On the eve of their 25th Anniversary (almost) I chat with Vincent Cavanagh of UK legends Anathema to discuss their legacy.
Bands react to genres in different ways. Some bands are happy to set up home in the very heart of their genre, wearing it and its conventions like a badge of honour (and there's nothing wrong with that). Some bands on the other hand are not keen to be put in boxes.
Since their earliest days as one of the progenitors of the Doom/Death Metal subgenre, Liverpool's Anathema has never stuck too closely to the script. Over almost a quarter of a century the band have transformed from heavier than thou metal to psychedelic space rock, and onto a form of progressive which is now very difficult to find a comparison for. In short they have forged their own sound at every turn, with little regard for what anyone else thinks.
I personally have a deep affection for the band (along with their contemporaries of the early 90's Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride) as they were some of the first acts to show me music could be properly cinematic. Add to that the fact that between them they've introduced me to the music of bands as diverse as (80's US Doomsters) Trouble and Dead Can Dance, for the sake of full disclosure, you could say I'm a loyal fan boy. Now on the eve of a retrospective headline show to celebrate their 25th Anniversary I get to chat to, main man, Vincent Cavanagh about this amazing band's legacy.
Hi Vincent, Tell me how it feels to celebrating Anathema's twenty-five year anniversary?
Actually the truth is we started Anathema in late '91 so 25 candles seems a little premature, maybe because the more numbers you have on an anniversary the less you want to know.
We've always been evolving and trying new things in our music, so it still feels very new and fresh to us, like we've only shown a small part of what we can do. There's a lot of ground to cover.
When you and Danny first formed the band did you ever imagine you'd get to this point?
When you're 15, 16 you don't really think that far ahead do you? I still don't to this day.
We have always focused on the present and the near future. But I'm massively proud that the same bunch of kids who started off playing music for fun are still here to this day, still making music because through everything, our friendship and brotherhood has held it's ground. We have stayed true to each other and the music we create and ideas we have come out of that deep bond, the collective memory and shared vision.
At the risk of treading over old ground tell us a little bit about how the band first came together and what you wanted to do?
When I was 11 years old, on the first day of school I was sat alphabetically next to John
Douglas (drums). This very nearly didn't happen as I could have gone to a different school, but due to this turn of fate we met, became friends and the whole thing stemmed from there. When we were about 15, we started hanging around with Danny a bit more, playing football every day on Stanley Park, Liverpool. "Jumpers for goalposts, isn't it wasn't it?" (Apologies if you've never seen 'The Fast Show'). He was well on his way to being a good guitarist at this point. I knew a few chords, but the rest of us just had the enthusiasm, so we picked it up as we went along. We wrote hilarious joke songs and recorded them on a kids' Fisher Price tape recorder. Anyway, not long after we'd somehow got serious and before we knew it had a record deal and were off on tour. Bonkers!
Did the whole "Doom/Death" scene feel as coherent as a lot of writers have made it seem in hindsight, or were things a little more disparate?
It's never a 'genre' until somebody gives it a name. I can't speak for the other protagonists, but from our side, by the time it had been called something, we had already moved on. But let's give credit where it's due here, the first to kick it off were Paradise Lost. We picked up that influence quickly but even from the beginning, when we wrote and recorded 'Crestfallen' for the first time it felt like we had a different approach. On the first record we experimented a bit. For instance we wrote a short piece, learned how to play it backwards, recorded it with the tape in reverse, then played the tape forwards to reveal the original song, with that reversed effect. We had classical/orchestral movements, spoken word, folky acoustic stuff with female vocals, and a 23-minute ambient synth piece. We never wanted to pin ourselves down to any one genre.
The music we were listening to at that time had an influence on this mentality too because we weren't listening to any of the other bands in the scene. I remember when I was 17 I was working at a recording studio and the guys there introduced me to Aphex Twin's 'Didgeridoo' and Hardfloor's 'Hardtrance Acperience', which blew my head right off. Most intense music I'd ever heard. It all coincided with meeting Duncan (bass) who was instrumental in our discovery of psychedelics and 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn'. We listened to The Beatles almost constantly.
Looking back on it now, I think we always knew we were going to go somewhere else with our music. We weren't exactly sure where, but it was inevitable.
It feels like there have been very distinct periods in your career. Who is influencing your song writing in 2015 as opposed to 1990?
It's a funny one that because I think it's possible as a songwriter to be inspired by others without wanting to sound like them. Recently I've been listening to stuff like Casino vs
Japan, Max Richter, Frankie Sparo, Johann Johannson, Aphex Twin, James Blake, Deru,
Murcof, Bjork, Caribou, Brambles, Jon Hopkins... I haven't listened to many bands for a long time, just a couple. Most of the stuff I like is made by individuals. I like artists that are diverse, that aren't afraid to change and evolve, which is why I don't mind being associated with the term 'progressive', not as an antiquated genre, but as a forward thinking ethos.
Tell me a little bit about where the band is at the moment? I know you guys released your last (as in most recent) album 'Distant Satellites' in the middle of last year.
There are quite a few tunes knocking about. Danny, John & I have quite a lot to bring to the table already. We'll probably start looking at it all in detail in the summer. We already have very clear ideas about how we want to record our next album. We learned a lot during the making of 'Distant Satellites'.
What was it like working with (Porcupine Tree main man) Steve Wilson on that project?
He was a lifesaver. Stepping in at the last minute to mix two tracks, which our hero
Christer Andre Cederberg (producer) couldn't mix because he had to have an emergency operation. We were on tour in America at the time, so as you can imagine it was pretty stressful. But as soon as we heard Steven was available we could relax a bit because we knew the songs were in safe hands.
Tell me a little bit about The Resonance show happening in April, are you looking forward to revisiting some of the earlier material? I understand there will be some special guests?
Yeah I'm really looking forward to this now. For all sorts of reasons, firstly because we'll be revisiting a lot of tunes that we haven't played in a long while. It's a chance for the band to reclaim our relationship with those songs, a relationship which is much more fervid and visceral when you physically play the stuff, as opposed to putting on the record, which I never do. Those songs are not only a part of our discography; they are part of our life story so we're extremely protective of that. In some corners people surmise that because you have changed so much that you somehow have a disregard for your earlier records... they obviously don't know us very well. So this tour is our way to honour our heritage and two people in particular who played an enormous part in our formative years as a band: Darren White (vocals) and Duncan Patterson (bass). Both are visionaries in their own right, songwriters, gifted lyricists, their involvement in the band's identity and early evolution cannot be over stated. We're still very close, but haven't seen a lot of each other in recent years, so going on tour with them is going to be a laugh. That's what I remember most about our early touring, we had so much fun, so we can't wait.
The gigs themselves will be almost 3 hours in length, split into 3 parts, spanning the bands entire discography, starting with the newest songs, heading back in time through the albums, then set 2 will be with Duncan for everything between Alternative 4 and The
Silent Enigma, then the final set with Darren for songs from Pentecost III, Serenades and some of the rarer stuff. I'm personally looking forward to that part of the set because I'll get the chance to be the sideman again, the rhythm guitarist; life was easier in those days! Quite possibly some of the most important gigs we'll have done to date, and a chance for fans to get to experience some of these tunes for the last time (possibly).
How does it feel to have the returning Music for Nations re-releasing 3 of your albums around the same time too?
It's been very cool to be given the chance to re-master those records, with 'A Fine Day
To Exit' getting the biggest overhaul with a new track list and the inclusion of an intro that was discarded at the time. So from a personal standpoint, that's the most important thing for us. It's also a chance for people who have got on board in the last couple of years to hear what we were about from 1999-2004. That was an important period for us, after Duncan left, John rejoined and we forged ahead musically, continuing our evolution instead of relying on the successes of the past. I'm happy to be in a band that is in a constant state of change, so much now that people expect that from us, a rarity these days when a lot of people are playing it safe in order to pander to their fan base. But the most important thing for us regardless of all the talk of progression, is the tunes,
Anathema play at the Shepherds Bush Empire on the 16th April 2015.