, and Ivo Henzi have worked together for many, many years now, even previous to Cellar Darling. When you go into the studio to record, is there a kind of intuitive understanding between the three of you?
Anna Murphy – I would say so, yes. It’s part of what makes the band function. That combined with involving other people into the creative process like our producer, Tommy Vetterli, or Multi-Instrumentalist Fredy Schnyder, who has been there for us from the start. Although we are a trio, musically we need a more elaborate setting.
Cryptic Rock – It’s good to have a core group of creative souls who all understand one another intuitively. Beyond this, one of Cellar Darling’s immense strengths on your first record, This Is the Sound, was your storytelling. You’ve taken that to new heights on The Spell, where you weave a cohesive narrative throughout the entire album. What inspired this?
Anna Murphy – It just popped into my head somehow, like most of the music does and other ideas do too. The creative process is something that is ongoing, but subconscious so that it seems like ideas just manifest themselves spontaneously. I don’t think too much about where they come from or why. I knew pretty much immediately as soon as the story was there, that we would create a concept album, but that I would have to do much more than “just” that. That I would not only write lyrics, but a narrative to guide the music.
Cryptic Rock – It works beautifully. At its most basic level, The Spell tells the story of a girl who falls in love with Death. However, there’s a kind of ultimate acceptance for the contradictory nature of the world around us that makes the story feel universal; as though it’s more about accepting what cannot be changed rather than literally being a love affair with Death. Either way, it’s poetic and open to interpretation. What do you hope fans take away from the tale, and the album as a whole?
Anna Murphy – I love your interpretation of the outline of the story. That is precisely what I urge other listeners to do too — it’s of secondary importance what I felt while writing it or where it came from. I want the listeners to interpret for themselves, to see their own images. You can look at The Spell as a poetic, abstract tale. You can take it in as an image, a motif, or you can look beyond that and philosophize. Either way, I hope that, even if it’s a bit out of fashion, the album will be listened to as a whole because that is the best way to understand it.
Cryptic Rock – Thankfully, there are definitely still music lovers who listen to and digest an entire album front to back. To delve a little deeper, it seems that many of the songs come in opposing pairs — “Love” and “Death,” as well as “Insomnia” and “Sleep” being the obvious examples. This feels kind of like a commentary on the yin and yang of life; the light and the dark. What was your intention with this?
Anna Murphy – I agree with the pairing of “Sleep” and “Insomnia,” but regarding “Love” and “Death,” don’t forget that our protagonist finds love in Death. They don’t necessarily oppose each other. I understand what you mean, of course. Our band very much plays with darkness and light and we do it in general with our music, not only on this particular album. Even though The Spell is mostly dark, there are sparks of hope throughout the album and sometimes almost exaggeratedly beautiful songs like “Love” to underline what is happening in the story.
In “Sleep,” the theme is the search for eternal sleep and hoping to reconcile with her love, Death. As she fails to put herself to sleep forever, she tries the opposite; staying awake forever, forcing her mind to decay and eventually finding Death that way.
Cryptic Rock – The album is full of these interesting pieces to the story that open themselves into much bigger, as you said earlier, philosophical debates. Vocally, The Spell sees you delivering a truly stellar performance. You vocally embody both of the story’s characters, and use your voice to add additional elements to the tale. Was that a conscious decision or did you find yourself becoming the characters in the studio?
Anna Murphy – Thank you very much! I’ve always wanted to portray emotions and underline stories with my vocals, rather than demonstrating technique or brilliance. So that has always been my priority when singing. I think my technique has gotten much better in recent years due to singing more and slowly putting myself in the role of the lead singer, so it might be a combination of both that makes the vocal performance stand out more in The Spell. On this album, it was all the more important for every instrument to tell the listener what is going on in the story, so that you can not only read it but hear it too.
Cryptic Rock – Speaking of the album’s musical components, it should also be noted that you are a talented multi-instrumentalist who performs several different instruments throughout the album. Are there are any instruments that are not currently in your arsenal that you would love to learn?
Anna Murphy – Oh, there are too many! I’m learning the keyboard as we speak, so that I can perhaps in the future play some of the parts live too. I want to master the theremin — which is on the album too, but very much in the background because I honestly can’t play it at all — and play more bass. Also, there’s the nyckelharpa, I’d love to get one.
Cryptic Rock – It’s so inspiring to find someone that loves music and exploring new sounds so much! To get back to the album, overall, The Spell is a phenomenal journey that feels suited to theater. Can you see Cellar Darling writing and scoring your own theatrical production?
Anna Murphy – Absolutely! I’m a theater girl. My parents are both Opera singers and my stepdad is an Opera director. So that’s basically where I grew up. I love the drama, the emotions, and the epicness of it all. You can perhaps hear that in The Spell a bit? I would love to write something for a theater someday. Who knows what will happen.
Cryptic Rock – You can absolutely hear that in The Spell. In fact, certainly fans would be thrilled to find you working in the theater and not shocked at all. As for the present, currently Cellar Darling’s tour dates cover the UK, the Netherlands, and, of course, your native soil in Switzerland. Realizing that is far easier said than done, are you hoping to bring The Spell to North America?
Anna Murphy – Not only hoping, but planning to! There is nothing confirmed yet, but we love North America so much that we are doing everything in our power to come back!
Cryptic Rock – That’s wonderful to hear, because North America loves Cellar Darling! Speaking of America, the past year has been a time of great female empowerment and the spotlight seems to finally be shifting onto deserving ladies.
As a talented female musician who has been rocking out since you were a teenager, what are your thoughts on the idea of women finally being placed into the spotlight for their accomplishments?
Anna Murphy – I think women being in the spotlight for their accomplishments isn’t really such a recent thing — that would be quite absurd. It, of course, depends on what particular jobs and especially what particular regions of the world you’re referring to, but all in all, it’s a very complex subject.
Female empowerment is particularly current and relevant now, and that is a good thing, yes. It wouldn’t be fair to say that only during the past year we’ve been acknowledged for what we do. We’ve always been bad-ass and there’s so many women that have achieved great things which they were recognized for in the past, let’s not forget that. It will continue to be like that, more than ever.
Cryptic Rock – Hopefully it will only continue to get better all over the globe! Okay, last question. Cryptic Rock has spoken with you previously about films, and you stated that you are a fan of the Horror genre. So, have you seen any new Horror films you’ve really enjoyed?
Anna Murphy – I saw Us during our recent UK tour and I was pretty intrigued by the movie, I must say. In the middle, it had a small downer where I thought it was getting silly, but then towards the end I was baffled again. I’ve never seen a movie like that; it’s truly unique and I think it’s hard to create something with that effect these days. Plus, I loved the soundtrack.