For the past two years, Anathema have been feeling better in every respect: personally, professionally and musically. When we interviewed him in 2010 on the occasion of the release of Weâre Here Because Weâre Here, Danny Cavanagh told us: âI am in a better place in my life and so my music and my band are in a better place emotionallyâ. And in the present interview, conducted on the eve of the release of the bandâs next album, Weather Systems, Vincent Cavanagh does confirm this fact: Anathema have never been prouder of their releases than in these past two years.
An enthusiasm that can be heard in the musical evolution of the English band. Not that their albums are particularly exuberant or festive â they simply convey a feeling of deep calm. Or how to find happiness by going through every single experience of life, including the worst kind, with great composure. Some will blame the band for not writing as many hymns to sadness as before (âAnathema sounded better when they were lowâ). Whether you like them or not, Weâre Here Because Weâre Here and Weather Systems go much farther than that, by embracing and looking at life and all its contrasts â hence the climatic metaphor used on this latest record.
But this feeling of accomplishment does not keep the band from being humble, or from imposing no interpretation, even their own, to the listener. What truly matters is the sharing of feelings: âItâs up to you to decide what we do; [âŠ] someone on the other side of the world can listen to this music and relate that is some way to their own life, because the experiences we talk about are quite universalâ. Vincent actually considers that heâs being âcontrolledâ by his music, and not in control of his own art.
You released the album Weâre Here Because Weâre Here seven years after A Natural Disaster. The songs of this album had been ready for a long time. Did this generate some kind of frustration so you felt an urge to move on and record this new album, Weather Systems, so fast?
Yeah. We also made Falling Deeper last year, it came out in September. So thatâs three records in just over a year and a half. For us, thatâs a record! (laughs) Iâm quite proud of that, actually. Iâd like to continue that run in the future. I prefer to work fast. We have a lot of ideas, and between Danny, John and myself, I really believe we can do a lot of stuff quickly if we put our minds to it. So why not get new songs out there, you know?
Since the Weâre Here Because Weâre Here album took you so long to release, and since it was so difficult, do you have some special relationship to this album, that you donât with every other album?
No, not at all. Weâre Here Because Weâre Here was much like any other album, really. The difference was that it was the first time we made an album that we were truly, 100% proud of, really happy with. Everything weâve done since then has followed the same path. I can say the same thing for Falling Deeper, weâre completely, 100% proud of that. And equally, weâre proud of Weather Systems. So what happened with Weâre Here Because Weâre Here is that the game changed. Anathema suddenly started to realize its potential. And from there, weâre taking that forward. But itâs one of the eternal things about any artists: when youâve made a great work, you canât go backwards. You have to either live up to it or do better the next time around. I think we have done that.
Were some of the songs of Weather Systems composed while you were working on Weâre Here Because Weâre Here or while you were waiting for the release of it?
A couple of them were, yeah. One or two of them perhaps came just as an idea. One song particularly, âThe Lost Childâ, came to Danny in a dream, towards the end of the Weâre Here Because Weâre Here sessions, when we were all living together. I remember, in the middle of the night, he came to my room and woke me up and said: âHey, I just had this dream. I have this tune and this whole scenario from this dream. We should make a song, and we should make a video for itâ. I said OK, and I got out of bed and recorded the song. We wrote down the idea, and then we said: âOK, letâs go back to sleep, weâll think about it tomorrow!â (laughs) And eventually, that song became âThe Lost Childâ. Itâs happening all the time, thatâs natural. Anytime weâre all together, or at least the main creators â me, Danny and John â, weâre really having a spark. Things happen quickly, you know. Itâs cool.
And you didnât punch him for waking you up?
Oh, no! (laughs) If he had woken me under different circumstancesâŠ But as itâs a song, and as I like things like that â stories from a dream, a tune that came to his subconsciousâŠ Itâs a beautiful thing. Iâm looking forward to fully realizing this vision and making something visual to accompany the song. The song itself is beautiful, itâs some of Dannyâs best writing heâs ever done. Itâs called âThe Lost Childâ, and itâs the second-to-last track on Weather Systems. We usually leave the most epic song on the album to the second-to-last track. On the last album, it was âUniversalâ, and on this one, itâs âThe Lost Childâ. You can see a bit of a pattern here.
Does it happen often, these ideas Danny finds in dreams?
No, not often. It can happen, but this particular one stood out, because it was such a strong idea, almost a complete idea, really. It was a single tune, which is the first thing you hear in the song, and it was this vision behind it. I donât want to explain it, because I prefer to actually try and make it. When we make it, you can see it. But the tune and the scenario and everything else was already complete, right at the beginning. Sometimes when you dream, things can be a little vague, surreal, even difficult to remember in the morning. But this one was very clear. That was unique.
Even if itâs released only two years after the previous one, Weather Systems is very different from its predecessor. How did you manage to change the atmosphere between those two records?
We always do that. Thatâs how we write, weâre always progressing forward. The next oneâs going to be different again. Weâre one of those bands, you know. We do this because we have to. We make music and art for the art. We donât really have a choice as far as progression in concerned: thatâs how the music wants to be. It wants to progress, it changes all the time. I use the word âitâ because sometimes, itâs almost like weâre not completely in control. Itâs something thatâs more subconscious; you donât make a conscious decision to say: âLetâs make an album thatâs different from the last oneâ. It just happens naturally. Do you understand? That can happen in any song. I may wake up tomorrow and have an idea for a song that sounds completely different than anything else Iâve ever done. And I follow it, and itâs almost as if the song, the idea, leads you where it needs to go. Part of the songwriting process is actually knowing when to get out of the way and let the song take the lead, you know? The song dictates what it wants to be eventually. Thatâs one of the secrets about progressive music, and about how you can progress with music: donât think too much. If you do think, then just try not to repeat yourself. We never really want to repeat ourselves, that would be too boring. Music is infinite, and what we can do with music is whatever we like. Thereâs no end to it, you know?
It means you have no limits, since itâs so very spontaneous.
Yes, exactly. We put out stuff that we like. Anathema doesnât have a select sound or a select genre. Anathema is just one of those bands that keeps changing. If people donât know that already, they will eventually have to know it, because thatâs what we do.
About this new record, Danny said: âThis is not background music for parties. The music is written to deeply move the listener, to uplift or take the listener to the coldest depths of the soulâ. In other words, you wanted to avoid elevator music or background music. Do you think thatâs the risk when you are writing such emotional music?
When you write music thatâs completely direct and honest, you have to sit up and listen to it. Trent Reznor wrote that song, âHurtâ. The original version is amazing, but when Johnny Cash sang it, with just him, a piano and an acoustic guitar, it changed. Itâs one of those things where itâs like listening to somebody speak the truth. You have to listen, you know. And if itâs really important, you have to listen to it. Now, Iâm not for one minute saying thatâs what we do. Itâs up to you to decide what we do, I donât mind. One thing Iâm saying is that thereâs nothing fake about what we do. All of it is real. That goes right down to the lyrics, right down to every part of how we feel this music. For us, itâs more about the feeling behind the music. Itâs about the intuition, itâs about going through it. Itâs an experience that changes every time. One of the reasons I love doing what I do, now that Iâm a singer, is that each time I experience a song, itâs different every single time. When you listen to a record, itâs the same every time, and thatâs great. If youâre happy with it, itâs great. But then comes a certain point where you stop listening to the record, because itâs always the same. It usually takes me a couple of weeks! (laughs) Iâm at that position now where I stop listening to the record and I just sing. The only time I get to hear our music is when I sing it. Thatâs when I know itâs real for me, because I mean it, I mean everything Iâm doing, 100%. Thatâs cool for us, you know? I also donât mind music that is meant to be just entertainment, thatâs meant to sound the same all the time. Thatâs cool, too. But thatâs not what I do.
Do you think the only way to write good music is to be honest?
No, no, thatâs not true at all! Thereâs no secret formula right across the board that you can say: âThis is how you write good musicâ. In fact, the question is false. What you have to ask any person is what do they bring to music. How do you live it? What can you bring to your music? What you have to remember is that each individual has their own voice. Each individual has their own mind, their own heart and soul, that they can put into something. And itâs unique, in and of itself. Even if you try and sound like somebody else, itâs still you, you know? It depends how much you want to give. A lot of people donât want to be honest in music, because itâs giving too much away. They like to hide a little bit, and maybe to create something else. Thatâs cool too. A lot of people write about the world, or about external things. They try to be honest in that way, and thatâs cool, too. Thereâs an infinite set of ways to do music, write lyrics and write poetry. But being honest, itâsâŠ I donât know, itâs up to you. Iâm not so bothered about people knowing my life. I donât want to explain the meaning and the experience behind these songs, what it all means. I donât want to explain that, because that is personal. It is in the lyrics, it is in the songs, and you can feel it anyway. The difference is, someone on the other side of the world can listen to this music and relate that is some way to their own life, because the experiences we talk about are quite universal: the themes of love, death, loss, madness, euphoria, all the deep emotions that we go through in our lives every single day. I much prefer to hear somebody elseâs story and their experiences, how they relate to our music. Maybe one of our songs reminds them of a relative, or a loved one, or something that they went through. I think thatâs beautiful. So in that way, it could be universal. But like I said, thereâs no formula. You have to be yourself.
So you donât want to give to explain your lyrics too much?
I donât think we need to. Itâs very open, theyâre not cryptic. We read books, weâre quite intelligent people, but we donât have to write music we donât particularly want people to understand! We donât dress things up in a kind of ostentatious way, with really big words and things that are very difficult for an average person to understand. Thereâs something to be said for that, though. Some people advocate literacy and the love of language. I donât mind that, but itâs just not what we do. At least not yet! A lot of the lyrics are very open, very honest and very direct. It just goes straight to the heart of the matter, really. At the same time, I do like imagery. In the song âLost Childâ, for example, itâs really all about imagery to create the scene. So I like that kind of thing, and Iâd like to do some stuff like that in the future as well. I guess all possibilities are open, really.
The album is called Weather Systems. What do you find so inspiring in weather and nature? Do you think weather, the way that climate changes, is the best way to symbolize the polarity of human life?
I donât know if itâs the best way, but itâs a way. The emotional turbulence that we all go through in our lives can be likened to that. But itâs the feeling thatâs thereâs something bigger than ourselves, as well. Sometimes you feel like youâre not quite in control. When you see the artwork for the album, the full thing, it kind of makes more sense. I like the metaphor, I think it works on this level.
It is said about this album that âit is also an album of polarity. The play of opposites; light and shade, birth and death, love and fear. The simple truths of life and loss, hope and strength and darker internal themes are all explored hereâ. It looks like you wanted to say that every cloud has a silver lining and that every silver lining has a cloud. Do you think that, to be really happy, a man has to accept that balance and accept the fact that even the saddest moments are a part of his life?
Ultimately, yeah. If you go through life completely happy, then itâs very difficult not to think there might be something wrong, you know? Are you mentally stable, or what? Iâm not making any generalizations with that, of course. Everybodyâs life is different, everybodyâs experience is different, thereâs no grand rule to rule it all. But for the majority of us, we have to take the rough times with the smooth times. And yes, we do have to try and find our balance. I guess itâs in your heart. For us at least, itâs important to explore all sides of what we experience. We donât really want to just convey one thing, because thereâs a lot more to human life than that. Even if youâre in the happiest relationship in the world, for example, letâs say if youâre happily married, if you have a nice family, a nice house, car, job and everything else that people associate with being happy, there could be something else thatâs missing. A lot of people find that in their lives. Thereâs a lot of suffering in the world, and when you consider that music and love and friendship and loyalty are still present in people, they can help you through it as well. So thereâs a balance there, somewhere.
When we listen to the biggest part of Anathemaâs discography, we hear sadness and melancholy. And, at the opposite, while listening to Weâre Here Because Weâre Here and Weather Systems, I personally hear pure and peaceful happiness. Do you agree with that feeling? Are you happy now?
No, not completely. I donât knowâŠ All Iâm saying is that, in music that people consider to be melancholic, thereâs euphoria. You know? It can bring you to tears, but those tears are not necessarily sad. Itâs not like somebody died. Ultimately, itâs like somebody understands. With any kind of art, and music especially, when you hear something that resonates with the darkest parts of your life, itâs like somebody else gets it; somebody else understands exactly how you feel. And then you donât feel alone anymore. And even though itâs a very sad song, that is not a negative feeling, itâs not sad. Itâs kind of joyful. I remember Thom Yorke saying that; somebody asked him why he wrote such sad songs, and he said: âI donât think theyâre sad songs, to me theyâre joyfulâ. âThe Lost Childâ is a deeply dark, melancholic piece of music, but to me, itâs so intense. I donât feel sad when I listen to it. Itâs just the music that we like to make. We also write about the other side of things, like âLightning Songâ, or âSunlightâ, for example. We just like to do all the colors of our lives, rather than just the dark colors. We like to express the other side of things, too. I think what weâve reached with Weâre Here Because Weâre Here is a new level of honesty with ourselves, whereby the music that weâre putting out is a more accurate reflection of who we are. It could be said that, in the past, our previous albums, even though theyâre fantastic and beautiful for what they are, they maybe only showed a small side of what we were going through. Weâve evolved, of course, but again, itâs a musical decision.
Danny told us two years ago that Weâre Here Because Weâre Here was the first record he was a fully satisfied with. And it looks itâs the same for this one. What changed in your way of working, of writing and recording music so that you can now achieve to be fully satisfied with your artistic work?
The biggest change is internal, within the people involved. Thatâs been the biggest change. Weâre more able to realize music in the right way, now. I guess thatâs what it is. Itâs part of the process of going through life, you know? We had some tough times in the past, it was never easy. It was never easy to make records either, just like it wasnât easy to get up in the morning and do whatever you got to do with your day. The difference now is that itâs easier. Itâs easier to live. And as itâs easier to live, itâs easier to do what you need to do.
On that same subject, Danny told us: âI am in a better place in my life and so my music and my band are in a better place emotionallyâ. Do you think being happy makes you more proud of what you are doing?
No, not necessarily. I donât know, itâs a very broad term, anyway, âbeing happyâ. Happy or just content? Happy or just able to get through your day? There are different levels of what makes somebody happy. It depends how low youâve been, to be honest with you. It depends if you really did hit rock bottom or not. If youâve been suicidal and then came back from that, happiness is a very different thing compared to a normal person. Itâs just going through life without those kinds of extremes, you know? Itâs a relative term, thatâs what Iâm saying.
Whatâs the story behind the first two tracks of the album, âUntouchableâ parts 1 and 2?
Musically, the two songs were connected, to begin with. That was obvious, so it became Part 1 and Part 2. The lyrics were written after that. They are about the same experience and about the same person, and they come from the same person. Itâs very sad, actually! (laughs) Thatâs the way it is. But thereâs also a glimmer of hope in there. Again, I wonât go into details and specifics.
By the way, the guitar on the beginning of “Untouchable” reminds your acoustic version of “Are You There ?” a little bit…
Itâs a similar guitar picking style. So yeah!
Lee [Douglas, vocals] is much more present on this album. What motivated this choice?
Her voice is perfect for us, and the fact that sheâs our sister makes it even more perfect! She came to the studio more often this time, and she spent some time there. We could actually work some stuff out. Just having her there made it possible to say: âOK, Lee, we just wrote that now, do you want to try it?â We could just immediately record it, and then weâd know. It gave us the freedom to paint with the different colors that we had. I think Danny as well sings one song on the album, âSunlightâ. Heâs done some backing vocals, so we have three singers. Thatâs how we have it live, as well, so itâs cool. I think Leeâs incredible.
By the way, her voice on this album is quite different from the previous albums, and more diverse. Did she work on her singing especially for this record?
We wrote the stuff for her, but she also brought some things to the table. She brought a little bit of flair, a little bit of expression to it, and she changed a couple of tunes here and there. But one of the main things is Christer-AndrĂ© Cedeberg, the producer. Heâs very good at bringing the best out of people. Lee had a great experience with Christer, and so did I, actually. Christerâs our guy, heâs our producer now. Weâre keeping him, whether you like it or not! (laughs) Weâve found our George Martin, heâs the guy.
Danny also looks more present in the media and on stage than the past…
Heâs one of the focal points of Anathema because he writes a lot of the stuff. At least, he comes up with the initial ideas for a lot of stuff. Heâs one of the driving forces in the band, just like myself. I think itâs important to remember that John is also very important in the creative process. It also feels like Lee is starting to commit more. Lee is also a focus now, so itâs good. I donât particularly need all the attention on myself! (laughs) Iâm not an ego sort of person and I absolutely support having more than one singer. I think itâs a good thing. Like I said, itâs keeping things real.
When the previous album came out, Danny told us about the incredible working chemistry the band felt with producer Steven Wilson. Why didnât you work again with him for this album, then?
We had a good chemistry with Steven Wilson, but the difference was, he only came in on the mixing stage the last time. With this one, we wanted somebody we could work with from day one. I guess if Steven was not such a busy man, we might have chosen to work with him. But at the same time, we were interested in and intrigued by Christer-AndrĂ© Cederberg, after we heard the album from Petter Carlsen, the second album, Clouds Donât Count, which has this super cool production. As good as anything youâll hear. We thought: âOK, this guy did this in his own studio, heâs obviously a talented guy, heâs youngâŠ Letâs work with himâ. It was one of the best decisions weâve ever made. From day one, I got on with him immediately. We were kind of like roommates as well, because we were sharing an apartment in Liverpool. In the morning, we would talk about music and have breakfast, talk about the world, anything we would usually talk about in the studio. Thatâs when I know that we had a good friendship starting. When we got to the studio, it was work time, and it became easy. I was basically alongside Christer the whole time. We both tried to push, and push, and push for the best performances, the best arrangements, making sure we got everything right to the last detail. Also, we did that from the beginning of the process. On the last album, when we recorded with Les [Smith], he would say: âNo, weâll do that in the mixâ. And I was saying: âNo, no, I donât want to do that, I want to do it nowâ, but we had to wait till the mix. I was fighting with him about that. But nowadays, itâs a much easier way to work, to have everything right as itâs going down. Christer has a very even temperament. He never gets stressed out, he never gets angry. He works hard, long hours; sometimes we were doing something like 16 or 20 hours per day in the studio. We were working hard. And he never stops, so while he was there, I felt I had to work hard too. It was good, we got the best results weâve ever had.
Do you think youâll change again for the next album?
No. Like I said, this is our guy. Heâs our George Martin, our Nigel Godrich. The Beatles had George Martin, Radiohead had Nigel Godrich, and weâve got Christer Cederberg. Thatâs the way itâs gonna stay, as far as Iâm concerned. Unless, of course, he becomes too famous and wants a big huge paycheck! (laughs) In that case, weâll see!
Interview conducted on february, 20th, 2012 by phone.
TranscriptionÂ : Saffâ
Anathema’s WebsiteÂ : www.anathema.ws
New album : Weather Systems, out on april, 16th, 2012.
This post is also available in: French