Delusions of Silence
CoC chats with Vincent Kavanagh of Anathema
by: Pedro Azevedo
After the crushing emotional doom/death of their 1992 debut EP _The Crestfallen_ and first full-length _Serenades_ (1993), Anathema moved to a more atmospheric style of doom metal with the _Pentecost III_ EP in 1995. The departure of vocalist Darren White followed, with guitarist Vicent Kavanagh performing the vocals from that point on. That same year saw the release of _The Silent Enigma_, showing a more aggressive, but always very doomy Anathema and the start of a new era for the band. They returned with the much softer, but perhaps even more emotional _Eternity_ in 1996, writing yet another page in the history of doom metal, and now return with _Alternative 4_ (a title related to Anathema's view of civilization and its future, the three alternatives so far being life underground, life in a dome and life on Mars). Vincent phoned me one afternoon to talk about Anathema; here is what was said.

CoC: My first question concerns your vocals. When Darren White left the band, you used a kind of vocals on _The Silent Enigma_ that were actually harsher than Darren's on _Pentecost III_. Why did that happen?

Vincent Cavanagh: The vocals were never going to get any softer with Darren; truth is he couldn't really sing. That's part of the reason why we kicked him off the band, which has already been stated a long time ago, and we don't really need to go back into that again. At that time, when we kicked him out, we were half way through the recording of an album; we had to do something straight away, because we were on the studio -- so I became the singer. We really wrote the lyrics there, on the mixing desk, if you know what I mean. I didn't really have a chance to prepare anything else, so what I did was what, at the time, I felt suited the music. Since then, obviously, I've done something else with the vocals, as you can hear. I just decided to do my own thing. On _Eternity_, I sort of discovered that I could actually sing, so I've been working on that, working on my own voice.

CoC: What will the cover artwork concept be about on _Alternative 4_?

VC: We will again use the theme of angels. You'll see an angel -- which is actually a picture of the virgin Mary -- with an astronaut face, the reflexion of an astronaut. It links quite well with the subject matter of the album.

CoC: Speaking of your new album, I seem to detect less changes in your sound relative to _Eternity_ than between any of your previous albums. Are you reaching the kind of sound you want or will the future bring great changes?

VC: We will always keep progressing, for sure, but _Alternative 4_ has turned out more the way we wanted it to sound, as opposed to other albums in the past. It's a lot less clotted with various... you know, it's a lot more simple, less clotted with keyboard tracks and guitar tracks, we haven't gotten silly with things, and there's a more direct approach to the songwriting. The production itself is a lot better, and the songs are a lot better, and the whole thing is more strikingly "in your face". It's a more honest type of music, that's how I like to describe it.

CoC: Wasn't _Eternity_ honest enough?

VC: Yes, but it also had too many tracks of various things, and also, speaking of how things don't always turn out the way they could have, we were let down by the drummer on _Eternity_. This time none of that shit happened; we made sure everything was right.

CoC: Does the band feel that [the new drummer] Shaun Steels is doing a better job than [the former drummer] John Douglas, then?

VC: Of course, yes. John Douglas was full of ideas, but he couldn't really bring any of them into action. He was too caught up with his ecstasy and his dancing, you know what I mean? He lost all his enthusiasm; he wasn't really part of the band anymore.

CoC: So you feel the production is better on _Alternative 4_ than before?

VC: Fucking definitely, yeah. It's the best production we've ever had, and it's also the best production the producer's ever done in his career as well, so it turned out well by all accounts.

CoC: At some stage, there seemed to be a certain Anathema trademark in that the third track had to be acoustic and have female vocals (happened in the _Crestfallen_ EP, _Serenades_ and _The Silent Enigma_). Why did you do that -- and why did you stop doing it?

VC: Well, nothing says we won't do it in the future. It's just that we haven't written a song like that specifically to go in the album. We're always writing stuff, we're always coming up with all sorts of ideas, and we have got plans to do more acoustic stuff in the future, and to use female vocals again. So, we'll see.

CoC: Something that, in my opinion, did change significantly from _Eternity_ to _Alternative 4_ were your lyrics. On _Eternity_, you were still "wondering if she ever wondered the same..." Now we can read lyrics such as "Come on and twist the knife again, I'd like to see you fucking try..." What caused this change?

VC: Yeah. Well, all sorts of things. Again, it's these situations and everything that has happened to us in the last 18 months or whatever, and it's our way of flushing that shit out, you know. It's more honest than _Eternity_; from my own personal aspect, these lyrics have more to do with myself, like the ones you just mentioned. It's basically just about not taking any shit from people, coming to your senses... you know, getting some control back in your life.

CoC: Your lyrics have always had a certain link between them: they were usually about lack of love and lack of life. What is it exactly that inspires you to write lyrics?

VC: <Thinks for a while> There's not one single thing that I can say that inspires us; we're just honest with our own feelings. In the past, we've got to remember this, I've not written many lyrics; I can say, on behalf of the writers of those lyrics, that it's difficult for them to write things that are fantasy, you know, they can't write stuff that isn't true. Who knows, there's only so far you can take one subject, once you've done so many things, once you've expressed all these things -- of course it's gone then, it's done and there's no need to do it anymore. So I think even in the future you'll probably see something that's a bit more upbeat, but as I said, we are not a fiction band.

CoC: Specifically, I'd like to know what inspired you to write the lyrics for "The Beloved", if that's allright with you.

VC: Mainly the feeling of coming to the end of life as you see it, with all sorts of regrets about how you've conducted yourself while you were being given the chance -- love-wise, never really letting anyone in when you could have.

CoC: Towards the end of that track, your voice has this great fragile sound that really enhances the emotions portrayed in your music. I know you have been taking singing lessons recently, and I think your voice on _Alternative 4_ is much more confident, but it seems to have lost some of those fragile moments, gaining other kinds of expressive power. What would you like to say about this?

VC: I've got a lot more confident approach in the way I sing nowadays. I am constantly learning and I do wish to express all different sorts and types of emotions in the future. I'm quite looking forward to it, actually, because I really think I can do anything. <Laughs> That's the way I feel. As I'm only new to this game, I'm sure you're going to see all sorts of things in the future.

CoC: I suppose there is no way you'll ever use a few harsher vocals here and there in the future?

VC: Maybe, maybe I will. It just depends on the feeling that we get from the song. Depends on how we feel when we jam it out, and how we'll want to play it live, what I'm going to deliver it like. We might well do it, I'm not going to say anything concrete.

CoC: You do release a scream that sounds almost like part of _The Silent Enigma_ or "Suicide Veil" on "Re-Connect" [on _Alternative 4_]. Is there a story behind that lonesome cry of yours?

VC: I was in there doing "Re-Connect", and I was just about to put a really quiet vocal down when the producer came and booted me really hard up the ass, and so I had to scream and that's the way it turned out, sorry. <Laughs>

CoC: What's the meaning of those fading heartbeats in the end of "Inner Silence"?

VC: <Sighs> That song is about something that's very close to me and Danny [Cavanagh, Vinny's brother and Anathema guitarist], about how we would feel about the impending and inevitable death of someone very, very close to us -- the closest person to us, in fact -- and how that would make us feel unless we did something about it. The heartbeat represents that, the end of a life.

CoC: I believe you used some violin on "Fragile Dreams" and "Lost Control", right? Why did you choose to do this?

VC: As we listened to the song, as it was shaping up, we decided a violin would sound beautiful there. So we got a violin <laughs>, and we made sure it would go on it.

CoC: Did you fear you would be compared to My Dying Bride because of that?

VC: We don't fear any of that. We're not like My Dying Bride. We don't care, we'll do anything; we're not scared of any of that.

CoC: I've read a few reviews of _Eternity_ in which Pink Floyd were repeatedly mentioned as being a major influence to your sound. Do you think there really is a reason for this? Do you like it, does it bother you?

VC: No, it doesn't bother me. People have said it, and there is a slight element in some things that I can see; but we're not bothered, because we don't take any direct influence from anyone, we don't really need to think about that. When we come down to write a song, we know exactly what we're doing, really, and we don't have to copy anybody else's ideas, we just do our own thing. Pink Floyd are one of the most inspirational bands ever, though.

CoC: What's the story behind the choice of using the song "Hope" on _Eternity_?

VC: The concept of "Hope". That was the choice, the concept itself of the song. Maybe we're not just spirits disappearing, maybe there is some sort of light at the end of the tunnel as far as our spirits are concerned. Perhaps things will be better one day, perhaps when we're dead; you know, all of these types of things you think about.

CoC: Why did you choose to have "Hope" as _Eternity_'s video clip? It's a somewhat strange choice, I think, since it's not very much like the rest of the album, is it?

VC: No, it isn't... Well, mainly, we chose it because the reactions from various sections of the media when _Eternity_ was released were very centered around "Hope", and it seemed to be the most popular choice at the time.

CoC: Have you decided which song from _Alternative 4_ will be used for a new video clip?

VC: We haven't, at the moment. We're still looking for ideas; we'll see how it goes. Of course it's very expensive to do videos, and if we were to do a video again in the future, we wouldn't like to use a director -- at least I wouldn't. I feel I can do a better job than all the people in the past if I was given the same budget. It should all be part of the same vision. What you're seeing, visually, should be a direct interpretation of the song's story; it's one complete vision. Unless you do that, for me videos are just boring. That's the way I see videos, that's the way I feel they should be. Some bands are really good at it, bands like Tool, who can actually fucking really do a video. <Laughs> It's expensive, and if there's any call for it we'll do one, but if there's no call for it...

CoC: What have you been listening to lately?

VC: Lately I've been listening to all sorts of things. I've just been listening to S.O.D. this morning. <Laughs> Other than that, I listen to all sorts of things from bluesy stuff, Masters of Reality, Monster Magnet, Black Sabbath... a big mixture of stuff... classical music...

CoC: Anathema still is a doom metal band, right?

VC: Yeah, we're still doom metal. But we do all sorts of music; there's a vast scope of material on this album and all sorts of different types of music.

CoC: A couple of questions about Michelle Richfield, Dominion's vocalist. She sang on _Eternity_, but not on _Alternative 4_; why?

VC: Nope. Because there was no need for her to sing on any of the tracks we wrote for _Alternative 4_. No female vocal parts were necessary for the songs, they were better without it, so we did it that way.

CoC: What about your cover of "Better Off Dead", with Michelle providing some remarkably emotional vocals? What's the story behind it?

VC: Yeah, she did. We chose it because of the lyrics, specifically. Me and Duncan had recorded the other two songs for the compilation [_Peaceville X_, reviewed in CoC #31] in such a short time that the Peaceville boss [Hammy, interviewed in CoC #31] told us we still had plenty of time in the studio, so we could do another song. We said OK and chose to do that song. We also didn't have a drummer at the time, that's why you won't find any drums in any of the songs, so we decided to fuck up a punk song and do something with it. <Laughs>

CoC: Yeah, I mean, I don't listen to punk, but I was rather surprised when I heard that you would be covering a Bad Religion song, and then it turns out to be a nice, doomy piano/vocals-only song...

VC: Well, there you go. That's perfect; that's just the kind of reaction we wanted. <Laughs>

CoC: And the other two tracks ended up being Pink Floyd covers...

VC: Yeah. Not so much because it was Pink Floyd; it had more to do with the type of songs they were. We didn't have a drummer, as I said; we wanted a couple of songs to start and finish the compilation with, and Peaceville said we could do this. We knew that these two songs conceptually and even musically fitted the bill perfectly, so we said allright, let's do it this way, let's do these two songs. And we did them so quick, as I said, we were able to do another song, which was great.

CoC: So you're pleased with your contribution to the _Peaceville X_ compilation, then?

VC: Yes, definitely. Well pleased and proud of it.

CoC: What about touring?...

VC: <Enthusiastically interrupting me> Hopefully there's a festival coming up in Portugal in which we can play in sometime in the Summer, but we still have to sort that out, the managing and booking companies still have to sort it out. [At present, it seems that Anathema won't be coming to Portugal in the Summer after all, unfortunately. -- Pedro]

CoC: That would be excellent indeed...

VC: It'd be great. We haven't been over to Portugal for a few years now, and the last time we went over there it was great, it was a fucking riot... <laughs>

CoC: Any idea where in Portugal that festival is?

VC: I don't know, at the moment; I think it's in Lisbon, but I don't know.

CoC: We also have one in Porto, too...

VC: It could be the one in Porto... I'm not sure. I've heard people are really, really crazy in Porto, moreso than Lisbon.

CoC: <Laughs> Well, I am in Porto...

VC: You are? <Laughs> Well, you seem very calm...

CoC: <Laughing again> [I proceed to mention the fine concert room that is the Hard Club in Gaia, just across the river from Porto and tell him about the recent Morbid Angel concert held there, reviewed in CoC #31.]

VC: We'll try our best to get over there, and the truth is we might even be touring with a well known Portuguese band, Moonspell. At the moment, I shouldn't really be saying it, because it's still in the early stages of planning, it's all just ideas at the moment, but we're trying to get it sorted out; maybe sometime in September or October. I should imagine that if we do end up playing with Moonspell that we will play Portugal, so I'm looking forward to that. Should be a top show, one of the best tours of the year. For now, we have our first gig of _Alternative 4_ coming up on June the 19th in a festival in Italy, so we're going to start rehearsing very soon for that. We're also going to party at the Dynamo festival, and do a little bit of work there too.

CoC: Do you think there's any chance of a European Peaceville tour, with My Dying Bride and all?

VC: Hmmm, maybe, maybe not. We'll see what happens. Generally, a lot of the bands on Peaceville are busy at different times, so it's a bit of a trip to organize.

CoC: So what are your ideal touring plans? What would you like to do?

VC: We'd like to play with bands that are far bigger than us, with big crowds and all, like Black Sabbath, something like that. Or even, if we were just doing an European tour, something like Monster Magnet would be great for me... it'd be mindblowing to play with them every night. I want to travel everywhere, all over the fucking world, see everything.

CoC: What special advice would you give to someone who's listening to _Alternative 4_?

VC: Close your eyes... <sighs> and just listen to it... loud... without any distraction... that's the only manual you'll need for this album, the only instructions.

CoC: Well, those were my questions. I'd just like to finish this interview by asking you what thoughts would you like to remain on the listener's mind after listening to _Alternative 4_?

VC: "I'll dance with angels to celebrate the holocaust, and far beyond my far gone pride is knowing that we'll soon be gone..."

(article submitted 8/7/1998)

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