July 5, 2017 Interview – Danny Cavanagh of Anathema
Anathema are a band impossible to categorize. Coming out of Liverpool, England, they have built a career on unpredictability, transitioning from Death Metal, to Doom Metal, to Alternative leaning Rock, but quite honestly, who is looking to categorize anyway? Growing as songwriters and as musicians, it has been a steady progression forward for Anathema as they continue to challenge listeners with each passing album. Making their first proper North American tour finally a reality back in 2013, many would say over two decades since their inception, Anathema is merely scratching the surface of their potential. Recently we caught up with Danny Cavanagh to recap the busy recent times of Anathema, the concept and work behind their latest album, The Optimist, returning to North America, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – When we last spoke back in 2013, Anathema was in the midst of their first official North American Tour. Since then the band released Distant Satellites in 2014 and recently returned with their eleventh studio album The Optimist. Seeing Anathema’s history has been a series of highs and lows, how would you describe the past four years?
Danny Cavanagh – Ah well, it depends on if you’re talking about personal history or band history. I’m assuming you’re talking about band history. It’s very good actually. Well, 2013 that tour- the American tour -is still probably my favorite tour we ever did. It was really good and I really enjoyed that very much. Just particularly because of the time in our lives and it was the first tour in America. And a lot of things really came together and it was really good, I loved that one! After that we made the Distant Satellites, album which took quite a long time. Then after that we did another American tour in 2014, mostly the southern states, also LA and NY, that was good as well.
Mainly the rest of 2014 it was the tour for Distant Satellites, it was the headlining in Europe. Which was quite long, like six weeks. In 2015 it was just insanely busy with just concerts everywhere around the world. That was hard because it was so much traveling. That’s the one thing about touring that I don’t love is just traveling. I don’t mind traveling, but when you do that much of it particularly, when you’re flying everywhere, I’m not going to say what it is, but it’s not nice. If you’re traveling in a tour bus that’s ok, that’s another thing. Anyway it was hard, so at the end of that year I totally had enough and I needed a break. That’s when 2016 came and the break came. There was only 2 concerts until November of 2016. That year was the demos for The Optimist in London. That started in April through November when we did another tour to practice the new songs in front of an audience. Then we started recording on December the 1st that brings us to the album session, which was really productive, really powerful, and a very long process. Then we had couple of months off since the album before it all starts again, so there you are.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it is certainty been an very busy four years since cycle for you and the band.
Danny Cavanagh – Yes it was incredibly busy. A lot of things have changed. It’s been kind of up and down as they say. It’s all good.
CrypticRock.com – You had mentioned the band has learned from their mistakes. There is deep into the band’s history and you had said you believe Anathema in recent years just scratching the surface of what you can do. Is it safe to say that creative juices are flowing better than ever?
Danny Cavanagh – Well yeah. Well The Optimist turned out great, we had a great production and had a great producer. I have no idea what the next one will bring. You know you have no control of the creativity it kind of happens without you. It’s one of those things, there’s only so much you can do to bring it about. So far, it’s still coming. As we say in the UK, we never know when it’s going to stop but so far so good. I have no idea what the next album is going to be, I couldn’t even think about it. It’s far too hard to even contemplate. I could contemplate the solo album because it would be easy to do. There’s loads and loads of bits and pieces I could make a solo album out of. It is a major work and I couldn’t imagine doing it right now. Thankfully I don’t have to.
CrypticRock.com – Well no one knows what the future holds. Distant Satellites was another breathtaking collection of songs. Now you are back with The Optimist. Clearly a concept piece, what was the writing and recording process behind his album?
Danny Cavanagh – It’s like a story it’s like a narrative, but not in the traditional sense. I guess you could call it a concept record but we don’t really use that term just because it’s usually reserved for a really terrible Prog Rock album. It’s like a story or a narrative. And it’s also kind of slightly interactive. What I mean is, we don’t say exactly who this person at all and we don’t say what exactly happens to him or where he ends up or what he does in the end. That’s really up to the listener to decide that for themselves. Having said, that there are several things that happen. For example, it starts on a beach, and that was a photograph for A Fine Day to Exit. And it’s a journey that happens at night to upstate towards San Francisco and out into quieter roads from there.
The whole thing is a metaphor about a journey, a personal journey we might take as people; us in the band and the listener. The songs such as “Springfield,” and all of the songs really are personal and about us. When the characters get lost and wonders how we got there, I was really thinking about my own life and my emotional life, and how I ended up in the place that I was at emotionally. So that’s the idea. It operates on a number of levels.
CrypticRock.com – Fascinating. You had also said in the past that 2001’s A Fine Day to Exit is really when Anathema’s songs really began to mature. Interestingly enough this new album follows that theme right down to the album artwork. What inspired the reconnection with this theme?
Danny Cavanagh – We had to get the same guy who did the artwork for A Fine Day to Exit. He was glad to do it and we work really well together, his name is Travis Smith, he is based in San Diego, and that’s why the first song title is such as it is. Back then, Judgement was the first album that me, John, and Vincent had written together, and A Fine Day to Exit is the one where it started to get more open and more experience. Because Judgment (1999) was just kind of thrown together. We just dived in and went to the studio after Alternative 4 (1998) immediately and wrote something, but it has some good stuff on it.
A Fine Day to Exit had a lot more time to be written, there was a lot more material coming out and it was a good time as well. Obviously my memories are all good now because that’s what the memory does, you know? It filters out the bad stuff. I like looking back on that time, it was a completely different world. It was a different world literally because it was pre-9/11, and also because it was good to be young. I think sometimes you don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone. I sometimes wish I was thirty years old again, you know, that would be fucking great. You kind of have everything in life.
It was a good time and I liked A Fine Day to Exit. It had a good production, and a good mix. A good production is what I think is important. Following that was strange with A Natural Disaster (2003), but that’s for another story. You don’t always get it right. I like the songs on A Natural Disaster. I think out of those three albums, A Fine Day to Exit is the most well-balanced.
CrypticRock.com – Understood. The Optimist has exceptional production and as obviously much of the band’s music the instrumentation really stands out on this record. There is a lot of delicate sound, such as those under the on instrumental “San Francisco” There are just really beautiful tracks on this album.
Danny Cavanagh – Thank you. That’s a nice compliment. It also sounds American to us with the storyline and so on, it’s nice to kind of pay tribute to the good old U.S of A. It will be interesting to play it in America actually. It would be interesting to play “San Francisco” in San Francisco. I look forward to New York really, that would be great. Gramercy Theatre was a really pleasant surprise last time to play there particularly because of the reaction of the audience and the audience size. It was really nice and it was a great day for us. We were so nervous going on stage. I’m never nervous going on stage, but I was that day. To headline in New York for the first time, it’s a big deal. It’s New York, New York the most famous city in the world. To headline there for our first time, it was a nice feeling.
CrypticRock.com – The show was sold out as well. You mentioned the energy in the room that night of September 14th 2013. Anathema is really an extraordinary live band. That said, yourself and Vincent are polar opposites on stage. Where Vincent often allows himself to became enthralled in the music, you are more outgoing with the audience. Those who have seen the band live will tell you it is truly a moving experience to hear these songs performed live. Do you find the live performance as exhilarating as it is for listeners?
Danny Cavanagh – Yeah, generally. It depends on the audience. It depends also on what kind of day I’m having. Not everyone gets the same concert twice in a row. Vinny is more moody on stage. He’s more moody in the studio as well (laughs). That’s a fact, he’s fantastic, but it’s true. I just feel the need to connect with people. It’s funny in personal life, depending on the kind of day I’m having I can be quite shy. Unless I’m in a funny mood or it’s in a really good moment with great friends laughing, I can be quite reserved and not really show myself very much to people. On stage it’s very easy for me and very natural for me to do that.
I’m also not necessarily the funniest person in the world and I don’t always have an answer for everything in real life. Any time I’m on stage with a microphone in front of me I just seem to know exactly what to say. It’s so easy and I don’t know why that is. I have a good sense of humor, I can laugh along with somebody who makes me laugh. I can be silly and stupid, but I’m no comedian. On stage something else happens, I don’t know what it is. I just can’t explain it. I guess it’s just a natural kind of thing. What was the question again (laughs)?
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) You answered it pretty well. As you said it depends on your mood. You seem to show a great deal of appreciation and love when you are on stage. The band has traveled a long journey and you obviously changed directions. Anathema has progressed through the years and there is really no telling what direction the band will go next and that is refreshing to hear. That said, to this day, you still see the old guard of Metal fans supporting the band. How redeeming is that to see the fans grow with the band?
Danny Cavanagh – It depends on how often you check Blabbermouth (laughs). At a concert generally, people are only there if they want to be there. I very rarely get anybody being rude to me in person. Obviously on the internet everybody is a keyboard warrior. So you get a lot of that shit on the internet, but that’s ok. To be honest, it has been so long since we have developed, if anybody is still complaining then they’re fucking stupid.
Ironically, when we made the Alternative 4 album, everybody was asking us to go back to Silent Enigma (1995). When we made A Fine Day to Exit everybody was asking us to go back to Alternative 4. When we made We’re Here Because We’re Here (2010) everybody is asking us to go back to A Fine Day to Exit. Now we have made The Optimist people probably have to go back, so you can’t win. All you can really do is please yourself and stay true and honest in what you’re doing. Try to break new ground. Don’t stand still, I don’t think standing still is very healthy. That’s it really. It used to really annoy me. These days I really like pissing them off. The moaners and the naysayers, I just like pissing them off. It makes me laugh.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) Like you, said you cannot please everyone. The internet has created a place where people can hide behind a computer of cellphone screen and spew nonsense.
Danny Cavanagh – Yeah, fuck it. Everyone’s is keyboard warrior. Everybody has something to say. I get on twitter and moan about politics, nobody is fucking listening to me. But the moment you mention we’re doing a new demo for a song you get a thousand fucking retweets. I’m exaggerating, but you know what I mean. It’s just a fucking echo chamber and people just talking shit. I’ve become one of those guys that gets into YouTube debates. I have to stop doing that, it doesn’t help. I’ve started on Twitter as well. I’ve started to check myself when I go to say something I think, “Do I really even want to get into this conversation?” So I sort of stepback.
CrypticRock.com – How true it all is, social networking is a very strange world.
Danny Cavanagh – It’s also quite narcissistic. I opened a Instagram account recently. Some guy I have no idea who he is said to me, “You’re my Idol. I love love love you. You’re my idol. Please follow my page.” I could say nothing to this, which would be the mature response. I could follow him back which would be pointless, or I could just block him and just teach him a lesson that you’re not supposed to treat me like a fucking idol. It’s not a good idea to treat people that way- to idolize people that way. I follow other quite famous people on Instagram just because. I check Instagram once or twice a day. There’s this really beautiful actress that I really admire, Elle Fanning. She’s really good. I read the comments to her pictures. She’ll put a nice photograph of herself up and there’s thousands of people hero worshiping this woman saying “You’re so beautiful. I adore you. I wish I could only speak to you for a second to tell you how much I love you.” Can you imagine? How on earth can anyone live with that? It’s just crazy. I just don’t worship anybody.
I saw Sigur Rós, and their singer is one of my favorite frontman in the world. I could have met them briefly outside of their concert hall. I could have waited and said hello. I thought what am I going to say? They’ve heard it all before. They’re really tired, it’s near the end of their tour, what am I going to say that isn’t just an echo of what everybody else says? Am I going to say, “Thank you for your music. I saw you in Liverpool,” I personally I don’t do that. There are very few people in music or acting or art or fashion that I would want to take a selfie with. I’d like a selfie with a nurse or a doctor. That’s just my opinion. I am in the minority here.