Brittiska Anathema är högaktuella med sitt senaste album “Distant satellites” som fått strålande recensioner världen över. Rocksverige hade nyligen det stora nöjet att ringa upp sångaren och gitarristen Vincent Cavanagh i Paris och stämma av läget. Frågan är om man som musiker hela tiden strävar efter att göra det där perfekta albumet?
“I´m not sure it exists. It´s all very subjective, but at the same time I don´t ever think we´re 100% happy with any record. The closest we´ve come to is probably “We´re here because we´re here” (2010) and “Weather systems” (2012). This one, we´re very happy with, but we immediately wanna do the next one. (laughs) I guess in a way, we´re always looking forward and we´re always going like “We can beat this!”.”
What´s it like working in Norway?
Vincent: It´s cold. (laughs) Dark, bleak, expensive, but there´s also some good parts. The studio was great, Christer(-André Cederberg) is great and the people in general are great. We´ve got so many great friends there. I´ve got a bunch of friends from a really small town in the north, called Alta, that I´ve never been to, but it just seems like all the people from Alta who live in Oslo, are fucking cool! They´re all artists, musicians and actors and all kinds of things and it´s a really good crowd there and I really like them.
At what time of year did you record the album?
Vincent: It was over the winter in December and January. We had no distractions and I guess that´s a good thing. We were snowed in, basically and we couldn´t go anywhere. If we go back to Norway again, I think I´d rather do it in the spring or the summer, put it that way. (laughs)
With the mood of your music, recording in Norway during winter, would suit it very well?
Vincent: Yeah, it´s very dark stuff so it´s probably a good environment to record in. You´re right. If we´d recorded it at Compass Point, Bahamas, would it have been the same album? Who knows? I don´t think we´d ever do that. I just think the temptation of sitting by the pool would be scary for us.
It feels like you have to be in a certain mood to write your kind of music? Not being at a party and then sitting down to write something dark?
Vincent: Perhaps a hangover? Actually, it´s our outlet for those kind of emotions that we´ve all been through. We´ve lead pretty intense lives ever since childhood. It hasn´t been easy and it just stays with you. Even though you´re getting on with life and for the most part life is good, it just stays with you and there´s something in the darkness that just pulls you in when you´re composing. The depths of it as well and it´s got a certain profundity to it, that you really don´t get with other types of emotions. When something is really serious in life, when all the biggest questions you´ll ask yourself in life, are all serious and you´re dealing with h subjects of life, death, loss, mortality, madness, despair, they can be profound experiences. There´s a gravity to that which you feel and it´s a way to get it out, really. There´s a guy called Aldous Huxley who was a fantastic philosopher and thinker and I absolutely love the guy. He said; “After silence, the only thing which comes close to expressing the inexpressible, is music.” and he wasn´t even a musician, but he totally got it. There´s something in music that allows you to say certain things that you would find very, very difficult to bring up in conversation, even with your closest people like your family or loved ones. It´s some things that you just can´t express very well, because we don´t really have the tools in social interaction. There´s a lot of taboo in society about mental illness and such things. If you´ve gone through something extreme like that and you´re fortunate enough to find an outlet for your expression, then music can be that, so it certainly does help for people in this band.
You mentioned Huxley. Do you draw inspiration from books and so on?
Vincent: Absolutely, but I´m not sure that anything really directly influences how we write or what we write about. It´s more of a case of that everything that you absorb influences you as a person and helps you to grow. You process it all and you´re expressing yourself in your own individual way afterwards. The word “influence” is a bit misleading because it implies that you want to create something close to what´s been done before in another circle and that´s definitely not entirely true with this band. We´ve been doing this all of our lives and we´ve been doing this longer than we have not been doing it. We´ve got a natural flow of writing and a natural feel for how to do what we want to do and what we want to say. It´s just our own way of doing things. We don´t do anything consciously and we don´t choose a direction of music, we don´t listen to external influences when we´re in the studio. In fact, if something comes out and we notice that it might sound like something else, we´ll scrap it or we´ll change it. We try to have our own voice.
Is there a limit to how open you can be in lyric writing?
Vincent: You can´t go into specifics, so you can´t name names. You don´t go too much into it. It´s more like you take what you need from your experiences and you take what you need to express and you do it in that way, but you don´t go into too much detail because you´re laying yourself wide open and that´s dangerous. For example, Eminem´s got this new video out and I thought I´d check it out because I´ve liked some of the stuff his done in the past and in this new video it´s all about him coming to terms with his mother. I got about a few verses in and then I had to switch it off, because I just felt that I don´t wanna know. It´s like a fucking soap opera, peering into somebody´s front room and that´s a bit much. He´s very brave for doing that, but I don´t think we´d go into such specifics. Fucking ´ell! (laughs)
Since you´ve been doing this for so long, are you as a musician, as an artist, always striving for that perfect album?
Vincent: Yeah, I think so, but I´m not sure it exists. It´s all very subjective, but at the same time I don´t ever think we´re 100% happy with any record. The closest we´ve come to is probably “We´re here because we´re here” (2010) and “Weather systems” (2012). This one, we´re very happy with, but we immediately wanna do the next one. (laughs) I guess in a way, we´re always looking forward and we´re always going like “We can beat this!”. We´re always thinking like that and we´re actually booking ourselves to meet up in a few weeks time at my house, to have a new writing session. The album´s only been out a couple of weeks, but we´re having a new writing session and we´re gonna get new stuff together and see we´re we wanna go. Play the album back in front of each other and talk about it, talk about the lessons we learned, how we did it and how we would like to do it next time, what we would change about the process and about the production. Basically what lessons you´ve learned.
What was it that Christer Cederberg and Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) brought to the album?
Vincent: We recorded it at Christer´s studio in Oslo and he´s got all of his own fantastic vintage gear. It´s the best of vintage and the best of modern technology. It´s pretty small, but it´s got a fantastic sound and microphones. He´s my favorite guy to record with. He´s got an even temperament and he´s very focused on the work. He´s jolly and a pleasant person and a nice guy. His spirits are always up and he´s a 100% dedicated, even to a fault. He works too hard sometimes. Steven is Steven, as you know. What can I say that hasn´t been said already? He actually came in at the very last minute on this one, because Christer had to have an emergency operation on his back, right at the last minute and didn´t have time to mix a couple of songs. Steven was the first guy we called and luckily for us he was available. To have those two guys, so talented and so amazingly good at what they do, working on our baby, it´s a privilege and something we´re extremely grateful for.
You´ve worked with Steven before, haven´t you?
Vincent: Yeah, we have. He mixed “We´re here because we´re here”. That album was recorded over a period of months in kind of a house where we just threw a load of equipment in and we recorded it ourselves, but it definitely needed somebody to mix it. We had done so much on it, so many tracks, and a lot of it was very convoluted and it really needed sorting out. Steven did an amazing job, just to define the clarity in the instruments and it the soundscape and put everything together. Then we met Christer afterwards, we started working with him on “Weather systems”. With Christer and Steven, it´s like we´ve finally got a couple of people we can trust. For years we were doing it ourselves or coproducing with other people. It was ok and we always had decent results, but these guys are really incredible and are really right for Anathema. They totally get what we´re doing.
Could you see yourself writing an album with someone like Steven Wilson?
Vincent: I don´t know! I´m not sure he´s much of a collaborator in that aspect? We write pretty much as a band, between me, Danny and John. Everybody as individuals come up with their own stuff and then we bring it to the table and sort it out. That would be a different dynamic. I don´t know, but never say never, of course. I think it would be something different for both Steven and ourselves. I think it would be interesting to think about working with different producers, like someone like Brian Eno, but in order to do that, we´d have to work under a different method. For this album, we wrote a lot of the vocals in the studio and that´s something a lot of producers would not put up with, I don´t think. They would pretty much want to know from the off, what the vocals were gonna be. Maybe that´s one of the things we´ll look out for next time, try and have that written before we go in. It makes everybody´s job a lot easier. Then you can just have fun and give it that extra 20% to take the production to new places. That´s one of the main things I´ve learned from recording this record, to have things written before we go in.
The title then? Were you all standing around watching the sky, seeing satellites in the distance?
Vincent: (laughs) Yeah. (laughs) No, it was John actually. He´d written the lyrics to that song and it just occurred somehow in his brain. It´s about people, the notion that people are satellites on their own orbits, as we go through life. Sometimes our orbit cross with others and sometimes their distant. Whether that´s actual distance or just mental distance, is a profound thing. It´s kind of about what it means to be human, really, in a broad sense. It´s also directly connected to certain people in or around the band and people in our lives. It´s a really twitching concept and again, it´s one of those things that John wouldn´t necessarily bring up in conversation, because he´s not that kind of guy. He´s more of a funny, joker, happy, go lucky sort of dude, who´s got his own depths and things he needs to go through, like we all do, but he doesn´t talk about it. He doesn´t talk about his feelings very often, but he can write a lyric like that.
There are more electronics on this album. Is that something you see doing more of in the future?
Vincent: Yeah, definitely. It will never be the primary focus, unless we choose to do a collection of songs that are all electronic together, but I don´t really think that´s what Anathema is about. It´s a sound of the band in the same way as a string orchestra is a sound of the band. The way we construct vocals and the guitars and the beats we come up with. It´s part of the sound, but it won´t dominate it.
You live in France, right?
Vincent: Yeah, I do, in Paris and have been for the last six years.
Was it a girl?
Vincent: Yeah, it was. (laughs) A really good one!
How does it work out with you there and the rest scattered around Britain?
Vincent: We all grew up together and we´re all sick of the sight of each other now. (laughs) Meeting up for when we have to do the band is quite enough. (laughs) We have to concentrate our efforts. If we´re gonna go on tour, we´ll do ten days in a residential place and set up all our gear and just basically live there to get everything sorted and then we´re ready to go. It´s a similar thing for an album. We write separately and then bring our stuff together and have a couple of preproduction sessions to see what we´ve got and then book a studio. You concentrate your efforts and there doesn´t have to be that much distance. It´s just a bit more expensive and you just try to watch that.
What´s Liverpool, your home town, like these days?
Vincent: A party town! Especially in the last few years. There´s been so much investment put into the city. It´s changed it and it´s really modern and vibrant. There´s a really happening club scene and a massive student population. You get live music every night all over the city, pretty much. There´s loads of music festivals and they have The Beatles weekend. It´s fucking incredible! It´s a brilliant place actually and it´s a great place to come from. People there have got life and spirit and they know how to crack a joke and take the piss out of each other. I haven´t lived there for probably eight years now, but I´m looking forward to going back. I don´t get there as often as I´d like, but I´m looking forward to going back and see a few friends.
What about Paris then, does it have a vibrant music scene as well?
Vincent: I think there are great venues in Paris. It´s always on the tour list for almost every band, so you get a lot of gigs in a week here, so in that sense yes. I´m not sure about local bands though. There are a lot of underground bands, but I´m more involved in the art scene because my girlfriend is an artist. There are some really cool people doing things with sound installations and sculptures and all kinds of different media. It´s a really fascinating thing and I´ve been collaborating with my girlfriend on a couple her projects and she´s been collaborating with me on some of my music. It´s really cool the way the worlds can cross over. At the moment, she´s got like an artist residency in this old building, which is where we live at the moment and she´s got her studio here, which is where I am at the moment. I´ve got my little home studio set up upstairs, so before this conversation, we were both up there working on a bit of music. It´s just a really cool vibe in there.
Av: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto av: Therés Stephansdotter Björk