Woodstock 94 – Twenty-Five Years Later

It started with an old-fashioned idea. The optimism of the hippies met wit the activism of the more rebellious factions of society to create a powderkeg of activism and art in the late 1960s to create Woodstock. The fest could have been an unmitigated disaster that would have made Fyre festival look good. However, it would have a lasting cultural impact even the future decades rode on. With an eye on capturing that spirit again, and raking in a lot of money, the original founders of Woodstock create Woodstock `94: 2 More Days of Peace and Music, but officially it was three days. Continue reading

Loss, Death, and Life: Vincent Cavanagh of Anathema

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With their latest work, Distant Satellites (Kscope), being released this June, and their star rising all over the globe as a pay-off to their hard work of the last 20 years, Liverpudlian band Anathema with their ground breaking melancholy prog rock piqued our interest. We had a lovely chat with their vocalist, Vincent Cavanagh, one of three brothers that make up the band with friends from their youth, and spoke at length about music, the industry, emotions, love, death and the important things in life, America and the dynamics of a band scattered all over Europe and their creative process.

We started off by chatting about Distant Satellites and its masterful use of beats. When we mentioned a theory about Aphex Twin being an influence on us. At the mention of this and the song ‘Come to Daddy’, Vincent’s ears perked up:

Yeah me too, I’m into all that. I think I was about seventeen years-old and I was working at a studio in Liverpool and the guys who had the studio had this electronic band I used to help them out with their beats and things and they introduced me to Aphex Twin. So that’s going back a bit. And eh, it fucking blew my head off, you know. One of the most intense things I’d ever heard in my life.”

A band like that is an obvious influence to many, and we mentioned the impact we felt when we first heard them. Vincent agreed: “Oh Jesus Christ! Is it the “Black Long” remix of that? It’s on an album called The Fire This Times came out round 2003 I think. It was kind of a protest album about the story in Iraq. It was load of music put together as a soundtrack to this narrative about the first Gulf War, the aftermath and the build op to the second gulf war. And it was actually taken off the shelves in the UK when Mr. B-liar (red. Blair) *laughs* went to start his war. You know you couldn’t find it in the shops anywhere and you couldn’t order it, I tried my best to order it from everywhere. You could not order it for about 9 months. You bastards, you know, something is going on with that, don’t know what it is. But eventually I got it. Cause I heard a Radio 1 jockey, he played this “Black Long” remix of ‘Come to Daddy’. I thought “what the fuckin’ hell is that?” It’s this really, really dark drum and bass version, it’s brilliant. No-one does it like him as well, the way he programs beats is really unique, no-one does it like him.

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Vincent appeased our sense of curiosity about how this music could come to influence the new Anathema EP

Yeah well our stuff, well I don’t know all that kind of thing. It was me who basically breached the area, I mean. Over Christmas I bought this drum machine so I was experimenting with that, but I couldn’t figure out how to use the thing, you know. I didn’t really know. So when John approached it like that, and then we came up with this beat and then it came from there. So it’s fairly new for me. I think that song, it’s a song. It’s got a verse, it’s got a pre-chorus even and a chorus, it’s got a hook, so most of this stuff we do, even though we do experiment a bit, there’s some kind of anchored in a song, kind of.

Danny Cavanagh has settled in comfortably as the creative fulcrum of the band, leading the charge in the writing process, then bringing in Vincent and John:

Yeah he did most of that on this one as well. He comes up with a lot of the initial stuff, and it gets filtered through me and I finish it off with everybody. Sometimes it needs more work than other times, and sometimes it’s almost done as it is. And of course I always add my own touches here and there. John’s stuff, I work very closely with John, probably more closely, well definitely more closely than with Danny. I kind of put together his music. John has got great ideas, but they’re quite nebulous, you know. Like trying to get an idea out of John is like “alright what do you think? something needs to come in here.” And he goes “yeah I want a synth that goes “dedoofdedoof dodedoofdedoof” and he’ll just do that. And I’ve got to figure out what synths to use, how to program the sound and how am I going to manipulate this, how am I going to use the pitch bend to get this “dedoof dedoof” you know. Because he doesn’t really know how to technically do that. So that’s where I come in. I dunno, John’s like a psychedelic sort of disc guy, more of a classic songwriter. I’m more of a sort of organizer and producer, and I sort it all out at the end.”

After the foundations are laid, arranging the songs and completing them comes next: “Well it came together really quickly ‘cause we tried about five different ways of doing that song, ‘Distant Satellites’. And we just weren’t happy with it. We were already like three weeks into the process. And I said to John one day, we were having the break over at Christmas, and I said to John could you fly over, I live in Paris you see, so he had to fly from Liverpool, come to mine. And we said “okay what the fuck is wrong with this? Let’s sort it out. And we said we’ve just got the scrap it and start again. We found out what was wrong with it, was that the original way it was written was the chords were played in sort of this plucked rhythm and it was making it sound dated. It was making it sound old, so we just kind of scrapped the rhythm. So I said ok, I’ve got this here, this is a kind of sideways sound, how about we just play the same chords with this sound, but really slow? Ok that sounds good. Now how about a beat? We don’t want an obvious 4/4 beat, we want something different. Okay so I’ve got this drum machine, let’s fuck around with that for a while. And about an hour later or so, we kind of had the bare bones of it. It was getting developed as well over the course of the next couple of weeks until we had it into a certain shape with the vocals and everything that we were ready to play it to the rest of the band. At that pint it was completely different to how the guys had heard it last. Three weeks earlier it sounded totally different. So it was “okay this is the song” “okay, fuckin hell what happened to that?” well it took a while but we eventually figured out was it was supposed to be in the first place.

We next wondered aloud whether the brooding sound of the new music was intentionally made to be ominous:

It’s not intentional, it’s just the way it just happens. The chords come out naturally with us; we usually start with the first chord and see where it goes form there. I don’t think we ever set out to write a song in the same way, it just happens. We made the album and we didn’t even realize after it was done, we send it to someone and said “here it is have a listen to that” and he goes “fuckin’ hell, it’s dark innit?” and we go “eh… is it?” (laughs) yeah okay, it probably is, init?” We hadn’t thought of that, but that’s cool, because I quite like dark music. That’ll do me, you know, I’m up for that. I’d like the next one to be dark as well you know, but you can’t force it, whatever comes out comes out.

Some of that darkness musically seems to seep down from the lyrics, drenched in themes of loss and heartbreak: “It is yeah, there was a lot of more optimistic stuff on the last two records for sure. I think there’s hardly any of that this time around. That was what it was, that was of it’s time. This is now. I don’t know personally I don’t like happy songs. I don’t know what to do on a happy song. Just trying to imagine myself doing that kind of music. People want you to do that, why? So yeah I’d say it’s always honest you have to go through whatever is there. The people in the songs are all real, the situations the experiences are real, but what I’ll say is we don’t give it away a lot, because it’s too personal. At the same time we like people to make their own life, their own people and their own experiences in it. The only thing that I can say to give them a clue is when you hear the word you in one of our songs; it’s not about a relationship. We don’t write love songs or relationship songs. There’s none of that. So when you think a song is about a breakup, it’s not. People thought that about ‘One Last Goodbye’, that I could have written that about me and my girlfriend breaking up. Alright well fair enough, that’s cool for you, but that’s not what it’s about.”

In truth that song is about a relationship, but not a romantic one. It was made for their mother after she passed away.

Yeah you know loss and death and ultimately life for us, is about people. You know the people in our lives are the most important thing, everything else is all decoration. I’ve said this before and I don’t want to repeat myself, but at the end of it all I think that what I’d like to have around me is people. Achievement would be all great, leaving a legacy would be superb, but it’s not going to matter until you have good people. Spend your time with good people and having fun and having good people in your life, having love in your life, that kinda thing is the most important thing to me.

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Despite being a tight knit unit creatively, the brothers themselves today live quite far apart. How does a the band then come together to make music, and more importantly relate with that distance?

Yeah Danny is in London now, he’s settled over there. He’s got himself into like a shared house where he’s like renting a couple of rooms and I think he has a good deal there. He’s always loved London, maybe he’ll stay in one place for more than six months this time who knows. He’s lived a very nomadic life for almost 10 years now he’s just been all over the place. It’s difficult to write yeah, but we write as individuals anyway, we don’t need each other around to write music. Of course we do when the others are around, but it’s not absolutely necessary. So when we come together we’ll play “ok what have you got, what have you been up to?” and we’ll play everything we’ve got. We might get together and do a deliberate writing session now and again, and we’ve got one booked for the end of July, just to see what we’ve been up to since the last record. So I think the guys are gonna come to my house and just gonna we’re just gonna jam through some new ideas and see what we’ve got. Talk about the last record, see what we felt about it and what we learned from it and see what new things we’ve got and see where that seems to be going. And then we’ll get cracking on with touring. Obviously you spend a lot of time together on tour, there will be new stuff floating around on tour. And then after the tour we’ll do another session somewhere. It’s okay if you just concentrate your efforts. You say okay let’s just do five days we’ll just live in a studio and do as much as we can in five days, and we’ll get Christer down, you know the producer, and we’ll do it properly.”

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Christer-André Cederberg has been working with really closely with Anathema as the producer for the last few albums. By now he almost seems part of their little family:

Yeah and for this one as well, we had two session of preproduction. One for about a week in Portugal with Cardosso, he set up a studio for us there. And then one for about few days as well in Oslo, about a month before the recording, in Christer’s studio. He put everything down on a board, so we probably had about sixty-ish ideas, so we had to whittle that down to about say… twenty. And then in the final pre-production session another song that had been written in the mean time, ‘Ariel’. So in the final preproduction session we decided, ok this is the record it’s those songs, so we go to recording. Starting right at the beginning in Christer’s place and finishing the final mix in Christer’s’ place makes it a much more concentrated and controlled process. Christer is very, very organized and he’s extremely dedicated. He works very long hours. He’s a great guy to work with, he’s a positive guy. Whenever you speak to him, even the tone of his voice… do you know what I mean? He has a little lilt in his voice that just puts you at ease… it’s like he’s always upbeat, but despite that, right at the end he was mixing and recording through the pain,. He had some problems with his back and he was taking a bunch of painkillers. In the end it was too much and he had to go to hospital and they operated on him that day. That was the last day of recording. After that the doctors said “OK Christer, you’ve been doing too much, you need to stop working for about three months.” The operation was good but you need to stop now, and he goes “OK well, I can’t. I’m gonna take a week off and I’m gonna mix this record that I’m doing and after that I’m gonna take some time off, I promise.” He is so dedicated it’s beyond the call of duty. We were happy to say just take three months, we’ll put the album on September, don’t worry about it. But he said no, no I’m going to do it, don’t worry. Which is why in the end he just didn’t have time to mix two songs on the record. So Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree, Storm Corrosion ) was out first call. We got in touch with Steven and he was available, lucky for us, so that was good. To add to it all, we were in America, so there was nothing we could have done to go out and meet people to see if maybe this guy might be OK for the record. At least we knew Steven and we knew that we trusted him with our baby.”

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SUSANNE A. MAATHUIS