Here at Room Thirteen, we have been giving some massively favourable album and live reviews to Anathema. It's no wonder, when they are making some of the most critically acclaimed beautiful and haunting music of their career. Their new album Distant Satellites, combines progressive rock, orchestral, electronic and acoustic styles, in a completely amazing group of songs. We caught up with Vincent Cavanagh (lead vocals and guitars) from the band, on their recent UK tour, before going onstage in Glasgow, for what turned out to be a refreshingly honest and deep conversation, about what makes the band tick. With thanks to Keiran Allen for asking a number of the questions.
R13: The 'Distant Satellites' album has been universally acclaimed, and here at Room Thirteen, we gave it our highest rating of 13. What has been the impact on the band of such a positive response?
VC: It's reassuring. We are intensely fierce critics of our own music. We weren't sure about this one? We were more sure about We're Here Because We're Here and Weather Systems, and with this one it was, let's see how it does. It's done really really well, so it's surprised us. What's most rewarding about it, is getting out and playing the tunes live. If you look on our Facebook page, people are saying the new tunes are really good live, it's really happening. That's cool, that's the best thing about it.
R13: On 'Distant Satellites', there seem to be some really sophisticated percussive and drum patterns, that have a virtuoso quality to them. As a band are you keen to realise a space for everyone to grow and stretch themselves musically?
VC: Definitely. Daniel Cardoso switching from keyboards to drums has enabled us to try out different polyrhythms. We have always been heavily into rhythm, electronic music and dance music. We have done some experimentation with that in the past, on songs like Closer. With this one we thought we would really go for it. Its something we will continue to do, because John has moved on to the electronic percussion. You will see you that tonight, and he's still a major songwriter for the band. We have the best of both worlds; live we have got a top drummer, and the electronics. So it just completely opens up things for us, and we are adding more strings to our bow every time. Seems like we have four sides to the band, the rock band, the electronic side of things, the acoustic stuff, and the orchestral side. So the album is a mix of the four.
R13: Your music seems to straddle a range of audiences, such that you can appear quite naturally in both Prog and Metal magazines. How important to you, is it to have that kind of musical reach?
VC: Yeah absolutely. If its journalist that writes for a metal magazine or electronic magazine, I don't mind. If they consider that the audience of their magazine will be interested, that's cool by me. I think we have a broad mix on the audience side, we have got the metalers and people into all sorts of stuff, and all ages, its cool.
R13: Where do your musical ambitions lie after such a universally acclaimed album?
VC: Oh absolutely. For us we never stop writing, and we never stop thinking we can do better. It's always been there, we are never satisfied, even if we like an album, it's like we still think we can do better. There's too much out there, the music we listen too is on a different level to this band, we are still aspiring.
R13: That's a natural lead into our next question. We are really intrigued, on the tour bus, what music is Anathema listening too?
VC: I have been listening a lot to Jon Hopkins. He has an album called Immunity, which came out in 2013, which I think is the best album released that year. Atoms for Peace and Radiohead. So far on this tour, which is only a few days old, I have listened three times to Rings Around the World by Super Furry Animals. That is one of my Desert Island Discs, it's got everything that record, I absolutely love it. One of the best albums of all time as far as I am concerned. I have listened to the first couple of Oasis albums. I have been listening to Johann Johannsson's Fordlandia. To Pettar Carlsen, our Norwegian singer songwriter friend, and his new album Sirens. I've been listening to Clint Mansell, as I like soundtrack stuff as well. Funnily enough I don't listen to a lot of bands, or at least not current bands. The only current band I really listen too now are probably Atoms for Peace and And You Will know Us By The Trail Of The Dead.
R13: A very eclectic mix, very impressive .
R13: The lyrical themes on the new album seem to revolve around love and loss, and the emotional power of memories, and give a real emotional charge to the music. How did that emerge in the writing of the album?
VC: Do you know what, I think the process is pretty much the same since Crestfallen. It just pours out of you. You will know beforehand that there is something you want to say. You won't quite know what it is yet, but you will know I've got to do this. Sometimes it can take a bit of time, and sometimes it will happen very naturally. A song like Anathema, you couldn't get more to the bone than that, its basically just laying yourself open. The idea to write in the third person, or to write fictitious lyrics, it would feel a bit alien to us. When I was a kid I used to listen to Iron Maiden, and for them lyrically it was like, what old films from the sixties haven't we done. I'm not slagging them, that's what they did, and it was dead cool at the time, and I was made up as a kid with all that. Then you get an album like The Wall, by Roger Waters, it completely changes you. We all got into that album around the same time when we were 16/17, and we had first hand experience of people having psychotic episodes and with serious psychological problems, family members and friends. It just happens, especially around drugs and alcohol, and growing up in working class Liverpool. Its like on the streets here, part of the social environment. Having that little bit of knowledge, we then had that album as a study. That's essentially what that album is, it's so in depth and goes into every bit of his psyche, and breaks them all down, its just a wonderful piece of work. It was also inspiring at that point to think of The Wall, as the most complete work of art I had experienced. Its not just an album, its a theatre piece, its a movie, its a whole stage show. There is a real history and real story behind it, its based on real people, and there is an element of Roger's own psyche in there with the loss of his father. We thought if its good enough for Roger Waters, its good enough for us.
R13: Staying with lyrical themes, you seem to be able across albums, to create contrasting moods lyrically, from deep melancholia to a gentle optimism, for example the lyrical shift through ' A Natural Disaster', to 'We Are Here Because We Are Here'. Does the writing in that sense reflect the emotional mood around the band at that point in time?
VC: With A Natural Disaster, that song is about a break up. WithWe Are Here Because We Are Here there was a certain amount of euphoria attached to that one. It's like being free of your personal demons finally, and how that makes you feel.
R13: Sort of personal therapy.
VC: Whatever you call it, I had certain hang ups, like most people do. I did the work myself to change that. It was all about negative behaviour patterns, and it was about changing my life from certain structures I had set up since I was a teenager, and just changing everything about how I lived my life, who I chose to live it with, where I chose to live it, in what circumstances, and finding a new place to be, a new way of life. Once I made those changes I started to realise I am alright, I'm an okay person. That was a thing I used to carry around as a kid, I used to have a negative self-image. Once I dropped that I was open, I wasn't doubting myself anymore. I wasn't fearing anything. I realised I can do something with this now. I was living in this new place and doing open mic nights in a cellar bar in Liverpool, just turning up with my guitar and doing songs I had written, to whoever was there. No one knew I was in a band or anything, and I would meet people after and they would say that was really good, that was cool. Previously I didn't know I had any talent at all, I didn't consider it. Shortly after that, I met... we were already friends...I got together with my girlfriend, and that was a really positive thing. I don't believe that it would have happened if I was still in the same place that I was even just one month before that. It was me changing my life and way of thinking, that enabled me to invite this kind of thing into my life. Since then I have never looked back, and that was seven years ago.
R13: That's really incredible.
R13: The song 'Internal Landscapes' on 'Weather Systems' is one of your most striking songs, and has such passionate, heartbreaking and heartwarming lyrics. What was the key influence on that song.
VC: In terms of the narrative at the beginning of the song, it was just instrumental at that point, but we got in touch with Joe Geraci to meet the guy. We got his details through a documentary about near death experiences in 1979, and this guy Joe Geraci was explaining his experience in the documentary. So we spoke to Joe on a personal basis. That guy is for real, and you can explain it away, but if you speak to him for five minutes, I don't doubt his words for a second, he's not making it up. What got me is the bit where he realized that this was it, and was trying to muster the strength to say goodbye to his wife. Its a beautiful story.
R13: How was the experience of playing acoustically in the atmospheric setting of Gloucester Cathedral?.
VC: Gloucester Cathedral was just one of the most special places we have played in our lives. Just to be around that type of architecture and play with the reverb in the place. It was magical. Even backstage, well I call it a backstage, but it was in fact a mini chapel room, and it was quite big. Like everything in Gloucester Cathedral is quite big. There was a grand piano in the corner, and Danny (vocals, keyboards and lead guitar) came in, and he hadn't much sleep and I could tell he was a bit grouchy. So I said to him, you can have the piano, you can have this room, there is tea and coffee and food, just sit there and sort yourself out. I will set up the stage, so don't worry about it. He then got his iPhone out and wrote this tune, and in fact it's going on the next album, and its dark. You will probably like it.
R13: You have got three brothers in the band.
VC: Two families.
R13: Yeah two families, its a very family orientated band. How does it run in terms of the relationships?.
VC: I think we were about 17 when we first started going on tour, at that age you don't really give a shit, and when we got into our early/mid twenties, we were seriously hammering everything at that point, and that creates its own problems, and there were a few tensions around then. When we hit thirty we realised, especially me and Danny, that we had more in common than we didn't, and we had more respect for each other than we previously thought. It just came through hanging out. Me and Danny went on tour together doing acoustic gigs, around Europe for a couple of weeks. It was brilliant, he was still drinking in those days, so me and him were drinking buddies, so we were having a ball. We were both recently single, so we were just like partners in crime. That consolidated our relationship, and ever since then we have been fine.
R13: You guys recently played the Download Festival, and that isn't perhaps your usual thing, how was it within that type of festival line up.
VC: It was good. The sound on stage was a bit off-putting, all I was getting for the entire gig was one bass drum very loud. I couldn't hear anything else. I got into it half way through, and I think we finished strongly. We premiered Distant Satellites off the new album, which is almost completely all electronics, and it was the first time we played it, at the biggest gig of the year. It went down really well, and we all felt good after that. Came off stage and I went back to the hotel and watched the World Cup (laughter).
R13: Thank you we have really enjoyed the interview, its been a great conversation.
VC: Your welcome, cheers lads.
Anathema are currently causing audiences to fall in love with them across Europe, and have recently announced an amazing set of acoustic Cathedral gigs in the UK during March 2015. It feels like their time has come, and deservedly so. Don't miss out on this incredible band and their music.