June 16, 2014 Interview – Vincent Cavanagh of Anathema
In the journey of life we are forever evolving our perception and translate that into the way we move forward and conduct ourselves. For Liverpool, England based band Anathema, progression was never an option as much as it was the natural order of their music from the moment they began playing. Provoking an array of emotions over the past two plus decades, from album to album, the band has seen their share of success as well as struggles along the way. Weathering the storm of adversity, Anathema has come out stronger than ever, with creative juices flowing rapidly, having many saying the veteran progressive rock outfit has yet to reach their peak. On the heels of their first North American tour in 2013, the band now unleash their tenth studio album Distant Satellites with no sign of slowing down. Recently we sat down with lead vocalist Vincent Cavanagh for a personal look at the history of the band, the passion behind their music, touring the USA, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – It has been a very interesting twenty plus years for Anathema. You have released ten full length records and built a dedicated fan base internationally. There have of course been up and downs along the journey. Briefly tell us about the ride the band has been on over the years?
Vincent Cavanagh – Briefly, how do I do that (laughs)? I think the most important thing is that everything we have been through, there is a hell of a lot of love, respect, and togetherness with members of the band. We have grown up together, we are practically married to each other. We are kind of like one big family, that still includes ex-members of the band. For us it is just about being true to yourself and staying true to your music. At least with yourself, be honest, just know that you are essentially doing the same thing you did when you were seventeen. The only difference is that you have evolved as a person, so what you are doing has evolved as well, but it is essentially the same thing. It is absolutely for the love for music, and also creativity. It is for trying new things, feeling new things, and wanting to do new things. It is not really a choice to evolve as a being, you just do it, it is the same thing with your music.
CrypticRock.com – The band has made a natural progression over the years from album to album. Beginning more as death/doom metal act and blossoming into something vastly different over time. Obviously the music you compose reflects where you are in your life at that given time.
Vincent Cavanagh – In a way it does, it also does not mean those first albums of that time have left us. It is still a massive part of my life, that is my youth. It is there in that music and in the experiences that I had during those years. It is very important to me, it is my life. I have huge fondness for that time, the band and everything we did. Not every single year really, I think we have had more good years than bad years, that is the main thing. There does seem to be a bit of a misconception that people think that because you change your sound you did not like what you did, but that is not true. The truth of the matter is you just change as people, so the sound changes naturally. It is like saying you regret your life, we do not regret our lives. We love our youth, those experiences, and I have a hundred stories I could tell you of times we had with Duncan, Darren, and Les. They are hilarious and brilliant people, I do not regret it for a second, none of it. I could not even imagine a funnier way to live my life. To have those kind of solid experiences. We had extreme lows as well, but we also had such…you know when you are laughing so hard it is just impossible to breath.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like very fond memories. It is still a part of you and sometimes people do have a misconception about the progression of the band.
Vincent Cavanagh – It is just people put two and two together, and I understand that, that is fair enough. It is a misconception, I am not trying to clear anything up, I am just saying it is who I, Danny, and John are as people. We look back at it with extreme fondness. It is one of the reasons we chose to do Falling Deeper (2011). There was another misconception with that as well, some people thought we were changing our roots. They were misunderstanding it, what we were doing was actually paying tribute to the music we did back then because we still love it. We still like the melodies and everything we did with it, but this time we are doing it with an orchestra. Guess what, it was going to be dead expense, a lot of hard work, and it probably will not sell very well, so it may not even make any money for us. We did not give a fuck, we might have lost money on it, but that was not the point, that is not why we did it.
CrypticRock.com – Of course, unfortunately sometimes people do have misconceptions about others and their intentions. It seems if you look at the timeline of the band, the most pronounced change in the band occurred around 1998 with the writing and recording of the Judgement album. This album was composed during a difficult time in your life with the passing of your mother. With so much weighing on your mind I imagine, what was the feeling going into the writing of this album?
Vincent Cavanagh – To be honest, John had been out of the band for a while. I think him coming back sorted a lot of it out. It was just awful really, I was forced to choose who, between Danny or Duncan, to continue the band with. I did not know what I was doing at the time because my mother was in the hospital at the time. After my mother passed away Duncan made the decision for me, he said I am leaving and going to do my own thing, which was fair enough. About a week passed and there basically was not a band at all, we really did not know what we were doing, and frankly it did not matter anymore at that point. At a certain point, obviously, you had to pick up the pieces. It started with Danny and I trying to pick up the pieces with each other. Then we knew we basically had to get John back in the band because of who he was and everything we had been through. It was nothing against our other drummer Shaun, I really felt bad about that, it was nothing against him at all, it was just John was the guy Danny and I needed, he glues us together. He has been my best mate since I was a kid and he has been through everything together, there was no one else we could even think of doing a next record with. We did not have a bass player and we got David Pybus. The next few years was still very tough for everyone, it was fun and we still did a couple of great albums.
It was very tough between Judgment and A Natural Disaster (2003), until after A Natural Disaster where Danny and I fixed our differences and we realized we had more in common than not. At that point, him and I started to bond and drive the band forward. That eventually resulted in We’re Here Because We’re Here (2010). Les joined the band at that time, he was a huge influence. Especially off the stage as well, he was recording everything as well. He set up a studio to enable us to do everything without a record company, we did not have a record company at the time. It was a very strange couple of years. At the same time we were still doing and still pulling in a lot of people in Europe, the audience was actually getting bigger, so something was happening. Then we did We’re Here Because We’re Here and everything changed. Then Weather Systems (2012) followed up and now we have Distant Satellites (2014). It is going to be the same momentum going. We actually enjoy working fast, even though we had that break. This will be out tenth album in twenty one years. It is just bizarre to think of it in that length of time. Just in general, anyone thinking in that length of time, it is an abstract concept. If I had been playing the same kind of music for twenty years I think I would be bored out of my skull. The fact that we have always pushed the band to do something different, that is what keeps it interesting. Danny and John are always challenging themselves in their writing as well. There is certainly something about it that is familiar, no matter what we do. There is just something in it, something in the melodies, vocals, and guitars. There is something in it that sounds a bit familiar, even if it might be new territory. As long as it has depth, meaning, and soul.
CrypticRock.com – You always want to continue to progress and stay true to yourself and where you want to go musically. Danny and yourself have always remained the consistent core of Anathema through the years. You have been through a lot together as musical partners and family. How has the dynamics of your working and personal relationship changed over the years?
Vincent Cavanagh – We got along in the beginning but we did not at the same time. The biggest change was really around 2004. That was when Danny and I reached a level of mutual respect. We were both single, we had problems in our previous relationships that actually added to problems him and I had. Once that was done we were both single and doing acoustic gigs together. It has always had its moments of a fractured relationship now and again. I guess that it is, I know him as well as anyone else knows him I think. Him and I are really close when it comes down to it. We speak about certain things and our lives the way no one else would ever even know. Him and I have lived everything together, including childhood, the band, and everything that goes with it. In our personal lives we have had a pretty intense time as well. We have a lot to draw on. There is a hell of a lot of mutual respect and love there, we understand each other.
CrypticRock.com – That reflects in the longevity of the band. You released Distant Satellites this month. Without giving too much away, what can fans expect?
Vincent Cavanagh – There is certainly more energy. In certain songs there is a bit more experimentation with new techniques of programming. The end of the album veers off into a different sphere all together. There is of course the depth and soul that goes with this band. All the songs are still just as real as they ever were. There is a hell of a lot of intensity there. It is recorded really well, Christer-André Cederberg did a great job from start to finish. We did the whole thing in his studio in Norway. He had more control of everything, if he is in his own studio he knows what sound he is going to get. We were comfortable with being there. We knew the process was going to be difficult, I did not actually enjoy the process very much. It was really difficult for me to do it, but who said making a good album is suppose to be easy. It can be I suppose, but it was not, it was tough. I am finally just getting over it. It was a struggle, but if you listen to it you are going to hear why it was. There is a lot of work that has gone into it. We will let people make their own minds up. We will put it out and see what people think.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like a great deal of passion went into the album. Making good music that you would listen to yourself is what makes the best music and not being concerned with outside opinion too much. In the end everyone else will appreciate it if you go with your artistic feelings.
Vincent Cavanagh – I think creating any kind of art you have to be kind of selfish. At the same time there is a fine line between what you consider to be art and entertainment. Music is ultimately entertainment. You would not say that about a piece of art. It is for people to experience, but that is not what drove certain people to do certain things. There are certain writers or film makers that you can tell they are just following their own thing, that is cool, sometimes it works.
CrypticRock.com – In recent years Anathema has finally made its way to North America with a series of dates with yourself and Danny in 2011, then a successful headlining tour in 2013. You played to packed rooms in many parts of North America last year. Many fans would describe the shows as magical. What was the feeling like on stage throughout that tour last year?
Vincent Cavanagh – It was just like one of the great gigs we played in Europe or South America. All the gigs were like that, but New York, because there were so many people, it was sold out. The same thing happened in Los Angeles as well. For our first ever tour, your band sells out in great venue in New York City, probably the best cities in the world, what more can you ask for. To be honest, the gig itself , it was about time, we are showing you what we are made of. We have been doing this for years in Europe and South America. For whatever reason we did not have the chance to get over here, but now we have finally been given the chance and show people exactly what we are made of. One of the things we have always prided ourselves on is that we are a good live band. You have to be good live, especially if you are a rock or metal band. You need to be able to play your instrument first and foremost, but you need to know what you are doing; get a crowd going. The tour felt like, at least now you get it, now you can start to get a bit of an idea of what this band is about. You need to come see us live, the records are great, but you have to come see us live, there is something different about that.
CrypticRock.com – There is a whole different level of experience seeing music live.
Vincent Cavanagh – It is really intense. You cannot fake songs like that. Speaking about things we speak about, you cannot just phone that in, it is impossible. Then you would be disrespecting everyone you live with in your entire life and everyone you ever loved. I am not going to do that. That is one of the reasons I am so into it and intense on stage is because of the lyrics. I have to go into those stories , into my past, and into all of those emotions. I am fucked afterwards, I am emotionally drained. It is the only way I know how to do it. It is the only way I have figured out how to do it. In the beginning I did not want to be a singer. When I first became a singer in the band I thought ok what do I have to do, I am a front man now. I did not want to be a front man, but I am a front man in a metal band. I would have to entertain people and get the crowd going and all that. All of a sudden I realized what I need to do is focus on the lyrics and not worry about the crowd. It sounds like a funny thing to say, but it is the only way I figured out how to sing live, forget about the whole spectacle of what is going on, and only to focus on delivering the lyrics with enough respect that they deserve. I actually really appreciate everyone for being there. Danny shows that off, Danny is great for that. Danny explains while I am in my own world, he is the guy who explains to everyone how the band feels. It is just how I need to do it, I have to be honest when I am singing honest lyrics.
CrypticRock.com – That sheer intensity is greatly appreciated by the crowd.
Vincent Cavanagh – I think you just have to know I may seem moody but it is just because I respect the songs before anything else. It is just like how I am in the studio as well. I do not want anyone there, I am on my own, and I want to get into it in an intense way. It is the way I figured out how to sing and it is the way I learned how to sing live.
CrypticRock.com – That is very interest. What are some of your musical influences?
Vincent Cavanagh – The Beatles, it still is. I go through different phases really. I grew up on the early rock-n-roll stuff. I did not really know the later psychedelic stuff until later. I think the whole thing, they were the best band in the world for a good number of years in the 1960’s. From Rubber Soul (1965) to Magical Mystery Tour (1967). For that three or four years they were untouchable. I still love Help! (1965), going right back to the first album Please Please Me. The first record I ever put on, I was three years old and I wanted to play the record myself. My grandmother allowed me to put the Beatles on the record player myself and it was “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. That is probably my favorite band of all time; then Pink Floyd, Cream, U2, and Led Zeppelin. Pink Floyd as well had an untouchable period in the 1970’s. Between Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979). U2 had a similar period in the mid-80’s around Joshua Tree (1987), they were the best band in the world then. Queen and Led Zeppelin had their moments as well. Black Sabbath were unbelievable. The best bands ever really, all the best bands that have ever been are my influences (laughs).
The funny thing is when people ask what are your influences they expect to hear what kind of bands do you want to sound like. For us that is not really the case because bands like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Radiohead are a huge influence for us because they uncompromisingly do their own thing. That just convinces us that we need to do the same thing ourselves. That is a bigger influence than anyone else, we do not want to sound like anyone else. We do not want to sound like Radiohead, or The Beatles, or Pink Floyd, or anyone. We just want to sound like ourselves. That is what they did, so that is what we are doing.
CrypticRock.com – That makes perfect sense to strive for that as an artist. My last question for you is regarding films. CrypticRock.com is a music and horror movie news publication 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?
Vincent Cavanagh – Yes I am a fan of horror films. I have always been a fan of horror films. Probably one of my favorite films of all time is The Exorcist (1973). The Shining (1980), of course, made a huge impact on me as a kid. I love also movies that are considered inside the horror genre but are not really. For example, The Elephant Man (1980), that is a really dark drama. It is very rare you see a good horror film now. It is like comedy, they are just popular genres. People make so many of those films and they seem to always be there. It is such an overused genre, horror, and comedy, but mostly horror.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true. It seems now a day, horror relies mostly on graphic effects when a good story and atmosphere is what makes a great horror film.
Vincent Cavanagh – Exactly, when you get great dialogue, that is what it is all about for me. Everything in a great movie for me is great dialogue. That is one of the reasons The Blair Witch Project (1999) worked. For that movie I knew nothing about the film. I knew I wanted to see the film so I completely avoided all the hype. I went to see it on my own in the dark and sat forward in the chair. That movie was the first real big movie of that found footage genre. I had not seen anything like it and I was sucked right in. I obviously knew it was a film, some people thought it was real. It was such a massive experience, I really loved it. The Exorcist III (1990) is a good example of dialogue and The Exorcist as well. That is one of the best movies of all time, because of the dialogue. William Peter Blatty, if you ever read his books, it is all about the quirks in the characters. Stephen King’s books are all full of things like that, great characters, and great quotable moments. I think my number one thing I look for is can I quote it afterwards, will I be quoting dialogue afterwards. That is one of the reasons I have the ultimate top five comedy and horror films and all of them are quotable.
CrypticRock.com – What are your top five comedy and horror films?
Vincent Cavanagh – The horror ones, I need to think about a bit longer. Comedy actually stretches to top six or seven. I am going to say Withnail and I (1987), The Life of Brian (1979), Blazing Saddles (1974), Airplane (1980), The Big Lebowski (1998), and Team America (2004). All of those films are infamously quoted. Horror movies, Exorcist I and III, American Werewolf in London (1981), and it is a tossup between Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Jaws (1975).