Thrash Hits

April 26th, 2012

Interview: Vincent Cavanagh from Anathema on Weather Systems, subterranean recording, and on what’s so special about KSCOPE

Anathema promo photo 2012 Thrash Hits

Last week, long-running gothicly-tinged progsters, Anathema, released Weather Systems, the highly-anticipated follow-up to 2010’s critical smash, We’re Here Because We’re Here. This gave us the perfect excuse to give the band’s frontman, Vincent Cavanagh, a call, and hope that our resident Anathema fanboy, Hugh Platt, wouldn’t get so excited that he’d forget all his carefully researched questions.

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So, starting with the mind-numbingly obvious – why go with the title, Weather Systems?
It was from a particular suite of songs, titled ‘The Gathering of the Clouds’, ‘Lightning Song’, ‘Sunlight’ and ‘The Storm Before The Calm’. They were always really meant to run in sequence. These songs came about around the time of the last album, We’re Here Because We’re Here, and it was obvious that [these songs] were going to be the core of the next album.

From this core, we developed this new album. It grew exponentially from these four songs, and expanded into something that we consider to probably be the most cohesive album from start to finish that we’ve ever done. It was very intentional that this should be an album you listen to in one sitting, from the beginning to the end.  It was so easy. It was the easiest album we’ve ever made. It happened so naturally, it was the easiest process we’d ever been through creatively, recording-wise, mixing, mastering, everything – it was perfect.

A big part of that is down to our new producer, Christer-André Cederberg, from Norway. And I say “new producer”, as this is the guy that we want to use now, from now until the end of time [laughs]. We’ve found our guy. Making this album was an absolute breeze. We’ve learned a hell of a lot making it.

How did you hook up with Christer?
We met him through a guy called Petter Carlsen, who’s also from Norway. Christer plays in [Carlsen’s] band, and also produced his album, Clocks Don’t Count, which came out last year. We listened to the production [on the record] and it was pristine quality. It was so natural, and rootsy, and earthy, and had all of the natural feel that you want  in a good “rock” sound, but also it had that touch of class to it, so it was a no-brainer for us. We knew immediately: “Okay, this is the guy. We have to at least try [to record] with him”.

I’d never really met the guy before, but instantly on the first day [of going in to the studio], I struck up a friendship with him that was…we just…over breakfast on the first day we were talking about everything…about art…music…culture…politics…philosophy – just over a piece of toast in the morning. And I instantly knew that not only had we found a good producer, but also I’d found a good friend. On that first day, when we started to set up, he was very conscious of how he should….observe how our creative process goes, and find his way of inserting himself into that. And his discretion and respect towards me, Danny [Cavanagh, vocals, guitars, keyboards, and Vincent’s brother] and John [Douglas, drums] – who are essentially the creative core of the band – and his attention to see how we worked and to see how it would work with him was perfect. We actually asked him to play bass on certain parts, because at the beginning [in the studio] it was just me, Danny, and John. Maybe it was because we were a stripped-down version of the band, and because Christer was there, [but] we quickly just sparked off each other. The process was so easy to go through, and we got really good results from not only working on ideas we knew were going to happen, but also improvising new ideas, and trying out new things. In the first couple of days, we had much better results than we could’ve ever expected, and that carried on right through the sessions.

Anathema Weather Systems album cover artwork packshot 400px Thrash Hits

The first sessions took place in Parr Street Studios in Liverpool – a legendary studio, famous for recording some classic albums. We recorded five songs there. We reconvened at a later date in Oslo, at Christer’s place, and recorded the rest of the album there, and then we reconvened once again in a place in North Wales, which is actually a converted nuclear bunker. That place was the perfect studio to have that isolation and that focus to have nothing distracting you away from the work. There’s no natural light in the place; there’s no daylight, so you can work 24 hours. More often than not, we found ourselves working into the night, or into the early hours, or during the night. Christer and I, especially, we are workaholics, so while he was running studio 1, I was running studio 2, and doing all the programming and working on the side-production. We both worked in tandem very well, and it was a new experience for me and for the band. And now…I think we’ve found our guy. We’ve found our man. I want to make every album with [Cederberg]. You can hear how much [the production] is improved. I don’t think the band has sounded as good as this ever, and there’s only one place to go from here.

Regarding working in an underground studio – that seems quite perversely contrary to the “airier” tone the album has in places.
It’s airy in the sense that you’ve got to give space for each instrument. Part of what we do in the creative process (as well as the recording process) is knowing when not to do something, or knowing when to get out of the way, and allowing the song to breathe and to have that space for itself. It’s almost as if the song is telling us what it wants to be, and where it needs to go. And Christer was very much a part of that too.

One of the things that made that easy for us was that we split the recording of the album up into three parts. I think I’d like to do that again. What we did this time, was we recorded the first half, then we recorded the second half, and then we finished off the whole thing. And it just made the whole process that much easier – our music is very dense, and there’s a lot going on in certain parts. For example, in ‘The Storm Before The Calm’, there’s one of those moments where we…had to stop counting at around a hundred tracks, and if you listen to the final mix, of course, you realise that we’ve stripped down, we’ve managed  to keep the space between everything in the soundscape, so it doesn‘t sound cluttered, even though there’s so much going on. And on top of that we’ve put a string orchestra. So…it was a very beneficial way to work.

One of the things I wanted to bring up about the songwriting – with the exception of Hindsight, there was a long gap between A Natural Disaster to We’re Here Because We’re Here, but since then you’ve been extremely prolific. What’s sparked all that off?
It’s showing no signs of ending at the moment; I’m already thinking about the next thing – I know half of it already. What do I think has inspired that? Maybe it’s because we had that break….but honestly, we never stopped writing, and a lot of the ideas that we wrote in that gap have just been left by the wayside. We won’t release those, but it shows we are continually looking forward….

When you’ve done something, it inspires you to go on and do the next thing. It’s almost like you’ve opened up some kind of door, and you’re in a new place, and you have to start again. It’s just happening all the time. We can’t seem to stop ourselves. It’s part of who we are; it’s in our DNA. Music is everything we live by and for. Especially me and Danny, we are kind of obsessive with music, and we can’t really stop it. It’s one of things – you can’t sleep because an idea is going around in your head. It won’t let you sleep until you’ve done something with it. And those feelings never go away. I think we’re a happier band now, than we have been in the past, internally – with each other, and with everything that’s going on. Perhaps that’s helped. But I guess any reason I try to give for that is pure speculation. I’m not really too concerned why – I’m just happy that we are that creative.

Speaking of creativity, the KSCOPE night at the Union Chapel that Anathema headlined was one of the best gigs I went to last year. Will we see anything similar from Anathema in future?
I think that sometimes within a single song, or within a single idea – not every one, but in certain songs, they can have multiple avatars. I’ve always found that interesting, to consider a single idea can have a different way of itself. I really enjoy the orchestral album we did – Falling Deeper – I love that, actually. These are songs that go back to the very first songs we wrote. When you do it with a full orchestra, it gives [the songs] a completely new life, and that’s one side of things, and of course when Danny plays the loop sampler, as he did during the Union Chapel show, that’s another side of things, and of course you’ve also got the rock band [incarnation of Anathema] – that’s three different formats of one particular song that you can do. Certain songs you would never mess with – certain songs have to be just one way – but not every time. There’s a lot of ways artists can re-interpret their own material. I guess sometimes it proves you’ve got a real song. When you don’t need the whole production, that you can really strip it down to its basic form, it shows that you’ve got something that can carry as a song on its own.

We’re Here Because We’re Here was massively critically-acclaimed – Classic Rock Prog named it album of the year. Has that set a bar you feel pressured to equal?
Yeah, but that would happen anyway, because we’re our own fiercest critics, really. We know within ourselves what kind of bar that we’ve raised with our own songwriting. You can never really go backwards from that, otherwise we just wouldn’t put [the results] out. We never really feel any external pressure to live up to something that we’ve done before. It’s always a very subjective and internal process that we go through, writing music….we would know within ourselves if it’s as good as something we’ve done before, and Weather Systems, for us, it’s kind of connected to We’re Here Because We’re Here in a way – like I said, some of those songs arose around the same time – so for me personally, those two albums feel connected. I think the next [record] that we do will be a further progression from these two albums, but there’ll be something different again.

We never really consider plaudits. We’re very grateful and appreciative of the support, but for ourselves we have to push ourselves all the time for the next thing. We’re always focussed on the next thing, always looking forward, always.

Watch Hugh getting a bit fanboyish with Vincent back at Download 2010:

That brings us nicely back round to KSCOPE. I don’t want to say that Anathema have found their niche with them, as that sounds too reductive…what I guess I’m trying to say is that KSCOPE is one of those rare labels that people follow, and are fans of the label.
That’s it. You’re exactly right. I’m very, very proud to be part of the KSCOPE family. I really consider that in only the last four years, they’ve now managed to create what’s almost a movement. It’s a really special roster, with some incredible stuff coming out at the moment. And they are turning me onto bands that I hadn’t heard before. Just today, while I’ve been here at KSCOPE’s offices, I’ve been given the new North Atlantic Oscillation record, which I can’t wait to listen to! [letting out an excited Liverpudlian-accented squeal] Gazpacho and Mothlite both sound interesting, and when [KSCOPE] signed Ulver, I knew that these guys were really, really special.

I’ve always liked labels that have an identity. When I first got into Warp Records’ stuff back in the early 90s, from there I went on to Constellation Records and the things that were going on there, and on Fat Cat, and later on Type Records, and these are all labels which have very, very special bonds with their artists, and they also have a very diverse roster, but at the same time keep this special attention to allowing the artists to be themselves. And KSCOPE is exactly that. And when I meet [the label staff], they are artists themselves, they are creative people, and you can see that. They know what they’re doing. I’m very pleased to be on this label now, as they’re one of the best labels in the world. I really believe that.

One final question – you’ve got a brief European tour in April, and a London date booked, but what else can we expect from Anathema in 2012?
After the festival season, in the Autumn, we’re going to do a full European tour, which obviously will include the UK. So for the moment, this upcoming tour is immediately after the album is released, so it’s going to be just us kind of saying “hello!” again to everybody. I think this upcoming tour feels to me more like a celebration, and at the end of it, I think I’d like to go deeper into maybe playing [Weather Systems] in its entirety, that kind of thing. And building upon the show itself and there’s a lot I want to do with the live show, and I’m just careful how we’re going to do it, and when we’re going to do it.

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Weather Systems, the new album from Anathema, is out now on KSCOPE. Click here and go buy yourself a copy – you won’t regret it. Anathema are currently on tour in Europe, and will be hitting the road throughout the summer to play a variety of festivals all over the continent – for more details, including a link to buy tickets to the band’s headline show at KOKO next month, click here.

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