Anathema are currently going through the most productive and commercially successful period of their long and fruitful career and that fact alone is enough to get guitarist and founding member Danny Cavanagh in high spirits.
Smiling and accommodating, the forty one year old founding member of the best band to come out of Liverpool since The Beatles talked to me about all things Anathema: his impressions of their recent acoustic European shows and that of the upcoming DVD/Blu-ray release “Universal”.
Once this topic was covered, he invited his band mate in Leafblade, Sean Jude, to join our talk and, with his help, we tried to analyse what it is about the material they created together, which is featured on the latest album “The Kiss of Spirit and Flesh”, that has such a profound effect on this very important member of the Cavanagh family.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
- Danny, I would like to start this interview in a slightly unorthodox way. I want to mentally take you back to the period between 2006 & 2010 which was, for sure, the least productive and positive period in Anathema’s history.Music For Nations, your then label, ceased to exist, you, on a personal level, were involved in various different projects and it felt to us, the fans, that the members of the band had begun to drift apart somewhat.
Somehow, the band managed to stay together, found a new label (Kscope) and is now going through its most productive and commercially successful period. Looking back at this whole situation, what would you say brought about this change of fortune for you?
Danny: It was back in 2005 that I got some much needed help from a personal therapist. It was only a few sessions that I did but they were very beautiful with regards opening up my mind, releasing all past negativity and look forwards to the then present. That was very, very powerful stuff and, when that happened, my mind opened up to a new way of creativity and my lifestyle changed for the better.
Things got easier and more emotional but in a way different from what I was used to – more life-affirming, more positive. That happened in 2005, following which we got together and wrote the song “Thin Air”, with “Dreaming Light” coming together a year or two after. This was the beginning of the rebirth of Anathema!
We didn’t have a manager in those days so it was difficult for our focus to be pointed in terms or record labels and deals but, once a manager was in place, Kscope came into the picture and it all fell into place. It was a meeting of synchronicities and it really felt like we were on the right path and…here we are.
- Having found yourselves in the same situation that bands like Marillion have been for quite a long time, having crossed the difficult border which leads to a band being in full control of things, what made you switch the band to ‘record label mode’?
Danny: Promotion! You still need labels; they are still very valuable people and they can also focus things for you as deadlines are good for us. If we don’t have deadlines things can take a very long time to materialise. The thing about records is that they are never completed – you never finish them, but you end up going round and round in circles.
So, it is good to have a set of people who believe in the music and who can say to us things like “we need it by this date – ok, we can be flexible but we need it around this time”. It is also the pure promotional side of things as they can arrange interviews and things like that.
With Kscope it feels like a family – that’s what I would say is the case with them. They are nice, down-to-earth people who believe in our music so much and we believe in them. They have created a good family atmosphere for us and for that reason alone I am happy to be with that record label.
Also, you do reach more people if you work with a record label. If you release the record yourself you are only going to reach the fans that you already have – to make new fans, you probably need to work with a record label I think…maybe the internet will prove me wrong on this, I don’t know.
- Being a fan of the band since day one, I am particularly pleased to see you well established and highly respected by the industry, including the magazines Classic Rock and Prog, which have embraced you so warmly.There always seems to be a small feature and info about the band circulating on their pages, a highlight being you winning an award for “Best Live Event” in 2012. I do tend to wonder, however, why it took these magazines and the music industry in general such a long time to recognise the band’s true value.
Danny: Well, we’ve always had good press, even going back to the time of albums like “Alternative 4” and “Judgement”…actually, even before that. We’ve always had good press and we’ve always had a record label believing in us.
We sold a lot of records back in 1999 so I think that it (note: recognition) has always been there but perhaps now it has gone up a level and that is possibly because of the song writing. The song writing quality has gone up a level and I think that people appreciate quality.
If something really ‘hits you’ then you will react to it and maybe our music, at least to me, is…is, I would say, higher quality of song writing than it was before. The fans might disagree but I do think that this is the reason why.
- Fans will always disagree because you cannot…
Danny:…you cannot please them all, right? I know…
- So Kscope is partly responsible for all the attention you have been getting recently?
Danny: Yes, partly, of course! They believe in the music and they have built a good roster. It is a great label, a family of bands. Of course, label help is important but the music comes first, you know, and if the music was not very good then things would have not been the same for us.
- There are so many different aspects to the music industry that the average fan is neither aware of not interested in, but some things are impossible to ignore.Kscope, to me, comes across as the kind of label that puts a lot of attention to detail and that is clearly manifested in the quality of the end products that feature its logo.
As far as Anathema are specifically concerned, the limited 2LP edition of “Untouchable”, of which I am a proud owner, is simply stunning.
Danny: That’s all up to the guy over there that is fixing the camera (note: pointing at the man in question) – he is the guys that put it all together. Vinnie (note: Danny’s brother and the band’s frontman) also takes great pride in dealing with the artwork side of things. He is really on top of that and his girlfriend is a fantastic visual artist. She is a very talented sculptor/artist and it is her and Vinny that put a lot of attention to detail. I agree with you about the quality of “Untouchable”; I saw it for the very first time a couple of hours ago and it is really beautiful indeed.
- Most importantly, the location where the live show was filmed, the ancient Roman theatre of Philippopolis, was excellent. It must have been a stunning place to perform live and quite a proud moment for you, right?
Danny: Yeah, absolutely! It was a lovely evening and we had perfect weather. There was even great synchronicity where, at the end of the last song of the main set, we did a vocal chant with the audience which was unplanned and the result was stunning. All that happening in such a beautiful venue, you know what I mean?
You cannot see it too well on camera but we could all see that from the stage and we were all pointing that out to ourselves as we could not believe it. It was a very special night where everything just came together. The plan to do a DVD (note: “Universal”) came after the concert. The concert was booked anyway and we had the opportunity to play with an orchestra and that is when the idea for a DVD came from our manager.
- Playing live with a full orchestra behind you must be a daunting task.
Danny: It is probably more daunting to them as they cannot hear themselves properly (laughs). They have a loud Rock band playing in front of them and they normally cannot hear anything else, but it was great in the end.
I was determined not to be nervous and I wasn’t. I intended to enjoy it from the start and I did. From the moment I went on stage I just managed to relax and enjoy the experience and not worry as to whether something could go wrong. I was conscious about making the effort to enjoy myself.
- How much time did you have on your hands to rehearse with the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra?
Danny: We had a sound check on the day with the orchestra and that was a long day with the sun hitting us on our backs and that was the only real rehearsal that we had with them. We rehearsed as a band for ten days in England before we arrived for the show, so we did our homework and then we worked with the orchestra for one full day.
It was a tough day but it was worth it as people worked so hard – especially our road crew. We had a guy who was managing the stage that day and he was working like three people together for twenty four hours just to put that stage together. These are the people behind the scenes that made it possible for us and we have actually a picture of them in our Blu-ray version to thank them for the job that they did for us.
- Correct me if I am wrong but there is quite some gap between the release of the vinyl (note: “Untouchable”) and the DVD/Blu-ray (note: Universal”) version of that show. A somewhat unusual approach, is it not?
Danny: It was the label’s idea to which I just said Ok. They wanted to make a limited release of the show on vinyl and I just agreed.
- Based on past experience, your live DVDs have been quite spectacular affairs of the best audio/visual quality so I, for one, am really looking forward to getting my hands on “Universal”. I believe that the release will take place end of September, right?
Danny: Yes, it will be out both on DVD and Blu-Ray end of September.
- Danny, you recently returned from the ‘old continent’ where you performed our material in an acoustic setting as a three piece: you, your brother Vinnie and Lee. Were the rest of the team annoyed with you for having left them out of it all?
Danny: No – they are used to it (laughs). It is very much to be able sometimes to perform in a quieter mode as we do some unusual things like loop sounders with both the percussion and the guitar. That approach kind of gives things some energy, it gives it ‘animal’ strength, to which people can either clap along or sing along to. It was great and we really like that format as it really works for Anathema.
- So which do you prefer: the acoustic or the electric format?
Danny: There is no preference – it’s like comparing night and day and you need both rain and sunshine in life. I do enjoy the acoustic setting, though. I love the fact that it is so easy to do: it is a quiet, peaceful and easy-going way to perform and tour.
- I have been lucky enough to see you guys perform live countless times over the years and, in order to evaluate the band’s opinion of a performance I always focus on you. Why? Because you really cannot hide what you feel: when you are really happy about the way the concert is going, you smile throughout the whole time, but when you’re not it looks like a massive dark cloud is hanging over your head.
Danny: I know – I will try to change that (laughs).
- Danny, we wouldn’t like you to be any other way – it is part of who you are.
Danny: Well, yeah. My emotions sometimes…sometimes it is them controlling me and not the other way round, but that does help when you are writing songs so…
Let’s talk about tonight’s show. You are headlining a very impressive and much varied group of bands/musicians – a top billing that will celebrate Kscope’s 5 years in the music business. What is it that you have prepared for us?
Danny: Well, we are going to perform songs mainly from our last two albums as well as some of our much loved classics. I will also be performing with one of the support bands tonight that is called Leafblade and which released a very good record recently called “The Kiss of Spirit and Flesh”. Sean (note: Jude – singer and main composer) is over here – shall I call him to join our discussion?
- By all means!
Danny: Sean is a friend of mine from Liverpool who has always been very poetic and a very natural guitar player – a very natural song writer. I really like his material because it takes me to a particular place that no other music can take me. It may have to do with our history but…yeah, he’s going to play as well tonight so I am going to invite him over. Sean? Do you want to join this interview? This is Sean from Leafblade who will also perform here tonight.
Sean: Hi there, are you alright? I am loving this: doing an interview sitting in the grass and under a massive beautiful tree.
- Danny and I were having a very interesting conversation so far and we just now started to talk about Leafblade and the overall music relationship that exists between the two of you. There is a new album that’s out called “The Kiss of Spirit and Flesh” which has received quite positive feedback and I also happen to like it very much indeed. Congratulations are in order.
Sean: You like the album? Nice.
Danny: That’s always nice to hear; it seems that everything works well then. You know I have been a fan of Sean’s stuff for twenty odd years but what I noticed was that, as time was going by, he was getting better and better. He’s never let go of me, something that we’ve discussed between us quite a few times already. It is the way his music hits a particular spot in me that no other music does – it is only his stuff that does that to me so I agreed to help him produce it and that’s what we did.
Sean: Produce he did… From acoustic frameworks and from kind of ‘bardic’ outlook with the more gentile poetry to the more raised stuff, filled with electric guitar, the lush orchestration and the mystical types of drums. When I first heard the stuff we did, that is when the band was rehearsing in the studio, I was pleasantly astounded as to where these things can go. He has given rearrangements extra energy and it has a pretty euphoric feel as an album as a result of all that.
- When you are the mastermind behind a band, as is the case with you in Leafblade, it must be kind of difficult to invite another strong personality, in this case Danny, and ask him to contribute to what effectively is your musical vision. What is it about Danny that convinced you that asking him to join forces was not a bad idea after all?
Sean: It’s the history behind it all, I think. Not only from my early days when I was doing the storytelling and the Prog Rock stuff. There was a commonality with Danny as far as the storytelling and the green element (note: it seems that Sean here is referring to being in touch with nature) that I share with Danny and I think that it was on the back of that history that we managed to put this new album together.
Our relationship has been in an infant state acoustically for years but it had continued to formulate a closeness and understanding behind the scenes. There have always been times when we visited abbeys or castles together with a few friends or celebrated times in the woods with firelight or candlelight.
We have shared scenes under moonlight and by doing that you are, in many ways, living the dream. This is not just a façade that we put up on stage. Behind the stage we’ve shared these wonderful, spiritual moments together with our bass player Kevin and a few of our close friends being also there.
We have just listened to the absolute silence and shared resonance and when you can share resonance together, even through silence, you know that you can extend that to your guitar strings to frameworks and thoughts of music. So, there is a great history there which has formulated to the point now that we can sit now under this tree outside the venue at which we plan on performing soon and have some fun on stage together.
- Its sounds like a pretty cathartic experience.
Danny: Yeah, it is. You know, I really adore Sean’s work. I always have and, when I first saw him on stage back in Halloween 1990, I had listened to his music and had noticed that there was something really special about it. It was one of his lyrics and its vocal melody that I heard back in 1990 – that’s how far back it goes! Especially in 1995 when we started our common outdoors excursions together I knew his music a lot, I had studied his lyrics and, to be perfectly honest, he wrote a song back then that made me want to almost completely give up music – it was so good (laughs).
I felt like I should start again or change jobs all together. I managed to grow into my own a little bit later but is has just always been there. I am a fan and we do go back a long way. It was all those initial forays into the forest all those years ago too, and when we first got together with Kscope I wanted to approach them about Sean’s music as I think that it is that good and that people would like it.
I wanted people to be able to experience what I felt; that natural, mystical, beautiful green kind of natural wonder that’s in the music. Other people can feel that too and the lyrics are so poetic. He was explaining to me the other day something in the lyrics that I didn’t quite understand, something about the meaning of it, and, I swear to God, that since then I have been almost in awe listening to that inspiration of his. I remember thinking to myself “Wow, I think I need to sit down for a minute” (laughs).
Sean: It is beautiful. I mean, you love that stuff you do so much and to be able to hear, to have the extra dimensions to the concepts can fortify your love and interest for something. It’s like getting to know somebody, like continuing falling in love with the person that you’re with on account of even a flaw or some new nuance to themselves that you think “You showed me so much more about that which is so edifying, there’s more of a gravity to it” that it endears you more to the art.
- I remember listening to the album while driving to Suffolk one day, and, though I am generally quite a stressed individual, I remember feeling quite calm and peaceful as a result. This is not something that happens quite easily with me, so I guess that you can take it as a compliment.
Danny: You know – it calms me too! There is something very calming about it and I believe that it is because of the man behind the music. Sean is a very special artist and that also reaches out in other areas of his psyche. It is the way he lives – he is a very healthy person.
When I quit drinking back in 2005, I did visit a therapist and all that, but it was Sean that helped me get through that. It was then that we would go to Wales and the forests carrying with us flasks of tea and he encouraged me. At some point he told me “Do it for me” and that brought me through the first year of taking in this new healthy way of life.
It all comes down to the love of music, ultimately. I just love his stuff. He’s got new melodies coming which I think makes him a musical genius! Don’t ask me where they come from but I have listened to the tune “Haunted Autumn” and turned it off after ten seconds thinking “Jesus, where did that come from”? So there will be another record and Kscope will salute that and will give it to people.
Sean: Yes, a new album will come out at some point.
- Guys, what you are doing together is really special so best of luck with that – I will look forward to listening to your new music hopefully soon.
Sean: Thank you.
Danny: Thanks, Yiannis.
Sean: And Yiannis, stay unstressed!
- I will need to listen again to “The Kiss Of Spirit and Flesh” soon.
Sean: That’s the best medication.
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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