30.8.2011

Anathema interview from Qvadrivivm #5 (2008)



A Romance with the Many Twitches of Life

Interview: Kuronen

AS ONE begins to slip further into the iris of solace which manifests itself through desolation, melancholy and world-weariness, one starts to appreciate and take into account the kindred souls round him that come in non-human parcels. Friends may drop down and away but hell, do not dare cart off that Celtic Frost album. Not that Gallo flick, that Joyce novel, that Harvey record.

Do you know what I am speaking of? Sometimes a simple piece of pop culture can forge a stronger, more intensive bond of interaction than any person ever will. At its best a CD can understand your whatever qualms or quarries and relate to your social situations, however bleak or pessimistic, at an unprecedented level of sympathy. When there’s nobody around, this notion of a product’s greater friendship, with regard to its impact and effect, tends to lift itself into a fundamental position. CDs can be fiery friends; just monitor through the racks of plastic, pick up your emotion of choice and meet comfort.

Meet Anathema.

There is an old adage that says there’s no arguing about musical opinions. Never mind that truism, let’s bicker. I doubt I will ever see why so many people consider Anathema’s A Fine Day to Exit a disappointment while at the same time praising A Natural Disaster. This work of the Liverpudlians is certainly an invigorating work that extends their momentum, but it’s no match with the 2001 effort, which was lush, mazy, constantly on the move, immense—the kind of record that never made you think of exiting this world. For the approximately 2,375 days I’ve had it, my life with A Fine Day to Exit has been successful—phenomenally successful. The time I’ve spent with A Natural Disaster, on the other hand, has been, after the initial excitement wore down, reserved, suspect, laden with wary observation, altogether stiff in some intricate ways. This album, the group’s seventh in total, is another showpiece of their unrelenting talent in creating some of the finest moments of contemporary British rock, but, seeing as it arrives after the dazzling A Fine Day to Exit, its problem may be that it’s just not good enough.

I have two more specific reasons for why A Natural Disaster, a keen merchant of the ‘less is more’ ideology, does not cut it, so to speak:

1) It is too stripped-down, too bare, too streamlined, ascetic in a way that at times obliterates interest rather than crystallises it.

2) Musically, the songs on the album do not follow a consistent line of thought. The high points are many but what’s jammed between seems like filler fabric.

“I never really thought of it like that before,” says Danny Cavanagh, whose album A Natural Disaster essentially is. “But you’re right, it’s stripped down to bare essentials with lyrics and music, and I guess that’s just because that’s the way it needed to be. It didn’t need to be big and epic so that the music wouldn’t suit with the lyrics. You know what I mean, it’s more personal and intimate, really. But that doesn’t mean that every time we write in the future it’ll be like that. But this particular album is. This is one in the collection. Like a side step, really. This is a bit of a one-off.

“I would have to say that not every song on this album is wonderful. I think “A Natural Disaster”, “Closer” and some of them are good but I’m the kind of songwriter that can come up with good stuff but who maybe needs help just to finish things off sometimes. Which is okay. I mean, that’s what the guys are there for. Vincent certainly is encouraging and he thinks he can offer me that kind of help. And certainly I know that John can too.”

If some of the songs are not great, then the question begs to be asked: why were they included on the album?

“That’s a good question,” Danny responds. “Me and Jamie were sitting in the pub and we just decided we didn’t really want to drop any of these songs because all the songs were connected, they were all written in the same time period about similar things. We just felt that it might be nice to do this, to do these songs and get them out of the way. It was like a catharsis for me, just to get feelings out. Once them songs were out of the way, then we could concentrate on other people’s songs. And to be honest with you: they couldn’t wait. I couldn’t take a song like “Are You There?” and let it wait for the album after this one. It had to go out now because of the subjects. You cannot separate songs like “Are You There?”, “Harmonium” and “A Natural Disaster” because they’re all interconnected in the lyrics. They couldn’t really be separated, so the idea was, ‘Okay, let’s get them out of the way, then’. Then we can move on.”

“If there’s one thing that I haven’t been good at in the last few years, it’s communication.” – Daniel Cavanagh

FOR DANNY, the last couple of years have brought about many a worlds-apart situation. In the eyes of devout Anathemaniacs, the most surreal and distinct and incongruous of these occurrences must have lain between the time roughly five and a half years ago when Danny briefly left Anathema to join the ranks of fellow emotional rockers Antimatter and the point at which the now-five some emerged with A Natural Disaster. It is one thing to leave a band, and quite another to return and put out an album that could almost be conceived as a solo effort; an album for which you have written nine out of its ten songs, an album which deals exclusively with the dingy cobwebs and distorted jigsaw puzzles of your life. Some people will draw their own conclusions from these episodes; some will have gotten angry and some may have been struck by utter confusion.

“If people think that I’m trying to take over, it’s not really true,” Danny explains. “I just wanted to do this album. I certainly don’t want to keep going like this, not at all. Obviously I still want to write and I still want to be able to contribute and I still want to manage the music. Like a football team manager I’d like to manage the music, to make sure that it goes okay. Apart from that, I’m not interested in dominating all the albums so much. I listen to other people’s ideas, I try to listen to everybody’s ideas but I have really the closest connection with John. At the moment, that’s the connection that I’m feeling with musically but it might come even closer with Les later. It’s hard to say.”

In the recording process of A Natural Disaster, some of these connections were in danger of crumbling.

“I started to feel pressure and crack up a bit towards the end,” the guitarist relates. “I couldn’t speak, I lost communication with Les a little bit. I was worried because the songs were really personal and I didn’t have the confidence to release them. It was okay in the end. The first half was good but then John went on holiday for the second half of the studio and it just became more and more difficult for me from then. But we got through in the end. It was a difficult process and I would certainly not like to do it again. The last two albums have been really difficult to record.”

“I start to cry, I keep on laughing”Anathema, “Panic”

“WE WRITE about reality in all its cruel, twisted forms,” someone in Anathema quite pithily said some time ago. This is what the passionate, swooping emotional expression of Anathema is all about: real life, its cycles of noxious despondency, unbound mirth and everything that goes in-between. Although this brutal reality for Anathema is no make-believe utopia of drama monarchy, neither is it fully rational, tangible, ultra-concrete. Its knives are not imperatively physical.

“I can only speak for myself, but the reality that I talk about is all state of mind,” Danny states, stressing that to him everything is, at the end of the day, a state of mind. “Certainly my depression or illness or whatever it is that I’ve had has affected Anathema in many ways—some good, some bad. Every day thought processes affect Anathema in bad ways and good ways. We kind of write about who we are. Anathema is really a collection of songs about the feelings of the people in the group, whether it was Duncan writing, or Vincent or me or John. It’s always been about the people. So in that respect, Anathema is us. Our reality is the songs. There isn’t any difference. We don’t write about forests and druids. Although I love forests and I love nature I don’t really write too much about it. Like I said, if you ask me that question, all I can say is the songs are basically us. They’re like an extension of the people. Like reflections of the personalities of the people in the group. Or certain elements of their personalities.

“What I like about our group is that the songs are pretty honest. On the last three albums, most of the songs—apart from one written by Dave Pybus, “Anyone, Anywhere”, which he always said wasn’t about anything realistic—we’ve made in the last ten years have been honest, in the lyrics.

“John doesn’t write any lyrical poetic stuff, Vincent doesn’t and I certainly don’t. We just write from the heart. Honest stuff, feelings usually. To us it’s not about moons and forests and whispering lakes. But I mean you can mess it up, you can disguise into it a little bit. But that’s basically what it is.”

While saying he thinks A Natural Disaster is the barest Anathema will ever get, Danny does not see the album as the quintessence of their honesty par none.

“I think Alternative 4 was really brutal and honest as well. I think all of Duncan’s songs were honest and all of mine have been honest. I would say that Alternative 4 and this one have been like that. But you know, you can find it how you want to if you think about it. I wouldn’t compare honesty because most of the songs have been honest over the years.”

IN TERMS of popularity and media exposure, the fourteen or so years of the Vinny Cavanagh era of Anathema have not carried the Britons far from their early metal shelters, even though their music has changed quite drastically. With A Fine Day to Exit, and its single release, the symphonic-sounding and almost cheerful “Pressure”, Anathema and Music for Nations made a serious attempt at challenging the axiom “you don’t go big from metal”—in vain, as it was proven. MTV and the notoriously crooked British radio refused to swallow the catch, going on with their chock-a-block piles of music as deep as the regular Daily Mirror number. With A Natural Disaster, the plans regarding crossover success seem to have been buried altogether. Danny admits bleakly to believing that the new album will not bring the band any sort of popularity in the alternative music scene.

“It never happens. I don’t know what we’d have to do to make it. Maybe a different record label, maybe a different group name, a change of image, who knows—I don’t. I just let the group take its natural course, whatever that natural course in the future is. I just want to do that.

“The music scene in this country, they’re not interested in what the songs are saying. They’re very close-minded. The questions that you ask in your interview are completely different to the ones that always get asked in this country. You ask more about the songs, about the music and about the feelings behind the songs. You ask real questions; in this country, they don’t. At least not with us anyway. It’s much more narrow-minded. I don’t know what we’re going to do in the future. It should be okay I guess if we stay together. It should be alright.”

And, in the end, what’s the damage if MTV and the radio don’t catch on? It’s their loss. We get to keep Anathema to ourselves. To the band itself, all those who go under that banner of ‘we’ still matter a great deal.

“I like the fan base that we have, I think they’re very loyal and great. People think that we’re good. Which is true. We are quite good. We’re not the greatest group in the world but musically we’re certainly capable of potentially great stuff. There aren’t that many really good bands. I’m not saying we are but some of the songs are good enough.”

There has been a lot of rumouring going on about Anathema possibly changing their name in the future. Danny admits these rumours aren’t entirely false.

“I don’t know. I got an e-mail today from a guy in Greece who said that we should never do it. But that’s Greece. Anathema is a Greek word, everybody knows it there. I don’t know how it’s going to go, but we are thinking about it. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen before long. If it happens at all. If we get another album, a great one, a really great album that I would love all my life, if we did that under Anathema, we’d keep the name then. But at the moment it’s hard to say which way it’s going to go.

“I don’t think some things represent what we are. The name Anathema is still associated with that scene with My Dying Bride and all those bands, and it’s just nothing like the musicians we are. We’re not like those type of bands and musicians, My Dying Bride or Cradle of Filth. We’re just a separate thing, musically different.”

You call Anathema ‘gothic metal’, I’ll be there to burn your house down.


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