“Weather Systems”, the previous Anathema record, is seen by many as one of the finest releases in the band’s impressive back catalogue. We caught up with Daniel Cavanagh (vocals/guitar) to probe his mind on “Distant Satellites”, utilising different kind of musical influences, Anathema’s current good fortunes and doing acoustic gigs with former The Gathering vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen.
“Weather Systems” received incredibly critical acclaim and it’s seen as one of the finest Anathema album by many. Did this put on any strain on you and the rest of the band while writing and creating the new album?
Not really, I was really confident about the course we were going and the songwriting ideas that were flowing around. I would have felt a lot of pressure if we didn’t had the tunes, but we had plenty of those luckily. Once “Lost” part 1, 2 and 3 came I felt okey. That was back in March 2013.
“Distant Satellites” is described as almost the music culmination of Anathema’s musical evolution and growth over the years. Can you explain this please?
It basically takes all the elements in our music that we’ve done over the years, like the guitar and piano parts and the orchestral elements. Obviously our vocal delivery and harmonies are a big part of our sound as well. We felt like that we haven’t covered all the ground in our sound yet, so the electronic influences are a nice change of pace. Especially the title tracks is a good example of what the new album is all about. “Distant Satellites” has all the familiar Anathema traits and more in my opinion, but it’s clear that we’re not interested in making another album like “Weather Systems”. Seen in that light choosing ‘Distant Satellites” as our album track was conscious decision.
The album is described in the bio as “more restrained” and “stripped down”. Can you explain in which light this should be seen?
“Distant Satellites” isn’t as layered as “Weather Systems”. That album has so many things going on. The same thing goes “We’re Here Because We’re Here”. Our new record contains far less layers. For example, the beginning of ‘Lost part 3’ is just drums, bass, electronics and piano and that’s it. Than the guitars and ambient tone sets in. It isn’t as layered, it just sounds big. There is less going on than you might imagine.
What I really like are the electric/dubstep undertones on the title tracks and “You’re Not Alone”. Who brought this in?
Some members in the band are huge fans of electronic music and if they had their way they would have make a complete dubstep/electronica Anathema record. However, that wouldn’t be right for us as a band, because we like to mix things up. They’re way within their right to make such an album if they want to, but it wouldn’t be under the Anathema moniker. The electronic elements will always be a part of our sound, just like the guitars. Just like we wouldn’t do an entire guitar-based album, we wouldn’t make a full on electronica-based record.
Can you take us through the creative and recording process of “Distant Satellites”?
Of course! We started with the writing and demoing phase in March 2013 and lived with the demos for about six months. Then we did another session with Vincent (Cavanagh.ed) and John (Douglas.ed) in November 2013 for five days to which songs would make the cut. We entered the studio on December 2nd last year to record the album.
We took same time off around Christmas and we finished the whole thing in March this year. That’s it. The album was pretty much put together in the studio. The melodies and motives were all there. The lyrics were mostly done on the spot and the music came together pretty quickly. That things went so quickly is mostly thanks to our producer Christer-Andre Cederberg. Every note goes through him.
You enjoy a very close working relationship with Christer-Andre Cederberg and he was very much involved in the previous record as well. Would it be a fair statement to see him as an honorary band member?
In a way he certainly is. He’s kinda like our George Martin, the fifth Beatle kind of thing. It feels like that. He’s very positive and he’s the right kind of guy for a band like us. He works extremely hard and I couldn’t imagine us working another producer. He’s the guy.
Daniel Cardoso is an official member of Anathema now. What did he contribute to the new album?
He wasn’t involved in the songwriting process. The songwriting team is John Douglas, myself and Vincent Cavanagh. It’s been like this since the “Judgement” album or even before that. What Daniel did was playing great drums in the studio. He was only there for the first week in the studio, but he did a fantastic job. After he was finished we gave him a flight home and he went straight into producing an album for somebody else.
John and I spend a lot of time in the studio making the record. All the musical decisions are mostly me, John and Vincent, with the producer helping us out. The final decisions are made by the band. Nowadays John is more involved with the songwriting process, making electronic loops and percussion. He’s there because he knows how to write the album track for an Anathema album and nobody can do that like him, part from me. He’s really special in that regard.
Perhaps Vinnie can come up with the goods sometime in the future. John is a part of our songwriting core and he has a lot of insights in our heritage and our musical tastes are very similar. It’s been like this very much from the beginning. I feel very comfortable with him.
Every Anathema album takes a listener on a journey through a plethora of different emotions. How do you manage to come up with such music? Are there times that you need to detach yourself from the music because certain emotions and memories come to close?
When you’re playing live it’s more about feeling and connecting with the energy from the audience and not so much about the message of a song. That part comes when you’re writing a song or a lyric. I feel it when I’m recording an album or when I listen to an album after the recording is done. When you’re playing live you’re in a whole different world and I focus on staying in the moment. Things can become emotional during acoustic sessions, but when they’re written down and recorded I can distance myself from it. The most profound moments for me is during the writing and creative process.
Steven Wilson also mixed some tracks on the album. When did he get in the picture? Was it difficult to get a hold of him, since he embarked on a very successful solo career?
Not really. Steven had a couple of days off and that is all it took for him to mix some songs. In all honesty he wasn’t suppose to mix the album at all. The story is that Christer needed to go to the hospital for a couple of days and it’s to his great credit that he managed to finish the album on time. Much against his doctor’s advice he did mix the album. At one point I told him if he could get Steven Wilson I’d stop panicking. He did just that. I love what Steven did with ‘You’re Not Alone’. He works very quickly and he’s able to make musical decisions as well. I trust his musical talent. He’s a very busy guy, so unless I got something serious I wouldn’t bother him as far as possible side projects go.
Ever since the release of We’re Here Because We’re Here the band is on a really good run both creatively and as far popularity. What are the contributing factors that things are going so well according to you?
The quality of the songs and the albums have improved quite a bit over the years and the hardworking seriousness of the band is a big thing in that as well and being on a good record label is a good thing as well. Pretty much in that order. “Judgement” sold a lot of copies back in the day, but it’s not really my business to know what sells and what not. I’m not a salesperson or a marketeer. I’m an artist and I do the music and I come with the melodies, the music and the message. That’s my job. What sells things is something I’m not really interested in. It’s not my thing. I’m not interested in selling things or selling myself for that matter. It’s about the work, about the people in the band, the love, the family and the laughter. The music is probably number one for me and that’s it really. What comes from the outside, comes from the outside. I was never a manager and I don’t pretend to be one either.
Anathema has an incredibly devoted fan base. Where does this stem from? It is the sincerity of the music which speaks to many people?
You pretty much answered the question already. Our music is always honest and real and we don’t tell stories. Everything is autobiographical. I think people pick on that in all honesty. It’s all also about the songs and the melodies and the voices. All the things that people like in a band in the first place.
Finally, some years ago you played a string of acoustic gigs together with Anneke van Giersbergen. Are there plans for new string of dates?
Yes, we’re actually going to play some dates in South America in May. It’s the next big thing coming up. It should be great and I’m very much looking forward to that. I’d love to play some gigs in the Netherlands as well, but there no plans for that as yet. It’s something I do with Anneke once or twice a year. It’s a pleasure working and performing with her. She’s a great singer and a great friend. It’s just easygoing and a lot fun and I very much enjoy doing it.