The end of the summer, and the beginning of the new concert season was sealed with a great show in a wonderful venue in Athens, Technopolis at Gkazi. Two very important bands were performing in a great combination, Porcupine Tree, and Anathema. Just a couple of hours before the show Rockpages.gr got the chance to chat with Daniel Cavanagh about the new album, “We’re Here Because We’re Here”, World War One, as well as the importance of Greece in Anathema’s career. Check out also the video of the interview shot in HD by Openminds Productions. Interview by Yiannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: Tonight you are playing an open air show. Do you feel different when you are playing open air arenas, or festivals, comparing to indoors?
Daniel Cavanagh: I like both. I like playing outdoors. I like the space, the open air, I like the trees, and the sky, and looking at all that, taking it all in… it’s a lovely feeling… but I like indoors, I like clubs, I like festivals. I like all circumstances. I like playing acoustic, solo, I like playing very loud intense rock, I like all the styles of things that we do, and open air is great and this is a lovely one to play. We are here in good company with Porcupine Tree, and I feel close to them. It’s a prestigious gig, and I am proud to be here.
Rockpages.gr: You mentioned that you also like playing unplugged shows, and you do play a lot of those…
Daniel Cavanagh: Well, the main reason I like playing unplugged is because I like to sing. I like to get the chance to sing, and I like to try and improve my voice, and that’s important to me, and I get the opportunity to sing the songs I play unplugged. Also, it gives me the chance to play collaborations with people like Anneke Van Giersbergen, who is a great friend, and a great musician. Leafblade is another collaboration I have in Liverpool, in England, which is powerful music, very beautiful. And I just like that contrast. I just like the contrast that you don’t have the loop pedals happening, and I build moves, and I get to play the songs that I like, and I like singing in that format. Everybody likes to hear acoustic songs. When a song can be performed this way you know it’s a good song. To me it’s almost as important as this (showing the stage behind him)… this is the first thing really, this is the bread and butter, this is what pays for everything, this is the real thing. But, the acoustic it’s like my little sideline. I always have it, and I need it really, and I love it, and it’s just highly enjoyable… it’s like little things you like about life, you don’t want to eat pizza all the time, sometimes you like pasta, or curry, or whatever… and it’s just like that. I like to try different things. I like to play piano, I like to compose on piano… and I get to do things like touring South America with Anneke Van Giersbergen which is a totally wonderful experience. Moments like that are great for me… I feel fulfilled….
Rockpages.gr: You have a special relationship with the Greek audience… they love you. How do you feel when you are about to play in Greece?
Daniel Cavanagh: I always feel great playing in Greece every time. I feel grateful and happy that the audience is there, and they are a lot of them. It’s of course a great feeling, and it’s also the first country where I’ve noticed that happening. The first time it was in Greece… and I always equate a turning point in our career… it was when we played in Athens in April 2004. Something happened that night that permanently shifted the band. And it’s always been fantastic, and I am always happy to come back. And even grateful to play with Porcupine Tree in this place, because we get to show them what we do here, so I am very happy!
Rockpages.gr: Why did it take you so long to release a new album?
Daniel Cavanagh: There are many reasons for that really… some personal reasons, some business reasons. It’s difficult for me to explain them all. We didn’t have a manager, and we didn’t have a record label, and we lost a bit of direction. We were wondering what to do about the band, and all these different decisions that we could make… but, I am being deliberately vague, because I don’t want to get into a lot of details of what happened, because it’s our business. The fact is that we decided to carry on. We came back with a very strong album and that’s all that we could do.
Rockpages.gr: How would you describe the sound of the new album, comparing to what you’ve done so far. It might sound a bit more mainstream than you previous works, some might say…
Daniel Cavanagh: Mainstream is not a word that I ever use. It’s not in my musical vocabulary if you like. I don’t really know what mainstream means or anything. All I know is that it sounds like I wanted it to. It sounds beautiful, full of light, expansive, and heavy, and intense, passionate, and emotional, deep, and real, and honest, but mainstream? I don’t know!
Rockpages.gr: Also, Steven Wilson mixed this album. How did this happen, and what did he bring to the table?
Daniel Cavanagh: Well, Steven has been a friend and a fan of Anathema for a few years. We very first played with Porcupine Tree in 2001 on “A Fine Day To Exit”. Then we did a tour in 2005, when they were touring for an album called “Deadwing”. We did a tour with them, and we were happy to do it, and at the end of the tour he told me that he would like to mix an album for us, cause that what he feels he does best. He didn’t produce… the musical decisions were down to me and the guys. I think that for the mix process he brought some very very cool head, he was like a filter… he would filter the ideas, and make sure it was OK. He had a great degree of focus. He was able to focus for a long period of time on the computer, and I would sit behind him and mention many ideas, and Vincent would do the same, and he would try them, and say “maybe not”, or “maybe”… obviously, because he is a good song writer, and a musician, it helps because I think he sees things more of a musical perspective, because he plays so well, and writes.
Mixing this record was one of the highlights of my career so far in music. I loved making that record. Also, his parlour makes great tea, and we had great conversations. So, it was just a generally good process, and I think he did a great job. I think we all did a good job, and I am grateful for that… people say that is sounds like Porcupine Tree, but as far as I am concerned it sounds like I wanted to.
Rockpages.gr: The album is called “We’re Here Because We’re Here”, and that is the song title for a tune the soldiers used to sing in World War I. why did you chose this album title?
Daniel Cavanagh: World War I seems to me like a useless exercise. Those boys were walking into bullets, and there was craziness, there was chaos. It was insanity on a global scale; it was the first time the world has seen such destruction. And there was no real reason for it. The guys in the field knew there was no real reason. There was no reason for them to be there. So, they were singing “We’re Heer, Because We’re Here”, because it was their defiance, it was their song of defiance. And actually, there was one soldier, I was told , on World War I, who was given the Victorian Cross, which is the most prestigious honour in the UK because he sang the song to the boys and got them all singing the song for a long time , because their moral was so low, they were desperate, and they were bombed so much… When you hear that song, we’ve got an intro tape before our song tonight, it does evoke a very powerful tingly feeling. There is something very profound, and beautiful about what those men had to go through. When I say beautiful I mean that they must have learned comradeship with each other, and… I think there is a story where they played football on Christmas day with the Germans, and then they had to go back and fight each other again. And they were shot if they refused to fight.
All of this encapsulates human spirit in terrible circumstances. For our band we like it because there is a bond within our family, and I mean all six members of the band, the Cavanagh, and Douglas family, and also Les Smith who has been like a father figure, or an elder brother to me in many ways. There is something about our bond, it’s like an invisible bond, it’s very strong, very powerful. We share everything equally, we look after each other as much as we can, we are there for each other, we piss each other off sometimes… but, we’ve come through a lot, and we’ve come through to the point now where we know that we are strong and we’ve come together with an album that was made of our unity. It’s not a collaboration of six people writing songs, or anything, but it’s an album of unity in one way or another. It’s also reflected in the artwork. Stories from our childhood are in there. The house we grew up in, the street we grew up in, the school we went to as children and this is all about the common bond that the band has, an invisible bond of love if you like. And it’s not only just a family bond, it can be extended to a global family, and that’s how I like to look at it.
Rockpages.gr: If you had to highlight one, or two moments in Anathema’s career, which ones would you choose, and why?
Daniel Cavanagh: It wouldn’t be an album… I will have to say… the defining turning point was the end of 2003, when I went on an acoustic tour of Greece with Vincent, my brother, and we toured in Greece, and a few other countries at that time. And in 2004 we toured again… and at that time me and Vincent really put things at peace. Although we had a few fights since then, we never seemed to have the difficulties that we had. That has been a turning point really. Everything you see now comes from that. That was the end of 2003, an acoustic show with Vince and I, in Greece, Club 22, if you were there… that was a turning point, that was one of the defining moments because, like I said, that was the time when we started to really get on with each other and respect each other, and be there, and really help the music along.
Another moment, I would say was finishing the new album… you know when it was finally mixed, I had a moment there when I was so happy, and grateful to everybody for all the support we had received; for the support of the other five members of the band, Steven Wilson, for the management. When it was finished I was so happy with the sound -of course, there are still parts I wanted to change some things! But it’s 95% perfect… I would say finishing the new album was the second defining point, because I thought “OK we’ve done it, it’s finished, and it’s beautiful, and I love it very very much! So, those were the two moments I would say…