On the eve of releasing their tenth offering, Anathema remain as creative and eclectic as ever. Though they may have left their metal days behind, any discerning metalhead would be foolish to overlook them; appearances at Hellfest and Bloodstock show that their fanbase among heavier listeners remains as strong as ever.
We spoke to Danny Cavanagh about prog rock, unusual influences and musical surprises…
To kick off with the new album – given the dramatic shifts in style across Anathema’s career, is there anything notably leftfield about this release? Anything drastically different?
Well have you heard it?
Not as of yet – I got the call to do the interview yesterday…
I don’t want to give away too many spoilers! It’s very honest, as is all of our work. In terms of surprises – yes there are. There are elements that we haven’t really approached before – we’ve hinted at them and now they are more fully-fledged. But it contains a lot of different elements and a number of musical colours.
With that in mind, are there any particular recent acts who are influential in the formation of this record?
Yes, I would say Atoms for Peace. When I saw them in Camden Roundhouse with Thom Yorke what I noticed was first of all the bravery of Thom in following his musical instincts and his musical integrity and the consequences that followed; a real profoundness. Also the band was fantastic in terms of intensity and energy and in terms of blending of live band and electronica and living in a place where those two things meet. And all done with undeniable songwriting and great vocal hooks so that was a big influence for me.
So that’s not something people associate Anathema with – does this record have more of a departure from previous releases or does it have continuity?
It’s a bit of both!
Have you been looking at creating a different kind of mood with this album? You’ve always gone for a lot of atmosphere and that was one of the things that has continued throughout your career. Has there been a specific kind of mood you’ve been trying to create with this one?
I can comment on what other people have been saying – that’s its very dark and intense. It’s a very honest record. It just has different approaches but the approaches are always honest. The songwriting is still good and the melodies are still good and that’s it – it’s still us being us and we’ve stuck to that and we always will stick to that and try to follow our instincts. It’s working out well and we’re happy with it.
Excellent! Following that, how have you found the reaction generally?
Very positive actually! Considering there are some big musical surprises on there it’s gone down very well. And I really don’t know how well this album is gonna be received but lets say it’ll be interesting to see how it goes.
Obviously the core fans are gonna be prepared for any curveballs – you don’t get any old-school doom/ death metal fans wanting to return back to the old days? Specifically in relation to the darker sound you’ve mentioned?
I can’s speak for those people. I can say there are surprises. There will be musical surprises of a different kind on the tour – you may be surprised at some of the melodies that we play – but I can’t speak for old-school fans or what people want. I can’t really do that, I can only follow my heart and the in the band. Outside of that it’s out of my control – how people think, how they react.
How did you find the process of recording the album? Was anything done particularly differently?
It was good! I had a lot of fun, mainly because my band are really good people to work with – they are my musical brothers. And Chrsiter [Cederberg] is a great producer, he’s our fifth Beatle. And Jamie [Cavanagh] and Lee [Douglas] play a big part in that – I love the core of John [Douglas] and Vinnie [Cavanagh] and working the songs out, it’s a lot of fun for me. I really enjoy that. So this was rewarding – not always easy but rewarding!
That sounds like a healthy, organic writing process
Yeah it was very natural – not a very conscious process, we let the songs speak and try to follow the music rather than let the music follow us. When chord progressions start to come through we let it speak and try to get out of the way a little bit if that makes any sense – its kind of an intuitive process rather than a cognitive one.
Was it all written before you went in?
No actually – a lot of the lyrics were written inside the studio – all the themes were already there.
Was there an element that was left to chance?
I wouldn’t say left to chance – it went down to the wire in terms of timing but I don’t think we left anything to chance. I was confident that it could be done and I believe it has been done. But it’s a learning process – not everyone was comfortable with it but I’m pleased with the lyrics and I wouldn’t change it.
You’ve been working with Steven Wilson…
He mixed two songs – Christer mixed and produced the album, worked on every note for months and months – he’s the one who gets the credit. Stephen was able to step in in an emergency and did a fantastic job. He’s a fantastic musician.
He’s certainly flying the flag for modern prog. How closely did you work with him?
He worked for two or three days and Christer took two or three months to put it in perspective.
How were their styles of working different?
I didn’t sit in the same room as Stephen – we worked through emails. Great work, he’s really good but it was just a few days. Tristian really did go through everything in the same studio for months. It’s his album.
What kind of things are you looking to bring to your next tour?
Well the best songs we feel we have – and one or two surprises as well.
I’m intrigued to hear the surprises – in terms of guest musicians?
No, just songs you wouldn’t expect. It’ll be interesting! We’re challenging people and perceptions of what people think we’re supposed to be.
Is there anyone you might be looking to tour with who’re around?
Not really – we’re just concentrating on our own thing. Realistically it’ll be a positive experience but we’re really concentrating on our own thing.
All the Anathema albums have very striking imagery – what can you tell me about this one?
It was artwork that had already been made in New York – it was just something that I typed into Google – I found it and we loved it, emailed the guy, he said yes. It’s that simple. His installation was called “Distant Light.” We loved it.
Was this before the music was written?
That was at the end of the album – before the mix as the album was being completed. His art was completely unrelated to the music.
So the art reflected the album?
It reflected us- John loved it and I loved it – it was a different kind of thing for us, more minimalist and beautiful – and I think it’s my favourite artwork we’ve had. There’s been some good stuff in the past – A Natural Disaster is good. But I like this one. It’s different and the music is different so it’s part of the ongoing growth and shift of the music in the band.
It’s certainly got a minimalism to it – some of the others were a lot busier.
When people hear it, they’ll understand.
Is there much continuity between albums?
We we’re not repeating ourselves – it would be pointless, it would be stale. This is not Weather Systems part II. It’s something else.
Going back to Steven Wilson’s involvement – as a result of him coming in, were there any prog influences?
We’re not really into prog rock, none of us are in particular – we do love Pink Floyd, Radiohead and the Beatles if you can call that prog rock. That’s as far as it goes for us. But the influences aren’t really in the progressive field for us at all really.
So coming to the end – what’s next for Anathema?
Touring! Touring and surprises. Musical surprises, looking after each other – stay happy, stay healthy and focussed and busy! Look after each other. That’s all.
I’m looking forward to the surprises!
You’ll see what I mean – you’ll think the album is going in a certain way and then it’ll take you on another journey. I hope you enjoy it.
Thanks – I think I will! To conclude, is there anything you’d like to end on?
Just to say thanks to everybody, believe in love because it’s meaningful and real and I think love is a force of nature.
Thanks a lot!
No worries mate. The answers might seem cryptic – when you hear the record you’ll know what I mean.
“Distant Satellites” out now via. Kscope
Buy it here: http://www.amazon.co.uk