November 20, 2013 Interview – Danny Cavanagh of Anathema
Music is an art form which many find tranquility, release, and emotional connection. Liverpool, England band Anathema is one which has tapped into that human emotion over a series of albums over the past 23 years. Originally a doom style band, Anathema has morphed into the progressive rock band many have grown to love today. Like any journey there are peaks, valleys, and storms to conquer. Anathema has weathered loss, being without a record label/ management, and now find themselves poised a new era in their career. With the release of their most successful record to date, Weather Systems (2012), they now find themselves as a full band touring North America for the first time ever in their careers. Recently we sat down with Danny Canvanagh (founding guitarist and songwriter) for an insightful look at the world of Anathema, touring North America, life, and much more.
Crypticrock.com – First I want to congratulate Anathema on your first official North American tour. You did an abbreviated tour in 2011 here in the states with yourself and Vincent but this is the first with the full band. The band has been around over 2 decades, released 9 full length records, and built a dedicated fan base internationally. Why do you think it took so long for Anathema to finally come across to North America?
Danny Cavanagh – That is a good question. I would say it came down to management, the lack of management. From the years 2001 to 2010 there was no management involved. That is why there was no record deal during that time. I just feel we kind of got left behind in certain ways. One of the things that was left behind all those years was the chance to hit America. There was no record released during that time, had we had a manager during those years I am sure it would be a different story. I would consider really going professional in the years 2000. From the years 1999 through 2001 we had a manager and it started to happen for the band, things were happening. The record label believe in us, but then the record label folded and the wisdom in the band at the time is that we don’t need a manager. That was a mistake, but you learn from your mistakes. We did need a manager and had we had one I am sure the story would be different. We are just making up for lost time now.
Crypticrock.com – Of course you learn from your mistakes through life. Anathema has definitely progressed over the years originally being a doomish death metal band evolving into the progressive rock band you are today. The transition did not happen overnight as this developed over many years and a series of records. Tell me what you think inspired the band to change the direction of the sound and style?
Danny Cavanagh – To be honest it was 100% natural. It’s almost like we became who we are as people. Who we are as people and musicians is open-minded and taking influence from all walks of life and styles of music. I think we just found our natural place. Before that we were younger and identity was different. We just became more ourselves over time. You know what it’s like as you grow older, when your 18 you don’t know your ass from your elbow as they say, but by the time your 28 it starts to shift. It’s natural really, it wasn’t really planned or contrived, it just happened because that’s who we are. A lot of the music is made and written that way too. We don’t really plan the music. We almost get out of the way and let the music speak, it will tell you where it wants to go. The identity of the band is the same, we kind of just let it happen. By the year 1994 I was freaking out on The Beatles. Between 1994 and 1995 I just loved Pink Floyd and The Beatles. What are you going to do? That stuff is going to come out. When my brother Vinny started singing is was also a big factor in all of it.
Crypticrock.com – It definitely has been a very organic progress. The change in the band began around Eternity (1996) and evolved more with the excellent record Alternative 4 (1998). Speaking of the Alternative 4 record I know this was a very difficult time for yourself and Vincent as your long time drummer John Douglas departed for a bit, bassist Duncan Paterson departed, and most tragic of all you lost your mother. I know it’s difficult to recount the loss of a loved one, but how difficult was it for Anathema to continue leading into the writing and recording of Judgment (1999)?
Danny Cavanagh – No, making Judgment was not difficult at all. We just felt on fire at that point. What happened was Duncan was gracious enough, when my mother passed away, to leave the band that day to allow Vincent and I to rebuild our lives together. It wasn’t really working out. Duncan isn’t really a team player, but he is a great friend and musician. It wasn’t a team band and it was a really unhappy time at that time in the band. What happened after Duncan left, as far as I am concerned he was gracious in that decision. He made that decision based partial on allowing Vinny and I to reconnect; to build something after what happened to our mother. My mother was very ill for a long time. Duncan did the right thing, it may have been a difficult decision for him, but it was the right decision. Once he did that Vinny and I were ready. I had a lot of riffs, we immediately called John Douglas then and said you have to come back. John was writing songs by then. We built the identity of the band of Vinny, John and I writing this stuff. Over the years it has developed and grown. Vinny’s role in the production has grown. Vinny and I get along a lot better now, he is more musically understanding now. John’s writing matured and that will continue.
Crypticrock.com – Judgment was a key turning point in the band. That record and that period of time.
Danny Cavanagh – Yes, Judgment was a new kind of chapter. We didn’t really know what we were doing, we just had a lot of riffs. It wasn’t really until A Fine Day to Exit (2001) the songs were maturing. The song writing was becoming more mature.
Crypticrock.com – After A Fine Day To Exit (2001) a few years after the release of A Natural Disaster in 2003 your long time label Music For Nations closed and Anathema found themselves without a label. You guys would be without a label for nearly 6 years. This is rather shocking for a band which had been established as long as you had I imagine. Was the band just laying low and not concerning yourselves with finding a new record label during that time?
Danny Cavanagh – I just don’t think we really knew what we were doing. There was a real lack of focus, also I wasn’t really comfortable musically in that line-up. I was comfortable with Vinny and John, but I wasn’t too comfortable with anybody else. That was difficult because I was ignoring this because we loved each other so much, and because we had a commitment to each other. I had this war in my mind about love over the music. It was a battle I couldn’t handle anymore. I had to make some very difficult decisions. That was part of it and it was difficult for me to forward. I always needed some time for healing, getting clear, getting therapy, and stopping drinking. I did all that in 2000 , so I was kind of ready. By the end of 2005 I was really ready to go. Then other things held us back such as no manager, the drummer got an injury and he wasn’t focused, then he had a baby. Then eventually a manager became interested and eventually Kscope got involved. It was a long slow process to get to that point. The only up side of that story was when we went to make an album we were able to use the very best songs we had. We disregarded a load of songs that previously would have been accepted. The level of the songwriting came up and that is why We’re Here Because We’re Here (2010) was that level.
Crypticrock.com – That led you to last year you released Weather Systems (2012). The record is amazing and your most successful to date. What was the writing and recording process like for the record?
Danny Cavanagh – It wasn’t that long because most of the songs on Weather Systems (2012), were written after We’re Here Because We’re Here (2010). There are 3 songs on Weather Systems which could have been on the previous album. They are “Lightning Song”, “The Gathering of the Clouds”, and “The Storm Before the Calm”. All three were recorded for We’re Here Because We’re Here (2010). The album was too long, we held them back, and we finished them up. All the rest of the songs were new, “Untouchable” was written in January of 2011 and was recorded by the end of that year. The same with “The Lost Child” and with “Internal Landscapes”. It was just a big studio year; 2011 was a beautiful year in the studio. We made two albums that year, we made Falling Deep (2011) as well. I actually moved to Norway during that time but coincidentally we started to making the records in Liverpool, where I was from. So I got a flat in Norway, then spent 7 weeks in Liverpool, and then another 3 weeks there, so I didn’t see Norway that much. It was great though, we record both the records at Parr Street Studios. I love that studio. I love that record. I have to say the main reason was our producer Christer-André Cederberg was there. He was a huge influence on the music of Weather Systems; on me personally and Vinny. We really connected with him, he is our guy, he is like our George Martin. We love him, we love his work, and we love having him as a mirror reflecting the music back to us. It was a great collaboration. It was a very difficult situation with Les Smith. He is very dearly loved and respected brother in the band. Musically I just couldn’t work. I loved him, but I couldn’t work musically. Eventually in the end that just took its toll and I couldn’t take it anymore. That was a difficult decision in 2011. I had a lot of sadness there. There is just so much love, we still love each other very much, it’s just one of those things. Falling Deeper and Weather Systems were a great pleasure to make.
Crypticrock.com – Anathema will now be releasing their fourth live concert on Blu-ray and live CD set coming Tuesday in the USA Universal. This concert was filmed at the ancient Roman Theatre of Philipopoplis. The set list spans over Anathema’s entire career. What was the atmosphere like for this show?
Danny Cavanagh – It was amazing. It was everything that we could have hoped for. It was really special. I was determined to enjoy it because it is so nerve wracking building up to something like that. So many people were working so hard to make it happen; the road crew, tour managers, record label, organizers, and the promoters. So many people all working together for one thing. When it happened we were all kind of nervous. I never get nervous before a show, but I was just nervous something would go wrong. During the 2nd song I made a conscious decision that I just have to enjoy this, literally stop worrying, look around, and enjoy being with the audience. You can see me doing it on “Untouchable (part 2 )”, I am just with the audience and just in the moment. It was the best concert of the whole year for that reason. Everything came together and worked. It looks and sounds great. Christer mixed it and it is a good product.
Crypticrock.com – It’s great that you were able to relax, sometimes you get so caught up in these things you can’t even enjoy it. The North American tour was with Alcest and Mamiffer. Considering the fact that this is really North America’s first time seeing Anathema, and you have such a long career of music, how difficult was it for you decide what the set list was going to be?
Danny Cavanagh – Not difficult at all. We know what kind of band we are. There is only so much fan pleasing you can really do, you have to be true to yourselves. We consider the last two albums to be the best records that we have made, period. The set list is mainly focused on that. There are a couple of old classics; good rock songs to get everybody going. There are a couple songs from Natural Disaster which are kind of standards for us, but everything else is from the last two records. It wasn’t a difficult decision. I recently this year have learned to be more brave, more fearless as a song writer so that we can explore different territories and what we feel in our hearts without worrying what fans will think. This is something I learned from Tom York of Radiohead, he is fearless. He is willing to lose the audience. He hasn’t lost them, because he is so fucking good that they have followed him. He is willing to lose them at any time, that has been a real lesson for me.
Crypticrock.com – Yes you have to stay true to your artistic vision. You have to do what you think is right and the rest will follow.
Danny Cavanagh – As far as I am concerned, I know when something is great musically. That kind of music is undeniable, emotional, uplifting, powerful, spiritual, what a feeling. Even if musical styles change in the future I still want to keep that going. I still want to keep that undeniable, human, spiritual, uplifting, and beautiful feeling in the music even if the styles change. You can do that in many different ways; orchestral, heavy rock, piano, and electronic. Even if the styles shift I still want to keep that type of song writing. If I feel like the album is absolutely undeniable; I know how good an album can be and I won’t release an record unless it’s on that level. Some people will get it and hear an electronic drum beat and be turned off because it’s an electronic drum beat. I can’t be turned off because they are.
Crypticrock.com – That leads to my next question. You have an eclectic mix of musical influences. You said The Beatles, Radiohead, and Pink Floyd. What are some of your other musical influences?
Danny Cavanagh – Radiohead is probably the biggest direct influence. There are bands that we absolutely adore and their music comes out in certain ways in the band. The bands that we all love, respect, and admire are really classic of all time. The Beatles, Bob Dylan; I am going back in time here. Moving forward into the 70’s; that would be Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Fleetwood Mac. Moving into the 80’s; classic U2 and Dire Straits for me. I love the guitar playing in Dire Straits, it’s amazing. Nineties would be Nirvana, Radiohead, and early Pearl Jam. Moving forward into modern day influences it would be a lot of piano stuff. There is also electronica influences. I like Apex Twins and Squarepusher. John and Vinny love Deadmau5. It goes right across the board. There is some acoustic stuff like Nike Drake, some folk music, and classical music. It’s all in there. Some heavy bands too such as Tool and classic Metallica.
Crypticrock.com – It does all show through in the music. The music is not boxed in, it has a very wide range of sound. My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
Danny Cavanagh – I am a big film fan in general. The Shining (1980) is brilliant. I’d say the top films for me would be The Godfather (1972) and The Green Mile (1999). For horror I like the first two Paranormal Activity, I thought they were great. I like The Blair Witch Project (1999). I love the story behind The Blair Witch. The story of the Maryland ghost, Elly Kedward, that whole story is fucking fantastic and sends shivers down my spine. That whole period of American history and the story that rears its head every 60 years. The Blair Witch documentary, which is on the DVD extras of that film, it is better than the film. The back-story of Elly Kedward is incredible. I love ghost stories and real ghost stories. I have a friend at a project I do at home called Leafblade , he is a fantastic story teller; an intelligent and articulate writer. He has some of the best ghost stories that you are ever going to hear. I love a good ghost story. The Others (2001) would be another with Nicole Kidman. Anything by Guillermo Del Toro, The Orphanage was fantastic. The first two Omen films, The Exorcist was a good one. The Omen II (1978), I watched it when I was too young. I was in my auntie’s house one night, and I don’t think they quite realized what we were watching, it scared the shit out of me. I am not massive on horror films. I saw a good one recently in The Women In Black (2012). It was just like a classic British Hammer film. It had a good story, not the best film ever but it was good. I just like the fact that it had so many flavors of the old Hammer Films and was done properly. I just saw a great thriller recently called Take Shelter (2011). I like sci-fi too like Looper (2012).
Crypticrock.com – It seems you gravitate to a lot of films with excellent dialogue.
Danny Cavanagh – Absolutely, good dialogue and cleverness. It has to be clever and well shot. I couldn’t tell you what’s wrong with a film, but I can always tell when a film is right. For example the first season of Dexter was perfect, it based on a book and it was really good. The second season wasn’t based on a book, they changed some of their production team around. They always had a good formula, but I could tell they had a 20% dip in quality on all sides. I am not a film maker so I am not well versed enough to know what is wrong. I can tell when a scene is cut too short or it’s too long. I can tell when the dialogue is a little cheesy. People like Spielberg make films for the masses, and I don’t think he has ever made a bad one. I cannot name one bad Spielberg film at all. Tarantino is unbelievable because he writes the whole thing including all the characters and scripts. I don’t even like violent films but I have to watch Tarantino’s films because he is absolutely amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I love hobbits, dragons, elves; big on Lord Of The Rings, but Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) was the best film of last year.
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