Interview – Daniel Cavanagh of Anathema
Fresh from their success at the Prog Awards 2017 where they scoped the best album gong for The Optimist, Anathema are currently on a huge jaunt to promote the album. One of the band’s driving forces, Daniel Cavanagah, has a new solo record due for release too. For Louder Than War, Dom Walsh and Mike Ainscoe, caught up with Danny ahead of the Anathema gig at The Ritz, Manchester (reviewed here) to talk about Anathema’s success, accepting recognition, his mother, hidden nuggets of information in the album and ultimately, Monochrome; Danny’s new solo album.
(Mike) Firstly, congratulations on the Prog Award
Daniel Cavanagh: Thanks. It was the one we wanted. It’s voted for by fans and it feels more prestigious. The album was a huge operation, a massive undertaking; it’s 8 or 9 months of your life and more. It’s requires massive concentration. A massive effort…financial effort, human effort. To get recognised for it is pleasing. It doesn’t change the world but it’s nice.
(Dom) It’s always good to get recognition isn’t it?
DC: Yeah; everybody wants that more or less. People say they don’t but they do. They only reason I’m blasé about it a little is because I’ve had some of it! If I’d never had any of it I’d have been fucking agonizing for it! I remember seeing Opeth play Royal Albert Hall and I was talking to Mike (Akerfelt) afterwards, and their manager who now manages us, and I was desperate to do what they were doing. I once said to Steven Wilson when he was with Porcupine Tree and I said ‘Can I do what you’re doing?!’ He looked at me a bit like, ‘well you can’t just walk into in.’ He did however say you’ve got the songs for it. We’ve always had the tunes –as long as that keeps happening…the backstory is working now; the people behind the scenes. It’s going well. The tour manager is my brother on this tour – management are working hard behind the scenes.
(Dom) So it’s a well-oiled machine?
DC: Not quite! I like a bit of spontaneity. I’m not one for sticking to a regime. I want to be able to walk into a sound check and just play anything. Some of our biggest songs came from just walking on a stage in a sound check and just picking up a guitar. Ariel came fully formed in a sound check there and then; lyrics, melody, piano…everything ut of the blue. It was the same with Springfield – that was a sound check in the place in America. I like keeping it freer but Vinny and the others like sticking to a regime.
(Mike) It’s good to see you here, moving things up – the last time you were here it was the Academy 3.
DC: I’ve only just seen the size of this venue! We came here when we were 18 to watch Nuclear Assault and Dark Angel. Which bands have really enjoyed here?
(Mike) The Ritz is a really good prog venue. Marillion, Riverside, Morse have all been here recently.
(Dom) I really enjoyed seeing George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. Speaking of keeping things free, George starts with a melody and the songs gestate into something huge. It’s incredible to see.
DC: That’s great. I’ve done that on my own because of the looper. You can go on for ages! I’ve played The Exorcist on my own a number of times. That’s good because it goes for ages and it’s different every night.
(Mike) As for your new album…first of all…it’s fantastic!
DC: What’s good about it? Everyone is saying that! I think the first half hour is boss!
(Mike) Absolutely – if you’re thinking of vinyl; the first side is killer. I read about you saying that you’ve kept these songs for yourself because you want to do them yourself rather than give them to the band.
DC: Something like that, yeah.
(Mike) I think it’s the kind of songs that Anathema does best.
To be honest, I did give the band first refusal. The only one that they wanted was The Exorcist, but all the others they said you can do it if you want. I did meet Vinny and John in Paris for a couple of days in 2014 and I played through all of this stuff and we made a list of stuff the band wanted to do and stuff I could do on my own. It just went from that. I did keep The Exorcist for myself though as I wanted a strong opener on the album. Also; it was ready. It was so old. It’s an old song.
(Mike) Does it go back that far?
DC: Year 2000. But a lot of the vocals on the first half were written on the spot in the studio. The end section; Can You Feel Me, is 6 or 7 years old.
(Mike) I was listening to the lyrics and wondering ‘where are they coming from?’
DC: I was thinking about my mother. It’s probably the last song I’ll write about my mum. She passed away nearly 20 years ago. She had a fucking hell of a life. It was awful. I’ll never get over it. Cut a long story short…all I was saying in the song was imagining talking to her from wherever she is so to speak, and asking if she was proud of me and who I am because I don’t feel proud of myself. That was it.
(Dom) Quite introspective then?
DC: It comes from Are You There? and One Last Goodbye. It’s part of that family of songs. It began with Fragile Dreams and Inner Silence. It was a massive, massive thing. She’s been dead a long time. But the adjustment from her being there to not being there was really fucking weird. I felt like the ground was taken from my feet; like I was just floating in the air with nothing to hold on to. That’s when I wrote Are You There? and all those songs.
(Mike) It does feel like a dark reflective album.
DC: It does. But you could also pretend it is. Because people are deep, they’ll find the depth. Give them guidelines and pointers and say ‘if you want to get into this…you can.’ Then they can go deep, but it’s kind of simple what I’m saying. On the song Soho I’m saying that I feel you around me you know. It’s deep and introspective but it’s not fucking War and Peace! What is deep, is people being deep.
(Dom) It’s all up to interpretation. The cover is quite dark, and title Monochrome adds to that.
It’s a night time album. The sun goes down and I wake up…mentally!
(Dom) I love listening to an album and making of it what you want. I think that makes things a lot better I think
DC: Totally, it’s interactive isn’t it?
(Dom) It is. It makes that experience a lot better.
DC: It’s cool not spelling stuff out as well. Don’t be too literal. Always leave gaps. I’m not a very good lyricist; there are far better ones than me!
(Mike) Just tell us a little about Anna Phoebe and Anneke van Giersbergen
Anna Phoebe played at The Anglican for A Sort of Homecoming; she played the solo to Anathema at that concert. I get on well with her. Doesn’t always happen but it did. She’s easy going – she’s a classy lady and articulate and a superb musician; a really good improviser. We were just jamming the piano and she played the violin. We did that for an hour at a time. That happened a couple of times. The DVD came up and we were shooting that song. She said she’d do it. It was the first time she’d played it live for that performance that was released. I was doing the solo album not long after that and it was a no brainer really. I said would you mind coming adding something to it and she made most of it up on the spot with a few words of encouragement from me about where to go. Other than that, she just did it there and then.
(Mike) Did you want her on that track (Dawn)?
DC: She actually played on several tracks. I just asked her what she thought she could do on certain songs. ‘I don’t really hear you on The Exorcist, but try this one – Soho…you’ll sound good on this – what do you think?’ We just went through the songs that we thought might work. We didn’t have a lot of time. She did it in a few hours.
(Mike) Dawn is probably the one track that starts off and you think ‘that’s Anathema;’ but she comes in and takes it in a totally different direction. It’s almost like a folky thing at the end…almost like a jig.
DC: Yeah it does. It all comes from Nick Drake where I got that stuff from. The Untouchable thing and everything. Nick Drake and a bit of Mark Knopfler…but mainly Nick Drake. It just reminds me of him. For years it was called Five Leaves Dying after his album Five Leaves Left and a Dying Wish For Us which is the rhythm of the song. But, yeah, like I say…these songs are sitting around doing nothing so I might as well put them out. They’re not the best thing I’ll ever do but they don’t have to be. Anneke sang on the album and sounded great. Again, in less than a day in her home studio. She added loads of flourishes and touches. Both Phoebe and Anneke add a tremendous amount of class to the album. I feel very lucky to know them and for them to have done such a good job. I feel blessed.
(Mike) Did you have a rough idea where you wanted them to contribute?
DC: Yeah. I wrote the vocal lines but Anneke would sing it beautifully in her own way with her own metre (a rhythm of singing!). She added layers and harmonies that I didn’t think off so it’s all good. I kept nearly everything that they did. It was a breeze really!
(Dom) It seems like a real labour of love?
DC: I just wanted to stay busy at the time. I was going through a rough patch. It started about then. 2015. I happened to be in Liverpool and I thought I’m just going to do something. I was staying in the hotel above the studio. I just worked. The management company of Anathema paid for it and I paid them back so they were very good to me. I did it over the course of a couple of months. It got mixed in Spring of 2016 by Christer-André Cederberg who did Weather Systems. His credit got left off the album…I’ll fix that. The end part of Silent Flight, he mixed in one take. He sent the final movement back to me, which I think is the best thing on the album…the last three minutes of the album. I just said to turn the synth bass up and it was done. I was a complex mix. It sounded like a piano ambient Weather Systems, which is what I wanted. I played all the other instruments myself. It was just, put the drums there…there was a lot of guesswork. I say guesswork…intuitive arranging in the studio. It wasn’t as much fun as Anathema as it’s a laugh with the guys, but it was easier because there was no conflict.
(Dom) Your own boss.
DC: Yeah…no one to argue with!
(Mike) Going back to the female vocals; you’re obviously used to working with Lee in Anathema. What’s it like working with a different vocalist?
DC: Piece of piss! They look after it themselves. They don’t really have to think about it. It lightens the tone. My voice is quite deep and dark. There’s another colour to paint with. Anneke sounds very golden and she gives the whole thing a lift.
(Dom) Do you have any plans to take it out on the road?
DC: Not yet. I’ve got this massive tour with Anathema to do. I’ll get that out of the way first. I am pleased with the reactions it has been getting. The guy from Roadrunner (Records) came up to me at the Progs and said he loved it. I was surprised to be honest. I forgot it was coming out to be honest. So it was little ‘fuck me’ when people starting saying how much they liked it.
(Dom) Plenty of people I follow on social media who are reviewers have talked about how much they love it.
DC: It’s the first 20 minutes. The end of track 4 (Silent Flight) is what is getting everyone. What do you about the album?
(Mike) The general atmosphere. If you ask me what my favourite Anathema songs are I’d be going for things like Ariel, Dreaming Light and Lightning Song and Calm Before The Storm. The shift in dynamic is what I like. Soho works towards a peak in the middle and it holds you on the edge of your seat whilst wondering where the song is going to go.
DC: I think the end of that track is the saddest thing I ever wrote. Its a few different songs put together. I was walking around London when I moved there. For some reason, I couldn’t get past this monumental sadness of what happened to my mother. I feel much better now but that piano melody is me thinking about her. I wouldn’t be crying but I’d be so full of this…thing. I’d been walking around Soho with my headphones on, not feeling removed, but in some sort of juxtaposition…being there at night, looking at the city at night and the night lights. That’s where the title comes from too .The title of the song stayed (Soho) as it was. It was a working title but that’s where I wrote it and that where those emotions came from. Anna Phoebe then lifts the whole thing like Sigur Ros.
(Mike) Theres a nice little touch at the end with the infant voice.
DC: That’s my daughter. Her name’s Ariel which the Anathema song is about. I said to her mum, ‘will you send me a recording of Ariel laughing because I want to put it at the end of the album?’ She was only young, about 2. Her mum has beautiful long straight hair and she told me that Ariel was pulling her hair in the cot and laughing her head off! Her mum had her iPhone out trying to record her whilst trying not to shout! You can’t tell though.
(Dom) When you listen to that back you’re going to get those little things for yourself aren’t you?
DC: It also gets brownie points from her mum too! She listens to the album…and her grandparents. And she has her own Anathema song. It was her mum’s idea to keep the title for that song. That was a working title to begin with. When she’s older she’ll be made up! I’m a new dad and I’m still adjusting. A few little secrets there!
(Mike) Just before our time is up, have you anything else to declare?!
DC: Not really. I’m just pleasantly surprised by the reaction. I really love Silent Flight. I wanted to call the album that but the record label said it sounded too much like Steven Wilson. I’d really like the album to be remembered for Silent Flight.
We would like to thank Daniel Cavanagh for his time in talking to use about this album and to Simon and Harry at I Like Press for setting things up. .It really is a fantastic album and if you’re an Anathema fan you will love it. You can read the Louder Than War review here.